Off the Beaten Path on Route 66
During the 1920s and ‘30s Route 66 alignments were often primitive, narrow roads. Finding and driving these old alignments can be fun, challenging or both. And these older sections of the Mother Road provide an inkling of what cross-country travel was like decades ago.
|Photo: Sapulpa Chamber of Commerce|
Enthusiasts will find that driving Route 66 in Oklahoma is mostly an easy experience on modern, well-maintained roadways. But get off the beaten path and seek out a few of Route 66’s surviving old alignments to experience what roadtrips of the past were like. Here are a few of the surviving old alignments that you'll want to try:
This rural 6.5-mile roadway between Miami and Afton was built in 1922 – four years before it was designated U.S. 66. The Sidewalk Highway is so named because it’s only nine feet wide. Now pitted or covered with gravel, its surface and white concrete edges often peek through. It makes for a leisurely drive through the region’s ranch lands.
Directions: For the Miami alignment, go south on Main Street from the U.S. 69-Oklahoma 10 intersection for about three miles to a T intersection. The Sidewalk Highway begins at the right and eventually rejoins U.S. 69. For the Afton alignment, go west at the road next to the vocational/technical school just north of Interstate 44. The Sidewalk Highway begins there and sweeps over I-44 before rejoining U.S. 69.
Old Chelsea Alignment
An old section of road in Chelsea carried less than a mile of Route 66 from 1926 to 1932. But it’s notable for the Pryor Creek Bridge, a steel-truss structure that dates to the beginning of the highway and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Only walkers and kids heading to the bridge to fish use the little-traveled route today.
Directions: At an intersection just north of town off Oklahoma 66, go south. The Pryor Creek Bridge is nearby. Continue on First Street through town until you rejoin Oklahoma 66.
This concrete ribbon, part of the original Ozark Trail west of Sapulpa, carried 3.3 miles of Route 66 until the early 1950s. It’s now a mostly secluded drive dotted with a few houses amid wooded areas. Be on the lookout for the 1921 steel-truss Rock Creek Bridge, a 1925 railroad trestle and the ruins of a drive-in theater.
Directions: To enter at the eastern terminus, go 1.2 miles west of the Oklahoma 66-Oklahoma 97 intersection in Sapulpa; you’ll see the Rock Creek Bridge, which is only accessible to vehicles under seven foot, two inches, at the beginning of the trail. At the western terminus, go north onto Nafcoat Lane; look for the Shell and Ferrellgas stations nearby.
Route 66’s early history is revealed by its early paths.
Tank Farm Loop
This 1.7-mile stretch of the original Route 66 between Kellyville and Bristow is so named because several oil storage tanks stand along the roadway. This curvy alignment, built without shoulders, carried the Mother Road from 1926 to 1938. The Tank Farm Loop is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Directions: To enter the loop from the east, go a half-mile west of where Oklahoma 66 goes over I-44 and turn north. From the west, go four miles east of the intersection of Oklahoma 66 and Oklahoma 48. The entrance to the loop is at the top of a hill.
Ozark Trail Obelisk
On a gravel road near Stroud stands a rare obelisk that marked an intersection with the Ozark Trail. This primitive road was Route 66 from 1926 to 1930. The 15-foot-tall stone obelisk on a triangular patch of land is marked with graffiti but still impresses.
Directions: Go about two miles west on Oklahoma 66 from the intersection of Oklahoma 99 and turn south at 3540 Road. The obelisk is 1.4 miles south.
Key Bridge Ruins
At Bridgeport, a suspension bridge spanned the South Canadian River beginning in 1921. This structure, called the Key Bridge, carried Route 66 until 1933, when the Pony Bridge was built to the southeast. Only the pillars of the bridge remain on the river bank. Getting to the ruins requires traveling a 4.3-mile dirt or gravel road that shouldn’t be attempted after a rain unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. This road that carried Route 66 was never paved – and still isn’t.
Directions: Slightly west of a prominent intersection of U.S. 281 and Old U.S. Highway 66 is a gravel road. Go north onto the gravel road for a half-mile and veer west at a fork, away from a sign that says “private property.” The bridge’s remains are another 3.8 miles west; you’re close when you see the river near the road to the left.
Route 66 between Erick and Sayre was four lanes from 1956 to 1975. But east of Interstate 40’s Exit 11, this stretch of the Mother Road was reduced to the southern two lanes. Portions of the abandoned two lanes remain accessible. Nature is reclaiming this road; you’ll often find yourself driving through a tunnel of brush and trees.
Directions: The ghost road begins less than a quarter-mile east of Exit 11. Be aware that the abandoned road’s accessibility can change because of fallen tree limbs and other debris. Fortunately, there are frequent turnouts on these stretches.
If you want to check more of Route 66's obscure alignments, consult Jim Ross' book "Oklahoma Route 66" to plan more two-lane adventures.