One of America’s most iconic highways, Route 66 stretched 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles. Pieced together in 1926 from existing roads, it wound through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.
Dust Bowl migrants headed west on the roadway in the 1930s, while tourists flocked to its mom-and-pop businesses and kitschy attractions in the 1950s. The two-lane highway was memorialized in literature and song and came to symbolize freedom and adventure. Explore the celebrated roadway, which was made obsolete by high-speed interstates and decommissioned by the federal government in 1985—although much of it remains drivable today.
John Steinbeck gave it one of its most famous nicknames
Part of Route 66 follows the Trail of Tears
A portion of Route 66, from Rolla to Springfield, Missouri, overlaps with part of the northern route of the Trail of Tears, followed by the Cherokee Indians during their forced 1838 relocation from their traditional homelands in the southern Appalachians. In 1830, the U.S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which granted the president the authority to negotiate treaties with Native American tribes to give up their lands east of the Mississippi River in exchange for unsettled lands west of the Mississippi. While some Indians ceded their land and left peacefully, the Cherokee, among other tribes, resisted. In 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly removed by U.S. troops and made to trek west to Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. Of the four main removal routes used by the tribe, the northern route, from Tennessee to Oklahoma, was followed by the largest group—12,000 people, according to some estimates. In all, 15,000 to 16,000 Cherokee traveled the Trail of Tears, and an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 of them died along the way from disease, malnutrition and exposure.
The “Father of Route 66” was an Oklahoma businessman
It served as the course for an epic endurance race
A former Marine penned the song that helped make the highway famous
African Americans were barred from some businesses along Route 66