Route 66 Is Rich In Texas Landmarks, But Loss Of Preservation Funding Could Harm 'Mother Road'
Route 66, the “Mother Road” that connected Chicago to Los Angeles, and runs through the Texas Panhandle, could soon be dropped from a National Park Service preservation program.
Established by Congress in 2001, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program is set to expire in two years. The deadline was first reported by The Herald-News in Joliet, Illinois. Some lawmakers are working to save the program.
A bipartisan bill to designate Route 66 as a National Historic Trail is sponsored by Rep. Darin LaHood, an Illinois Republican. It's supported by 12 other members of Congress from Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma and California, the Associated Press reports.
The designation would secure annual preservation funds for the historic roadway.
After World War II, the interstate highway system was built. As a result, use of Route 66 dropped significantly, and neighboring communities suffered economically.
Without the federal preservation program, revitalization of old tourist spots and forgotten landmarks in struggling Route 66 towns would effectively end, according to The Associated Press.
Route 66 opened in 1926 and was decommissioned as a U.S. highway in 1985. It went through eight states, including Texas. Route 66 has been replaced by Interstate 40 most of the way across Texas.
Route 66 In Texas
Route 66 stretches approximately 185 miles through the Panhandle. Texas has the second shortest stretch of the highway after Kansas. Amarillo is the cultural and economic capital of the region, and the largest Texas city along Route 66.
According to the National Park Service, travelers along the Texas portion of the highway “experience a vast landscape dotted with grain silos, oil rigs, and cattle ranching, emblematic of the region’s economic lifeblood industries.”
Although the journey on Route 66 is shorter in Texas, it doesn’t lack in roadside attractions. Here’s a handful of Route 66 landmarks in Texas. Click on each name for more information.
Near New Mexico
Vega Motel, originally Vega Court, in Vega, Texas, was built in 1947. It’s one of the few surviving intact motels left in the small towns of the Panhandle. It was listed on the register of National Historic Places in 2006.
In the small town of Adrian, the Midpoint Cafe prides itself on being more or less the halfway point on the stretch of Route 66 — 1,139 miles between Los Angeles and Chicago. In the early 2000s, representatives from Pixar Animation Studios spent time at the cafe, which would later inspire Flo's V-8 Cafe in Radiator Springs in the "Cars," the Disney film.
Route 66’s most iconic Texas landmark was born in 1974. Three San Francisco artists buried 10 Cadillacs nose-first into a Texas wheat field as a public art installation, according to Texas Monthly. Known as “the hood ornament of Route 66,” the cars constantly change as passing graffiti artists tag them.
If you’ve passed through Amarillo, you’ve likely seen a billboard challenging drivers to eat a 72 oz. steak. The Big Texan Steak Ranch has held the challenge since 1962. If you fail, you pay $72. If you succeed, it’s free and you’re in the Hall of Fame.
In the middle
Inspired by Cadillac Ranch, the Buggy Ranch (also known as Bug Farm, Bug Ranch, VW Slug Bug Ranch, etc.) is a line of old Volkswagen Beetles nose down in a single line in Conway, Texas. The cars are also covered in ever-changing graffiti art.
Groom, Texas, is a tiny town with two giant landmarks: a leaning water tower and the seventh largest free standing cross. The water tower lies along the former path of Route 66, which has since been paved over to create Interstate 40. It was intentionally made to lean by Ralph Britten who wanted to bring in business to his truck stop and restaurant.
Built in 1936, The Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe was the first commercial business along Route 66 in Shamrock, Texas. The City of Shamrock now owns the Art Deco building, which has been fully restored with grant money and local fundraising. It operates as a visitor center, chamber of commerce office and community center. It also makes an appearance in "Cars," in the form of Ramone's Body Shop.
The Phillips 66 Service Station in McLean, Texas, was built in late 1920s. The building looks like a cottage with “quaint Tudor Revival design complete with shutters and an exterior brick chimney,” according to the National Park Service. The station operated for five decades before closing in 1977. It has been restored.
Off the route
Known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon stretches 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 deep. It’s been inhabited for about 12,000 years. It opened as a park in the summer of 1934. It’s about an hour southeast of Amarillo.
Dating back 13,000 years, Lake Meredith is man-made and fed by the Canadian River. It’s the largest body of water within a 200-mile radius and provides water to more than 750,000 nearby residents. It’s about 40 minutes northeast of Amarillo.
Here are some resources to explore the history of Route 66 in Texas.
PBS NewsHour has a special called "A Resurgence for the 'Mother Road': Revitalizing Route 66.' Watch it below.