For much of the early twentieth century, Route 66 was the way most people got to California. After its creation in 1926, it was the way west for migrants escaping the Dust Bowl, hoping to find work in California’s fields and factories. After World War II and the beginning of America’s new car culture, it carried vacationers who wanted to tour The West, visit a new-fangled attraction called Disneyland or see the Pacific Ocean.
In 1985, it was removed from the United States highway system, replaced by wider, more modern Interstate Highway, but in those six decades it gained a status few strips of asphalt enjoy, passing into the fabric of our culture. It was the backdrop for John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, the topic of a song by Bobby Troup and the backdrop for a 1960s television show. Steinbeck called it the Mother Road – and the name stuck.
In California, Route 66 ran from the Arizona border near Needles, through Barstow, across San Bernardino County, into Pasadena and south into Los Angeles, a distance of about 270 miles. Today, drivers making the same journey travel on I-40, I-15 and I-10.
If you’ve strolled along Route 66 in Williams, Arizona or cruised the neons along Albuquerque’s Central Avenue, don’t expect to find anything comparable in California. In the east, the Interstate often bypassed towns along the Mother Road, leading them to inevitable decline. Further west, fueled by dreams of growth and funded by state money earmarked for redevelopment, San Bernardino and Los Angeles County’s civic leaders all but obliterated the old Route 66 landmarks and today, you’ll find Route 66 signs outnumber the sights.
If you want to focus on exactly where every square inch of asphalt ran and when it ran there, following tortuous routes to drive on as much of it as possible, this guide may not be for you. However, the highway department has conscientiously signposted every possible exit from I-40 that leads to a section of Historic Route 66 and the California Route 66 Preservation Association has a mile-by-mile guide and some nice historic photos to go along with it. And if you want to know all the details of where Route 66 went in Los Angeles County, experts say Scott R. Piotrowski’s Finding the End of the Mother Road is the definitive resource.
By Betsy Malloy, About.com Guide