Route 66, the iconic “Mother Road,” winds its way from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. If you don’t have the time to drive the entire route, why not take on this icon of American transportation history in bite-sized pieces? We’re going to help you do just that with a series called Get Your Pics on Route 66 in hopes that you’ll capture some great memories and images as you explore this little slice of Americana. Here’s the Eastern Oklahoma installment:
Oklahoma holds the record for the longest leg of original Route 66 roadway in the nation. In fact, in the eastern section of the road, the path meanders a bit, following back roads until hooking into I-44 near Tulsa. Once you hit Oklahoma City, the highway latches on to Interstate 40 for the foreseeable future across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, so start your Okie adventure on Highway 69 in Miami.
The first town in northeastern Oklahoma with relics left from Route 66 is Miami. Pull onto Main Street and you’ll soon find yourself in front of one of the most unique places we’ve seen so far. Waylan’s Ku Ku Burgers is distinguished by its big yellow and green bird popping out of the front eaves. An authentic Route 66 business, Waylan’s has been serving some of the best burgers on the Mother Road since the 1960s. Originally part of a chain, this restaurant is the last one left of its franchise.
On down Main Street stands the Coleman Theater, built about the same time as The Route. Opened in 1929, the Coleman has since been restored to its original grandeur, with winding staircase, chandeliers and statues denoting a more opulent time period. The theater is still in operation today.
If you have a motorcycle fan in your midst, you may want to visit the Route 66 Vintage Iron Motorcycle Museum. Over 40 rare bikes, helmets and accessories are housed in one place, along with a large collection of Evel Knievel memorabilia. Take a gander at vintage Harley Davidsons and Indian Scouts and record breaking vehicles, as well as an entire wall of vintage helmets.
Following Highway 59 out of Miami, you’ll eventually end up in Afton, driving along a section of the highway known as “The Ribbon Road.” It is here that you’ll find the Afton Station, a filling station from the 1930s that retains its Mother Road architecture, along with many collectible cars from the early days of motoring. About 20 vintage automobiles make up this little museum, including several Packards.
Follow Highway 60 toward Vinita, where you’ll finally see Route 66 signs heading toward Chelsea.
Putting this little town on the map of Route 66 travelers is a 90 foot totem pole built by Ed Galloway in 1937 to commemorate Native Americans. It is located 3.5 miles east of town on Road 28A. The Totem Pole Park is filled with several creations by Mr. Galloway, including an eleven-sided “fiddle barn” filled with (what else?) fiddles carved by this talented man, who also found time to teach manual arts to orphans at the Sand Springs Home. Enjoy a walk around the park before heading toward Tulsa and the small town of Catoosa.
Joining the attractions along Route 66 late in the game was The Blue Whale of Catoosa. This giant cement fish with a baseball hat was built in the early 1970s and quickly became a favorite swimming hole for the local kids. Coming in at 20 feet long and 8 feet tall with ladders and slides into the water, it’s easy to see why!
Hopping on I-44, head west toward Tulsa. Exit at Highway 169 going north for half a block, then turn left onto 11th Street (old Route 66). When Route 66 was first configured, the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma was smack dab in the middle of an oil boom. The downtown district was growing at an alarming rate, and the Phillips Petroleum Company saw advantages to building their filling stations along the new transportation network. They began constructing structures that blended in with neighborhoods, with a similar appearance. One still exists at the intersection of Sixth and Elgin, retaining its Cotswold Cottage design.
The 11th Street bridge over the Arkansas River was already in existence when Route 66 was being plotted. It was a significant determining factor for the layout of the highway through Tulsa, bringing more travelers through the city, instead of around it. You can see this 100-year-old span by driving west along 11st Street to the river. The area is slated to hold “The Route 66 Experience,” an interactive center with restaurants, exhibits and a drive-in theater in 2019.
We’ll end this half of our tour through Oklahoma just southwest of Tulsa in the small town of Stroud. A most unusual café awaits your exploration here. The Rock Café has a colorful history along The Route. It is said that the builder purchased all of the sandstone used for the façade at a nominal fee of $5. The rock was actually from the construction of Route 66, and the owner hired local high school students to complete the building, taking three years to do so.
Once open the Rock Café became quite popular, even moving to a 24 hour schedule to accommodate tourists and busses along the highway. But after a tornado hit the area in 1999, the local economy suffered. The café hung on, but 2008 brought a devastating fire to the building. However, the owner was determined and with the help of grant money, the building was renovated back to its original design and the Rock Café remains a popular food stop along Route 66 today. In fact, it’s become even more popular as word got out that the current owner, Dawn Welch, was the inspiration for the character “Sally Carrera” in the movie series, “Cars.”
We’ve covered only half of The Route in Oklahoma, so be sure to join us for the western portion of the state. You’ll see soda pop bottles built for giants, round barns and poignant memorials, along with several other attractions full of road trip memorabilia. In the meantime, why not find your own adventure along the Mother Road in a motorhome or travel trailer from Camping World?
You can drive the rest of Route 66 with our other “Get Your Pics on Route 66” articles. Read the entire series.