When I started planning this trip I thought we’d do Route 66 from Tulsa, OK to Santa Fe, NM. I had six days on my hands and I wanted to investigate and find all the dog-friendly stops. I quickly decided trying to cram that into six days was a mistake. I scaled back to something shorter and a little closer to home: two days from Cuba, MO to Tulsa, OK. I’m glad I made that decision.
“Cars didn’t drive on it to make great time. They drove on it to have a great time.”- Sally Carrera, Disney’s Cars
Whether you take two days or two weeks, simply hitting the historical markers and stops is a mistake. There’s real life on this road- like Debbie Dee, the on-site manager at the Boots Court Motel in Carthage, MO. She goes by Debbie Dee because she grew up next door to Deborah Harvey, co-owner of the Boots. As next–door neighbors, they needed to distinguish themselves. Debbie Dee was all set for retirement when Deborah Harvey and her sister bought the Boots in 2011. They called her one day to ask what she was doing. According to Debbie Dee her answer “wasn’t interesting enough,” so they convinced her to move to Carthage to help restore and manage the hotel.
In addition to the people, there is a lot of small–town American history. Downtown squares, mom and pop shops, farmer’s markets, and sure, there’s more than a fair share of tourist B.S. kitsch designed to steal your money, but 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 Mother Road and the people who still breathe life into it.
Planning A Route 66 Road Trip With Your Dog
I’m not sure what the inspiration or impetuous was for this trip. Usually, I can pinpoint something that triggers my idea- a photo, an article, a conversation. This time, I think it was just the fear of boredom. I’d wrapped up several training clients, had a few on vacation, and the rest would be drugged and hiding under their beds for most of the week of the 4th. I had time on my hands.
Frankly, I didn’t start planning this as far ahead as I should have, which is part of the reason we ended up only doing a short portion. I’m glad it worked out that way though, because this is not a trip you want to plan on a whim. I learned a lot about navigating this highway. Starting with…
Dogs can’t read maps.
Additional Tips For Traveling Route 66:
- 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.
Here’s the thing about Route 66- as a “decommissioned” highway, it doesn’t appear in standard navigation applications. Additionally, those are typically designed to give you the shortest or fastest route, which is NOT Route 66. While there are some apps available for your phone, the reviews are pretty mixed, and most don’t have navigation, just tourist stops for planning.
I found one app with good reviews over all but after the free download, which only gave you the attractions, they wanted money for the actual routes. $20 for two weeks use and $40 for a year. If I pay $40 for an app, I expect to get to use it forever. So off to the bookstore I went. I snagged the only two books they had on the shelf, neither of which were EZ 66. Get EZ 66.
I bought The Best Hits on Route 66 featuring “100 essential stops on the Mother Road.” It has photos and descriptions of what the author deemed worthy stops, and it was ordered from Chicago to Santa Monica. Side note: this book has a cool section in the back that features itineraries based on your interests. Sections such as Gearhead’s Guide, Native American History, Mother Road for Music Lovers, and The Mother Road with Kids are designed to help you pinpoint your personal don’t miss picks. Not gonna lie. I looked at the kid’s section first.
I also bought Lonely Planet’s Route 66 Road Trips because it claimed to have a “pull-out driving map”. It did, but it wasn’t useful in any way. All that map gave me was a straight-line showing Route 66 running near I-44, which I already knew was mostly the case. If you were completely uninformed, this map would lead you to believe that Route 66 is easy to navigate. It is not. And while the book did feature some Route 66 stops, it also highlighted hotels and restaurants that had nothing to do with the Mother Road at all.
I used the first book to identify a few stops and make some calls to inquire if certain hotels, restaurants, or tours were dog friendly. I used the second book for a page marker in the first. Thus, our loosely constructed adventure began.
We began our trip by driving 4 hours northeast to Cuba, MO. For that, we stayed on 1-44 E. Once we got to Cuba, we found Route 66 and headed back toward the southwest. Sounds a little silly, I know, but back tracking was the only way to get it done. Little did I know there was going to be more A LOT more of that.
As I’ve already mentioned, Route 66 doesn’t appear on GPS. I mean, it appears if you’re on it, sometimes, unless it’s called something else, but you can’t SELECT it. I think this is an “area of opportunity” for Google maps. Thankfully, the books allowed me to choose my landmark destinations and many of those appear in the location search. So that became my strategy and we spent a lot of time jumping on and off Route 66, especially from Cuba to Carthage. We also spent a lot of time not knowing if we were on it at all. When was the last time you got really excited to see a highway sign?!
Dog Friendly Route 66 through Missouri
Since we’ve been to St. Louis and will likely return to pick up 66 and head to Chicago for another piece of the road, we dropped in about two hours south of there. That caused us to miss a steak dinner on the dog-friendly patio at Big Chief Roadhouse in Wildwood, but I’m trying to reconcile myself to the fact that we can’t always do All. The. Things. My FOMO runs deep.
Cuba, MO is the “City of Murals’ and has 14 different depictions with a variety of historical themes. 12 murals are along the Route 66 corridor and you do not have to get out your car to see them. Plugging Cuba, MO in my location services got me near an intersection where I noticed our first mural, “The River” on the side of the comic book store. Since there was a dog in the painting, we pulled over. At that point, I decided it might be a good idea to find the visitor’s center and pick up a local map (another strategy). You can skip going to the visitor’s center with your dog though. You’d have thought I walked through the front door with a llama. Missouri visitors’ centers are not dog-friendly.
The docent did at least gave us a mural map and tell us how to hit 66, but we didn’t get to look at the displays inside the center. We learned nothing of the history of Cuba, and since they clearly expected me to leave my dog unattended in a hot vehicle, I didn’t bother to look it up. As it turns out, the first mural we spotted was almost to the corner of Washington and Franklin. Franklin is Route 66. Since my next stop was the Wagon Wheel Motel, I put in the address and we headed back that direction. It was just down the road.
Wagon Wheel Motel
The Wagon Wheel Motel is the oldest continuously operating motel on the Mother Road, serving travelers since 1936. The cottages are built of Ozark native stone, and two are specifically designated as dog-friendly. There are no breed or size restrictions, and dogs may be left unattended if crated. I didn’t get much more information about the place than that. When I went inside to inquire, the woman working there was more interested in getting out the door to her lunch than she was in answering any of my touristy questions. This was getting a little disappointing.
Next door to the motel is Missouri Hick BBQ. They are dog-friendly on the front porch and table service is available. Even though they were absolutely slammed and clearly on a wait, the hostess offered to send someone “right out.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t hungry yet, but if the smell coming out of the smokehouse, or the number of vehicles in the parking lot is any indication, this place is good.
If you stop there to eat be sure NOT to use any of the grass at the Wagon Wheel for your potty duties, because while the woman didn’t really have time to chat with me, when I asked if the next door establishment was dog-friendly her response was, “Well, I suppose they are. I’ve had to put up signs to keep their customers from using our greenspace to walk their dogs.”
As we headed out of town toward the next stop, I put the address of Bob’s Gasoline Alley into my GPS. Since it isn’t ON Route 66, Bob’s wasn’t in either of my books. This was a RoadsideAmerica.com find. Your “guide to off beat tourist attractions,” as you travel this road, or any road for that matter, you should put the cities you plan to visit into the search engine of this website just to see what’s there. Bob’s was just a short detour and well worth it. For whatever reason, 822 Beamer Ln didn’t come up in my GPS, but “Bob’s Gasoline Alley” did. We went straight there, without any problems.
Bob’s Gasoline Alley
Bob’s Gasoline Alley has over 300 vintage gas station signs and other memorabilia, and includes Darlene’s Cafe. When we arrived, there was no one there to greet us but the “Neighborhood Watch” of miniature donkeys and llamas. I parked the truck and we made ourselves at home– chatting with The Watch and then checking out all the signs.
Bob’s is open in the spring and summer by appointment, and I truly regret not making that call. I would have loved to have met Bob and his wife, and learned more about his collection. I bet there are some good stories in there!
This was Henri’s first opportunity to walk and sniff since we’d left home, so we took our time here. 4-5 hours in a car is about all either of us can really do without a “stretch and pee”.
Fanning 66 Outpost & Feedstore
Somehow, I got wind that what was formerly the “World’s Largest Rocker,” it lost that designation and is now the 2nd largest, was located on the Route just three minutes from Bob’s at Fanning 66 Outpost & Feedstore. The address is 5957 Highway ZZ but you can also put “Fanning 66 Outpost & Feedstore,” “World’s Second Biggest Rocking Chair,” or “Route 66 Gourmet Popcorn” in your driving app. HIghway ZZ is also 66.
Because there is a feedstore in the back, Fanning’s is dog-friendly. They’re people friendly, too. Before I even went into the store an employee had come outside to offer to take a family photo of the folks there before me. She took one for me and Henri, too.
Inside Fanning’s you’ll find an assortment of Route 66 souvenirs, snacks including gourmet popcorn, and the thing that excited me most, flavored soda. I immediately grabbed a “purple drank,” the vernacular where I was raised, but generally referring to Nu-Grape or Nehi. We also made our way to the back where the feedstore is located. Since we were grabbing road side snacks and water, I figured I’d get something for Henri, too.
Leaving Fanning’s is when things got confusing. Highway ZZ (Route 66) intersects with KK, then somewhere in there a U. It runs kinda parallel to I-44, so I think it’s Route 66, but I don’t swear to it. Frankly, unless you’re on a motorcycle or just a purist, you might as well take 44 to the next stop. I was ok with being on what I suspected was 66 until we got stuck behind a truck hauling a bobcat on a double-line road. Since my navigation system was directing me back to 1-44, “rerouting, rerouting” (I heard that a lot on this trip), I just did what I was told.
About the time we got back onto I-44, the wind picked up and the bottom fell out of the sky. Visibility was next to nothing and cars were pulling off the road, so I was happy not to be completely lost. I called a girlfriend to ask her to cross reference my location- which I always share with her and my mom- with a radar and let me know if we needed to seek cover. This is a real possibility driving through Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma. I was praying I would not have to abandon my truck and head for a ditch.
Devils Elbow, MO
Thankfully, we were driving in the opposite direction of the storm, so it didn’t last too long. By the time we took exit 169 onto MO-J, it was mostly just a drizzle. A few turns and we were on Teardrop Road (Route 66, again). Our destination was a famous Route 66 sandwich shop built in 1929. The Munger Moss Sandwich Shop building is now the Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ. In your GPS, look for “Elbow Inn & BBQ Pit” or use the address 21050 Teardrop Rd., Devils Elbow, MO.
FYI. I’m not spelling it wrong and it isn’t a typo. There is no apostrophe in “Devils.”
Elbow Inn Bar & BBQ
This was a good place to stop and let Henri out of the truck while I grabbed a little something to eat. The outside area is dog-friendly and features a tin roof covered porch and a gravel seating area with picnic tables and a fire pit. Stairs off the back deck lead to a gravel bar on the Big Piney River. Weather permitting, it would be a great spot to enjoy your sandwich while your pup splashed in the water. I assume you travel with dog towels.
The rain had slowed from a downpour and was making soft music on the tin roof; outdoor speakers carried the not too loud classic rock from inside the bar. I ordered a beer, a BBQ Slaw Burger, and a side of fried green beans. Our server brought Henri treats, and I chatted with the new pit master, who was struggling with the heat on the smoker because of all the rain, while I waited for my lunch.
Devils Elbow, so named for a bend in the river that caused log jams, sits below a 200 foot tree-lined bluff and the view is gorgeous. A steel-truss bridge built in 1923 crosses the river and leads up the hill to a scenic overlook. The closest Route 66 hotel to here is the Munger Moss and they don’t allow pets of any kind, but now I’m wondering if the folks at Elbow Inn would allow camping on the river bank. That might be a good time!
Our next stop was much less scenic and historical, and much more touristy and lame. I should’ve known by the name. I’d seen the signs for Uranus, they’re super proud of their fudge and say so on billboards dotting I-44 on the way to St. Louis, but I’d never detoured there. It was mentioned in Best Hits, so I put it on our list (insert eye roll).
Unless you have the mind of a 13 year old boy and want to be able to say things like “My dog pooped in Uranus,” you can skip this one. This strip mall–ish “town” with a wild west façade, a dinosaur, and a rocket ship– none of which makes sense together- wasn’t built until 2000. It has nothing to do with Historic Route 66 except that it’s on the highway. My IQ dropped just driving through the parking lot.
Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven
Our next stop was Springfield, MO and the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven. The Rail Haven opened for business in 1938, and with each room featuring gas heat and a direct-dial telephone, it was considered a premier hotel. It is now the oldest operational Best Western in the United States, and though Best Western decommissioned the vintage crown logo and won’t allow the new owner to hang the old signs, you can find them around back.
The full–service gas station that once welcomed road trippers is now the main office with old school gas pumps flanking the main entrance. The office is a 50’s flashback with checkerboard flooring, and café style seating. When you pull in to the carport for check-in you’ll notice two vintage cars- a blue ‘55 Ford Customline and a green ‘56. Both still run with 600k miles on the ‘55 and 900k on the ‘56. Both human and canine guests are welcome to climb in for photos, just don’t ask for the keys.
The Rail Haven is dog-friendly with 9 rooms specifically designated for pets. The 50s themed rooms feature 2 double beds, no carpeting, and they are all located on the backside of the property facing the greenspace. There is an additional $10 per pet (limit 2)/ per night fee and an 80 lb. weight limit, but there are no breed restrictions.
Dalton, the front desk manager, says he does not foresee himself having a career in hospitality, but I think he should reconsider. Even though we weren’t checking in to the motel, he was friendly and informative. He’s the one who stood in the misting rain and took the photos of Henri and I in the Fords. If you stay at the Rail Haven be sure to meet John, too. He works the front desk in the morning and has been there for over 30 years. He has all the stories!
One of the things you don’t want to miss at the Best Western is the chance to see it at night in all its neon-trimmed glory. Unfortunately, we needed to get on down the road, so I was going to miss that.
Aside from Bob’s Gasoline Alley, which isn’t part of Route 66, and the Best Western, where I hadn’t planned to stay, the trip thus far was a bit disappointing. Without the right navigational tools, I’d spent a large portion of the day jumping on and off I-44 and/or wondering if I was even on Route 66 at all. A run-in with an unfriendly motel host, a visit to the World’s 2nd Largest Rocker, and an unfortunate pit stop in Uranus had me thinking this Route 66 thing was mostly just a long drive tourist trap. Headed into Carthage, I found myself frustrated and wondering aloud to Henri about the lack of sincere efforts to renovate and restore the buildings that existed before the Route was decommissioned.
Do you know what happens when you complain to the Universe and loose faith in the Mother Road?
She answers by serving you up a motel that’s been carefully restored by a historian to 1940’s perfection- no TV, no fridge, and because back then it wasn’t considered a necessary amenity, NO COFFEE in the rooms. The Mother has a sense of humor.
Fortunately, our experience in Carthage was the best part of our two day journey. I’ll tell you more about it and our stay at the dog-friendly Boots Court Motel in our next post! If you can’t wait, then grab a sneak peak over on Instagram.