Because we want to visit Chicago for several days at some point in the future, we decided to start our Route 66 roadtrip in St. Louis. There we visited the City Museum, which had so much to do and see that we could have spent the majority of our day there and be completely satisfied. We slid down the elephant’s trunk, crawled along the many caverns built into the museum walls; we basically released our inner child.
Of course we visited the famous St. Louis Arch–I am not sure what I expected, but my reactions bordered along the lines of “Welp, there it is.” To kick off our trip we stopped for some famous Ted Drewes’ custard. Of all our lodging along this trip, my favorite was our stay at the Brewer’s house Bed and Breakfast, where our host, Richard, made the best breakfast I have ever eaten in my entire life, including St. Louis gooey butter bars, fresh from the farmer’s market. We spent our evening in the Soulard district, which is best known for its Mardi Gras party, which we’ve been told is second only to New Orleans.
Our first travel day was from St. Louis to Springfield, MO. We stopped at the Jesse James Museum, which from the road looks dinky, but was actually fairly wonderful and informative inside. Learning about Jesse James then came in handy for our next stop: Meramac Caverns, a former hideout of Mr. James and his crew of wily bandits. We may have overfilled our day with stops because I was beyond exhausted by the end of the day, but every stop was well worth it. We took in the World’s Second Largest Rocking Chair (On some days, they allow you to sit on it, but not on our day). We enjoyed not only the name, but the entire experience at the Uranus Fudge Factory. Ha Ha Tonka park had beautiful castle ruins, but the hike was no laughing matter, as I probably climbed more stairs there than I have all year. We ended up a the Flea Bar to hear Mark Cassidy and Chad Graves play live music.From Springfield, Missouri to Oklahoma City, we encountered our fair share of kitschy but wonderful Route 66 roadside Attractions. Among my favorite were the Totem Pole Park, in Foyil and the Blue Whale in Catoosa. We signed our names on a Route 66 underpass in Chelsea, OK. We entered and exited Arcadia’s Pop store within minutes, as it was bursting to the seams with crying children. We did leave with $20 dollars worth of soda though before our amscray. In Oklahoma City, we toured the Botanical Gardens.
In the morning we stopped at the Cowboy and Indian Museum in Oklahoma City. We asked a museum worker if there was a section with cowboy regalia and artifacts, but we must have misunderstood him when he said it wasn’t on display. So we grinned and bore looking at paintings for a good half hour so we felt like we were getting our money’s worth. Only then did we stumble on exactly what we were looking for–saddles, boots, and weapons galore. Nestled down a hall is a wild west town replica, equipped with a jail. At this point, I am sure Andrew wished he could lock me away because after about an hour, I had seen enough, but Andrew was only getting started.
I had to set a time limit so we could make it to Amarillo before dark, in order to see the Cadillac Ranch. Despite my failed directions, resulting in a detour up to Kingfisher, OK, a wild storm that knocked Kansas City’s power out, and much anticipated stops through Texola and McClean ghost towns, including the Route 66 museum, we arrived at the ranch just as the sun was setting over Amarillo.
Starving at this point, the Big Texan Steak House offered the cure we needed. Although not confident in my own gastronomic prowess, the 72 ounce steak challenge did seem appealing. I settled for quesadillas. After eating, Andrew wooed me with his capgun agility, hitting nearly every target. We then went to the Golden Light Cafe to take in the musical styling of the Tejon Street Corner Theives–a band that utilizes the washboard, among other instruments
Driving from Amarillo to Santa Fe was one of my favorite stretches, due in large part because of the Blue Hole Swimming Hole in Santa Rosa, NM. Be warned that the swimming hole is about half a mile down the road from a swimming park that appeared to be for smaller children. I was about to suck it up and admit I had planned poorly, but Andrew asked attendants if we were in the right spot, and lo and behold, they pointed us in the right direction. The swimming hole has a 10, maybe 15 foot tall ledge to hurl one’s body from. I honestly felt like I was drowning during my first jump, because the water was so cold, I couldn’t catch my breath. Lifeguards do watch over, and once you get used to the temperature, this becomes a great way to cool off.
Our trip from Santa Fe to Albuquerque was a short one, fortunately, because along the way we stopped at the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks. This hike was a bit more difficult that we prefer but definitely manageable, although I was drenched with sweat by the time we were done. The view from the top is incredible, and what is especially cool about this hike is because of the rock formations, the scenery going up appears different than going down. Warnings of flash flooding appeared all over, so do be cautious of the weather.
From Albuquerque to Holbrook we first stopped at the Bandura Ice Caves and Volcano. The drop in temperature as I descended the stairs towards the Ice cave was wild. This hike was easy with a clear path and guard rails throughout. Next we aimed to stop at the Wolf Sanctuary in Candy Kitchen, NM. However the wait was 45 minutes until the next tour, so we skipped it, and got burgers in Gallup, NM instead. I am fairly certain we witnessed a group drug experience, so be sure to lock your car doors!
We stopped for the evening in Holbrook, Arizona, in order to gain the traditional Route 66 experience of sleeping in a Wigwam. Each wigwam is air-conditioned and comfortable. The town itself felt fairly empty, but that could be that we were traveling the southwest in the middle of August. After leaving Holbrook, we stopped in Winslow, AZ–such a fine site to see. But really, this town was super cute and we stopped for milkshakes at a 50’s style Sippe Shoppe.
We spent an additional two nights in Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff has the feel of a college town, with great food and live music. On our first day, we hiked along Walnut Canyon, home to cliff dwellings attributed to the Sinaqua cultural group. Below is a photograph of the canyon. On the second day, we headed to the Grand Canyon.
If you have the opportunity, a great pit stop along the way from Flagstaff to Las Vegas, is Seligman, home to the Snowcap Drive-in. We stopped for a morning burger and fries, but also got our fair share of groan-rendering drive-in puns. Because of time constraints we had to forgo the wild burr at Oatman, AZ, which appears to be a wild west ghost town. We opted for the Hoover Dam instead. The sheer size alone is impressive. The dam tour was not operating that day, so we took the powerplant tour instead.
Our next two nights were in Las Vegas, NV, where we stayed at the Paris Casino. If I would travel to Las Vegas again, I would stay in Old Vegas, near Freemont Street. Slot machines at the Cortez, still use and distribute quarters. Something about the quarters clinking to the bottom makes even the smallest win seem that much more exciting.
We spent a night in Palm Springs, which, while relaxing, was one of my least favorite stops. I think we were a bit burned out at that point, because I was satisfied with simply lounging by the pool until the evening.
We detoured to Salvation Mountain on our way to Palm Springs. Even though it ended up being 3 hours out of the way, the experience was well worth it! Artist Leonard Knight created this structure throughout his lifetime. Funding for its maintenance now seems to be struggling, so be sure to stop here because who knows how long it will last. Also, we got to drive through border patrol, but the guard hardly paid us any attention, waving us right through.
Our end point was Santa Monica, California. We spent several days visiting friends, taking in sites, and stuffing ourselves. In all, I was so glad that I planned ahead of time, rather than figuring out where to stop as we went along. I think we would have missed many sights and opportunities. Linked here is my day to day agenda, including driving times.