August 20, 2018
ST. CLAIRE, Mo. : We had a peaceful evening at Red Hills S.P, but just as we ate our cereal the heavens opened, so we tossed the tent, sleeping bags, and other gear in the van and hit the road. As we left, a local camper mentioned she heard a forecast warning of tornadoes. The rain tapered off, but within miles we were driving through a monsoon that raked the cornfields—no tornado, but the sky was black enough.
By Flora, another 10 miles west, we stopped at (guess!) Walmart and stocked up on veggies and other grillable items. A bit embarrassed, I didn’t remember the name of the town, and when I asked the young lady at the checkout counter, she asked where we were from, where we were going, and so forth. “While you’re in Flora you should stop at the Dairy Queen,” she said. “It’s privately owned, and has great sodas, like marshmallow Coke.”
We reorganized the back of the van and pushed forward, through Iuka, Salem, Odin, and Sandoval. Missed a turn and took a spur that took us through Bartelso, where we got some nice photos. We jumped on I-64, ending our three-day connection with U.S. 50, staying on 64 across the Big Muddy into St. Louis.
We got a kick out of parking just outside Busch Stadium, then rode the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch. Eight trams, each holding five people snuggled against each other for the four-minute ride. The guide asks about claustrophobia. Sandy gulped, but went along. From the top, to the east you see the whitecaps on the brown Mississippi, and the suburbs of St. Louis to the west. We didn’t stay long, sprinting through a thunderstorm to the van.
At that point, we made our first big course change: onto old U.S. 66, the “Mother Road.” Finished in the 1930s, it was eventually abandoned by most cross-country travelers as the interstates were completed. Hundreds of restaurants, gas stations, motels, and eccentric attractions closed as their customers chose the faster routes from Chicago to Santa Monica. Outside St. Louis it runs more or less parallel to I-44, which replaced it.
We got off I-44 somewhere near Eureka, where we found Rte. 66 State Park. Didn’t look like much, and was closed, anyway. But we hung in there and managed to jump on the real Rte. 66 one exit later, in Pacific. We puttered on, parallel to I-44 but around 6:30 it was time to quit. We pulled off at Lewis’s Café in St. Clair, a fifties-type diner, just missing another deluge. I noticed the odometer: 1001 miles.