There is no better classic American road trip than a drive on Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Although much of the road has been replaced by interstates, there are still plenty of spots to drive on the old rutted concrete surface and seek out the tasty and the offbeat.
One of my favorites is a run-down section in northeast Oklahoma where Route 66 is a one lane highway. Now that’s not a single lane in each direction but a single lane in total. When cars arrive from opposite directions they have to pull over onto the shoulder to let the other one pass by.
When I first heard about this quirk I though it was some type of urban, or in this case rural, legend. How could the famous “Mother Road” in which so many Okies fled Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma for California have been only a solitary lane? Surely by now that situation had been fixed, right? Well, as it turns out, wrong.
In an area just south of Miami, Oklahoma Route 66 turns into a “ribbon road,” at 9 feet wide it’s more like a large sidewalk. Back in the 1920s the state of Oklahoma was trying to save money building Route 66. They figured if they built it half as wide they’d spend half as much money. (Fortunately they didn’t apply the same philosophy to bridges and build them half as long.)
With the help of a detailed guidebook, Route 66: EZ 66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan, I found the single-lane stretch. Motoring along the pitted road and kicking up dust from the orange clay, I felt like I was back in the 1920s.
The stretch of highway looked like the type of remote landscape that could hide outlaws like Bonnie & Clyde. It turns out that they often drove along Route 66 as they roamed throughout the area. In the last months of their lives they kidnapped the police chief in the nearby town of Commerce, Oklahoma.
Even 28 years after officially passing out of existence, Route 66 still reveals new surprises to the curious road tripper. The “ribbon road” in Oklahoma is just one of many that make driving America’s Main Street so enticing.
And if you’re hungry, and who isn’t after all that driving, head back to Miami and stop in at one of the great old-time burger joints: Waylan’s Ku Ku Burger. This joint’s been flipping patties for almost 50 years.
Near this section of Route 66 is Picher, Oklahoma — a modern American ghost town.