Driving to distinction

May 16, 2018 — Route 66 gets all the attention. America was built on Route 66. History was made on Route 66. The auto court was invented on Route 66. You could get your kicks on Route 66.

Big deal. It’s only a two-digit highway, real highways have three numbers, like Oregon’s own Highway 101.

Before the interstate highway system was built, getting to your destination meant travelling over anything from an old logging road to what used to be a foot or animal trail. America’s roads were mostly a patchwork of connectors until after World War II, when President Eisenhower decreed the building of the interstate road system we know today.

Prior to the interstate road system, the connecting of America via the automobile (or horse cart) started way back in 1806 when Thomas Jefferson assigned surveyors to plot a route between Cumberland, MD and Wheeling, WV. This was just fine until people decided they wanted to travel beyond Cumberland and Wheeling, so the National Road was built in 1916, the first road project done specifically for the horseless carriage and the first highway to bisect six states. 

Soon to follow were the demands for better roads, so the Lincoln Highway was constructed, a paved two-lane road that spanned shore to shore, some 3,389 miles through no less than 15 states.

Business grew and thrived as the conquering automobile created opportunities and jobs in every hamlet and town they roared through. The west coast was ripe for the intrusion of two lanes along the water but the first road along the Oregon coast had yet to materialize.

To be named the Roosevelt Coast Military Highway, it would have been the first continuous road along the Oregon coast. But the feds did not match the 2.5M bond measure passed by the people’s vote, thus it died before it was even born.

Forward to 1921 and construction of what we know today as the Oregon Coast Highway begins. Finished in 1931, it was 400 miles of two-lane blacktop (or packed gravel) that connected all the coastal towns between Gold Beach and Astoria.

Eventually all the parcels and pieces for a continuous coast road were connected into one grand south to north highway.

Now it was time to promote those things that attract the traveler and get them to empty their wallets and purses.

Route 66 has the Uranus Fudge Factory, we have Mo’s Famous Clam Chowder. Pacific Coast Highway, aka El Camino Real has the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Beach, we give our sea lions not just a beach but their own cave. One aspect of Highway 101 lore that sets us apart from all the other famous roads is that if it gets too congested with traffic, you just turn towards the beach and drive on the sand. It’s true, the Oregon coast itself is designated as a highway. Just get an Oregon ORV pass, a flag and you’re good to go. Also, our Highway 101 hugs the water for more miles than any other west coast road, providing beach views along almost its entire length.

Four hundred miles of wonderland sliced by bridged rivers and creeks.

One word of advice; spend more time out of the car than inside it. There is just too much to experience to be endlessly strapped into a rolling computer.

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