On the morning of August 18th, we woke up early to eat a last meal with Alex and Kevin before heading back on Route 66 again. It was sad to say goodbye to them, and we didn’t really want to leave, but all good things have to come to an end, and we really needed to be in southern Illinois in good time for the eclipse! And I know that I’ll see Alex again someday, either in Denmark or again in Oklahoma.
For most of the day, we drove on actual Route 66 road. It was lovely to finally get off the highway and see some real American countryside and village life.
Our first stop was in the tiny Oklahoman village of Stroud, where the famous Rock Café is located. This is a historic café/restaurant, which got its name from the local sandstone used in the construction of the building – so it has little to do with rock ‘n’ roll! It was built in 1936 during the Dust Bowl era of the Great Depression. After being closed for several decades, it was rebuilt after a fire in 2008 and reopened in 2009.
The woman who owns the Rock Café, Dawn Welch, is a long-time promoter of the historical Route 66 in Oklahoma, and was actually the basis for the character Sally Carrera in the animated film Cars, which I watched many many years ago.
We weren’t hungry after our large breakfast, so we just had a look inside, took some pictures, and then we were off again!
Tulsa was the next city that we came to along the route. Tulsa is the second-largest city in Oklahoma with a population of just over 400,000 people.
One of Alex’ friends had recommended us to see and experience the Center of the Universe, which is just as mysterious as it sounds. It’s basically just a small concrete circle in the middle of a larger circle of bricks, but it’s an acoustic anomaly, meaning that when you stand in the center of the circle and make a noise, the noise is echoed back much louder than it was made. Also, no one standing outside of the circle can hear it! It’s quite an interesting phenomenon that even scientists can’t explain.
A few meters from the Center of the Universe stands another one of Tulsas landmarks, the Artificial Cloud monument, created in 1991 on the premise that more people would look at the rusting steel cloud than at actual clouds. It was created to draw attention to pollution and other destructive practices that we humans do to our Earth. Thus, the sculpture’s surface has been allowed to rust in order to show the effect of time and the atmosphere.
Next along the road was the Blue Whale near Catoosa, another Route 66 roadside attraction. It was built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as a surprise anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, who collected whale figurines. It has since become one of the most recognizable attractions along the historical Route 66, and a favourite place for locals to swim and hang out.
We climbed the whale and watched the turtles and fish in the water for a while. It was a lovely little nature break!
Then we drove to Miami, a small town in Northeast Oklahoma, not to be confused with the city of Miami in Florida.
Miami is home to the historic Coleman Theatre, built in 1929 with a most elegant interior and Revival style exterior. It was funded by the local mining magnate and multimillionaire, George Coleman, who wanted to give Miami and Route 66 travellers the very best entertainment in beautiful surroundings. It has been the center of entertainment in the area ever since!
Oklahoma had been a great Route 66 state with a lot of original road to follow, especially after Oklahoma City (heading east).
The state of Kansas is also represented on the Route 66, although only by a short 11 miles stretch. Thus, this short stretch retains much of the character of the old historical road.
We entered Kansas in the early afternoon, arriving in the village of Baxter Springs. A few more miles along the road towards Riverton stands the famous Rainbow Curve Bridge over Brush Creek. The bridge was built in 1923 as a single-span concrete marsh arch bridge, and is the only surviving bridge of this type on the entire Route 66. The bridge has often been covered with colourful graffiti (hence the name), but has recently been repainted white.
Two miles further along the road is another sight in the Kansas part of Route 66, the Eisler Brothers Old Riverton Store. This store was built in 1925, and has been operating along the Route 66 since a year before the route officially opened. The shop sells normal groceries, flowers and other products, as well as Route 66 souvenirs and local handicrafts.
Shortly after the store, we left Kansas behind and entered the state of Missouri, the third state of the day. We drove to an old Route 66 Drive-in Theater, which we really wanted to try, but unfortunately, it was closed.
While driving on the highway in Missouri, we spotted a man with a Southern States flag standing on a bridge above the highway. It goes to show that the independence movement for the southern states is still very much alive.
We also saw a house on fire next to the highway that day – what a day!
We had planned to spend the night in Springfield, so we drove there next and had some dinner at Alli’s Family Restaurant. The food was delicious and the waitress was so lovely. A customer also left us 6 USD because he thought we were cute and he left before we could even see him. Needless to say, we loved this restaurant.
In Springfield, we decided to stay at a motel for the night, as we would be spending the next two nights in the car, as everything was already booked in Illinois for the upcoming total solar eclipse event. Unfortunately, there was an event going on in Springfield that weekend too, so everything was either booked or rather expensive. We ended up staying at Ozark Inn Springfield, paying 75 dollars for a room… It was over my budget, but we had nowhere else to go.
The next morning, we decided to make a trip to the Fantastic Caverns before hitting the road again. This is the most famous sight in Springfield.
The Fantastic Caverns are naturally formed caves, which were first discovered by John Knox and his dog in 1862. The existence of the cave was kept a secret for five years, until February 27th 1867, when twelve women from Springfield Women’s Athletic Club were allowed access to the cave. They were the first explorers of the cave, and they carved their names into a rock as grafitti, which can still be seen today.
In the 1950s, the cave was named “Fantastic Caverns”, and was used to host music concerts from the 1950s through to the 1970s.
Our tour lasted for about an hour, where we saw quite a bit of the cave by a jeep-drawn tram that drove along the path left behind by an ancient underground river. We had a lovely guide called Russ, who told us all about its formation and history since it was discovered in 1862. It was definitely worth spending the morning on!
We left Springfield after exploring the Fantastic Caverns in the morning and headed towards the tiny town of Cuba 200+ miles away. On the way, we passed by the town of Lebanon – they are very creative with town names in Missouri, as you can see 😉
From Cuba, there is a 17 kilometer stretch of original Route 66 road, which we followed until we had to turn back onto the highway. There isn’t much original Route 66 road left in Missouri, but we followed it all that we could. Missouri is a very pretty state to travel through as it’s extremely rich in lush forests and lakes.
We then set our gps to drive another 85 miles to St. Louis, the biggest city in Missouri and a hotspot on Route 66. In 2016, St. Louis was the most dangerous city in the USA with the second highest murder rate per capita. Thus, we weren’t keen on spending any time in the city, so we only drove through it to see its most famous Route 66 sight, the old Chain of Rocks Bridge, built in 1929.
St Louis is divided into two states, Missouri and Illinois, with the most part being in Missouri. In our attempt to find the bridge, we actually managed to cross the Mississippi River between the two states three times.
We were now finally in Illinois, our chosen state for the upcoming eclipse!
10 miles northeast of St Louis on the Illinois side lies one of America’s most interesting archaeological sites, the Cahokia Mounds. This is the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city from 600-1400 AD. The area covers 3,5 square miles and contains 80 human-made earthen mounds, which is only a small part of the ancient city, which once covered 6 square miles. The Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site in the United States, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
We didn’t spend much time at the mounds, as the weather was simply too hot, but it was definitely an interesting place to see – especially since I’ve read about it at uni for one of my courses!
Then the time had finally come to drive towards our chosen destination for the eclipse, Makanda, a small town near Carbondale, the biggest town on the eclipse path in southern Illinois. Here, we had a full day of Amish adventures before the much-anticipated day of the Great American Eclipse!