Perhaps no other highway in the U.S. is as fabled as Route 66.
It has been immortalized in song, literature, and even a T.V. series
as the Main Street of America. Automobiles came early to the desert,
with its valuable water resources. In the early
1900's the route was known as the National Old Trails Road.
In 1926 it became U.S. Highway 66, and within a decade was paved all the
way from L.A. to Chicago. Heavy travel by dustbowl emigrants led
John Steinbeck to label it as the Mother Road. It was bypassed by
in 1973, and the Route 66 designation was officially
dropped in 1985.
In the heart of the California desert,
between the towns of Barstow and Needles,
stretches a ribbon of history,
most of which traverses public lands and
serves as a symbol of the pioneering spirit
of emigrants coming West and an icon of
American freedom and mobility.
Dubbed “The Mother Road,” in John
Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath,” Route 66
continues to be an international bucket-list
item for many travelers wanting to – as the
song goes – get their “kicks on Route 66.”
Route 66 had its beginnings in the West’s old
wagon roads of the 1800s. Later, the railroads
followed much of this same corridor, further
establishing routes that would ultimately
become part of Route 66. Towns established
themselves along the route and became hubs
for trading posts, hotels and restaurants.
Many roadside services such as gas stations
and diners were established as a result
of this road. In fact, it has been said that
Route 66 led to the invention of the motel.
As traffic increased between towns, a need
for these main streets to become connected
grew. On Nov. 11, 1926, U.S. Highway 66
was offcially established and still serves
as one of the most famous highways in
America. Also called “America’s Main
Street,” the 2,400-mile highway extending
from Chicago to Los Angeles quickly became
the principal route of travel from the Midwest
to the Pacific Coast, carrying thousands
of people each year to the booming West,
particularly Southern California.
Because of its connection to the westward
expansion, large portions of the historic
highway pass through public lands managed
by the Bureau of Land Management, making
it a distinctive historical and cultural public
Winter here, with its abundance of wildflowers, is a perfect time to explore Route
66 in Southern California where public
lands contain iconic pieces of American
history, areas of rich cultural diversity,
and exceptional geologic landscapes. The
route passes through small towns such
as Amboy, a nearly empty ghost town in
California’s Mojave Desert. Amboy is home to
Roy’s Motel and Cafe, a Route 66 landmark
that has been preserved, making it an ideal
backdrop for photographers and filmmakers.
Nearby, the 6,000-year-old, 250-foot-high
Amboy Crater National Natural Landmark,
managed by the BLM, is one of the best
examples in the Mojave Desert of a
volcanic cinder cone.
Throughout the years, Route 66 has become
the subject of many stories, songs and
even a 1960s TV show that celebrated
freedom, the open road and the Chevrolet
Corvette. Although it was effectively
replaced by the interstate highway system
in the 1960s, the road’s aura of promise
and possibility remains for the many
visitors to the California Desert.
Steve Razo - BLM’s California Desert District Office.