The ghosts of speed demons behind the wheels of phantom hot rods, torching the highway between Chicago and Los Angeles, still cruise northern Texas's stretch of the fabled "Mother Road." However, the construction of I-40, completed in 1984 on a similar course as Route 66, irrevocably changed the landscape of cross-country travel. What was once Route 66 is now a patchwork of service roads, two-lane highways, and inaccessible stretches of dirt. As the interstate defined the course of the past several decades of development, many of the towns through which Route 66 once snaked lost a fair share of commercial traffic, but hordes of nostalgic travelers have given many of the old and offbeat roadside landmarks a much-needed boost in recent years.
Old Route 66 Highlights
Established in 1890 by an Irish sheep rancher, Shamrock, 100 miles east of Amarillo via I-40, is home to the U Drop Inn, located at the junction of U.S. 83 and Old Route 66. Built in 1936, this service station/coffee shop is one of the earliest examples of Art Deco architecture on the Texas plains. The motel was totally restored and reopened in 2004 as the home of the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce (tel. 806/256-2501; www.shamrocktx.net). Aside from the U Drop Inn, the Pioneer West Historical Museum, 204 N. Madden St. (tel. 806/256-3941), is the prime tourist stop, with 25 rooms in the restored Reynolds Hotel (1925) devoted to historical artifacts and other displays. It's open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to noon and 1 to 3pm, although hours are somewhat erratic; admission is free, but donations are accepted. Also, come March 17, Shamrock hosts a lively St. Patrick's Day celebration, with a street fair, a parade, and other festivities. Shamrock has a number of restaurants and motels, including the Irish Inn, 301 I-40 E. (tel. 806/256-2106), with double rates from $50 to $80, including a hot buffet breakfast.
In the small town of McLean, 16 miles west of Shamrock, you'll find the Devil's Rope Museum, at the junction of Old Route 66 and Kingsley Street (tel. 806/779-2225; www.barbwiremuseum.com), a converted Sears bra factory now home to displays on the history and evolution of both barbed wire and Route 66. It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm and 10am to 4pm (shorter hours in inclement weather) with admission by donation.
The town of Groom, 25 miles west of McLean, is the home of one of the largest crosses in the world: the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ, located off of I-40, exit 119 (tel. 806/665-7788; www.crossministries.net). With about 1,000 visitors stopping daily, the 190-foot, 1,250-ton cross is truly monolithic. If for nothing else, cross-country travelers should stop to admire its sheer size.
Just east of Groom is another Route 66 landmark: the Leaning Tower of Texas, a water tower intentionally built to slant with one set each of short and long legs and the last remaining vestige of a long-gone truck stop. As with the cross in Groom and Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, fans of roadside attractions will want to stop for this peculiar photo op.
By far the biggest Texas city on Old Route 66, Amarillo still houses a nicely preserved stretch of the restored highway in its Route 66 Historic District, between Western and Georgia streets on West 6th Avenue.
About 45 miles west of Amarillo is the tiny town of Adrian, known as the "Midpoint of Route 66." The appropriately named MidPoint Cafe on Route 66 (tel. 806/538-6379; www.midpointroute66cafe.com), a favorite of tourists, cowboys, and bikers alike, is a friendly diner open daily in the summer (8:30am-4pm Mon-Fri and 8:30am-3pm Mon-Fri) and winter (8:30am-2pm). The cafe is bedecked with Route 66 memorabilia and shelves of souvenirs, and the menu includes hearty American breakfasts, burgers with the works, and daily specials, with most main courses coming in at $6 to $10.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.