We love driving route 66! It has a real nostalgic feeling, it gives you the change to meet interesting people and see interesting places on the road, and the driving part self is fun too because it will take you off the interstate and sometimes you really have to make an effort to find the right way.
Route 66 is actually a bunch of all different roads in 8 different states, that are connected and that all together was the road from Chicago to LA in the early days. Officially it doesn’t exist anymore and some parts of the road are gone, replaced by the interstate or other roads. That’s why you really have to look where to go and read the description very carefully to make sure you don’t miss a part. For us, this makes the trip even more interesting.
It starts in the middle of downtown Chicago, right on the shores of lake Michigan. It really felt great to even get there. We were driving our truck right through Chicago. Once we are on Jackson street, where route 66 starts, we get really enthusiastic. We are actually doing it, we are starting route 66! On the side of the road are historic route 66 signs. They’re not 100% reliable, but with the signs, our description and a map, we find our way through the city.
After a few nights we stay on a campground near the town of Lincoln. Early in the evening it starts to rain, so we sit inside the camper. It keeps raining and there’s a thunderstorm coming. While we are sitting at the table, eating our dinner, we suddenly hear a very big bang. We feel the camper shake. Marc opens the door to look outside, but he sees nothing but a dark night and heavy rainfall. Since there seems to be nothing wrong, we don’t go outside to investigate further and we don’t think about it anymore. The next morning however, we see that the lightning struck a tree, only 50 meters from our camper! It hit the tree all the way from the top to the bottom and there are pieces of wood everywhere.
We are driving southwest and we see the weather and the landscape changing. Missouri is greener and had more trees than Illinois. The weather is different too. It is 30 degrees Celsius, we are back in summer again. We pass some beautiful old pieces of road that meander alongside a river and pass an old fashioned authentic bridge. A small town called Cuba has the biggest rocking chair of the world and the Wagon Wheel Motel, a very typical route 66 motel. We eat real good hamburgers and milkshakes at ‘shake-n-steak’ in Springfield.
We cross the border to Kansas. Route 66 goes only a few kilometers through Kansas. Just a few kilometers over the border there is a small café with some old cars parked outside. When we give it a good look, we see it’s Mater from the movie Cars. They even put the eyes behind the windscreen. According to a website on internet this car was the inspiration for the character Mater in the movie. Youri recognizes it. Cars is his favorite movie, so he loves it.
We stop in Catoosa for lunch. Here is another big route 66 icon: a giant blue whale in a swimming pond. People used to stop here for a swim when they were driving route 66 in the old days. They could dive from the whale or climb on it. Nowadays the pool is closed, but they keep the whale for the tourists. Youri loves it. He has been looking forward to see this thing for a long time. There is a picture from the whale on the cover of our route 66 guidebook, so he was very anxious to see it for real.
We go to the nearby Rock Café for lunch. Rock does not refer to music by the way, but to the stones that the café is made of. We have a real good hamburger here. It turns out that the owner of the café was the inspiration for Sally from the movie Cars. Cars again.Youri loves it. And so do we. There is a poster with an original autograph of John Lasseter. These unexpected little things happen all the time while driving route 66. And that’s part of why we like it so much.
We continue our route 66 journey. We are in Clinton now, close to the border with Texas. There is a real nice route 66 museum here that we visit. It is about cars (not the movie this time, but nice classic cars from the fifties and sixties) and everything that is related to that. Especially the part about the drive in cinema’s with gadgets like foodtrays that you can put on the door of your car. We don’t know something like drive-in cinema’s in Europe, so for us this is really fun to see.
We pass the state border with Texas. Route 66 only goes through the panhandle, the most Northern part of the state. We love the views. There is just nothing there, but it is beautiful. Just past Amarillo is the “Cadillac Ranche”. This is another interesting Texan and route 66 icon. Somebody painted a couple of Cadillacs in all colors, like graphitti. He put the cars in a row with their noses in the ground under a 60 degrees angle and then it is art. I have to admit that in this desolated area it looks nice. At least they are really photogenic.
We pass the border into New Mexico. The landscape gets more diverse and it is getting even more beautiful out here. Far away from us we see tiny cars crawling on the interstate. Besides that there is nobody else here. We stop at Tucumcari on a campground. It is still early and we take some time to relax. Crawling on the grass a huge spider is coming in our direction. It is a real tarantula! We make sure the kids are out of the way and then kindly persuade the spider in a different direction, far away from us. We check with the owner of the campground and he tells us that the spider is not dangerous. He is very timid, not aggressive and even if it bites you it is not worse than a bee sting. It is a relief to hear that.
We drive through Tucumcari the next morning and find some real authentic route 66 icons here. Route 66 goes straight through the center of Santa Fe. It is an interesting town with a nice Mexican atmosphere. We stop here to pick up some souvenirs. The next stop is Albuquerque. We stay on a nice campground on the north side of town.
A detour through national parks
The next morning we come to the Arizona. We drive a few kilometers into Arizona and then we come to the point where we will leave route 66 for a ‘short’ detour. We want to visit some national parks that are not too far from here and that we don’t want to miss. We put our route 66 maps and guidebook away and go into the direction of Canyon the Chelly.
The canyon is beautiful. We drive along the canyon and stop at different viewing points. The views are magnificent. We want to be inside the canyon to, so we decide to do some hiking. The next morning, real early before it gets too hot, we start on our trip down to the bottom of the canyon. I carry Michelle in her belly carrier and Youri walks himself. Marc holds his hand when we follow the narrow path down. We asked if it is not too dangerous for little kids, but it wasn’t. The path went 2 kilometers down into the canyon with a descent of 200 meters and of course we had to go the same distance back up again. Not too bad for a 3 years old. We are really proud of him.
The next stop on our detour is Monument Valley. We can see the huge mesa’s from a distance. We have seen quite some beautiful scenery on our way so far, but this is really stunning. There is what they call a primitive campground within the borders of the national park. Primitive is an understatement. It is just a piece of land with nothing on it. They only put a few toilets there. There are no other facilities. We don’t mind. The campground is right in front of the big mesas. We can drive to an area that is a little lower. The big rigs can’t make the descent so we share the spot with two tents. There is nobody in front of us. We can just sit down and relax. We have dinner with view on the mountains. This is absolutely one of the most beautiful spots in the world we have ever seen.
Our next stop is the Grand Canyon. On our way there we get some serious rain. It is late in the afternoon when we arrive in the national park, so we decide to go straight to the campground and have a look at the canyon tomorrow. When we look outside the next morning to see what the weather is like, we don’t really like what we see. The rain turned into hail and the ground is completely white with hailstones. It is still foggy, so visibility in the canyon is zero. We decide to leave the national park. No Grand Canyon for us today. We figure that we can maybe come back later at the end of our detour.
We continue our travels to Bryce Canyon National Park. We have to drive a long way before the rain stops, but then we get beautiful weather again. Bryce is at around 2500 meter altitude, so it is a bit cold here. But the sun is shining and we are looking at a clear blue sky. We walk from the campground to the start of a hiking trail that leads to a viewing point. We have to climb a small hill to get there. The moment we arrive at the trail we look straight into the valley. It is filled with the pinnacles that Bryce is famous for. The sun is already going down a bit and it shines right at the valley. Again this is a breath taking view!
We really enjoy Death Valley. It is still hot in this time of the year, but not as hot as in the middle of summer. Temperatures go up to 38 degrees when we are there. We can really understand why this place is called Death Valley. It is a desolated area. Everything is dry and empty. It is hard to find some shade. It is still off season here. On the campground there are only a few other people. Late in the afternoon it is cooling down a bit and we got some shade on our camping spot. Despite the heat we make a campfire. Somehow this seems like a place where you have to barbeque sausages and marshmallows on the campfire. The morning starts relatively cool, but by 9 o’clock you can feel the heat already. By 11 o’clock you really have to find an air conditioned area somewhere or at least some shade.
During our visit we go to all the highlights of the park. We visit the sand dunes (full with tracks of nocturnal animals), a crater of a volcano, viewing points and a dry salt lake which is the hottest place on the northern hemisphere. You can fry an egg on the ground here. Not that it would taste good with all that salt. The best thing we do is driving through Titus Canyon. This is a 30 kilometer dirt road. It starts just outside the park and slowly goes into the mountains. It passes a ghost town and then it goes into the gorge. Especially the last part where you drive through the gorge is great. The road twists and turns and behind every corner there is something new. It is spectacular.
After a couple of days Death Valley it is time to move on again. We go in the direction of Las Vegas. We have no intention to stay here. We are not really attracted to the city. But when we come closer we doubt our decision. It would be nice to get a glimpse of it. Really staying here for a while doesn’t appeal to us with the kids with us. But it would be nice to at least see a bit of the famous strip. We decide to just drive through it. So there I am. In our truck camper driving the strip of Las Vegas. It is fun. We recognize some stuff from television. And Youri is gazing to all the creative stuff that there is to be seen. It is fun, but then we move on.
Next morning we go to see the Hoover Dam. To get there you actually drive over the Hoover Dam. Too bad it is not possible to take a picture of that. We park the car at the other end and walk back to have a closer look. It is quite impressive.
It is time to get back to route 66. We backtrack the I-40 in the direction of the place where we left route 66. But first we stop a few days in Flagstaff. It is time to make some arrangements for the shipping of the car to Australia. We agree that we will deliver the camper on October 27th in LA. They will then do all the preparations, pack it in a container and get it through customs. We will fly out to Hawaii on November 1st. Shortly after that the boat with our container will leave for Sydney. Estimated time of arrival is December 10th. In the meantime we will go to Hawaii and Fiji and will arrive in Sydney on December 1st.
Although the weather forecast is not too good, we decide to give the Grand Canyon another change before we resume route 66. This time we are lucky. The view is clear and we can enjoy the great views this time. It is awfully crowded here. Too many people on high heels. But beside that it is magnificent. We find a quiet spot where we can watch the sunset over Grand Canyon
Now it is really time to get back to route 66. October 27th is 10 days from now, so it is time we head for LA. This is the end of our detour. We thought we would drive about 1500 – 2000 kilometers, but we ended up doing 3700! It was a big detour, but it was worth it. We saw some very beautiful things.
Route 66 in Arizona
We drive back to exactly the place where we left route 66 to start our detour. We don’t want to miss anything and we want to be able to say that we did route 66 completely. We get our route 66 maps and guides again and there we go again. Our first stop is Holbrook. We have a good start with pancakes at the campground and then visit the small town. There is a nice tipi motel here. There are about 10 tipis build in a circle around the office and the tipis are actually the motelrooms. Another icon that we pass is the small town of Jackrabbit. There is a sign with a jackrabbit on it that says “here it is”. In the old days everybody had his picture taken here. So we do the same thing.
Next morning we visit Williams and then travel further West. At first route 66 follows the interstate, but then the road makes a right turn and meanders in the direction of the Grand Canyon.
We pass some small towns and before we realize it, we drive in the desert. A good thing that we have plenty of water with us and that it is not so hot today. This is the Mojave Desert. We are only a couple of hundred kilometers south of Death Valley. It is again beautiful here. There are no campgrounds here, just some service stations where you can fill up your tank and get some basic groceries. So there is no other solution then drive another 300 kilometers to get to the civilized world again.
One lady asks us if we are driving route 66. And if we say ‘yes’, she asks where we started and which part we are driving. We say that we started at the beginning in Chicago. She is very enthusiastic that we are driving the complete route 66. Here enthusiasm makes us realize that is special what we are doing.
We have a few kilometers left that go to rural areas of California. But after San Bernardino we really enter the suburbs of Los Angelos. The route 66 feeling slowly disappears here. There are simply too many other influences here. It feels very special to drive on Sunset Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevard on your own truckcamper! We got stuck in traffic so it takes longer than we expected to reach the end. We are tired when we finally get there. The end of route 66 is quite abrupt. Officialy it ends where it meets highway 10. This is a very crowded crossing, so there is no time to stop or even to have a close look. Not that there is anything to be seen. There is no sign or anything. Because most people didn’t like the end of the road, it is a bit of a anticlimax, they decided to make the Santa Monica pier the end of route 66. We drive north along the coast and find a campground in Malibu. We wake up with a view on dolphins in the ocean and the very satisfied feeling that we drove route 66….
Preparations for the shipment
We had all the paperwork done, the main thing we have to do now is make sure that everything is very clean. They are very strict on that in Australia. So we spent two days cleaning the inside and outside of the car and the camperunit. Then we decide it is good enough. We also take the car to a garage to get it serviced. It seems like a good idea while we are still in America. They don’t sell this type in Australia. And the last thing we need to do is empty the gas bottle. You are not allowed to have a full gas bottle on board a ship. So we let it empty by a professional dealer and get a official statement that they did that. Finally we pack our bags with things we want to take to Hawaii and Fiji and we do the last preparations in the camper to avoid damage. In all this hard work, there is one exception. On October 24th it is Youri’s birthday. So today we celebrate. We decorate the inside of the camperunit and when he wakes up he sees the balloons. Of course he gets presents and we eat birthday cake.
And then it becomes the 27th. In the morning we do the last cleaning up and then it is time to put the camperunit back on the truck. We pick up our rental car that we are going to use the next couple of days. We still have a few days in Los Angelos and then we will go to Hawaii. Our camper travels will continue in Sydney Australia.