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“Experience a long road trip the way it was then:” The highways to travel in addition to Route 66

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U.S. Route 90. Photo by jbparrott.

It seems that everybody has either a plan to travel Route 66 one day or a story from a trip down the fabled Mother Road, given the number of responses to our recent story on the 90th anniversary of that ribbon of asphalt. But Route 66 is just one of many – dozens, if not hundreds – of roads that made up the original, pre-interstate U.S. highway system.

Take, for instance, U.S. Route 90, pictured above, which runs from Jacksonville to Van Horn, Texas; or U.S. Route 99, which runs up and down the Pacific Coast, and its Atlantic Coast counterpart, U.S. Route 1. Some of the original routes remain in use these days, but others have gone the way of Route 66 – replaced by interstates, decommissioned, and oftentimes forgotten.

But some of them can also make for road trips as epic as one on Route 66. Just ask frequent reader Don Homuth, who told us about his preferred Route 66 alternative:

Another much less well known old transcontinental highway is old US 10 from Chicago to Seattle. That had been pushed through and then finally paved all the way during WW2. It became The major route from industrial centers to the port areas that served the Pacific battles.

When I-94 came alone, much of it was sidelined and decommissioned. But the pavement is still there, as are the small towns the old highway went through en route. They are now mostly several miles off I-94, but are visible now and again from the superslab.

A bunch of it was dug up and paved over, and the original route is now the same as I-94.

Some of the segments are fairly long, and rather fun to drive. Used to be that was the only place where the old State Farm “Think” signs with the red X on them (to indicate past traffic fatalities) still stood. Last time I saw one of those still in place was about thirty years ago.

There are a bunch of old motels along the old route too, but most of them have either disappeared, been left to rot or have become low income housing for oil field workers. That won’t last long.

The longest stretches are in North Dakota, usually several miles to the south of the superslab. They are fun to drive on with a period-correct (think 50’s and 60’s — the last stretch of paved superslab in ND opened in the early 70’s a tad west of Tower City. ) Speaking of Tower City, that used to feature a 30 ft tower made of discarded oil cans, and on the old highway was a nice place to stop and take a photo on a family trip.

Two-lane, obviously. Lots of turns and twists, and few slopes save the ones down into river valleys.

There used to be another old highway in Minnyusoda — Old US 52 from Minneapolis to Fargo. Haven’t driven that one in years, but it still had the same two-lane road through towns that appear not to have changed much at all from the late 40’s and 50’s. (Well, maybe there’s a McDonald’s shows up now and then. Progress.)

Old roads are great, especially with old cars.

When my wife and I drove the partially restored 59 Cadillac across country from the Left Coast to northern MN in May 2012, we routed almost completely on old two-lane highways. Got to visit timeless towns, experience a long road trip the way it was then. (Blasting down the superslab is, to put it bluntly, boring any more.) It seemed somehow more appropriate to do it that way — that’s when the car was made, Before there were long superslabs going near everywhere. (And taking a sleeper on the train coming back was a great way to finish the trip.)

Kudos to those who are trying to keep Route 66 alive, and Kudos to those who would make the trip in period cars.

That said, what are your preferred non-Route 66 road trip highways? Which do you feel Route 66 overshadows, in terms of both popular culture representation and preservation efforts? Which ones offer just as many stunning vistas and authentic American experiences?