A question often asked is what is the best time of the year for a Route 66 adventure. For my money I prefer late September or October, even though on last years trip I hit some nasty weather (cold, wind, sleet, snow) – in Arizona and New Mexico. Desert temperatures are tolerable with few exceptions (see above), and there is the fall foliage in the mountains of Missouri and in Illinois that add a sense of magic to the overall adventure. There are also some great fall festivals such as Cuba Fest in Cuba, Missouri.
Even the snow encountered added to the trip as seeing a dusting of white on the ruins of Two Guns, Arizona made for a great photo stop. I should note that even in the high country around Flagstaff, Arizona snow that early in the year is a relative rarity. Chances are that you will encounter rain, and some very brisk mornings but the crowds have thinned a bit. And that means the classic mom and pop motels will most likely have room availability. And personally, I enjoy a hot cup of coffee with a slice of pie better on a fall day that I do in July in Needles, California when the temperatures often exceed 120 degrees.
Maramec Springs Park
A couple of years ago on a Jim Hinckley’s America research trip, my dearest friend and I made a few side trips. We were not disappointed. As an example, Maramec Spring Park located a few miles south of Cuba or St. James, a highly recommended loop drive, is stunning any time of the year but when the park is enshrouded with bright colors … A one eyed blind man would have trouble getting a bad photograph.
So, in answer to your question, I suggest that a Route 66 odyssey be planned for the last weeks of September or the first weeks of October.
Cuba nestled in the beautiful Ozark Mountains of Missouri is one of those unique and special places where every visitor feels as though they are coming home. It is more than just the hospitality. It is the sense of community made manifest in the pocket parks, the colorful murals, the events, and the support that business owners lend each other. It is the wonderful cafes and restaurants. It is the generational businesses with roots that span decades. It is the smiling faces.
Last year I during a Jim Hinckley’s Americaresearch trip I was privileged with an opportunity to spend several days in this charming village bisected by Route 66. I had time to visit area attractions, sample the different restaurants, and to simply stop and visit with the locals. It left me wondering what might of been if I had discovered this charming place twenty years ago. There is the very real possibility that this old desert rat might have headed for greener pastures.
As I am passionate about restaurants, one of the treats for me was the surprising number and the diversity of restaurants in such a small town. As an example, how many towns big or small do you know where you can get a delicious lamb burger with Tzatziki sauce? Well, that is now one of my favorite offerings at the Four Way restaurant in Cuba that is housed in a colorful painted building that began life in about 1930 as a gas station and garage. Looking for good traditional breakfasts? No problem, just stop by Shelly’s or Tuggie & Joe’s. Excellent Mexican food. No problem. Great pub food, and cold beer. Again, no problem.
The one and only Wagon Wheel Motel Photo Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America
This little town should be more than a stop on the way to. It should be a destination for Route 66 travelers as well as folk looking for a pleasant weekend getaway, or a new place to call home.
A big part of the road trip experience is food, opportunities to try regional specialties (deep fat fried Twinkies?) in unique or fascinating settings. Even if the food is average or something you can get at home, it just seems special after a day on the road or if you are eating that chicken fried steak in an historic cafe or restaurant such as Clanton’s in Vinita, Oklahoma or taco platter at Valenzuela’s in Needles, California.
For me it’s good pie and cobbler that always gets my attention. On the last road trip I enjoyed a great beef stew and excellent coffee at Clanton’s Cafe, but it was the blackberry cobbler in a diner that has been managed by the same family since 1927 which was a real stand out. Telling people where to go since 1990 has become our tag line at Jim Hinckley’s America. The cornerstone of that mission is seeking out good pie or cobbler, good meals, and unique places to enjoy both, such as the now defunct Cave Restaurant in Richland, Missouri.
Victoria’s Sugar Shack in Kingman, Arizona is little gem that is tucked away several miles from Route 66 but it is well worth the detour.
Join me this October for another gastronomical odyssey along Route 66. Follow the A Year With Jim series on Instagram or Twitter, as well as our live stream programs on the Facebook page. See you on the road, mi amigos.