Article by Bill Clevlen
I am constantly promoting road trips to my audience on radio and over at billontheroad.com. With each new potential destination, there’s always a reminder to road trippers — don’t be afraid to pull off the interstate, or stop the car on occasion between point A and B. It’s not so much the final destination as it is the experiences along the way that make a road trip memorable.
One of my favorite parts of travel is finding fun, unique, even quirky things that often require a slight detour. Missouri has its fair share of interesting roadside attractions, many of which make fun photo-ops. Here are some of my favorites you should consider checking out during your travels across the state:
- Vacuum Cleaner Museum — Located in St. James, the collection of more than 800 vacuum cleaners is definitely a sight to see. Dating from the early 1900s to present day, each machine is functioning and tells a bit of American history through the various sizes, color schemes and brands. Tom Gasko runs the museum, and received much of his collection through Stan Kann, the famous organist at St. Louis’s Fox Theater. (Kann used to regularly take pieces of his collection on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.)
Visitors can also have the chance to operate various vacuums for free. (Although we suspect that’s just a sneaky way to keep the floors clean.)
- Warm Springs Ranch — This one requires reservations, but it’s a worthwhile detour if you know you’ll be passing through Boonville. Warm Springs Ranch is the breeding facility for the world-famous Budweiser Clydesdales. Your tour takes you into the stables where many of the company’s memorable Super Bowl commercials have been filmed. You will also learn what it takes for these gentle giants to earn their spot as an official Budweiser Clydesdale. Of course, the best part is seeing the adorable baby Clydesdales.
- World’s Largest Goose — Highway 36, often called the “Genius Highway,” is known for tying together some of Missouri’s famous names like J.C. Penny and Walt Disney. But don’t miss the chance to check out Maxine — the world’s largest goose! Standing 40 feet high, with a wingspan of 65 feet, the fiberglass goose calls Sumner, MO home. According to the backstory, the goose was sculpted by a Kansas City artist and flown in by helicopter in 1976.
- Murals — Covering old or ugly walls with beautiful artwork is a trend nationwide. Missouri has an abundance of murals that range from funky to historic. KC has several great examples that boast hometown pride, while Cuba has long been known for great murals along Route 66. Chillicothe continues to fill their town with massive murals, including one that illustrates its hometown connection to sliced bread.
- The Big Fork — There’s a great scene in “The Muppet Movie” where Kermit comes to a “fork in the road” — which shows an actual giant fork in the middle of the street. You may not know it, but Springfield is home to the largest fork in America (though not the world) and makes for a great selfie! The extra-large utensil is 35 feet tall and weighs 11 tons. Once a fixture in front of an area restaurant, the giant fork is now in front of the Noble & Associates office building. Obviously, please be respectful during your visit as this is a place of business.
2215 W. Chesterfield Blvd, Springfield MO.
- The Giant Eyeball — Easily the most talked about exhibit in the Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills is the giant eyeball. Unveiled in 2007, the eyeball is made of used fiberglass, steel, resin, oil and paint, and is said to resemble the artist’s (Tony Tasset’s) own eye. It now stares across the grass at visitors. The circumference is 452 inches. The entire park is 105-acres and full of great sculptures and plenty of open space. It’s a great spot to stretch your legs.
- Tom Sawyer’s Fence — Mark Twain’s childhood home and all of Hannibal’s river history always makes for a fun visit. If you’ve never been to town, one of the great photo-ops is standing by the famous Tom Sawyer fence and pretending to paint. The fence is easy to find in downtown Hannibal and sits nearby other Twain related sites — including Becky Thatcher’s house and Mark Twain Cave. The Mark Twain Riverboat also offers narrated tours along the Mississippi River.
- Big Foot — Did you know that monster trucks were introduced in the St. Louis area? “Big Foot,” the original monster truck, was first unveiled in Hazelwood, part of St. Louis County. The headquarters have since moved to Pacific, where the original Big Foot 5 and its ten feet tall tires are permanently housed. You can pop in during business hours and take a look for yourself.
- Precious Moments Park & Chapel — In the 1980s, we all knew someone that collected Precious Moments statues. The creator, Samuel Butcher, moved to Carthage, where he eventually opened the Precious Moments Chapel in 1989. Today, the property includes 84 hand-painted murals, 30 stained glass windows, numerous gardens, and of course — the beautiful Ozarks as a peaceful backdrop. It’s also home to the world’s largest Precious Moments store.
- Missouri State Penitentiary — Like a scene out of a movie, you find yourself in an empty prison, standing where some of the most notorious criminals in American history once stood. It’s eerie, enlightening, and will make you never want to come close to breaking the law! The prison was built in 1836, and its wild history will probably come as a shock. Part of the tour includes walking through cells, experiencing the pitch-black dungeon, and visiting death row and the gas chamber. It is a fascinating look at criminal history.
Bill Clevlen is a contributing writer from St. Louis