September 3, 2015
By Sam Allen
A little over four years ago I left the law firm where I had been a partner for over 20 years. I headed out on my own in a couple of respects. Not only was I leaving the security of being part of a large established law firm, I was leaving an entire lifestyle behind. For the first time in my adult life I was going to have large blocks of time that I could fill with things other than my obligations to a law firm. That's when I began to explore Route 66 in earnest.
I thought I had been on most of Route 66 at one time or another, but I had never traveled its entire length in one trip. So I rented a car, and drove from Houston to Chicago. I got on Route 66 and tried to follow it all the way to Santa Monica and then drove from Santa Monica all the way back to Chicago before I returned to Houston.
Most people who travel Route 66 for the first time are looking for its surviving roadside attractions and the remains of what's left. After all, the Gemini Giant, the Blue Whale, the Hackberry Store, Twin Arrows and the Snowcap Drive-In are pictured in all the guidebooks. The first time I saw these places they turned out to be as much fun as advertised; however, from my first trip I was more interested in traveling the roadway, visiting the small towns and meeting the people who grew up in them, and in the process finding America.
My favorite parts of Route 66 are the long stretches out of sight of the Interstate highways that now bypass the towns through which Route 66 once passed. I am sad to report that two of these portions of the roadway have been closed.
The first of these is between Buckhorn and Lebanon, Missouri. It is about a 20 mile ride on a rural road that crosses the Gasconade River Bridge near Hazelgreen. This 92 year old bridge was closed late last year by the Missouri Department of Transportation because the structure is unsound. Repairs would cost about $1,500,000. Even after repairs, the bridge would be able to withstand only limited weight loads. The MoDot says it doesn't have the money to complete the repairs and doesn't have the personnel to dedicate to the estimated 11 month repair time.
I spoke with Ramona Lehman, who owns the Munger Moss Motel in nearby Lebanon. She tells me that a local Bridge Committee on which she participates is scheduled to meet in the upcoming weeks to discuss alternatives. That committee is seeking assistance from the MoDot as well as grants from public and private sources, but thus far, no significant funding is in sight.
The other major road closing is in California between Goff's and Amboy. A couple of weeks ago I was riding Old Route 66 across the Mojave Desert. It was 115 degrees. The road between Newberry Springs and Ludlow has been rough for years, but this time it seemed substantially worse than the last time I was there. In some places I could go no faster than 15 miles per hour.
When I finally made it to Amboy I stopped at Roy's for some cold water. It turned out the woman working at Roy's lived in Needles, California, which was my destination for the day. I asked her how long it would take me to get to Needles on the Old Road, and she told me I could not go that way because over 40 bridges and large patches of pavement had been washed out from some flash flooding. She said that the road had been turned over to county ownership after Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985, and that the County didn't have the money to do the conduct repairs.
News reports claimed that crews were on the scene and the road was scheduled to reopen in November, 2014. More recent news reports claim reopening is scheduled for some time in 2016, but the Transportation Operations Division of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Works tells me that no repairs are underway and none currently are planned; however, they are exploring solutions.
There are not all that many "things" to see here. It's a hot, lonely road through the Mojave Desert. But for me, these 80 or so uninterrupted miles of original Route 66 are special just because they are uninterrupted. And they may never again be totally accessible.
Sam Allen wrote The Motorcycle Party Guide to Route 66. He also created and operates www.route66mc.com, which is the most complete single source of information about Route 66 available on the web.