Route 66 Road Trip: Oklahoma City to Weatherford
Just west of Oklahoma City, Route 66 shifts from the urban bustle of the state capital to a quieter, more contemplative pace. This section of the Mother Road also contains some of the historic highway’s most pristine stretches.
Treasure Hunt – Bethany
The contrast begins in downtown Bethany, just west of Oklahoma City. Here, diagonal parking next to the road is allowed, and antique stores place some of their wares on the sidewalk to entice shoppers. We spotted several varieties of Kit-Cat clocks and a wreath of eggs for $7. The two-block area, across from Southern Nazarene University, exudes a small-town feel. Businesses there include a barbershop, florist, old-fashioned drugstore and a pastry shop, where we buy a cinnamon roll.
Over the Bridge – Lake Overholser Bridge
Heading west, the Lake Overholser Bridge casts a dignified air despite its rusty metal trusses. Built in 1924, it hosted the earliest alignment of Route 66 over the lake and helped carry drivers to their homes along the reservoir.
Yukon’s Best – Yukon
Another photo op presents itself at Yukon, where a painted message on the side of a towering grain elevator touting “Yukon’s Best Flour” has been a local landmark for generations. A few years ago, a lightbulb-festooned Yukon’s Best Flour sign atop the elevator was restored to its former glory. The sign still lights up after dusk, although some of the bulbs have dimmed because of the elements.
Horsepower – Express Ranch
A couple of miles north of town, off Garth Brooks Boulevard (Yukon is his hometown), sits the Express Clydesdales Ranch. This muscular horse breed remains best known for pulling Budweiser beer wagons, but Express horses have earned accolades in their own right at competitions across North America. You can see these majestic animals – and their ornate harnesses and wagons – at their immaculately appointed barn. The premises also include a well-stocked gift shop and a hayloft full of trophies and photos.
Tasty Burger – Robert’s Grill
El Reno is known for its historic districts and its role on the Chisholm Trail, but another of the city’s claims to fame is the onion burger. The locals’ practice of frying sliced onions with hamburger, so the onions are caramelized amid the hot fat and juices, dates back 100 years. Several downtown restaurants next to Route 66 excel in the tradition. On this day, we stopped by the block-shaped building that is Robert’s Grill, which has been serving onion burgers since 1926. The taste was well worth the short wait to have a burger made fresh to order.
Military History – Fort Reno
Fort Reno, located west of El Reno off Route 66, has seen several incarnations during its colorful history. Established as an Army post in 1876 to keep an eye on local American Indians, it later became a POW camp for captured Germans during World War II. Fort Reno now is primarily used as a USDA research station, but a nonprofit group has helped maintain and restore the fort’s historic buildings, including its subtly beautiful chapel. It’s also worth checking out the cemetery, where everyone from soldiers to scoundrels has been buried on a wind-swept, peaceful hill.
The structure’s transparent roof and sides, along with its seclusion and a nearby lake, make this an ideal spot to immerse oneself in nature.
Under the Stars – Bill and Clara’s Home and Ranch
The owners of Bill & Clara’s Home and Ranch run a nicely maintained 1950 ranch house south of El Reno as a bed-and-breakfast, but what may intrigue Route 66 aficionados is their Sleeping Under the Stars cabin, nestled amid cedar trees a few miles west of Fort Reno. The cabin offers spartan amenities, aside from battery-operated lights, bedding and draperies, but the structure’s transparent roof and sides, along with its seclusion and a nearby lake, make this an ideal spot to immerse oneself in nature.
Time Travel – West of El Reno
West of El Reno is one of the best-preserved stretches of Route 66 you’ll find. The highway in this region was built from Portland cement during the early 1930s, and most of it survives. The road surface’s faded pink color, its occasional upraised curbs and the “thump thump” sound you hear as you drive over its expansion joints make it easily recognizable. As this stretch of the Mother Road wanders far from noisy Interstate 40, it’s sometimes possible to time-travel back to Route 66’s heyday.
Indian Territory – Cherokee Trading Post
Between I-40 and Route 66 west of El Reno stands the Cherokee Trading Post, which is much more than a run-of-the-mill truck stop. Billboards tout buffalo burgers and pies at its restaurant, the complex sports a huge mural recounting the history of Native Americans in Oklahoma (plus several statues and totem poles) and a couple of live bison lounge in a pen nearby. In a large gallery building shaped roughly like three teepees, you’ll see thousands of pieces of American Indian and Western art, crafts and toys. It’s a place where you can buy authentic steer horns or children’s coyote socks.
Pony Ride – Pony Bridge
Route 66 boasts its share of historic bridges, but one of the most storied is the Pony Bridge, which spans the South Canadian River between Bridgeport and Calumet. Built in 1933, the bridge is nearly 4,000 feet long and was considered a mighty construction undertaking at the time. It consists of 38 yellow pony trusses; have your kids count them as you drive across the span.
Mother of the Mother Road – Lucille’s
Near Hydro sits Lucille’s Service Station, which owner Lucille Hamons operated on Route 66 from 1941 until her death in 2000. She refused to close despite extreme financial pressures from being bypassed by I-40, and she grew into a semi-celebrity because of her stubborn resiliency and her hospitality to Route 66 visitors. Although Lucille’s has been closed since her death, many travelers pause to shoot a photo or two of the restored structure and pay their respects to the self-proclaimed “Mother of the Mother Road.”