The Mother Road and The Queen of Roads

 Route 66
Travel log
The Mother Road - My favorite 25 miles
Mom, Mother Road & Me
The Mother Road and The Queen of Roads
This article was published in Volume 19, Number 4 Winter, 2013 of the Federation Route 66 News. See the original article here. (page 30).

The Federation Route 66 News is published quarterly by the National Historic Route 66 Federation - dedicated to promoting and preserving the “Main Street of America”.

Story and photos by Danny G. Taylor
Author’s note: A recent trip to Rome, Italy spurred this short story.

I have always been fascinated with roads and their evolution, in particular, of course, our beloved Route 66; but also early trails leading out West (my great grandmother took such a trip in her childhood), canals and railways. The little gravel road on which I grew up in Bedford, Indiana is now a four lane boulevard with a center turn lane, stop lights and a Walmart, oh my!! My mother still lives on it though most of her front yard has been given way to asphalt. This little lane was about a mile from US 50 – called the “Backbone of America” in a July 1997 Time magazine article.
So it was only natural that while in Rome I’d check out the Appian Way – The Queen of Roads. This road was started in 312 BC. It is certainly hard to appreciate “old” in America while in a city like Rome where age is measured in “BC time”. Also, it was only natural that I would draw comparisons to our Mother Road. So here goes.
Dirt road at La Bajada Hill, New Mexico   Stone on the Appian Way showing chariot wheel ruts

Ahead of their time:
Both roads were pioneers of their respective day. The main purpose of the Mother Road was to help with western migration as the country continued to expand. The road was little more than dirt in some places like the La Bajada Hill southwest of Santa Fe, NM. It's the most difficult stretch of road you can encounter on Route 66 today.

Compare that to the 330 mile relatively flat, cobble stone hand-laid street called the Appian Way. The eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea near Rome, Italy is called the Tyrrhenain Sea. The main purpose of the Appian Way was to move military might and personnel eastward toward the Adriatic Sea. The road began as a leveled dirt road upon which small stones and mortar were laid. Gravel was laid upon this, which was finally topped with tight fitting, interlocking stones to provide a flat surface. Some of the stones were said to fit so well that you could not slide a knife into the cracks. The road was crested in the middle (for water runoff) and had ditches on either side of the road which were protected by retaining walls

Deterioration on Route 66   Deterioration on the Appian Way

Still in use:
Both roads are still in use although their usefulness and effectiveness in moving people and vehicles has greatly diminished. But on both old roads you can see people enjoying the peacefulness of a by-gone time.

While the roads themselves are not in too bad of shape, some of the homes and businesses lining them show signs of neglect and abandonment. This is only natural, of course, as newer, more efficient roads were built to replace them. I remember talking to Angel Delgadillo in Seligman, AZ who stated to me the year, day, hour and minute his town “died” – the cutting of the ribbon for I-40 which bypassed his town.

Both highways are experiencing a renewal of sorts. In America, we are getting in touch with our past and many of us are seeking a slower, more relaxed pace while traveling. Businesses are continuing to be “rehab-ed” to accommodate the needs of the modern traveler. On the Queen of Roads there are many businesses, especially restaurants with sidewalk seating, to enable the weary traveler to “watch the world go by”. On both roads you can witness people driving cars, riding motorcycles and bikes, walking or jogging and taking the pooch for a stroll.


Signage showing the commonly used names of each road.

The Mother Road’s most famous movie feature is probably the one made from John Steinbeck’s novel – The Grapes of Wrath. It is the 1940’s John Ford movie about the Dust Bowl era depression and westward movement via Route 66 of thousands of “Okies” looking for jobs, land, dignity and a future. The 1960 movie Spartacus depicts a violent revolt led by the slave Spartacus against a decadent Roman Republic. Unfortunately the revolt was not successful and the Romans decided the slaves had lost their right to live; in 76 BC, 6,000 of the rebellious slaves were crucified along a 120 mile stretch of the Appian Way from Rome to Capua.

Name changed:

Route 66 is now known in many places as Historic Route 66. The signage is rather good. The Appian Way is now called Appia Antica. While I have traveled all of Route 66 once and several parts of it numerous times, I rode on about six of the 330 miles of the Appian Way and then walked about four miles of it. In conclusion, I would highly recommend a jaunt on both of these historically significant roads. The relaxing pace will soothe your spirit.

Danny Taylor and his wife Karen - Danny ran all of R66 in 2006 with his mother (Karen was still working). He has driven many parts of it numerous times in the last 10-12 years. He lives in Southern Indiana where he says it is a short drive to Springfield, IL or Dwight or ....... Oh yeah, maple syrup at Funk's Grove - ha!