Hard to believe, born in New York City to German Jewish Parents, I dreamed of becoming a cowboy. I thought that sleeping out on the range and singing songs by the campfire all night and twirling my six-gun was as romantic as you could get.
Then there were all the Westerns on television and radio, for that matter, The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers etc. In 1960 a TV series called Route 66 commenced and ran until 1964. One of its stars was a Corvette convertible which was also seductive to a teenager. Not to mention the song that inspired it, “Get your kicks on Route 66”. Maybe it is a good thing that we grow up but still it is a notion that I treasure.
I remember driving on a Route 1 when I was a child and my parents explaining to me that it was also called the Boston Post Road. As the name implies it was a series of mail routes that eventually hooked up Manhattan to Boston. Its genesis can be traced back to the mid seventeenth century. Route 66, on the other hand, was first laid out in 1926 and quickly became one of the best-known roads in America. It reached from Chicago to Los Angeles, a road covering almost 2,500 miles. Along the way it went through Arizona, Texas and New Mexico becoming closely associated with the West. Needless to say, it went right through Santa Fe whether by the Old Pecos Trail or the Old Santa Fe Trail is a matter of debate but there is no question that the La Fonda Hotel, one of the original Harvey Hotels, at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail was a major “watering hole” for those who traveled Route 66. In 1938 as the Federal Highway system continued to devolve a short cut was found and Santa Fe was bypassed. Slowly but surely over the next 40 years the Federal Highway System totally took its place. Many parts of Route 66 have in recent years been designated as “Historic Route 66”.
I haven’t seen it but the Autry Museum in Los Angeles has a current exhibition called, “Route 66: The Road and The Romance”. It traces the history of the “Mother Road” from its inception to the beginning of its demise from 1956 when the interstate highway system bypassed it. There seem to be continuous efforts to revive the lore of the road, however,---nostalgia for a long lost age.
The border town of Gallup, New Mexico is on Route 66. It is the first town you come to if you come south from the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni Reservations. In Gallup there is a hotel called El Rancho where every famous cowboy and cowgirl on film stayed when they were working on a Western and all their photos are up on the walls. The rooms are also all named after famous actresses and actors.
Most of Route 66 still boasts the self promotion of its former time with billboards such as “Tucumcari Tonight - 2,000 Rooms” which must have looked very good when chugging along the old roads in cars of yesteryear. Just like the Howard Johnson bill board did to me and MacDonald’s to the kids of today.
You may have read some of my missives and know that it took over 50 years until I ended up living even part time and now full time in the Southwest where many of the TV Westerns were and are filmed. Today, I live not only on the Old Santa Fe Trail, a major commercial and military route from Franklyn, Missouri to Santa Fe, New Mexico. pioneered by William Becknell in 1821, but right here it was part of Route 66 as well! I still can’t believe that I have reached part of that romantic dream.