Already, a fifth day of traveling west on Route 66 is in the books. We had big expectations for this day as we set out in the morning, but time constraints (the fault, in part, of a windshield that needed replacing on one of the Nissan vehicles that make up our convoy), and one visit that sucked up time without meriting it, means we closed the books on this chapter with a mild sense of disappointment.
Let me be clear, however: even a mediocre day on Route 66 is better than the best possible day spent at one’s desk! And we did still manage to see our share of memorable spots.
1 — Continental Divide
The line that decides whether waters head back east to drain in the Mississippi and then the Golf of Mexico and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean, or travel west to reach the Pacific, is located near the town of, yes, Continental Divide, in New Mexico. The geography sends everything that flows to the west of this spot westward and everything that falls to the east in the other direction.
It’s hard not to take a moment to stop here, on the other hand there isn’t that much to actually see.
Note that because of the Divide’s length, there are other demarcation lines in other locations. As well, every continent, with the exception of Antarctica, has its own continental divide.
2 — El Rancho Hotel
In the town of Gallup, New Mexico, you find one of the absolute must-see places on Route 166: the El Rancho Hotel. The building it’s in was constructed in 1936 for one R.E. Griffith, who happened to be the brother of pioneering film director D.W. Griffith. The Griffith brothers invited Hollywood producers to the hotel for use as an HQ and set when filming – most of them, unsurprising, westerns.
Over the years innumerable film stars stayed at the hotel, and inside the walls are adorned by many photos of famous actors and actresses. Here we can see a young Kirk Douglas in a still from the 1951 film Ace in the Hole, labeled here by its alternate title The Big Carnival. Incredibly, the movie icon, father to actor Michael Douglas, is still with us today, and is set to celebrate his 103rd birthday on December 9.
3 — The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest is one of the most-visited spots along Route 66, but it requires time if you’re going to stop there and really discover it. Unfortunately, we could only see it in passing; our schedule did not permit even a short stop to get out and admire the scenery, let alone visit to the visitors centre to learn more about the area.
In short, this National Park, which also includes a section called the Painted Desert, contains some 450 different species of plants, but most interesting to visitors perhaps are the trees that have become petrified through a natural process a bit too complex to get into here. Visible are the tree trunks, which have been hollowed out – perhaps replaced by minerals? Fans of geology and geography will want to plan an extended stop here for sure.
4 — The Wigwam Motel
The Wigwam Motel is one of the most unusual of many oddball places lining Route 66. You’ll find it in the town of Holbrook, Arizona, where it draws crowds thanks to its rooms, shaped like wigwams or teepees.
Wigwam hotels were at one time a chain of establishments that were in operation from the 1930s through the 1950s. There were seven Wigwam villages in all and they drew in thousands tourists and travelers in their heyday. The motel in Holbrook is one of three that remain, and on of two you’ll come across on Route 66 – the other is the others being in Rialto/San Bernardino, in California
In Holbrook, each “room” has a classic car parked in front of it, adding a unique twist, a apropos for the route it abuts. And yes, you can stay the night in one of the teepees – just make sure to plan well ahead.
5 — Winslow, Arizona
If the name of this town in this state sounds familiar to you, here’s why: The lyrics of The Eagles’ 1972 song Take it Easy make mention of a man standing on a street corner in Winslow, Arizona. The song was a smash hit and has become a classic of the band’s repertoire.
It also resulted in the erection of a statue of a man, guitar in hand, on a street corner in the town. At the same intersection (of Second and Kinsley Streets) you find a giant Route 66 insignia painted on the road.
This photo, taken on an earlier pilgrimage on Route 66, shows the painted insignia on the road; in the background is the statue (mostly hidden by the, yep, tourists), and further off is another statue, that one depicting Eagles band member Glenn Frey.