Association keeps Route 66 alive

Route 66 once was "The Mother Road" of America.

It stretched 2,448 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif.

and inspired Bobby Troup to write the song "Get Your Kicks on Route 66." It also provided the backdrop for the popular television series that starred Martin Milner and George Maharis.

Thousands of people headed west along Route 66 to begin a new life in the west.

Working to preserve the heritage of the road and keep it physically intact is the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona.

"The association started in 1987 with Angel Delgadillo, Vince Salmon, Jerry Richards, Billi Jo Moore and several others," Laura Stevens, director of operations for the association, said.

"They succeeded in getting this portion of Route 66 dedicated as a historic highway by the state (in 1988)."

From its original 15 members, the association now numbers about 900 with some living in other countries.

A quarterly newsletter keeps them up-to-date with events related to the highway, including the Route 66 Fun Run each spring.

Mohave County contains much of the largest continuous stretch of Route 66 that remains in service.

Motorists can travel 157.87 miles (as calibrated by Ford Motor Company's traveling laboratory) from the Crookton Road exit in Ashfork to the Topock/Golden Shores exit near the California border.

There are two reasons why people drive the highway today.

"Nostalgia is one (reason) and the fact that it's a more leisurely drive that gets people away from the hustle and bustle of the freeway," Stevens said.

Arizona was the first of eight states to start a Route 66 Association dedicated to preserving the highway, Stevens said.

Other states following suit were California, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

The latest issue of the association newsletter gives figures for visitors signing a guest register at the association headquarters in the Powerhouse Visitor Center for the last quarter of 2002.

There were 486 domestic visitors from 43 states, plus 270 international visitors from 30 countries or territories.

California had the largest number of United States visitors with 100, followed by Arizona with 39.

"A lot of people say they're from Arizona so they don't feel they're visiting and don't sign our guest book," Stevens said.

"But (October through December) also is our slow time of the year."

The old Harvey House in Seligman, Grand Canyon Caverns, historic Kingman and the old mining town of Oatman are among the places that travelers visit.

The lure of Route 66 can be as compelling for international visitors as domestic ones.

Germany topped the list of foreign visitors last quarter with 49 signing in at the Powerhouse.

England was right behind with 47.

Other countries in double digits were Canada (37), France (23), Australia (20), Japan (16) and Switzerland (12).

"Route 66's history is a hands-on one," Stevens said.

"It's still here as opposed to things in their own countries that were blown up or just taken down."

Guest book registrations should jump during the Route 66 Fun Run set for May 2-4.