blank 05/23/14 10:00AM Roadside Attractions, Route 66, Truck Drivers, Truck Stops

Route 66 - A Window Into America
Guest Blog

Over the years, Route 66 was so well traveled it gradually took on an identity of its own earning names like "Main Street of America" and "The Mother Road." As the country took to the highways, traveling families, truck drivers, and business travelers needed places to buy fuel, food and find lodging. In order to attract travelers' dollars, service stations paired up with diners and motels, creating a new phenomena - the roadside attraction. Although many of these businesses fell on hard times when much of small town America was bypassed by the Interstate Highway system in the 50s and 60s, Route 66 didn't wither away and disappear. Far from it. A resurgence in nostalgia is bringing many of these travel icons back to life.

One of the oldest landmarks along this historic roadway to America is Dixie Truckers Home in McClean, Illinois. Established in 1928, Dixie Truckers Home is one of the first truck stops as we know them. Much like they did on their first day of business, Dixie Truckers Home still sells fuel and truck services along with a menu of hearty highway fare that today would be described as "comfort food" - food cooked up to give truckers and travelers alike a bit of a taste of home.

Another long standing tradition along The Mother Road is the Cozy Dog Drive In, located in Springfield, Illinois. What we now know as a Corn Dog was introduced at the Illinois State Fair in 1946 and called the Cozy Dog. Three years later, in 1949, the Cozy Dog Drive In opened on Route 66. You can still stop by this cheerful looking drive-in proudly displaying Mr. and Mrs. Cozy Dog on top of their sign.

One of the more unusual attractions along Route 66 was actually part of the highway itself. When you crossed the Mississippi River from Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri, between 1929 until 1968, you had to cross the Chain of Rocks Bridge. What made this bridge unique was that halfway across the river the bridge made a 30 degree turn. The bridge got its name from the rocky section of the Mississippi it spanned. The bridge was eventually closed to vehicle traffic, but in 1999 the bridge was restored and opened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic. If you're a fan of unusual bridges, the Chain of Rocks Bridge is worth a visit.

Over the years, as roadside attractions sprung up along The Route, their sometimes bizarre subject matter was limited only by the creativity of the folks who lived and worked along the highway. Ever want to see a concrete blue whale the size of a city bus? You're in luck! Years ago, Hugh Davis, a resident of Catoosa, Oklahoma, built an eighty foot long blue whale out of steel and concrete on the swimming pond at his home. Blue Whale has since become a popular attraction where folks picnic, fish, and slide off Blue Whale's tale to go for a swim.

If a concrete blue whale in the middle of Oklahoma isn't strange enough for you, check out Elmer's Bottle Tree Ranch on Route 66 in Oro Grande, California. This eclectic collection of at least 200 iron poles displaying objects and glass bottles create one of the most unusual "forests" you'll ever walk through. Elmer's roadside sculpture garden of glass is a tribute to one man's vision for another man's junk, turning it into one of the most interesting exhibits of folk art you're likely to see.

True to its reputation for being a highway canvass for creativity, three artists from an art group called Ant Farm set about expressing what they believed to be the cultural influence of the tail fins of Cadillac automobiles built from 1949-1963. What better place to display their creation than along the Main Street of America: Route 66! You can see the work of these three enterprising artists in Amarillo, Texas. There you will find a row of 10 full sized Cadillacs buried in the ground nose first, exposed from the windshield back. The display is called, what else, Cadillac Ranch. For reasons unknown, the cars are all tipped at the same angle as the sides of the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt!

Of course, Route 66 is also known for food - food of nearly every conceivable variety. After spending time at Cadillac Ranch you may work up quite an appetite. Not to worry. Right there on Route 66 in Amarillo you'll find one of the most famous steak houses in the country. At The Big Texan, you'll find everything is bigger in Texas. From the giant Texas cowboy on the sign to the huge cowboy boot at the entrance and the enormous Hereford beef cow on the roof, everything is bigger. Inside, everything is bigger yet. The Big Texan's claim to fame since 1960 has been the 72 ounce steak dinner. That's four and a half pounds of steak! If you can eat a 72 ounce steak, buttered dinner roll, baked potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail and a salad in less than an hour, the meal is on the house. One more rule: you have to keep it down! Sound impossible? Over 50,000 big eaters have tried, and 8,800 have actually succeeded! The record is held by professional speed eater, Joey Chestnut, who consumed this Texas sized gut buster in just 8 minutes and 52 seconds! However, the unofficial record is 90 seconds, held by a Siberian Tiger.

No trip down Route 66 would be complete without stopping at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona. Where else can you sleep in a steel and concrete teepee shaped bungalow? The motel was the inspiration for the traffic cone shaped motel rooms in the popular animated movie Cars.

Route 66 has it all, from the bizarre to the big to the beautiful. Some of the more beautiful and interesting natural wonders along and near Route 66 include Arizona's Painted Desert, Meteor Crater (a 1,200 foot diameter meteor impact crater near Winslow Arizona), and the Grand Canyon. The perfect place to end your tour of Route 66 is at the end of the road in Santa Monica, California, at the Santa Monica Pier looking out across the Pacific Ocean.

Whether you take the entire trip from Chicago to California or just visit sections of The Mother Road, traveling Route 66 is an experience you can't get anywhere else in the world. It truly is a living history of life on the American road.

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