Historic Route 66 is a veritable treasure trove for historians, classic car buffs, and nostalgia lovers no doubt, but
the route is also an eclectic, colorful and quirky roadside art exhibition filled with everything from world-famous folk art pieces to interactive street art style installations.
Here are some of examples of art found on the historic byway that make Route 66 not only America’s Mother Road, but also America’s Best Public Art Gallery:
Cadillac Ranch. Amarillo, Texas’s world-famous installation of upended classic Cadillacs was commissioned in 1974 by art aficionado Stan Marsh 3, and created by an art co-op called Ant Farm. It attracts a steady stream of visitors, from curious travelers
armed with cameras, to would-be street artists armed with brightly-colored spray paint. The installation even inspired a similar attraction, Bug Ranch, just off the road in nearby Conway. Bug Ranch has also attracted its share of amateur graffiti artists.
Dinosaurs! There’s dinosaur and fossil art to be found along the entire route, but they seem tostatues to upscaled “junk” sculptures. Some are designated, “roadside attractions,” while others just pop up out of nowhere on the edges of businesses and private residences. Half the fun is discovering them.
Standin’ On The Corner Park. Anyone who drives through or by Winslow, Ariz. has at least a brief passing thought of The Eagles’ classic “Take it Easy,” and the lyrics that helped make Winslow famous. Visitors along 66 can be part of the song with the installation created in 1999 . The park is prominently marked by a highway-shaped shield with the words “Standin’ on the Corner,” but even without it, it isn’t hard to miss. Look for the lone lifesized bronze guitarist statue, with a restored classic red flatbed Ford on the corner. Best time to visit is as night, as the corner is well lit and quieter, except for the classic Eagles music playing from across the street.
Bottle Tree Forest. It may not be the oldest, most historic site along the road, but is encompasses everything that makes Route 66 unique, off-beat creativity and out-of-the-way artistic innovation. Located in Oro Grande, Calif. , this site features several poles of “bottle tree art.” These metal poles consist of several bottles, bowls, glass transformers and anything and everything placed upon a pole. Walking through these can be a surreal and peaceful experience, but remember this “ranch” is actually the home of Elmer Long, the creator of these folk art figures. Be respectful and go inside
only when the gates are open and welcoming guests.
Roadside Landscape Graffiti. Travelers who didn’t think to bring along their paint cans, can still leave their personal artistic signature along the route, by using rocks, debris, tire remnants and anything else they can find. The barren desert areas in California bear the highest concentration of this art where people have left their initials, names and other messages for future travelers. There’s also another community graffiti art opportunity on the ruins of one former town, as well as a “shoe tree” adorned with cast off
footwear. Much of the route along the Mojave Desert seems to welcome this kind of “do-it-yourself” art, so bring some gel markers, crafts spray paint, extra shoes and imagination.
Murals. Murals are by far the most plentiful form of public art along Route 66. Nearly every town along Route 66 has one, even the ghost towns. Unlike Cadillac Ranch and the Mojave Desert stretch, these works of art are the result of hard work from the artist or artists. Tucumcari, New Mexico even offers maps of their plentiful selection of murals. Some are faded remnants of advertisements on crumbling walls, and some are fresh, new urban creations. Others are site specific large scale ways of welcoming visitors and passers-by into a historic community. Either way, they are everywhere, and many are impressive works of art. Some are even the last remaining reminder of the glory days of the route: more than enough reason to stop and take a photo.
For other Route 66 attractions, see the National Park Service’s site at nps.gov.
Originally published August, 2014.