It’s not entirely true that I didn’t plan our Route 66 trip. I did book motels in advance. I wanted to stay in independent motels as much as possible, and Route 66 boasts several that are well known because of their connection to the Mother Road.
Two of those motels really stood out. The first was the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon, Missouri. Dig that incredibly awesome lighted sign! It’s too bad that some of the neon tubes were out, but I’m sure that the scourge of neon is keeping it in perfect working order.
When we checked in, we met Ramona, who owns the Munger Moss with her husband. Making friendly conversation, she asked what brought me and my sons to her hotel. When I told her that we were driving Route 66, her eyes lit up. She reached out and took my hand and said that she was so happy to see families driving the route and that people like us were keeping its memory alive.
Ramona placed us in room 66 to honor our trip. It was decorated with framed covers from books by Michael Wallis, who has written extensively about the Mother Road. I didn’t think to photograph the room’s interior until after we’d junked it up with all of our stuff, but it was large and clean and bright. The bathroom was straight out of the late 1950s with coral fixtures and floor tile and turquoise tile on the wall.
The other standout motel was the Wagon Wheel, in Cuba, Missouri. It’s only about 80 miles east of the Munger Moss – far too close for us to stay in both on consecutive nights. So we stayed at the Wagon Wheel on the way home from our trip.
I came back after dusk to photograph these signs lit.
The Wagon Wheel’s office fronts Route 66, but the rooms themselves lurk well back from the highway in several small buildings, most of which are faced in stone. We stayed in this building, in room 11, which is the second door from the left. That’s our car out front, on its first road trip since I bought it last year.
Our room was small, and looking at the number of rooms in each building I’m sure ours was typically sized. But it was a very pleasant space, with every detail obviously carefully chosen.
Many old independent motels won’t give you experiences like we had at the Munger Moss and the Wagon Wheel; they are simply a cut above most of the old independents. We stayed at two other independent motels on our trip, and both were adequate but not memorable. Worse, some old independents are in terrible condition and have shady clientele – or so say reviews on the various Internet travel sites, which I used extensively to choose our accommodations. It sure beat rolling into some town after dusk and choosing a motel sight unseen.
Like neon motel signs? Check out some great ones in Columbus, Ohio.
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