A Really Great Day on Oklahoma 66

October 6th, 2012

September 30, 2012 — Sunday

A sunny Sunday as we left the excellent Best Western Plus Suites-Tulsa Central where picky me found nothing to complain about.  The accommodations and staff were tiptop, especially Faith, formerly from a small town near Bombay, India.  And let’s not forget Betty the Mon-Fri breakfast lady, a hardworking Okie lady proud of her work and city, who called us ‘sugar’.  In the parking lot we met four delightful French guys on rented Harleys sporting small French flags also doing Rt. 66:  Jerome, Julien, Greg and Gilles.  I tried my rusty French, they said they’d flown into ‘Shee-caw-go’ and would ride all the way to LA, stopping where the spirit moved them, spirit a key word because they had dubbed themselves The Jack Daniels Team.  We took a group photo and said “a bientot, see you on the road”.

Our first 66 icon of the day was the Blue Whale in Catoosa, and it really is a huge blue whale that sits on a little lake by the road.  You can enter through its mouth and slide down into the water.  The whale park was closed for swimming, but we thought it would be fun to do some other trip.

On the way out of Tulsa, once again we saw the Meadow Gold Dairy sign, which we saw in its full neon glory last night.  The dairy is no more, but the sign was saved, restored, and sits on its own throne-like concrete pad, re-lit in May 2009 which made Tulsa folks very happy.

Further west we braked several times for the great murals in Sapulpa, reproductions of antique advertising on the sides of commercial buildings downtown.  More towns on the route should restore or create murals to generate tourist traffic, civic pride and downtown rejuvenation.

Next up: between Depew and Stroud, The Shoe Tree.  Now this is strange, one two-story high tree with dozens of shoes hanging from it, all kinds of shoes, and a few smaller trees 12-15′ with even more shoes.  No signs, no explanation, no way anyone could throw shoes that high and make ’em stick, but somehow, yes, way.

Time for lunch, and the perfect place popped up, the Rock Cafe in Stroud.  The first table in the door, there sat our French road buddies.  Big bonjours all ’round.  This is a great diner and it was jammed.  Felt like everyone in the county had stopped in for Sunday lunch.  The cafe is extra special because a fire destroyed it in 2008, but townspeople and 66ers from all over the world pitched in labor and money to re-build it from native rock and re-open one year later, to the day. Leaving Stroud is a classic mom & pop 66 motel, the Skyliner Motel, with another of those wonderful neon signs.

We didn’t know when we stopped, but Chandler’s Route 66 Interpretive Center would be the day’s highlight.  For a small town, this museum in a former armory is amazing. Right inside the door we met Judy, a docent volunteer who was born in Chandler, left after high school, returned in 1998, and is thrilled the armory and town  have a new life.  Judy was as full 0f information as her bubbly personality.  A wedding was about to start in the large events room, a dewy, young couple who looked as though they just graduated high school, but she ushered us into the main museum room, pointing out the satellite view of Chandler painted on the floor and all the interactive exhibits.  When I say interactive, I mean it…like lying down on a double bed coated with heavy plastic, punch a button and watch a short video on a screen in front of you…or sit down in one of those classic metal yard chairs, these painted turquoise, punch another button and watch another short video.  The video bits were fun: a swing, easy chairs, a bench atop a brick sidewalk, a Red Flyer wagon, and more, each with a short but fun/interesting video.  The best video was a 20-minute film about a local, Dick Besser, telling his Rt. 66 adventure and every second of it was fascinating.  We sat in old-fashioned movie theatre plush seats, pushed another button, and watched Dick recount how he drove his 1939 Ford from Amherst, NJ with another junior college graduate, both headed to get engineering degrees at the University of Arizona in Tucson–2,545 miles with his trusty Ford getting 17.8 miles to the gallon and a vital waterbag hung on the front of the car.  The guys got there in one piece, with one scare when he lost his brakes east of Winslow, AZ because his friend had left the handbrake on by accident.  On 4/8/2000 Fred and his wife repeated the trip in a 2000 red Corvette.  We wished we could have met Dick Besser and swapped 66 stories.

Our next stop was Arcadia’s Round Red Barn, one of the biggy 66 icons–seen in every 66 book.  It’s a real beauty, really red, and really round.  A farmer built it round because he thought Oklahoma’s infamous tornadoes would go around it.  It collapsed at 12:09 pm on 6/29/1988 and as one local described it, “just kind of sighed and fell in like a souffle.”  The barn was restored and dedicated 4/4/1992 and is now in its 114th year.  The upstairs accoustics were phenomenal, matched by the intricate pattern of wood spokes in the ceiling, a master work of folk art.

From sublime to soda, which is POPS, a newish 66 attraction that opened in 2006, and it grabs your attention today just as the classic tourist traps did to 66 travelers from 1930’s and onward.  POPS is a lighted 66-foot tall pop bottle on the west end of Arcadia.  There’s a hoppin’ 50’s dinner in classic black and white with punches of hot pink and turquoise–and two very tall facing glass walls with every soda pop on the planet, seriously, soda of every flavor from every country that makes soda.  We’re talking cucumber, melon, creamed corn, cotton candy, over 50 types of root beer, dozens of ginger beers, old-timey favorites like Hires/Orange Crush/Nehi Grape/Chocola, and of course, the special Route 66 pops: cola, root beer, lime, orange, cream soda, and black cherry.  We had to try a lime and root beer…pop, fizz, oh how good they is.

Our final icon stop was a zigzag off 66 to Edmond’s TeePee Church.  It took a while to find it, but thanks to I-Pad GPS and patience, we came spotted it a half mile away.  Built 1947-48, Bruce Goff designed the Hopewell Baptist church to look like a teepee, conical in shape, sloping sides 80′ tall its tent poles actually surplus oilfield pipes.  Although it was listed on the National Historical Register in 2002, the building has been unused for several years; a recent preservation/restoration project has begun and a sign boasted “First Annual TeePee Church Golf Tournament” later in October.  This marvelous building is in desperate disrepair, so we wish the fundraising golf tournament super success.

As we drove toward Oklahoma City, we passed a tranquil farm field, full of massive trees and dozens of cows lying in the shade on the green, green grass.  The scene was such a slice of heartland America, we turned around to photograph it.  Such a scene, so many scenes and sites to make the head and heart glad to be alive, such a day.

Tulsa by Inches, Blocks and Miles

October 4th, 2012

Day 13 — 9/29/12

By the time he got to Tulsa, I had covered the town.  Steve would arrive late afternoon, so I had the day to explore Tulsa.

I opened the sun roof on the car, rolled down the front windows, and cruised downtown on Rt. 66.   Tulsa is architectural heaven.  Its preserved art deco buildings number over fifty, some downright dazzling.  I saw only one police car, and it was waiting for a wedding couple to lead a celebration procession, but if any police had followed me, they would have pulled me over for my erratic starts, sudden  photo stops, occasional U-turn, and pauses in odd places to get that perfect shot.

True to my Capricorn sign, the diligent and perseverant goat, I systematically drove up and down Tulsa’s myriad of one-way streets.  At one intersection there are four magnificent churches, one to a corner, all praise and glory to their architects.  The Adams Hotel is elegant history still operating, but the Queen of Downtown Deco is the Philco Building, not the tallest, but she reigns over the old and new.  The PhilCo, as in Phillips Oil Company, uses every art deco motif under the sun, like a lady wearing all her jewelry at once, but carries it off with graceful panache.  At city edge is the gigantic, shiny oval stadium that looks like an aluminum egg with a Nike-like swoop.  A few blocks away sits the former railway station, today the cool Jazz Hall of Fame, and in front rises a tall, thin, dark obelisk with stick figures at the bottom and handprints as it stretches to the sky.  A few feet away is the mysterious “Center of the Universe” which reverberates any words you care to say.  I recited “four score and seven years ago” and it floated back to me in seconds.  I especially enjoyed the emerging Blue Dome District, named for a 66 icon with a blue dome, with its colorful murals, crazy shops, night spots and galleries.  Tulsa is truly an undersung beauty.

Rain started to fall as I headed to the airport to pick up Steve.  True to form, I missed a tiny sign and semi-barricaded freeway entrance as the rain came down in sheets.  I got there eventually, and there stood my smiling Steve, happy to see and be seen after three weeks apart.

I thought it would be fun to start his 66 time with a Tulsa 66 icon, the giant oil worker at the Tulsa Fairgrounids.  As luck had it, the state fair was at the fairgrounds with lanes of cars slogging away to enter.  Steve managed to snap a photo and we zoomed away in the opposite direction to Tally’s, a Tulsa 66 spot that draws locals and visitors alike.  Tally’s was a great diner; I expected Flo or Alice to appear any second.  You couldn’t beat the people watching, and we enjoyed talking to a local who decided he would run for city council to fight the rich guys who want to dam the river and put in an exclusive little island.

A really good day.

Tulsa Time

October 3rd, 2012

Day 12 — 9/28/12

A sunny Friday in Tulsa.  A zip downtown for jewelry, successful purchases for family presents and self.

Then the city’s outstanding museum for Western and Native American art, the Gilcrease.   The Gilcrease is a beautiful building with equally beautiful grounds, and its dining room matches.  We had a lovely Southwestern lunch by the window, admiring the scenery and the museum’s signature sculpture, “Apache Warrior” by Allan Hauser.   That sculpture also adorns the left side of Oklahoma’s license tag.

For anyone interested in Native American art, the Gilcrease is a treasure.  One great room after another.  And just when you think you’ve seen the best, yet another outstanding piece appears…pottery, baskets, moccasins, kachinas, rattles, sculpture, paintings…each deserving a best of show ribbon.

The afternoon sped by, and soon it was time to drop Anna at the airport and say goodbye to her, my third 66 companion.  Hard to believe my 6-week trip is half over.

Some thoughts and impressions on my journey at the halfway mark:

Speed limits:  I was surprised at Illinois’ slowish 65mph on the freeways, even on the open road.  The further west you drive, the higher the speed limit–it’s 75 for Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other Western states.

Accents:  The Arkansas accent around Little Rock has a soft twang.  Tennessee talk has a lilt in the drawl, though the lilt and drawl in Nashville has its own special twang.  Kentucky accents are nice to the ear, especially around Louisville, pronounced Luah-vull.  Ohio and Chicago have that broad Midwestern sound.  Missouri, pronounced Muh-zurr-uh, wraps Midwestern broadness with a Southern accent and a bit of twang.  Oklahoma seems to have a harder twang combined with a yep/nope/sure simplicity. I love it all.

Tallaquah & Tulsa

October 2nd, 2012

At breakfast we met the Walker  family, siblings who had gathered from Arizona, Kansas, Vancouver and elsewhere for a reunion.  They were a fun bunch, the lanky men and live wire sister Priscilla.  I struck up a conversation with Freda Arlene, who had lived in Tallaquah with her husband a long time.  I noticed her hand was shaking as she snapped some photos.  Later she told me she had just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but for the moment, she was enjoying all the Walker in-laws jabbering and joking and what would be their 45th wedding anniversary the next day.  Here’s a warm wish for the health of whole The Walker Bunch.  May you have many more reunions, and to Freda, good luck and sincere wishes that you live a long and happy life. I think you have a quietly glowing halo protecting you.

The sun shone brightly as we returned to the Cherokee Heritage Center.  I spent a little time with the Center’s genealogist, who gave me some basic information and suggestions how to research my possible Cherokee heritage.

Next we did the Ancient Village tour, led by a Cherokee guide, a young woman born and bred in Tallaquah.  The village was a series of typical homes, built with branches, then covered with mud and wattle, earth floors, simple doors and windows.  Our guide explained that each family had a summer and winter home opposite each other and a small hut-like building for curing or storing food.  These looked more like a rectangular or boxy version of the Navajo round hogan, nothing like a teepee except for the opening in the ceiling for smoke.  Adjacent to the Ancient Village was a more modern  settlement with early 19th century buildings: a church, school, three examples of homes, blacksmithy, and more.  It all looked similar to any early American town, except the church singing was in Cherokee, and each building had English and Cherokee explanations.

As interesting as it was, the Cherokee connection hadn’t happened for me.  I returned to the art exhibit, looked at the basket again and decided to buy it.  Nope, already sold.  Somehow that seemed to be a sign for things Cherokee: not now, maybe later.

We drove into Tallaquah town, on the hunt for turquoise jewelry.  We found a small jewelry shop where the owner and manager make custom pieces.  The manager/designer let us look through many, many envelopes of different kinds of turquoise, in many sizes.  Anna found two unique greenish turquoise stones to make a pair of earrings.  A wonderful way to buy a special piece of jewelry.

Tallaquah faded away through the rear-view window as we drove northwest to Tulsa.

Deeper Into Oklahoma

October 2nd, 2012

Day 10 — 9/26/12

We woke up in Claremore to grey skies and drizzle, then started the day at the Will Rogers Memorial & Museum. We got the appetizer part of a morning downpour entering the museum.  An excellent movie traced his life from birth to fame to death, a beloved American for his humorous wisdom and living right.  Plenty of movie memorabilia, his recreated writing/family room, countless photos and portraits of Will, and his collection of Western art, especially by his close friend Charles Russell, equally famous for his paintings and bronze sculptures of cowboys and animals in action.  The museum presents it all well and tastefully.  As I left to get the car, a Claremore local handed me an umbrella so I wouldn’t get soaked.  A small gesture, so appreciated, and just the kind of thing Will himself would have done.

Just down the hill, we ate lunch at Hammett House, a Claremore institution.  As soon as you sit, the waitress delivers a homemade fist-sized cinnamon roll.  Good soup, good food, good way to start our drive south to Tallaquah, a good hour off Rt. 66.

Tallaquah, pronounced Towel-uh-quah, is the heart of the Cherokee Nation.   For years I have wanted to visit Tallaquah, a tiny step toward exploring family stories that my maternal great-great-grandmother was one-quarter Cherokee.  I have a hand-painted portrait of her, and my next youngest sister is the spitting image of my ancestor, both with dark hair and eyes, olive brown skin and high cheekbones.

We arrived in Tallaquah mid-afternoon and headed straight for the Cherokee Heritage Center, set in a deep woods of tall trees.  We started with the museum.  Its excellent film and exhibits provided a solid background, tracing the Eastern Cherokee who lost their lands in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia and were marched west to Oklahoma, known as the Trail of Tears for the thousands who died along the way.  One gallery, in semi-shadow, held white plaster of Paris figures, here a family, there a woman holding her baby.  It was a mournful room, and compelling.

The museum’s adjacent gallery was brimming with its semi-annual arts competition…every art medium: oils, pastels, watercolor, mixed media, sculpture, pottery, weaving and baskets.  Baskets are a personal favorite, and one in particular really appealed to me, a large round mustard yellow basket with a lid holding a trio of intricately woven green corns. The basket was for sale, at a great price, actually under-priced for its expert workmanship.  I decided to sleep on buying it.

Throughout the day my psyche and spirit waited for the aha Cherokee connection moment.  It didn’t really happen.  I have always felt a connection when visiting other tribes, pueblos or reservations , what the Japanese call “hara” or gut.  I felt the hara for Tallaquah as a Native American site and people, but not the “I belong here feeling” I hoped for.

Tomorrow maybe.

Last of Missouri, All of Kansas, Bit of Oklahoma

September 29th, 2012

Day 8 — Monday, September 24

Happy Birthday to my late Mom, who would have been been 88 today.

Now, a wee rant about signage.  Missouri has terrible signage.  We managed to avoid mishaps after leaving Branson, heading back to Rt. 66, but if I had $1 for every false turn across MO, it would pay for a night in a luxury hotel.  Add highway construction to poor signage, you have places that would make a priest pray for help.

That said, I’m loving the Missouri 66 sights.

First stop, headed west on MO 66 was the vintage Sinclair gas station, Gay Parita, in Paris Springs.  The 66 book says that owner Gary Turner is eager to meet you and may talk your leg off, but the station was closed as we passed through.

Red Oak II is a hoot and worth every minute of a 23-mile detour between Paris Springs and Carthage.  The 66 book warns that it won’t be on any road map, and it wasn’t.  With patience and sleuthing, we took a series of country roads off 66 and finally found it.  Red Oak II is a village of homes and buildings, inhabited by a few real people (4-5) and a lot of cardboard cutout people, even a plywood dog.  The village has a general store, diner, filling station, church, school, mock boot hill cemetery with no one under the headstones, blacksmith, sheriff’s office, and more.  Red Oak II is the creation of local artist, Lowell Davis, who has spent 20 years building the village.  He moved original buildings from Red Oak I, which no longer exists, and lives in a house with an attached log cabin with his wife Rose in Red Oak II, and continues to add to the town. We stopped a tall, dashing man to ask a question, and so we met the former Mayor of Carthage, MO who lost his wife three years ago and has poured his heart, soul and wallet into a striking man cave of a modern semi-log cabin home.  He was moving in that day and invited us inside.  Big wow: massive stone fireplace, equally massive chandelier of horns, great vintage furniture, interesting details everywhere, and a chef’s dream kitchen with everything built for his 6′ 3″ frame.  The village is open daily, no charge but donations welcome, and it is a sterling site of Americana.

In Carthage, we snapped a photo of the Boots Motel, a small hotel with covered carports for each room, doubtful that today’s SUVs and trucks would fit.  Although Clark Gable once stayed there, now it sits silent waiting for a new owner.

GOODBY MISSOURI, HELLO KANSAS

Kansas has only 13.2 miles of  Rt. 66, but those miles are full of great places.

The Motor Mouth lady started our day in Galena.  Melba the Mouth is one of the 4 Women On The Route shop which serves as a welcome center, pit stop, gift shop and snack bar.  The morning we stopped in, a group of 8 Czechoslovakian bicyclists had just rolled up.  Melba talked and sign-languaged to us and the Czechs that she is one of 4 ladies who opened the shop in 2006; the 4 women are Melba, sister Renee, Judy and the late Betty Jean Courtney.  She told us about how the rusty tow truck out front made them famous.  Seems Disney came into town, spotted the tow car, and spent an hour talking to Melba while five white limos sat in the parking lot.  The tow truck became Tow Mater from the first “Cars” movie.  Galena town folks insisted that Melba and partners get rid of the eyesore tow.  Melba got rid of it.  Then she got a call from Drew Knowles, Rt. 66 champion and author of “66 Adventure Handbook”.  Knowles told Melba to get the tow mater back asap because “it’s money, honey.”  Melba got it back, parked it proudly, and now everyone in Galena loves the eyesore.  Melba can talk faster than any single person I’ve ever met, including auctioneers.  Letterman or Leno should invite her.

A few miles away in Riverton is the former Eisler Brothers Store, circa 1925, recently purchased and renamed the Nelson General Store.  Forrest Nelson, 90, welcomed us.  His late brother-in-law and wife owned the store for many years.  His son took over “only 30 years” ago.   Luscious hanging baskets and pots of flowers run along the store’s parking lot.  What used to be the front porch is now an overhang with complimentary coffee and chairs for 66ers and visitors.  Inside: shelves packed with old wares, an ancient Coke tub, and equally ancient soda fountain that sports a sign ‘no diet, sorry’.  It’s a current-day mini-mart with a deli counter that serves homemade soup, sandwiches and desserts, and the best 66 gift shop we’ve seen to date.  The store serves as the de facto Kansas Route 66 Association.  Some 66 Christmas lights called my name and I had to buy them, thinking they will find a place in our guest bedroom or guest bath.  The Czech cyclists were resting with water bottles on the porch as we left, and a tour bus of UK tourists left lots of money in the store’s antique register.

A bit outside West Mineral, we found Big Brutus, the second largest power shovel ever built, 16 stories high.  One scoop could fill three ra

Sideways to Branson

September 29th, 2012

Day 6 — Saturday, September 22

Beautiful Saturday in Missouri, clear skies in the Ozark Mountains, as we headed south for Branson for a weekend side trip off Rt. 66.  On the map it looked easy to take the freeway west to Springfield, then south to Branson on another freeway.  As I wrote earlier, it took five attempts to get it right.  Frustration to the max.  A tiny nugget of paranoid fear lingers in my brain after that interchange, and I’m already worried about doing it again on the way back from Branson.

But we did get to Branson and headed straight to Wyndam’s condos on the edge of town.  Ah, the luxury of staying somewhere two nights, and luxury it was with two bedrooms, two baths, plenty of space, full kitchen and washer/dryer for the growing pile of dirty clothes.  Now I pause to thank the condo donors, Dee and Roy McKinnis, hubby Steve’s brother and sister-in-law in Keller, TX.   A gazillion thanks, dear ones!

Our first Branson outing was the Scenic Mountain Train, a two-hour trip through two tunnels and over two trestle bridges slicing through the Ozarks.  Our particular train had 5 cars for a dinner trip and a couple of observation cars for non-diners.  All 5 dining cars were full, folks enjoying the white linen, crystal, china, silver, bud vase and a three-course dinner.  But I think the six of us in the observation car with snacks and sandwiches had more fun because we were upstairs in a large car with big windows and plenty of room to move around and photograph — until dinner finished and a steady stream of diners came up hoping for a seat and better view.  It was a lovely ride through the rolling mountains, forests, sweeping views and sudden outcroppings of limestone and dolomite, and also great fun to meet the conductor, stewards and fellow travelers.  The train pulled back into the station as dusk faded to a soft sunset.

We checked out the historic downtown and immediately parked the car when we saw a “wine, beer and gastronomical delight” shop, .   Surprise, a shop that could hold its own in any large, sophisticated city.  The owner hailed from Normandy, France, a young man with a charming accent and encyclopedic knowledge of wine.  We tasted, we bought, and we finished the evening with a few glasses back in our comfy condo.

Day 7 — September 23 — Sunday in Branson

Did lots of laundry.  Lunch at Granny’s for ‘home cookin’ which turned out to be heavy on salt, sugar and breading.  The best thing about it was a green salad.  Everyone in the restaurant was supersized with matching plates.

While friend Anna tried to buy a house cross-country via cell phone, email and fax, I headed to the Titanic Museum.  Branson has a half-size replica of the famous Titanic which sank on its maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg.  Well worth doing.  Many, many rooms of exhibits, memorabilia, stories and re-created room cabins and dining rooms of passengers in first, second and third classes…the spectacular grand staircase with its crystal chandelier and carved wood…walking through a door that emerged onto a dark deck, cold and windy, a sky filled with twinkly stars…the wealthy John Jacob Astor suite with its sitting room, bedroom and bath.  When you enter Titanic, you receive a card with a passenger name, an actual Titanic passenger. Near the end of the exhibit, you can check if your passenger lived or died.  I was Edith Evans, a young woman traveling with her family to America in first class. I died, age 36.

But I came back to life when I left the Titanic, eager to see one of Branson’s shows.  Branson is like Las Vegas probably was 50 years ago, one long strip of theatres, restaurants and souvenir shops.  The town is full of star theatres, way too many to count.   Normally Monday is when theatres go dark without performance, but in Branson, shows trickle to a handful for Sunday evening.  Had we known, we could have gone to 10am performances or 3pm matinees, but only five choices for Sunday night.  We picked “Legends”, a Dick Clark theatre featuring impersonators of famous performers.  We rated the George Strait 3 on a scale of 1 as worst and 5 as best.  The Aretha Franklin had great vocal range and hit all the scat/doobie do’s so 4 for her.  The Blues Brothers were crazy great, so 4.8.  We expected Elvis to be the best, and he did look the part, but the voice didn’t cut it, 1.5.  Somebody else was so bad my mind has blocked out the name.  We left before the finale when all the performers sing together.

The brightest spot of the day was a too-short visit to Dick’s Five & Ten store.  This is some place.  Each aisle is dedicated to something specific: Christmas, Easter, Halloween, kitchen, bath, hardware, car, baby, greeting cards, toys, food, old-fashioned sweets, and candies including pick-a-piece for .10 each.  And boy howdy do they have collectibles: Star Wars, Batman, Sponge Bob, Betty Boop, Elvis, Rt. 66, a little of this, a lot of that.  It’s a place you could browse for an hour and still not see it all.  Everyone who walked in lit up like a kid on Christmas morning, and every person left with a bag and smile.  A couple in front of me paid cash, $124 and change, for two medium-sized bags of something, followed by a Hispanic couple with a dozen plastic backscratchers, each a different color.  Great store with great stuff, nostalgia for sale.

Branson is not for people who don’t like crowds or country cooking with its calories, cholesterol and salt.  High end shopping, not so much.  Souvenirs, oh yeah.  Family fun, check.  Cocktails & booze in general, only in restaurants or liquor stores, not a single theatre serves alcohol at performances.  Like Vegas, it feels like a place for several days of fun and shows, but I its autumn leaves and Christmas lights extravaganzas probably would be spectacular.

West from St. Louis

September 26th, 2012

Day 5 — Friday, September 21 — St. Louis to Springfield, MO

Big icon day.

The morning started with the Shoe of Shoes at the Brown Shoe Company headquarters in West St. Louis.  This enormous woman’s pump consists of hundreds of silver lame cast metal life-size shoes welded together.  The city used to be so well known for its shoes that at one time folks used to describe St. Louis: “first in shoes, first in booze, last in the American League.”  When I peeked inside the pump, it was full of leaves and a few gum wrappers.

Headed due west, we stopped in suburban Kirkwood to see a Frank Lloyd Wright residence, one of the five structures he designed in all of Missouri. It was set on a hill under pines and a long drive back from the main road, another work of art in brick, glass and angles.

On to Bourbon’s Water Tower, with the word Bourbon in huge letters.  There must be thousands who wish it really held a good, stiff bourbon.

The town of Cuba has wonderful murals.  They cover the front or sides of numerous buildings in the main crossroads.  Known as “Mural City”, the murals depict eras of growth in Missouri.  This is a great stop.

West of Cuba, we found Fanning’s World’s Largest Rocker.  The rocker sits in the parking lot of a general store, with inviting rockers on its front porch.  We met three locals enjoying soda and coffee in those rockers who wanted to know what our license tag was.  They’d been looking at it as I pulled in, turned around for a better angle, hopped out for a photo, and finally parked.  Of course we stood and chewed the fat a while.  The store had great 66 memorabilia; several items jumped out and insisted we buy them.  At the rear of the store was a thriving archery supply and  practice range, a seemingly odd combo, but somehow it all seemed to fit.  The locals waved goodbye as we pulled out.

Rolla’s well-known Totem Pole Trading Post was everything you think a trading post might be.  It had 66 souvenirs, antiques, collectibles, art, pottery, guns, quilts, samurai swords, jewelry, rooms chockablock.  It seemed to have everything.  No trading, just one reasonable purchase, a Rt. 66 license tag.

The Rolla to Springfield part of 66 roughly follows the infamous Cherokee Trail of Tears, the forced march of Native Americans from their Georgia lands to Oklahoma.  We searched for a particular site west of Rolla, a stone gateway and art works by one man who felt impelled to create a rock gate and loose stairway for Indian spirits to climb to their creator.  It took forever to find, not well marked, but it was worth the effort.  It stretched up into a hill on private property, a series of terraces, steps, wells, containers, all made of rock dug from the property and stacked.  The site spoke volumes.  It spoke sadly because it needs repair and upkeep.  Crossed fingers that someone saves this special ‘trail of tears’.  It’s a spiritual place that lingers in your mind long after you leave.

The sun was setting as we watched for Frog Rock on the outskirts of Waynesville.  Townfolk decided the rock outcropping looked like a frog, so they painted it green and now it really looks like a frog about to hop off a small mountain.

Night fell and we slept in Springfield.

St. Louis Day

September 26th, 2012

Day 4 — Thursday, September 20

A full day in St. Louis, dubbed “Gateway to the West”.  Room service brought piping hot oatmeal with apple slices on trays, complete with flowers, a nice start for our busy day.

We three ladies headed to Collinsville in East St. Louis to see the Cahokia Mounds and Woodhenge, where Native Americans lived and built a sophisticated trading city 900-1400 AD.  No one knows what happened to them — famine, plague or predators — but they left a physically beautiful and historically fascinating site.  Its striking visitor/interpretive center is free.  That morning it was flooded with two school groups having a ball, but they were pin quiet during a 15-minute film tracing the civilization’s evolution, the 2,200 acre site and its 65 tribal mounds.  You can walk through its re-created lifesized village, climb the mounds, and a few minutes nearby, puzzle over Woodhenge, a vast circle of aged wooden poles, probably for ceremonies.

Next up, still in East St. Louis, the Chain of Rocks Bridge.  This bridge used to bring Route 66 traffic across the Mississippi River, but newer highways serve that function now.  Today the Chain of Rocks Bridge is billed as “the world’s largest pedestrian and bicycle bridge.”  We walked to its center for a photo, and once you step on the bridge, the city and rest of the world fall away.  Peaceful, beautiful, windy.

Back into the city, straight to its famous arch and along the river we went, primed for a paddlewheel boat ride on the Mississippi River.  Its horn blasted and we chugged off.  It felt pretty cool to be on the Mississippi looking at the city and land from the water.  During our hour ride, we passed numerous freight barges, some as long as 2-3 football fields.  A nice experience, but I was disappointed the paddlewheels didn’t move;  the boat was powered by engines.

We finished the day with a ride to the top of the famous Gateway Arch.  The shining stainless steel arch is simple but stunning.  Designed by Finnish architect, Eero Saarinen, it soars to 630 feet.  The trip up is by a tram that operates like a cog train; you ride in egg-shaped pods which seat five people.  It takes only 4 minutes to the top where you can walk a long corridor with narrow windows that give a nearly 360 degree view.  The trip down is even faster, 3 minutes.

At dusk, we dropped Dee at the Amtrak Station for her train back to Ft. Worth, and we returned to the beautiful Union Station Marriott for our last night in this historical hotel.

Abe Lincoln & MO (as in Missouri)

September 25th, 2012

Day 3 — Wednesday, September 19 — still in Illinois

We started the day with honest Abe at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield.  The city is full of Lincoln sites, but we concentrated on the museum and library.  The museum, built in 2004, houses the largest collection of Lincoln artifacts in the world.  Splendid building, well designed, geared for the common man.  An introductory movie used three screens and holograms to show his life, his famous quotations. and re-enactments of historical events.  Great high-tech techniques brought one of America’s most loved presidents to life.   We walked through a replica of the cabin where he was born, then exhibits that followed his law and political career to the Presidency, finally his assassination.   Next door is his library, housing papers, books, and considerable ongoing research.  The museum and library are downtown, across from a welcoming park anchored by the former train depot.

Moving on to another great building, this one in Carlinville, the Million Dollar White Elephant Courthouse.  It’s handsome, took more than two years to build, 40 years to pay for, costing more than 10 times its original estimate.  Many of its iron doors weigh over a ton, and all interior trim is made of either iron or stone.

The best stop of the day was Henry’s Rabbit Ranch in Staunton.  It pays homage to another 66 spot, the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas with Caddies planted hood down in the earth.  The Rabbit Ranch has a row of VW rabbit cars stuck in the ground, and Rabbits in various states of repair, rust, and disrepair sitting around a large yard.  A small shop has — guess what — live rabbits.  Henry is nuts about rabbits, rescues them, and sells 66 souvenirs and all things rabbit.  Fred the Red Rabbit, a real and soft as silk rabbit, holds down the sales counter and allows himself to be petted.   The Rabbit Rance is definitely one of a kind.

We zigged a little off 66 to find Collinsville and the world’s largest ketchup bottle.  Built as a water tower, the bottle is 70 feet tall and stands atop a 100-foot base.  The biggie bottle sits atop a hill, at the former Brooks Foods plant.  Built in 1949, local legend says that red-headed offspring may result if a pregnant woman passes too close to it.

As the afternoon wound down, we crossed the bridge dividing Illinois and Missouri.  I planned to take a photo of myself at each state line, but no way at rush hour with cars whizzing and only inches between the bridge barrier and cars.

At dusk, we pulled into St. Louis, Missouri.  Enter Anna, longtime friend from Easton, Maryland.  She was waiting for us at the downtown Union Station Marriott Hotel.  This hotel uses the former train station’s grand hall as its hotel lobby.  Wow, it’s a looker with a beautiful stained glass set in the towering ceiling, chandeliers, hand-carved wood, and marble floors. The former train tracks have been converted to restaurants and shops one floor under the lobby.  Lovely rooms, and all the service staff were wonderful.  Wish we could say the same for the front desk which made mistake after mistake with our rooms and bill.

Anna rested while Dee and I hotfooted it to the opening concert of the Pulitzer Series, under the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.  This series is devoted to presenting music like an “informance”, with the performers explaining the piece before playing.  The series, sponsored by the Pulitzer Foundation (yes, that Pulitzer as in Pulitizer Prize), is held at an art space designed by Tadao Ando.  The building is ultra modern, spare, all concrete, wood floors.  The concert hall has stadium-like seating for 200, but the acoustics are superb, so live and rich that people must whisper in the lobby two rooms away from the hall.  That particular concert featured two pianists who played facing each other, their pianos fully open, and audience members could stand at a railing and look down at the stage.  The program included Ravel, Debussy, and the contemporary John Adams’ “Hallelujah Junction” which flowed, ebbed and crescendoed in that superb setting.  Great evening.