Traveling Historic Route 66 in a 2018 Red Hot Camaro brings all sorts of new discoveries during a romantic solo road trip. There are things you remember from childhood, if you’re of a certain vintage, and new things you discover as you drive from Arizona to Chicago. Here’s my Top Ten Discoveries along Route 66, the Mother Road, some of them off the beaten path, and in no particular order.
1. Best retro menu is in Albuquerque at the 66 Diner (1405 Central Avenue NE). I was surprised by a throwback to my college days with a great Shepherd’s pie. The veggies are straight out of a can or a frozen package but who cares. That’s how we all ate in the 50s and 60s and we’re still here to tell the tale. Wash it down with a chocolate malted (not a shake) and you’ll be in heaven.
2. Best pie and a friendly smile is a sit-down at the Midpoint Cafe and Gift Shop (305 W. Historic Rt 66) in Adrian, Texas. It’s exactly 1139 miles from either Chicago or Los Angeles. A sign says so in case you doubt it. Mom Sandy whips up a mean menu of pies while daughters Brenda and Carrie dole out an ass-kicking grilled cheese and friendly conversation. They use a secret ice cream on the pie (we’ll tell you it’s Chef’s Line & it’s creaminess on a spoon). Can you get anything more American along Route 66? Tell the ladies we sent you and you may get an extra hug.
3. Best cobbler is at The Roost (117 E. Railroad Ave.), a little backwater shop in Shamrock, Texas. Warm peach cobbler with great American coffee, none of this latte with almond milk stuff. (Are you sensing a food theme here?) You can eat your way along Route 66 for the best in foodie travel.
4. Biggest steel cross is outside Groom, Texas at Exit 112 on I40. You’re driving along yet another mind-numbing stretch of the interstate when suddenly the Lord himself jolts you awake at the wheel. The mammoth structure rises 19 stories from the horizon, letting you know he’s keeping you safe. A Texas millionaire bankrolled the 2.5 million pound lifeline to God more than twenty years ago.
5. Best Route 66 town is Williams, Arizona. This little town sits just outside the Grand Canyon and has all the old west romance you can muster up and just enough modern flair to appease road-weary tourists. You can sleep in a haunted brothel, if you dare, at the Red Garter Inn (137 W. Railroad Ave.).
6. Best oddity is The Singing Road along Route 66 in Tijeras, New Mexico. The road sings “America the Beautiful” as you drive along at 45 mph. Your car has to hit the spot at exactly that speed or you won’t hear it. Plenty of crazy tourists u-turn back and forth just to hear the song. You can only hear it driving east. (Ex 170 off I40 then the stretch is about 3.5 miles east on Historic Rt 66/Hwy 333).
7. Best photo op is in Pontiac, Illinois behind the Route 66 Museum (110 W. Howard St.). The museum offers free admission all day, every day and it’s full of Route 66 memorabilia. Head out the back door and you can grab a free trolley ride. The wall-painted shield on the building offers the best Route 66 photo op I discovered along my solo ride from Arizona to Chicago.
8. Best surprise by far was the Lang House Bed and Breakfast (742 N. Sheridan Rd., Chicago) just nine miles from downtown Chicago. It’s the perfect location just next door to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bach House. It also boasts an original Alphonse Mucha art nouveau fresco in the sitting room. Who knew the Czech artist taught at the Art Institute of Chicago at one time? I thought I died and went to heaven. The hosts, Bruce and Wayne, are the dynamic duo of boutique hoteliers.
9. Best museum is the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Ave.) There aren’t enough hours in a day to explore this fine museum. It’s world class with a breathtaking collection of the Impressionists and architecture, my personal faves. It’s downtown, south of the Magnificent Mile, and just across the street from the official starting point of Historic Route 66. Again, a big sign marks the spot. Grab a Chicago City Pass and get discounted admission to the Art Institute and so many other top attractions in the Windy City.
10. Best road sign is in Oklahoma: “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates” Good thing I didn’t pick up any loose cowboys along the road.
A runner up road sign in New Mexico: “Prohibited: Electronic massage devices while driving.” I wanted a photo but missed the opportunity flying down I40 at 80 mph. Trust me, it’s there. Just the laugh it gave me spurred me awake in the early, boring hours of my drive. Either someone couldn’t spell or massages-while-driving are a thing for long-haul truckers.
Honorable Mention is the Mauger Estate Bed & Breakfast (701 Roma Ave., NW) in Albuquerque. The town is not the safest. In fact, it’s like the wild west. Yet, Mauger is a slice of paradise dropped on a corner in a downtown neighborhood. The Queen Anne property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places having been built in 1897 and expanded in 1912. The innkeeper keeps you fed with a wonderful breakfast buffet and happy hour wine and cheese, not to mention warm chocolate chip cookies at night. It offers a great spot to just chill en route to Santa Fe.
My solo adventure along Route 66 provided me with three-thousand miles of adventure and a lifetime of memories. Discover your own along the Mother Road, off the beaten path.
Lisa Fantino is the author of the best-selling Italy travel memoir,“Amalfi Blue, Lost & Found in the South of Italy” and “Shrouded in Pompei.” Her upcoming mystery novel, “Fractured,” is due out this fall.