Historic Route 66 In Oklahoma Draws Visitors Worldwide
OKLAHOMA CITY - Lucille's, the round barn, Pops and the Blue Whale -- just a few of the Historic Route 66 icons attracting visitors from across the world to our state. American's Main Street stretches across eight states with the most miles passing through Oklahoma.
"The first idea was to go for adventure," said Hafsi Youssef of France.
Youssef and his girlfriend traveled from Paris to take a three-week jaunt down the open road of Historic Route 66. Here, News 9 caught up with them at the Round Barn in Arcadia.
"We have the GPS. We have two maps. We have the internet to find our way," he said.
They're among a growing trend of foreign travelers driving the historic road.
"Since I was a little kid, I wanted to do the 66 road," Youssef said. "I like cars. I like driving. And I wanted to discover America, but not only one city, but all of the big and small cities."
In fact, the couple is among 30 percent of the 45,000 visitors to Oklahoma from other countries.
"This is the real America to them, you know, this is America before we became generic," said Michael Wallis, the author of Route 66: The Mother Road.
The highway of leisure began as a highway of necessity.
"It put people on the move whereas before people rarely ventured more than 20 miles from where they live their whole life," said Jim Ross, a Route 66 historian.
Built in November 1926, Route 66 connected the east to the west. Oklahoma businessman Cyrus Avery called it the Main Street of America.
"He became, because of his work, the father of Route 66," Wallis said.
Avery used the 11th street bridge in Tulsa to convince highway officials to bring the route through Oklahoma.
"He wanted it to go through this town where he had business interest and the State Capitol," he said.
Then in 1928, Oklahoman Andy Payne won an endurance race called the Bunion Derby that helped put the highway on the map. The road was completely paved in 1937, as the trucking industry took off. Then, by the 1950's it became America's vacation road, when diners, motels and more gas stations popped up along the way.
"It's always been a commercial highway. This is about turning a buck, selling you a hand full of postcards, an enchilada platter, a room for the night," Wallis said.
Route 66 gave these small towns life, until 1985, when the government decommissioned it and replaced it with five interstates. Now, the storied roadway is making a comeback.
"A lot of people think the route is mostly gone, which is not true. You can still drive 80 to 85 percent of the highway," said Ross.
Enticing travelers worldwide to navigate the famous highway and see the many restored iconic stops in Oklahoma.
"That's why these attractions whether they're man made or natural attractions along the road are so important because that's what seduces people, lures them off the interstate back to the old road," said Wallis.
The route runs from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California.