“If you rush this road, if you don’t spend a day in whatever random town you discover, you’ll miss the spirit of the road and the people who still breathe life into it.”
Those are the words I used to describe mine and Henri’s adventures on Route 66 in my first post about doing this road over the July 4th holiday. In that story, Day 1 began with a rushed plan and the wrong books, followed by an unfortunate stop in a place called Uranus, but it ended where this story picks up- with a friendly welcome from a quaint and carefully restored motel in Carthage, MO.
I’d spent the better part of our first day’s journey cussing the Mother Road, as well as wondering if I was even on it, and complaining to Henri about the lack of sincere efforts to renovate and restore the buildings that existed before the Route was decommissioned. At the end of that day, the Mother served me up a perfectly restored 1940’s era motel with NO IN-ROOM COFFEE because…”That wasn’t a common amenity back then.”
Be careful what you say to the Mother; she has a sense of humor.
Dog Friendly Stops in Missouri
Boots Court Motel
Debbie D is very likely the first person you’ll meet when you walk through the door of the tiny office that serves as guest check-in for the Boots Court motel. She immediately greeted Henri by name and bent over from her chair behind the desk to pet him. An old television set, like the busted one my grandparents had when I was a kid, takes up most of the space. So if other guests are checking in at the same time, prepare to be cozy.
Cozy is good.
Cozy is how you find out that one of the guests is a dog trainer from Australia; she noticed the clicker on my key chain. She and her husband were doing the whole Route from Chicago to Santa Monica over a two-week period. The other gentleman in the room was from Switzerland. He was doing the road solo. We all exchanged greetings and began chatting about our adventures thus far. This is when I discovered I had the wrong books and that following the road would have been much easier with the EZ 66 Guide For Travelers. It has maps and turn by turn directions for both east and west navigation.
This is also when I discovered there was no coffee.
Debbie D was an absolute delight, however, providing me with the stories I’d craved all day and cluing me in to the things I’d missed- like Gary’s Gay Paris- where the owner tells THE BEST stories and a well-behaved dog was sure to be welcome. The other guests seemed like a fun bunch, and if I could get my $?!& together before 8 a.m. without coffee, I was invited to join them for breakfast at the pancake house down the street (that didn’t happen). After breakfast, however, Debbie D was escorting us on an adventure (that DID happen).
Even though my room didn’t have coffee, it did have a radio, beautifully refinished hardwood floors that smelled of Murphy’s Oil Soap, glass doorknobs, subway tiles in the bathroom, a window unit humming, and a chenille bedspread like the one my Mema used to have. Henri and I immediately settled in with some dinner for him, and some cheese, fruit, and bourbon that I’d stashed in the cooler for me.
Boot’s Court motel only has one pet-friendly room, so you will definitely want to make sure you call for a reservation if traveling with your pup. There is a $15 per stay pet fee and check-in is at 3:00 p.m. That coffee you need is across the street at the gas station. I’ll let you imagine me schlepping my cranky morning self, in PJs, flip flops, and crazy hair over there to get some.
By the time I got up the next morning, the other guests had already gone to breakfast. So after fetching my coffee I had some time to sit in the metal chair outside my room and do a little writing while Henri roamed the parking lot. By 10:00 they had returned and everyone was ready for our guided tour. Debbie D was riding shotgun with the Aussies; Henri and I followed behind them.
Red Oak II
We were in route to Red Oak II, the home of famous artist, Lowell Davis, but we were taking the ’round about way. His large-scale metal artwork dots the town of Carthage, MO and it’s worth the meandering and pit stops to check it out.
Once at Red Oak, we piled out of our trucks and began to wander. The restored, but unoccupied buildings made the place appear deserted. Since there was seemingly no one on the property, I didn’t bother leashing Henri. I did grab his cooling collar, though, and soaked it with water from the ice chest. At 10:00 a.m. on July 4th in Missouri, it was already starting to heat up.
I soon discovered this place was, in fact, not deserted at all, but was the residential space of a handful of people including Lowell Davis and his wife. It wasn’t long before I found myself sitting on the famous artist’s front porch chatting with him as he smoked his signature corn cob pipe. When an invitation to tour his personal home was extended and Henri was welcome, too, I happily accepted.
It was July 4th, 2019 and at the personal invitation of Lowell Davis, I was standing in the restored home of notorius American outlaw, Belle Starr, listening to a famous American artist tell the stories of our surroundings and his art.
Through his words and imagery, I met his dog, Hooker. A mangy rescue from a local shelter, she was adopted the day she was to be euthanized. With barely a stitch of hair on her, she eventually became the beautiful golden pup featured in many of Lowell’s images. He claims Hooker paid for Fire Fox Farm with all the paintings and sculptures of her that have been commissioned, copied, and sold over the years.
Our tour eventually led us out the back screen door where his wife, Rose, was tending to the koi pond and trying to fish out a snake. She and their current dog, Willie, took us through the garden to Lowell’s gallery out back. When I found myself standing there wanting to purchase a gift for a friend but only had my debit card, Rose handed me a hand-written receipt and my package in exchange for my promise to send a check or cash when I returned home. They do not take debit or credit cards. Cash or check only.
Lowell hasn’t just recreated the physical landscape of his old 1930’s rural community, he’s managed to recreate its spirit, too.
Escorted by Debbie D, we learned the history of Red Oak II and some of its buildings, as well as met a few more residents. Once just the cornfields of Fire Fox Farm, Red Oak II is a collection of restored buildings from Lowell’s childhood hometown of Red Oaks, Missouri. Hence the name. On the property you’ll discover the black smith shop where Lowell’s great-grandfather practiced his trade, and you can tour the General Store run by Lowell’s father. That’s where the artist learned to sculpt and paint after a grade school teacher paid for him to take art classes on Saturdays.
Another thing you’ll discover on the property is that other people actually do live there. Carol Ann, the widow of Lowell’s former attorney, has a home on the property. Her husband, Tom, died in his sleep of a heart attack, and his dog, Sandy, passed away the same night. Lowell’s former son-in-law, a welder, made the tribute to Sandy that marks their home. The current canine residents- Kippy, Bo, and Willie- all came out to greet us.
By noon, we’d explored most of the property and the July sun was doing its best. Debbie D needed to head back to the Boots to get ready for that afternoon’s guests, and the rest of us needed to hit the road. We were all doing the eastern route, so I expected to see my new friends again, but I never did.
On our way out of Carthage, we passed the still operational and dog-friendly 66 Drive-In Theater, but our next stop on the Route would be the Kan-o-Tex Service Station in Galena, KS.
From Missouri to Oklahoma, you’ll have a brief drive through the Sunflower State. Route 66 goes through about 13 miles of Kansas, but it’s the ONLY state where the Mother Road is not bypassed by the highway. So there’s no way to miss it!
Dog Friendly Stops in Kansas
From 1877 to the 1970s, Galena, KS was a mining town. Named for the lead sulfide ore, by 1929 all of Route 66 passing through Kansas, including Galena, was paved. In 1934, the filling station and repair shop opened to serve the motorists passing through town. In 2006, Pixar sent a group of artists to explore Route 66 and this spot was one of many that inspired the movie, Cars. After the success of the film, three local ladies restored the abandoned station and the Kan-O-Tex Refining Company sign, turning it into a sandwich and souvenir shop.
I was a bit surprised to discover the shop closed on the 4th of July. In my mind, a tourist stop should have been open on a holiday when people are off work and possibly traveling. As I peaked through a window, a woman got out of her car and approached. I assumed she was another tourist, so I commented that they were closed. In a huff, she responded that she “deserved one day off.” She unlocked the door, went briefly inside, then made a quick exit. They are NOT dog-friendly.
It is, however, a great photo-op stop for fans of the movie Cars, and we did snap the obligatory character shot with Tow Mater.
If you find yourself in town and feeling hungry, the patio of Mi Torito Mexican restaurant down the street IS dog-friendly. I can’t tell you anything else about the strip or the shops there, because everything was closed. Moving along!
Nelson’s Old Riverton Store
A tip from Debbie D, led me to Nelson’s Old Riverton Store for a sandwich. Built in 1925 by Leo Williams, it was sold in 1973 to the Eisler’s, who then sold it to their nephew, Scott Nelson in 2011. It still serves as a small grocery, produce, and deli spot, but now also has Route 66 memorabilia and gifts. Scott was there to chat with me a bit, and told me of a Route 66 Harley tour led by journalist and apparent Harley enthusiast, Michael Wallis, who is also the voice of the sheriff in Cars. Over 400 riders passed through that day, with parked bikes lining the highway on both sides.
Henri wasn’t allowed to go into the store with me- it’s a deli- nor was he allowed on the produce patio. Dogs are welcome at the picnic area by the parking lot. It was a pretty hot day, so after letting Henri out of the truck to borrow their grass, I decided to stay parked in the shade and eat in the air-conditioning.
As I was finishing my first ever Old Fashion Loaf sandwich, a large RV pulled up next to us. Since they had a dog, I saw it as an opportunity to make friends. Larry, Julianna, and Anna were making their way from Chicago to Vegas via Route 66, then heading home.
Nelson’s is listed as the “William’s Store” for National Registry and grant purposes, but you may also see it called Eisler’s or just The Riverton Store. If you visit, be sure to notice the vintage tin ceiling and the concrete floor. The cracks in the concrete have been painted to look like highway. Not historically accurate, but creative.
Dog Friendly Stops in Oklahoma
By this time, I was feeling like I had either figured out how to navigate the Mother Road or it had just gotten easier. I didn’t know until the time of this writing that there were only 13 miles in Kansas and no bypass. This is called a false sense of security, but I had taken a photo of the pages from Easy 66 out of Debbie D’s book. So at least I had a bit more information. Our next stop was Commerce, OK.
Allen’s Conoco Filling Station
Driving Route 66 will take you right past the adorable red and green brick cottage that now serves as a souvenir shop. Allen’s Conoco Filling Station, or the “Hole in the Wall Conoco,” was built outward from the exterior wall of the larger brick building to serve early drivers on the road. It’s very Saturday Evening Post, and if you stand across the street in the parking lot of the Dairy King, you can snap your own cover photo.
The Dairy King is another historic cottage-style gas station that has been restored. Instead of pumping gas, they now serve burgers and custard style ice-cream. Here, you can grab a custard for your pooch, and a Route 66 sign-shaped sugar cookie made with real butter and Mexican vanilla for yourself. I bought a cookie for a friend and they gave me a broken cookie that I shared with Henri.
Now that I have Easy 66, I know we missed a lot of stuff from Commerce to Chelsea, and when we entered Chelsea, I was, again, disappointed to discover another town closed for the holiday. If you do Route 66 in the summer, plan around July 4th and maybe the rest of the major holidays, too. These small towns roll up the streets.
Chelsea looks like a pretty quaint little place and I’ve marked it for a return visit. It features a vintage home ordered from the Sears Catalog in 1913, an underground walkway that passes beneath Route 66 with murals depicting the town’s history (we did that), a steel-truss bridge built in the 20s, and Oklahoma’s first oil well. With most everything closed, we made our way to Foyil to check out the World’s Largest Totem Pole.
Behold! Ed Galloway’s Totem Pole Park, home of the World’s Largest Totem Pole. Also closed. The website says the park is open March through December, Noon-5, 7 days a week, year-round, but the gift shop was closed. Admission is free so I didn’t worry about it.
There is a nice pavilion backing up to a wooded area that’s perfect for resting your driving legs or enjoying a picnic lunch or snack (bring your own), and a large dog walking area. Since we were the only people there, I let Henri off-leash.
In addition to the World’s Largest Totem Pole, this piece of private property includes a variety of other sized totem poles depicting Native American folk art, and an eleven-sided Fiddle House and Gift Shop that houses Ed Galloway’s collection of hand-carved fiddles, as well as the history of the park’s development. I’d say we spent about 15-20 minutes here, but if you plan a lunch stop and the gift shop is open, you could easily stay an hour. Just put Ed Galloway Totem Pole Park into your GPS. It’s a good dog stop.
In case you’ve lost track, It’s July 4, 2019. We woke up in Carthage, MO and were planning to head to Tulsa, OK for day two of the Mother Road. You can revisit day one, Cuba to Carthage, here. About half way through day two, I decided to wrap up our road trip in Catoosa and head home. I live an hour and half from Tulsa and run over there frequently for shows, dining, and shopping. It would be an easy place to pick up the road later and head to Amarillo. By morning, of course.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa is 711 miles from Chicago, IL and 1505 miles from Santa Monica, CA. Those two cities mark either end of Route 66. It’s also just 102 miles from home. If my timing was right, I would be able to catch fireworks in the sky as I headed back to Northwest Arkansas.
Built by Hugh Davis in the early 1970s as an anniversary gift to his wife Zelta, The Blue Whale and its spring-fed pond was once a favored swimming hole of locals and travelers of Route 66. Its popularity spurred growth and it eventually became known as Nature’s Acres. It once included the iconic swimming hole. a picnic area, the Animal Reptile Kingdom, and a Trading Post.
That attraction closed in 1988 and the entire property fell into disrepair. Locals, however, deemed the whale too beloved to not be maintained, so every few years it gets a new coat of paint. You can no longer swim in the pond, and you wouldn’t want to, but there is a short trail that follows beside it. The trail doesn’t go all the way around the pond, but you can snap a pretty great photo from there. If you visit during a summer weekend, you may find the concession and souvenir shop open for business.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa was the last stop on our two-day Route 66 journey. We covered over 300 miles of the historic road on our little adventure, and it felt like a pretty American thing to do on Independence Day. The next leg of the Mother Road for us will be Tulsa, OK to Amarillo, TX or Cuba, MO to Chicago, IL. I guess that might depend a bit on weather. And my pocketbook. And my mood at the time. One thing is for sure though. I’ll have the Easy Guide to Route 66 in my hand next time. A friend bought it for me after we returned home. I’ll also have some previous experience under my belt and be keeping the things I learned in mind…
Things I Learned Traveling Route 66 With My Dog:
- Call ahead to make sure hotels and attractions are dog-friendly (or just read this blog).
- Go in the Spring or the Fall. KS, MO, OK, and TX are HOT in July.
- Take cash or checks. Some roadside places don’t take debit or credit.
- Allow time for missed turns, bad weather, and interesting people.
- Give yourself and your pooch rest days in dog friendly places.
- Get the book EZ 66 Guide For Travelers by Jerry McClanahan. Seriously. Get it.