We towed our Little Guy from Texas to California and back in a two-week teardrop adventure (I). The legendary Route 66 guided us from home base Dallas to Los Angeles. With several deviations along the way, it wasn’t your classic Mother Road trip. We mixed up some Route 66 quirkiness with stunning nature and camping under the stars.
1. Amarillo, TX
The city of Amarillo was our entry point to Route 66, after driving five hours northwest from Dallas. The first stop is impossible to miss: the Big Texan Steak Ranch takes up a lot of billboard space in Amarillo.
The restaurant is worth a stop even if you don’t intend to conquer the free 72oz steak. We ordered a souvenir jug to go with one of the eight varieties of beer on tap.
But Amarillo’s Route 66 landmark lies further down the road. The Cadillac Ranch is one of the most famous stops on the Mother Road.
No need to waste time or money on buying spray paint; the 10 Cadillacs are surrounded by a carpet of leftover spray paint bottles. Our work of art held up just long enough for a picture, before it got sprayed over by another romantic.
2. Wigwam Motel, AZ
We locked up our Little Guy for one night on the trip, and with good reason. The Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona is one of the two surviving Wigwam Motels on Route 66, built in the 1930s. With Route 66 being famous for motels, we couldn’t bypass the quirkiest of them all.
The wigwams are actually concrete tipis, serving as individual hotel rooms. The vintage cars out front take you right back to the glory days of Route 66.
3. Petrified Forest National Park, AZ
Route 66 cuts right through one of Arizona’s three national parks. As the park roads close at 5 PM, we returned the next morning to tour Petrified Forest national park. We started at the Painted Rim visitor center and made our way down south, passing one scenic viewpoint after another.
We picked the Blue Mesa trail as our morning exercise. The one-mile loop offers breathtaking scenery, and a first glimpse at the petrified wood the park got named after.
Before exiting the park and hitting the road again, we stretched our legs one more time. The Crystal Forest is a short loop scattered with colorful lumps of petrified wood, literally “wood turned into stone”. Through a process of millions of years, plant material is transformed into minerals, turning the log of wood into a fossil.
4. Sedona, AZ
Sedona lies 45 minutes south of Route 66. Since we were towing our Little Guy, we picked the I-17 over the winding SR-89A. This small detour didn’t just save us from ending up in the canyon, it also guided us towards the Red Rock Scenic Byway (SR-179). As the name suggest, SR-179 is an incredibly scenic piece of road that leads up to Sedona coming from the south.
By the time we reached the Rancho Sedona RV Park, we were already in awe of Sedona’s beauty. The RV park only added to our enthusiasm, with big shady spots and Sedona’s red rocks peeking through the trees.
With time for just one hike, we picked the Devil’s Bridge trail. Short and rewarding, this 4-mile trail is very popular. After a leisurely walk through Red Rock country, the final part holds a steep climb. Great views and entertainment are guaranteed at the top, as everyone takes their turn at the perfect picture.
We made it to Sedona’s airport overlook just in time for a stunning sunset.
5. Joshua Tree National Park, CA
We cheated on the way to our next stop, as we bypassed Route 66 completely. The shortest way from Sedona to Joshua Tree National Park is through its southern entrance, following the I-10 west for about 5 hours. The A/C was struggling to keep out the California desert heat.
After passing by the Cottonwood Visitor Center, we braved the heat for the first time at Chola Cactus Garden. There is a short walking trail that brings you up close with these prickly strangers.
As soon as the first Joshua Trees appeared, we had to park our house on wheels. There is a small parking lot on the left-hand side that marks the start of the Arch Rock Nature Trail. We didn’t run into a single soul, other than the sick rabbits that infested Joshua Tree.
We continued to the Jumbo Rocks Campground, our stay for the night. The campground is first come, first serve in summer months. There’s only so many people who want to spend a night in the uncomfortable desert heat without showers or drinking water, meaning we had our pick of scenic spots. You can climb the Jumbo Rocks for an amazing sunset.
The next morning, we drove up to Keys View. This 20-minute deviation from the main Park Road is well worth the effort, with panoramic views of the Mojave dessert.
We made our way out of the park through the west entrance, continuing further west to the final stop on Route 66.
6. Santa Monica Pier, LA
There was only one obstacle between us and the California coast: LA traffic. The last stretch between Joshua Tree and Malibu was without doubt the most stressful one of the entire trip, trying to navigate our way on LA’s 6-lane highways while not getting the Little Guy hit by an oblivious truck driver.
We stayed for one night at the Malibu Beach RV Park. As one could guess, the views are great, the owners unfriendly and the spots way overpriced. It’s a well-known secret that Matthew McConaughey keeps his Airstream at one of the ocean-view spots.
After setting up against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean, we made our way to the Santa Monica Pier. You can park your car at one of the public lots next to the pier, as the last stop on Route 66 is only accessible by foot.
With little to no tourists due to covid-restrictions, Los Angeles was in the hands of the homeless. After a brief walk along the coast, we were happy to return to overpriced Malibu. Route 66 ends here, but our road trip continued through California and the American West.