Route 66 in Texas
Even though Texas, with 170 miles, has the second lowest Route 66 mileage of any state except Kansas, the old road has left its mark on the Panhandle region, traveling through the hearts of numerous towns along the way and providing the economic and cultural lifeblood of these communities. Route 66 is now chopped into fragments as it passes through Texas, but the memory of the road lingers.
The landscape that the road passes through is for the most part a harsh and forbidding one. For one thing, the road carried travelers through the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains, a desolate landscape which is unrelieved by the sight of trees and which is level as a pool table. Indeed, the roadway travels through a seemingly unending flatness, and tourists on the old road must have felt as if they were traveling from one grain elevator on the horizon to the next, with nothing in between.
Early on, even after the designation of the road as a part of the U.S. highway system, Route 66 was often little more than a rutted dirt road. One fabled stretch of the route was called the Jericho Gap, near the town of Groom. This was an unpaved stretch of road east of Amarillo that became legendary for turning into pure mud whenever it rained. The Jericho Gap was one of the last unpaved stretches of Route 66, and it struck fear into the hearts of travelers, because it was so difficult to traverse. This gap in the roadway was finally paved over in the 1930s, but, according to Michael Wallis’s Route 66: The Mother Road, stories about the gap continued to make travelers “cringe” for years afterward.
In addition to the grain silos that seem to function almost as mileposts across the Texas route’s wide open spaces, the region is also dotted with oil rigs, emblematic of one of the area’s economic lifeblood industries, along with cattle ranching, which has thrived here since the 1800s. The cultural and economic capitol of this region is Amarillo, named for the color yellow in Spanish. As in numerous small towns dotting the Panhandle region, Route 66 once formed an important commercial corridor through Amarillo.
Since the decommissioning of Route 66 in 1986, the roadway has continued to have its champions in Texas. In 1991, the Texas Old Route 66 Associations formed, and in 2006, the National Register Nomination of Route 66 in Texas was approved by the Keeper of the Register. Today, fragments of the road in Texas come and go, sometimes seeming to fade into nothingness, while in the towns something of the spirit of the road lives on.