Home > FEATURES > Riding Historic Route 6–Long Beach to Cape Cod

Riding Historic Route 6–Long Beach to Cape Cod

By "Rambler" Steve Austin

Route 6 is one of only four transcontinental U.S. highways, although even that is not official anymore. They are US 50, US 20, the Lincoln Highway and, of course, US 6. Of all the routes, only US 20 runs a true coast-to-coast stretch from Boston, Massachusetts to Newport, Oregon, but in their heyday US 6 was the longest of any of them—and still is.

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

Even US 20 loses its designation through Yellowstone Park. The Lincoln Highway doesn’t really count because its number changes three times during its length, whereas US 50 and US 6 retain their designation throughout their route. Today US 50 officially terminates (or begins) in Sacramento and US 6 ends in Bishop, California. Even though it was shortened to 3,204 miles in 1963, Route 6 is still the longest contiguous federal road in the United States.

The Interstate System, started by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, was responsible for the death of roadways like Route 66. As the freeways bypassed all the little towns the smaller highways used to go through, businesses along those roads closed and people moved out. In many cases the new freeways were literally paved right over the smaller roads and empty lots, leaving many disconnected sections of old roadway. The old lifelines of America were cut and replaced by more direct and stronger roads, while the faces of the people along the old routes faded into anonymity and obscurity for most of traveling America. Still, US 6 survives.

The official starting point of Highway 6 in Bishop, CA

The official starting point of Highway 6 in Bishop, CA

Stumbling along the back roads of discovery is OK, but guided discovery along that same road will often prevent missing some of the more important areas along the way like the World’s Largest Ball of String or, in the case of Route 6, the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps. You might even learn a little-known historical fact like Plymouth Rock being the Pilgrims’ second landfall, not their first. I enlisted the aid of a book entitled Stay on Route 6, by Malerie D Yolen-Cohen, to help me with this research. Actually, she had already done the research—I just needed to read her book. The author traveled Route 6 from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Long Beach, California, so I had to reverse all the directions, but she had all of the little tidbits I might have missed including directions through Los Angeles along the original route.

The starting point was marked by a medium-sized plaque mounted on the stucco wall of the Long Beach Convention Center. From there I headed north on Long Beach Boulevard and eventually through Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley connecting with the Sierra Highway, which parallels Highway 14 from Santa Clarita. Due to city traffic, this 55-mile stretch took almost four hours! Utilizing the freeway system would have gotten me to the same point in about an hour. Already I could see why old Eisenhower might have thought the freeway was a better idea.

Traveling alongside Highway 14 on the original Route 6 you pass through Lancaster where you will find one of only three “musical roads” in the world. As you turn off the highway onto Avenue G and speed back up to about 50 mph, you will hear the familiar opening notes of the William Tell Overture. (It was created for a Honda Civic commercial a couple years ago.) Hey, it wasn’t the World’s Biggest Ball of String, but it was a lot more interesting. In Rosamond Highway 14 becomes a single road and eventually merges with Highway 395 to Bishop. This is the original Route 6, but has since been renamed.

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

Extensive use of local rock minimized the materials needed to build this old, abandoned mine outside of Elberta, Utah

I spent the night in Lancaster trying to wear out the Overture sensors, but to no avail. The following morning found me north on 395, and off in the distance I spotted what I thought was certainly a mirage. I could see a beer brewery in the middle of the desert; an oasis from the gods, if ever I saw one. As it turned out, the Indian Wells Brewing Company was not a mirage and had more than beer. I picked up a bottle of cinnamon-flavored soda for later and shipped a six-pack of Indian Wells’ finest suds and one of their mugs off to the wife at home. (This surely would help me feel better about leaving her behind.) Just up the road in Olancha was Gus’s Fresh Jerky. A pack for me and one sent off to home and I was now riding with a completely clear conscience—Cape Cod, look out!

Lone Pine, California, was just up the road and it is home to some of the finest black-and-white cowboy movies that have ever hit the silver screen. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, Randolph Scott, John Wayne and hundreds of others chased bad guys through the nearby Alabama Hills along Highway 395. Why, even those nasty prehistoric worms in Tremors and Iron Man were here. The Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History is worth a visit, so you younger folks can learn about our celluloid heritage.

A few miles up the road I found the new official sign for the beginning of Route 6, indicating I now had 3,204 miles to go to get to Cape Cod. Turning toward the east I spotted a very black and ominous cloud in the hills to my left. Just about the time I was convinced some other poor souls were in for it, the road turned right into that cloud and within three minutes I found myself trying to get into rain gear. Then the quarter-sized hail started beating down on me for the next several miles. (Always bring your heavy gloves and a full-face helmet on cross-country trips.) As I drove into Nevada the hail let up, but the rain continued and was accompanied by mudslides across the road.

route6

After fording the river that suddenly appeared in the road in front of me about 10 miles outside of town, I was glad to see a motel in my immediate future: the Tonopah Motel, of course. The female manager looked at me and said, “No bikes in the room, no hotel towels for wiping the bike down and no loud sex.” Talk about a buzz kill; looks like it was cinnamon soda, beef jerky and bedtime TV. Maybe I could find an old Hopalong Cassidy movie since sex and porn were out.

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

It’s all downhill from here–in either direction

Tonopah, like most Nevada hill towns, is an old silver mining town with no silver left, but Chevron and British Petroleum are now finding propane in the hills. Much of the mining equipment had been left there and the town forefathers had designated the mine and the property around it as a museum. It was cool and all, but if any of the propane wells ignite, that motel manager’s going to have a shit fit.

Highway 50 is nicknamed the Loneliest Highway in America, but I think that should be rethought. I drove 130 miles out of Tonopah the next morning before I saw another vehicle. As I passed the snow on Currant Summit I drove down the mountain into Ely for lunch.

Utah arrived soon enough. The old town of Eureka, Utah, was barely standing. Many of the brick buildings had collapsed, and right between two such buildings was a sandwich shop having a grand opening. Its roof was still intact. On the outskirts of Elberta I found another closed mine. This one was built into a hillside and made of rock—and local graffiti artists are having their way with it.

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

One of the Dinosaur Journey Museum’s gift shop security guards stands watch in Fruita, Colorado

After crossing into Colorado I came to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita. It’s only a couple years old and there are some great exhibits both inside and out. Many of the dinosaurs on display are animatronic, as displayed by the large velociraptor that poked its head out from a tree and shot a stream of water at one of the kids. There were also a large number of full-size dinosaur skeleton casts including triceratops, camarasaurus, allosaurus, stegosaurus, othnielia, camptosaurus and mymoorapelta. It was pretty cool.

There is no way you can go through Golden, Colorado, on Route 6 without going on the Coors Brewery Tour, the world’s largest single-site brewery. It’s free, and you get a break from the outside heat and three free beers of your choice during the tour. You can also skip the tour and just go for the beer. On the way into town be sure to turn off in Idaho Springs through Clear Creek Canyon. It is spectacular.

The Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden, Nebraska, was pretty unique. This is 26 acres of sod buildings, wooden churches and blacksmith shops moved in from their original sites on the prairie. It pays homage to man’s progress since 1830. There are antique cars, motorcycles, horse-drawn wagons, farming implements, inventions, early home appliances and more. A quick stop at Father Flannigan’s Boys Town outside Omaha to check out the World’s Largest Ball of Stamps and Nebraska was history.

This sweet collection of old Harleys and other antique bikes was on display at the Pioneer Museum in Minden, Nebraska

This sweet collection of old Harleys and other antique bikes was on display at the Pioneer Museum in Minden, Nebraska

Adair, Iowa, was the site of the first moving train robbery. On July 21, 1873, Frank and Jesse James, the Youngers and the rest of his gang set up alongside the railroad tracks near the Turkey Creek Bridge outside of town. There was a train supposedly carrying $78,000 in gold coming through Adair. As the train approached they used a rope and a horse to pull one of the tracks loose which derailed the train killing the fireman and engineer and injuring several passengers. The gold had not been shipped as scheduled, so they only made off with about $3,000 in gold and passenger valuables.

Through Adair, Iowa, I saw telephone poles painted white at the bottom along Route 6 in an area known as White Pole Road to Dexter, Iowa. Iowa made history in 1910 and set a record in road building when 10,000 farmers engaged in building a 380-mile road out of existing lines of dirt road by painting the telephone poles white—in one hour flat!

As I drove through Indiana I started looking for a place to bed down for the night and stopped at a biker-friendly campground named Glenwood RV Resort in Marseilles, Illinois. When the owner found out I was a Patriot Guard member he let me stay the night for free. He also advised me to check out the Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in town by the river. The next morning found me there and it was very sobering. There was a stone wall that read: “A tribute to the heroic servicemen and servicewomen who sacrificed their lives in the Middle East conflicts while keeping America free.” Behind the wall were 11 large stone walls listing the names of military personnel who have died since 1979, mostly in the Middle East. The saddest part for me was the 11th wall. It was only half full, indicating there are more to come. Just as sadly, there is room for more walls, as well. The memorial, which also contains a museum onsite, was erected by the Illinois motorcycle community.

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

“Surf’s up!” at the Tropical Freeze at Ridgeville Corners in Napoleon, Ohio. Although the nearest ocean is over 600 miles away, that didn’t keep it from becoming one of the most popular drive-ins around, at least during May-September when they’re open.

At Ridgeville Corners in Napoleon, Ohio, I found a surf shack, much like you might see on the beach in California, Florida or even Mexico. It was bright, sunset orange with surfboards around it and a beach volleyball court in back. They served barbecue items, seafood, burgers and ice cream. The owner, Mike Behnfeldt, said that the first two years it was painted white and business wasn’t very good. When they repainted and redecorated with the surf motif, business picked up right away. They are only open May through September, due to Northern Ohio’s cold winters.

In Cleveland I stopped by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nestled along the shoreline of Lake Erie. If you are any kind of rock music fan, this is a must see. Each year the board selects inductees who are worthy of inclusion with past greats. This year’s inductees include Freddie King, Guns N’ Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Beastie Boys and Laura Nyro. Everyone was more excited about this coming October, though. Chuck Berry, one of the first artists to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, will be honored in a week-long celebration for his influence in rock ‘n’ roll in the museum’s 17th American Music Masters Series. Berry is scheduled to not only attend and accept an award, but will also perform. At 85, Chuck Berry is still “Reelin’ and A Rockin’” until the break of dawn. If you go, check out the sunsets over Lake Erie and the fall colors—they are both spectacular.

Reaching Linesville, Pennsylvania, there was a sign over one of the buildings indicating that Chicago was 500 miles west and New York City was 500 miles east. I had breakfast at a place called Quackers there. Eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy and a Coke were right on five bucks—can’t argue with prices like that.

Highland Cape Cod Lighthouse - Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

The Highland Cape Cod Lighthouse in Truro, Massachusetts, was commissioned by President Washington in 1796 and finished in 1797, making it the first and oldest blinking lighthouse in the United States. It was set up to blink so it would not be confused with the lighthouse at Boston.

I made entry into New York State at Port Jervis. Fifty-five miles northeast was Orange County Choppers, but I arrived after they closed. I grew up in Connecticut along Route 6, never realizing that the same road touched both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I had camped most of the way, but having friends and relatives there convinced me to soak up some family-style hospitality, air conditioning and a bed for about five days.

Continuing on my trip, on July 25 I arrived at the sign outside Provincetown at the end of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, that indicated the end of Route 6. It read, “End of US Route 6, Provincetown, MA, to Long Beach, CA, 3,652 miles Coast to Coast.”

While in Provincetown I went to the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. Whether you arrive by land, sea or sky, the 252-foot Pilgrim Monument is the first thing you see as you approach Provincetown, and it’s also the tallest granite structure in the U.S. You’ve heard the story about the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock in 1620 and making friends with the Native Americans who showed them how to plant corn. That part is sort of true, but they first landed in Provincetown where the Native Americans tried to kill them when they came ashore. Since the Natives were restless and the narrow strip of land called Cape Cod was not large enough to grow the amount of crops they needed, the party elected to go ashore at Plymouth Rock.

After enjoying some of the finest lobster Cape Cod had to offer and one final campout in New England, I headed west again to Boston where I picked up Highway 20 and rode off to Newport, Oregon, and ultimately home to Hollister. When I pulled into the driveway the Road Glide showed off 9,432 brand-new miles. Next year, maybe the Arctic Circle…

Route 6 Ride, Long Beach to Cape Cod

After a couple weeks on the bike and 3,652 miles, the author finally arrives at the end of Route 6 in Provincetown, Massachusetts!

7 comments

  1. Malerie Yolen-Cohen

    Hi Steve –
    It was such a nice surprise to read about someone who had read my book and done the trip! Nice overview and I really appreciate you mentioning me!!
    I’m sharing your piece on my Stay On Route 6 Facebook page….
    Thanks so much –
    Malerie

    [Reply]

  2. Hi Steve,

    We are very excited you enjoyed your cross country trip across Route 6. I hope you also got to check out the world’s oldest ice cream soda fountain while you were here in Iowa. Speaking of Iowa, I have to offer up a correction regarding the White Pole Road. The 380 mile road created in one hour was the River to River Road (no relation to the White Pole Road – nor did it have the white poles). The River to River Road ran north of the White Pole Road. Historic Route 6 in Iowa utilized 2/3rds of the River to River Road (Davenport to Redfield), then dipped south to meet the White Pole Road at Dexter, following the WPR to Council Bluffs. Anyone wishing to explore Route 6 in Iowa is welcome and advised to contact us beforehand as it is neither necessary nor desirable to drive on interstate 80 while here to follow Route 6. We will Email you simple directions at no charge.

    Dave Darby
    Executive Director
    Iowa US Route 6 Tourist Association
    http://www.route6tour.com

    Follow us on facebook:

    https://www.facebook.com/usroute6iowa

    [Reply]

  3. Excellent! Just added a link to this article on your journey to our homepage, http://www.route6tour.com

    [Reply]

  4. Hi Steve
    Just read about your ride. I’m planning on making the same run next year (2014) even though I live in CT. I’ve also read the Stay On Route 6 book. Lots of good info. She did a nice job. Glad you mentioned the campground in Illinois. I’m also a Patriot Guard Rider so I’ll definitley check out the memorial.
    I have a couple of questions:
    How long did it take? Unfortunately, I only have 3 weeks of vacation so I can’t do an “out and back” ride. I’m shipping my bike to LA.
    What time of year did you go? I’m thinking of going late July.
    I sure would appreciate any “biker info” you can provide.
    Stay Safe!
    Greg Vincek
    gvincek@comcast.net

    [Reply]

    John Galvin Reply:

    Greg, you are about to take one of the best road trips you’ve ever taken and most of it will be on two-lane roads. The more of the original Route 6 you can find, the less superslab you will do. Be sure and stop by the Coors Brewery tour in Golden, Colorado. Free beer always tastes good on a hot July afternoon, especially their super cold (29 degrees) Coors Light.

    You can indeed do the trip in three weeks, depending on how many stops you make, and how long you stop of course. My trip took two weeks starting in mid-July to go from Long Beach to the Cape. I never make reservations, which can be a problem sometimes but it allows a lot more freedom and choices during the trip. You’re not locked into anything.

    Outside of gas, lodging is your next biggest expense so if you’re fond of camping bring some camping equipment. You will save some money. Many city parks in the small towns allow overnight camping for free. These are usually posted but it may involve some looking or asking the locals.

    Safety is a concern too, especially if you’re traveling alone so be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Come to rely on that inner voice. When it speaks, listen and move on. Stealth camping works too in a pinch but again, be careful, get there after dark and be gone before sun up. BLM land is always free to camp on but generally is only available west of the Rockies.

    As always, preparation is the key and knowing the resources available in a given area will make the trip more enjoyable. Gas stations are less frequent in desert areas so gas when you see a station and have some sort of road service like AAA in case you break down or run out of gas. Much of an area’s resources can be found on the internet but much more can be found by the people you meet and talk to along the way and you’ll make a lot of new friends. The Stay on Route 6 book was an invaluable resource. Carefully reverse the author’s directions before you leave since her’s are written taking the trip from east to west. GPS units might help you but my Gobble Gobble One isn’t much help when seeking out old routes that haven’t existed for more than 40 years.

    Most people are pretty impressed when you tell them what you’re up to and are very helpful with the vast knowledge they possess about their area. I don’t know how many cross-country trips you’ve taken but I find each one of them an adventure worth taking and trying to figure out where the original Route 6 lies is part of that adventure. Many of the old routes follow long established railroad lines so stay near them and you stand a better than even chance of finding the original road even if it is not posted.

    It can get cold in the Rockies even in the summer so bring some warm clothing and don’t forget a full-face helmet in case of rain and hail in the Midwest. I also use at least a #50 sunblock. Check for tornado warnings in the areas your driving through and know what to do should one find you. Make sure your bike’s in good shape before you ship it and check it again when you pick it up. Tires and oil changes are your biggest mechanical concern so budget some money there and if you’re mechanical, carry some basic tools with you. Have a great trip, stay safe and enjoy Route 6.

    “Rambler” Steve Austin

    [Reply]

  5. Great page! I just read an article about a trip across Pennsylvania on Route 6. I love cross-country road trips, and this was very helpful. Thanks!

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  6. For anyone crossing the US on Route 6, be aware that in Iowa, nearly 1/3 of Route 6 signage was moved out to Interstate 80 some 34 years ago. This doesn’t do much for the scenery, plus you miss 16 great towns. Fortunately, the Route 6 Tourist Association has been diligently signing the old two lane alignments. While this is still a work in progress, we have a complete map of the historic original, scenic alignment. Visit our website and check it out. And watch for the brown and white signs! Remember, we are always more than happy to assist travelers at no charge with following the original route, and finding Iowa’s attractions.

    [Reply]

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