Officially it doesn’t exist. It hasn’t since June 27, 1985 when the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials decertified the road and voted to remove all its highway signs. This was a year after the last segment of Route 66 was bypassed with the opening of I 40 at Williams, Arizona.
But Route 66 is no mere highway. Even though it is no longer an official US highway, it is, perhaps, the most famous highway in the world. It is a destination. There are Route 66 associations that organize festivals and tours, that host receptions for Route 66 authors and personalities, and that publish guide books, in the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada and other countries. Companies that offer Route 66 tours, with side trips to attractions such as the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, the Grand Canyon, or Sedona, are based in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
Between Lupton on the New Mexico state line and Topock66 on the Colorado River the highway is a blurring of the line between the past, the present and even the future. There are sites such as Ed’s camp in the Black Mountains that are linked to the expedition of Father Garces in 1776, and the 1914 Desert Classic auto race that featured Louis Chevrolet and Barney Oldfield as headlined drivers. And in Kingman, at the Powerhouse Visitor Center, is a small display of historic electric cars on loan from the Historic Electric Vehicle Foundation that is to serve as the cornerstone for the world’s first museum devoted to electric vehicles and a conference center.
When linked with the attractions promoted as the Grand Circle, Route 66 becomes a powerful tourism and economic development tool. This is magnified by the growing international media focus on the fast approaching Route 66 centennial.
Many communities and states have initiated programs, earmarked funding, and created committees to develop Route 66 makreting and events. Recently President Joe Biden announced his intent to appoint twelve people to the Route 66 Centennial Commission. In January a story published in the Amarillo Globe News noted that, “Amarillo and its Route 66 partners announced Wednesday morning that they plan to hold the Texas Route 66 Festival from June 1 to June 10 this year, to kick off the upcoming Route 66 Centennial celebrations in 2026.”
At a recent Arizona Lecturer Series presentation about Route 66 in Arizona and Jim HInckley’s America almost every seat at the Performing Arts Center in Apache Junction was filled. After the presentation questions about Route 66 events and travel were answered, and visitors guides provided by the City of Tucumcari and the Oklahoma Route 66 Association were given to people planning a Route 66 trip. This is another example of the growing fascination with Route 66.
The City of Joliet in Illinois is allocating $484,500.00 to the tourism bureau so that Route 66 centennial projects can be developed. Missouri and Oklahoma have established Route 66 centennial commisions.The City of Tucucmari in New Mexico has become a sponsor of the Jim Hinckley’s America network that is developing Route 66 educational programs as well as assisting communities that are looking to capitalize on Route 66 as a catalyst for economic development.
Kingman Main Street in Kingman, Arizona is nearing completion of phase one of an innovative project that can be used as a marketing tool. The narrated self guided historic district walking tour brings history to life, showcases Kingman’s murals and sculptures, and encourages visitors to explore the historic heart of the city. Though not being officially promoted as of yet, it is already generating tremendous interest from travelers as well as from people looking for projects that can be used to revitalize an historic district in their community.
On Saturday, February 11, the annual Route 66 Info Fair will be held at the historic El Garces in Needles California. This family friendly event is an excellent opportunity to learn more about Route 66, Route 66 attractions, and opportunities for community revitalization. In Needles this is just one Route 66 related project that is being developed as a component of historict disrict revitalization, and economic development.