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Happy 90th Birthday, Route 66

Arizona Kicks on Route 66
(Photo via amazon.com)
"Arizona Kicks on Route 66" by Roger Naylor and Larry LIndahl

We have a very special birthday today — Route 66 is turning 90. It was established Nov. 11, 1926, as highway US 66. 

“I think everything we know about road trips we learned from Route 66, because this changed how America traveled. We were still a nation that traveled by train for the most part,” said Arizona travel writer Roger Naylor, author of the book “Arizona Kicks on Route 66.” 

The road gave drivers freedom to explore America in a new way.

“You can pull over and sleep in a wigwam, or you can pull over at an old trading post or a place where you see some old ruins and stop and take a photo,” Naylor said.

And, you know, get your kicks.

But in the '70s and '80s, the highway had something of a midlife crisis.

“Route 66 ceased to exist in 1985,” Naylor said. “It wasn’t just a lack of popularity; it disappeared. It was gone.” 

It was removed from the U.S. Highway System, and the quicker, smoother interstate replaced it. 

“And the only reason it came back is because of a handful of residents in a little town called Seligman, Arizona, led by the town barber, Angel Delgadillo,” Naylor said.  

That Seligman barber formed the first Historic Route 66 Association to lobby for an historic designation for the road ... and they got it. 

“That’s one of the reasons I love it so much, is that it wasn’t saved by government, it wasn’t saved by corporations — it was saved by individuals, by people who stepped up and said ‘I want to preserve this piece of our heritage,’” Naylor said.

Drivers like Naylor were happy to take the road more traveled, after it rose in popularity again.

“Contrary to what our fathers taught us, a good road trip isn’t defined by making good time. It’s about having a good time,” Naylor said. “I’ve got this little device in my truck that I use all the time, and it’s really proven very effective for me. It’s right by the gas pedal — it’s called the brake. I just try to use it a lot when I’m on the road. If I see something I want to check out, I pull over. I stop.”

And one of his favorite stops is a hiking trail near a rest stop called Cool Springs.

“So it goes up to this high promontory across the road up on this mesa. And you have views all across the Black Mountains that gnaw the clouds with broken teeth, and these rambling ridgelines. It’s just a beautiful, beautiful scenery and you see back down the old highway and you can listen to the burrows from Oatman braying in the evening air and watch the sun go down. I think that’s my favorite spot on Route 66.”

Naylor said proudly the Arizona portion of Route 66 has the longest unbroken stretch, as well as the steepest grade, the longest curve, and the only portion that goes through a national park: the Petrified Forest.

We don’t have a birthday card because frankly we don’t know what part of the road to mail it to, but we’d like to send over Naylor’s well wishes.

“Thanks for all the memories that you’ve given me all these years. I know some people consider roads inanimate, but how can something that’s not alive create such great memories? How can something without pulse give us back pieces of our youth that we thought we’d lost? So thank you and happy birthday, and I look forward to the next 90.”

Naylor is talking about Route 66 history and culture in Flagstaff on Friday and in Phoenix on Saturday.

Annika Cline was born in Germany, raised in California and transplanted to Arizona. She studied at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.Cline produces and reports for KJZZ’s original production, The Show, covering stories from all corners of the Valley as well as bringing listeners a slice of their own community in the weekly Sounds of the City series.Cline also volunteers as an art instructor for foster youths and their families.