Route 66 - Hello Missouri!

continued from previous post.

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis
After crossing over the Mississippi River on the I-270 bridge, we followed the signs up a hill to the Missouri Welcome Center just outside St. Louis. It was so hot that just walking 100 feet from the parking lot to the entrance made us appreciate the cool air inside. Staffed by a couple of very nice and knowledgeable folks, they happily provided us with a road map of Missouri and printed directions to the Arch. I noticed a full pot of coffee beside the door with a sign saying, "Free Coffee." We spent about 10 minutes reading brochures and looking around and I noted nobody took them up on their hot coffee offer. When it's close to 100 degrees, evidently even the most die-hard coffee drinker would rather have something else, free or not!

Following the instructions given us by the visitor center staff, we took a serpentine route which roughly followed several of the paths taken by Route 66 at various times in history. Along the way we passed through areas that had obviously seen better days and I would be cautious about driving around those area's after dark, but it wasn't as bad as parts of Chicago that we had driven through. We saw the Arch several miles before actually getting there and after we arrived, we discovered that road signs as to where to park were either non-existent or hard to follow. It's a very large area, but after a few minutes, we found a parking garage that only charged $6. All of the inside (shaded!) spots were taken so we had to park on the upper level in that bright sun. We could see the top of the Arch so we followed a line of people into the National Expansion Memorial Park through a large stand of trees providing welcome shade.

Youngest-daughter below the Arch as the
clouds started rolling in.
The Arch itself is located on 4 or 5 open acres of mowed grass. The 630-foot tall structure is much larger than indicated by the numerous pictures I had seen of it. The thing is huge! When we first arrived, the day was blinding bright, but as we walked around, clouds quickly moved in. The heat didn't go down any and the humidity went higher. Soon, even Youngest-daughter said she was ready to get back to the car to get out of the heat - this from a 13-year-old who, like most teenagers, doesn't seem to feel heat or cold the way grownups do.

Let's go back about 4 weeks. I was working in my home office, barefoot, when I heard it start to rain. I decided I needed a break anyway so I walked across the room to the window to check out the clouds. Next to the window is a small table where I keep genealogy records, research material and photography stuff to work on when I get the chance. The table has been in that same exact spot for 3 years so it's not like I didn't know it was there. I can't explain it, just one of those stupid "how in the hell did that happen?" moments. I stubbed 2 of my toes on one of the table legs. Not just a little stub, I kicked the damn thing! The pain shot up my foot, into my ankle and straight to the pain center. I crumbled to the ground loudly saying words I would not want my daughter to know the meaning of. The toe next to my pinkie toe was bent at a weird angle. The bottom of it was now on the side. No doubt about it, toe broke.

Now, back to the day at the Arch. I told you about my toe so you'll understand what happened next. I had finally stopped limping and my toe was almost back to it's normal pink color rather than the angry black and blue it had been for weeks, but it was still tender. We decided to head back to the car to get out of the heat so we walked across the open grassy area until we were standing directly under the arch. I stopped and aimed my camera straight up to take what I thought would be an interesting shot. As I was standing there taking my picture, minding my own business, all of a sudden I heard my daughter shout "Daddy!" and I heard a male voice a few yards behind me shout, "Look out!" I had no idea what danger I was in or where it was coming from, but survival instinct kicked in and I quickly ducked my head and brought down the camera as I started to duck down. It was a good thing I did as a rather large guy came down from the sky, his elbow brushing the top of my head, his body bumping into my side and the heel of his foot crashing down full force on my poor broken toe. He was actually a young man who, with a group of other college-age people, were playing some kind of game with a whirly-bird do-hicky. It was like a dart kind of thing that they would throw in the air and then it would float down on helicopter blades. Evidently he was running to catch it, was watching it rather than where he was going, and just happened to jump up to grab it as he came up behind me. He was a nice kid, apologized several times, kept calling me sir and I knew it had been an accident so I told him it was ok, don't worry about it. But my toe was screaming it was not ok.

Youngest-daughter and I made our way over to a bench and sat down for a while, waiting for my toe to stop screaming. After a while, I limped my way back to the car. My toe was already starting to swell and turn red. 5 acres of open space and the guy comes down on the few inches of ground my foot covered! Time to get out of the big city.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard in St. Louis
We got on Route 66 again, on Gravois Avenue to 6726 Chippewa Street where we stopped at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.  Locals and Route 66 travelers have been purchasing frozen treats at this site since 1941. Try the concrete milkshake.

Finally leaving St. Louis, we entered a geographic region of forested hills with deep cuts and steep grades. For me, it was a great change from the city we had just escaped from. Our next stop was in Eureka at the Route 66 State Park. Situated on the banks of the Meramec River, it is located on the site of the former community of Times Beach. Back in the 1920's, the town of Times Beach was founded and developed as a vacation spot for St. Louis residents. By the 1970's, the community was showing its age and the population had changed to lower income residents. The roads had never been paved and the dust was annoying so the town contracted with a small company to spray the streets with oil. The only problem was the cheap oil the 1-man operation used was, unknown to him, contaminated with dioxin, exposing everyone in the town to a serious dose of the toxic substance. In the early 1980's, the government admitted there was a big problem in Times Beach and bought the entire town from its residents. Everyone was gone by 1985, and by 1992, all of the town's buildings except one were torn down. A few years later, an incinerator was built and the top 6 inches of dirt was scraped off and sanitized.

Today, the area is perfectly safe and that 1 building that survived is now the Route 66 State Park Visitor Center which houses memorabilia and interprets the environmental success story of the former community.

Restored neon sign from a Route 66 business.

Route 66 Harley Davidson in the visitor center.
Sure made me want to do Route 66 on a bike!
Following the Mother Road into Pacific, a town nearly wiped out by a battle there during the Civil War, we stopped at Monroe's 66 Diner at 409 E. Osage. Opened in the early 1940's, it served Route 66 travelers until about 2005 when it closed. Known for it's stone front attached to a Quonset Hut structure, the closing was a cause for mourning among long-time patrons. However, it re-opened in early May, 2012, just a couple of weeks before we stopped there. It now is named The Down South Café and serves American food as well as Cajun and Creole - po'boy sandwiches, gumbo, beignets, etouffe, and fried alligator. We would have eaten there, but it was Sunday and they evidently are closed on Sunday's so I can't testify as to the quality of the food. Looking through the windows, we could see the inside has been decorated with Route 66 décor and we had fun with the alligator on the sign in front.

Monroe's diner - the famous stone front and
Quonset Hut rear.
It was starting to get a little late in the afternoon, but we made our way a few miles on down to the town of Villa Ridge and the Tri-County Restaurant and Truck Stop, another famous Route 66 establishment we had heard about.  Pulling into the parking lot, we were disappointed again as it was closed due to construction. Giving up on getting a sit-down meal and needing gas for the truck, we stopped at the next gas station/convenience store, fed the truck (18 gallons at almost $4 per gallon - ouch!) and grabbed some road food to munch on as we made our way to the town of Staunton and a stop at the Meramec Caverns.

Fried Alligator is on the menu now so the rubber
alligator on the sign in front is a nice touch!

Go to the first Route 66 entry here.
Or go to the first entry of each state: