I saw “Cars,” the Disney animated movie, during the weekend. It was a lot of fun, and I really appreciated its sensitive approach to historic Route 66.
Many of the movie’s landmarks are supposed to be based on actual places, old motels, cafes, shops, bridges and scenery along Route 66. But I was trying to figure out where Radiator Springs, the desert town the film focuses on, is supposed to be.
The saguaro cactuses strongly suggest Arizona, but the distant mountains look almost alien. I’ve been on Route 66 several times, and the “Cars” movie mountains didn’t look like anywhere out there.
Formation of fins. Then it hit me yesterday. Those movie mountains aren’t based on real mountains. They’re based on those Cadillacs half-buried in the ground along Route 66 west of Amarillo, Texas. Look at those Cadillac fins. Those mountains are the Cadillac Ranch! In the film, I guess, it’s the Cadillac Range.
Route 66 is the 2,300-mile highway built in the 1920s to connect Chicago to Los Angeles. It crossed the heart of America along the way. “The Mother Road” took whole generations of Americans West during the Depression and after World War II.
When my brothers and I were kids back in 1960, the family car overheated on Route 66 near Erick, Oklahoma, on our way to my soldier father’s new post in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. A local rancher came out on his horse and gave us water to get us going again. He also let us kids ride that horse, named Rex. That man’s family no longer lives in Oklahoma, but we won’t forget them or Route 66.
Highway history. Today, much of the highway is crumbling, its old motels and trading posts falling apart. Traffic has been diverted to slicker, wider roads, principally Interstate 44 and Interstate 40. The audacity! They’ve literally paved over and around history.
The other big location question about “Cars” is, where is the film’s beautiful waterfall? Most of old Route 66 passed through (and what’s left still does run across) flat farmland or dry desert, so the waterfall rang no bells with me.
But according to Ron at “Route 66 News,” the waterfall is real. It’s just not on Route 66, but near Route 66 in Arizona. Ron says, “This appears to be inspired by Havasu Falls, which is not on Route 66 but is near the Grand Canyon, a frequent destination for Route 66 travelers.”
More information. For a great comparison between the “Cars” movie scenes and the real scenery of Route 66, click here at “Route 66 News.” There’s a lot of history packed into that post.
And yes, a thumbs up for “Cars.” Paul Newman’s voice was perfect.