Dec 172013
 

On this day it ends where it started.  On September 4th, 2013, we had come full circle on our Route 66 trip since the day would end in Joliet, IL, where Route 66 begins.  It was going to be a bittersweet day indeed.  I knew that on the following day, the magic of the Mother Road would now become memory and the full weight of the soulless modern world would be upon me.

I was still looking forward to the day since was a chance to visit some great Missouri sites we missed on our way to Arizona.  The main attraction is the famous Meramec Caverns near Stanton, MO.  Nobody who travels though Missouri can ignore this place, over 60 billboards advertise it along the Interstate.

Our morning departure from Cuba, MO was a pleasant one and by mid-morning, the temperature had climbed to 100 f (38 c) accompanied by high humidity.   Suffice it say, it was not long before we felt the heat.  When we arrived at Meramac Caverns, we noticed dozens of Harley-Davidsons parked outside.   This is not an uncommon scene along Route 66, however, this group had a twist: they were all from Europe.  A tour company had organized a Route 66 excursion complete with rented Harley Davidsons and multilingual road captains.  The deal is you land in Chicago, get your rented Harley and take Route 66 all the way to the pacific ocean in Los Angeles.  I was surreal to see dozens of people who look every bit the classic American biker, yet hear German, French, Italian and Dutch spoken.  If English was spoken it was with  Scottish accent.

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Euro Bikers at Meremac Caverns

Euro Bikers at Meramec Caverns

Meremec Caverns is steeped in history, folklore and kitsch.  It has been a popular destination of Route 66 travelers since the 1940’s and is still going strong today as a privately owned business.   From Wikipedia:

The Meramec Caverns have existed for the past 400 million years, slowly forming through deposits of limestone.  In centuries past, Native Americans used the cavern system for shelter. The first cave west of the Mississippi River to be explored by Europeans, it was discovered in 1722 by a French miner.During the 18th century, the cave was used for extracting saltpeter for the manufacture of gunpowder.  In the Civil War era, the Union Army used the caves as a saltpeter plant, but the plant was discovered and destroyed by Confederate guerrillas, likely including the future infamous outlaw Jesse James.  According to local legend, James and his brother and partner in crime Frank used the caves as a hideout in the 1870s. However, there is scant historical evidence to support this tradition.  One legend in particular claims that a sheriff tracking the Jameses sat in front of the cave, waiting for Jesse and his gang to emerge; however, they had found another exit.

In 1933, the extended cave system was discovered, revealing the present 4.6 miles (7.4 km), and was introduced to the public as a tourist attraction in 1935 by Lester B. Dill, who invented the bumper sticker as a means of promoting the caverns.

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Clear, Reflecting Water.  Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri 

This was my third visit to the Caverns and Elaine’s first and she was duly impressed.  There’s no shortage of impressive stalactites and stalagmites and other geological formations.  One of the most impressive features of the caves is the crystal clear water which acts as perfectly flat mirror.  Quite the sight and I am glad my camera could capture it.

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Reflections in Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Coloured Lights and Water Mirror.  Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri 

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

After the tour of Meramec Caverns we rode into St Louis through a blast furnace of hot summer air.  I had promised Elaine that we would stop by at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Route 66 in St Louis.   There’s no better way to cool down and there’s no other place I know of that serves flavoured frozen custard.  This is a treat truly unique to Route 66 and St Louis.

Welcome to St. Louis, MO

Welcome to St. Louis, MO

Ted Drewes is always busy and during the summer expect line ups, but it is worth the wait.  It all started when Ted Sr. opened his first ice cream store in Florida in 1929, followed the next year by an other store on Natural Bridge in St. Louis and the South Grand store in 1931. In 1941 the family opened a second south side stand which is the current Chippewa location, old Route 66. By 1958, the south side stands were all that remained.

Ted Drewe's Frozen Custard, St. Louis, MO

Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard, St. Louis, MO

Our final destination of the day was Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust restaurant in St. Louis.  It specializes in Mississippi style soul food and was founded by Robbie Montgomery (“Miss Robbie”) a former background singer for Ike & Tina Turner.   Each week, OWN network records a TV show called “Sweetie Pies” in a small studio built into the restaurant.

It was years since I enjoyed some decent soul food and it was Elaine’s first time.  The food was fantastic, hearty portions and very reasonable prices.  Perhaps the best thing about this place is the people that work there.  In my travels, I found that people from Missouri are among the most friendly and warm anywhere.   We met a remarkable man, a retired police officer who is now the security guard for Sweetie Pies.  We chatted at length about his days in the force, his retirement, his family, St. Louis and more.  He is everything a decent cop should be, it’s  a shame there are not a lot more like him.

Sweetie Pie's Upper Crust, St. Louis, MO

Sweetie Pie’s Upper Crust, St. Louis, MO

One of the perks of riding a Harley with a foreign license plate is that you invariably attract the attention of strangers and the conversation usually begins with “You are a long way from home”.   So began the conversation as we were leaving Sweetie Pie’s.  The gentleman who inquired about our travels is the brother in-law of “Miss Robbie” Montgomery.   After our chat, he invited us to attend Miss Robbie’s birthday next June.  I will definitely take him up on his offer should we have the good fortune to be in St. Louis.

It was back on the Interstate for a long, cold ride to Joliet, IL.  In just a few short hours we had gone from sauna like heat in Missouri to below seasonal temperatures for Illinois.   Both the hot weather and the Mother Road were now consigned to memory.  Sadly, our last encounter with Route 66 was in the middle of the night.   Moreover, our motel was not actually on Route 66 since Joliet is not exactly the safest place. We settled for a Red Roof Inn along the interstate.  The cold weather, the corporate logos and the absence of decades old family businesses meant our journey had come full circle.

I love Route 66, I really do.  There’s no place like it and for me it represents the best of America and the innocence of a simpler time.  What makes it special is not necessarily the history or the echoes from the past, instead, it is the unique, sincere and decent people who keep it alive.  Every few years I must reconnect with the Mother Road to find my soul again.  I will keep coming back again and again as long as I can.  What a great trip this has been and in my heart, I relive it everyday.

It was going to be a long ride tomorrow back to Canada.

Dec 102013
 

After nearly 3 weeks on the road, I had nearly forgotten what traffic looks like.  I was spoiled and that was about to end, our morning ride out of Tulsa, OK was during rush hour and we got the full brunt of traffic.  A sort of preparatory exercise for returning back home.  Fortunately, our morning was not encumbered for more than a half hour and we were soon on the open road again.

Our first stop was the Route 66 Park, just outside of Tulsa.  I was expecting a bit more on Route 66, but the main attraction was an old steam locomotive towing a passenger car and a caboose as well as some other rail cars on display.  The size of this old machine was quite impressive and it looked really good painted deep blue.  Somehow these steam era machines seem to have souls compared to their modern counterparts.

Route 66 Park, Tulsa, Okahoma

Route 66 Park, Tulsa, Okahoma

Route 66 Park, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Route 66 Park, Tulsa, Oklahoma

After shooting some photos and enjoying a cigar, it was back on the Mother Road towards Catoosa, OK to visit the well loved Blue Whale Park.  The Blue Whale was built in 1972 by Hugh S. Davis and Harold Thomas.  This remarkable structure was built for Davis’ family and took over 2900 hours to complete and eventually became a popular spot for local kids and tourists to climb the whale, jump off the tail, slide down the fins and play in the water.  It remained in use until 1988 and the pond is no longer safe for swimming.  Since then, its popularity never waned and receives thousands of visitors annually.

Blue Whale Park, Catoosa, Oklahoma

Blue Whale Park, Catoosa, Oklahoma

This was my third visit to the Blue Whale and each time it brings back memories of being a kid in simpler times.  It was Elaine’s first time seeing this famous Route 66 roadside attraction and fell in love with it.  For more information, history and vintage photos, be sure to visit the official Blue Whale website.

Blue Whale Park, Catoosa, Oklahoma

Blue Whale Park, Catoosa, Oklahoma

For years I had wanted to see the world’s largest totem pole at Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park in Foyil, OK.  I had bypassed this landmark on my last two Route 66 trips, namely because it is not quite on Route 66.  The actual location is 3.5 miles (6 km) east of Route 66 and Foyil.  So, we made our detour, went down a country road, passed a number of farms and small houses and turned into this unassuming property to witness the incredible life’s work of Ed Galloway.

World's Largest Totem Pole,  Foyil, Oklahoma

World’s Largest Totem Pole, Foyil, Oklahoma

In 1937, manual arts teacher, Ed Galloway retired and moved his family to a small farm near Foyil.  He then embarked on a project to complete a colossal totem pole using modern building materials.  The 90 foot (27 m) totem pole and park took over 11 years to complete.  It required 6 tons of steel, 28 tons of cement and 100 tons or rock and sand.  The totem pole is adorned with 200 carved pictures with four, nine foot Indian chiefs near the top.  The park is kept in pristine condition through donations and volunteers.

World's Largest Totem Pole,  Foyil, Oklahoma

World’s Largest Totem Pole, Foyil, Oklahoma

In addition to several totem poles, the park also features Galloway’s 11 sided “fiddle house” that is supported inside and out by 25 concrete totem poles.  Contained therein are dozens of fiddles made by Galloway and each one is made out of a different kind of wood, some from the other side of the globe.

Ed Galloway's Fiddle House and Souvenir Shop

Ed Galloway’s Fiddle House and Souvenir Shop

Some of Ed Galloway's Hand Made Fiddles

Some of Ed Galloway’s Hand Made Fiddles

I was astonished and inspired to see that the vision and hard work of just one man created Totem Pole Park.  The 90 foot totem pole is definitely impressive, but it pales in comparison to Ed Galloway the man.

After Foyil, we rejoined Route 66 and continued the trek back home.  We no longer had any set agenda for the day and would just let the spur of the moment dictate where to stop.  A small curio store in Chelsea caught our eye and we decided to take a look.

Route 66 Mall, Chelsea, Oklahoma

Route 66 Mall, Chelsea, Oklahoma

An elderly couple and just bought the place and re-opened it for business.  The new owners bought this place for a mere $14,000 and they did not even know what was inside this old store!  They were two of the kindest people one could ever hope to meet.  Inside one found all manner of antiques, collectibles, souvenirs, t-shirts and countless other objects.  I purchased another t-shirt and the owners gave us some free key chains as a memento.

Route 66 Mall, Chelsea, Oklahoma

Route 66 Mall, Chelsea, Oklahoma

Our final Route 66 stop for the day was the famous and fantastic Clanton’s Cafe in Vinita, OK.   It first opened its doors in 1927 and has become a Vinita tradition for generations.  Clanton’s was recently featured on the TV show “Diners Drive-Ins and Dives”.  Rest assured this place is no dive, the decor inside is full of Route 66 nostalgia and the food is as good as can be for a small family restaurant.  It has also been featured in Gourmet Magazine for its Chicken Fried Steak.

Vinita, Oklahoma

Clanton’s Cafe,Vinita, Oklahoma

Inside Clanton's Cafe

Inside Clanton’s Cafe

We left Clanton’s Cafe late in the afternoon and rode out to Cuba, MO.  Clear skies during dusk meant we had to throw on a few layers since the temperature was dropping like a stone.  We arrived in Cuba after 9:30, too late to enjoy another fine rack of ribs at Missouri Hick BBQ.  Cuba is one of those towns where the sidewalks are rolled up after 9 PM, so we had to settle for a mediocre pizza at Pizza Hut.

We put down over 350 miles (563 km) on the Harley and were on the last two days of a memorable trip.  I was look forward to returning to the Toronto area as much as a person looks forward to cancer.

Dec 022013
 

One of the great things about road trips is that if you miss out on seeing places on the first leg of the journey, one has the option of visiting them on the way back.  When we rode out to Arizona, we missed out on several Route 66 sites in Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas and our journey back home provided ample opportunity to explore them.

We left Amarillo in the morning and cruised through sunny skies to our first stop at a trading post along Route 66 in Alanreed, Texas.  This place served as the town’s post office, convenience store, souvenir shop and gas station.  Yes, Alanreed is a very small town indeed.

State Spur 271, Alanreed, Texas

State Spur 271, Alanreed, Texas

After Alanreed, I decided to make a stop in McLean, Texas, which is another small Route 66 town.  Although there is not much to see, there is the historic Avalon movie theater and we also needed to cool down and re-hydrate.

Avalon Theatre, Route 66, McClean, Texas

Avalon Theatre, Route 66, McClean, Texas

We then rode eastbound to Oklahoma and stopped at a border town appropriately called Texola.  I stumbled upon this great little cafe called the Tumbleweed Grill and Water Hole #2.  It is a relatively new business run by a fascinating free spirited lady who is also a local artist.  Her story is a classic Route 66 tale: she came out to Oklahoma on a road trip, her vehicle broke down and never looked back.  She fell in love with the area and soon opened up this great little place.

Tumbleweed Grill and Waterhole, Texola, Oklahoma

Tumbleweed Grill and Water Hole #2, Texola, Oklahoma 

Elaine and I ordered lunch and we struck up a conversation with three ladies from Alabama who were also doing a Route 66 trip across America.  The trio consisted of a mother, her daughter and a friend.  It was their first time exploring the Mother Road and I happily shared some recommendations of towns and sites worth visiting.  They all rode in a rented SUV that was heavily peppered with dead locusts.

Locust of the Non-Biblical Variety

Locust of the Non-Biblical Variety

The next stopover was Erick, OK, a town seemingly frozen in time since the 1950’s.   Although most of the old buildings are well maintained, the streets were eerily vacant, it was if one had stepped into the aftermath of a recent apocalypse.  The absence of people is readily explained by the mid-day heat which had already surpassed 110F.

Erick, OK.  The Non-Ghost  Town Ghost Town

Erick, OK. The Non-Ghost Town Ghost Town

Random Things, Erick, Oklahoma

Random Things, Erick, Oklahoma

We put down another 140 miles before making a final stop in Oklahoma City.  For years I had wanted to see the famous Braum’s Milk Bottle and finally got the chance.  The Braum’s Milk bottle is one of those iconic images one sees in all Route 66 books, somehow it would just seem like a sin to ignore it.

At one time, the Braum’s Milk building housed an ice-cream shop and a dairy.  Thankfully it is preserved as a historic site and the giant bottle is staying put.  Today, it is a Vietnamese cafe in the “little Vietnam” area of the city.

 

Braum's Milk, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Braum’s Milk, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

This was a nice leisurely day covering only 260 miles on the road.  Perfect weather all along the way and we got to meet some great people.  If only each day could be like this.

Dec 012013
 

Time to take a break from memories of the desert and reveal the snow that now surrounds my world.

Each year, CP rail operates a special holiday train that stops at various points across Canada.  On November 28th, it stopped in Oshawa and Elaine, Mike Aniol and I drove out to see this beautifully lit train.  They also put on a live music show for all ages with the obligatory holiday songs.  The band’s lead singer is Jim Cuddy from Blue Rodeo.

CP Holiday Train 2013

CP Holiday Train 2013

I Am

I Am

I tried to get a few good photos, but the crowds, limited line of sight and darkness made it tough even to get a few marginally acceptable shots.   After the concert concluded we warmed up with some hearty Vietnamese soup.