“Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain and the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain.” – Oklahoma, The Musical
Miles Traveled: 319.4
I was really looking forward to today as it was Day 1 of driving Route 66! Since I had a good head start on the day from the extra driving yesterday, I decided to take a little detour to add a state to my trip and to get on Route 66 a little farther up. Sure it was a completely round-about way to get to my final destination of the day, but so worth it. So I headed north to Joplin, Missouri to start my Route 66 classic roadside Americana adventure in my pretty little surrey with the fringe on the top.
Now when you think of old, historic Route 66 – America’s Main Street from Chicago to Santa Monica – you think, classic American roadside nostalgia. Old filling stations, unusual attractions, rusty gold, old towns, and a place you can soak in the history. At least that’s what I envisioned. So as I arrived in Joplin, Missouri I got on Route 66 and I was ready to feel the historical vibe. And then I passed the Target shopping center. Then the Subway. Then the Sonic and Walgreens. And for the love of all things that are Holy, I passed Walmart. Like seriously? Hmpf. My grandiose illusions of time travel were shattered right off the bat! Now I will admit that I did little research on this section of Route 66 since it wasn’t in the original plan so I wasn’t really sure what to expect! But, I stopped to get out the Jeep and officially step foot in Missouri before crossing the state-line into Kansas. Missouri – check – I leave you with the fondest of memories.
Kansas has a bit of a unique history with Route 66, in fact Route 66 traverses the state of Kansas for only about 13 miles. But it is packed with classic, dusty r66 landmarks. Ok – so as I walk through the stops I made of r66, I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet, because the pictures show what this old highway is all about. First stop in Kansas was Galena, which is an old mining town that dates back to the late 1800s. It is home to the battered old tow truck that apparently inspired the one in the movie Cars (which they have taken full advantage of by giving the rusty gold bucket eyeballs and buck-teeth – the poor truck). It is also home to the most expensive postcard I have ever purchased…at a whopping $2. So much for my inexpensive travel souvenir project!
I passed through Riverton, where I located a more reasonable $0.35 postcard at the Old Riverton Store, across the famed Rainbow Bridge and into Baxter Springs. Stopped at the Baxter Springs museum to learn a little history of the old town, which turns out to be one of the first cowtowns in Kansas dating back to the mid 1800s. The mining, and once a highly acclaimed resort area, town also was the center of quite a bit of Civil War history as well. Fun fact about Baxter Springs: During the late 1930s and 40s, the local baseball team (The Whiz Kids) began to get national attention as the result of the very talented Mickey Mantle playing on the team. Mickey Mantle was from Commerce, OK (just south of Baxter Springs) off r66.
Next up was Oklahoma. Oklahoma is where Route 66 starts to get a little tricky to find. The old highway was been rerouted quite a few times, so I really had to pay attention to the signage – and thank goodness I had my handy Route 66 book because it came in handy explaining what the original route was. I tried to stick to the original route as best as possible (and where possible). I drove through Quapaw, Commerce (home of Mickey Mantle and a super super old Dairy Queen), and into Miami – all boasting classic old downtown areas with great signage and old businesses. From Miami, there were a few different routes that you could take to be on at least one of the r66 realignments. I, of course, chose the most unique section and headed down the old 9-foot wide road between Narcissa and Afton. This section was a bit of a bumpy ride, but what can one expect for a road that was the primary route between 1921 and 1937. So SO cool. And there was no one around when I was standing in the middle of the road taking pictures – so no one panic, please! I learned this little slice of heavenly highway was known as the “Sidewalk Highway” – fitting, since that’s about how wide it is!
I passed through Claremore on my way to one of the day’s highlights – and an example of the crazy things you can find along r66. Enter the giant, 80-foot, blue whale right on the side of the highway. I kid you not. This really happened. The best part of this gem of a roadside attraction is the story behind it. A zoo curator built this whale as an anniversary gift for his wife in the 70s. I bet she was real impressed. Let’s break down this ‘situation’ for the poor gentleman who likely had good intentions yet ended up with one angry wife, shall we. Couple of things we can check off on the ‘Reasons why this didn’t end well’ list (I’m assuming the ending was less than fabulous – I don’t actually know this part of the history): 1. It’s a whale 2. It’s a whale that you gifted to your wife (she more than likely took this as you calling her fat) 3. It was an anniversary gift (pretty sure ‘large blue whale’ isn’t one of the traditional anniversary themed gifts 4. It’s a whale!
Blue Whales…in Oklahoma? Groundbreaking.
It’s no baby kangaroo at a BBQ joint, but I was quite impressed!! Awesome piece of roadside Americana.
Route 66 takes you through Tulsa – to be honest I have absolutely no idea if I was in fact following the correct route through the big city. I just did what the GPS said because it was quite confusing – not well marked in the big city! After successfully (I’m assuming) navigating my way through Tulsa, I headed on to Stroud, OK to end my day. If I had thought my hotel in Apalachicola wasn’t optimal – imagine the scene in Stroud, Oklahoma. I can only hope that I survive the night, and can 100% guarantee it will be an early check-out in the morning! Alice, you can sigh with relief that you are not in this Best Western!
All in all – excellent day on Route 66! Can’t wait to do it again tomorrow as I head into the panhandle of Texas.
Until next time…
(for the map lovers – having some technical challenges with a trip total map with so many stops….working on this and will update the post later…please be patient!)