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Liz Travels: Route 66

5 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Livin’ on Tulsa Time

We rolled into Tulsa to stay at a very nice AirBnB called the Artist’s Loft. (Translated, that means a lot of stairs to haul our luggage up after a long hot day on the road.) But the two bedrooms, two living rooms, all decorated with a found-artist’s eye for detail and color made it worth it.

The continued heat wave, coupled with midwestern humidity has us still curtailing our activities. Which is too bad, because Tulsa has a lot of Art Deco buildings, and we’d planned to walk around oogling them.

There are also dozens of colorful murals, but again, we were limited to those we passed in our air-conditioned car and were able to leap out and take pictures of.

This Land is Our Land…

But we did spend a couple of delightful hours at the Woody Guthrie Center. Guthrie was a singer-songwriter, and you all know his music, because you’ve all sung “This Land is Your Land.” He wrote more than 3000 songs, only about 300 of them that he recorded. Most were performed live with other singers, like Pete Seeger, who focused on songs of social justice and socialism. This later got some of them, especially Seeger, into hot water with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Guthrie had his own column and a radio show. He performed in the fields for migrant workers. The rode the rails, and worked day work jobs, so he spoke the language of the migrants and other working people. He was a tremendous influence on singer-songwriters right down to Springsteen.

The museum is a small gem. Very accessible, not an overwhelming amount of information, and presented in a variety of formats. And the docents are superb. We learned that Guthrie also made hundreds of drawings and cartoons and produced thousands of documents, in the form of articles and letters.

Dash and I also had our first VR (virtual reality) experience. Part of the exhibit is about the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma, particularly Black Sunday. This VR exhibit lets a person live what it was like during the height of a dust storm. Extraordinary.

More Giants

It was so hot, we almost passed on tracking down the Golden Driller, and glad we didn’t. The fiberglass Muffler Men would crawl in a hole from shame if they confronted this gigantic concrete statue, about seven stories tall.

Dining at the Mother Road

We had lunch at the Mother Road Market, a great collection of small food stalls, like a food court, but with much better food and a wider variety. Or perhaps, like an indoor food truck park. We walked around, checked them all out, then made our choices. There were also several small craft booths set up. It was a great place, and we thought maybe to return for breakfast, except we had to leave Tula very early and the Mother Road didn’t open until 11. Alas.


2 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Turtles, Turnarounds, Tunes and the Trail of Tears

Every day is interesting on Route 66, but last Sunday was one of the more interesting ones.

We started out early from Cuba, MO, where we’d spent the night in the Wagon Wheel Motel, a sweet little classic Route 66 motel that has been lovingly cared for. Had breakfast at a cute diner (mediocre food, though), and headed out. Spotted my first armadillo. It had not survived its previous encounter with a car, however. Poor thing.


Dash and I were gabbing away, when I spotted something moving across the road in the middle of my lane. A live armadillow, I thought.

But no. It was a tortoise, moseying its turtle-y way.

But no. It was a tortoise, moseying its turtle-y way across the highway. (We did not ask it why.).

“Oh, no!” gasped Dash.

There was no traffic coming the other way, so I swerve, and the turtle went under the car and not under the wheels. 

Flat turtle disaster averted.

Then I looked back.

That turtle wasn’t moseying any more. I swear she’d picked up her shell and, like a nun lifting her skirts for a fifty-yard dash, she was running on her hind legs for all she was worth. By time she was out of sight in the rearview mirror, and we had stopped laughing, she was across the road and heading into the tall grass.

We stopped at Fanning, MO, for a shot of the world’s second largest rocking chair, where we met a family from New York driving to Grand Canyon. We met them again when we stopped at Uranus Fudge Company (and yes, they get a lot of mileage out of that joke). (Pleasure talking to you, Kim. Hope your daughter liked her T. Rex pic.)


We spent most of the day, however, meandering along curving, treed lanes in this gloriously beautiful southern Missouri countryside. Gently rolling hills, fields, meadows. Everything was fresh and brilliantly green, even though it was 91 degrees with 98% humidity, so hot and muggy it was like being hit with an anvil when we got out of the car. 

Then it happened, as it had to, sooner or later. We were swooping along a beautiful backroad, the verges filled with wildflowers—echinacea, rudibeckia, chicory, and tiger lilies. Blue jays, cardinals, and redwing blackbirds were dodging the car. And ahead, there was a road closed sign.

Take alternate route? What alternate route? We were surrounded by trees. The only alternate route was a gravel road with a “Trail of Tears” sign on it.

Dash quickly consulted her iPad (which we’ve christened Dot) and found an alternate route to the freeway and to Marshfield–along another gravel road.

Trail of Tears

As we got back on the Route again, we found ourselves behind a traffic jam. On Route 66. This seemed odd. Up ahead, there were police cars and a dozen bike riders. Earlier in the day, we’d stopped at Laughlin Park at Roubidoux Springs in Waynesville, MO, which had been a stop for the Cherokee who had been forcibly removed from Georgia and were being marched along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. We’d hoped to be there when the annual Remember the Removal riders came through.

The 2022 Remember the Removal Bike Ride is the 14th bicycle ride commemorating the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their eastern homelands during the fall and winter of 1838-39. The nearly 1,000-mile trek is accomplished over a three-week period as selected riders from the Cherokee Nation and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians retrace the Northern Route of the Trail of Tears through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

We had missed seeing the riders at Waynesville, but realized there here, after our forced detour, we were following them on a tiny part of their epic ride. It made both Dash and I a bit teary.

Lost in Missouri

Then, because we had tickets to an 8 p.m. concert in Springfield, and we wanted time to cool down, shower and change, we got turned around and despite excellent directions in the EZ 66 Guide, we went the wrong way.

Tootling along in the countryside, Dash realized before I did, that perhaps we had gone astray. It wasn’t until we reached the Yeakley Chapel and cemetery in Plano, MO–which we were not due to pass until the next day–that it dawned that we had indeed, missed the city of Springfield…

Reversing course, we put pedal to the metal and whizzed back up the road to Springfield.

We had reservations at the classic and restored Rockwood Motor Court. And were looking forward to unloading and at least eating before the concert. Then we pulled up in front of the address we had been given. The Keep Out signs, the junk cars in the court, the tarp over the hole in the roof, gave us pause. We thought we had been scammed. While Dash frantically searched the internet for a new place and to see if we had the wrong place, I documented the sad state of affairs.

Then we called the number on the Rockwood website. When, in a voice only slightly panicked, I inquired about the motel, and it’s condition, the very nice woman on the phone assured me I was in front of the wrong motel. We were parked in front of the Shamrock, not the Rockwood, which was three doors away.

The Rockwood is a jewel on 66. Beautifully renovated and cared for, and easily the nicest place we’ve stayed. We would gladly have stayed a few days. But we had…


…to go to. At the Gillioz Theater in downtown Springfield, Dash had gotten us tickets to a performance by banjo-player Bela Fleck. Saying Bela Fleck plays the banjo is like saying Itzhak Perlman plays fiddle a little. Not only is he sensationally talented, but the band with him contained musicians every bit as talented: Justin Moses on dobro, fiddle, and banjo; Bryan Sutton on guitar; Mark Schatz on stand-up bass; Michael Cleveland on fiddle; and Sierra Hull on mandolin. Every one of them was a powerhouse on their own. It was an amazing concert.

Dash and I were pretty bushed after our exciting day, and we had talked about possibly leaving at intermission. But we stayed glued to our seats, and were glad we did.

We were almost asleep before we got in the hotel room door…


4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Lonely Roads

One of the great pleasures of driving Route 66 is the empty roads. While the Interstate may be only a dozen yards or a dozen miles away, the Route (except where it lies under more recent highways) is lightly traveled. You can travel at 35 or 40 mph, or even less, enjoy the dappling of shadow from the overarching trees, or look across open fields or rolling hills and imagine what the Mother Road was like in the early part of the 20th century when it was first patched together from existing bits of gravel road.

With a bit more effort, you can imagine what it looked like a couple centuries ago, when those open lands were covered with bison from horizon to horizon, or the plains were covered with tall grass. As you drift through small towns, most built in the 1800s and early 1900s, you can appreciate the pain of those communities, once invaluable centers for the agricultural and mining communities that surrounded them, as they fade from memory, and the struggles of those who are trying to save what they can.

On these lonely roads, there is time to think and even dream, if you don’t mind getting lost. There is time and often space to pull over, stop, walk the road–or even stop in the middle of the road and take pictures, which I’ve done on more than one occasion. You can also come to appreciate the people who built and drove those early roads.

And unlike taking the Interstate, you can enjoy the ride and arrive relaxed.


4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Silent Riders

Maggie, Prudence, Patience, and Gusto leading the way. Maggie tends to ignore the critter-come-latelys.

Always Ahead of Us

It’s probably time to introduce our silent dashboard companions: Maggie Moose, who has been with me since Yellowstone many years ago. She was my only companion on the drive from Salem to Chicago. We had many long discussions, the kind of deep philosophical rants that you can only have on a solo road trip with a completely non-judgmental (and silent) travel companion.

Prudence, the wacky looking duck (because older travelers should travel with prudence–don’t look at me, this one is Dash’s) flew in with Dash. Patience the Pig, who reminds us that road trips are not all smooth sailing, and Gusto, because one should always travel with Gusto, we can also blame on Dash. We also have on hand Dot, which is what we’ve christened our Google map function. (Frighteningly, we’re beginning to talk to her…)

And Jerry…

Finally, there is Jerry, who at least is real and living in Oklahoma. Jerry McClanahan (in conjunction with the National Historic Route 66 Federation) is the author of the EZ 66 Guide for Travelers, and he has led us through twists and turns, step by step along the Route. He’s an amazing guide, and if you ever decide to drive the Route, I strongly recommend taking Jerry along.

Now if I can just stop Dash from looking for Ethyl…


4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

The Illinois Roadside Experience: Making Rubbings

Neither Wind, Nor Rain, Nor 90-degree Temperatures…

One of the most delightful things we did in Illinois as we traversed Route 66 was to seek out the Wayside Markers and the Experience Hubs. They provide a lot of information about a particular spot on the Route–such as a long time business, like Henry’s Rabbit Ranch–or a particular town, such as Lincoln or Joliet. Finding them is like being on a scavenger hunt. But it’s a bonus when the maker or hub have a plate inset in them especially for visitors to make their own rubbings.

I knew about these in advance, so I came prepared with sheets of paper and a graphite crayon. I developed a technique that almost embossed the design on the paper, so that the rubbing came out pretty clearly. They were fun to find and fun to do.

It rained. I got out and did the rubbing. The wind kicked up. I got out and did the rubbing. The temperature soared. And yessiree Bob, I got out and did the rubbing. Altogether, I think I did ten or eleven. I only include a sample here. They will be some of the most treasured souvenirs I take home from the Route.


2 In Liz Travels: Route 66

In the Land of Giant Muffler Men

The Muffler Men

The heyday of Route 66 came after World War II, when Americans, with cars in their garages, were looking for somewhere to go. With so many mobile customers, small businesses all along the Route tried to find ways to attract their attention and get them to stop–hopefully to spend money once they’d parked. One way to do that was to plant a giant in front of their business.

So-called “muffler men” became these advertising icons. Originally designed for a muffler company, the hands of the fiberglass giants are one hand held palm up, the other palm down, the better to showcase the mufflers.

…and more

But these giants were pressed into service to hold other items, like hot dogs or rocket ships. The hands might not exactly fit, but no one seemed to notice. Other businesses began to use their own giants based on the muffler men, but not made by the same company. Carl the Giant, for example, in Normal, IL, with his jaunty cap and welcoming smile, encourages everyone to stop for ice cream, because, as the marquee at the roadside says, “Life is better with sprinkles.”

Lincoln (Of course. We’re still in Illinois.)

The Railsplitter at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, is meant to be a very skinny Abe Lincoln (unlike the very buff muffler men), and he welcomes visitor to the beautiful fairgrounds.

For reasons only known to the designer, a more mature Lincoln has been drafted to helm “the world’s largest covered wagon” in Lincoln, IL.

And one woman

We’ve only found one female giant, that one at the Pink Elephant Antique Mall in Staunton, IL. She’s been dressed up with a blue skirt, and a Route 66 apron, but I suspect she may have started life as a car hop. (Anyone remember those?)

We’ve had fun tracking them down. And there are a few more left to find. I’ll post them here, when we find them.


P.S. Kat and Tish encounter a muffler man and his smaller, but no less impressive cousins, in Wilmington. Kat is enchanted by them. Tish is simply amused. If you’re a newsletter subscriber, see Chapter 25 of The Illinois Caper at The Route 66 Steal.

4 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Summer Vacation

Dash and I just had a visit from the fairies–fireflies flashing in the shrubbery behind our evening rental. She’d never seen them, and I hadn’t seen them since I was a kid. It was a special gift on this special trip. Something I didn’t know I’d wanted.

Fireflies were magic we could, sometimes, if we were lucky, catch, watching them flash in the cupped cave of our hands. Summers and summer vacations were also magic, sometimes, when we were kids. Just the word “vacation” was special.

Yet I haven’t had a “vacation” in years. I’ve been on trips to other countries, of course, but I never thought of them as vacations. They’re journeys, almost as exhausting as the work or every day life they are meant to provide respite from.

Vacations, on the other hand, are filled with the days you sit by a lake or river and empty your mind of everything while your hook causes amusement in the fish below the waterline. Or even sit in your own back yard and read a book while hotdogs cook on the grill and while maybe someone more energetic bats a volleyball over a crooked net. Or you climb a large boulder surrounded by the scent of hot pine resin and feel you’re seeing the world in a way no one ever has before. Or walk down an empty country road with the heat a physical weight on your shoulders and the smell of new leaves and growth filling the air.

Or sit in the dusk and watch fireflies. Especially if you do it with a friend who has never seen them before.

Vacations are slow. There is time to talk. To think. To savor. To play. To make memories not just take pictures.

We have run into a heat wave that we didn’t expect. It is forcing us to eliminate things like visits to Civil War battlefields that we’d planned simply because we were here and we “should” see them. It’s forcing us to slow down, take time. Watch fireflies rather than fall into bed exhausted.


P.S. As vacations–and summer–are the time to read, this is a reminder to newsletter subscribers that now Chapter 12 of The Illinois Caper is available at The Route 66 Steal. Not a newsletter subscriber, but would like to read the first book in my new series? Simply fill out the pop up form that slides in from the right and you’ll receive a password when you subscription is confirmed. You can always unsubscribe.

0 In Liz Travels: Route 66

Note to confused blog readers…

Gabriel Millos via WikiCommons

My apologies…

…to readers who have been trying to follow my adventures on Route 66 who have complained that they don’t get images when they open their email.

Some email programs will not give you images in your email subscriptions unless you opt in for each email. Every program is different.

But what you can do is, when you get your email notification of a new post, click the link to That will take you directly to my website and you can see all the images.

If you do this on your phone, swipe the image left or right to see additional images. If you do this on a laptop, desk top, or tablet, you’ll see arrows on either margin of the image that will let you access additional images.

I hope this helps solve solve the mystery of the missing images.