Birthed from the foot of towering skyscrapers of downtown Chicago, stretching all the way to Santa Monica Pier, Route 66 was once the ultimate symbol of freedom. Referenced in countless songs, movies, and novels, “The Mother Road” served as a way to see America firsthand on your own terms. Arizona’s chunk of Route 66 takes you through two national forests, one national park, and close enough to gander at the Grand Canyon. Though the actual road is now buried beneath I-40, many of the old roadside attractions and highway kitsch still exist. Here are our top picks on what to see to get your kicks along Arizona’s Route 66.
The Grand Canyon
Teddy Roosevelt called it “The one great sight where every American should see.” It’s technically a detour from the old Route 66, but well worth the trip. You’ll never forget your first time seeing the Grand Canyon. The drive through Kaibab National Forest is beautiful in itself and spits you out on the majestic Southern Rim. If you’re planning to stay and do some hiking or exploring, make reservations well in advance. Though if you’re not afraid to rough it, there are first-come, first-served campgrounds available if you arrive at the gates early enough.
Arizona Route 66 Museum
Since you’re making this a whole thing, why not stop by at the Route 66 Museum? This spot has tons of cool history about the old Route 66, along with memorabilia and smaller recommendations we probably missed (cut us a break, eh?). While you’re there, you can also visit the Mohave Museum, housed within the same building.
Meteor Crater, Meteor City
This hole in the ground is worth it. 50,000 years ago, a nickel-iron meteorite smashed into the earth and walloped its surface with a 3,900 foot wide, 590-foot deep crater. Only a small fragment of the original meteor remains, but you can see it at the visitor center. Even if you’re not a geology or geography nerd, it’s well worth a visit. Just be warned, it’s easy to leave with a sense of existential dread and irrational fear of meteorites.
Fans of “The Eagles” will want to visit the small-fries Arizona town mentioned in ‘Take It Easy’. Other folks may just want to drive through while playing the song. Winslow is adjacent to the Meteor Crater, and makes a great spot to grab a bite to eat or get out and stretch your legs.
Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park
Experience the otherworldly badlands of the Painted Desert in the equally unique Petrified Forest National Park. Millions of years of geologic processes have banded mounds of sediment, rock, and sand with beautiful hues of maroon, purple, gray, and deep red. Petrified Forest is famous for its thousands of fossils, mostly of wood from forests 225 million years ago. Petrification is the process by which organic material is gradually replaced by minerals and turned into stone.
Williams boasts the best preserved stretch of Route 66, with well-maintained signs, diners, souvenir shops, and oddball attractions all from the heyday of The Mother Road. One of those attractions is “Bearizona”, a drive-thru wildlife park with bison, bears, mountain goats, and even jaguars. All of the animals are rehabilitated or orphaned wildlife and are experiencing a second chance at life in the open-air(izona).
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