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Along Route 66–The Landscape, the Meramec River

After Route 66 works its way across the Illinois farmfields, it crosses the Mississippi, crosses every major north/south, east/west street in St. Louis and its suburbs, and then plunges into into the real and varied landscape of the Ozark Mountains.

If you are willing to get off the road, there are wonderful places to visit. And of course, there is Meramec Caverns, Lester Dill’s famous cave, and Onondaga Cave State Park, opened by his protege , Lyman Riley and then acquired by the State of Missouri in 1982.

Just west of St. Louis Route 66 leaves the St. Louis suburbs, crosses the Meramec River, and enters the Ozark border region, characterized by loess hills, hills of windblown silt blown across the landscape from rivers of frozen glacial outwash thousands of years ago.

Meramec River cuts through the Loess Hills at Castlewood State Park west of St. Louis

Here not far off the road is Castlewood State Park, where the Meramec river runs through the loess hills.

Meramec River at Meramec State Park

A little to the west at Sullivan, the highway enters the Ozark Plateau and passes close to Meramec State Park, where the river cuts through limestone bluffs.

The Huzzah Creek Wildlife Management Area southeast of Cuba

When you enter Missouri stop and get a state map. It will help you locate these places.


Lester Dill and Stanley Marsh

They are two Route 66 characters who, today, are better known for the artifacts they left on the roadside than for who they are.

Barn in Oklahoma

Meramec Caverns Barn in Oklahoma

Lester Dill owned and operated Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri. And he promoted his cave with signs painted on barns all along Route 66 and throughout the Midwest. He painted his first barn on the Ohio Turnpike in the thirties: See Meramec  Caverns, U.S. 66, MO.

Meramec Caverns Sign, Missouri

Meramec Caverns Sign, Missouri

Travelers saw the first barn, then the second barn. With each sighting the anticipation became intense. Children clamoured to see the cave. Parents caved when they got to Stanton. And, in the days before air conditioned cars, it was a steady 58 degrees in the cave, a place to cool off from the summer heat.

Read the full story about Lester and his cave and his barns in Route 66: The Highway and its People, Photographs by Quinta Scott, Text by Susan Croce Kelly. Its available at the Along Route 66 Bookstore.

Lester Dill had a public face, a familiar character on late night television.

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Stanley Marsh is not. No barns announce the Cadillac Ranch, a sculpture just west of Amarillo, more on I-40 than U.S. 66. There is no anticipation. If you don’t look north from I-40, you just might miss it. But travelers somehow get to the side road, clamour over the fence, and risk picking up chiggers in the grassy field where ten Cadillacs are planted nose down in the soil.

Cadillac Ranch Amarillo, Texas

Cadillac Ranch Amarillo, Texas

The ranch is a work in progress. Graffiti artists change it weekly. Every photograph of it is different. When I made photographs of it, it was not nearly as colorful as it is today.