Dinosaurs have sprung an ambush as I turn onto the streets of downtown Holbrook. The block is overrun with these giant thunder lizards, their mouths agape, dripping saliva. I may be imagining the saliva.
I have come to Winslow, Arizona seeking the most famous corner of the most legendary road in the world. A corner immortalized in the Eagles’s first single from their eponymous debut album. A corner emblazoned with a Route 66 shield so enormous it can be spotted easily by travelers running down the road, eagles soaring overhead and, I am certain, astronauts in orbit.
I arrive to such a fine sight: a classic American rock song brought to life.
The high desert village of Seligman, Arizona, A seemingly endless collection of classic cars and Route 66 symbolism scrolls past both sides as I roll down the main drag; this must be the legendary highway’s spiritual heart. But why this place? The answer lies with the story of the Angel who resurrected Route 66 from the dead. This is his home.
Suddenly, the road has narrowed and taken the form of an angry, writhing serpent. This stretch of Route 66 winds through the Sitgreaves Pass, at 3,500 feet the highest point along the Mother Road. With its tightly coiled switchbacks, narrow track and modest, but sudden drops off the edge, it is also the most venomous.
I mosey in under the early morning sun to find the old Wild West mining town of Oatman, Arizona wide awake, with its residents cavorting wildly in the street. The towns appears to be inhabited entirely by wild burros, with no humans in sight, save for a single Austrian sporting a Civil War-era Confederate soldier’s cap.
Amboy. There are many strange places along Route 66. Amboy is by wide margin the strangest.
Miles from anywhere, anything or anyone, Amboy is a giant sign rising alone from the desert; a sign that says both “Roy’s,” and you have gone too far, turn back.
I arrive 10 minutes before closing. Three peculiarities greet me at the lonely Bagdad Cafe. The first is the cafe’s alpine roof jutting up from the middle of the snowless Mojave desert. The second is a realization, as I roll to a stop in the dusty dirt surrounding the diner, that the Bagdad Cafe is not, in fact, anywhere near Bagdad. The third anomaly is revealed as I walk through door, just as a pair of Germans exits the cafe: This strange alpine hut is a raging hotbed of international activity.
From afar, nothing hints at the Santa Monica Pier as the western end of Route 66. The pier is far removed from the vast, archaic emptiness that characterizes the rest of Route 66, and there are far too many distractions—the beach, the dizziness of Santa Monica and the novelty of the pier, a world-class landmark in its own right—for it to feel like a part of the grand old highway.
The road calls. This particular road. Maybe the most famous road in all the world. A long black ribbon that has gripped the imagination of travelers and road warriors since its birth—but even more so since its death.
The road calls, a slender black ribbon snaking out into the distance.