We woke up in Carthage, MO effortlessly, undeterred the night before by the torrential rain and intense winds that soaked our truck and whipped the trees against our window. We bid a friendly goodbye to our motel attendant and went to wander around the square in the center of town. Tiny, quiet shops lined the streets surrounding the picturesque courthouse, which stood like a centerpiece to the little town. We caffeinated ourselves at Mother Road Coffee and perused a few antique shops (there were many), walking away with trinkets that included a mini Japanese-style vase and a Route 66 coin bank shaped like an old fire hydrant that I absolutely had to have.
We rolled out of Carthage and into Joplin just a few miles away, taking a quick stop at the Historical Museum in the Joplin Museum Complex which contains artifacts left behind by the notorious Bonnie and Clyde following a shootout in 1933. The museum had several grey cats roaming around inside (one of which the owners were frantically searching for during our visit). Admission was $3.
The Kansas border was only a few miles from Joplin. My 50th state was looming in front of us. As our truck rolled past the (surprisingly small) “Welcome to Kansas” sign on an unassuming stretch of road, the whole thing became a bit surreal. For so many years I had been working towards my goal of 50 states, planning convoluted road trips filled with unknowns and discoveries. On a sunny day, I hopped out of the car in Galena, KS and touched the pavement in my final state!! But until we slept in the state of Kansas that night, I didn’t feel that it was truly complete. Our trip wasn’t over, and the wandering never would be.
Route 66 only spans the state of Kansas for 13 miles. Think of clipping the corner off a piece of paper to aid with visualization. Galena, a super old mining town, is “there and then it’s gone”. Old storefront facades line the streets, trickled with antique stores and a gift shop/sandwich bar called Cars on Route which features rusty replicas of characters from the movie Cars on the front lawn.
Further down the route we drove past Riverton, which consists of only a few homes and the Eisler Bros. Old Riverton Store which supposedly has great sandwiches. We crossed over the old metal Brush Creek Bridge, stopping so I could leap through the air in the middle of the vacant road as the excitement of making it to my 50th state brewed stronger. I owned that road.
Baxter Springs, once a rough and rowdy town as well as the site of a deadly Civil War battle, is now quiet, easy-going, and trickled with history. It represented the “end” of Route 66 in Kansas and would be our final stop before heading north. We stopped at Angels on the Route, an 1865 building that houses a friendly café serving breakfast, lunch, and scoops of ice cream. Famished from spending longer than expected on a 13-mile stretch of road, I inhaled a tasty sandwich and tart glass of lemonade while a small group of older gentlemen played live music outside.
For a minute, I considered the idea of continuing on into Oklahoma, which loomed just miles ahead. Shaking off that moment of gypsy thinking, we turned the truck north and meandered in a zig-zag pattern through 2-lane highways that cut across cornfields and sweeping plains through the better portion of the state. I gawked at dusty farm roads as they shot off into the horizon on either side of us and slipped into open-road serenity.
Passing Highway 70, we made a stop in the little town of Wamego, KS to visit the Wizard of Oz Winery (a real thing) in a tiny town known for embracing the “Oz” spirit. We caught the winery just 15 minutes before closing, sipped through a quick tasting, and purchased a super awesome bottle of “Glinda’s Bubbly” to celebrate. The girls behind the counter (originally from Maine, interestingly enough) heard about our 50-states trek and cheered and clapped as we walked out the door.
Manhattan, KS would be our home for the night. The “little apple” is a college town with a cute downtown full of restaurants and bars. We plopped into a booth at Bourbon and Baker for small plates that included mini fried chicken & waffles and pork belly. The sky was bright orange and pink as the sun set on our day. It started growing up in Manhattan, NY in a tiny walk-up apartment. It ended in Manhattan, KS sipping “Glinda’s bubbly” champagne out of Styrofoam motel cups back in our $70 room. From the Big Apple to the Little Apple, I’ve seen 50 states and hundreds of cities, deserts and mountains, highways and dirt paths. In between those places, there is still so much unseen. There are so many secrets trembling below the surface. This has only just begun.