VisitMO editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles by John Drake Robinson (J.R.), a past Missouri Division of Tourism director. It is interesting to note that J.R. has driven every mile of every road on Missouri's highway map and written two books about the experiences. For details and links to his blog, and to order his books, go to JohnDrakeRobinson.com.
Looping Through Missouri's National Park Service Sites
When school's out, the learning—and the fun—continues, at Missouri's six amazing National Park Service sites. You can design your own flexible itinerary. To demonstrate, I shut my eyes and spun around, and landed my index finger on the map …
From the Arkansas border, invade Missouri along the Old Wire Road (now Route 65), much as General Sterling Price did during the Civil War, through the Ozarks to a Union encampment at Wilson’s Creek. Imagine the old telegraph line singing its warning to Springfield and St. Louis. No doubt the wires were hot on August 10, 1861, when 17,400 soldiers clashed at Bloody Hill. When the smoke cleared, 1,500 casualties lay on the ground, among them General Nathaniel Lyon, the first general killed in the Civil War. Few Civil War battlefields remain as intact and undisturbed as Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
Now make a beeline west along Route 60—straight as a peanut shell—and jog north to Diamond, Missouri.
School children (and adults) have a wonderful opportunity to discover one of America's greatest geniuses. The George Washington Carver National Monument has been dusted off, spiffed up and packed with enough common sense to save the world, compliments of Carver. In the middle of a restored prairie, the monument offers equal parts Carver science, Carver care and Carver lifestyle.
It's understandable that in America's fast-food appetite for history, we know little more than peanuts about George Washington Carver. Yet Carver was a trailblazer in agriculture, education, ecology, and life.
Sure, he developed 300 uses for the lowly-regarded peanut, including paper and ink, gasoline and shampoo, insecticide and nitroglycerin. Perhaps more important, he showed that by planting peanuts in rotation with cotton, the peanut plant actually introduced nutrients back into the soil.
No, he didn't invent peanut butter. But he did develop 70 uses for pecans and 300 colored paints from clay. He made synthetic marble from wood pulp, paint from used motor oil, athlete's foot medicine from persimmons, paving bricks from cotton, stamp glue from sweet potato starch, clothing from sweet potatoes, medicine from pine needles and fuel from corn. Whew!
It's all there in this kid-friendly interactive museum. Follow the formative path where this gentle genius poured out his simple prescription for healthier plants: love them.
Head east, and prepare to descend into a remote ecosystem where each year, more than 1.4 million floaters and campers dip their toes into the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. These rushing streams – the Current River and the Jacks Fork River – surprise the landscape, surging from springs under some of the oldest mountains on the continent. The rivers remain among the cleanest in the world. The blue herons and trout attest to that, as do the swamp rabbit and the Ozark Hellbender. Discover a Jesse James hideout at Maggard's Cabin (inquire at Akers Ferry Canoe Rental for information), plus other famous local landmarks with names such as Smash Rock and Jam-up Cave (it is best accessible by water).
Find asphalt and zip eastward along the wire road (now called Route 66/I-44) to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site at Grant's White Haven home. The entire eastern border of Missouri is dotted with Grant’s horse droppings. Late in life, he and Sam Clemens (you might know him as Mark Twain) reminisced about how they almost battled. And farther south, Grant guarded the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, a dangerous spot during the opening rounds of the Civil War. He reportedly dodged four bullets in one day. But his refuge was White Haven, in St. Louis County. Spend a day exploring the animals (including Clydesdales), attractions and fun at Grant’s Farm.
Following old Route 66 into St. Louis, it’s a short hop (make a stop at the legendary Ted Drewes Frozen Custard stand) to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Yes, there you can travel up into the world-famous Gateway Arch. But there's a lot more than meets the eye: This park also contains a huge and fascinating Museum of Westward Expansion, underground beneath the arch. This iconic park hosts more visitors annually than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Mount Rushmore.
Now, drive across the state, or hop AMTRAK as it follows the Lewis & Clark Trail to Independence, Missouri.
During President Truman’s administration, the National Park Service created 22 new national sites. All but one survive. So it’s appropriate that the National Park Service salutes Truman with the Harry S Truman National Historic Site, which actually includes three sites: the Visitors Center and the Summer White House (Truman Home) in Independence, plus Truman's boyhood family farm (Farm Home) in Grandview, Missouri – all are lovingly preserved.
Lovingly preserved is a good term to use when talking about Missouri’s six National Park Service sites. Plan your journey.
- Travel with J.R. on his fascinating, educational and often comical journey along the highways, byways and side roads of Missouri. His books, "A Road Trip into America's Hidden Heart" and "Coastal Missouri: Driving on the Edge of Wild," are available at most book stores and on J.R.’s website; also online at BarnesAndNoble.com and Amazon.com by searching "John Drake Robinson."
- For thousands of things to do, sights to see and adventures to experience in Missouri, spend some time on VisitMO.com, Missouri’s only official tourism website.