Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This is Where I Won't Be Stopping on US Route 6

There is plenty happening behind the scenes as I plan out my Route 6 itinerary.  I'm approaching this project as I would any other travel writing assignment;  contacting local Chamber of Commerce offices and Tourist bureaus in each of the 14 US 6 States, hearing from PR firms, scrupulously inspecting sites like Yelp and Chowhound for potential "best eats" restaurants and Tripadvisors for hotels.  Based on experience, though, I've discovered that nothing beats "being there" for accuracy and emotional connection.  In other words, I'm not the kind of writer who just phones it in.

I'm thrilled to do it, and I will try to be as unbiased as possible.  But here's the thing:  I live in a New York City commuter town and venture into Manhattan often.  I live in a coastal city - with the Atlantic Ocean (ok, Long Island Sound - which is an Atlantic estuary) within spitting distance and I grew up sailing.  I make frequent trips to the High Peaks in the Adirondack Mountains (NY), and have zigzagged over the Sawtooths (Idaho), hiked around the boiling cauldrons of Yellowstone, ridden rapids on the Rogue (OR), Salmon (ID) and plenty of other wild rivers. And that's just in the USA.   In other words, I've seen a lot, I've stayed in some incredible (and incredibly bad) places, ate memorable meals, and have partaken in singular, incredible experiences.  So, I'm not easily impressed.

This is where I won't be stopping:

1. Any restaurant with Garden, King or Factory in its name.  If I notice a Sysco truck backing up to kitchen's back door, I will run the other way. I want to find the best local, home-made, proud chef/owner type places.

2. Any mall, Promenade or Department Store (unless it's "the original" or notable somehow). Give me mom and pop shops with character.  I'm not an old fashioned girl, but Old Fashioned can be perfect in the right place.

3. Anyplace that smacks of a Tea Party or Lefty agenda.  This is not a campaign trail.

My goal is to create a coast to coast US Route 6 Travel Guide with the best that those 3,602 miles have to offer.  I'll be keeping my eyes open. You keep reading.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Route 6 Champion Lives 1,000 Miles From The Grand Army of the Republic Highway

Yes, it's true.  The man who spearheaded the cause to reawaken interest in what was once America's Longest Highway (and remains the longest CONTIGUOUS federal road in the USA) lives in Washington State - nearly one thousand miles from any point on US Route 6.

Russell Lombard, President/CEO/Founder of the Non-Profit US Route 6 Tourist Association grew up in Pasadena, CA - and in the 1950's would visit family in Nebraska by driving on the only highway that ran from California to Nebraska - Route 6.  Memories of these road trips remained with him his whole life, and after a career in city planning and retirement near Puget Sound, he thought of a way to preserve and enhance them.

In October 2000, a few neighborhood teens came to Russell with a question.  They were asked to design a web-page as a high school school project and believed that Mr. Lombard would have some ideas.  He did.  "Why not start a US Route 6 Association?" he recommended.  It was once the only road that ran coast to coast and no-one these days really knew about it.  The kids were intrigued.  And then obsessed.

"What began as a school project turned into something much more," Lombard told me.  "Those kids would come over every day after school into the evenings, contacting towns and cities along the Route.  They started getting invitations from communities, from mayors and selectmen."  By the summer of 2001, The US Route 6 Tourist Association had obtained IRS Non-Profit Status.

Russ called me recently to tell me this story.  Even though he has never traveled on 6 East of Council Bluffs, IA, he has a deep fondness for America's Highway.  "US Route 6 is a symbol of culture and time and history and experiences.  It is a symbol of our country."

My own travel obsessions take me on the road.  It's there I discover our great, diverse and rich land firsthand.  I can't wait until I get and STAY ON 6 later this Spring.  Sign up for this blog and come along starting May 20, 2011. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Happy Birthday Harry Houdini! Learn About Him on Route 6

Harry Houdini is trending on Twitter today.  Why?  It's his 137th birthday - posthumously, naturally.  This son of a Rabbi remains one of the best, most entertaining magicians in history, and you can learn his story at the Houdini Museum in Scranton, PA.  Yup - a US Route 6 town.  Though a mile or so off the route on Main Street, this little museum is more like an intimate theater - open most weekends in the warmer months and daily in July and August.  Virtually hidden in a cozy home, the museum owners tell visitors all about Houdini and his talents - and then put on a smashing magic show.  It's quite the attraction - and well worth the stop.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The S-Curve Pedestrian Bridge That Crosses the Missouri River; On US Route 6

The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge s-curves elegantly over the Missouri River, linking Council Bluffs, Iowa with Omaha Nebraska. Kerrey was the 35th Governor of Nebraska (1983-1987) and then served in the U S Senate.  I'll be strolling over this treble-clef-shaped structure sometime early June, as both cities are, as per this blog, on Route 6.  For now, I'll leave you with this rendering of the new crossing and will be taking photos of my own once I'm there...

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buffalo in Brooklyn; Route 6 Bison

Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam, and I'll show you Brooklyn. That's Brooklyn, Connecticut - which isn't quite as urban as Brooklyn, NY but it ain't "where the antelope play," either. (It is, however, where the deer play, but that's another story).

Creamery Brook Bison, Brooklyn CT
Brooklyn, CT, like much of the state, is green and lush, with rolling hills, ancient stone walls and lots of farmland.  And it's here that the owners of Creamery Brook Bison decided to install herds of these admittedly strange-looking low-fat and low-calorie animals (what's with the Viking horns, wooly mammoth hide, camel hump and spindly legs?  Buffalo meat may be healthier than chicken, but bison looks haven't won me over).

Buffalo at Creamery Brook Bison

The farm is just a mile or so off of Route 6, and is open for group tours on Saturdays in warmer months.   A retail store (selling bison meat and other buffalo products) is open from 2pm-6pm most days.  Check the website for more information.  Or you can check back with me when I roll through Brooklyn in May.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where Did the Pilgrims Really Land in the New World? US Route 6 Has the Answer

Historic Route 6 begins and ends at oceans and in flamboyant, artsy, entertainment-rich towns.  Beach resort, Provincetown, MA on the Atlantic Ocean is home to a proud gay population and draws tons of tourists every summer.  Long Beach, on the Pacific Ocean, for many just a suburb of Los Angeles, is rich in glitz of a similar sort.  What’s in between is a virtual time-line of American history; remnants of the Revolutionary War Era in New England, particularly northern Connecticut, gives way to living and historic sites of  Westward-Ho pioneers who made their homes in the plains and prairies of Iowa and Nebraska and rugged strivers who sought wealth in the stark silver and gold mining camps in Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California.

Tiny Route 6 towns are unabashedly proud of their offerings.  Some have to embellish a bit, but hey, that’s advertizing! Wilton, Iowa celebrates the “World’s Oldest Ice Cream Fountain.”  Rural Hudson, Colorado is home to probably the only 100-year-old roadside eatery with a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained chef- The Pepper Pod Restaurant.   In LA, the old Route 6 boasts the “largest concentration of pre-war movie palaces – built in the 20’s and 30’s – in America.” There are thousands of these stories.

Route 6 travels through two towns called Brooklyn, and neither are in New York.  It touches two oceans, traverses a Great Lake, crosses most of the country’s major rivers, runs through five state capitals, and climbs, exhilaratingly, up and over the Continental Divide.

I'll be starting out on May 20th from where the Pilgrims REALLY landed in the New World - Provincetown, MA. I'll climb to the top of the Pilgrim's Monument and describe the view......

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Little Feat Route 6 Connection

Last night, I attended a Little Feat concert - a small, intimate affair in Ridgefield, CT featuring two lead guitarists - and while they were blues'ing their way through "Willing," I had an epiphany.

Being a Romancing the Road kind of girl, I'd always loved that song - a trucker's anthem - and knew the lyrics well.  But as Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett wailed out Williin' I heard the beginning of the chorus as if for the first time.

In Nevada, Route 6 runs through just two real towns; Ely and Tonopah.  When I began my research, I had this strange feeling that I'd been to Tonopah or at least had heard of it enough to get excited about stopping there.  And last night I understood why:

I've been from Tuscon to Tucumcari
Tehachapi, to Tonopah
driven every kind of rig that's ever been made

driven the back roads so i wouldn't get weighed

Tehachapi to Tonopah!  Tonopah!

Once known as the Queen of the Silver Camps, Tonopah  was also, apparently, a favorite of Dallas Alice. I'll be making the reverse ride (Tonopah to just outside of Tehapchapi, CA), in June.  

Follow along.....

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Cranberries MakePeace; Route 6 and the Healthy Red Berries

A cranberry bog in winter, spring and summer is an unremarkable thing.  But if you happen to come upon one in Fall, when those tiny bright red healthful orbs float for harvest, it is remarkable indeed.  Route 6 glides through Wareham, MA - home to the A.D. Makepeace Company, "the world's largest cranberry grower,"and here, you can stop for a bog tour or buy a cranberry-themed gift. A.D. Makepeace is worth a visit for its name alone.  Who doesn't feel good surrounded by peaceful food? Wareham is also home to a new sea turtle and seal rehabilitation hospital at the National Marine Life Center.

Just another reason to Stay on Route 6......

Friday, March 11, 2011

PA Route 6: A Fracking Good Time

Natural Gas drillers are culprits or saviors, depending on who you ask. All I know is that while controversy swirls around the environmental impact of "fracking" - a slang term used for Hydraulic Fracturing, cracking rock in order to extract natural gas from deep in the earth - drilling crews have taken over some of Pennsylvania's Route 6 towns. Attention has been drawn to this part of the state, underneath which a massive natural gas field has been discovered, and not all of it is good.  But I'm curious to see what a little rural down-at-heals-kind-of-artsy town looks like when crawling with scientists and engineers and fracking machinery.  It will be just another day on Route 6.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Natural Disaster That Shut Down Route 6 For Eight Months in 1983

For 8 months in 1983, you could not take US Route 6 on its complete course through Utah.  In April of that year, a hillside slammed into a mountain town, taking streets, buildings and railroad tracks with it; rendering US Route 6 a non-contiguous transcontinental route from April to December of that year.

Thistle, Utah, north of Green River (whitewater rafting central) and Price (home of the College of Eastern Utah) was a bustling railroad-service town until a sudden, massive landslide destroyed nearly everything. A main thoroughfare, US Route 6 was, along with the railroad, the most important connection to the outside world for communities north and west.  What is left of Thistle is considered a ghost town.

Route 6 was rerouted and re-built within 8 months, but was not stable enough for officials to declare it safe for another 10 months.  The highway now offers a pull-out from which to view the aftermath of the disaster and resulting landscape.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

John, Dear, That's A Beautiful Jumping Stag You've Got There; John Deere Pavilion on Route 6, Moline, IL

Let's play word association.


You say.....

John Deere.  (Not Dear John.  That's a whole other kind of blog).

And wouldn't you know it, but guess whose headquarters are right on Route 6, in Moline, IL?

The John Deere Pavilion is the centerpiece of a Quad City $50 million Waterfront renovation project, catapulting this thriving quartet of towns on the Mississippi River to destination status.

I'm looking forward to my visit to Moline and perhaps I'll take a swig or two at the Miss. River Distillery and try to steer myself through a city Segway tour (not necessarily in that order).

Stay tuned.....

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Flash of Gold - In My Glass: Coors Brewery on Route 6, Golden, CO

Just west of Denver, Route 6 cuts through Golden, Colorado, home of Coors.  Through I generally favor more obscure craft beers,  I do plan to take the self-guided Brewery Tour (oh, the lengths I'll go for research) most likely in the morning so I can walk off the effects of sampling before continuing west through a challenging stretch of 6.  From Golden, the highway snakes through Clear Creek Canyon, a cliff-laden, creek-running biker-favorite , so I'll be sure to pull off and take pictures.  Or, if I'm lucky, I'll find some agreeable rock-climbers to video and interview; Clear Creek Canyon out of Golden is considered a magnet for rock-jocks. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tootsie; The Official Mascot of the California U.S. Route 6 Tourist Association

Mascots figure prominently in several Route 6 towns.  As I mentioned in a prior post, Mike the Headless Chicken is the town mascot and ill-equipped spokeschicken for Fruita, Colorado.  (Well, he's been dead and gone for over 55 years, but even when strutting around, he was ill-equipped to squawk a word).

And this here is Tootsie, the official face of the California U.S. Route 6 Tourist Association.  Naturally, there are actual talking humans - Fred and Bettty Hann - who can actually speak English and know every inch of the Historic Route 6 in Cali.  But, apparently, this cute mop-top doggie garners much more attention, hence this professional-looking Mascot Certification.    I'll be filling you in on other town mascots once I hit the road........

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jo Hurley; The Man Who Walked The Whole of Route 6

It takes a certain spirit to spend 8 months on a singular quest.  It takes a certain body to walk 3,700 miles in monsoons, unrelenting sun and the occasionally perfect 70's and cloudless day.  From March - November 2004, this body and spirit belonged to Joe Hurley, a Connecticut-based journalist, who became a sort of US Route 6 Johnny Appleseed, sowing  news about more eastern Route 6 towns as he walked from Provincetown, MA to Long Beach, CA.

It is not my plan to encroach upon Hurley's experiences and observations.  He took his time, favoring personal connections over "Best Restaurant" or "Coolest Attraction" (which is more my style).  As a result, Hurley's webpage is replete with Studs Terkel-like profiles of regular folk all across America with one thing in common. They all live in cities and towns thought which US Route 6 runs.

Joe's got a book in the works and now serves as the Director of the  Connecticut Route 6 Tourist Association.  He's probably the only person on earth with such in-depth, literally on-the-ground knowledge of The Grand Army of the Republic Highway, and I'm sure I'll be referring to him, too, in future posts.

Stay tuned.......

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Why Has Route 6 Been Largely Ignored? I Blame Jack Kerouak

Though designated a transcontinental highway in 1937, Route 6 was not completely paved until 1952, just about the time that Jack Kerouac put the finishing touches on his ultimate road-trip book, On the Road. While Route 6 towns in the mid-West and West joyously celebrated a nationally recognized nearly straight-arrow connection to both the East and West Coast (news of the paving and parades made the New York Times), Kerouac was busy sounding the death knell for all would-be Route 6 explorers.

Apparently, Kerouac didn't intend (through the voice of his protagonist, Sal Paradise) to meander slowly through off-beat America.  He wanted to get to California fast and have some experiences along the way.  If Kerouac/Paradise hadn't been such a cry-baby near the Bear Mountain Bridge, perhaps US Route 6 would now rival Route 66 in nostalgia.

Here's the passage:

"I'd been poring over maps of the United States in Paterson for months, even reading books about the pioneers and savoring names like Platte and Cimarron and so on, and on the road-map was one long red line called Route 6 that led from the tip of Cape Cod clear to Ely, Nevada, and there dipped down to Los Angeles. I'll just stay on all the way to Ely, I said to myself and confidently started. To get to 6 I had to go up to Bear Mountain. Filled with dreams of what I'd do in Chicago, in Denver, and then finally in San Fran, I took the Seventh Avenue Subway to the end of the line at 242nd Street, and there took a trolley into Yonkers; in downtown Yonkers I transferred to an outgoing trolley and went to the city limits on the east bank of the Hudson River. If you drop a rose in the Hudson River at its mysterious source in the Adirondacks, think of all the places it journeys as it goes to sea forever -- think of that wonderful Hudson Valley. I started hitching up the thing. Five scattered rides took me to the desired Bear Mountain Bridge, where Route 6 arched in from New England. It began to rain in torrents when I was let off there. It was mountainous. Route 6 came over the river, wound around a traffic circle, and disappeared into the wilderness. Not only was there no traffic but the rain come down in buckets and I had no shelter. I had to run under some pines to take cover; this did no good; I began crying and swearing and socking myself on the head for being such a damn fool. I was forty miles north of New York; all the way up I'd been worried about the fact that on this, my big opening day, I was only moving north instead of the so-longed for west. Now I was stuck on my northermost hangup. I ran a quarter-mile to an abandoned cute English-style filling station and stood under the dripping eaves. High up over my head the great hairy Bear Mountain sent down thunderclaps that put the fear of God in me. All I could see were smoky trees and dismal wilderness rising to the skies. "What the hell am I doing up here?" I cursed, I cried for Chicago. "Even now they're all having a big time, they're doing this, I'm not there, when will I get there!" -- and so on. Finally a car stopped at the empty filling station; the man and the two women in it wanted to study a map. I stepped right up and gestured in the rain; they consulted; I looked like a maniac, of course, with my hair all wet, my shoes sopping. My shoes, damn fool that I am, were Mexican huaraches, plantlike sieves not fit for the rainly night of America and the raw road night. But the people let me in and rode me back to Newburgh, which I accepted as a better alternative than being trapped in the Bear Mountain wilderness all night. "Besides," said the man, "there's no traffic passes through 6. If you want to go to Chicago you'd be better going across the Holland Tunnel in New York and head for Pittsburth," and I knew he was right. It was my dream that screwed up, the stupid hearthside idea that it would be wonderful to follow one great red line across America instead of trying various roads and routes."

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Route 6 Government Historian, Richard Weingroff

Before California went rogue, renumbering many roads in the crazy-mod 60’s, US Route 6 had been the longest transcontinental road for several glorious decades, stretching out at an impressive 3652 miles. The Federal Highway was created in stages beginning in 1926 when the unfortunately acronym’d ASSHO (American Society of State Highway Officials) deemed it necessary to number a just- emerging federal highway system. Until then, roads were privately owned and named, and competition for tolls and notoriety between highway moguls was intense.  During the 1920’s, advances in cars and roadway technology boomed.  In 1912, there were 900,000 cars on American roads.  By 1920, there were 7.5 million.  At the same time, improvements in asphalt and road engineering made it simpler to pave those bumpy, uneven paths that served as thoroughfares. 

Over ten years elapsed before US Route 6, extended and patched together from existing routes in 14 states, was finally designated the longest transcontinental federal road in 1937. 

According to Richard Weingroff, who maintains a webpage of highway development history for the Federal Highway Administration, US Route 6 was not born to run coast to coast. "No one was thinking transcontinental when U.S. 6 was created.  If it were intended to be transcontinental it would have had a number ending in zero.  Instead, it was a short route given a number appropriate to its location in the numbering grid.  As the State highway agencies improved roads connected to the western end of U.S. 6, they asked AASHO to extent the number along the improved roadway -- and eventually it reached Long Beach, California." 

And though, in 1953, historian George R. Stewart wrote, “Route 6 runs uncertainly from nowhere to nowhere, scarcely to be followed from one end to the other except by some devoted eccentric,” there are plenty of eccentrics, and non-eccentrics who wish to follow this historic road. Just wait........

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mike the Headless Chicken; Sometimes, You Just Have to Be Decapitated to Get Noticed

Sometimes, you just have to be decapitated to get noticed.  

That's what happened to Mike, a plucky, never-say-die chicken in Fruita, Colorado who became the town Mascot rather than a main meal. Mike's head was chopped off, yes, but enough of his brain stem was left intact to allow him to remain alive another 18 months!  The Headless Chicken was such a smash hit in 1945, he became a national celebrity, commanding big bucks to appear in venues coast to coast and in large circulation magazines.  

Yep, Fruita is on Route 6, and naturally I'll stop in to get my fill of Mike the Headless Chicken trivia.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Route 6 Professor

Curtis Roseman, Professor Emeritus of Geography at University of Southern California, is a professed Route 6 aficionado.  He and his wife live in a Route 6 community - Moline, IL - and have been driving on the historic road for over 12 years now.  They've also amassed quite a collection of Route 6 memorabilia including old postcards and photographs, many of which can be seen on their great Route 6 Website.

Curtis took on the Route 6 project because, "-it was largely ignored, it was the longest, and I lived important parts of my life on the route, in Moline, Iowa, City, Omaha, and Los Angeles." 

He's also got quite the catchphrase - one that I hope he'll allow me to adopt for my "elevator speech" when I promote US Route 6 as a cross-country drive.

"Route 6 has half the digits and twice the kicks!" -  Curtis Roseman

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

US Route 6 Personalities

I've arrived relatively late to the US Route 6 Appreciation Party.  Plenty of others got here before me, and I'll give them ample credit whenever credit is due.  One of the most exuberant and relentless Route 6 fans is Russell Lombard, the CEO/President of the non-profit US Route 6 Tourist Association.  He has taken on the job of promoting the Route and furthering publicity in every one of the 14 Route 6 States, to the point of establishing, on paper for now, a Historic Route 6 museum.  Russ provides me with the latest Route 6 news, links me to great historic websites (it was Russ who alerted me to the Charlie Chaplin connection), and inspires me to continue my research and trip planning.  

Naturally, I am now a Member of the Route 6 Tourist Association.  

There will be more about Russ in future posts, as well as information and links to other Route 6 Tourist Association Directors in several states.  In the meantime, poke around the Route 6 Tourist Association website for some great information about this historic coast-to-coast Federal Highway.