May 24, 2022

Historic Route 66 - Enjoying its Delights Along the Way (National Parks Trip #3)

This post represents another installment in the series documenting our West Coast National Parks trip in the summer of 2017.  Alan and I, along with our 18 year old daughter, Kyra, logged a total of 8,513 memorable miles of adventure over the course of five and a half weeks during the months of July and August.

It’s no secret that Alan and I are road-trippers at heart.  I absolutely love our home, love being at home and love coming home to our home.  After varying lengths of time, though, I start to miss life on the road.  Decades ago, when we started traveling together, vacations were a string of truck stops, tent sites, mom and pop motels and fill ups of cheap gas.  We cruised up and down the east coast so often that nearly every interchange on Interstate 95 became familiar.  So, what could possibly make two die-hard road trippers happier than including stops along historic Route 66 in their travels?  Not a thing.

When planning for our West Coast National Parks trip, I didn’t just research the National Parks themselves.  There are plenty of miles in between home and the west coast and lots to see and do within those miles.  At one point, I had borrowed every single book on Route 66 from our regional library system.  That’s my usual plan of attack – borrow first, then buy the most useful.  Over the past five years or so, I’ve purchased a number of Moon Travel Guides.  They tend to focus on local businesses, outdoor recreation, strategic travel planning and sustainability.  No, I don’t get a commission or any other benefit from Moon.  I just really like their travel guides!  I applaud and appreciate the sheer number of details that are always included. As far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as a fact too obscure.  With my “Moon Route 66 Road Trip” travel guide in hand, I worked hard to include a number of historic and just plain fun Route 66 highlights in our travels as we made our way west.

Even the new, larger 2500 looks tiny among the big boys!

When we left home for the third time in three days, we drove for three straight days arriving in Oklahoma City on what had originally been the second night of our two night stay.  (Was that confusing enough for you?)  More to the point, when we arrived in OKC on Sunday night, we had caught up with our itinerary and were back on track.  Unfortunately, hitting OKC a day late meant that we missed out on a full day of exploration that included the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the National Softball Hall of Fame.  (Picture a very sad frowny face here.)  But we did manage to include a few Route 66 highlights on our way to Oklahoma City.

An old Standard Oil station at the Wagon Wheel Motel

The Wagon Wheel Motel in Cuba, Missouri, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is purported to be the oldest continuously operating motel on Route 66.  It’s built from a beautiful limestone called Ozark Stone, and it reportedly still has its original wood doors, windows and floors from the 1930’s.  Unlike some other historic buildings along Route 66, it remains very well kept.  A new neon sign was added in 2013, but the original neon sign from 1947 is still there, facing east and evoking nostalgic memories of a bygone era.

The original neon sign from the 1940's - charming!

While Route 66 covers more than 300 miles in Missouri, it is less than 13 miles long in Kansas.  That doesn’t matter to the good citizens of Kansas; they just make the most of what they have.  Route 66 passes through three towns in southeast Kansas (Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs) that are rich in history - the history of cow towns, mining and Route 66 itself.  As we drove through Baxter Springs, we were delighted to spot the former Independent Oil & Gas Service Station that was built in 1930 at the north end of the Baxter Springs business district.  It was later owned by Philips Petroleum, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.  It now houses the Route 66 Visitor Center which, I think, is a fitting use of and tribute to this iconic building.

The former Independent Oil & Gas Station in Baxter Springs, Kansas

Following the Great Depression, oil companies began standardizing the designs of their service stations, hoping that their brand would be easily spotted and recognized by travelers.  The new designs included automotive “cottages” like the one in Baxter Springs and at the Wagon Wheel Motel in Missouri.  The home-like appearances of these stations were designed to provide customers with a feeling of comfort and security during difficult economic times.

We did drive through Miami, Oklahoma, but didn’t take the time to stop at the historic Coleman Theatre.  Not that we wouldn’t have enjoyed it – there simply just weren’t enough hours in the day to fit in all the great stops along Route 66.  Alan and I have vowed to travel the Mother Road from start to finish on a future trip.  I’m sure we’ll assign that expedition a ridiculous name – something like the “Mother of All Road Trips," for example.  Yup, that sounds about right.

Small towns like Miami, Oklahoma - the backbone of historic Route 66

For those of you who are fans of both our National Parks and historic Route 66, you may find the “Route 66 Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary” of interest.  The itinerary was developed by the Heritage Education Services arm of the National Park Service in conjunction with several other non-profit organizations and businesses.  The itinerary lists many of the Route 66 highlights from east to west, Illinois to California (link HERE).  Note that it doesn’t mention every historic building or attraction along Route 66, but it is a good starting point.  A few travel guides or websites that specialize in travel along the Mother Road will help you color in the rest of this epic journey.

Our next stop along historic Route 66 was Catoosa, Oklahoma, home of the famous Blue Whale of Catoosa.  (Just so you know, along the way we passed the time by taking humorous selfies and photos of unusual signs – such as the one that advised, “DO NOT DRIVE INTO SMOKE.”  Yes, it did say that.  Really.)  I’ll be the first to admit that the Blue Whale is a bit hokey, as far as tourist attractions go.  That being said, I do understand why it has become such a beloved landmark.  Apparently, a man created it as a 34th wedding anniversary gift for his wife in 1972.  This Route 66 favorite is still owned and operated by the original family, and continues to bring a bit of whimsy to traveling along Route 66.  Swimming, at some point, had been allowed but no longer is; however, visitors are free to explore the whale and picnic on the grounds.  I know you didn’t BUT, if you were to ask me, I’d say that the rather quirky Blue Whale of Catoosa is a must see attraction along historic Route 66.

I do admire the imagination, creativity and ingenuity of the designer.

We had just one more stop to make before we tucked ourselves into the Oklahoma City East KOA that night – Pops 66!  What is Pops 66, you ask?  Pops is more fun than a barrel of monkeys.  Keep an eye out for the 66’ tall soda bottle beacon that lights up the night sky.  (It makes quite an impression during the daylight hours, too!)  Pop’s is located at 660 Route 66 in Arcadia, Oklahoma.  (I’m sensing a theme here.)  It’s a combination gas station, restaurant and soda shop.  As in, a shop that sells soda (or pop, as it’s known in some regions of the country) – and lots of it.  Pops is reported to carry over 700 varieties of soda and I’ll guarantee you that you’ve never heard of some of them.  (Peanut Butter & Jelly soda, anyone?)

You'll know it when you arrive at Pops!

Alan, Kyra and I all had a rollicking good time at Pops, scouring the aisles for the most unusual varieties we could find.  In the end, none of us proved brave enough to try the grass, beef jerky or dirt flavored sodas.  But we did enjoy our chocolate and strawberry, as well as several types of root beer and cream (family favorites in a family that doesn’t drink much soda).  While the Blue Whale of Catoosa was probably a “one and done” for me, Pops is the kind of place I’d go back to in a heartbeat.  (Yes, Mike, I know that should have been “to which I’d go back,” but it just didn’t sound like me.)  We still have our six-pack of empty bottles on display in our dining room – a delightful reminder that adventures come in all different shapes and sizes.  Flavors, too.

Really?  Sweet corn flavored pop?  That is just . . . 

For those of you who are wondering about when and where Strike Three is going to hit, it won’t be until just a few days before we’re due to arrive home.  So, for now, just sit back and enjoy the ride.



  1. Well, I suppose I have arrived; my grammar critiques are now on autopilot! However, now that you have achieved near-perfection in taming the vagaries of our mother tongue, you can relax. I can now just enjoy your interesting (and well-crafted) prose for its content rather than its form. Congratulations! In regard to your adventures on Route 66, I am somewhat jealous, as the touring of it has been a near-bucket list item for a long time. It is entirely possible that your post has rekindled my interest in taking the plunge. Great post!

    1. Mike, the Route 66 aspect of this trip felt a lot like a travel scavenger hunt, and we enjoyed it immensely. It's a shame that so many towns faded into oblivion when the interstate system was developed and they were bypassed. It was heartbreaking to realize how much was lost in the towns that fell into ruin. Those that embrace and celebrate the history of Route 66 have fared better, and it was a delight to see and check off the highlights as we located them.

  2. Laurel ( 2:34 PM

    We love Route 66, but most of our explorations have been in the west and southwest. I'm definitely putting the Blue Whale on our list! And I would stop at Pops just to peruse the crazy flavors. I cannot imagine dirt flavored soda, LOL. When we started our full-time journey, I referred to it as the Mother of All Road Trips...but I think your idea of a Route 66 trip from end-to-end with that title is even better!

    1. Laurel, I CAN imagine dirt flavored soda - which is precisely why I didn't buy it! We've talked about hitting the road for the Mother of All Road Trips in Alan's Camaro. It seems to be a more fitting vehicle than a pickup truck and trailer for such a nostalgic trip. While I'm sure I'll whine about having to carry luggage in and out of hotels, I have a feeling I'll also be celebrating the difference in gas mileage! Alan topped out at 30 mpg a couple of days ago which (as you know) is much better than what our trucks get! I hope you and Eric were lucky enough to travel the musical portion of Route 66 in New Mexico that plays "America the Beautiful" if you drive at exactly the right speed. That is DEFINITELY on my Bucket List!


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