One of the challenges of motorcycle road trips is trying to find nightly accommodations, you never know where you will be one day to the next. There are so many variables that effect your timing, so trying to book a motel a day or two ahead is somewhat pointless. You have to go with the flow and often times, the closer you are to a big city, the more challenging it becomes to find vacant and affordable rooms without reservations.
Route 66, Busier than Ever
Five or ten years ago, it was easy just to roll into town and take your pick, these days the world is a more crowded place and you have to settle for less. Markus and I had some challenges trying to find a place to sleep the previous night. Most of the hotels and motels just outside St. Louis were booked or were too expensive. Eventually after an hour or so of searching, we had to backtrack about 10 miles east of the city and found a dodgy place off the interstate. It was a motel of last resort, scraping the bottom of the barrel. On the outside it looked decrepit, on the inside it was actually decent.
When I woke up and was loading the bike, I found the biggest moth I have ever seen walking up the outside wall. I have no idea what species this is, but damn, it’s big and furry. I estimated it to be about 11 centimeters across.
Old Chain of Rocks Bridge
Our first Route 66 site was old Old Chain of Rocks Bridge which spans the Mississippi River in North St. Louis. The bridge was built in 1929 to carry motor traffic across Route 66 until it was closed in 1970. One its most noted features is a 22 degree bend in the middle.
The bridge’s name comes from a large shoal, or rocky rapids, called the Chain of Rocks, which made that stretch of the Mississippi extremely dangerous to navigate. Because of a low-water dam built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1960s, little of the Chain of Rocks is visible today except during extreme low water conditions. Today the bridge is open to pedestrians and bicyclists. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
No doubt the most iconic and recognizable feature of St Louis is the 630 foot high Gateway Arch built along the waterfront. Since this was my fourth time motorcycling here, I thought it’s about time I visit the arch and even take one of the elevators to the top. Too bad this was not meant to be.
Sorry, No Arch for You
Much to our chagrin, Markus and I encountered a series of road closures and construction as we made our way to the arch. The labyrinthian path took us into old St. Louis, a quaint, antique and picturesque section of town with gnarly cobblestone streets. My bike shook like hell trying to get over these streets designed for horse and buggy. Eventually we learned the Gateway Arch park was closed. There was no way to get to the top, let alone even find a place to park and get a good photo. So, I had to settle for this crummy image, which I tweaked a bit.
Not The Right Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard
By mid-morning the 100 degree heat and humidity was in full effect, I suggested to Markus we make our way to Ted Drewe’s Frozen Custard, a long standing landmark on old ’66 in St. Louis. Markus punched it into his GPS, said he found the location and I agreed to follow. As his car meandered through the streets, none of it looked familiar to me. I’ve been to Ted Drewe’s three times before and something did not feel right. Eventually, we arrived at Ted Drewe’s, but NOT the one on Route 66. There are two locations and Markus’ GPS selected the other one. Bugger. No matter, they still serve really good frozen custard, so we had a our treat and moved on.
Riding Through the Ozarks to BBQ Heaven
It was time get out St. Louis and head into the Ozarks for a beautiful drive. As we made our way along the Mother Road, Markus and I found an abandoned motel and took a few snapshots.
As our timing was good and I suggested we grab an early supper in Cuba at Missouri Hick BBQ, by far my favourite BBQ place on Route 66. I always make it a point to eat there and once again, it was incredibly tasty. Markus and I ordered the sampler plate with smoked beef brisket, pulled pork shoulder and ribs. He was really impressed with the food and said it was the best he had eaten in America. In fact, my mouth is watering as I’m writing this paragraph, it’s that good.
The Wagon Wheel Motel and Cuba Murals
Right next door to Missouri Hick BBQ is another Route 66 legend, the Wagon Wheel Motel, Café and Station, which has be meticulously restored to its glory days. The motel is alleged to be the longest continuously operating motel on Route 66 and it has been in business for over 75 years. Originally constructed in 1936 as a cafe, the motel has been welcoming visitors since 1938. As of 2010, the new owners have done a great job refurbishing the buildings and the courtyard. Since my last visit in 2013, they have added a few touches, such as antique cars and a few more neon signs.
Like many Route 66 towns, Cuba is known for its historically themed Route 66 murals. Over the years I have collected my share of mural photos from Cuba. For Markus, this was all new fodder and I had a cigar while he went about photographing several murals.
World’s Largest Rocking Chair
Less than 20 minutes west of Cuba, we stopped in Fanning to see the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. Measuring 42′ 1″ tall and 20′ 3″ wide, it is a roadside attraction designed to attract visitors to the Fanning Route 66 Trading Post. Unfortunately, the trading post closed at 5 PM which is a shame since it sells a wide variety of Route 66 themed clothing, souvenirs and hunting supplies. They even have an indoor archery range.
Rolla: Historic Mule Trading Post and an Interview
It was already late in the day and we knew businesses would be closing, so Markus and I decided to head out to the Mule Trading Post in Rolla, MO. Frank Ebling founded the Mule Trading Post in Pacific in 1946. Ebling moved his business to Rolla in 1957 after Interstate 44 bypassed Pacific. This one of a kind store, owned by Carl and Zelma Smith, has been in continuous business at this location since 1957 and offers an incredible array of products. This store has everything such as gifts, antiques, toys, food, collectibles, clothing, footwear, knives, swords, Route 66 memorabilia and more. If I was driving a car and had trunk space, I would have gone on a shopping spree.
A kind gentleman named, Carol Carr, was gracious enough to grant me an interview and talk a bit about the history of the the Mule Trading post. I made this little video about the store and inserted the interview.
Right beside the Mule Trading Post is another Route 66 fixture, the Mule Tobacco Barn, made famous by the giant hillbilly with rotating arms. By the time we left the trading post, the business had closed for the day and the arms were turned off. I guess I’ll have to wait for my next Route 66 trip to visit the Mule Tobacco Barn and see the hillbilly’s windmill arms in motion.
Great Neon at Munger Moss Motel
We drove along the Mother Road to Lebanan, MO, home of the historic Munger-Moss Motel. The most striking feature of this place is the impressive neon sign, which has become a tourist attraction and a lure to photographers worldwide. The impressive sign was constructed in the 1950’s to help compete with corporate motel chains, such as Holiday Inn, which were taking business away from independently own motels. The neon sign was fully restored in 2010 with a grant from the National Park Service. This sign really looks impressive at night and it’s not too bad in daylight either.
Here’s a little video of the motel sign just as it was turned on. I wish it was just a bit darker outside when I shot this.
Route 66 Rail Haven Motel. A Corporate Motel with a Soul
From Lebanon, Markus and I made our way to Springfield, MO and booked rooms at the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven Motel. I was really impressed that a corporate chain restored this motel to its former glory days and remained faithful to the spirit of the Mother Road. The original buildings date back to 1938, when it was known as the Rail Haven Motor Court. What a treat to stay in such a unique and beautiful place, a fitting way to end the day Route 66 style!
So, going back to my first paragraph on this post about finding accommodations on road trip, it’s just a matter of timing and good luck 🙂