Get outta town: Route 66 is alive with the sound of music

by Amanda Push

Here we were thinking the saying “when roads sing” was the equivalent to “when pigs fly,” and now we’re sitting at our desk watching endless YouTube videos of drivers making their way down Route 66 as the road belts out “America the Beautiful.” It’s probably American drivers at their most wholesome, and it’s touching to see the surprised faces when the music starts.

Confused? So are we, but science, apparently.

While most rumble strips are there for the sole purpose of yelling at you to pay closer attention to the road (get off your phones, guys!), the roadside grooves near Tijera, New Mexico, were engineered with a twist. For a quarter-mile stretch along the highway, you can slow to 45 miles per hour (the speed limit) and drive along the rumble strips, and you’ll be treated to the sweet tune of “American the Beautiful.” This ingenious method of getting drivers to actually follow the speed limit was created in 2014 by the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the National Geographic Channel.

Creating this musical highway was no small feat. In order to nail the song, the grooves had to be spaced certain distances apart from each other to hit all the right notes. We still don’t get it, but we a’ready told ya. Science.

A little background for you – the “America the Beautiful” lyrics were written by Katharine Lee Bates in 1895, and the music was composed in 1883 by church organist and choirmaster Samuel Ward at Grace Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. The two works were eventually combined and published in 1910. And now a highway sings it.

Not going to lie – we thought this was all a heaping load of bull when we first heard about it, but after some quick Internet sleuthing, we discovered that this is indeed a truth. Turns out Route 66 is more musically talented than we are.

It’s amusing, but after a while, watching vehicle after vehicle hauling down Route 66 as it belts out a few musical notes starts to sound like a middle school band painfully burping out a rendition of one our nation’s most patriotic songs so poorly that even their parents’ eardrums are bleeding from the stands.

Maybe we’re just cynical journalists because now we have “America the Beautiful” stuck in our heads, but aside from the notes getting really old really fast, we can see its amusing potential. Perhaps this warrants a DGO Mag field trip down south to see this wonder for ourselves.

Amanda Push


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