The gentle sun caresses your shoulders as you slide into the black leather driver seat of your drop-top Mustang, glittering red in the roadside heat. Route 66 beckons, and your best friend beams, face full of excitement.
You’re heading from the Windy City, old Chicago town, and meandering your way across country on the iconic highway. You’ll roll along the Main Street of America until you reach the Pacific Ocean, all the way over there in Santa Monica, California.
Get your kicks on Route 66. Over to Nat King Cole to get you in the mood
Here comes the thrill of the open road, from Chicago to LA. A true classic. You hit the gas.
Grab a Chicago-style hot dog at Portillo’s and wander past downtown’s skyscrapers to Grant Park, grab a selfie, jazz hands waving, leg kicked in the air, smiles wide open. Here, on this spot, historic Route 66 starts. The adventure is about to begin.
You ease into driver’s seat, and the tyres roll across the hot tarmac. You’re off. You wave to Sears Towers; you glide past stunning beaux arts Union Station and through the notorious neighbourhood of Cicero, gangster land. No more Al Capone, no more gangsters, no more bootleggers, but its history lingers.
Hello, St Louis, one of the big cities on Route 66 leaps on to the horizon, its Gateway Arch towering above the skyscrapers. Hop out, stretch your legs and take a stroll around downtown St Louis
And while you’re downtown, dive into the extraordinary century-old warehouse of City Museum for a wander through the deeply unexpected. It’s a jungle of aeroplanes, ball pits, slides and stairways. It’s an urban playground. Explore
Back out on the open road, the long, tree-lined roads of Mark Twain National Forest open out before you, rippling rivers rolls along beside you, and the roof is down. The wind whips your hair, your arm rides the wave of the air out the window. You’re here, you’re together and the world is wonderful.
Onward to Wagon Wheel Motel, the oldest motel on Route 66. Onward to Lincoln’s grave in Springfield. Onward to the 66 Drive-In in Carthage. Onward to Oklahoma and Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. A mirage, glistening in heat of the day, a blue whale floats into view. You stretch out of your car, crumbs falling from your lap and you slurp at your litre cup. Flip-flopping into the Blue Whale’s jaws and into its belly, you snatch a selfie, giggling, and patter up to its tail that sticks out of its pond home.
You’re on the way to Amarillo.
And when you get there, glory in the Route 66ness of it all. Gas stations, neon signs, independent stores, craft shops, painted buildings, historic saloons and a warm welcome. Drive down Amarillo’s Route 66 Historic District and soak it all up.
Cadillac Ranch Amarillo Texas
On the horizon loom ten cars, their noses buried deep in the ground. An eye-catching art installation, covered in graffiti. A kind breeze nudges a paint can towards your feet, willing you to do what every traveller has done. Your hands tightly wrap around the cold metal, you shake it and prepare for the hiss. Swirls of lines appear on the car, and you leave your mark, scrawling your name on the metal car, becoming part of its history.
You’re in the desert now. It’s hot, it’s sticky. You crank up the AC or wind down the windows, you tell stories, share memories, joke, laugh, snooze. You sing loud, looking at each other, at the road, at each other, at the road. This is your time. Turn your road-trip mix tape and thrill in being alive as the long, straight road reaches out before you.
You’re on your way to the big one: The Grand Canyon. Yes, it’s a little of the highway, but … it’s the Grand Canyon.
Beyond the Mojave National Preserve, in the heart of the Californian desert, man-made magic flourishes. Jack planted the beanstalk; Elmer planted his bottle tree paradise. Ravishing reds, bold blues and glamourous greens sparkle and glimmer in vivid spectrums of light as you get arty with your Instagram.
You wander through the forest of bottles. On your left, a rusting row boat overflows with jars; a wheel, a bed post, a mailbox, a rifle, a jeep creates this walk-through kaleidoscope lit by the Californian sun.
Before you leave, you drop a dollar bill into the honesty box and pick out a piece of worn glass to keep as a souvenir.
The mountains disappear behind you and the Pacific Ocean opens up before your eyes. You’ve made it. You’re 2,448 miles from Chicago with a million memories. The welcome arch of Santa Monica Yacht Harbour and the colourful thrills of Pacific Park frame your arrival as the sun dips into the ocean. You’ve driven the Mother Road. Here’s to the memories...