Growing up just minutes from the original icon “Mother Road” in the south far south suburbs of Illinois I had been dreaming of taking a road trip down Route 66 for just about as long as I could remember.
When my wife Leah suggested we actually do it, I was ecstatic. Nearly immediately I started planning and spent the next 3 months meticulously planning our route, detours, and stops.
Before setting off on our road trip down Route 66, we spent about a week packing the car, with Leah and I made sure to take all the necessary precautions in case of a roadside emergency. We packed a first aid kit, a set of basic tools, and a spare tire in the trunk of the car. We also made sure to bring along plenty of bottled water and non-perishable snacks in case we found ourselves stranded on the side of the road. I also brought a portable jump starter and a road flare, just in case our car’s battery died or we needed to signal for help. Additionally for each leg of the journey my wife diligently researched highly reviewed towing services to call for a breakdown, including this towing company in Texas.
And although we were leaving in early summer, the nights on some of the dry desert plateaus in New Mexico for example can get fairly cold at night, so we decided to bring a couple heavy wool blankets. Finally, we made sure to bring our cellphones and a car charger, so we could call for assistance if needed. With all these preparations in place, we felt confident that we would be able to handle any roadside emergencies that might come our way.
We set off from our home in Chicago in our trusty 2011 E350 Mercedes-Benz diesel. A big beautiful boat of a car with terrific fuel economy and a huge gas tank – perfect for driving long stretches of highway.
As we pulled onto the highway, I thought to myself, “This is it, the adventure of a lifetime.”
And indeed it was!
Driving west, the landscapes changed dramatically from the endless NW city blocks of Chicagoland. Past Joliet on what is now Illinois Interstate 55, we started to see the rolling fields of corn and wheat in Illinois which continued for several hours, highlighted by small grain towers, and towns and the occasional fields of large mechanical windmills.
Crossing into Missouri, the landscape turned hilly and forested. As a self-professed bona-fied BBQ-nut, we had to stop by Missouri Hick Bar-B-Que, an old wooden framed restaurant and souvenir shop that’s tucked away in the rolling hills of Missouri in order to get our fill of some of the best low and slow brisket I seriously have ever had – even my wife, who is a vegetarian, had to agree that the gumbo she ordered was some of the best she’s tasted.
Shortly after entering Oklahoma, the landscape became flatter and more arid. Leah took seemingly hundreds of pictures on our old Canon EOS of the vast, open skies and the wide-open vistas that stretched out before us. A few hours over the border we decided to take a detour off the main route and drove along a stretch of old Route 66, a dusty, ill-kept 2 lane stretch which was dotted with few houses, abandoned gas stations and dilapidated diners. It was an eerie, but fascinating, contrast to the bustling interstate that now paralleled the old highway.
As we crossed into Texas, the landscape became even more arid and incredibly flat, with vast stretches of barren desert punctuated by the occasional cactus or mesa. We took a hike off the main route and climbed to the top of an eventual mesa that sprung up near the end of the panhandle, where we were rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Approaching New Mexico, I was struck by the beauty of the Southwest. The landscape was dotted with red rock canyons and towering sandstone cliffs, and we couldn’t resist the temptation to take a few more detours and explore the area on foot. My favorite was a half-day excursion to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument to view some of the 5000+ year-old petroglyphs that look like they were carved on the sandstone just yesterday.
We stopped at the famous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, where a row of old Cadillac cars are half-buried in the ground. We’d known about the monuments beforehand, but actually being there endless fascinated us, and we spent nearly an hour taking pictures and marveling at the strange scene.
As we drove through the long stretches of highway in New Mexico, we began to worry about running out of gas. We had planned our route carefully, but we had underestimated just how long the distances between gas stations would be in this remote part of the country. With single digits left on the projected mileage until empty, and no cellular signal to call for roadside assistance, we were more than relieved to finally see a sign for a gas station on the horizon, and we pulled in just in time to refill our tank.
Journeying past the Hoover Dam and into the great basin that is the Mojave desert in California, I started to realize my dream trip was coming to an end. As a cherry on top we were so excited to be out of the car to explore the sunny beaches and vibrant culture of Los Angeles. We rolled into Santa Monica and stopped at the iconic Route 66 sign, grinning at each other in excitement.
Driving home, we knew that this trip down Route 66 would always be one of our most treasured memories. We had experienced so much on our journey – the beauty of the Southwest, the rich history of the Mother Road, and the unique culture that flourished along its route. We couldn’t wait to plan our next road trip down this iconic highway.
The author Sam Vickery is a car enthusiast and adventure seeker from Chicago. An avid hiker and outdoors enthusiast, Sam loves to explore the natural beauty of the Southwest, and he relishes any opportunity to get off the beaten path and experience something new. When he’s not hitting the open road, Sam can be found tinkering with his classic Mustang or planning his next adventure.