May 4th-6th, 2014: Springfield, Missouri to Oologah Lake, OK
Distance: 150 miles
We departed somewhat regrettably from Springfield, Missouri, after a fantastic couple of nights spent enjoying the surprising amount of entertainment the area had to offer. We wanted to stay longer but knew we had to keep on rolling, with there being so many miles of Route 66 still ahead of us!
Taking a look ahead, we realized that Springfield to Oklahoma City was 286 miles – too long of a drive for one day. Trying to drive it all meant we’d have to rush through many of the roadside attractions that make up the spirit of the Mother Road – an experience that we were trying to enjoy to its fullest. With few promising options for campgrounds in and around Tulsa, and feeling a little burnt out on city dwelling after a two-week stint in St. Louis, we decided we’d get back to nature and find a scenic spot to camp mid-way (or thereabouts).
Missouri Route 66 between Springfield and Carthage was one of the more beautiful stretches we’d seen so far – rolling hills, wooden barns, remains of Route 66 roadside attractions, and most importantly, no view of the interstate!
Our first noteworthy stop on the Mother Road that day was 25 miles west of Springfield at the infamous Gay Parita Sinclair Station in Paris Springs. The owner, Gary Turner, built this station as a replica of the original (now long gone) and has completely decorated it with vintage gas pumps, signs, vintage cars and trucks.
We had a nice chat with Gary about our Airstream, the history of his station and the road, and he drew us a very elaborate map with all the restaurants we “must” stop at. He, like so many on this trip, went out of his way to be kind and helpful. We headed on our way after he took a quick photo of us holding a Route 66 flag (he does this for every visitor) and gave us an autographed picture of his service station. If you drive Route 66, plan to spend some time at this place – he’s usually sitting on the porch just waiting for someone to stop and say hello!
Not much further down the road, we crossed a pair of 1920s bridges and stopped for a quick photo at one of them.
We also passed the iconic 66 Drive-In, located in Carthage, Missouri. The drive-in was revived by locals after many years of being closed (1985-1998). Today it looks much like it did when it initially opened in 1949, with art-deco styling and the original neon sign at the road.
After passing through Joplin, Missouri we crossed into Kansas, which lays claim to a mere 13 miles of Route 66! It’s also the only state where none of Route 66 was bypassed by an interstate, so it has a lot of roadside attractions still operating and packed into a relatively short distance.
Galena, Kansas boasts several of those interesting stops, including a restored gas station that features the tow truck that was the inspiration for ‘Mater from the movie Cars. It also has a gift shop that was unfortunately closed when we passed through. We quickly learned that Sunday is a bad day to drive through Route 66’s small towns – most of the small businesses were not open!
A few miles later, we suddenly found ourselves in Oklahoma. In 1926, Route 66 stretched 415 miles across Oklahoma! No wonder Kansas felt like it had to prove itself with its 13 miles. Route 66 envy?
We passed by some kitschy roadside stops (all closed on Sunday!) like Waylan’s Ku-Ku Burger in Miami and the historic city of Commerce – Mickey Mantle’s hometown.
South of Miami, Oklahoma we stopped to see a preserved section of the original nine-foot-wide Route 66, paved in 1922. This stretch of road only functioned until 1937, but is still intact and difficult to find unless you know what you’re looking for (another reason to buy the awesome EZ66 Guide!). Since it’s relatively fragile old pavement, heavy vehicles are not allowed on it, and I wouldn’t recommend driving on it even with a small vehicle unless you’re very skilled at avoiding potholes!
Just before the town of Vinita, Oklahoma, we decided that after two nights of boondocking (camping with no electric or water connections) in parking lots and having covered a few hundred miles in the previous few days, we could treat ourselves to a couple nights of rest at a beautiful Army Corps of Engineers park on a nearby lake in Northeast Oklahoma.
Spencer Creek Cove Public Use Area sits on beautiful Oologah Lake, which covers 30,000 acres and has over 200 miles of shoreline. There were several more Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds scattered around the same lake, but this was the closest one to our route and the price was right at $18/night including electric hookups. A modern bathhouse was just steps away with one of the nicest shower setups we’ve seen at a campground – several large private bathrooms, each containing a sink, toilet, and shower. With them not being gender-specific (and having a door that locked) we may have taken advantage of the opportunity to conserve water by showering together. Hey, we try to make sacrifices in the name of the planet whenever possible!
After two nights and one day spent catching up on work, enjoying a canoe excursion with the dogs across the lake, walking along the scenic beach, and cooking a nice dinner to enjoy with our lakeside view, we hitched up our “wagon” and set off down Route 66 once again – this time with our sights set on Oklahoma City!