Route 66, the iconic “Mother Road,” winds its way from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. If you don’t have the time to drive the entire route, why not take on this icon of American transportation history in bite-sized pieces? We’re going to help you do just that with a series called Get Your Pics on Route 66 in hopes that you’ll capture some great memories and images as you explore this little slice of Americana. Here’s the Eastern Missouri installment:
Route 66 runs about 300 miles across Missouri from St. Louis to Joplin. But because it still houses many attractions and stops along the Mother Road that could take quite a while to see, we will be covering the eastern half of the Show Me State’s collection from the age of transportation today.
Entering the state from the Mississippi River, the Mother Road navigated a most unusual structure, the Chain of Rocks Bridge, which has a 22-degree dogleg in the middle of the crossing. Today the bridge is only open for pedestrian and bike traffic, but it is still an eye-opener.
The structure was originally planned as a straight bridge, but riverboat captains pointed out the folly in design before construction began. It seems that if built according to plans, the Chain of Rocks Bridge would not allow safe passage for boats to navigate both the rock shelves in the river and the water intake towers for a pump station. Hence, an architectural surprise was born out of innovation!
A sightseeing tour around St. Louis is a must, as this “Gateway to the West” city is full of history, great food and fun! Start with a ride up the Gateway Arch for a spectacular view of the area. Then head to Laclede’s Landing for some music and gastronomic delights, and finish your day on a riverboat casino tempting the one arm bandits.
You can also search for several Route 66 highlights within the city limits, including Ted Drewes Frozen Custard Stand, which has been handing out the cool dessert at 6726 Chippewa since 1941.
Route 66 through Missouri has been swallowed up by Interstate 44. Following the highway southwest out of St. Louis to exit 266 and the Route 66 State Park. Located on land that once contained the town of Times Beach, this park is not only a museum to the iconic Mother Road but a memorial to the community that no longer exists.
For years the dirt roads of Times Beach had been sprayed with industrial oil to keep the dust down. But in 1982, the government declared the town uninhabitable because the oil on those roads had been contaminated with dioxin. After 15 years the clean-up was complete, and today the 400-acre park has hiking trails, river access, and a Route 66 museum situated in a 1936 roadhouse.
Hop back in I-44 heading west to Meramec Caverns, one of Route 66’s most enticing attractions. The caves were first developed during the Civil War, as saltpeter was mined for ammunition. In 1935 an enterprising entrepreneur, Lester Dill, began a grassroots advertising campaign, talking farmers into using their barns as billboards for the caverns. You can still see the worlds “See Meramec Caverns” on many roofs today!
Jesse James was known to have used the caves as a hiding place, and with an underground river, the caverns were a perfect getaway with a backdoor escape route. Today the attraction has a general store and nice campgrounds along the Meramec River, where canoeing is a popular activity.
West of Stanton lies the small community of Cuba, Missouri. You’ll find a few relics from Route 66 days here, like the Wagon Wheel Motel – once famous for “offering 1930s charm at 1970s prices.” Today you can still experience that charm but at a reasonable rate of around $66 a night!
Cuba also hosts more than a dozen wall murals of its history around town, and even the restored cottage-style Phillips 66 station has a few on its exterior.
St. James is another town where the Mother Road left an impression. There are several old gas stations that must have been quite popular during the heydays of highway travel. However, they have been left as old relics, reminding us of another time.
This college town still holds a few Route 66 surprises. Missouri University of Science and Technology lies right along the old highway, and engineering students there created a half-scale replica of Stonehenge. Drive to the west side of town to envision what the highway must have looked like 50 years ago.
The traffic is much busier these days, but the Totem Pole Trading Post is situated along the road where several other businesses changed over the course of time. The trading post is the last holdout, still offering postcards and souvenirs of the road that carried many dreamers along its path.
We’ve covered the eastern section of a state loaded with Route 66 legends and lore. I hope you’ll join us next time as we the western half of the Show Me State along the Mother Road. In the meantime, why not find your own adventure along the Mother Road in a motorhome or travel trailer from Camping World?
You can drive the rest of Route 66 with our other “Get Your Pics on Route 66” articles. Read the entire series.