Birthplace of Route 66: Oklahoma

The myth and majesty conjured by America’s Mother Road began in Oklahoma, the birthplace of Route 66.

Tulsa native Cyrus Avery, often called the “Father of Route 66,” was a board member of the Federal Highway System and founded the U.S. 66 Highway Association. Avery coined Route 66 as the “Main St. of America;” it can be argued that, without Avery’s influence, Route 66 may not have become the celebrated icon it is today. In the late 1920s, less than one-quarter of the 400 miles of Route 66 through Oklahoma were paved. From 1926 to 1951, the Mother Road was rerouted, realigned, straightened, widened, and ultimately shortened to about 380 miles.

Beckham County Courthouse in Sayre, Oklahoma. Photo © Candacy Taylor.

Beckham County Courthouse in Sayre, Oklahoma. Photo © Candacy Taylor.

In 1887, the federal government realized the Indian Territory could be farmed and passed the Dawes Act, opening up nearly 2 million acres of land to white settlement.Three major migrations color the history of this state. From 1828 to 1887, the U.S. government began the process of forcing American Indians off their native land and onto the Trail of Tears to walk to the “Indian Territory,” what eventually became the state of Oklahoma. The forced migration resulted in relocating 67 tribes to Oklahoma; today about 38 tribes remain. In 1887, the federal government realized the Indian Territory could be farmed and passed the Dawes Act, opening up nearly 2 million acres of land to white settlement. The historic Land Runs attracted more than 50,000 land-hungry prospectors.

During the Great Depression, overuse of the soil coupled with severe drought eroded the earth. Strong winds blew away the topsoil, forming dark clouds of dust that made working, living, and even breathing nearly impossible. The resulting Dust Bowl saw more than 200,000 survivors use Route 66 to escape poverty. Author John Steinbeck labeled Route 66 as a “migrant road” and the “path of people in flight” as families headed west. Folk musician Woody Guthrie wrote in his song Dust Bowl Disaster, “We loaded up our jalopies and piled our families in. We rattled down that highway to never come back again.”

The Woody Guthrie Center in Oklahoma. Photo © Candacy Taylor.

The Woody Guthrie Center in Oklahoma. Photo © Candacy Taylor.

Highlights

  • Sidewalk Highway, Miami: Tackle one of the earliest segments of the Mother Road.
  • Will Rogers Memorial Museum, Claremore: Nearly 20,000-square feet of exhibits memorialize this Route 66 icon.
  • Greenwood Cultural Center, Tulsa: This museum and memorial commemorates one of the worst race riots in U.S. history.
  • Pops, Arcadia: Browse more than 600 different kinds of soda pop in one the brightest, coolest, and newest landmarks on Route 66.
  • William H. Murray “Pony Bridge,” Geary: This 1930s engineering marvel is one of the longest bridges on Route 66.
  • Oklahoma Route 66 Museum, Clinton: Learn about Route 66’s myth, history, and lore in one of its best museums.
The William H. Murray Bridge in OK. Photo © Miroslav Liska, 123rf.

The William H. Murray Bridge in OK. Photo © Miroslav Liska, 123rf.

Planning Your Time

With selective planning, you can make it across Oklahoma in two days. From the state line, plan your road trip to hit Miami, Afton, and Foyil before reaching Tulsa, where you’ll spend the night. The next day, travel 107 miles to Oklahoma City, where you’ll spend the second night. Then it’s just 115 miles to the Texas state line.

Route Tips

The original alignment of Route 66 entered the state from the west at the Kansas border and continued through Quapaw, Commerce, and Miami, a stretch of Route 66 primarily labeled Highway 69. Once you hit Afton, the road becomes Highway 60/69 into Vinita, then is mostly labeled Route 66 into Tulsa and Oklahoma City. West of the city capital, rolling tree-studded hills give way to wide-open plains as Route 66 heads straight into the Texas panhandle.

Interstate 44 (also called the Will Rogers Turnpike) enters Oklahoma near Afton and is the major east-west artery through the state; I-44 also runs alongside much of Route 66, so it’s a good alternate road to use if you’re short on time. I-40 enters the state on the east side south of Tulsa and runs directly to Oklahoma City. From Oklahoma City, I-35 is the major north-south route from Dallas, Texas, to Wichita, Kansas.

Lucille's Service Station in Hydro, OK. Photo © Candacy Taylor.

Lucille’s Service Station in Hydro, OK. Photo © Candacy Taylor.

Route 66 passes through several small towns with gas stations, so there’s no need to worry about running out as long as you keep the tank at least half full. To save money, fill up in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, where gas is less expensive. Be forewarned that Oklahoma weather can be intense and unpredictable; in November, Oklahoma can be colder and windier than Chicago.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Route 66 Road Trip.

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