A 5 Day Midwest Adventure: Day 5 – Columbia, St. Louis, Ra66it Ranch and a Fire Breathing Dragon

University of Missouri - Columbia, Missouri
University of Missouri – Columbia, Missouri

The final day of our five day whirlwind trip to Nebraska and back began in Columbia, Missouri and took us through St. Louis and then some interesting spots in Illinois along old Route 66 and then eventually home to Lexington.  Following is our final day route:


View Larger Map – Columbia, MO to Lexington, KY

Columbia was a pleasant surprise.  A beautiful college town with lots of murals and color and historical buildings, like the administration building for the University of Missouri (shown above).  Before we headed down the road towards St. Louis, we took a brief drive around Columbia.  Here are a few shots:

Colorful Phone Booth in downtown Columbia, MO
Colorful Phone Booth in downtown Columbia, MO
Sunrise in Columbia, MO
Sunrise in Columbia, MO

We drove by Shakespeare’s Pizza and they have a very unique long painted wall of art on the outside of the shop.  Here are a few close-ups of bits of the wall. This wall was painted by Columbia artist Ned Vail and members of some of his art classes.

Politician and School Leader - portion of Shakespeare's wall mural - Columbia, MO
Politician and School Leader – portion of Shakespeare’s wall mural – Columbia, MO
Drawing of Inside of the Pizza Shop
Drawing of Inside of the Pizza Shop – Ned Vail, 2003
Shakespeare Pizza Wall At by Ned Vail
Shakespeare Pizza Wall At by Ned Vail

Besides Shakespeare’s Pizza there were a few other colorful items in town:

Wall Mural - Columbia, MO
Wall Mural – Columbia, MO
Keys to the City by Howard Meehan
Keys to the City by Howard Meehan

New Mexico artist Howard Meehan built Keys to the City in 2010 for the city of Columbia. The 19-foot-tall, 16-foot-wide sculpture, one of 11 Columbia Percent for Art projects, is made of structural steel and placed atop concrete bases holding color-changing LEDs.

People by Don Bartlett
People by Don Bartlett
Mosaic Art - Columbia, MO
Mosaic Art – Columbia, MO
Lit Pillars at Courthouse in Columbia, MO
Lit Pillars at Courthouse in Columbia, MO

From Columbia it was time to head eastward towards St. Louis.  I have driven this stretch of Interstate 70 well over a dozen times, so we pressed forward to our next destination – The Butterfly House at the Missouri Botanical Garden in Chesterfield, Missouri’s Faust Park.

Butterfly House Gate - Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
Butterfly House Gate – Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
Butterfly House at Faust Park in Chesterfield, MO
Butterfly House at Faust Park in Chesterfield, MO

In the front seasonal gardens is a giant butterfly sculpture called the Mysterious Monarch, which is a 28-foot tall butterfly created by St. Louis sculptor Bob Cassilly in 1997 and given to the Butterfly House by Rosemary and Joe Shaughnessy in honor of their grandchildren.

Sumoflam and Giant Butterfly at the Butterfly House
Sumoflam and Giant Butterfly at the Butterfly House

The Butterfly House is GREAT and absolutely fascinating. It is well worth a visit, especially if you are with kids.  The museum section has a number of kid-friendly exhibits and an extraordinary video presentation about butterflies.  But the best part is the tropical conservatory.  It has a controlled environment that houses nearly 2,000 tropical butterflies in free flight and a number of unique tropical plants not seen in most locales in the U.S.  As many as 80 butterfly species and 150 tropical plant species can be seen. Following are a number of shots we got of butterflies and plants while in the conservatory.

Colorful Butterfly statue in front of the Butterfly House
Colorful Butterfly statue in front of the Butterfly House
Grandkids play on the 30 foot long "Lopatapillar", a creation by artist Bob Cassilly
Grandkids play on the 30 foot long “Lopatapillar”, a creation by artist Bob Cassilly
Flower at Butterfly House
Flower at Butterfly House
Flowers at Butterfly House
Flowers at Butterfly House
Tropical Flowers at the Butterfly House
Tropical Flowers at the Butterfly House
Blue Morpho Butterfly (morpho peleides) at the Butterfly House
Blue Morpho Butterfly (morpho peleides) at the Butterfly House
Granddaughter holding Blue Morphos
Granddaughter holding Blue Morphos

The Blue Morphos is common to South and Central America. The blue only shows when they fly; the underside of their wings is brown with several eyespots.

Postman Butterfly (Heliconius erato)
Postman Butterfly (Heliconius erato)
Striking Blue Butterfly on pink flowers
Striking Blue Butterfly on pink flowers
Lovely Tropical Flowers at Butterfly House
Lovely Tropical Flowers at Butterfly House
Paper Kite Butterfly (Idea leuconoe) from Southeast Asia
Paper Kite Butterfly (Idea leuconoe) from Southeast Asia
Great Mormon Butterfly (Papilio memnon) from Southeast Asia
Great Mormon Butterfly (Papilio memnon) from South Asia
White Swallowtail Butterfly
White Swallowtail Butterfly
Giant Owl Butterfly
Giant Owl Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly seen n outdoor garden at Butterfly House
Monarch Butterfly seen in outdoor garden at Butterfly House
Butterfly and Red Flowers
Butterfly and Red Flowers
Black Butterfly
Black Butterfly
Butterfly landing
Butterfly landing
Beautiful Purple Flower
Beautiful Purple Orchid at Butterfly House

Just a short walk from the Butterfly House is the St. Louis Carousel, an original carousel created by the Dentzel Company of Philadelphia in the 1920s. The Carousel was installed in 1929 at the Forest Park Highlands. When the Highlands burned to the ground in 1963, the carousel was the only thing left standing. Howard C. Ohlendorf purchased the carousel to prevent it from being dismantled and donated it to St. Louis County Parks in 1965.  It is a throwback to the olden days….my grandkids got to enjoy the ride on this old fashioned wonder.

St. Louis Carousel Building in Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
St. Louis Carousel Building in Faust Park, Chesterfield, MO
The 1920s St. Louis Carousel at Faust Park
The 1920s St. Louis Carousel at Faust Park
Riding the Carousel at Faust Park
Riding the Carousel at Faust Park

After a few rides on the Carousel, it was back on the road.  We headed into St. Louis for a stop at the Brown Shoe Company. This company is the home company for a number of shoe brands (inclduing Famous Footwear, Dr. Scholl’s, Naturalizer, Life Stride and more) , but we were only going to visit to see ONE shoe…..

Giant Shoe at Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis
Giant Shoe made of shoes at Brown Shoe Company in St. Louis
Shoes in the Giant Shoe
Shoes in the Giant Shoe
Sumoflam and the Big Shoe
Sumoflam and the Big Shoe

From the Big Shoe it was on to Downtown St. Louis.  All of us were excited to visit the Gateway Arch (no link since the US Government is still shut down as I write this).  On the way we made one more stop at a unique, quirky place…The Christman Studio and Sculpture Park and Joe’s Cafe in the Skinker Neighborhood of St. Louis. This is like the birthplace of quirky art and other kitsch.

Joe's Cafe - a performance venue attached to the Christman Gallery in St. Louis
Joe’s Cafe – a performance venue attached to the Christman Gallery in St. Louis

Bill Christman was trained as an artist, has taught and made art, and has worked for years in the design and production of signs, murals, billboards, exhibits, sculptures, assemblages and theatrical scenery. He’s the Proprietor of Beatnik Bob’s, and the Director of the Museum of Mirth, Mystery, & Mayhem at St. Louis’ Ultra Quirky and Offbeat City Museum (I wish we had gone there on this trip!!!!!!  See more here). He is also the owner of Christman Studios and the Impresario of Thursday Nite Music at Joe’s Café in the Skinker/DeBaliviere Neighborhood.

Big Pants at the entrance to Christman Gallery in St. Louis
Big Pants at the entrance to Christman Gallery in St. Louis
Giant Rooster greets you at Joe's Cafe entrance
Giant Rooster greets you at Joe’s Cafe entrance
A Thing-a-ma-jigger at Christman Studio in St. Louis
A Thing-a-ma-jigger at Christman Studio in St. Louis

The studio is apparently closed except on Thursday evenings, but you can at least take a peak through the gates of the back yard.  What a menagerie awaits as you gander at all of the goodies behind the fence and around the fence.

Backyard view of Christman's gallery - including a giant head
Backyard view of Christman’s gallery – including a giant Muffler Man head (probably the upper half of the legs in the front yard)
Hydrant Collection at back yard gate
Hydrant Collection at back yard gate
Another view of the back yard with a Big Boy Head
Another view of the back yard with a Big Boy Head
A HandBurger (probably from the Big Boy)
A HandBurger (probably from the Big Boy)
Rusty Cans line the top of the fence.  Who need's barbed wire?
Rusty Cans line the top of the fence. Who need’s barbed wire?
This must be his guest house.  "It Ain't Home 'til You Take the Wheels Off"
This must be his guest house. “It Ain’t Home ’til You Take the Wheels Off”
A White Buffalo Guards the Gate at Christman's Studio
A White Buffalo Guards the Gate at Christman’s Studio
Buddha Head adorns the top of the Front Door to the Gallery
Buddha Head adorns the top of the Front Door to the Gallery
A Skink on a Sign
A Skink on a Sign for the Skinker neighborhood

Finally, on to downtown St. Louis and the Gateway Arch….

Arch as seen from Downtown
Arch as seen from Downtown
Arch Reflection on a mirrored Building
Arch Reflection on a mirrored Building

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis is a 630-foot tall (and 630 foot wide) monument and is the tallest man-made monument in the United States. It is also the world’s tallest arch. The Gateway Arch was designed by architect Eero Saarinen and structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. Construction began on February 12, 1963, and ended on October 28, 1965,costing US $13 million at the time. The monument opened to the public on June 10, 1967. Currently, the Gateway Arch is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world with over four million visitors annually,of which around one million travel to the top.  I had the opportunity to go to the top in 1997 and what an adventure that was.  Here is what I saw back then…

View of Capital Building from top of St. Louis Arch, taken Sept. 1997
View of Capital Building from top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, taken Sept. 1997
View of downtown St. Louis form the top of the Gateway Arch in Sept. 1997
View of downtown St. Louis from the top of the Gateway Arch in Sept. 1997

Much of St. Louis has changed over the last 16 years.  It is interesting that the photos above were taken on Sept 14, 1997.  Our visit this time was on Sept 13, 2013, almost exactly 16 years later.

My children under the Arch on Sept. 14, 1997
My children under the Gateway Arch on Sept. 14, 1997 (L-R Marissa -16, Barbara G – French Exchange Student -17, Amaree -17, Seth-10, Solomon-8)

Our visit this time was on a beautiful sunny day with a few clouds. I got a few shots of the arch closeup and then we were on our way across the Mississippi River.

Gateway Arch in the clouds
Gateway Arch in the clouds
Gateway Arch - St. Louis
Gateway Arch – St. Louis
Side shot of Gateway Arch in St. Louis
Side shot of Gateway Arch in St. Louis

From the Arch parking we lot we headed down the river and took a drive around the arch to get us back on to Memorial Drive heading north.  We then took the Eads Bridge across the river.

Lewis and Clark wave to us from the River as we passed by
Lewis and Clark wave to us from the River as we passed by
Martin Luther King Bridge in St. Louis
Martin Luther King Bridge in St. Louis

We figured there has to be a park on the other side of the river that would give us a view.  So, after crossing the Eads Bridge it put us onto Riverpark Dr. in East St. Louis, Illinois. We followed Riverpark Dr. to S. Main St. and took a right. We followed Main to W. Trendley Avenue and took a right.  This took us right into Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park, which offered us a spectacular view of the Gateway Arch and St. Louis.  Though we got to see the Arch, we were not there at the right time to see the Gateway Geyser which explodes 8000 gallons of water per minute to a height of 630 feet (the height of the Gateway Arch), which makes it the tallest water fountain in the United States.

Gateway Arch as seen from Malcolm W. Marin Memorial Park in E. St. Louis, IL
Gateway Arch as seen from Malcolm W. Marin Memorial Park in E. St. Louis, IL
Gateway Geyser (photo from illinoisbeautiful.com)
Gateway Geyser (photo from illinoisbeautiful.com)

After a nice visit to the big city to see the big arch, we veered eastward toward Staunton, Illinois to the famous Henry’s Ra66it Ranch on Old Highway 66.

Historic Route 66 in Illinois
Historic Route 66 in Illinois

Henry’s Ra66it Ranch (the 66 is intentional) celebrates Route 66 and the people along the highway with its emporium of highway and trucking memorabilia that includes a collection of Campbell’s Trucklines “Humpin’ to Please” trailers next to a replica of a vintage gas station.

Henry's Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Henry’s Ra66it Ranch in Staunton, IL
Reminiscent of Cadillac Ranch, Ra66it Ranch has their own buried cars
Reminiscent of Cadillac Ranch, Ra66it Ranch has their own buried cars

I have created a separate post about this here as it is deserving of its own post!  Please check it out. From Staunton we headed east towards Vandalia, Illinois to see the famed “Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon

Corn Fields on Old Route 66 near Staunton, IL
Corn Fields on Old Route 66 near Staunton, IL
Slow Down - Its Pokey Road - near Pochahontas, IL
Slow Down – Its Pokey Road – near Pocahontas, IL
Pochahontas, IL - "Pokey" - Home of Country Singer Gretchen Wilson (Gimme a Hell Ya!)
Pocahontas, IL – “Pokey” – Home of Country Singer Gretchen Wilson (Gimme a Hell Ya!)
Giant Golden Grapes at a Winery in Pocahontas, IL
Giant Copper Grapes at a Copper Dock Winery in Pocahontas, IL

Copper Dock Winery is on Pokey Road and has a 15 foot tall Giant bunch of Copper Grapes, ripe for the picking!!  From Pokey we headed NE on I-70 (along the old National Road) towards Vandalia, about a 30 minute drive.

Vandalia Water Tower with Lincoln on it
Vandalia Water Tower with Lincoln on it

Vandalia is a historical Illinois town.  From 1819 to 1839 it served as the state capital of Illinois. And, early on, it was the terminus for the legendary National Road. The road, also known as the “Road That Built the Nation”, was created in 1806 by legislation signed by President Thomas Jefferson. Sometimes called “The Cumberland Road” and “The Old Pike”, it was the only road completely built with federal funds. Originally winding from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois, the National Road opened Illinois to settlement. Today, the Illinois National Road stretches 164 miles from Marshall to East St. Louis and is mirrored by U.S. Route 40 and Interstate 70.  Today the National Road stretches 824 miles.

Vandalia State House in Vandalia, IL
Vandalia State House in Vandalia, IL

The Vandalia State House was the fourth Illinois state house (The first (1818-1820) was at Kaskaskia, the state’s first capital. The second (1820-1823), third (1824-1836), and fourth (1836-1839) were at Vandalia.). The present one is the oldest surviving capital building in Illinois.  It is significant because of its association with Abraham Lincoln, who served in the House of Representatives at the time.

Madonna of the Trail Statue in Vandalia, IL
Madonna of the Trail Statue in Vandalia, IL

The “Madonna of the Trail” statues are a series of 12 statues that can be found along the original National Road and now all the way into California.  I have only visited one, but they are now on my “To Do” list as I travel to different destinations. They honor the pioneer heritage of the mothers that traveled across the country.  The following is from Wikipedia’s article on these monuments.

There is one monument in each of the 12 states along the National Old Trails Highway The monuments in order of dedication are:

  1. Springfield, Ohio—July 4, 1928
  2. Wheeling, West Virginia—July 7, 1928
  3. Council Grove, Kansas—September 7, 1928
  4. Lexington, Missouri—September 17, 1928
  5. Lamar, Colorado—September 24, 1928
  6. Albuquerque, New Mexico—September 27, 1928
  7. Springerville, Arizona—September 29, 1928
  8. Vandalia, Illinois—October 26, 1928
  9. Richmond, Indiana—October 28, 1928
  10. Beallsville, Pennsylvania—December 8, 1928
  11. Upland, California—February 1, 1929
  12. Bethesda, Maryland—April 19, 1929

As of 2005, all 12 monuments are still available for public viewing, although several have been relocated short distances due to highway improvements, etc.

Old Liberty Theater in Vandalia
Old Liberty Theater in Vandalia

From downtown we made our way to the…..

Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon
….Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon

One of our trip highlights and, significantly, the last stop on our long 5 day trip, is the huge Kaskaskia Fire Breathing Dragon in Vandalia.  This monster was the brainchild of Kaskaskia Supply owner Walt Barenfanger. This 35 foot long beast is not only a nice piece of metal art, it is also FIRE BREATHING! Yes, go across the street to the Liquor Store or over to the Kaskaskia Hardware store and get a token for One Dollar, stick it into the self-service coin box and this guy’s eyes light up red and he breathes REAL fire for about 10 seconds!!

Kaskaskia Dragon Breathes Fire in Vandalia, IL
Kaskaskia Dragon Breathes Fire in Vandalia, IL
Breathing Fire in Vandalia
Breathing Fire in Vandalia
A closeup of the fire!
A closeup of the fire!

Since 2001 the Dragon has been anchored on the corner of Rock Island Ave and Progress Way, just off of US 40/Veteran’s Avenue. (see complete details at Roadside America).

Sumoflam and Paula Barenfanger, owner of the Kaskaskia Dragon and Kaskaskia Supply
Sumoflam and Paula Barenfanger, owner of the Kaskaskia Dragon and Kaskaskia Supply
Sumoflam and the Fire Breathing Dragon of Kaskaskia in Vandalia, IL
Sumoflam and the Fire Breathing Dragon of Kaskaskia in Vandalia, IL

And thus the five day Midwest Adventure comes to a close as my daughter, three grandchildren and I make our way back to Lexington.  I did get tired, so I thought I would let my little Lyla drive the rest of the way home.  What a great trip this was!!

Lyla driving us home
Lyla driving us home

Some roadside assistance provided by our friends at……

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