A Brief History of U.S. 666
It all begins with U.S. Highway 60.
In October of 1925, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) assigned the number 60 to the new U.S. highway that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. They also assigned it five branches:
•Highway 160: Baxter Springs, Kansas to Coffeeville and Independence, Missouri
•Highway 260: Oklahoma City to Okenah and Henryetta, Oklahoma
•Highway 360: Amarillo to Farwell, Clovis and Roswell, New Mexico and on to El Paso
•Highway 460: Los Lunas, New Mexico to U.S. Highway 70 in New Mexico
•Highway 560: Gallup, New Mexico to Cortez, Colorado
On January 14, 1926, the AASHO Executive Committee approved a sixth branch of U.S. 60 that also used the number 560 (presumably to keep people on their toes). That route went from Hondo, New Mexico to San Antonio. It was east of Gallup and didn’t link to U.S. Highway 60, (3-digit spurs and branches were supposed to link to their parent highways). but it did link to U.S. Highway 360 so it counted, I guess, and got its billing as a branch of U.S. 60. This newer route was approved and the number was officially changed to 660.
Now we have the main highway and six branches of U.S. 60.
Whew. Okay. Wait, what happened to U.S. 666?
Because of the rules governing the numbering of U.S. highways, even-numbered highways were supposed to run east to west, odd-numbered, north to south, Kentucky complained that U.S. 60 should have been a transcontinental route through their state and others east of it. It turned into a quite a controversy that was ultimately solved by the renumbering of the Chicago to Los Angeles route from U.S. 60 to U.S. 66. THEN, Highway 60 added the Virginia Beach to Springfield, Missouri leg to became a genuine east to west, transcontinental route. Everyone was happy for a little while.
However, this change meant that those former branches of U.S. 60 all had to be renumbered to reflect their relationship to the new U.S. 66. In August of 1926, the Joint Board at AAHSO approved the changes and by November all the branches of U.S. 66 were changed to reflect the renumbering of the the parent highway. Including Highway 660, it was renamed U.S. Highway 666.
I’m feeling like I needed a flow chart for all of this…
In 1942, an extension of U.S. 666 was approved by the AAHSO to Douglas, Arizona (incorporating the Coronado Trail).
In 1970 U.S. 666 was extended to Monticello, Utah.
In 1982, Highway 666 was given an extension from Chambers, New Mexico to Douglas, Arizona.
Now, I’m not one to quote bible verses, but…
“Let him who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. His number is 666.”
Thanks to this Bible verse, U.S. 666 became known as The Devil’s Highway, The Highway To Hell, Satan’s Highway, etc. etc. The road’s reputation for being a dangerous route with many fatalities, coupled with its Biblical number, had states requesting a renumbering of the highway. There was no question it was a treacherous road.
“Route 666 rides the rugged eastern seam of Arizona from the Petrified Forest, south, across the Zuni River, through the Apache National Forest, and into the mountain mining towns of Clifton and Morenci. Unlike the straightforward, gentle passage of retired Route 66 (“America’s Highway”), U.S. 666, its descendant, is tortuous, wild, and as strange as its name. In little more than one hundred miles, the surrounding altitude ranges from twenty-nine hundred feet to more than eleven thousand feet. With some four hundred twisting curves in one sixty-mile stretch, the road has sent more than its share of travelers crashing off cliffs.” – Jonathan Rosenblum in his 1994 book, Copper Crucible
Adventurous to say the least, satanic to many.
In 1985 the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO, which replaced the AASHO) eliminated U.S. 66 when Interstates became the highways of choice for travelers. The link between U.S. 66 and U.S. 666 was now gone and requests for a renumbering became urgent. In 1992 Arizona and New Mexico requested a numbering change for U.S. 666 to Gallup, New Mexico. It became an extension of, and was renamed, U.S. 191. But there was still a section of Highway 666 in New Mexico.
Of all the states U.S. 666 was in, it was the New Mexico section that remained that had the highest rate of fatalities and incidents. In January of 2003, Governor Bill Richardson made a point of supporting the complete renovation of U.S. 666 because it was so dangerous. He also requested a new designation for it as quickly as possible. Eventually, the AASHTO and the states involved agreed to renumber the highway as U.S. 491 as a spur to U.S. 191.
On May 31, 2003, U.S. 666 was officially eliminated and renumbered as U.S. 491.
Images from Highway 666
Sources and further reading:
Beast of a Highway – Federal Highway Administration website
From Names to Numbers – Federal HIghway Adminstration article
End of U.S. Highway 666 – USEnds.com
Road Trip Guide: Tackling Highway 666 – Travel+Leisure
U.S. 666 in history (book):
by Johnathan D. Rosenblum
1994, ILR Press
Route 666 – Of course it’s a zombie movie: