Tag Archives: Ozarks

Missouri Hick BBQ sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Heckuva hick

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

Unlike Bill Johnson’s in Phoenix or Frank’s in San Antonio, the Missouri Hick is still open for business.

Missouri Hick BBQ sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And hallelujah for that, because it’s hard to find better barbecue than this.

Missouri Hick BBQ sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Plus, I am a sucker for anywhere that takes local quirks, dials them up to eleven and turns them into decor.

Missouri Hick BBQ sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The place was just about empty, as we didn’t roll into town until just before closing time (we had come a long, long way since our early breakfast in Chicago that morning, and even our afternoon snack was hours in the past).

Missouri Hick BBQ sketch by Chandler O'Leary

But luckily for us, they were still happy to feed us—and we were more than happy to chow down.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The tourist trade

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

One of the grandest Route 66 traditions is the souvenir shop—or as it is more frequently named here, the trading post. And few Mother Road icons have such a long history. Starting as supply hubs and early post offices for fur traders, wagon trains, survey expeditions, gold prospectors and the like, trading posts were bastions of commerce and news in remote places.

The contemporary version of the trading post has sprung out of twentieth-century myths of the Old West: modern tourists wanted to experience a slice of the Pony Express, or send postcards from Boot Hill, or bring home a piece of Navajo jewelry—in air-conditioned comfort, of course.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And nobody has cashed in on trading posts quite like Route 66: the Jackrabbit, the Continental Divide, Tee Pee Curios, the list goes on. On the Mother Road, the term “trading post” has become synonymous with “tourist trap”—many of these places combine commerce, entertainment and the flavor of the Wild West (or in the case above, the Hillbilly Ozarks). Far beyond a simple pit stop or junk store, some have more in common with theme parks.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

And while some have their roots in the actual Old West, many of these pit stops were built after Route 66 was run through. (Subsequently, in places where the modern Interstate diverted traffic away from 66, many of these trading posts are crumbling or closed altogether.)

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Thanks to historical examples like Hudson’s Bay Company, or the Hubbell Trading Post on the Navajo Nation, which has operated on the pawn (barter) system since the 1870s, we tend to associate trading posts with Indian Country. Route 66 is a prime example: half of the route (over 1300 miles) crosses through Native America, connecting more than 25 Indigenous nations. And since the vast majority of the Mother Road’s trading posts (and nearly all of those west of the Texas-New Mexico line) deal in Native goods, it’s no wonder a road trip through the Southwest makes us think of kachinas and beadwork.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Though many of these shops are run by white owners, some are owned and operated by tribal members themselves.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Regardless of who owns them, the overall effect of these places can run the gamut between eye-frying…

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

…and downright melancholy.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Gallup, New Mexico, has a little of both. Known as the “capital” of Indian Country, the town of 20,000 or so is the gateway to many American Indian nations, home to nearly a quarter of a million Indigenous people. As a result, Gallup is chock-a-block with trading posts and pawn shops, where local Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and others pawn their jewelry and other handmade goods in exchange for cash, staples or dry goods—and the shop owners then sell the jewelry to tourists. Nearly all of these shops are run either by white or, increasingly, Middle-Eastern owners.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Gallup’s pawn shops have a controversial history, with some establishments accused of dealing in fake goods or cheating Indigenous makers out of a fair price for their work. So I did a little homework before we arrived, and chose Richardson’s as the place we’d visit. The shop has been in operation for over a hundred years, and though the Richardson family is white, they have a long reputation of being reputable dealers with a good relationship with the nations it represents. We marveled at the beauty on display there—some of the jewelry were incredible “old pawn” antique pieces.

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Still, my favorite trading experience on our Route 66 trip was when we had the chance to buy goods directly from the makers. In Santa Fe we shopped at the famous market at the Palace of the Governors, where artisans representing all of the region’s Indigenous cultures sell handmade jewelry, pottery, textiles, etc. at fair-trade prices. Each artist has to apply to the Native American Vendors Program to be included in the market, and the museum at the Palace of the Governors monitors each vendor to make sure the goods are authentic and the prices fair to the makers. (And bonus for history nerds like me: it’s really something to know you’re standing in the oldest continually-occupied public building in the country while you’re at it.)

Santa Fe sketch by Chandler O'Leary

In the end, I could only afford a couple of small items, but I was happy to know I was paying what they were actually worth (I don’t haggle, especially not with fellow artists), and that the proceeds would go directly to the maker. And best of all, I got to hear the stories behind each piece, from the person who made it.

That seems like a fair trade to me.

Save

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Faux-tem poles

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

If you travel any length of Route 66, you can expect to see some fake teepees along the way. Totem poles, on the other hand, are a bit more of a surprise.

Well, I say totem poles, because they call them totem poles, but as you can probably guess by the fact that this sign sits in the middle of the Ozarks, this is the closest these things are going to get.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Oklahoma’s version is even less like a real totem pole, and more like a giant muppety decoupaged Coke bottle. (It’s not even technically on Route 66, but a few miles down a side road.) Still, this thing is an icon of the Mother Road, and I’m glad to see it being kept in fine fettle for the next traveler who meanders down the road.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Farm to marketing

This post is part of an ongoing series called 66 Fridays, which explores the wonders of old Route 66. Click on the preceding “66 Fridays” link to view all posts in the series, or visit the initial overview post here.

One of the most well-known—and most-hyped—tourist traps along Route 66 are the Meramec Caverns. Whether or not the caves actually live up to the hype is not something I can weigh in on, I’m afraid: by the time we got there, they’d closed for the evening. But that’s okay—while I’m always up for a good tourist trap (neon signs inside the caves!), and I’d love to see the place that was allegedly the hideout of Jesse James, what really interests me most is the hype itself. And on our trip I didn’t have to worry about missing out on that.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

When it comes to advertising, Meramec Caverns seems to have taken a leaf from the playbook of Wall Drug, which opened just two years before the Caverns transitioned from local curiosity to tourist entertainment complex. Wall Drug had enormous success with advertising to travelers by way of hundreds of inexpensive, hand-painted wooden billboards placed in farm fields all over the northern Plains. Les Dill, the owner of the Caverns, offered farmers in 14 states a free paint job on their barns—as long as they were willing for the design to include a giant Meramec Caverns ad on whatever wall or roof panel faced the road. By the 1960s there were hundreds of Meramec barns in 40 different states, all beckoning travelers to the Ozarks.

Oh, and you might also be interested to know that Dill was also one of the earliest adopters of the humble bumper sticker, cottoning onto the idea of cars as mobile billboards. Now, I still don’t think there’s a more elegant bumper sticker than “Where the heck is Wall Drug?” but Meramec Caverns had the idea first.

Route 66 sketch by Chandler O'Leary

There are still a handful of Meramec barns around today, and some of the best (and most lovingly maintained) are along the Mother Road. They vary in design, and some—like the one above—look a bit like some sort of cryptic code for those in the know.

Well, thanks to Dill’s ingenious marketing strategy, I am in the know now—and you can bet I’ll return one day, following the signs back to the Caverns, barn by barn.