We crossed into Missouri around 11:30am on day 2 and drove straight to our first stop in Missouri, the Chain of Rocks Bridge or, more specifically, the New Chain of Rocks Bridge because there is more than one Chain of Rocks bridge.
When we arrived at the bridge I was perplexed. How could a bridge as basic as the bridge standing before us be considered a “must-do” while traveling Route 66?
We chalked the bridge up to being another dud and it was only until yesterday when I started researching this blog post that I came to learn that the bridge above is the NEW Chain of Rocks bridge.
We followed Google Maps to its “Chain of Rocks” pin to find the bridge above but it looked nothing like the Chain of Rocks bridge photos on the National Park Service website. This is because Google Maps brought us to the New Chain of Rocks Bridge, not the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge.
The New Chain of Rocks Bridge carries vehicular traffic and the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge carries foot and bicycle traffic. The historic Route 66 [Old] Chain of Rocks Bridge is much further downstream from where we were standing. I have photos facing south from where I was standing in the photo above and there is no other bridge (aka Old Chain of Rocks Bridge) in the photos nor do I remember seeing another bridge downstream.
It’s a damn shame that we ended up at New Chain of Rocks Bridge instead of it’s older version because the older version looks very cool.
After the bridge disappointment, it was time to fuel up the Corvette so we pulled into a gas station and chatted with a motorcycle couple who were on a return journey to Ohio from Houston. I do not know how many miles roundtrip they were driving but they only had backpacks and were wearing leather and I was not sure how they were still alive in their hot clothing in the heat and humidity of the midwest and Houston.
Our next stop was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri. I have wanted to see this arch for as long as I can remember and this was the highlight of the trip for me. Sure, slot canyons and Horseshoe Bend were neat but the Gateway Arch was really neat.
I had it in my head that the arch was going to be smaller than I anticipated but it was actually bigger. Much, much bigger. It’s huge!
We parked illegally in the cathedral parking lot located near the arch and my dad waited at the car whilst I ran like a little school girl around the arch taking photos and trying to get the best angles. It is a difficult structure to photograph because of its size.
Below are two photos to help with perspective. Those trees aren’t seedlings…
I learned from my dad prior to arrival at the arch that there is an interior elevator that ferries people to the top of the arch where there are windows to peer out at the landscape. I did not go to the top of the arch due to time but certainly would have if we had properly parked the car and were not absolutely starving.
The Gateway Arch is a must-do.
We’d been on the road for 5.5 hours by the time we left the Gateway Arch and I was famished so we stopped and got a quick bite to eat and then shared a frozen custard (the “mini” is more than enough for two people) from Ted Drewes Frozen Custard. Ted Drewes was one of two historic Route 66 restaurants we stopped at; the other was a historic diner in New Mexico.
Ted Drewes has been selling custard for 80 years and in the winter, they sell hand-selected Christmas trees from their tree farm in Nova Scotia, Canada.
I am not a custard (frozen or otherwise) kind of gal but I’m still dreaming of our Oreo custard from Ted Drewes nearly two months after stopping eating it and I will be working off those calories through 2020.
Our original itinerary included many stops in St. Louis but we did not have the time to stop at all of them. I underestimated the amount of time each stop would take when we planned the itinerary and the second and third days of our trip were extremely long with approximately 10 hours of driving plus stops each day.
If I had to do it all over again, I would schedule a maximum of six hours of driving per day through the states of Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma/Texas, and New Mexico. By the end of day 3, we were in Tulsa and it would have been beneficial if we had an extra day in there and arrived in Tulsa on day 4.
Anyway, my closing thought on St. Louis is this: I want to spend a long weekend there exploring the city.
Our third and final stop in Missouri was to the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins. This is not a typical Route 66 stop nor will you see it on most Route 66 itineraries but it looked cool so we thought we would swing by, fully aware that it was a longish detour off of Route 66/US 44.
We took exit 135 off of US 44 toward the tiny town of Sleeper. Google estimated that it would take 30 minutes to get to the ruins from US 44 but Google did not take into account that a long section of the road was gravel and that the maximum speed in a Corvette on a gravel road is 10 mph. I never imagined that any point during this road trip that would we be driving a Corvette down a gravel road but there we were getting dusty.
If I remember correctly, it took us 45 minutes to get to the ruins from US 44. The ruins are located on an outcrop high above Lake of the Ozarks. Lake of the Ozarks is a man-made lake that was created by a dam in 1931. At the time of completion, the lake was the largest man-made lake in the US and one of the largest in the world. Reports differ but it is a widely accepted fact that eight small towns/settlements were permanently submerged in order to create the lake.
The lake has 1,150 mi / 1,851 km of shoreline and its unique shape has given it the nickname “The Magic Dragon”. The lake spans four counties and is situated in a heavily wooded area.
There are nearly 70,000 homes along the lake and the lake sees around 5 million visitors per year. I hope to be one of these visitors one day.
If you choose to visit the Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins, understand that “castle” is a bit misleading. The ruins are of a mansion dreamt up by Robert Snyder in 1905. He purchased 5,000 acres of land and imported stonemasons from Europe to build his dream European mansion but died in 1906 in a car accident, one of Missouri’s first.
Upon Robert’s death, his sons carried on with the work and the mansion was completed in 1922. One of the sons lived in the mansion until the family’s money ran out. Thereafter, the mansion was turned into a hotel that operated until 1942 when it was destroyed by a fire. The state of Missouri purchased the property in the 1970s and can now be enjoyed by visitors like my dad and me.
The “main house” structure is roped off but the daring can climb over the fence or crawl under the rope and step inside what is left of the mansion. Enter at your own risk, the structure does not look 100% stable. Due to the wooded surroundings, getting a good wide-angle photo of the ruins is not possible.
In the opposite direction of the car park is the property’s water tower. Water was pumped up from the lake and stored in the tower. The water tower was damaged by a fire in 1976 but you’d never know it looking at the structure today. It is in great condition and it looks European-y.
Protip: If you need to go pee whilst visiting the ruins, the backside of the water tower is a good spot to do so but you didn’t hear that from me.
Bladders empty, we hopped back into the very dusty Corvette and drove another 2.5 hours to the Oklahoma state line. It’s all about the state that looks like a sauce pan with a broken bottom in the next post so stay tuned.