Saturday, October 24, 2009

Route 66 Roadtrip: Tulsa to Santa Fe, Day 1 in Tulsa

For the next week Susan, Smokey and I will be taking a vacation from our usual routine and will retrace historic Route 66 from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Santa Fe, New Mexico. During this time I will not try to create separate posts for my Historic Oklahoma blog. This trip will be history enough for both. We are armed with several guide books and maps but a minimum of advanced planning. In short, we are winging it. Stay tuned and we will see how it goes.

US Route 66 was opened in 1926 and was one of the original national highways. It ran a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km) from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. It is well known in popular culture as the Mother Road, and as the Main Street of America. It was the primary migration route for impoverished workers who went west during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, many from the state of Oklahoma.

During its prime the volume of traffic on Highway 66 generated revenue for many towns along its path. Beginning in 1957 a revised system of interstate highways began to replace the older roads, many of which had been pieced together from existing routes and tended to wander. They went through the center of towns along the way bringing revenue to the towns but causing the travel time to increase. The interstate highways tended to bypass the population centers saving time but drying up revenue. Route 66 was officially discontinued in 1985 although much of the original highway remains as state highways.

Many of the attractions along the way have become well known in popular culture. Today Smokey and I visited a few of Tulsa's route 66 icons.

The Blue Whale of Catoosa was built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, who collected whale figurines. The Blue Whale and its pond became a favorite swimming hole for both locals and travelers along Route 66 alike.

Originally, the pond surrounding the massive Blue Whale was spring fed and intended only for family use. However, as many locals began to come to enjoy its cool waters, Davis brought in tons of sand, built picnic tables, hired life guards, and opened his masterpiece to the public.

By 1988, the Davises were not able to continue managing the attraction, so they closed it to the public. In 1990 Mr. Davis died. The park soon fell into disrepair, crumbling from neglect and weather. However, after a decade the people of Catoosa and employees of the Hampton Inn launched a fund-raising and volunteer effort to restore the Route 66 landmark. The Blue Whale was restored and repainted to its original brilliant blue. The adjacent picnic area has also been restored. It is no longer available for swimming but visitors are welcome to take pictures.

All along the highway were many restaurants and motels to provide food and lodging to weary travelers. Tally's is typical of these diners and still serves great food, just the way they used to.

Route 66 traverses Tulsa east to west for 24 miles, running along 11th Street until it crosses the Arkansas River and becomes Southwest Boulevard. in the 1930s a large neon sign was erected on top of a building at 11th and Lewis advertising Meadow Gold milk. It was a beacon that could be seen for miles from both directions, especially at night. Over the years it fell into disrepair and was dismantled some time in the 1970s. Fortunately the sections were preserved and recently it reappeared on a special structure at 11th and Quaker and is again an 11th street icon.


Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Have a lovely time exploring Route 66 in your new motor and your scooter will give you so much more freedom.

Looking forward to seeing the holiday pictures.


DrillerAA said... [Reply to comment]

Enjoy the trip. Be sure to watch he movie "Cars" before you go. It will put you in the mood to explore and savor the "Mother Road" more than ever before.
Tuesday I will have a post about one of my favorite buildings in all of Tulsa. Please stop by if if you get the chance.

RennyBA's Terella said... [Reply to comment]

I wish you the loveliest trip - a kind I would have loved to do with my American wife one day - who knows :-)

Laurel said... [Reply to comment]

This is my first visit to your blog, guided there by Google. Have a wonderful Route 66 adventure! I'm a resident of Tulsa, but I own a Route 66 museum up in Afton, OK. Since I greet thousands of visitors each year, I've learned a few things about the best ways to travel Route 66. I'm glad to hear you have good guidebooks. If you try to "wing it" too much, you'll miss a great deal. There are lots of hidden pleasures on Route 66, known only to those who study their guidebooks. If you can get one, try to procure a Route 66 Trip Guide which is published yearly by the Oklahoma Route 66 Assn. It's free, and the best guidebook for our state. Enjoy!
My blog about Route 66 is at

Unknown said... [Reply to comment]

Laurel - We are using EZ66 - Guide for Travelors, by Jerry McClanahan. It seems pretty complete. It took us 4 hours to get from Tulsa to Oklahoma City. Certainly we saw a lot more than from the turnpike. I am posting every day, come visit.

Yogi♪♪♪ said... [Reply to comment]

Have a great time. I take route 66 between OKC and Tulsa a lot when I'm not in a hurry. It is very interesting.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

That is a super cool trip! I envy you.

This is the America I would like to visit. Route 66 is mythical, even for European.

Nice touch to add a map too! See, I had to idea it finished )or started!) in Chicago.

TorAa said... [Reply to comment]

Since I've read your travel-blog in reverse, I must admit you had the right plan: Not all planned. Accept and enjoy the uknown and take a side road.
As far as I know it was two main roads or trial from east to west:
The Route 66 and before that the Northen Route: The Oregon Trial.
My family went the latter and the most of them settled in the Oregon/Washington area not far away from Colombia River; i.e. around Portland, OR and Seatle.
Many has later went down to Northern California. Some still resides around lake Michigan and Northern Mississippi and Missouri.

Thanks for a great tour.
It has been a pleasure to follow.
Lot's of excellent photos and genuine facts and links.

Greetings from
T and A

Hotels Paphos said... [Reply to comment]

Very interesting story about an old road, and it seems to me that before it was also a route for some local inhabitants.