Elm trees west of Clinton, Oklahoma, documented in Michael Wallis’ seminal 1990 book “Route 66: The Mother Road” have died at an alarming rate in recent years and may not be long for this world.
A longtime reader with a keen eye alerted me to this a few days ago and shot a short video of the location:
He speculated a fiber-optic line laid near the trees disrupted their root systems and caused them to die.
I dug out my first edition of “Route 66: The Mother Road” and found the photo of the elms along a 1931 curve of Route 66. It’s in the Oklahoma section of the book.
Because “Route 66: The Mother Road” was a best-seller, those elms have been seen by hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people over the years.
The stand of elms also is pictured in the 2011 edition of Jim Ross’ “Oklahoma Route 66.” He noted the sweeping curve at the trees is indicative of first-generation paving of the highway.
The trees are just off Exit 57 on the north frontage road (aka Route 66) of Interstate 40.
A look at that section of road through archives images in Google Street View shows the trees were mostly intact in 2009, but a 2016 image showed marked deterioration of them.
Though the trees obviously have been there a long time, it’s unlikely they succumbed to old age. Elms can live up to 300 years.
It’s possible the fiber-optic line is a culprit.
It’s also possible Dutch elm disease, which has killed millions of trees over the last 100 years, ravaged them.
Oklahoma also has experienced severe droughts in recent decades that may have weakened the trees.
Regardless, the trees serve as a reminder that even longtime and seemingly permanent landmarks aren’t permanent at all. Take photos and memories when you explore Route 66. You never know if something will be there the next time you return.
(Excerpted image from Google Street View of the elm trees along Route 66 west of Clinton, Oklahoma, in 2009)