Theme song - "(Get your kicks on) Route 66", by Bobby Troup
To the north and east of Las Vegas is a swathe of amazing national parks so we picked a new hire car - a Nissan Versa - and set off.
The Grand Canyon was our first destination but we took a quick detour to the Neon Boneyard on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Here is where all the old neon casino signs go to die. It only opens by appointment - which we didn't have - so we took some photos over the fence. The Graveyard was in a very, very dodgy part of town. Homeless people were camped out under freeway overpasses and in vacant fields so we didn't dally. We then had some problems with the GPS which caused us a great deal of frustration. By the time we got away it was clear we'd never get to the Grand Canyon before nightfall. The I-40 interstate cuts across the old Route 66 near the little town of Kingman so we took another detour.
Route 66, America's most famous highway, wasn't constructed until 1926. Before that time interstate travel was all done by train. But the growing importance of the motor car and the need to get many millions of people back to work during the Depression led the Federal Government to initiate a massive highway building scheme. Route 66 stretched from Chicago, Illinois in the north to Santa Montica, California in the south west. The engineers basically linked together existing stretches of roadway between the towns and hamlets along the route, This resulted in a long, meandering two lane highway that took in some truly tiny towns, such as Peach Springs, Arizona. For a generation Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway further north were the only roads on which you could drive across the country. Route 66 was immortalised by writers such as Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and in songs such as "Get your kicks (on Route 66)."
In the 1970s the old highway system was replaced by interstates' designed to link destinations as efficiently as possible. Hundreds of little towns whose livelyhood depended on Route 66 traffic were simply bypassed and eventually died. In 1985 Route 66 was officially retired and all reference to it was removed from the maps. Passionate locals and nostalgia buffs however would not let the 'mother road' die. In the surviving towns old diners and motels were renovated, kitchy souveniers sold and 'drive it yourself' route maps were produced.
We drove through a couple of towns, including some ghost towns and stopped in Seligman for the night. There was some sort of biker convention on in town. I must say Harley Davidson has a monopoly on the motorbike market in America. Their huge, heavy machines dominate the roads. We stayed at the Canyon Motel - in the Harley Davidson theme room no less! The next day we did a quick tour of the kitchy tourist stores before setting off for the Canyon.