Back on the road again. Wwe checked out of the hotel in St Louis (pausing to look round a shop selling St Louis Cardinals merchandise where we watched Andy Murray winning his second set at Wimbledon) and set the satnav for our first stop, which wasn't very far at all: Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
at Chippewa on the outskirts of St Louis. This was one of Hilary's must-see stops, but while Ruairidh and I are indifferent to the charms of custard in most of its forms, the frozen kind (effectively very rich ice-cream) is just fine with us. We all got "concretes", the ultra-thick custards where the girl turns your pot upside down before giving it to you to prove that the spoon doesn't fall out. (I don't know what would happen if one ever did fall out: you'd get a load of free stuff, would be my guess.) I had a mint oreo concrete and Hilary had lemon crumb (we each ate half of both), while Ruairidh had plain vanilla. They were truly awesome.
Next up was an attraction we found out about from the Billy Connolly TV series on Route 66: the Endangered Wolf Center near Eureka, MO. It doesn't feature much in guidebooks, so we found it by means of the trusty satnav which delivered us to its locked gate. I phoned the number listed on the notice there and got a machine which told me that tours had to be pre-booked, but that there was one due in about fifty minutes (they seems to be maybe four or five tours each week). We reckoned it was worth hanging around to see if we could get in, and in the end it worked out fine. We were in a party of maybe 20-25 people with a very good guide. While the centre (run by Washington State University) does engage in educational work (which would include tours like ours) its main function is breeding endangered wolf species and returning animals to the wild. They keep five species, three native (Red Wolf, Mexican Gray Wolf, Swift Fox) and two foreign (Maned Wolf from Brazil, and African Painted Dog from Central Africa). Thanks to their work, the Swift Fox is no longer critically endangered in the USA (though it is in Canada). To give some idea of how bad the situation was before they started, when the zoologists tried to find animals to start the breediong programme back in to 1970s, the total world population - all the animals they could find - numbered five wild Mexican Gray Wolves (plus two in captivity in Mexico), and seven pure Red Wolves (plus a hundred or so wolf-coyote hybrids). The animals roam around in enclosures and have minimal contact with human keepers. The Painted Dogs, though, are such sociable animals that over time they have adopted some of the keepers as honorary dogs. The trouble is that they greet each other (and thus the keepers) with huge enthusiasm and the odd affectionate nip. Now a big domestic German Shepherd has a bite pressure of around 700 lbs. A wolf will bite with around twice that strength, while these guys have a tremendous 2,800 lbs of bite pressure. So a playful nip will put you in hospital, no question, and the keepers have to avoid being affectionately greeted.
The animals were hard to photograph, mostly keeping a decent distance, though we did catch glimpses of all the different species. Here are (1) a Swift Fox (2) a Mexican Gray Wolf (3) two African Painted Dogs (the fencing confused the autofocus on the camera!)
A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours, and a wonderful enterprise.
Next came a better-known attraction, the Meramec Caverns, famous both for the beauty of their stalactite formations and as the one-time hideout of Jesse and Frank James (hey stayed deep in the caves after robbing a train, and made a successful escape via a river running out of the cave system.
After spending quite a while on wolves and caverns, we travelled on the Interstate for a bit to make up time. Actually for much of the time we were on it, the Interstate runs literally right alongside Route 66, diverging only when R66 goes through towns. There were a couplf of towns we wanted to see so we detoured onto R66 for them: Cuba, featuring more splendid murals, and Fanning, featuring this:
(Sadly the chair doesn't actually rock.) We met two women at the chair who were doing R66: they were from Finland, but one actually lives in Dundee. A Dr-Livingstone-I-presume moment.
And so on to our stop for the night, the classic old Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, MO, another classic Route 66 sight. As we booked well in advance we were actually given Room 66.
Not sure why I would want to have my telephone refrigerated though.
We got dinner at a local diner: a good old-style one playing 1960s pop, though the decor was modern. And while we were there we used their wifi to find that Andy Murray had indeed won the Wimbledon final
, beating Novak Djokovic in straight sets. Life is good.
While we were underground at Meramec I kept humming Roger McGuinn's Bag Full Of Money
to myself, presumably because of the "Jesse and Frank" reference. It starts at 2:30 here (but the first track is good too!).
And as I'm in a motel, and will be passing through Tulsa, OK, late tomorrow (we have over 300 miles to drive) this is clearly the point at which I play this one: