66 to St. Louis
“I drove 1100 miles just to see this!”
by Bob Jaussaud
We were at a roadside park in Catoosa, Oklahoma when we heard the comment above uttered by a Corvette driving man. This particular roadside park along “Old Route 66” is a historic swimming pond with a Blue Whale sitting in it. Both local kids and traveling kids used to frolic on the whale. Sue and I had actually come further than “Corvette Man” to see the “Blue Whale.” We had just driven over 1200 miles on the “Mother Road.”
path of Old Route 66. That changed a boring drive into a trip of a lifetime. We love the Route 66 kitsch that emerged after World War II. Returning G.I.s had the travel itch and Route 66 was their premier route. They and their fellow travelers found homes along Route 66 and started businesses. To attract customers, they created fun the Interstate Highways bypassed true America. A lot of Route 66 glamor is now just memory, but traveling the old road on our way east, Sue and I could still catch glimpses of what it must have been. Hackberry, Ashfork, “Standin’ On A Corner”, Devil Dog Road, Two Guns, “Here It Is”, Jack Rabbit, Wigwam Motel, Painted Desert - all music to our ears and places along Route 66 in Arizona. One really special find was the Painted Desert Inn. Built in the 1920’s, it has had several eras, even one as a Harvey House. Today it is a museum and part of the Petrified Forest National Park.
In New Mexico Devil’s Cliff, El Rancho Hotel, Cubero, Los Lunas, Long Horn Ranch, Clines Corners, “Blue Hole”, Cuervo, and Glenrio marked our path along Route 66. The unique auto museum in Santa Rosa is well worth a stop. A really big highlight for us was a fun night at the “Blue Swallow Motel” in Tucumcari where we met Obie, Clara and many other wonderful folks traveling the road. If you are ever lucky enough to stay there, take time for the chicken fried steak at Del’s Restaurant.
Next morning we drove to the town of Glenrio, right at the border with Texas. We were just looking for a convenient tree when we discovered the recently abandoned “El Vaquero”, a southwestern pub with wonderful metal sculptures made from horseshoes mounted on the fenceposts. An ancient tractor named “Yellza” also resides there.
Continuing through Texas we visited Cap Rock Station, the Big Texan, “Cadillac Ranch”, Alanreed Texaco, the Groom Leaning Water Tower, Devil’s Rope, and Tower Station. The original Cadillac Ranch has become a “rattle can” (spray paint) mecca but we found a
It all started this September when Sue and I headed east from Needles toward South Carolina to visit family. Looking at the maps, we realized that we could pretty much follow the
second and pristine “Cadillac Ranch” next to the Big Texan RV Park and, further on, a “VW Ranch” outside of Conway. Night time found us at the Route 66 Motel in Shamrock, a very pleasant place just down the street from the “U-Drop-Inn” and only 40 miles from Oklahoma.
Route 66 through Oklahoma requires more than a day. There are two really good museums to spend time in. The National Route 66 Museum is in Elk City and the Route 66 Museum is in Clinton. Sue and I only budgeted one day for Oklahoma so after enjoying the museums we had to make up time. We did stop at Lucille’s in Hydro but just drove past the Round Barn in Arcadia. When we reached the “Blue Whale” in Catoosa, though, we took time to stop and enjoy. Regretfully back on the road, dusk settled on us as we blew through Kansas. Someday it would be good to return and spend some time at Baxter Springs, Riverton and Galena.
Missouri Route 66 really, really impressed us. After our hurried night run through Kansas and Joplin, Boots Court in Carthage, our home for the night, was a very welcoming sight. We really enjoyed our stay there. Boots Court first opened during the Great Depression. It was built in 30’s streamline art deco style accented with black Carrara glass and green neon. Sisters Deborah Harvey and Priscilla Bledsaw saved the property from the wrecking ball in 2011 and have restored it to its heyday. The rooms are furnished as they were in 1948. There was a radio in our room, but no TV. Our room was the one Clark Gable stayed in while traveling with Al Menasco, an army buddy, just after the war.
Following Old Route 66 from Carthage to Saint Louis turned out to be one of our best days. All the little Missouri towns we passed through were charming. A highlight was Devil’s Elbow where we crossed the Big Piney River on the original iron bridge.
Surprisingly, another big highlight was Meramec Caverns. That afternoon we followed Old 66 into Saint Louis stopped for a frozen custard at Ted Drewe’s. It is impossible to describe how good that custard was. In Saint Louis we finally reached the Mississippi River and walked out on the historic Route 66 “Chain of Rocks” Bridge. The bridge is a hiking and bike trail now, but we could feel the ghost vibrations of the old cars crossing. For our last night on Route 66 we splurged for a room at the “Hyatt Regency at the Arch” and it proved to be money well spent. The Saint Louis Arch was a truly special end for our Route 66 adventure. ~ Bob