Delgadillo's Snow Cap squats gaudily alongside the old Route 66 in western Arizona, and it's as good a reason as any to exit the 80 mph interstate with its numbingly familiar fast-food chains for a more leisurely and contemplative journey along America's two-lane highways. John Steinbeck dubbed it "the Mother Road" in "The Grapes of Wrath," a novel in which the highway is almost as vivid a character as the desperate Depression-era farmers who used it to flee the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma and Arkansas in threadbare jalopies piled high with families and worldly goods. In Bobby Troup's 1946 song "(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66," it's a much happier highway, teeming with the newly affluent postwar tourists who pretty much invented the American road trip. Troup's version of Route 66 is what we set out in search of, a world of wide-open landscapes, one-of-a-kind motels and roadside diners so confident in their real-deal authenticity that they don't even tack up the usual posters of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. There we pulled off the whooshing freeway, made a U-turn and started back slowly along the two-lane remnants of the old Route 66, motoring in the proper direction: west. In Route 66's heyday, the 1950s, Tucumcari was an oasis of neon-lit auto courts boasting swimming pools and "refrigerated air." A few of the 50 one-of-a-kind "motor hotels" that once lined the town's main drag still stand, most notably the Blue Swallow Motel, a pilgrimage site of sorts for Route 66 fans. Bill Kinder, a Vietnam veteran from Florida, spent years restoring it to its former glory, installing Bakelite dial phones, vacuum-tube radios and light fixtures, showerheads and toilets from the 1930s. Seligman, a former western Arizona railroad town with a population of 550, attracts an improbable number of international tourists - middle-aged Germans in sandals and socks, Belgian motorcycle gangs, punk-haired Japanese - largely because it's home to an 85-year-old semiretired barber known as "the Father of the Mother Road." The barbershop is connected to a souvenir store selling all manner of Route 66 bric-a-brac; it's down the street from Delgadillo's Snow Cap, built by Angel's late brother Juan and run today by Juan's children. Beyond Kingman, which rarely misses an opportunity to remind you it was the hometown of raspy-voiced cowboy actor Andy Devine, Route 66 climbs steeply up into the Black Mountains in a series of airy hairpin turns, often sans guardrail. Some paid savvy locals to drive the threadbare jalopies over this stretch, made even more frightening because the cars, lacking fuel pumps, often had to be driven backward to keep the gas flowing. On our last night, I was idly retracing our journey on a map, looking at all the towns we stopped in - Gallup, New Mexico; Flagstaff, Arizona; Kingman; Barstow; San Bernardino - when I realized we'd made a terrible mistake, one no self-respecting Route 66er would ever make.