Missouri, Saturday, March 22, 2008

While I-44 has replaced the Mother Road in Missouri, there remains plenty of drivable old road across the "Show Me" state: a delight of small towns and nice folks. When I crossed the state line, I remembered Rich Henry's advice to avoid rolling through St. Louis and take instead an alternate alignment out of town. Since he'd ridden big rigs throughout this part of the country, I took seriously his warning about the flooding at the Merrimac River that had played havoc with motorists the day before. And from what I've heard, he just might have saved me several hours of waiting for standing water to recede even from I-44. My detour rejoined the main alignment near the Gardenway Motel, which seems still to be doing business. By this point, the clouds were giving way to sunshine and I was looking ahead, wondering if I might make Lebanon by nightfall. Staying on the interstate, I could be there in a couple of hours, but my plan was to drive the slow road through Sullivan [see my blog-post on Shamrock Court], Cuba, and around Devil's Elbow. Each proved to be as wonderful as I remembered.

Along with its wonderful collection of murals, Cuba boasts the Wagon Wheel Motel, a gorgeous assemblage of cottages built of Ozark stone. And now the town offers a terrific new BBQ joint called the Missouri Hick. The food is tasty and the bathroom (the guys' room, at least) is as close to an outhouse as you're likely to want to get.

Driving through hill country, I felt compelled to get to Devil's Elbow, the famed divided road whose postcard was one of my original visions of Route 66, before sundown. I remembered the last time I was here, driving through in 2005 on my first long-distance trip alone. I practically stumbled onto this alignment, not knowing quite how I got here. Standing on that tall-grass median under a blue sky, not hearing a car in my solitude, I remember distinctly the feeling that I was having one of the best days of my life. I couldn't explain why, but that first visit to the Elbow stuck with me. I knew that this return could never recreate my first stop here, and I didn't mind. It was enough just to stand once more. After a while I thought I'd head back toward the location of John's Modern Cabins, one of the most famed relics on the entire highway. But to my dawning sadness, the place seems to have been swallowed at last by the forest.

By this time the night was falling fast, and I was ready for a good night's sleep. Once more I headed for the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon. Just as always, I planned to quickly grab a key and head for one of those gorgeous rooms, but I ended up chatting with Ramona, an owner of the place (with her husband Bob) since 1971. I've talked with countless people who have known these folks for years, and not a single person has anything but appreciation and gratitude for the Lehmans and their maintenance of one of the single nicest motels in the country. I didn't select one the Munger Moss's theme rooms, though I couldn't help but chuckle at the prospect of Route 66 theme rooms on Route 66. Yet even my standard unit came with pictures of other Mother Road icons. I've traveled two days and I have so far to go. [Continue...]

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All text and photos copyright Andrew Wood