Route 666 is fading in the distance. That stepson of the Mother Road –Route 66 --is headed toward oblivion. That’s a shame, because for me, like plenty of pavement pilgrims who arrived in the West over the last half-century in RVs, SUVs or astride Harleys, the Devil’s Highway was the road into God’s Country.
666 was a lonely stretch of asphalt stretching 194 miles from dusty
Gallup, N.M., across the rugged Navajo Reservation, through
southwestern Colorado into Utah, where it ended at Monticello,
Utah. The stretch of asphalt is still there, but it has shed the
number of the beast in favor of less ominous numerology. Exit Route
666. Hop on Route 491.
Last spring, New Mexico Gov. Bill
Richardson led politicians from the highway’s three states in
petitioning the federal government to change the highway’s
numbers. They argued that the Bible’s link between 666 and
Satan was bedeviling the economic well being of the towns along the
But according to the Book of
Revelation, a ram-horned, dragon-talking beast would stamp 666 on
our heads and hands, not our highways. I can’t believe that
it’s the three sixes that are possessing the struggling
communities along that desert highway. Changing the number
won’t change the fortunes of small towns strung across the
dusty Southwest, in Indian Reservations and nearby, where the
future offers little more hope than dry thunderclouds promise
No jobs. No industry. No crops. Only lines of cars
passing from one national park to the next, and they’re just
I am nostalgic enough to believe that
something was lost when those highway numbers changed. Route 666
took its name from its place on the map. It was the sixth branch
off Route 66, the fabled Mother Road that was once the path of
choice for millions of vacationers, truckers and automobile
pilgrims looking for salvation among the motels, diners, tourist
traps and expansive beauty that was the West.
"If you have
a plan to motor west," the old song says, "travel my way, take the
highway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route
Only isolated fragments of Route 66 remain.
They’ve been split apart by the interstate highway system
that gave us convenience at the cost of character. When I first
ventured west of the 100th meridian, it was to Route 66 country,
and although Route 66 no longer remained, its romance lingered.
Driving on Route 666 was as close as I would get to a connection
with a piece of lost Americana.
It was something else,
too. That highway pulled me out of Gallup, N.M., which would soon
seem to me like a big city once I hit the dusty towns on the Navajo
Reservation. Tohatchi. Naschitti. Shiprock. This is the rugged West
that doesn’t show up on postcards. And it isn’t sung
about in that song.
Kicks on Route 66 are found in
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernadino, not Tocito or Towaoc. I became
enchanted by this country’s sagebrush and mesas, turquoise
skies and red rock, and years later, it lured me back.
Thankfully, what I love most about old Route 666 won’t change
when the signposts do. It will still be a track through a rugged,
struggling, beautiful place that carries the heart of the West. But
I also loved where Route 666 came from. It was a branch off a piece
of history, one that is now another step closer to forgotten. No
kicks, I’m afraid, on Route 491.