With summer days stretching out like miles of asphalt, a day trip along Route 66, starting smack dab in the middle of our own metropolis, is a great way to make a few new memories. Recently, we got our kicks on Route 66 by heading eastbound, beginning in Edmond and ending in Claremore, with several planned stops along the way.
With two moms and five kids hitting the Mother Road together in one minivan, I expected a few tantrums, some “Are we there yet?”s and general boredom, but what we got instead was great diner food, interesting interactive museums and plenty of sightseeing for everyone.
The iconic highway got its “Mother Road” nickname in John Steinbeck’s classic 1939 novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.” Route 66 was seen as the “road of opportunity” not possible before its creation in 1926.
In its infancy, Route 66 was boss of the road, inviting families to travel the United States via the “Main Street of America,” with promises of more than neon-lit good times full of greasy spoons and comfortable roadside stays. The trek was often to seek a better life. Since Route 66 cuts through eight states, from California to Illinois, the dream of connecting rural and urban communities became a reality.
According to a Route 66 site, Oklahoma claims about 400 miles of Route 66 ” more original miles of alignment than any other state.
Today, the Mother Road has taken a backburner to zippier highways and turnpikes, leaving the aging highway at the mercy of Father Time and slim state budgets to keep her in good repair. Yet, like a child always yearning for home, tourists clamor to Route 66 to recapture a time gone by, where main streets mattered and downtowns flourished with prosperous locals and friendly service.
Part of the appeal of the road is that it is slower, although one can still cruise at 60 miles an hour in between small towns. Slowing down and stopping along the way is the whole point.
660 W. Highway 66, Arcadia
The gas station and diner goes glam at Pops, thanks to some lofty architecture and a sugary strategy that promises hundreds of soda choices from around the world. The trip is worth the stop for the onion rings alone. Lunch and dinner are served from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with breakfast from 6 to 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays and Sundays only.
THE ROUTE 66 INTERPRETIVE CENTER
400 E. Route 66, Chandler
Housed in a 1930s armory, the The Route 66 Interpretive Center opened in 2007, providing a unique museum experience. The chic interior combines high-tech treats with Route 66 classics like chrome, antique signs.
While resting ” either seated or, yes, even lying down ” visitors can view different Oklahoma-themed videos, ranging from Route 66 history beginning in the Dust Bowl and romps through time for each decade thereafter, as well as a nice overview of Sooner State parks. Since each video gets its own flat-screen viewing area, the experience is customized to each tourist.
Open seven days a week in April through August, the center also displays a nice array of memorabilia and a well-stocked gift shop, where a Route 66 pop bottle opener proved a necessary purchase.
114 W. Main, Stroud
A May 2008 fire nearly destroyed the Rock Cafe, but for the love of Route 66 and fried tomatoes, the diner recently was resurrected. The cafe also landed in the spotlight for happier reasons when owner Dawn Welch inspired Sally Carrera, a character in the Disney/Pixar film “Cars.” A “Cars” cutout board stands out front, ready for diners to stick their heads through for a picture.
Don’t pass up the fried pickles, either.
BLUE WHALE OF CATOOSA
2705 N. Highway 66, Catoosa
When parents loaded their Buicks back in the 1970s, the Blue Whale was a place to bring out the picnic baskets and let the kids take a dip in the lake. The Blue Whale is a love story, not only with historic Route 66, but because its creator built the structure as a gift for his wife, who collected whale figurines.
The waterfront structure nearly got beached for good in 1988, when it was closed to the public. Thanks to the people of Catoosa, the attraction was given its sea legs again 10 years later with a fresh coat of paint and necessary renovations, so it could be enjoyed by locals and travelers once more.
Another interesting note about Catoosa: It’s the farthest inland seaport town, linked to the Arkansas River system all the way to Gulf of Mexico.
WILL ROGERS MEMORIAL MUSEUM
1720 W. Will Rogers, Claremore
When most Oklahomans think of Will Rogers today, they think of the major Oklahoma City airport named after him, and perhaps the inherent irony that he died in a plane crash along with his good buddy Wiley Post, who has an airport named after him, as well. Sure, you may even think you know Rogers, but you won’t know him well enough until visiting this immaculate museum.
Not only is the site itself a masterpiece in creativity, interaction and beauty, but Rogers’ story is one that strikes awe, because his multiple gifts ” as a humorist, an actor, a writer, a trick roper and a genuine cowboy ” came to light in the 1900s before quick travel and instant communication spawned insta-celebrities. The man was an icon in his own time. He befriended presidents and tackled every new medium ” from print to radio to films ” with ease.
To pull off the history and grandeur of such an individual is a huge feat that the museum accomplishes beautifully. Sit in the plush theater and watch one of his movies. Take the children downstairs to the impressive, interactive kids’ museum and let them make a speech on the podium or dress up and give you their own one-act play.
Open 365 days a year, the museum proves a good guy like that only comes along every century or so. The oft-quoted writer once said, “Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.”
Lucky for us, his legend lives on. “Malena Lott