Here is wisdom. He that hath understanding, let him count the number of the beast; for it is the number of a man: and his number is Six hundred and sixty and six. — Revelation 13:18
Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia –- Fear of the number 666
A national highway in the western United States carried the "number of the beast" — the Antichrist — U.S. Route 666, for three-quarters of a century. It stretched for six hundred miles at its peak before slowly being chipped away, disappearing for good in 2003. It was at that time that New Mexico legislature hastened the demise of this final segment:
… WHEREAS, people living near the road already live under the cloud of opprobrium created by having a road that many believe is cursed running near their homes and through their homeland; and
WHEREAS, the number “666” carries the stigma of being the mark of the beast, the mark of the devil, which was described in the book of revelations in the Bible; and
WHEREAS, there are people who refuse to travel the road, not because of the issue of safety, but because of the fear that the devil controls events along United States route 666; …
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF NEW MEXICO that the United States department of transportation be requested to assign United States route 666 a new numeric designation as quickly as possible;…
There was nothing nefarious behind the original assignment of U.S. Route 666, as discussed in detail by the Federal Highway Administration. As the FHWA explains, "Boring though it may be to contemplate, the route was simply the sixth branch of U.S. 66 when it was assigned in early August 1926."
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The Original U.S. Route 666: Gallup, NM to Cortez, CO
The famed U.S. Route 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. Originally it was designated Route 60, a two-digit number ending in a zero to distinguish it as a major east-west transcontinental road. The highway spur from Gallup, New Mexico, to Cortez, Colorado became U.S. 660. That meant it was the sixth major spur from U.S. Route 60. See how that works?
Then several eastern states got upset because Route 60 wasn’t truly transcontinental so in 1926 the highway authorities changed it to Route 66 (and assigned 60 to a different highway). That’s when the trouble began. The sixth spur also changed, from an innocuous 660 to a demonic 666.
Route 66 became a road of legend, the famed "Mother Road" or "America’s Highway" while a single changed digit caused its spur, Route 666, to became the Devil’s Highway. It hardly seemed fair but that’s how it happened. That FHWA website mentioned above describes this entire process in a meticulous, blow-by-blow account. Check it out if you want to see the complete story.
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U.S. Route 666 at its maximum: Douglas, AZ to Monticello, UT
U.S. Route 666 grew over ensuing decades, eventually stretching from Douglas, Arizona on the Mexican border all the way to Monticello, Utah. Then it began to contract. The road itself never went away of course. It just changed numbers. The final segment lasted until the 21st Century when the New Mexico governor and legislature made renumbering a priority. I’ve read plenty of resolutions before, but I have to admit that this was the first time I’d ever seen references to the devil and curses written into the legislative record.
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I Drove Along 666 Without Any Problems
I actually drove a small section of U.S. 666 when it still carried the number of the beast. This was back during my longest road trip. We stopped at Mesa Verde National Park for a couple of days and then headed towards the Four Corners marker. Even back then I was an aficionado of geo-oddities. Judging by my route I must have traveled the segment immediately south of Cortez down to where U.S. 160 split-off in a southwesterly direction. I don’t recall the drive as being particularly creepy or unnerving. To be honest I didn’t even realize I’d driven a section of 666 until I pulled together information for this article. Some of the Street View imagery seems a little spooky though (check it out!).
Whether the road was ever actually evil or not really isn’t the point. Rather, people feared the road’s numeric identifier and their elected officials acquiesced. They changed it in a rare instance of government responding to the will of concerned citizens.
My new favorite word is Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia.