Kansas is moving forward on creating it’s first official segment of the U.S. Bicycle Route System, on the Route 66 Historic Byway in southeastern Kansas. Here is a photo tour of the route as it stands today.
This recently-designated byway follows the famous Route 66 through Kansas. Route 66 begins in Chicago and ends in Los Angeles. It was traveled by hundreds of thousands of people in the 1930s, fleeing the dust bowl and the great depression for the promised land of the west.
Route 66 traversed Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California in its 2400+ miles, becoming known as “The Mother Road”, and entrenching itself into American popular culture.
Sadly, much of the original Route 66 has been lost, replaced by interstate highways and other higher-capacity roads. But there are still extant segments of the original route, and many of the communities celebrate their place along the route.
Kansas has the shortest slice of the entire route, with only about 13 miles cutting through the extreme southeastern corner of the state, passing through the communities of Galena, Riverton, and Baxter Springs.
Dale and I were coming down US-69, so we parked the car at Riverton High School, about halfway along the byway. We rode the bikes west and south to Baxter Springs and the Oklahoma state line, and then north and east to Galena and the Missouri state line.
Here are some photos to give you a flavor of the bicycling conditions along the route:
Bicycling along historic Route 66. The road here is two-lane, with very little traffic (though watch out for loose dogs!).
This Marsh Arch Bridge over Brush Creek on old US-66 was built in 1923, and is the only bridge of this type along the entire Route 66. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This is not really part of the historic Route 66, but this is an interesting story in its own right. The Baxter Springs “Field of Dreams” stadium is located along old US-66, just north of Baxter Springs. This impressive facility, which is used for both baseball and softball, is owned and managed by a non-profit, and the stadium was built entirely with donated funds and labor.
Baxter Springs (and Southeast Kansas as a whole) has a rich baseball heritage. Mickey Mantle played for the semi-pro Baxter Springs Whiz Kids as a teenager, where he was discovered and signed by the New York Yankees. Baxter Springs is also home to the Little League Baseball Museum, which houses memorabilia from local sports heroes who’ve played in the area.
The Route 66 Historic Byway and the Frontier Military Historic Byway (which begins in Leavenworth and basically follows US-69 south) run along the same route for a few miles, and end at the Oklahoma border just south of Baxter Springs.
You’ll note that there is an excellent wide shoulder from Baxter Springs to the state line.
We turned around at the Oklahoma border, though of course Route 66 continues on through the state, and Oklahoma is well on its way to designating the route as US Bicycle Route 66.
Heading back north to Baxter Springs, the shoulders narrow within town (and disappear on the north end of town). You’ll want to stay well away from the dangerous drop-offs at the edge of this roadway.
We stopped for a late lunch at the Red Ball Bar and Grill in Baxter Springs (at the suggestion of the nice folks at city hall). Can’t say that I’d ever had burgers grilled on a Chevrolet before, but they were good!
Heading back towards Riverton on old US 66, the road is two lanes, and passes farms and houses, but seems to carry little traffic (there is a higher-speed road that bypasses this old two-lane).
Leaving Riverton headed east, there’s a nice wide shoulder, but the speed limit changes from 45 MPH to 65 MPH. It’s difficult to make out in this photo, but as the highway passed over the Spring River, the shoulder disappears, and bicyclists need to merge with 65 MPH traffic to get over the bridge.
Continuing east towards Galena, there’s a nice wide shoulder, though it has a rather rough surface.
The route passes through Galena, and the byway ends at the Missouri state line.
(Biking Across Kansas will end in Galena this year, so this sign will be a popular photo opportunity come June 15th!)
Back in Galena, the shoulder disappears, and cyclists will need to control the lane through town.
Galena has restored their train depot, and it is now used as a museum, though it was closed when we passed by.
And finally, back in Riverton, the nice shoulder disappears, though thankfully the speed limit drops a bit.
US Bicycle Route 66 in Kansas
As of early March, KDOT informed me that “Kansas is coordinating with Oklahoma so when Kansas moves forward with the USBR 66 we can tie into the Oklahoma plan.”
Dale and I spoke with City Hall in Baxter Springs, and the Galena Sentinel-Times newspaper in Galena, and no one seemed aware that Route 66 was about to become a bicycle route. So apparently KDOT hasn’t conferred with the local communities yet.
Missouri is also moving towards designating USBR 66, though I’m unsure where that effort stands. Oklahoma, as mentioned before on this site, is moving aggressively to designate their portion of the route.
Bicycling the Route 66 Historic Byway in Kansas
As shown in the photos above, the Route 66 Historic Byway is already completely bikeable. Most of the route is either on low-traffic two-lane roads, or on high-speed highways with wide shoulders. The shoulders tend to disappear within each of the three communities along the route, and it would be wise for cyclists to control the lane in these portions.
The only segment of the route that is a major safety concern is the lack of a shoulder eastbound over the Spring River. And that can be somewhat improved by changing the speed limit to 45 MPH over the bridge, and adding some signage, such as “Bikes May Use Full Lane“.
Other than the two-lane portion of the old road with the Marsh Arch Bridge, the route is not particularly scenic, though the segment over and east of the Spring River is very nice (we noticed many migratory birds along the river, including herons and white pelicans).
There are lots so things to see and do along the route, with shops and places to eat in all three communities, many with themes related to the Route 66 history and nostalgia.
I’m looking forward to an official designation of this byway as US Bicycle Route 66, with appropriate signage. Would love to see Galena, Riverton, and Baxter Springs embrace the cyclotourists, with bike racks within the towns and at the shops and attractions along the route!
(Ed. note: I’m posting this travelogue in lieu of my regular “Photo of the Week” feature.)