As a Texan, it’s easy to get in the truck, point the vehicle in any direction (other than South) and find yourself on any of the famous main Interstate roads that most in the U.S. now by either experience, song or notable from a fantastical story written or told by someone else. Interstate 10 (I-10) which runs from Los Angeles, CA all the way to Jacksonville.
Take I-90 and you can drive all the way from Seattle, WA to Boston, MA or in my case, I can jump on US-67 N and drive straight approximately 779 miles and arrive in beautiful St. Louis, MO. All but five State capitals are directly served by the Interstate System. Those not directly served are: Juneau, AK, Dover, DE, Jefferson City, MO, Carson City, NV and Pierre, SD.
The Original Saint Louis
St. Louis Park was named for the Minneapolis and St. Louis Railroad, and the railroad was named for the City of St. Louis, but who was the City of St. Louis named for? According to Wikipedia, it was Louis IX of France, who lived from 1215 to 1270. He served as King of France from 1226 (crowned at age 11) until his death. He married a sister of the wife of Henry III of England in 1234.
They had 11 children. He was apparently known for his piety and kindness towards the poor. He went on crusades which were miserable failures, but they weren’t held against him. When he died, much mischief was done to his body, and only one finger remained. Pope Boniface VIII proclaimed the canonization of Louis in 1297.
Louis is the only French monarch to be made a saint. There is a portrait of St. Louis in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives. St. Louis is the patron saint of France and hairdressers, among others.
Onto the Good Stuff
Arriving in St. Louis, get your kicks on Route 66, listen to country music greats in Branson, and end in jazzy Kansas City. If you’ve grown up with American music, particularly jazz and blues, and are familiar with the lyrics, then St. Louis and Kansas City will be drilled into your DNA.
A chance to explore these cities, and start in St. Louis in the far east of Missouri on its border with Illinois. WC Handy published his song, “St. Louis Blues” in 1914, the first blues sheet music, inspired by a woman he heard singing in the street way back in 1892. The National Blues Museum, in the heart of downtown explores the history and impact of the music. It does this through a remarkable collection of photographs and videos and is well worth a visit.
The famous rock and roller, Chuck Berry was born here and, until he died in 2017, used to play every month at the Blueberry Hill club in the Delmar Loop. There are still a cluster of blues and soul places downtown on Broadway where they have live music most nights.
The Gateway Arch
The city was known as the “Gateway to the West” in the era when pioneers were setting out to populate the rest of the US. It was the last outpost of civilization before people ventured out into the unknown and the iconic Gateway Arch celebrates the early 19th-century explorations of Lewis and Clark and America’s westward expansion in general.
It was completed in 1967 and sits on the banks of the Mississippi, rising to nearly 200m, so can be seen from every direction from downtown. The structure is a “giant doughnut” made from stainless steel on the outside, carbon steel on the inside and concrete in the middle.
You can take a train around the arch, in an eight seated pod which takes four minutes to climb to the top. Once you’ve reached the top, you can view the entire city.
66 to Springfield
From St. Louis, set out west on Route 66 to Springfield, MO. Originally built in 1926, it was intended to be “the shortest, best and most scenic route from Chicago through St. Louis to Los Angeles”. Main transcontinental routes were meant to be multiples of ten, so it was originally designated as Route 60. However, Kentucky claimed the number first, so it became U.S. 66, which spawned the famous song.
The Interstate Highway System, which was the brainchild of President Eisenhower. Around the 1950’s, most of it was replaced and I-44, which now runs through Missouri, largely follows the original route. Driving on Route 66 you can pass the “Red Rocker”, which is one of the world’s rocking chairs and a Vacuum Cleaner Museum located in downtown Springfield.
Springfield Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium
The one of the largest attractions located in downtown Springfield, is the Wonders of Wildlife. It includes a whole range of stuffed animals prowling western dioramas. Wonders of Wildlife was created by a local of Springfield Mr. Johnny Morris. Mr. Morris began his business career as a bait shop owner. With his passion in sporting outdoors, he went on to build his now multi-million-dollar business selling hunting and shooting equipment to the masses.
One of the most impressive attractions of Wonder of Wildlife is the 1.5-million-gallon aquarium, which is the home to 800 species of sharks, rays, jellyfish and eels.
From Springfield, head back onto Route 66 and drive south into the Ozark Mountains. The road begins to climb, and the landscape gets wilder. Pass the town of Ozark, the fictional home of the Beverly Hillbillies, and arrive in Branson. The scenic natural beauty of the lakes and forests here, as well as the deep Marvel cavern, attracted early 20th century tourists. Silver Dollar City, a re-creation of a frontier town, opened in 1960 and music attractions include white gospel groups and old-time dancing to string bands.
Branson became popular after the Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre opened and began to bring in famous country music stars. They included Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Tony Orlando who in turn built their own theatres. Now the town bills itself as “The Live Music Show Capital of The World”. It’s a bit like Las Vegas, but built in a mountain, without the gambling.
Branson offers entertainment options for all. A few of shows to catch while in town can be found the Welk Resort Theatre, Raiding the Country Vault and Clay Cooper’s Country Express. The highlight though, is a one-off appearance by black country music legend Charlie Pride who at the time of this article is now 85 years old with a voice just as strong as his early years. Of course, he sings all his hits, and will reminisces about growing up cotton picking in Mississippi and encountering country music greats.
Jazz Museum Stage
Retrace your route back to Springfield, wave goodbye to Route 66 and carry on west towards Oklahoma City then north to Kansas City. Which seems to be schizophrenic ally straddling both Missouri and Kansas.
The Missouri side includes the historic 18th and Vine district where, in the 1920’s and 30’s, notable jazz musicians got their start. Mayor Pendergast, who was somewhat corrupt, ignored prohibition and let the mobsters run the area.
Charlie Parker also known as “Yard-bird” and “Bird”, was an American jazz saxophonist and composer, as well as William James “Count” Basie was an American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader, and composer were regulars, holding late night jam sessions.
These days most of it has been demolished, although parts of the film Kansas City were filmed there, recreating the famous facades, which can still be found today. The American Jazz Museum is open to the public, and has potted histories of Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. They have live jazz on a regular basis and there are plans to stage in the area.
If you’re interested in history, the Arabia Steamboat Museum has artifacts from the paddle steamer Arabia which hit a log on the Missouri and sank in 1856. It remained undisturbed until 1988 when a local family found the remains buried underground. The cargo contained plates, boots, tools, champagne, cognac and even pickles, all bound for settlers in the west. It’s an incredible time capsule of what was needed for life on the frontier and they’re still sorting through over 200 tons of treasure.
If you haven’t experienced enough of the marvels of the interstate connections discovered throughout your time in Missouri, try another one in another direction. Benefit from the unbelievable construction of the roads built with the intent to connect commerce, man and family throughout the border to border of the United States.