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A Sign of the Times

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

One of the most notorious road trips in the United States is Route 66. It's been the inspiration behind more than you might realize. There's a clothing brand named after it, you can find it mentioned in songs, and even featured in numerous films and TV shows. It truly is an honored tribute to all things Americana, ...but how much do you actually know about the all-time favorite?

When Route 66 was first established back in 1926, the original length totaled 2,400 miles. However, that distance was expanded in later years to include an additional 48 miles, making the total 2,448. The first designated route stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica. It was established by the U.S. Federal Highway System to provide the most direct path for transportation across that part of the country during the 1920's.

In 1933, the official starting point was set at the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, Illinois. This starting point was relocated in 1957 to it's current spot at the intersection of E. Adams Street and Michigan Avenue. There is a "Begin" Route 66 sign marking it's new location. Just as the need for this relocating occurred, so would another in due time.

During the 1930's, this road became an escape route. It was referred to as "the mother road, the road of flight" by John Steinbeck. He was referencing to the Bunion Derby. Due to the hardships of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, many used this escape route in hopes of a better tomorrow and relief from the ravages they were currently facing.

The complete road system begins in Chicago, Illinois and travels all the way out to Santa Monica, California's beautiful Pacific Coast. The original ending spot was at the corner of 7th and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Today though, this location was relocated to the Santa Monica Pier at Colorado and Ocean Avenue. In order to find the "End of the Trail" Route 66 sign though, you have to take a short walk down to the 66 to Cali gift shop. This decision was made for obvious touristic reasons.

The route remained dirt for 12 years until it became completely paved in 1938. In total, the road spans across eight state lines. Among those states are Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. The terrain is vast and includes grasslands, plains, mountains, and even desserts. This stretch of famous highway encompasses a whooping six different climate zones.

The most popularity for this road came about during the 1950's and the 1960's. Because of the increase of travel along this area, new businesses started to appear. At the height of it's fame, new establishments began to pop up in the form of diners and restaurants, gas stations, gift shops, and unique little motels. Those additions of new businesses are responsible for the eccentric journey we identify as historic Route 66 today.

In 1985 though, tragedy struck for the highway and it was officially decommissioned and the original sign was removed. So began the demise of the once innovative road system. To accommodate the multitudes of vacationers and strum up more revenue, tourist attractions also started to make their appearance. Along the path you will see some crazy things. Don't be surprised to come across giant statues of a soda bottle, cowboys, a rocking chair, dinosaurs, totem poles, the famous Muffler Man, a giant whale popping out of water, and more. Keep your eyes peeled!

There's tons to do as well. To entertain the multitudes of vacationers, activities abound in many different forms. You can explore caves or check out Jesse James hideouts. If you're looking for a performance, you've got to go see a Wild West show. The fun doesn't stop here though. There are some pretty cool and inexplicable works of art to walk through like the Cadillac Ranch. Horse back riding is accessible and you can even visit Native American reservations.

If the Natural Wonders and adventure of the great outdoors are more your style, you absolutely must stop off at the Grand Canyon. Don't forget to visit the Painted Desert or Mojave Desert, either. For something absolutely mesmerizing, a trip to the Petrified Forest and Meramec Caverns is on the top of the list. With so much to see and do, your day is sure to be packed full of wonderful memories and a picture or two.

Despite all the interesting roadside attractions, once I-40 was constructed bypassing Route 66, the high traffic flow that once ran down it started to subside. This was because I-40 provided a more direct path to the west coast. Because of the decrease in number of travelers, Route 66 was placed among the watch list of endangered sites by the World Monuments Fund in 2008.

Albeit, travelers still make the cross country trip today to check out the many marvels this iconic road has to offer. Whether it's the vintage motels, nostalgia, odd sights, American diners, scenic route or simply the mythical highway itself, Route 66 has not been completely forgotten about. There is approximately more than 80% of that original path that is still in commission to this day. With that being said, the best time of year to make this drive is between the months of May and September. Expect to spend about 48 hours driving from end to end. To truly appreciate the historic piece of Americana though, you will need two to four weeks to take in all the wonders. Remember to look up for your Route 66 sign pictures though, because most of them are placed high on tall poles. This was done in an effort to reduce and hopefully eliminate the temptation to vandalize or steal these famous signs.

In an effort to preserve this historical highway, ongoing efforts are being made by tourism, advocacy, and preservation groups. The hopes are that the history along with local establishments and, of course, the remaining pavement to be protected. In addition to these efforts, government funding along with the debut of Route 66 in movies, continue to help drive tourism back to this historic route.

Signs offer lots of vital information. They are a fundamental piece of our highway and roads systems. We often take them for granted, though. Route 66 is a great example how one simple sign can become a trademark for a business. A good sign will leave a lasting memory with the viewer and quickly identify the enterprise it is promoting. If you would like to create that unforgettable signage, contact Impact Signs today!

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