The Mother Road From Chicago to LA along the Route 66

If there’s a Road in the world that can have the definition of the proper “Road trip” travel destination, that’s for sure the Route 66. From Chicago to LA, this highway achieved American Icon status, a true example of commercial archeology. In the early years of the twentieth century, America was crisscrossed by a collection of disorganized and poor quality roads, considered adequate when most travel occurred via horse and buggy or railroad. However, the development of the automobile, fueled a demand on the part of the American public for more and better roads. During the late 40’s and 50’s America became a much more mobile society, and lots of people began to have first-hand experience using R66 either on business, while taking family vacations or simply moving their households, driving through California in search of a better future.

“If you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the highway that is best. Get your kicks on Route sixty-six” 

…was singing Bobby Troup in 1946. So I did. When 4.000 kms in 20 days are definitely too many for a Press car standards, “basic” rentals are the only remaining options. And actually, why all rental cars aren’t that cool in Europe? The Dodge Challenger is one of the most legendary Muscle car of the 70’s, and today’s model was initially unveiled as a concept at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, then officially going into production in 2008. My car was the last restyling, a 2017 model year, with a standard 3.6 Liter V6 Pentastar engine. Far from the fury of the more aggressive SRT V8 version, but with 300 Hp and a reasonable fuel consumption, was the best choice for the purpose of such a long trip. 

The start of the route in Downtown Chicago is not an easy find on a sunny august afternoon. Even more difficult considering that i’ve decided to travel without gps or google maps, but only with an old guide and a map. After the ritual picture under the sign in Adam Street, the trip has officially started. High and modern skyscrapers soon leave space to suburbs and more green spaces. With the lights slowly fading, I end up my first 200 kms in the little town of Dwight, famous for the iconic “250 GTO” Garage. Initially very easy to follow, thanks to many brown sign, once you get lost in the countryside the Mother Road start to be difficult to be followed. Today, it survived the attempts of five interstate super labs that tried in vain to take its place. For long distances it flows linear alongside the 55 and then 44, passing through little towns and colorful cultivated fields. 494 kms after I’m in Saint Louis, Missouri, right on time for some spectacular Drag races at the Getaway international Raceway. 300 Hp are definitely not a lot for a quite heavy car, which in this version can be considered as a normal “daily” for the american standard, but on a European user perspective, the abundant torque at low revs and the soft sound of the V6 are just perfect to roll down the road.

Designed to travel you from point A to B in minimal time, the modern Interstates have of course many attractive qualities, particularly to long-distance truckers. However, sealed in your fast-moving automobile, your perception of the world is distorted, cutting off sounds and smell of the world around you. On the Route 66, there is a healthy stimulations for all the senses, visually even more amplified. Houses, schools, stores, crosswalks, traffic lights, hills and mountains, farms and empty fields. An entire world is around you, and you can pull over and stop at almost any time to savor it a little more. 

Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, states are passing and everything on the road is authentic. I was expecting a way more touristic destination, but the Mother Road is everything but an artificial attraction. Americans doesn’t seem very interested to celebrate such a piece of their country history, and I will find only a few European travelers in more than two weeks. Real America is flowing out of the window. With the landscape constantly changing I soon find myself into a dreamlike situation. Time seems to have stopped long ago, not only when you pass through the typical abandoned gas stations or motels, but also as soon as you reach a little town, looking like a Wild West movie set.

I just left the yellow corn fields of Texas, when I decide to do a little deviation in the far south of New Mexico. The White Sands National Park has always been on my bucket list, and considering that will take me just a couple of days, I leave the Mother Road in Albuquerque to hit the 25 South to Alamogordo. A sand storm welcomed me in the national park close to the Mexican border. Really strong wind and dark clouds creating a surreal atmosphere. As soon as the storm calmed down, while I was walking on a trail on the dunes, it opened up an incredible landscape. 

Back north on the route for some hundreds of kilometers, another deviation take me back north to Utah, to visit again some of the places I love the most. Arches National Park and the Monument valley. I was feeling California, which represents the end of the trail, was getting closer, and I tried again to make the trip longer. Moab can be easily considered the capital of off-road vehicles, with Atv, monster trucks, modified Wranglers and Hummer H1 in every corner. From here, infact, starts a lot of trails in the desert and through the mountains that are the perfect scenario for off road lovers. With over 200 kms without petrol stations and temperatures over 40°c (105°f) I finally reach Lake Powell. A ferry will then take me back to the east side and south to the Navajo region of the Monument Valley. The famous pinnacles of red rock creates one of the most majestic, and photographed, places on earth. After a night in a Navajo Tepee in the desert, I choose to finally go back south and remain on the Route, driving west across the Mojave desert while the incredibly vaste City of Los Angeles is getting closer. It’s July 16th and it took me 7 hour to cross it, from Victorville, across Pasadena, Hollywood, Beverly Hills and finally reaching the Palms of Santa Monica. On 5 pm I’m enjoying a cold beer on the famous Pier, “End of the Trail”.

7.617 kms, 11 states, hundreds of gallons of fuel for an unforgettable road trip. 70 years ago it could have been a vacation, a business opportunity or the travel to a better future. Today, is a picture of real America, across lost places that represent a past that never stopped to be present.

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