Route 66 was a long lasting addition to my ever expanding bucket list but it’s one that in 2014 I fortunately was able to tick off. Over the course of 3 weeks I travelled 2500+ miles, crossed through 8 separate states and thoroughly enjoyed the various cities that I visited whilst doing so.
I included my own little side trip towards the end of my journey, making my way to Vegas before departing towards Death Valley and my eventual end point in Santa Monica; not part of the original Route 66 but an awesome inclusion that gave me some of my best moments. My trip started in Chicago, Illinois. I arrived at the airport and shot off to collect my car; I’d never driven in another country and I’d never driven an automatic. Add a quick snow storm to that mix and you can imagine how interesting my initial drive to downtown Chicago was.
Chicago is the starting point for Route 66 so naturally I had to search for the start sign for the photo op. On route the roads were lined in every direction with buildings higher than I could of imagined but the sunshine still made a welcomed appearance on each very cold day. I found my way to the Willis Tower and decided to enter and ascend towards the SkyDeck which gave the most amazing views of the city. The glass boxes are 1350ft up in the air and extend 4.3 feet out from the actual skyscraper. I’d say this is a must if you are in Chicago, unless your afraid of heights of course.
On a separate day in Chicago and now already full of tasty American food I made my way to Millennium Park. The first thing I came across was ‘the bean’ or the Cloud Gate as it’s also known. I’m not sure to the exact purpose of this sculpture but it seemed to draw in a crowd and that included myself. From here I ventured down towards a vacant and frozen harbour and took a stroll along the edge, capturing some views back towards the city. In time I passed back up through the park and caught a nice sunset whilst admiring the Buckingham Fountain. This day concluded 3 very enjoyable days spent in a snowy Chicago and was a great start to my trip.
Still operating on a UK based body clock I departed Chicago in the early hours and drove the empty roads out of the city. This was probably a good thing as it gave me time to re-adapt to driving again and the absence of the snow storm which I initially encountered was a bonus. A few hours of driving later and I was in Springfield, Illinois. This was a lovely place bursting full of history, predominantly based around the former US president Lincoln. After checking into a cool Route 66 motel I ventured to Lincolns Tomb. Although it was still a bit chilly, the weather was stunning and made for a great afternoon out. I actually only spent a day here before heading out the next morning to find The Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri. I was told about this after speaking to someone in Chicago so I added this in and I’m so thankful they made me aware of it as once at the top (630ft) the views of St Louis were stunning.
This was a pretty packed day as once I’d returned to ground level from The Gateway Arch I made my way to the Meramec Caverns. The 4.6 mile long caverns were said to be a hideout of the infamous outlaw Jesse James so it was cool to learn a little history about this amongst learning about the caverns themselves. The caverns were lit with a multitude of different colours and light systems; the pictures don’t do them justice as they just looked amazing. Once back out of the caverns I was behind the wheel once again and heading through Kansas to Oklahoma. I stopped in Catoosa, Oklahoma for some lunch beside the big blue whale which was clearly a well frozen summer attraction. I then headed to Pops for a quick drink before pulling into a motel. I clocked up a lot of miles on this day but it was broken up with some great attractions.
I slept so well every day of this trip and I was waking so early it was great. Fresh from the night before I got up and made my way to the Route 66 Museum in Elk City, Oklahoma. I wanted to go here because my only thought on Route 66 at the time was that it would make a great road trip. This was true, it definitely did however I really enjoyed learning a lot more about its history and how its evolved over the years. I stopped for some lunch here also as I then had a lengthy drive through Texas. It was a long drive but the roads were just like the ones you see on the postcards so time absolutely flew by. The car also had cruise control so I set that to the limit and was able to just relax and take in the spectacular views. Once through Texas, I entered into New Mexico and promptly after I found a small motel to stay in for the night. The weather had changed substantially from my start in Chicago, the skies were clear, the sun was out and the temperature had risen.
One thing I really wanted to do in America was get to a range and shoot some guns. Cue my departure to Calibers shooting range in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The guys here were so accommodating and once they got the gist of what I wanted to do they had me kitted up and on the range. I shot some handguns that are used by the American police force and military. I was then handed a machine gun (the type I’m unsure) and once I emptied those rounds I finished with a 50 cal rifle which almost blew my shoulder off. My aim wasn’t to bad and this is definitly something I’d do again if I find myself in the states. After such a great morning I made my way to the Petrified Forest National Park. Every National Park I’ve ever been to has been amazingly scenic and this one was no exception. Vast open landscapes with beautiful colour combinations made for a lovely afternoon of exploring. This was my first experience of Arizona and I was set to stay a few nights in this state. My first overnight stay was in Holbrook, Arizona. I stayed in a motel style wigwam which was small but good fun.
I left my little wigwam early again and made my way towards the next attraction that Arizona had to offer me. Just west of Winslow, Arizona was The Meteor Crater, a huge impact site that is nearly 1 mile across and 550 feet deep. I took a quick tour here to learn a little about its origin and after a few photos it was time to depart again. I was back on Route 66 and the next stop was the Grand Canyon Caverns, another opportunity to head underground and explore. The caverns were 200 – 300ft below the surface and there was actually a motel all the way underground where you can stay the night. This would of been amazing but the price was sky high as you can imagine. After the caverns tour I was in no rush for the rest of the day so I explored one of the many trails around the area. I hadn’t seen any wildlife at this point; the trail did warn of snakes however a small little lizard was all I managed to discover. I had no plans for where to stay for the evening so I just jumped in my car and drove in a rough direction towards my next stop and found a motel for the night.
Not realising the clocks had changed I left my motel earlier than planned. I made my way with plenty of time to the magnificent Hoover Dam and took in some stunning views on yet another beautiful day. Hoover Dam impounds Lake Mead which when full is the largest reservoir in America by volume. After a nice morning visiting this structural masterpiece I made my way to the close by Boulder City, Nevada. I was on route to Sky Dive Las Vegas where I’d be jumping out of a plane for the first time. Great experience and I got some more brilliant views of Hoover Dam and Lake Mead as well as the Vegas strip and the Colorado River. Safely back on the ground I made my way to Vegas for a hectic 2 night stay.
Hectic definitely sums up my few nights in Las Vegas. I’d be lying if I didn’t say my first night was and remains a little blurry. But none the less it was great to experience the casinos, the night life and everything else it had to offer. I actually ended up making some good friends in Vegas and they took me along to a private party for my second evening. Great night and I remain in contact with these people to this day so a reunion could be on the cards in the future. After one too many drinks the night before I was collected on my last day at 6.30am by limo and taken back to the airport where I took off for my sky dive. This time I was heading up in a helicopter to take a flight through the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t of asked for a better morning and we caught the most beautiful sunrise. The Grand Canyon is one of the most magnificent things I’ve seen to date and that was another one firmly ticked off the bucket list.
With my time in Vegas finishing on such a high, I was back in the car and heading along another long picturesque road towards Death Valley, California. I was leaving behind the busy city and whilst driving through Death Valley at points I didn’t see another car for upto 2 hours. It was a complete change from my previous 2 days but my road trip was all about experiencing as much as I can so I embraced the solitude of Death Valley and loved it. It’s such a huge place and with the only place to stay in Death Valley being fully booked I’d set myself up for a long drive right the way through. I stopped off several times to take a few hikes and wander out towards the dessert but with time on my mind I eventually made my way to the next motel I could find. Death Valley was actually one of my favourite places out of all that I visited.
My last stay was in the end location of Route 66 and that was the brilliant Santa Monica, California. My previous nights stay wasn’t too far away so I made my way there with a quick stop in Hollywood. This place was almost as hectic as Vegas with the packed streets but it was so enjoyable. I made my way down the famous walk of fame and took a quick tour of some celeb houses and the hot spots of Hollywood. With this done and a quick pit stop for some food I then ventured towards the beaches of Santa Monica. I quickly found the end of route sign on the pier and then enjoyed some time exploring down towards ‘muscle beach’. I got a few workouts in the sunshine on all of the beach equipment, I’m very jealous of the people who can do this daily. I really didn’t want to come home after this road trip but every good journey has to come to an end. Once it does you simply have to plan for the next one and that’s exactly what I’m doing.
I’ll see you in the next one!