Route 66 International Festival in Joplin, Missouri

By Marcia Gascho

Several months ago, we heard that Joplin would be hosting the 2013 Route 66 International Festival on August 1-3. It had never been held in Missouri before. It was close enough for a long weekend trip so we decided to go! We made hotel reservations and I signed up for the Festival e-mail list. It was exciting to read about new events that were being announced. I was especially happy to hear that the Road Crew band would be performing. I love their Route 66 music.

We left Indianapolis the morning of August 1st. After suffering through a ton of road construction on I-70 in Indiana and Illinois, we vowed not to come home that way. Once in Missouri, we hopped off and on the Interstate to visit some favorite spots. We ate lunch at the always wonderful Café Korea in St. Robert, Missouri. When we arrived in Joplin in the late afternoon, our hotel was filling up with Route 66 roadies! Unfortunately the drive-in movie in Carthage, Missouri had sold out long ago. They were showing “Cars” and it would have been fun to watch with a group of Route 66 enthusiasts. Instead, we headed south of Joplin to view Grand Falls, the biggest waterfall in Missouri. There were many interesting rock formations in that area. We also walked around Wildcat Glade, a nature preserve and Audubon center. The nature center building is an interesting structure built from recycled materials. Too bad it was closed for the day. We must visit this place again the next time we are in the Joplin area.

Friday morning we went downtown and picked up the official Route 66 Festival visitor pack. A mini cooler contained items like a flashlight, a beverage cup, a passport and an official lanyard. We also looked at the amazing Route 66 quilt in the City Hall building. Main Street was blocked off and vendors were setting up their booths. We visited Schifferdecker Park to tour the Joplin Museum complex. We also got a tour of the Route 66 Candy House Chocolate Factory and enjoyed watching them make different kinds of delicious candy. We went back downtown to attend the official dedication/ribbon cutting ceremony of the new Joplin Route 66 mural. The mural is located on the side of the Pearl Brothers True Value Hardware store. If you like old hardware stores, this is a really cool one to visit.

At the ceremony I was able to meet Michael Wallis in person at last. He and Rick Freeland are co-founders of the Route 66 Alliance and were instrumental in getting the Festival in Joplin. The city of Joplin is making a remarkable recovery from the devastating tornado of 2011. We saw many homes and businesses that were rebuilding. Hopefully the Festival further boosted its image and added some tourist dollars to the local economy.

We spent Friday afternoon on Route 66. First, we drove to Miami, Oklahoma, to see the inside of the beautiful Coleman Theater. We had stopped by there several years ago, but the building was not open at the time. We love restored old theaters and movie palaces saved from the wrecking ball. This place is a real gem. It would be awesome to see some kind of performance there someday. We went to Baxter Springs and wandered around downtown. They have some neat stores and friendly folks. Their excellent museum is also well worth a visit. We made a quick stop in Riverton at the old Eisler Brothers store (now Nelson’s). I was sad when I heard it had closed a while back but was relieved when it was purchased by Scott Nelson, president of the Kansas Route 66 Association.

Rain was threatening as we rolled into Galena. We stepped into the renovated “Cars on the Route” building as it started pouring and the place quickly filled up with soggy people. Fortunately the rain didn’t last too long. There were full-sized models of Tow Mater and Lightning McQueen on display, much to the delight of kids young and old. Tow Tater was there in his usual spot too. The first time we stopped in Galena several years ago, we commented on what a sad-looking little town it was. It is now showing many signs of revitalization. Having the Festival there that day provided Galena with a lot of great exposure and tourist revenue. It was wonderful to see the crowds of people. A beautiful new mural is now on display in town. When the Road Crew band took the stage, it was a real treat to hear them play live. We were able to meet the band members when they took a break during their set. We headed back to Joplin that night tired but happy. It was hard to believe everything we had packed in that day.

We would have loved to stay in Joplin for another day but had to get back to Indy for some commitments. On our way home, we stopped for lunch at the Elbow Inn at Devil’s Elbow. I admit we were disappointed by the food. We love the Devil’s Elbow area with the scenic Big Piney River, rock formations and bridges. We made a couple more stops in Missouri, then skirted around St. Louis. We drove on part of Illinois Route 66, picking it up outside Staunton. Rich Henry was at the Ra66it Ranch so we met his new bunnies Phoenix and Little Red. After dinner at the Ariston in Litchfield, we drove the final tedious stretch home.

This was a really great three day Route 66 trip. It was fun to meet people from all over the US as well as some international visitors. It was just announced that the 2014 International Festival will be in Kingman, Arizona. We’re very sad that it’s a little too far away for a quick weekend road trip!

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