One of the joys of a Route 66 trip is the multitude of quirky road side attractions. Those slightly crazy oddities along the way that add so much to your trip.
There are way too many to feature in one post, so here are some of our favourites (from East to West).
1. The Gemini Giant, Wilmington IL
Originally an advertising gimmick, this big guy stands tall and proud outside the now closed Launching Pad Restaurant. He is probably the most famous of all the original ‘Muffler Men’ who now reside on Route 66 (others are in Atlanta IL and Springfield IL, although there are many more dotted around the US). You can’t miss him as you drive through Wilmington. As you can see from the picture, he is pretty tall!
2. The Murals in Pontiac IL
There are more than 20 murals in this charming town in Illinois, and the Route 66 shield is one of the oldest. The murals vary in subject from vintage signage to a shark on the street (yup, I’m not kidding – check it out here.) Pontiac is a great town to stop off, grab a coffee and stretch your legs with a mural tour. Murals are really common on Route 66. Another notable example is Cuba, Missouri – which has a ‘mural city’ of its own.
3. The World’s Largest Rocking Chair, Fanning MO
This wondrous giant is situated at the Fanning Route 66 Outpost in Missouri and stands over 42ft tall. Its one drawback is that it doesn’t rock (!), but you can’t deny that it’s pretty big (it holds the Guinness Record!). Of course, it is for one purpose only, to make you stop and buy stuff at the (brilliant) store that sits next to it – but the old road specialises in the unusual and it has become one of the greats of Route 66.
4. Gary’s ‘Gay Parita’, Paris Springs MO
Now I’ll be honest, I have no idea why it is called that! But Gary, the owner, who has kept this gas station alive (although it no longer sells gas) was brilliant. Full of great conversation, interesting stories and a fascinating place that he showed us around, this was one of the best stops on the whole trip for us. A true taste of what Route 66 is all about. Unfortunately, Gary passed away a few weeks ago (early 2015) so I’m not sure what will happen to his place now. If you come across it on your trips, let us know. Rest in Peace Gary…one of the world’s gems.
5. The Blue Whale of Catoosa, Catoosa OK
Originally intended as an anniversary gift, it became a rest spot for families whose children would slide down into the water and jump off his tail. This incredible giant sits by a still lake in a shady spot moments off the hot highway. It is such a restful place and well worth stopping by to catch your breath. It has become one of Route 66’s most famous icons, and rightly so.
6. 190ft Cross, Groom TX
This incredible structure is located in Groom, one of the first towns you come to in Texas on Route 66, in the middle of the Bible Belt. Standing at 190ft tall, this cross (not quite the tallest in the world) is surrounded by stations of the cross telling the story of the Crucifixion. Whatever your faith stance, this is an incredibly peaceful place. We thought it would be tacky and awkward, but somehow, they have pulled off a reflective environment which came at a welcome time after a long day on the road.
7. The Big Texan, Amarillo TX
If you’re looking for tacky, you got it! In an awesome kind of way. The Big Texan , a restaurant and motel (which we stayed in – and it was great) offers the famous 72oz steak, which you get free if you can eat it and all the trimmings in 1 hour (the record is just under 5 minutes…HOW???). It’s great fun here, with live music, fun decor and a massive cowboy boot. What more do you want?
8. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo TX
Ok, so Cadillac Ranch is not technically on Route 66. So I’ve cheated a little bit, but it’s so worth seeing. This unusual piece of art (which doesn’t look the same in any photo you find of it as people are encouraged to spray paint the cars!) was created in 1974 by an art group called ‘Ant Farm’, and consists of various models of Cadillac, nose down in the earth at the same angle as the Pyramids. Obviously. It’s the angle I would have gone for too.
9. Giant 66 Shield, Winslow AZ
This little town in Arizona is a real find. Set off the I-40, it offers the usual mix of gift shop tack, coffee shops and Route 66 icons – here, they offer a tribute to the Eagle’s song ‘Standing on the Corner’, and some murals creating the illusion of a shop front – but the best in my opinion is the massive Route 66 shield smack bang in the centre of the town. Totally worth risking getting run over to get a photo in the road for!
10. Meteor Crater, Winslow AZ
Just along the road from Winslow lies this incredible wonder. It’s just under a mile in diameter and 570ft deep, and was created around 50,000 years ago by a meteorite. The scale of the thing is almost impossible to comprehend when you’re there, and it is definitely worth seeing. In the centre, there is a 6ft American flag, which you need binocluars to see. Seriously, this is enormous!
11. Angel’s Barber Shop, Seligman AZ
This is THE stop on the route. Located beyond Flagstaff and Williams at the start of a glorious isolated loop of original Route 66 that takes you far from the Interstate, the little town of Seligman is the home of Angel Delgadillo. If it wasn’t for this humble barber, there probably wouldn’t be much left of Route 66 at all. After the road was decommisioned in 1985, Angel started the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Since then, all 8 States that the route passes through have their own association. We didn’t meet Angel the day we visited. It’s best to aim for the morning, then you may get a chance to meet him. Now in his 80s, he goes home at lunchtime, but still cuts hair! What a winner!
12. Oatman, AZ
This whole town is the epitome of Route 66. Once a thriving mining town, it suffered terribly when the Interstate came along, became run down and deserted, then began to come alive again in a completely different way. Famous for its wild burros who roam the streets (and are very friendly), a gun fight is staged at noon and the hotel (no longer a place to stay) serves up huge lunches with a smile. No one lives here anymore – they simply come to serve the tourists every day. And yet there is a great atmosphere, good food, and it makes for a really fun stop off before you cross into California.
So there we have it. These were our favourite roadside stops along the road. There are hundreds more, and I haven’t even started on the cafes and restaurants that adorn the highway…that is for a separate post. For now, we’d love to hear what your favourite places were…or where you dream of visiting one day!