Updated: Jul 31, 2018
I had mentioned in one of my previous posts that I had a 'bucket list' prepared; and one of the items on that list was to drive historic Route 66 in our Camaro. And Yes, I did it!
My wife and I just came back after driving three weeks and 5,593 miles! This was a once in a lifetime road trip, so I thought I would share some of the highlights and photos from our trip. Then, at the end, I want to share how a parkie like me survived this trip!
Note: This post is quite longer than normal, so I apologize in advance. However, I wanted to include a good amount of detail about the trip, so it is what it is!
First and foremost, for anyone interested, I want to recommend an excellent book by Jerry McClanahan called 'EZ66 Guide for Travelers' (Amazon link here). This guide proved absolutely essential for us as we traveled Route 66, with detailed driving instructions and lists of many unique things to see on the road. If you are even thinking about making this same trip, I suggest this be the first book you buy.
I would also suggest a second book, called "Route 66 Road Trip by Moon Publishing" (Amazon link here). This book is secondary to Jerry's book, but it does provide some more detail (and color pictures) of things to see and do along Route 66. Also, it describes at the beginning an itinerary of how to do the trip in about 2 weeks time.
But I say that with caution - we crammed the trip along Route 66 in exactly 14 and 1/2 days (+ 5 1/2 days to get back home), which left us tired and missing a few sites along the way. If you can afford more time, then please do so - but in our case living that long 'out of a suitcase' was about as much time as we could stand!
As far as planning goes, you can only plan so much - a lot of the time you simply have to plan only one day in advance. In other words, wherever you end up each day, the following morning you try to 'guess' where you'll be at the end of that day. I found that I made the hotel reservation for our next stop around mid-morning each day (using the web on our phones).
Finally, as far as timing goes, that depends on whether you are traveling with children our not. We wanted to go before school was out in order to avoid the crowds and kids running around like wild Indians (sorry family folks!) That is why we decided to go in May (September was our second choice). Some of the spots, like the Grand Canyon, were crowded anyway, so I can only imagine what it would be like in July or August! Plus, remember the temperature in the Southwest gets extreme in summer, so you have to take that into consideration also.
So... here we go on Historic Route 66!
First Stop - Illinois
We started our trip in Chicago at the historic Route 66 Begin sign. (I wanted to get a picture of us in front of the sign, but I was stopped in a 'No Parking' zone and didn't want a ticket on our first day of travel!) We went into Chicago on a Saturday in the hopes of avoiding a lot of the horrible weekday traffic; and although busy, it was nothing compared to what it could have been (trust me, I've drove in Chicago traffic on a weekday - UGH!). Still, navigating the traffic even on a weekend wasn't a walk in the park. But we did make it through the city reasonably well.
Traveling down old 66, we slowly got out of the big city and into the smaller towns. Our first real stop was in Joliet, where we had an ice cream at the Rich and Creamy shop located next to the Kicks on 66 park. Then we stopped in the Joliet Route 66 Historical Museum and Gift Shop, and that was a great place for some souvenirs, along with some picture-taking (including me with the Blues Brothers!)
Next was Wilmington where we saw the Gemini Giant and the Launching Pad Drive-In - which was also were we tasted our first bottle of 'Route 66 Root Beer' - good stuff! Then later on in Odell the 1932 restored Standard Station was a great picture-taking opportunity. In Pontiac, the Route 66 Hall of Fame Museum had a lot of interesting Route 66 relics and memories. Then in Funks Grove, I had to stop at the fabled Funks Grove Maple 'SIRUP' (spelled just so) and pick up a bottle to take back home! Traveling further, in Lincoln we saw (after going by and missing it twice!) the Giant Abe Lincoln and Wagon.
Also in Dwight we came across the Ambler's Texaco Gas Station; and although it wasn't open to go inside and view, it still was pretty cool!
We then arrived in Springfield, the state capital of Illinois where I had the chance to photo the famed Route 66 Drive-in Theater. Of course, this was during the day so no movie was showing at that time. But the most interesting place we visited in Springfield was President Lincoln's Tomb. Not only was this informative, but also humbling - just to know that you were only a few feet away from the resting place of what I consider to be one of the greatest Presidents who ever lived... It definitely caused us to stop and reflect. I would highly suggest that anyone traveling in the Springfield area make a visit here, as we both felt this was one of the best sites we visited on our trip!
And here are a couple of shots of us on the road in Illinois!
Next we left Illinois and ventured into Missouri. We skipped most of the St. Louis part of the drive, since we had already visited St. Louis last year (including the Arch, Cardinal Stadium, etc.) It was a VERY hot day that day, so we had to stop at one of the major tourist attractions, the Ted Drews Frozen Custard shop on 66, where they have been making their 'concretes' since 1941! And I think everyone else in west St. Louis had the same idea - the line was huge! But we made it through the line and enjoyed some mighty fine ice cream.
In Fanning, we stopped to see the GIANT Rocking Chair - and it was mighty large all right! Still, we again almost drove right by it without seeing it - must have been looking too hard....
There were numerous little shops and stops that we did while traveling 66 in Missouri. The drive was pretty serene with patches of the actual old Route 66 paving from the 1950's - bumpy at times but was fun to drive on some of the actual road!
Route 66 only cuts through the corner of Kansas for just 13 miles; it is the only Route 66 state entirely bypassed by an interstate freeway. Yet there were some interesting things to see, such as a restored gas station in Galena featuring cars from the movie 'Cars'. Also, it was refreshing to drive on the old 2-lane 66 without the freeway in sight!
Route 66 cuts Oklahoma from the NE corner to the middle/SW corner of the state. In the western part of the state there were may miles of pristine, original Portland concrete (with curbs) that was fun to drive on.
Of course we had to stop in Vinita at the pecan groves of the Miller Pecan Company to load up on some really fine pecans and pecan candy (Yum!) Then in Claremore we stopped for lunch at the famous Ron's Hamburgers and Chili on Route 66. Then we stopped for even more pecans (and other nuts including myself - ha!) at The Nut House in Catoosa.
But the most famous site in Catoosa is the Blue Whale- this is a grinning, restored sculptural icon in a lake inside a park. I guess it has been there quite a long time and was a familiar site for people driving Route 66 in the past. Pretty neat!
And of course, since we were using Jerry McClanahan's EZ66 guide, we had to stop in at his gallery (McJerry's Route 66 Gallery) in Chandler and meet him! Which we did - a very nice and informative guy - and he even autographed our EZ66 guide; plus we purchased a couple of really nice prints made by Jerry of vintage Route 66 memories!
In Clinton, we HAD (mandatory) to visit the Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, which had some really nice exhibits, including some recreations of old diners and drive-ins. Plus their gift store was a hoot - I got a nice Route 66 clock there!
We stopped at a number of other places in OK (such as the National Route US 66 Museum below), but above were the main 'highlights'.
Everything is BIG in Texas! (And no, I didn't buy myself a 10-gallon hat!) Well, except for the drive - Texas contains the second shortest alignment of Route 66, since it goes through just the panhandle. But there was still plenty of things to see, from old restored gas stations to giant peace symbols.
In Groom, we stopped at the giant Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ - 190 feet (19 stories) tall! Very beautiful, and apparently is even more so at night when it is fully lit up.
West of Conway, we drove the best section of Route 66 in TX - the only place in Texas where you can legally drive 70 MPH on the old road (well... I MAY have drove a 'little' faster than that! <wicked grin>).
Then in Amarillo we stopped at the fabled BIG TEXAN Restaurant, the home of the "Free 72oz Steak Dinner (if eaten in 1 hour!)" No, neither of us even attempted that - a 72oz steak is HUGE - if I would have done that (not that I could have even came near to finishing it) I'm sure I would have broke the shocks and springs in the Camaro once I waddled my butt back into it!
We also went by the Stoner Patriot Peace Garden of All Faiths that was interesting - all kind of peace symbols and remarks from songs about peace. My niece Heidi would have liked this...
We then took the side trip to one of the strangest sites you'll see - Cadillac Ranch. Here, out in a field in the middle of nowhere, are 10 luxury Cadillac's, planted nose-down in the soil! People have painted graffiti all over the cars - in fact most were doing it there on the day we stopped. Very odd to be driving down the road and suddenly see a bunch of cars sticking out of the ground!
New Mexico definitely feels like a southwestern state, with scrub brush, adobe buildings, mountains and mesas... We stayed overnight in Tucumcari (I just like saying that name!)
Also in Tucumcari was a very nice restored Route 66 Texaco gas filling station.
In Santa Rose we stopped and saw some custom cars, hot-rods and vintage vehicles at the Route 66 Auto Museum. They had all kinds of older cars from the early years to the near present, representing some of the automobiles that used to travel Route 66. They even had a nice '69 Camaro - which is what our Gen 5 2012 Camaro was designed after!
Next up was the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa. This is a big hole fed by underground springs. The water is crystal clear, and runs about 61 degrees. It is 80 feet wide and over 80 feet deep! The flow of water is about 3,000 gallons per minute! You can swim, dive, or just stick your feet into the Blue Hole - which is what we did. Boy, was that water cold but refreshing on a hot New Mexico day!
Also, we saw an abandoned old Shell station that obviously used to be a Stuckey's.
We didn't take the Santa Fe loop option, since we just didn't have time in our schedule. But if I ever did this again (highly doubtful because of the PD, but I can always hope!) I would want to try this, as it is said the drive is nice, and there are a lot of nice shops in downtown Santa Fe.
I knew this was going to be the highlight of the trip, as there is so much natural wonder and beauty in Arizona. We both were excited to see Arizona!
First major stop was at the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. The views of the Painted Desert were beautiful, and seeing petrified wood all over in the park was amazing. Took lots of pictures, and even purchased some petrified wood at the gift shop!
Note: Here is where my previous entry on 'Freebies for Parkies' took on a special significance - I mentioned that you can get a Free Lifetime Pass to any National Park or Monument simply by showing you are permanently disabled. Well, folks, I can tell you that this is completely true! We stopped at the gate of the Petrified Forest National Park, and I told the attendant there that I was wondering about the free pass for disability. She asked me what my disability was, which of course I said Parkinson's. That was all it took - I now have my free lifetime pass! I had 'documentation' available to show her, but she said that was fine - it was on the honor system and I just had to have evidence should the government require it of me in the future. Sweet! We got into the Petrified Forest and Grand Canyon National Parks multiple times at no cost!
Next up was something I had always wanted to see (being an astronomy buff) and that was Meteor Crater. This crater was formed by a meteor impact about 50,000 years ago. It is an amazing thing to see - to stand on the top of the crater, knowing it is almost a mile wide and 500 feet deep!
Also we had to stop in Winslow, Arizona... if you are a fan of the Eagles band, you'll remember the lyrics of 'Take It Easy' :
"Standing on the corner, in Winslow Arizona,
What a fine sight to see;
It's a girl, my lord, in a flat bed Ford,
Slowing down to take a look at me."
Well, there IS a corner in Winslow AZ where they have statues of a guy with a guitar and another guy (presumably two of the Eagles group) and you can 'stand on the corner' and take your picture with them! Of course there is a mural on the wall with a girl in a flat-bed Ford! Very cool - and a nice "On the Corner" gift store next door.
Also in Winslow, there was the 9/11 Remembrance Garden which has actual girders from the remains of the World Trade Center. Very sombering, but worth it to visit and remember that horrible day in 2001...
And of course, you can't travel Route 66 in Arizona without a visit to the fantastic Grand Canyon! I have never visited this iconic American National Park, and it was more than I even imagined! I stood in awe as I approached the south rim of the canyon - it almost left me speechless! Pictures, although beautiful, are nothing compared to seeing it with your own eyes! Something I will remember for the rest of my life...
Past the Grand Canyon, we drove on a stretch of Route 66 like no other - a pristine 159 miles of almost uninterrupted asphalt. Along the way were the iconic "Berma-Shave" signs from the 50's, with such slogans as (and yes we saw this particular sign):
The one who drives
when he's been drinking,
Depends on you
to do his thinking!
In Williams, we stopped at Cruiser's Route 66 Bar and Grill. This was made to look like an old 50's diner; the food was decent, and the collection of old gas pumps inside made the visit worth it! Plus their gift shop had a great collection of Route 66 signs.
A stop in Williams wouldn't be complete without a visit to Pete's Rt 66 Gas Station and Museum. This is an old, restored Route 66 style gas station (non-working of course) along with a museum inside. The gentleman in the museum was very friendly and had a lot of info on the gas station and the area.
Finally we arrived at the California border, and of course, the first stop was Needles. This is where Snoopy's brother, Spike, lives in the desert with the coyotes! And in town is a statue of Spike, which I had to stop and take a picture since my sister is Spike's biggest fan!
We also took the opportunity here to gas up, get water and prepare to cross the Mojave desert. Which didn't really look like a desert per se, but rather more of a rocky, scrub brush infested land of pretty much nothing. And it was hot - 97 that day!
There really wasn't much to stop and see in this area; around Amboy we did stop at the fabled Bagdad Cafe, which was featured in the film of the same name (sorry, but I wasn't impressed!)
We stopped for the night at Barstow; and just outside of the town we came across an old sign for Polly Gas. The gas station was long gone, but the sign was still there with it's signature parrot... My, was gas cheap then!! Compare it to what it was when we went through the area!
We then drove through the Upper Cajon Pass, and made it into Pasadena. This is where the traffic started becoming heavy.
And of course, being Michigan football fans, we had to stop in at the Rose Bowl to check it out and get a few pics!
In San Bernardino, we stopped at the McDonald's Museum and saw tons of relics from McDonald's past - a lot of which I remember having at one time or another in my life!
We waited until the next morning to venture into Los Angeles, since this was a weekday and we've been told to try to get in by 10am and out by 2pm in order to avoid the worst traffic.
Ha! Let me tell you - if you miss even ONE exit on your pre-planned map, you might as well forget it! I missed one of the first, critical exit ramps, and therefore had to drive all over LA trying to get back on 66 (I think we went through China Town TWICE). We finally found and got back on 66, but then was met by a mass of road construction! At that point, we decided to give up going down the final leg of 66 (boo!) and instead try a shortcut to simply get to the end-of-the-line at Santa Monica Pier. Because of that we didn't get to see or photo the Hollywood sign, but at least we got a photo of the Beverly Hills sign!
We finally arrived at Santa Monica pier - but being a Friday (and the Friday before the Memorial Day holiday to boot) the pier was jam packed; luckily my handicap placard gave us favor with the parking attendant (and no cost to park!), and we were able to find a decent place to park. Then we got a picture of ourselves at the Route 66 'End of the Trial' sign on the pier. !
We had done it - drove Route 66 from Chicago to LA!! Woo Hoo!
Side Note: After this we headed up to Santa Rosa (just north of San Fransisco) for a couple of days so that we could visit the Charles M. Schultz Museum (the writer of the Peanuts comic strip). Being one of the biggest fans of Peanuts (and Charlie Brown) I had to visit the museum since I was in the area. Oh, the gift store there... I could have easily maxed out our credit card!
Parkie 'Lessons Leaned'
As I mentioned at the beginning, I wanted to tell you how I made it through this trip as a Parkinson's patient. I began this trip with a lot of anxiety - would my brain (and body) be able to survive this trip? Did I bring enough meds? What happens if 'something' happens??
That being said, I did make it (obviously) but I would make the following observations for any other PD patient even thinking about make a trip like this:
DBS made this trip possible - I can't even imagine being able to go on a trip like this without the DBS... The feet cramping (dystonia) alone would have prevented me from going.
Bring enough meds - I can't stress enough that you plan out your meds ahead of time and make sure you bring enough of them. I actually brought an extra weeks worth just in case we were delayed anywhere.
Get enough rest - I can't emphasize this more. Try to get as much rest in-between drives as possible. This was especially important to me due to the fatigue caused by PD.
Stop for breaks - Plan to stop for a 15 minute break at least every two hours! Even then I noticed that I was extremely stiff when I tried to get out of the car; if I would have driven (or even road as a passenger) for longer periods I don't know if I could have gotten out without help!
Time changes are the worst- Going from EDT to PDT is a change of 3 hours... Not only does this change affect sleep (I normally get up around 6am, so in CA I was waking up at 3am - UGH!), but also can affect your med schedule. I tried to stay on schedule based upon what time zone we were in, but that proved to be difficult. And my body and brain were really messed up at times - I even missed a dose or two of meds because of the time changes! So it's important to plan for this and come up with a system of how to handle it ahead of time.
Bottom line - plan ahead and be kind to your body!
All in all, this was truly the road trip of a lifetime, and I am glad I did it this year. To be honest, I don't know if I could have done this next year, due to my Parkinson's. But I have a ton of memories, pictures (as you can see) and trinkets to remember this trip.
Anyway, that is where I have been in the last three weeks! So thank you all for reading and enjoying a little bit of the trip with me! I'll be starting on my next entry here soon, and continuing with my Parkinson's Illegitimate Children series. Until then, motor on!