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Point of View: Celebrating 100 years of the Mother Road

Jared Peterson
Jared Peterson

Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans live within a few miles of Route 66, driving on it every day. Part of the fabric of their lives, most people don’t give the highway a second thought.

For them, it’s the quickest way to the grocery store, the shopping mall or to pick up their kids. But the fact is, Route 66 is a living time capsule with nearly 100 years of history sealed into every mile. That is why people from across the country and around the world consider the highway a destination point, and a passage through the soul of America.

So, AAA Oklahoma has joined with stakeholders in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and communities along the highway's 420-mile stretch in Oklahoma to celebrate its approaching centennial year in 2026. The AAA Route 66 Road Fest is a nine-day event cautiously planned for June, starting at Tulsa’s River Spirit Expo at Expo Square on June 18 and ending at the Bennett Event Center on the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds, June 26.

The event will give visitors a chance to remember where we have been and explore what’s coming next. Imagine driving through a forest of derricks comprising the gigantic Oklahoma City Oil Field in 1928, stopping at a classic 1950s diner, passing a ’60s-era drive-in theater, or spending the night at an RV park and rest area with vintage campers all around. Will electric, automated vehicles rule the Mother Road someday? The Road Fest will tell that story too.

While history will abound in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, the highway’s centennial story will come to life in towns like Catoosa, Arcadia and Stroud, where Road Fest visitors can venture out to see the Blue Whale, the Round Barn and the Skyliner Motel.

AAA and the Mother Road have much in common. Both growing up in the golden age of the automobile, when cars and road trips were at the core of American culture. Oklahoma was not even 20 years old when Tulsa’s Cyrus Avery laid the groundwork for the historic highway’s cross-country development.

That’s why there is no better place to kick off the national celebration than Oklahoma, which claims more miles of Route 66 than any other state. Did you know the route passes the state Capitol building? No other state can say that. But this is not an Oklahoma celebration. Everyone can be involved in the party, and after the 2021 Road Fest is over, we will encourage other states to join the fun as we continue our centennial journey to 2026.

As excited as we are about the Road Fest, we are moving forward cautiously amid the uncertainty of the ongoing pandemic, but 2021 brings reason for optimism with new vaccines against COVID-19. Safety is our highest priority, so we will adhere to recommendations from the CDC and state health officials, ready to adjust and accommodate when necessary.

Keep in mind this is only the beginning of a five-year road trip through the past, present and future of a 2,400-mile highway from Chicago to Santa Monica. We hope you will join us in celebrating our iconic Route 66.

Peterson, of Tulsa, is president of the AAA Club Alliance Great Plains Region.