While the title of our post is Route 66 – Missouri, we have covered the route stops we made in Kansas too. Kansas only has 14 miles of the route, but we didn’t want to leave it out. Enjoy the trip!
U.S. Highway 66, better known as Route 66, was the first paved highway to connect the Midwest to the West Coast. The highway runs 2,448 miles from Chicago to Los Angeles, passing through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. After the creation of the first national highway system, construction on the road began in 1926.
Route 66 was decommissioned in 1985 which led to the demise of many small towns and businesses whose survival depended on the road. Today the cities and states through which the old route passes preserve portions of the original road. Additionally, in 2001, the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program was established to help preserve historic places along the route. Administered by the National Park Service, the program collaborates with businesses, cities, and others by providing cost-share grants for restoration of some of the route’s icons.
Click here for a short National Park Service article on the history of Route 66.
The Missouri stretch of the Mother Road begins in St. Louis, or Joplin depending on which direction you’re going. However, our journey began in St. Louis, and we hopped on and off the route as we navigated our way through the city. Our first stop was in Cuba where we had lunch at Missouri Hick Bar-B-Q. The restaurant is not an original icon on the route, though with their delicious food it is undoubtedly a new one. Who doesn’t love a barbecue restaurant that has five different sauces on its tables along with cucumber and onion salad on their menu as a side?
Next door to Missouri Hick is the historic Wagon Wheel Motel which opened in 1936 as tourist cabins along with a gas station and cafe. Originally named Wagon Wheel Cabins, the motel was a popular stop on Route 66. During the mid 1940s the gas station and cafe were sold separately to other owners. A change of the name to Wagon Wheel Motel came with a change in ownership in 1947. In 2003, the motel was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and upon receiving grant assistance through the National Park Service, it was renovated in 2010. The Wagon Wheel still hosts overnight guests as the oldest continuously operated motel on Route 66. Today the gas station and cafe house a gift shop.
Navagating the Route
By the time we left Cuba, we had figured out how to travel the route using Google Maps. Even though we had three Route 66 guidebooks at our fingertips, Google turned out to be a better option for us. Google doesn’t show the route as a major highway, nor does it use the old road for trip planning. However, Route 66 is designated on Google Maps and can be seen by zooming in on the screen. Our trick was to ask Google for directions to the next town on the route and selecting the “avoid highways” option. This method worked very well for us though we did refer to the guidebooks at times. Sometimes the route dead ends, which requires getting on the interstate.
Built in 2008 for the purpose of becoming the world’s largest rocking chair, this big guy actually claimed the Guiness Book of World Records title. However, a bigger rocking chair in Casey, Illinois took the title away in 2015. Renamed Route 66 Red Rocker, it is now touted as the biggest rocker on the route. The gigantic chair is 42 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and weighs in at 27,500 pounds.
Yes, it’s a place. Yes, it’s a funny name. And yes, there’s a guy in Missouri who is laughing all the way to the bank! According to the guy, Louie Keen, who is the owner and mayor, Uranus is not a town it is a destination. We thought Uranus was the ultimate tourist trap, and we are (almost) ashamed to admit that we dropped a wad of cash there.
The fudge factory does, in fact, have some of the best fudge we’ve ever tasted. We ended up leaving there with some of the chocolate-peanut butter, the cookies and creme, and Butterfinger flavors. All were sinfully delicious. Unfortunately, the gigantic gift shop attached to the fudge factory was out – yes, out – of Christmas ornaments. What tourist trap gift shop runs out of Christmas ornaments? Anyway, since ornaments are the only souvenirs that we ever buy, we had to settle for this car air freshener:
We’re almost afraid to open the package for fear of it smelling like an overly strong pine scented cleaning product. Maybe we will just leave it in its wrapper and find a place for it on the back of the tree.
Nope, definitely no false advertising here. There really is a Circus Sideshow Museum in Uranus, and at $6.00 per person… Well, let’s just say it was a deal for somebody, but not us. Though for those who’ve never seen a real merman or a two-headed baboon, it might be worth the money.
Moving on to Lebanon
Lebanon, Missouri was a nice place to stop for the night. While we did cruise Route 66 through the town, we didn’t find much in the way of nostalgic sights. Like so many cities on Route 66, old motels and gas stations that are now other businesses or in ruins are basically all that are left. We did, however, find a lovely city park that had murals and timelines depicting the city’s history and Route 66 heritage.
After being in the car all day, we were glad to have time to learn about the city and take a short stroll around the park’s pretty garden area.
After leaving the park, we headed to the most famous Route 66 icon in Lebanon: The Munger-Moss Motel. Nellie Draper Munger and her husband, Emmett Moss opened a cafe and filling station on the site 1945. In 1946, they added the motel which, under different ownership, still welcomes guests today.
Although the motel looks very nice, the vintage sign is what we fell in love with. With its mid-century style and bright colors, it brought back childhood vacation memories for both of us.
The neon sign was refurbished in 2010 with a grant share through the Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see it at night. Though we did get to eat dinner at a great restaurant, Brickhouse Grill, which serves classic American fare ranging from wings and burgers to steaks and seafood. The food and service were wonderful, creating a perfect ending to a long day on the route.
For those who might be wondering why we skipped Springfield, it’s because we chose to visit a couple of national park sites instead. Since we’re trying to visit all of them, national parks are always our first priority. After the second park, however, we got back on Route 66 at Carthage. Carthage has several notable Route 66 sites, but our mission was to see the Jasper County courthouse.
The Jasper County courthouse was built in 1894-1895 and is constructed of local Carthage marble This gorgeous building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
While we were there, we took a stroll around the town square. Our walk led to learning about a Civil War battle that we had not heard of before. The Battle of Carthage took place right where we were in the town square on July 5, 1861.
From Carthage, we took Route 66 west to Joplin. There are some murals that we wanted to see there, but not much else with regard to nostalgia. However, we arrived in the 5:00 traffic, and by the time we got to our turn-off downtown, we found the streets blocked off for some sort of street fair. Of course, we were disappointed, but we decided to skip Joplin and drive on to Galena, Kansas.
The Kansas Stretch
The Kansas stretch of Route 66 was only ever 14 miles long, but remarkably, 13 of them are still drivable. Our first stop was in Galena which is a delightful small town.
Our camera battery died after the shot above, but that didn’t stop us. We drove through the charming little town that helped inspire the Pixar movie “Cars” and used our cell phones for photos. Another converted gas station, Cars on the Route, is a cafe and gift shop that features some of the characters from the movie. We didn’t see Lightning McQueen or Doc Hudson, but the place was fun to see and photograph.
After Galena, we drove 12 miles to our next stop near Riverton, Kansas. Brush Creek Bridge is the only Marsh Rainbow Arch Bridge remaining on Route 66 in Kansas. Two others were dismantled in the 1990s. The concrete bridge was built in 1923 and is still drivable! Also known as Rainbow Bridge, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. Grant share funds helped make repairs to the bridge in 2005.
Thanks so much for joining us on Route 66 through Missouri (and Kansas)! Stay tuned for “More Kicks on Route 66” through Oklahoma which is coming soon.
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Travel safely, and we will see you down the road.
Mike and Kellye