Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday April 30, 2010

Got up to less windy weather today, although the weatherman is not predicting good weather for the next couple days. We will need to strike while the iron is hot. That means a quick cup of coffee, get dressed and get this motor home rolling.

The sky is very overcast but we need to take pictures of the front of the capitol building and all the requisite statues that adorn the grounds. Senator Everett Dirkson, Lincoln, Douglas and a tribute to Coal Miners are prominently displayed. We put thirty cents in the parking meter and started snapping. Done. Then we tried the Supreme Court door to see if we could gain entry. After everything but a body scan, we were able to tour the 1908 building. The woodworking, marble and paintings are breathtaking. We were able to enter the actual Supreme Court Room and capture some pics. The Court meets about six months a year.

We also took in the original train depot from where Abraham Lincoln left Springfield for Washington DC. He gave a speech at the depot, in February 1861 before leaving for the Presidency. Despite numerous death threats, Lincoln bravely took a twelve-day train trip through seven states on his way to the nation’s capital.

Now, get some breakfast and back on Route 66. We grabbed a quick McDonald’s breakfast. When we got back to the motor home we notice that there are some openings in the clouds and we can see some blue sky. Dare we go back to the Capitol one more time to see if we can get some sun on the building? Yep. You see, pictures of capitol buildings are big money makers. We have sold pictures of almost every capital city in the US and Canada. Textbook companies love them and lots of companies use them for editorial purposes. We get great shots and delete the cloudy ones. Gotta love it.
Back on the road, our next destination is Litchfield, Illinois. There is a famed diner on Route 66 and a couple of old signs that need a picture or two.

We were not disappointed when we arrived in Litchfield. We found the famous Ariston Café. Started in 1924, it is still run by the Adam Family. We had to stop and share a sandwich and some delicious homemade strawberry shortcake. The current owner, Nick Adam spoke with us and even took our picture behind the historic counter. Behind the counter is the original neon sign, “Remember where good food is served.” To that we can attest. Nick encouraged us to sign the guest book. As I wrote our names and hometown, I saw listings from Australia, Germany, Ireland, Czechoslovakia and more. What a national treasure the Ariston Café is. In fact, it was inducted into the Route 66 Hall of Fame. Before we left, our waitress gave us a commemorative postcard and refrigerator magnet.

Route 66 weaves and winds. At points, there are break off spots where you can take the current Route 66, or a circa 1930-1940 road or another version that dates to 1970.

We followed the 1930-1940 route for a bit out of Litchfield. We found the Route 66 emblem painted on the road, as well as a banner in the town of Mount Olive that suggested, “Get your kicks on Route 66”. We also saw an abandoned café that must have been a great stop in better times. Before leaving the little “burg”, we photographed a gas station that dates back to 1926, run by the Soulsby family. Russell ran the station with his dad and then sister for 65 years, proudly selling only Shell gasoline. The original pumps are still standing along with a beat up Shell sign.

The weatherman is not cooperating with our plan. We had St. Louis as our next destination. The plan was to spend a day or two there, photographing the iconic arch, the historic train station, perhaps the botanical gardens and the revived Laclede’s Landing area. We were there 18 years ago and so much has undoubtedly changed. However, due to a forecast of rain, rain, and more rain, we decided to keep on truckin’. We’ll catch St. Louis and the capital of Missouri, Jefferson City, on our way home in a few weeks.

We drive straight through St. Louis, catching a glimpse of the arch under dreary skies. We get on I-44 and then get a bright idea to stop in Branson Missouri on our way west. It is only 38 miles south of I-44 so it won’t be too much out of the way. Again, we were in Branson 18 years ago, before it was the huge destination it is today. Last time we visited, we went to a Kenny Rogers concert. Of course, that was when Kenny Rogers looked like Kenny Rogers. If you have seen him lately since his facelift, he is unrecognizable. I’ll bet even Kenny doesn’t recognize the guy in the mirror.

On the way to Branson, we were drawn to a place called, Meramec Caverns. Many farmers along Route 66 were paid over the years to advertise the attraction on their barns. It is said that Jesse James also hid in the caverns. The caverns are adorned with stalactites and stalagmites (remember that from science class?) and school buses frequent the state run natural phenomenon.

One more distraction before Branson was a Route 66 memorabilia spot. It was like a graveyard for old gas signs, pumps and antique cars. The owner seemed to care less whether or not he sold a thing. It was more like a passion for this storeowner than a business.

Finally, Branson. Located in the Ozark Mountains, it probably became a destination because of its natural beauty. The beautiful hills and nearby Table Rock Lake made it a fishing and boating destination. Some entrepreneurial spirit added an attraction or two and the rest is history.

We call ahead and get a spot at the Branson City Municipal Campground. We stayed here last time. The clerk was kind enough to guide us to the campground from the exit, helping us avoid the snarled traffic that is part and parcel of this out of the way mecca. Our campsite is right on the edge of the White River. Perfect!

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