Whether you are planning a road trip across the United States, or you want to visit Death Valley, you may have already heard about Route 66, which is basically the most famous road in the world. It used to cross the U.S from Chicago to Los Angeles. However, it was now replaced by other roads, mainly by the Interstate 40. It’s not because Route 66 doesn’t exist anymore that we can’t ask ourselves questions about it, right? So, is Death Valley on Route 66?

Death Valley is not on Route 66. Indeed, Route 66 used to be South from Death Valley. It did not even cross Las Vegas, which is the closest big city around Death Valley. The roads crossing Death Valley are CA-190, the Daylight Pass Road, and the Panamint Valley Road. Since none of those roads used to be part of Route 66, we can definitely say that Death Valley is not on Route 66.

Where is Death Valley then?

Death Valley is located at the Eastern edge of California, very close to Nevada. It is 13,650 square km wide, which is almost as wide as the Connecticut State (Connecticut being 14,357 square km wide). This incredible size guarantees a variety of landscape you can hardly see in any other National Parks. Indeed, National Parks are usually focused on one specific particularity: think about the Arches National Park or Mesa Verde National Park. Here, Death Valley offers various landscapes, from desertic dunes to salt flat, and even volcanos.

To be precise, Death Valley is located 3 hours West from Las Vegas, which is the closest international airport. Furnace Creek is the most renowned city of Death Valley because it is where the highest temperature on Planet Earth was measured, making Death Valley the hottest place on Earth. The next map will show you exactly where Death Valley is and help you to see how huge it is.

map focusing on death valley las vegas and los angeles
All the green area around the red point is Death Valley. This screenshot was directly taken on Google Maps.

Where was Route 66?

When we talk about mythical roads, we immediately think of Route 66, “The Mother Road” (the mother of all roads). It is a real myth that we can still travel although it no longer officially exists in the USA since it was officially decommissioned on June 27, 1985. This road links Chicago to Los Angeles in nearly 4,000 km and crosses three time zones and 8 states (Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California). Adventurers who wish to take this first trans-continental asphalt road in America would do better to allow 3 weeks to fully enjoy this trip. Also, it would be best to go there preferably between June and September. But, where was Route 66?

Route 66 used to cross the United States from Chicago to Los Angeles. It was going through Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, basically spanning from East to West. However, Route 66 was not connected to the East Coast of the U.S, which is a common mistake people think. The best way to see where exactly really was is to check the map right after this paragraph. It will show you the historic route and all the cities which encountered Route 66.

map showing the cities route 66 encounters
Map showing the cities which Route 66 used to encounter. Picture from Sunset BLD.

Route 66 is still drivable but under other names. Of course, the road was not destroyed in 1985 when it was decommissioned. The road was sectioned into smaller ones, which is why Route 66 is called “The Mother Road”. Nowadays, over 85% of the original alignments of U.S. Route 66 are still drivable. Many segments of the road are simple two-laned highways. So you should drive with care and pay attention to the road signs.

Safety point about both Route 66 and Death Valley

In some places the “old” Route 66 shows its age, with undulations, no shoulder, bumps and even pot-holes. The Kingman to Oatman AZ area of Route 66 has several sharp hairpin curves and steep grades; the road is narrow too and there are no guardrails either, for these reasons Sitgreaves Pass earned its name as “Bloody 66” in the 1950s.

The Route 66 website warns the drivers who want to enjoy Route 66.

That quote which I read during my research on a Route 66-related website sparked my interest. Indeed, it does seem adventurous to drive on one of the most mythic roads in the world, but we should also be careful when doing so!

That warning also applies to Death Valley, where the first cause of death is solo car accidents. Sadly, too many drivers enjoy too much the long straight lines of both Death Valley and Route 66 and feel like they can drive really fast. Since tourists usually rent SUVs, and since locals usually own SUVs, the cars are able to go to high speeds, but they do not resist to the irregularities of the road. Please, drive safely and enjoy the landscape, instead of rushing those long roads.

sign at the end of route 66 in santa monica
That’s the famous sign located in Santa Monica indicating that you reached the end of Route 66. Picture from Madeleine Ragsdale.

Why do people confuse Death Valley and Route 66?

The main reason why we confuse Death Valley and Route 66 is that when we imagine Route 66, we imagine a dry road in the middle of nowhere, which is exactly how the roads look like in Death Valley. This reasoning also works the other way around. When we imagine Death Valley, we imagine a straight road crossing a desertic place. This is exactly what Route 66 used to look like, especially when it crosses New Mexico and Arizona.

Also, we have trouble putting both Route 66 and Death Valley precisely on a map. Indeed, Death Valley is literally in the middle of nowhere! And we know that Route 66 is a long road from the East Coast to the West Coast (we saw that this was not true of course because Route 66 starts in Illinois, and not on the East Coast). Then, since we think that Death Valley is in the middle of nowhere and that Route 66 crosses that desertic kind of places, we assume that Route 66 goes through Death Valley. To be honest, it could totally be the case, but it’s not.

I hope that I helped you in any way through this article and that you learned useful pieces of information on both Death Valley and Route 66.

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