Thursday, August 4, 2016

These Old Walkin' Shoes: Get Your Kicks on Route 62?

I’m sure that most of us know about that iconic highway, Route 66. It’s been immortalized in song, film, and velvet artwork. This “Main Street of America” was one of the first highways in the US Highway system. Initiated in 1926, this highway, and others like it, served as to modernize the way Americans traveled across the country. But how many of you knew there was one of these transcontinental highways in Niagara County.

US Route 62 is just one of those routes. Many people around here know it as Niagara Falls Boulevard. Some know it as Bailey Avenue. Route 62 runs from the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls all the way to El Paso, Texas and is 2,248 miles long. It shared a part of the Ozark Trail, and crossed on a bridge in Newcastle, Oklahoma that was the first structure built from highway funds in that state.

 US 62 begins in El Paso at the Paso del Norte International Bridge which crosses the Rio Grande to connect to Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. There are actually two, separate sections of the route in Texas. The first segment is in West Texas, and is separated from the Panhandle section by a 100-mile stretch in New Mexico. The route continues into Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

Paso de Norte International Bridge
courtesy Texas Department of Transportation
Along its 2,200 mile path across the country, Route 62 passes by several historic sites. In New Mexico, it passes by Carlsbad Caverns. In Kentucky, it passes some Native American mounds between Cairo, Illinois and Wickliffe, Kentucky. Also in Kentucky is the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, which is on the route. The Football Hall of Fame is very near the route in Canton, Ohio, while in Pennsylvania, it runs along the Allegheny River and Allegheny National Forest.

US Route 62 was commissioned in 1930, and only ran between Maysville, Kentucky and Carlsbad, New Mexico. Just a couple years later, the route was extended to include El Paso and Niagara Falls. Each end of the route has shifted slightly over the years. In Niagara Falls, Pine Avenue was the route from 1932 until 1974. Since then, Walnut/Ferry has been the path this road has taken to the Rainbow Bridge.

Interestingly, Route 62 has a double set of termini. The western end of the route is in El Paso. Meanwhile the eastern terminus is at the Ohio state line at Sharon, Pennsylvania. Wait a minute, you say? How can that be? Well, at that point the route designation changes from east-west to north-south. So, the eastern end AND the southern end are in Sharon.

Why do I bring up all this about a road that many of you couldn’t care less about? When I was walking the other day, I was thinking about how Wendy is closer to retirement than when either of us would like to admit. Basically, she’ll probably be retiring 10-12 years from now. It seems like that may be a long time, but it really isn’t. Time flies by. So, I’ve been thinking about our retired life.

Rainbow Bridge and Niagara Falls
As you probably know from other columns I’ve written, I am a brown sign tourist. Part of what I want to do when we retire is to do a lot of travelling. I always wanted to do what’s left of Route 66. While doing research on that, I discovered the history behind Route 62. Now, my focus has changed slightly. I will still do Route 66, but 62 may have a prominent role. It’s not something that everyone has done already, and part of it is right in our backyard.

Why travel this route rather than the interstate? I know people will say the interstate is so much quicker. I counter with that the interstate is impersonal. Aside from rest stops and an occasional skirting of a major city, you miss all of America. With routes like 66 or 62, you can see the real America. You can see where we all come from -- small towns dotted across the landscape. You can see hopes and dreams.

Our journey will begin with the rainbow at Niagara Falls. While the other end is in Texas, the pot of gold will be everything in between. This is my dream. I will live it.

Craig Bacon probably has driven 2,248 on Route 62, almost exclusively between Niagara Falls and Sheridan Drive. I’ll see you all out in the West Texas town of El Paso.