Gary Gardner (grgardner) wrote,
Gary Gardner

Not in Kansas Anymore

Actually I wasn't in Kansas all that much anyway -- just a dozen miles.  A small part of Route 66 cuts through the far Southeast corner of the Sunflower State after it leaves Oklahoma and heads for Joplin, MO.   But now there's another state I've ridden in, and one I can color in on my map.  It was hot already when I left Oklahoma City and headed out on the old road bound for Missouri.  Unlike in Western Oklahoma, this part was a separate road that was left intact, and renumbered as OK 66 - I think probably to act as a bypass for I-44 which is a toll road.  It isn't the straight shot that I-44 is -- it winds and rolls through the countryside as a good road should.  It was hot, but the air was cool once the bike got moving through the farm country between Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
Fairly soon after leaving the suburbs of OKC  I came across a barn-billboard for Meramec Caverns in Stanton, MO.  The caverns are a Route 66 tourist icon that have been around since the 20s.  The owner advertised all up and down Route 66, much the way Wall Drug did and still does in South Dakota.  The closer you got, the more billboards there were.  Unfortunately this was the only one I saw today, apparently most have vanished over time, though the caverns are still open.  I suspect they are all up and down on I-44 though.

Rolling into Chandler, OK I stopped to get gas at a small station.  The owner, an older woman, was sitting out smoking and we got to chatting about the weather and how she wished it was afternoon so she could go home.  I realized about that time it was Memorial Day as the town's parade decided to come past at that moment.  The local high-school football team took State back in 1985! and was the center of attention on their float.  The streets were lined with flags, and folks sitting in lawn chairs.  Such is life in a small town.  As the day wore on I noticed each town's cemetery was decorated or being decorated in honor of Memorial Day and I saw people out tending to graves, and I was reminded of our annual family trips to Mt. Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake to put a coffee can covered with tin-foil full of home grown Peonies and Irises on the family graves.
This part of Route 66 was one of the last to be improved before the advent of the Interstate, so there are long stretches of four lane divided highway.  Since I-44 parallels it a few miles away, the old road gets little traffic -- and I get a huge road all to myself.  It's also very noticeable as one goes East that the population increases, the string of small towns are closer together, and there isn't the desolation of the West.  I think this is also why there are so comparatively fewer ghostly remnants still standing along the roadside.  What was left here when the Mother Road was decommissioned in 1974 has been recycled or reused -- hauled away, or painted over.  However I did enjoy a few old ghosts of America's Main Street -- motels in particular.  i wish I could have seen the neon lit up at night -- beckoning travelers to stop and sleep.

It was a very long and hot ride up through Oklahoma and Kansas and into Missouri, and I was feeling the heat.  I'd pass the small town bank time/temp signs and they were all mid 90s.  It started to cool off as soon as I got into Missouri though, and riding was very pleasant in my sleeveless t-shirt.  Missouri as a rule has the best signed and marked stretches of old Route 66 as any state, and even have the various alignments marked (such as 1930 to 1948 through town), so I was surprised to find a section closed off with no detour marked.  I wandered around on some county roads and found small corner store and pulled out my atlas just as a county sheriff rolled in.  I asked the young trouper who had to be no older than 12, where I could find the Historic 66 Byway as it is signed in Missouri.  He had no clue.  He said," just go back out to the Interstate and you'll get to Springfield in no time".  I thanked him, and he left and I continued to look at the map as a local older gentleman drove up and ambled into the store.  He asked if I needed help and I told him what happened.  That started a 10 minute conversation of how to get back to the old road -- it was about a half mile away, the opposite way the trooper wanted me to go to get to the Interstate,  as well as his reminiscing of driving Route 66 back when it was the road to get across Missouri.  I feel sorry for the young trouper.

I was nearing Springfield when I decided that would be a good place to stop for the night, as the section North of here is one I've driven in a car before (in fact I've driven much of Route 66 in Missouri in a car -- it's where I first got the "bug" if you will to drive the old road) and I didn't want to miss it.  Springfield is a fairly big town, with a state University and a number of Holly Roller colleges.  I really am in the buckle of the Bible Belt -- having past Oral Roberts University, The Baptist Bible College, and the Assembly Of God Seminary just to name a few -- all since Tulsa.  I pulled off the road to call Holiday Inn and it turns out there was a nice brand new Holiday Inn Express right on the Old Road through town.  I pulled up, and noticed it sat right next to the local AAA Baseball field with a game tonite, and even better -- across the street was a vintage Stake-N-Shake!  Now this is the chain I'd like to see come to Seattle rather than In-N-Out.
Steak--N-Shake is an early chain that is another Route 66 icon in Illinois and Missouri -- they've since spread to other Southern states.  The burgers are great (steak burgers, not hamburgers), as are the shakes, so after a nice shower where I washed off a ton of sun screen and black road grime, I walked across the street and enjoyed dinner with the post-ballgame crowd.  I only did a little over 320 miles today -- but it was, aside from the heat, as near a perfect day on the road as you can get -- no Interstate miles, the ghost of the old road, and small town America getting ready for a holiday weekend, topped off with Steak-N-Shake.  It doesn't get much better.

There are more pictures from the ride on my FaceBook album:

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