Route 66 Road Trip: Route 66 State Park

We’d seen a lot of strange things on our Route 66 road trip, including a 30 foot tall astronaut, a six foot long hot dog, and a giant pink elephant, but none of those road side attractions are nearly as interesting as the story behind Route 66 State Park.

If you don’t know the history behind it, and just happen to be stopping by for a trail hike while traveling along the Mother Road, there isn’t much there to visually indicate the tragedy that eventually lead to the creation of Missouri’s newest state park. But MaMa did a bunch of research before we left for our trip, and we knew before arriving that the park happens to be located on the former site of Times Beach, an unlucky town just 17 miles west of St. Louis, originally founded as a summer resort destination in 1925 on the banks of the Meramec River.

Because of the Great Depression, Times Beach didn’t survive as a resort town, but did eventually become a lower-middle class city, and home to approximately 2,000 residents. In 1972 the town, who’s only paved street was Route 66, hired Russell Bliss, a waste hauler, to oil down the dirt roads, in an effort to control a dust problem. What they didn’t know is he was using oil that was contaminated with Dioxin, a highly toxic by-product, found in waste that Bliss was hauling for the Northeastern Pharmaceutical and Chemical Company, the producer of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War!

When local horses began dying in stables where the same oil had been sprayed by Bliss, an investigation was begun by the EPA, and eventually the Federal Government bought out the entire town in 1983, and all residents were evacuated in 1985. In 1996-1997, the government removed nearly 300,000 tons of contaminated soil and debris from the site, and everything was incinerated. After that, the 419-acre site was turned over to the State of Missouri, who turned the former town into the Route 66 State Park, which opened in 1999.

I told you it was in interesting story!

Our visit to the park was peaceful and not nearly as intriguing as the story behind the creation of this state park. I was pretty worn out from all of the previous activities from this day and the day before, that I made MaMa carry me for a large chunk of our walk! (This happens a lot, and now you know why they bought a carrier for me!)

looking back G
The view is nice from up here!
Carry G
I think I’ll take a nap now!
GiGi MaMa Close up
You can see Pop and Levi in MaMa’s glasses!

While walking we found ourselves under the Route 66 Bridge, which was built in 1932 and crosses the Meramec River. Because of wear and deterioration, the bridge has been closed down for a number of years to all traffic, including pedestrian. There is a group trying to restore it, but if they don’t raise enough money by the end of this year, it will be demolished in 2017. I’m sure glad we got to see it, and hope the group is successful. Here is a link to their go fund me page, if you are interested in making a donation to save this landmark.

Levi Bridge
Levi gazing up at the Route 66 State Park Bridge.
G and L Bridge
Route 66 State Park Bridge

All in all, we had a great time at the park and were grateful for a nice time to enjoy nature, and are extremely happy that something so beautiful was made out of something so tragic!

Route 66 Road Trip: It’s Just Water Under the Bridge

Once everything was back on track, and Levi had his medicine, we were able to officially start day two of our Route 66 Adventure! The first item on our agenda was the Chain of Rocks Bridge, which is just over one mile long and spans the Mississippi River between Madison, IL (Chouteau Island) and an area just north of St. Louis, MO.

It is a Truss-style bridge, built in 1929 and was used as a bypass for Route 66 travelers who wished to avoid downtown St. Louis. A new bridge was built just to the north in 1966 to accommodate the newly constructed I-270 , and the original Chain of Rocks Bridge (named for the large shoal, or rocky rapids that made that area difficult to navigate) eventually closed to vehicular traffic in 1970. It sat completely unused for almost 30 years, but in 1998 was leased to a local trail’s group, and renovated for pedestrian and cycling use only.

While researching our trip, MaMa read about the possibility of break-ins and unsavory types in the area (especially on the Missouri side), but fortunately we didn’t run into anything like that. I still wanted to mention it though, in case you are using my blog as a travel guide!

Even though we used Google maps to navigate us, we still managed to get a little lost on our way to the bridge, but finally after much discussion between MaMa and Pops, we found our way to the short bridge we needed to take in order to get to the entrance of the Chain of Rocks bridge on Chouteau Island.

Bridge to Chouteau
We are on our way!

Once we finally got to the bridge, I was excited to walk across it, and check out the Mississippi River! It would have been my first time seeing it, but Levi had other plans.

MaMa and I are ready to walk the bridge!
MaMa and I are ready to walk the bridge!
Come on, let's do this!
Come on, let’s do this!

It turns out he is deathly afraid of crossing bridges, and this mile long footbridge was just too much for him to handle. Pops got him about 50 feet onto the bridge, when Levi started cowering and hugging the railing. He’s our big, brave Pitboxer, and here he was acting like a scared baby bird!

Levi checks out the start of the bridge.
Levi checks out the start of the bridge.
"You're kidding me, right?"
“You’re kidding me, right?”
"Get me off this thing!"
“Get me off this thing!”
MaMa making fun of Levi. Not nice, MaMa!
MaMa making fun of Levi. Not nice, MaMa!

Since MaMa and I didn’t want to make the trip across the bridge without them, mostly because of the unsavory types we’d heard about, we ended up just sniffing around the entrance a little bit and attempted to take a family photo before two dogs showed up (which is what Levi and I were looking at). We ended up piling back into the car and taking off shortly after that.

Family Photo before some dogs showed up.
Family Photo before some dogs showed up.

On our way back out of town we saw a Route 66 open air flea market that allowed dogs, so our consolation prize was to take a walk around there and get admired by the locals, before heading on to Missouri. We sure do love stopping anywhere that is dog friendly! Flea markets have a lot of odd and interesting things to check out, but luckily I didn’t see any actual fleas!

Route 66 Flea Market, an unplanned stop!
Route 66 Flea Market, an unplanned stop!
So many odd & interesting things to see!
So many odd & interesting things to see!

Day Two certainly wasn’t starting off the way we thought it would, but we were making the most of it, and staying flexible. I was starting to become an experienced road tripper, and learning that the best way to have fun and a good time was to just go with the flow!