With 2022 fast approaching, there’s not even a plan on the drawing board for a Route 66 interpretive center, and the city is preparing to issue another request for proposals for how Tulsa can capitalize on its rich ties to the Mother Road.
City officials have been talking about building some sort of Route 66 facility since at least 2013, when they issued a request for proposals for an interpretive center and commercial complex.
But with 2022 fast approaching, there’s not even a plan on the drawing board, and the city is preparing to issue another request for proposals for how Tulsa can capitalize on its rich ties to the Mother Road.
“We want a project that is viable and self-sustaining and is attractive on really a critical place on the river,” said Jack Blair, the city’s chief operating officer.
More than six years ago, in May 2015, city officials were confident they had already identified that self-sustaining and attractive project.
Then-Mayor Dewey Bartlett and representatives of the Route 66 Alliance held a press conference to announce plans to build a $19.5 million interpretive center and commercial complex. The Route 66 Experience was to have been built on two acres of city-owned land across the street from Cyrus Avery Centennial Plaza at the intersection of Southwest Boulevard and Riverside Drive.
Route 66 Alliance, a nonprofit, was the only entity to respond to the city’s RFP.
The city committed $6.5 million to the project — $1.5 million in Vision 2025 funding approved by voters in 2003, and $5 million from the city’s 2006 third-penny sales tax package — with the Alliance to raise the rest.
But it never got off the ground, and when the nonprofit’s exclusivity agreement with the city expired in late 2017 without sufficient funding to move the project forward, the city began looking elsewhere.
In 2019, Chris Ellison, owner of ITulsa, proposed a public-private partnership to construct a Route 66 museum on 5 acres near the Mother Road Market at 11th Street and Lewis Avenue as part of a larger mixed-use development.
That concept never took flight, either, and now the city — spurred in part by yet another private-sector proposal — is finalizing a new request for proposals for the original site at Southwest Boulevard and Riverside Drive.
“The scope for the draft RFP is very much in keeping with the original concept: a mix of commercial amenities to complement a Route 66-themed interpretive center,” said Dennis Whitaker with the Tulsa Planning Office.
Ross Group, a Tulsa-based engineering and construction management company, earlier this year pitched a conceptual plan for such a development, but Blair said it’s too early to speculate on what proposals will be submitted as part of the latest RFP process.
“From our perspective, the RFP process is an open process,” Blair said. “I don’t want to give the impression that there is an inside track and that we’re not going to evaluate everything we get fairly, because we absolutely are.”
The city has yet to announce when the RFP will be issued.
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The Tulsa Route 66 Commission’s neon sign grant program covers 50% of the cost of a new neon sign or restoring an old neon sign along both Route 66 corridors in Tulsa.
For anyone who thrives on nostalgia, driving the 2,448 miles of Route 66 is a must. The iconic highway has inspired road trips, songs, and animated movie characters since construction on the “Main Street of America” was approved in 1926, back when gas cost less than a quarter a gallon. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” John Steinbeck dubbed Route 66 the “Mother Road;” a place where migrants came together as a community. Nat King Cole recorded “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” in 1946—and more than a half-century later, Tow Mater from the 2006 animated film “Cars” was inspired by a rusty tow truck in Galena, Kansas.
After the Great Depression, families looking for a better life could make their way west, driving their way across eight states starting in Chicago and ending in Los Angeles. Mom-and-pop shops, service stations, and motels popped up along the route. Travelers can still visit the Old Riverton Store in Riverton, Kansas, grab a root beer at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In in Seligman, Arizona, or spend the night at the Blue Swallow Motel in Tucumcari, New Mexico.
U.S. Highway 66 was realigned several times until 1985 when it was decommissioned and replaced with interstates. Modern roadways may have made sections of Route 66 irrelevant, but about 80% of the winding road still exists. Many of the historic sites along the route have been restored; and Congress voted in 2018 to designate the roadway a National Historic Trail.
Stacker compiled a list of 50 attractions—state by state—to see along the drive, drawing on information from historic sites, news stories, Roadside America, and the National Park Service. Keep reading to discover where travelers can get their kicks on Route 66.
You might also like: Most likely destination for travelers from every state 
Many choose to begin a Route 66 journey at Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park—Chicago’s oldest—before heading west. To find the original “Historic 66 Begin” sign, travelers can head to the southern side of Adams Street and look west toward Wabash Avenue. The “End Historic Route 66” sign can be found at the intersection of Jackson and Michigan avenues.
There are 23 murals in Pontiac, including the Route 66 shield on the back of the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame and Museum. Roadtrippers can grab a mural guide at the museum or follow the red painted footprints for a walking tour.
The Lauterbach Giant is a giant fiberglass statue towering over the parking lot of Lauterbach Auto Service in Springfield. The “muffler man” has been around since 1978. He used to hold a tire but now clutches an American flag. In 2006, his head had to be replaced when a tornado took it off.
The Chain of Rocks Bridge, constructed in 1929, sits 60 feet above the Mississippi River and links Madison with St. Louis. The mile-long historic structure is popular with motorists and cyclists. The bridge got its name from a 17-mile series of rocky rapids called the Chain of Rocks that made the river difficult to navigate, which is why the Corps of Engineers built a dam to cover them in the 1960s. The bridge cost $2.5 million to erect, which was twice the original estimate at the time.
Drivers can find the World’s Largest Catsup Bottle a little south of downtown Collinsville. The 170-foot-tall historic water tower was completed in 1949 for the Brooks Foods plant, which is no longer open. If it didn’t have water in it, it could hold 640,000 bottles worth of catsup (or ketchup, as the tomato-based condiment is commonly called today).
Drivers will have to get out of their car to fully enjoy the fuzzy friends at Henry’s Rabbit Ranch, though appointments are necessary to get a complete tour. Visitors can also get a glimpse of VW Rabbits and pick up some Route 66 gifts and memorabilia.
Drivers can get their day started at the Old Log Cabin restaurant in Pontiac with some freshly made eggs and hashbrowns. This quaint spot originally opened in 1926 as a roadside lunchroom and gas station. The owners now serve customers from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day but Sunday. Locals love the cheeseburgers, homemade coconut cream, and rhubarb pie.
The World’s Largest Rocking Chair (its actual name) may have only been created to break the Guinness World Record for the largest rocking chair. Nevertheless, the Fanning Outpost decided it made a great roadside attraction. The 42-foot-tall steel rocker had to be able to move back and forth to break the world record in 2008, but it has since been secured in place. The rocker was the largest in the world until 2015, when a 56.5-foot-tall chair was built in Casey, Illinois.
Most of the drive-in theaters in the U.S. have vanished since their heyday of the 1950s. The 66 Drive-In Theatre is one of only around 325 drive-ins remaining in the U.S. The theater is open from early April through mid-September each year.
The Route 66 State Park visitor center is located at the former Bridgehead Inn, built in 1935, and offers plenty on the iconic highway’s history. The park also offers nature trails and picnic sites where road-weary travelers can stretch their legs or have a bite.
Motorists passing through Stanton can stop in for a guided tour of the Meramec Caverns, a multi-level, natural underground wonder that has been a tourist attraction since 1933. Some say the cave was a hideout for Jesse James and his crew. To get the full experience, visitors should be prepared to walk a well-lit 1.25 miles for about 1 hour, 20 minutes.
The Wagon Wheel Motel has been around since 1935, making it the oldest continuously running motel on Route 66. The historic inn  still beckons weary drivers with original flashing neon lights from the ‘40s. The original wood doors, windows, and floors from the 1930s have been updated.
Devil’s Elbow is situated in the Ozark Mountains and the Mark Twain National Forest, making it one of the more scenic stretches of Old Route 66. Be sure to check out the classic diners, bars, and grills in the area for a big taste of nostalgic Americana.
Only about 13 miles of Route 66 wind through Kansas, but Cars on the Route—the old Kan-O-Tex service station—is worth a stop. The station now has a “Cars” theme and is home to the mining boom truck that inspired the character Tow Mater in the animated film. It was first restored by Betty Courtney, Melba Rigg, Renee Charles, and Judy Courtney, which is why the gas station was dubbed “Four Women on the Route” for several years.
The Galena Mining & Historical Museum—which sits inside the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas train depot—educates passersby on the history of this mining town. Visitors can also learn about how Pixar animators based the fictional town of Radiator Springs—from the movie “Cars”—on this small Kansas town.
The historic Brush Creek Bridge, also known as Rainbow Bridge, was constructed in 1923. Iowa bridge designer James Barney Marsh created the Rainbow Arch design and patented the construction elements in 1912. Route 66 motorists used the 130-foot bridge to cross Route 66 until the interstate was built in the 1960s.
In 1925, Leo Williams built a small community store and deli that he ran with his wife until the Eisler family purchased the business about 50 years later. Today, Williams’ Store offers groceries, sandwiches, and Route 66 souvenirs.
Baxter Springs is one of only three towns Route 66 drivers pass through while in Kansas. The town’s Independent Oil and Gas Service Station is one of the locations worth a drive-by. What’s interesting about the gas station is that it looks more like someone’s home than a place to fill up. After the Great Depression, some oil companies redesigned their buildings to have more of a domestic feel that might make their customers feel more comfortable.
The historic Milk Bottle Grocery was built in 1930 and is hard to miss: The 350-square-foot building has a giant milk bottle perched on top of it. Since its creation, many dairy companies have paid to advertise their names across the side of the sculpture. The landmark is a popular spot for Route 66 motorists to snap photos and has been home to a variety of businesses including a cleaners, realty office, Vietnamese sandwich shop, and landscape architect.
The Blue Whale is exactly what it sounds like. Zoologist Hugh S. Davis originally built the sea mammal replica as a place where his grandchildren could play and swim. The whale took two years to create and was completed in 1972. Davis’s daughter still owns the whale, but swimming is no longer allowed. There are some picnic tables nearby for motorists to take a driving break for lunch.
Built in 1929, Lucille’s Service Station is no longer offering gas, but the building has been restored to its original condition. The vintage pumps are still on site and a historical marker tells visitors about how the station began. Included in that history is a bit about the station’s namesake, Lucille Hamons, who ran the business for more than 50 years.
Built around 1930, this service station—also known as Hole in the Wall Conoco Station—offered a place for Route 66 travelers to fill up. It did start out selling Conoco gas but switched to Phillips 66 in 1938. Word on the street is that Bonnie and Clyde may have even fueled up here. Allen’s Conoco Fillin’ Station may have originally been a gas station, but the tiny green and red structure—built out from the side of a building—is now a souvenir shop.
Artist Ed Galloway created his Totem Pole Park—located about 3.5 miles off Route 66—as a place to show off folk art made of stone and concrete. Many of the pieces depict birds and Native American images. The largest totem pole in the park is 60 feet tall. The original construction lasted from 1937 to 1961 and was restored from 1988 to 1998.
In 1974, a group of San Francisco artists decided to bury 10 Cadillacs made between 1949 and 1964 nose-first into a Texas field. Millionaire Stanley Marsh 3, who died in 2014, funded the art installation. Graffiti is encouraged, so road trippers can stop by and leave their own mark on the cars before heading further west. The site is off Exit 66 of Interstate 40.
If Cadillac Ranch is too crowded, motorists can drive a few miles from Amarillo to the lesser known VW Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, Texas. The scene is similar to Cadillac Ranch, except the cars are Volkswagen beetles instead. To find the art installation, motorists can plug “Conway Inn & Restaurant” into GPS.
Adrian, Texas, marks the official midpoint of Route 66. There’s even a white line on the road and a sign noting the distance between Chicago and Los Angeles—both are 1,139 miles away. Hungry motorists can stop in for a burger at Midpoint Cafe, which served as inspiration for Flo’s V8 Cafe in the animated movie “Cars.”
Constructed in 1936, the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe on historic Route 66 includes a retail store, the Tower Conoco Station, and the U-Drop Inn Cafe. The latter got its name from a local boy who won a naming contest. The structure is now a visitor center, chamber of commerce office, and community center.
Truck-stop owner Ralph Britten created the Leaning Tower of Texas to drum up business. The structure slants at an 80-degree angle with the ground and was quite the sight for unaware tourists who thought it was falling. Motorists regularly popped into the nearby truck stop to alert Britten, who would calm their fears and invite them in for a quick bite. While the tower is still in position, Britten’s truck stop has since burned down.
Travelers should bring their appetites when they visit the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Texas. The restaurant, which opened in 1960, is home to the 72-ounce steak. Diners can eat for free if they finish their 4.5-pound steak—and the sides—in one hour. Tired motorists can sleep off their meals at the nearby Big Texan Motel.
The historic Blue Swallow Motel was built in 1939 and is still around today, making it the oldest motel still operating on New Mexico’s part of Route 66. The neon lights beckon guests off the road, where they can stay in vintage-style rooms that are fully restored. Some even have detached garages.
After spending a night in the Blue Swallow, travelers can stop by Tee Pee Curios, a 1940s-era gas station-turned-gift shop. The store offers jewelry, pottery, and any number of Route 66 souvenirs. Guests enter the shop through a concrete wigwam built around the front door. A Route 66 shield is painted on the side of the building.
This New Mexico travel center has been serving Route 66 travelers since it first opened in 1934. Drivers can park their RVs overnight, or stop in the cafe for breakfast, a burger, or a burrito.
To get the full ‘50s dining experience, avid tourists flock to the 66 Diner in Albuquerque. The spot used to be a gas station but was converted into a diner in 1987. Guests can view one of the largest PEZ collections in America while sipping on a milkshake or malt.
The historic El Rancho Hotel, built in 1936, bills itself as a favorite of movie stars who filmed Westerns in the area in the ’30s and ‘40s. John Wayne, Katherine Hepburn, and Humphrey Bogart all stayed there. Route 66 travelers can book a room named after one of the stars.
This natural sinkhole with sapphire-colored water was a fish hatchery in the 1930s. The Blue Hole became a recreation area in the 1970s and is now a popular spot for swimmers and scuba divers. The water is 81 feet deep and about 60 degrees, fed by a network of artesian springs connected to the Pecos River.
The Hackberry General Store has been around for about 80 years, but it’s easy to miss. Visitors should keep an eye out for two vintage gas pumps (which don’t work anymore) out front. The owners have adopted some interesting decor: the walls and ceiling are covered with old license plates, patches, and money donated from around the world. Travelers should check out the re-creation of an old ‘50s diner before picking up some Route 66 souvenirs.
Travelers who want to take it easy should make sure to stop by the corner where Old Highway 66 meets North Kinsley Avenue in Winslow, Arizona. The 1972 Eagles song “Take it Easy” inspired an installation called “Standin’ On the Corner” Park,” a statue of a man with a guitar standing on the corner near a red flatbed truck. The town of Winslow didn’t create the park until three decades after the song was written, partially because Interstate 40 bypassed the town and cut down on tourist traffic.
Angel Delgadillo, now in his 90s, turned his barbershop into a Route 66 gift shop in 1987 after he helped establish the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Delgadillo—known as the “Guardian of Route 66”—still cuts hair on occasion, though he’s been semi-retired since the ’70s.
Motorists can stop in for a root beer float or a burger at Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In. Visitors should take a close look at the walls and ceiling, which are covered with patches, money, and other paraphernalia donated from visitors around the world. Juan Delgadillo opened the shop in 1953, and his son still runs the business.
Visitors to Oatman, a former mining town, can get a glimpse of bighorn sheep or mingle with burros (small donkeys) that roam the city streets. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard got married in nearby Kingman and may have honeymooned in the Oatman Hotel, which remains open as a museum and restaurant.
Tired motorists can sleep off a long day on the road at the historic Wigwam Village Motel #6 (there are five previous versions across the U.S.). Chester E. Lewis, charmed by wigwam villages he’d seen in Kentucky,  opened the motel in 1950. There are classic cars on display out front, but the rooms have been renovated to include more modern amenities like air conditioning and cable TV. The Lewis family still owns and operates the business today.
Access to Grand Canyon National Park isn’t right off Route 66, but seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World is worth a detour. From Williams, Arizona, drive 60 miles north to get to the South Rim.
Sometime between 5,000 and 50,000 years ago, a meteor crashed into northern Arizona and formed a massive crater that’s been turned into a popular tourist attraction. The site is only minutes from Interstate 40 and the old Route 66. If it’s too hot, visitors can pop into the Meteor Crater Visitor Center on the crater’s rim to view the crater from a comfortably air-conditioned room.
A popular spot for an Instagram photoshoot, Elmer Long created his now-famous Bottle Tree Ranch out of bottles he collected as a kid. Years after he retired, he started hanging the empty glass bottles onto metal pipes that scatter rainbows of light when the sun shines through them. Visitors can try to spot the column topped by a rake—it’s Long’s favorite.
Opened in 1947, Emma Jean’s Holland Burger Cafe has been serving Route 66 visitors for more than 70 years. It also made a cameo in “Kill Bill Vol. 2.” Hungry motorists can get eggs and pancakes for breakfast or chow down on a burger—and ice cream sundaes—for lunch.
Motorists can stop by the California Route 66 Museum to learn some history and take some photos in the ‘50s diner or VW Love Bus. There’s a Model T on the grounds and an old outhouse. Visitors can make a pit-stop in the library and gift shop to get some Route 66 memorabilia before heading back to the road.
The first McDonald’s opened in 1948 close to Route 66 (the exact location is 1398 N. East St. at West 14th Street in San Bernadino). In 1954, businessman Ray Kroc met the McDonald brothers in California while selling the brothers milkshake mixing machines. The rest is franchising history.
The canary yellow Cucamonga Service Station was built in 1915 and remained a gas station until the ‘60s. It fell into disrepair in the ‘70s but has since been restored and turned into a museum.
Roy’s opened in 1938 and is located in Amboy, which some call a ghost town. The sign is a particularly popular photo spot for Route 66 road-trippers. While some hope the cafe is fully restored in the future, visitors can still pop in and thumb through old newspapers or buy a souvenir and some snacks.
In 1926, the original end to the route was at Seventh and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. That spot wasn’t a very scenic end for drivers after a long trip. So in 2009, the Route 66 Alliance and the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation decided to erect an “End of the Trail” sign on the pier. To get there, motorists drive toward the pier and then walk out about 200 feet. The end sign is just past the Bubba Gump shrimp franchise and just before the Playland arcade.
kevin.canfield@tulsaworld.com
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With 2022 fast approaching, there’s not even a plan on the drawing board for a Route 66 interpretive center, and the city is preparing to issue another request for proposals for how Tulsa can capitalize on its rich ties to the Mother Road.
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