A festive revival of old Route 66 from New Mexico to California is featured in a new documentary by David Bowyer.
Exploring Route 66. The Mother Road showcases the history of America’s iconic roadway — from its demise after the speedway of Interstate 40 was built, to its resurgence as a tourism attraction today.
Bowyer, a Cortez filmmaker, spent three years visiting the towns and people along the western sections of Route 66. His journey reveals a fascinating portrait of classic Americana that screams “Time for a road trip!”
“Exploring if for the first time really had an impression on me, and I saw it had the potential for a film,” Bowyer said in an interview. “It was a fun adventure.”
Bowyer tracks down Route 66’s enthusiastic boosters who refused to let their tiny towns die after the road full of customers was abandoned in 1985 in favor of I-40.
“If you’re just traveling from point A to B and don’t give a damn what is in-between, then I-40 is for you,” says Chuck Berand, of Seligman, Ariz., one of many characters in the film. “But if you want to know where you have been, drive down Route 66. It is a good education.”
From Chicago to Santa Monica, Route 66 passed through eight states, delivering drivers through the middle of modern cities and small towns all along the way.
Much of it is gone now, but many sections remain, including a 158-mile stretch from Seligman to Kingman.
The slower pace of the main route to California created a culture of commerce in the Southwest, supporting towns such as Gallup, Flagstaff, Seligman, Winslow, Oatman, San Bernadino, and Kingman.
Angel Delgadillo is considered the grandfather of the Route 66 revival, persuading Arizona to preserve it as a historical landmark in 1987.
“It was like pulling teeth to get it designated. But now all the businesses are reactivated, people walking down the street, the traveling public is happy,” he says. “The world is looking for a simpler way of life and discovering the romance of the Mother Road.”
Historian Kristi Householder explains how Route 66 was a key transportation corridor for freight and vacationers. When the road was bypassed, towns lost their livelihood as stores, restaurants,and hotels shuttered overnight.
“Trade was set up because of Route 66. Native American artwork became popular and could be picked up at trading posts,” especially in Gallup, she says.
Quirky kitsch also became trendy as roadside attractions. Stay in concrete teepees at a hotel in Holbrook. Visit the largest rabbit, largest dream catcher and gigantic dinosaur scenes.
And of course, life is not complete until you “Stand on the corner in Winslow Arizona.”
Bowyers view from the camera is crisp and lively. He films many souvenir shops, honky-tonks, and diners, then interviews the owners, musicians, and locals about Route 66’s impact on the past and present. Multiple side trips, such as to the Grand Canyon, Navajo Country, and volcanic craters are nicely portrayed and explained as well.
The fun video is set to a well-produced soundtrack of country-western and bebop from back in the day.
“Living ghost towns” re-create the rowdy mining days, complete with street shootouts and train robberies.
In Oatman, mild-mannered burros roam freely downtown and poke their fuzzy faces into cars to the delight of kids and adults.
“When the mining was over, they were brought up from underground and let loose. They’re direct descendants from the ones in the mines,” explains a local.
Once in Santa Monica, Calif., “everybody jumps out of the ’57 Pontiac goes and jumps in the ocean,” the announcer says. “Route 66 got us there and will take us back home.”
On his next adventure, Bowyers plans to explore the first section of Route 66 starting from Chicago to Albuquerque. His family production company includes his wife, Denise, and sons James and Jonathan.
Pick up a copy of Route 66: The Mother Road at the Cortez Cultural Center and Notah Dineh in Cortez.