Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Missouri 94 blog.

Last Saturday was a pleasant, sunny day in central Missouri, with temps in the 60s by noon, a little wind, and blue skies with flecks of clouds. Two-lane Missouri 94 generally follows the north bank of the Missouri River eastward from Jefferson City. That would be in the Missouri River Valley, I suppose, but driving along you seldom see that river. More often you see farms, pastures, hills, bluffs and trees, in various combinations.

Just outside of Jeff City, the road is more or less a straightaway, with farmland on one side, limestone hills on the other. Later, things are jumbled up, with the road twisting through the hills: up to a crest, round a bend, past a cow pasture, and more trees after that; then the road goes down, then around, then up again, trees on all sides, then flat for a while. Then repeat -- in a different order. And hang on to that wheel. There are little or no shoulders to this road, which glides past some deep ditches, gullies and slopes. A small mistake could be disastrous. It wasn't a road I would want to drive at night, or even in heavy rain.

Spring was just under way. Most of the trees had the barest of green fuzz. Some bushes had bloomed, and a few early flowers came up out of the ground. In many of the otherwise brown farm fields, something purple was blooming -- flowers I couldn't see as individuals, only as a low, hazy groundcover of light purple. It was lovely. What was it? Lavender?

Further east, just before the road hit the exurbs of St. Louis and lost most of its driving appeal, I passed through a wine country. This was unexpected. After miles of few or no billboards, or even small ad signs, there were suddenly signs advertising a number of wineries. Sometimes, the vineyards, still bare for the season, were clearly visible from the road. I didn't have time to stop, or I would have, just to take a look around. Perhaps Missouri vintages are among the great unknowns of wine.

Maybe not. In any case, there's a genuine wine country along 94. Plus some towns: Mokane, Portland, Bluffton, Treloar, Marthasville, Dutzlow. All small, easy to blow through, and spread out nicely. Which meant very little traffic along most of the road from Jeff City to Defiance. That was the best part, the part that's essentially to car-commercial driving -- having the road to yourself. I almost did. Few idiots or maniacs to watch out for. Such a rare thing. I had it for about an hour and a half.

I stopped only once, for gas, in the hamlet of Mokane. There, in the smallest of towns, I saw the future of retail, a completely automated gas station. It only took credit cards, slipped into the pump. Problem? Call this 800 number. Talk to someone in Delhi, probably. I had to have gas, so I used it. No need to call Delhi, luckily.

I'd noticed a point-of-interest spot for the "Daniel Boone Grave and Monument" on my map, near Dutzlow, so I turned off 94 onto a road, guided by a sign. Then there was a fork in the road, but no additional sign for guidance, so I took the most promising branch, which led to another signless fork in the road. I gave up. It was just as well, because if I'd found the grave and monument, I might have missed my flight back to Chicago.

When I did get back home, I did a little research on my route and uncovered another thing or two I missed. The following is a note on the town of Washington, which is a few miles off 94, from Motorcycleroads.com, which lauds 94 as a fine biking road:

"[Washington] is relatively large by rural measurements [pop. 11,000] and has a large number of attractive homes built in a 'Missouri-German' style that visitors love to see. It is also home of the world’s only existing corn-cob pipe factory, [which] puts out an amazing 7,000 pipes a day, and [which] have been used by famous people such as Mark Twain and General Douglas MacArthur."


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