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What is Route 66? Map, how long is USA road trip that has inspired songs - and why Google is celebrating it

Route 66 was one of the earliest highways built in the US, and functioned was vital for those heading west

The latest Google Doodle celebrates America’s iconic Route 66, one of the most famous driving roads in the world and a bucket-list journey for road trip fans globally.

The route connects Chicago, Illinois and Santa Monica, California, and is known for its retro diners, odd hotels, eclectic art installations, and breathtaking scenery.

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Today’s Google is an animated journey along the route, taking in some of the more iconic sights and sounds of the trip.

But why is Google celebrating the road today, and what is its significance?

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why is Google Celebrating Route 66?

A “Route 66” sign is painted on the asphalt near Amboy in the Mojave Desert in California (Photo: ERIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Today (30 April 2022) marks 96 years since the name "U.S. 66" was first proposed for the cross-country route.

Route 66 was one of the first roadways in the United States Highway System, and served as a major route for people migrating west, particularly during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, a period of intense dust storms that wreaked havoc on the American and Canadian grasslands' ecology and agriculture.

Built in 1926, at the dawn of widespread car ownership in the US, Highway 66 made cross-country travel affordable for the first time.

The road also aided the economics of the communities it passed through, and people doing business along the route prospered as the highway grew in popularity.

Those same people eventually campaigned to keep the highway alive in the face of the new Interstate Highway System's threat of bypassing it.

How long is Route 66?

(Map: Wikimedia Commons)

The highway originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, before terminating at Santa Monica, Los Angeles County, California, spanning a total distance of 2,448 miles.

With American artists publicising US 66 and the experience of travelling along it through song and television, the road became a staple in popular culture.

Author John Steinbeck famously travelled along Route 66 in search of inspiration for his novel The Grapes of Wrath, which depicts the Joad family who travel from Oklahoma to California having been evicted from their small farm.

What is ‘Historic’ Route 66?

Technically, Route 66 no longer exists today.

After being completely replaced by five new interstate highways, it was officially withdrawn from the United States Highway System in 1985.

Parts of Route 66 in Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been classified as a National Scenic Byway, with the name ’Historic Route 66’ reinstated on some maps, and many original establishments from the historic highway's heyday can still be found today.

Several states have also incorporated substantial bypassed sections of the former US 66 as State Route 66 into their state road networks.

How was today’s Google Doodle made?

“Today’s artwork celebrates the cultural significance of one of America’s first national highways,” says Google, “and how it became a symbol of a changing nation.”

To make today's animated video Doodle, doodler Matthew Cruiskshank created over 100 paintings and drawings, while travelling the 2,400 mile route.

Cruiskshank said: “I’ve always loved sketching outdoors. Sketchbooks provide a useful source of reference & creative freedom to artists.

“I set out to create an animated sketchbook of my journey complete with u-turns and artistic meanderings.”