May 2, 2014: St. Louis, Missouri to Stanton, Missouri
Distance: 67 miles
While we’d have loved to start our Route 66 trip at its eastern terminus in Chicago, we already had plans that involved being in St. Louis for a couple weeks and it just wasn’t practical or cost effective to drive further northeast just to do a stretch of road back southwest.We instead opted to complete that leg of the Mother Road another time. We already knew we wouldn’t be going all the way to the western terminus in California during this trip, so there was no pressure to do the entire road in one go. Oh darn, looks like we now have a reason to do this fun drive again!
Our lovely visit to St. Louis began with sightseeing and catching up with family. Kristin’s parents drove in from Ohio and we were looking forward to spending more time with our good friends Cherie and Chris of Technomadia while they visited their family as well. We were able to easily take advantage of the city’s many attractions by urban camping just across the Mississippi River, in East St. Louis at the Casino Queen RV Park.
The RV park was far from relaxing, with nearly constant traffic and train noise, but it was super convenient to be able to walk across the pedestrian bridge or take the train downtown, so we made the most of being in a noisy parking lot for two weeks. It meant easy access to the people and things we wanted to see and a lot less driving.
Among our favorite activities during our visit to St. Louis were:
- A Cardinals baseball game (beautiful stadium!)
- Forest Park for some dog walking and taking in the beautiful scenery (there’s also a free zoo and art museum)
- The Gateway Arch (the definition of touristy and an exercise in patience, but a rite of passage in STL and a great view)
- The City Museum (it was our first time in this adult playground made of junk and it completely blew us away!)
- The Museum of Transportation (really, really, really cool collection of restored old trains, cars, planes and boats!)
The Budweiser brewery tour (a beer museum, 100+ year old brewery buildings, Clydesdales, gardens, and oh yeah – free beer!)
On our way out of St. Louis and while towing the trailer, we opted not to drive the original Route 66 downtown to see all the urban Route 66 landmarks, mostly due to the difficulty navigating streets that were closed for construction, traffic congestion, and limited parking at many of them. We did hop on a section of Route 66 through the outskirts of downtown to make a stop to Ted Drewe’s historic custard shop (okay, our second trip during our visit – had to be doubly sure that it was really THAT good!) for a frosty “cement” so thick that they can hand you the cup upside down!
On our way out of town we also ooh’d and ahh’d at all the historic signs and businesses along the urban route that survived the years of changes.
Our next stop was Route 66 State Park just outside Eureka, at the site of the Times Beach ghost town. Once home to two thousand people, soil contamination forced the evacuation of Times Beach in 1983. The site has since been cleaned up and turned into a 419-acre public park commemorating Route 66, but there are still remains of the former town, like these bridge supports.
There’s a great little gift shop and free museum dedicated to the town’s history, as well as that of Route 66. We picked up our EZ66 Guide for Travelers by Jerry McClanahan, a ton of brochures, some stickers for our trailer door, and they threw in two free magnets! Well worth a stop, and plenty of parking for RV’s.
Our original plan was to stay at Meramec State Park, but after arriving at the nearby Meramec Caverns to scope them out, we discovered they had a reasonably priced campground with full hookups, so we pulled into a beautiful riverfront campsite and had a chance to charge our batteries, stock up on water, and get some work done. There were only a couple other campers besides us in the entire park, so it made for a very restful night.
We had planned to do the famous Meramec caverns the next morning, but were dissuaded by the price ($20/per person) and the fact that a fleet of school buses showed up just when we had planned to head in. We opted instead to hike a little around the beautiful area surrounding the caverns, peek in the outdoor bat cave entrance (baby bats are fragile, so the cave is closed to the public during this time of the year), and get an earlier start that morning. Next stop: Springfield, Missouri!