It has been funny to retrace our steps from last year, because we either took a different route or we have really short memories, since lots of these places were new to us. We have photographic evidence that we were in St. Clair in 2006, but we sure didn't hit the "downtown" area or the fantastic Lewis Cafe, where they not only do their own baking but they also raise their own beef. Our usual breakfasts (scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns for Kim and an omelet of some variety for me) were tasty and filling, and the biscuits had certainly never seen a freezer. We got stuck in our parking place by traffic waiting for a train to pass, so I took the break time to call David and wish him a happy 24th (!!) birthday. Once we were rolling, we were headed towards Stanton (home of Meramec Caverns). Again, we found more places all closed up - it looked like the Antique Toy Museum and the Jesse James Wax Museum were just not open for the season yet as hours of operation were by chance or by appointment. We felt no compulsion to see the Caverns again - once was enough! We somehow missed the Riverside Reptile Ranch - again - too bad! Guess it was not meant to be. It is worth noting that even though we are encountering much more Rt. 66 traffic this year, many more businesses have closed since last May.
We breezed right by Sullivan and we loved the water tanks in Bourbon, although we thought one should be Bourbon and the other Water. Also got a kick out of the Circle N Malt Shop - most everyone in town was there. We were in for real treats in Cuba as they have commissioned artists to paint a series of twelve murals all over town. There is an old Phillips 66 gas station (1932) that is being renovated, and when we found it there was a man there cleaning up some paint and supplies. It turned out he was the artist who had painted a mural on the three garage doors of the station, and they had just been unveiled on Monday. His name is Ray Harvey and you can see his stuff at http://www.rayharveyart.com/. Turns out he knows all about the flood wall murals in Paducah and about Paducah's Lower Town artist colony. Maybe he'll move there someday! We had already taken pictures of one of his other murals and he posed with his newest ones for us. The nostalgic Wagon Wheel Motel is also in Cuba and was featured in one of Ray's murals. A few things were on our 'must see' list for Missouri this year - Stonehenge (replica) in Rolla, the Trail of Tears Monument and John's Modern Cabins near Devil's Elbow, and a whole list of odd giants. We missed most places between Stanton and Devil's Elbow last year because we spent so much time at Meramec Caverns that we let it get dark on us. We spent some time at the Mule Trading Post hoping that the impending rain would pass us. It was just like being back in Paducah cleaning out Mom's house - lots of 'stuff' and some for lots of money! On our way to Rolla, we found the A&W Hamburger Family and the giant neon dripping faucet (which was dripping rain) but were dismayed to see that Rt. 66 Motors and Gift Shop was barricaded and closed. We could not believe that it poured down rain as we passed through Rolla, but we got some rain-splattered photos of the Stonehenge replica there and thanked our lucky stars that we were not moving kids out of their dorms there that day!
The rain let up as we made our way to a section of the road we never saw last year, which led us to Vernelle's Motel and the remains of John's Modern Cabins. These were especially interesting for lots of reasons. The original log cabins (maybe 8' x 10') are in terrible shape, having not been used since 1971, but they were in far better shape than the three newer cabins with white siding and asbestos shingles. The interstate effectively removed both Vernelle's and John's from everything - we had to WANT to be there. Ramona Lehman, proprietor of the famous Munger Moss Motel (where we stayed last year) had tried to tell us how to get there last year, but we never found them. We were a bit apprehensive about getting to them, as Ramona told us last year that "our car would be in fine trouble going over those roads." As it turned out, the only trouble we had was finding the right road!
By now we were wondering where we were last year. Even though we were intentionally not revisiting most of the sites we saw last year, we were seeing things we didn't even know were there. One of our surprises this time was the former town of Arlington. We had been seeing these signs for a river resort, we didn't expect to come upon it here. We had been on a section of the old road that was on the banks of a river. When I-44 was constructed, the existing Route 66 bridges (built in 1952) were commandeered as interstate bridges, and the really old (1923) bridges across the river were destroyed. This rendered Arlington pretty much dead, as there was no way for locals to cross the river since there is not an interchange nearby. The town consisted of a hotel, a general store, and maybe six homes. It's now an RV campground, complete with pool, small general store, playground, and of course, river access. The road down was very rough and because of all the rain (you may have heard there are floods across most of Missouri this week) it was a bit dicey going down a pretty steep, gravelly hill. But we did. The huge slabs of concrete which used to be the old bridges were just dumped along the sides of the river and the mosquitos found the open window of our car and attacked Kim en masse while I was taking pictures. As navigator, she has her lap so full of maps and books that it's hard for her to get out for every photo op! We were killing bugs for the next half hour and we both have more than a few bites!
Time for a celebratory toast - at 1:53 PM we located the elusive Trail of Tears monument that we had searched for in vain last year! It's not really on the Route and is at the end of a private driveway, built by the property owner to honor the Cherokee who were forced to migrate from the Carolinas and Tennessee to Oklahoma. The builder, Larry Baggett, died in 2003, but his story was fascinating. The actual Trail of Tears passed through his property, and he had built a stone wall on his land. After that, he would be awakened in the night by knocks on the door. A Spirit asked him to build stairs over the wall so that the Cherokee Spirits could get over it. Once he complied, the knocking stopped, and the result is a unique collection of cairns, arches, fountains, and stonework. Just down the road was a house with a sign "School for Chip Carving" in front of it. We didn't sign up for any classes...
On the road near Waynesville we saw the "FROG XING" sign we had noticed last year because we almost hit a huge frog that was jumping across the street right at that spot, but what we hadn't seen was a huge frog head shaped rock sticking out from the boulders above. The town has painted the rock green and celebrates with an annual Frog Fest, which we just missed last weekend! Small town humor at its best. On the other side of town we snapped a shot of a giant bowling pin (right in front of a huge adult bookstore sign) and then we were off to say hello to Ramona at the Munger Moss in Lebanon. After a quick visit, we stopped by to photograph the old Wrink's Market, which was a Roadside Attraction that has closed since Mr. Wrink died a couple of years ago.
We passed fairly rapidly through the towns of Niangua, Marshfield, and Strafford on the way to Springfield and we saw lots of ruins of old gas stations, cabins, and motor lodges. One of the most surprising things we saw was our National Geographic Moment of the Day - a rooster and a peacock cavorting alongside the road!
Since it was getting pretty late and the rain was making driving and navigation difficult and we were still miles from Kansas, we opted for the interstate from Springfield to Joplin. On the way, we called the innkeepers at the B&B we were staying at to let them know we wouldn't be there by 8 PM, so we got instructions about getting our room key from the mailbox and letting ourselves in! Just as we were about to succumb to eating dinner at a place called Lumpy's, Amy the innkeeper called us and was able to recommend a couple of places she likes in Joplin. We easily found the first one she named, Club 609, and had a delightful dinner there. Kim had a charbroiled chicken salad and I had the Bombay salad, which had romaine, apples, Gorgonzola, spiced pecans, grilled chicken, and flash-fried onion rings with a homemade Balsamic dressing. Cold Blue Moons took the edge off and we were able to say no to dessert for a change.
From Joplin it was just a few dark miles across the southeast corner of Kansas to get to our B&B. There are only 13 miles of Route 66 in Kansas, but we missed all of them in the dark and stormy night. Looks like we had another day of back-tracking in our future... We easily found the Little Brick Inn in Baxter Springs, retrieved our key from the mailbox, and lugged our stuff up the stairs to our suite and some shut-eye.
Except for the rain, it was a great day and Missouri showed us lots of things we missed and then some! Can't wait to see what Kansas and Oklahoma are hiding!