“America’s Highway,” “The Road to Opportunity,” “Mother Road” – All nicknames for Route 66, the most famous highway in American history and the first-ever artery connecting the east coast to the west coast. Route 66 is an iconic highway with many fun stops and sights to see along the way. While the highway was decertified in 1985, the road can still be traveled in many places within Arizona, allowing visitors the experience of traveling the nostalgic highway and visiting some wonderful Route 66 Arizona attractions.
Diamond Creek Road
Located off Route 66 in Peach Springs, Diamond Creek Road is an adventurous “road less traveled” to the Colorado River. You will actually be driving down into the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River. Rumor has it, the first time a vehicle ever drove this road was in the early 1900’s. Diamond Creek, at river mile 226, is the preferred take-out point for Grand Canyon raft trips. Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy nature at its grandest!
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Grand Canyon Caverns
Located along Route 66 at Mile Marker 115, the Grand Canyon Caverns is a natural limestone cavern and also the largest dry cavern in the United States. The Grand Canyon Caverns is in the middle of the longest stretch of Route 66 still in use and has a classic 1960’s “filling” (gas) station, café and shop. A stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns offers a glimpse into history when traveling down Route 66 was an adventure. Getting there was half the fun, as travelers were treated to many Route 66 Arizona attractions along the way!
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Of all the Route 66 Arizona attractions you can visit, Havasu Falls is the one that will challenge and amaze you the most. Approximately 176 miles from Lake Havasu City, Havasu Falls lies at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and is part of the Colorado River. The trek in is not for the faint of heart; after you reach the trailhead, it’s a ten mile hike from the trailhead to get to the falls, but the payoff is well-worth the journey. Havasu Falls is known worldwide and the bright blue-green water contrasting against the red rocks of the canyon make for a truly awe-inspiring view.
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The town of Oatman is a Route 66 Arizona attraction offering a unique reminder of the Old West. It’s one of countless gold mining towns that sprung up in the late 1800s. Route 66 IS the main highway through this former mining town, also called Oatman Highway. Oatman is known for its burros that roam the streets, descended from pack animals turned loose by early prospectors. Oatman is one of the only Arizona day trips where you can stroll along the wooden sidewalks and witness reenactments of a Wild West shootout by gunslingers dressed in period costume.
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Route 66 Museum – Kingman
The Route 66 Museum is truly unique in that it is a museum of history, housed in the historical Powerhouse building, located in the “heart” of the longest remaining stretch of the 2400 miles that was Route 66. The Route 66 Museum depicts the historical evolution of travel along the 35th parallel that became Route 66. The brilliant murals, photos and life size dioramas capture each of the groups that have traveled the route that has come to be known as the Mother Road. Impressed by this popular pick among Route 66 Arizona attractions, Richard and Sherry Mangum, authors of Route 66 Across Arizona, write that they “…are happy to report that it is first-class, something every Route 66 traveler in Arizona should see.”
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The History of Route 66
Route 66 began as a dream and subsequent lobbying efforts of Cyrus Avery and John Woodruff. Their lobbying efforts finally took root in 1916 when legislation for public highways appeared. It took an additional nine years (1925) before the government executed its plan for national highway construction.
Route 66’s numerical designation was officially assigned in the summer of 1926, but not after a long battle between the governor of Kentucky and Cyrus Avery – appointee to develop the new system of Interstate highways by the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads. Avery’s first choice was U.S. 60 but he was immediately challenged by the Kentucky governor, who wanted U.S. 62. After a long battle, Avery and Kentucky opted for the number 66, a number Avery’s chief engineer, John Page, inadvertently discovered had not been assigned. The U.S. Bureau of Public Roads officially designated Route 66 on November 11, 1926.
Route 66 Completed
From 1933 to 1938, thousands of unemployed young men from almost every state were put to work on “road gangs,” laboring to pave the final stretches of the road. This monumental effort resulted in the completion of Route 66 when it was deemed ‘continuously paved’ in 1938.
The infamous Dust Bowl in the 1930’s was instrumental in driving hundreds of thousands of people to U.S. Route 66, seeking both relief and survival from the arid lands of the Great Plains and surrounding areas affected by years of excessive drought and massive dust storms. Over 100 million acres of land was affected, forcing families to abandon their farms and way of life. Route 66 became an escape route for the thousands of families who were heading west in hopes of work in the promised lands of California. For the people who experienced the Dust Bowl, as well as generations to come, Route 66 symbolized the “road to opportunity.”
After years of use, Route 66 had deteriorated to an appalling condition. In 1956 the Federal Aid Highway Act was passed, providing the financial means to construct a national interstate and highway system. By 1970, virtually all segments of the original Route 66 had been bypassed by a modern four-lane highway. In October 1984, the final section of the original Route 66 was bypassed by Interstate 40 at Williams, Arizona, but only after the stubborn citizens of Williams put up a staunch legal battle seeking relief to stop the bypass. U.S. 66 officially ceased to exist after its decertification on June 27, 1985, by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Department. U.S. Route 66 was in operation for approximately 59 years before its decommissioning.
Route 66 Facts
- Route 66 crosses eight states in the nation, from east to west, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Even now, each state fiercely protects its portion of Route 66.
- 85% of the original road is still driveable.
- Arizona contains the longest unbroken stretch of Route 66 still in existence, 158 miles from west of Ash Fork to the California border.
- Arizona is the birthplace of Historic Route 66. Through the work of a handful of Seligman residents, Arizona became the first state to dedicate a stretch of U.S. 66 as Historic Route 66, thus beginning the preservation efforts that now encompass the entire road.
- The only National Park that Route 66 passes through is Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.
- The longest curve, the steepest grade, and the highest point on Route 66 are in Arizona.
- The Arizona leg of Route 66 follows the wagon trail laid out by Lieutenant Edward Beale and his exotic caravan of soldiers and camels 1857. Kingman’s Beale Street still bears Lieutenant Beale’s name and is where you can find the Route 66 Museum. Rumor has it that some decendents of the camels released still roam the desert.
- John Steinbeck, author of the famous book “The Grapes of Wrath” proclaimed U.S. Highway 66 the “Mother Road” and immortalized Route 66 in the minds of Americans.
- The last Route 66 town to be bypassed by the new interstate was Williams, Arizona.
- Months: Year-Round