There really isn't a road in the United States that better epitomizes the glory days of America and the Golden Age of motoring than Route 66, nothing that even compares to this legendary highway known around the globe. In its heyday, Route 66 was truly the heart of a nation, families drove along its length in droves, cars by the dozens flocked into restaurants, hotels, and gift shops all along its length. The more it grew in popularity, iconic businesses popped up in virtually every town along its length.
Sadly, the current state of Route 66 today is a far cry from what it once was. This sort of thing didn't happen gradually, either. In fact, in just one night it seemed that the route was deserted. Why?
The construction of a major interstate nearby, Interstate 40, superseded the old path of Route 66. Once it was completed, a vast majority of Route 66 was rendered obsolete, and business dried up as if overnight. The road was decommissioned in 1985. This event is really just the beginning of what would become a trend across all of America, the results of which we see today.
Major highways run across the country, and while they provide safe and efficient transportation, many small towns that once depended on the car traffic now have nothing. Tiny towns sit in the shadow of massive interstates that still follow the route, yet big chain super-corporations service them, with no regard for the communities they steal all revenue and income from. Let's take a melancholic look through some breathtaking photos of America's virtually abandoned ghost highway.
25 Decommissioned Service Station
The lack of life, lights, active civilization, and infrastructure along some of the more barren and abandoned sections of Route 66 allow for some pretty incredible nighttime photography opportunities. As a photographer myself, seeing a picture of the milky way like this above an abandoned fuel station is really exciting, knowing what has to go into getting a capture like this.
The juxtaposition of the rich, decadent stars with the rot and decay of a man-made structure really helps highlight just how temporary everything around us is, no matter how much anyone insists otherwise.
24 Abandoned In Essex
This old billboard market sign fading and chipping away day after day above a long since closed down cafe is a common sight if you were to drive along the length of Route 66 in San Bernardino County. This particular cafe can be spotted in Essex, California, in the High Sierra.
Once, this area was one of the most booming places in the country. No more, only ghostly remains of an era that perhaps should never have been outmoded remain. There's no telling how things might have been different if Route 66 was never decommissioned.
23 As Deserted As The Sahara
The desert that runs along Route 66 isn't the literal kind of desert that you would think of, not like the namesake of this abandoned lounge, the Sahara. And while there are incredibly barren stretches of Route 66, that's not the desert we're talking about either.
The desert that follows Route 66 is the empty shell of deserted buildings that litter the towns along its route, an entirely different kind of desert, yet with the same lack of life and prosperity. In one night, this ribbon of an oasis through the heart of the US dried up, turning into a 2,000 mile long desert.
22 Bug Ranch Ruins
These ruins can be found right off Route 66 in Conway, Texas, and if they look familiar, that's because they're an ironic take on the Cadillac Ranch, nearby and much more popular. The Bug Ranch has fallen quite a ways from what it once was, covered in graffiti and markings, with bugs falling apart more and more each and every day that passes in the bright, pounding sun and relentless aridity of Texas.
It remains a popular spot to visit, though, despite its state of disrepair and abandonment. While it remains illegal to tamper with anything at Cadillac Ranch, it is not only allowed but encouraged here at the Bug Ranch.
21 Cavernous Ru "Inn"s
This abandoned car is merely a small facet of the amount of ruin and abandonment in this area. A car from the same golden age and era, with glass broken out, tail lights gone, rust covered and paint faded, its a direct correlation to the state of the nearby Cavern Inn and the ruins that lie all around this aging roadside.
Route 66 is a highway rich with history and people, once rich with life, too. It was an artery of prosperity and culture for the US, all the way up until a cold and impersonal interstate rendered it obsolete.
20 Didn't Make The New Frontier
The Frontier Motel, among many, was riding a wave of a prospering, established frontier, part of a pulsing center of life, prosperity, economy, and bustling booming business. Yet, a new frontier was coming, a frontier that catered to businessmen and tycoons, and not small-towns, or mom-pop shops, or taking the long way.
With this new frontier, many businesses didn't make it. Their only means of living was from the life and money that the road travelers brought with them. Yet, all that went away, and empty, colorful shells are all that remain.
19 Dinosaur Park Gone Extinct
Once a well taken care of sign, with vibrant paint and exciting graphics, this old dinosaur park billboard has most assuredly seen better days. With no road traffic to advertise to, there really is no sense in keeping it in good working order. It would be a waste of time and money, a waste of energy. All for virtually no one to see.
If there is tourism along Route 66, it mostly belongs to those who wish to see the ruins, and not the life. So, in that way this sign is doing a good job advertising. The people it reaches love the way it looks. How's that for reverse psychology?
18 Eternal Vacancy
Roy's Motel and Cafe has a very fascinating history and place in the history of Route 66. Having passed ownership only a few times, since the opening of Interstate 40, it had fallen further and further into disrepair, along with the town around it.
Once one of the biggest icons along Route 66, this legendary cafe and motel has fallen far from grace. But, Albert Okura bought it, and the whole town of Amboy, for a mere $425,000, which means perhaps this place has a second chance at life. Who knows.
17 Gas From Goffs
This giant "GAS" billboard of sorts can be spotted off the road of Route 66 near the town of Goffs, California, and it's just about all that remains of a forgotten era of motoring. These giant letters call to mind what everyone loves to adore about the era, with art deco fonts, bright signs, colors, and vibrant life.
Yet, these three letters spell a different story in the reality of things. They spell a tale of a shift in tides, a change in infrastructure, and henceforth an entire shift in culture, for many more communities than just Goffs.
16 Ghosts From The Golden Age
These haunted shells of fantastic cars from the 50s and 60s are left as dismal skeletons in a wasteland of country that, without life and commerce, tends to be all that Route 66 offers. The old wooden sign surely at one time was the picture taking spot for countless families, as well as for at least a number of people an actual guidepost, as GPS and Google Maps was not in existence.
How much more enchanting that must have made traveling along this route, following the mother road of the US, but not worrying about where it would take you because it's about the journey. It always has been and should be, so why isn't it anymore?
15 Graffiti And Ruins Near Amboy
Taken outside of the town of Amboy, the location of Roy's Cafe featured at number 18, this really does highlight the fall from glory that Route 66 has seen. In fact, it was taken by Salty Canary, who has an incredible post on their road trip along the entire length of Route 66. A lot of her photos are featured here, her experience road tripping through the former mother road of America is truly a legendary one. With as much graffiti and dilapidation this building has seen, it's hard to even imagine that this route was once bustling with endless life and travel.
14 Los Alamitos "Otel"
The state of the sign combined with the amount of vegetation growing here really amplifies the state of abandonment this area is in. With trees and grass and shrubs overtaking what might have been a parking lot or common area as part of the Los Alamitos Hotel, it's sobering to see just how long ago this era was, and how much has changed since the bustling golden age.
Once stitching together a vast network of communities, small roads like Route 66 really defined the culture of the US nation. Yet now, this life and vitality has been centralized and isolated almost exclusively to the largest cities. Towns along Route 66 really had no hope when car traffic ceased.
13 No Showings Today, Or Tomorrow
Found in just one of many ghost towns that Route 66 passes through, this movie theatre has all but been forgotten, left behind along with countless other businesses. There are no showings here, not because there aren't any movies, but because there's nobody to watch them. Without commerce, without tourism, these towns don't have anything left except for empty infrastructure.
How cool would it be to buy one of these buildings and turn it into anything you want? You could make this movie theatre your house if you wanted. At the very least it would be awesome to explore an old movie theatre from this era.
12 Not Much Of A Quality Home Anymore
Once upon a time, this Drive-Inn no doubt was indeed the home of quality food. Many travelers along Route 66 must have come to stay here, perhaps it was one of the best restaurants and motels along the entire ribbon of highway.
Alas, the name of this particular business is absent, it's lost all identity, to stand in decay and disrepair as a warning for all, a sobering reminder that even the beating heart of America can stop, that the mother road of America--as Steinbeck referred to Route 66--can become estranged, cast aside for the benefit of bigger, impersonal super corporations, but not for anyone who established their way of living along its path.
11 Out Of Service
This old truck and auto service garage has not seen a customer or a car in its shop in a very long time, that is clearly evident from the state of the building. With faded paint, broken windows, dilapidated doors, and missing signs, it's clear that if you need help because you're having car trouble, this is most assuredly not the place to stop.
The introduction of the Interstate system in America was due largely to Dwight Eisenhower's signing the Federal-Aid Highway Act. His reasons were primarily strategic and war centered. After the implementation of Interstate 40, it was all anyone could do to just keep America's mother road drivable, let alone the booming hub it was.
10 Ranch House Cafe In Ruin
One of the more popular icons found along Route 66, this is the abandoned Ranch House Cafe, with the famously painted truck parked outside of it. This fabulous capture of the icon just past sunset really highlights and amplifies the rich beauty that it holds, despite the fact that it has fallen into such a state of ruin.
Soon, these relics will decay even further, until the point that they are forgotten about completely. With tourism having seen a bit of spike in the past decade, it seems there's an opportunity for the preservation of key areas, but that is likely the extent of it.
9 Seen Better Days
Once a haven of rest (hence the name Rest Haven), this motel will likely see complete vacancy for the rest of its future. Perhaps someone will demolish it to make way for something new. But, without revenue or any economic means for growth, there's not much of a reason for anyone to put forth the effort.
Yes, the shells of these buildings will likely remain untouched until they fall apart completely. The ruins along this highway will continue to remain, untouched, except for the inevitable hand of time, and the relentless touch of mother nature.
8 The Club Has Moved On
Another capture from Salty Canary, this particular cafe no doubt had quite the group of people who both ran it and enjoyed the service it provided. But, like we all know, all good things must come to an end, and this club has moved on, due to economic stress, and a lack of patrons.
To see these places in their glory days, to see every sign, bright, brand new, and to be a part of the communities that thrived here, to eat the food and meet the people, to stay in the crazy hotels and be a part of it all, that would really be something.
7 The Roaring 20's Up For Sale
This was no doubt one of the most popular places along Route 66, as the roaring 20's weren't really all that far gone, and the country, while long out of the prohibition, no doubt was something a lot of people had direct experience with. So, to have a speakeasy type bar and grill reminiscent of the roaring 2o's was no doubt the place to be if you were passing through on your journey along the great Route 66.
Now it's up for sale. We're getting really close to the roaring 2020s which means this might be quite a valuable investment if you were to play the cards right. I imagine the real estate is phenomenally cheap, too.
6 Twin Arrows Trading Post
The twin arrows of Twin Arrows Trading Post are some of the most iconic relics found along Route 66. Two giant arrows that stick upwards out of the ground rise to an incredible height. It's quite the spectacle to see, really. But, in choosing this picture over one of the arrows, I decided this photo would better highlight the state of abandonment of the area around the two arrows.
Once quite a hub, and one of the most popular trading posts along Route 66, this Trading Post sees no more business. Only the business of overgrowth, decay, and graffiti.
5 Two Weathered Sixes
As was already established, I am a fan of night photography, especially if it involves abandoned things. The amount of detail you can capture from a photo at night really adds such a layer of complexity. While it's night, this abandoned service station is still rendered with an incredible amount of detail, yet it's cast in the haunting hues of night.
The juxtaposition of the instantly recognizable Route 66 shield with a realistic example of the state of many of the buildings is a masterstroke of photography, really, and highlights extraordinarily well the statement that is trying to be made.
4 Unlucky Boy
I really like the logoing and font of the Lucky Boy sign of this business. It's a shame that it's closed for good, never to see a customer again. But, to be honest, the "Chinese Food & Hamburgers" sign is rather disturbing. That combination raises a warning flag in my mind to stay away. The best case scenario is that either the burgers are good, or the Chinese food. Probably not both, but in all likelihood, neither.
Of course, musing on the quality of the food is really an exercise in futility, as this lucky business fell on some pretty unlucky times.
3 Where Kenworth's Go When They Pass On
This Kenworth semi truck has ascended into what anyone would call the closest thing to tractor-trailer heaven. Mounted high in the sky on a pole, this relic from Route 66 was, at one point, effectively a billboard to advertise the existence of the motel that was built underneath of it.
Mounted above the ground, the truck remains in a fairly good state, weathering not much beyond rain, wind, and exposure. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of the motel at its base, where the ceiling has collapsed and all that is left is exposed brick, and not much of it at that.
2 White Turning To Rust
The name "Whiting Brothers" should in all accuracy be changed to "Fading Brothers" as this sign is quickly being consumed by rust and decay. It won't be long before the bare, rusted metal is all that remains, evidence of just what kind of logo or sign this was completely erased. This photo is fascinating, because it highlights, almost like a before and after, how much things have changed.
While the Whiting Bros sign is big, colorful, and artistic, the new billboard just to the right of this is entirely modern, straightforward, gray and boring. Yet, it serves essentially the exact same purpose. What a shift in cultural norms.
1 With Neon Abandon
The Cadillac Ranch was briefly mentioned in one of our first entries while talking about the Bug Ranch ruins at number 23. And here's a picture of it, in all its current glory. Taken at sunset and heavily edited, this picture depicts the monoliths that have stood here for many decades now. Once upon a time, these Cadillacs were new, shiny, complete with paint, trim, windows, and even wheels. Time has not been good to them, and it shows.
While technically it's illegal to tamper with these relics in any way, it's a virtual tradition to leave your own mark on the cars if you go here. Clearly, that's the case, as these old Cadillacs are thickly coated in layers and layers of graffiti.
Sources: Salty Canary, Light Rain Productions & Route Magazine