Route 66 isn’t just a part of the automotive identity of America, it’s a part of the national identity. In consistent use from the mid-1920′s until the mid-1980′s, The Main Street of America ran roughly 2,500 miles from Chicago, Illinois through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before dropping its travelers in Los Angeles, California. The highway, no longer in official use, is still well marked through most states and it’s still possible to follow the route in its entirety. If you’re on a Route 66 road trip, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself passing through the Arizona mountain town of Flagstaff. In addition to being the home of next year’s Overland Expo, it’s also one off the few towns in America that can actually still claim Route 66 as their Main Street, and one of the best places to find period-correct neon signage from the days of The Mother Road.
Flagstaff is great during the day, offering skiing in the winter and a reprieve from the hot daytime temperatures of the desert in the summer—but it really comes alive at night when the iconic neon signs of yesteryear are illuminated. Starting in downtown Flagstaff, follow the well-marked highway east to find numerous motels and cafes that still bear their original neon signage and architecture. I needed an excuse to take the ARB Jeep Wrangler for a nice weekend drive, so I grabbed a camera and took off.
If you’re in the area, Williams, Arizona is also worth checking out. It lies about 45 minutes west of Flagstaff by way of Route 66 and it’s modern day replacement, Interstate 40. The town is virtually dedicated to the highway, and is the last town to have their section of Route 66 bypassed.