Covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km) and running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California – through the states of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona – “Route 66”, also known as “the Main Street of America”, “the Mother Road” and “the Will Rogers Highway”, goes back to the year 1926. Within the popular consciousness, it is most famously associated with the TV series Route 66 of the 1960s and the song “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66” of 1946 performed by the jazz singer and pianist Nat King Cole (1919-1965).
Route 66 can be said to have two histories, a “material” one and a “symbolic” one. It served as a major US transportation corridor from 1926 to about 1970 and it has also been a pillar of mid-twentieth-century American automobile culture and tourism. In his 2007 book Hip to the Trip: A Cultural History of Route 66, Peter Dedek, a professor at Texas State University, San Marcos, explains:
While not the longest or the first long-distance highway across the United States (the Lincoln Highway from New York City to San Francisco was first), Route 66 enjoys a unique place in American popular culture because, unlike most other preinterstate U.S. highways, it has earned a distinct and widespread popular identity. Before its official closure in 1985, historic U.S. 66 had long been associated with the deserts, Indians, and cowboys of the Southwest, the “Okies” of the Great Depression, and with the millions of vacationers who took to the highway in their streamlined automobiles and found adventure on the open road from the late 1940s until the 1970s. The highway has maintained these associations since it was closed.
The Route is popular with tourists, who visit it to get a glimpse of “real America”, that is, the America of John Steinbeck. Not the country of franchised fast food restaurants. Dedek further points out:
Today, the remaining segments of Route 66 offer an intimate view of many of the same roadside businesses, historic structures and natural monuments that our parents and grandparents experienced. Although many historic sites along the highway are currently threatened, isolated roadside architecture and ruins, remote towns, historic cityscapes, and diverse natural areas still enhance Route 66. In some cases, the decay of the eclectic structures and buildings along Route 66 is part of their attractiveness.
In April 2015, Teresa Zafón of Barcelona, Spain spent eight days driving a small stretch of Route 66, from Amarillo (Texas) to Albuquerque (New Mexico), capturing the stunning ruins. “I was fascinated by the abandoned places and their history,” she says. “I loved doing this small part of the legendary Mother Road. It was a beautiful experience. Places filled with nostalgia of the good old days and a slight feeling of desolation. It was a pleasure to discover how a few bars and motels have been restored by intrepid people with the desire to preserve these wonderful relics of the past which marked an era and a lifestyle. I only hope to be able to do another part of this mythical route in the future and continue with my series of pictures.”
Learn more about Teresa Zafón on her website (www.teresazafon.com). You can connect with her on Instagram (www.instagram.com/thezaoo6) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/tzafon1) and check out her books on Blurb (www.blurb.com/user/zafte).
All images used with permission.