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Our July 2008 Kansas City Missouri Trip


Copyright 2008, by Bob Soetebier

We began the trip early on a Sunday morning and headed west on I-70.  We made a brief pit stop at an entertainingly kitschy 1950s/60s memorabilia emporium (  ) just north of I-70 on U.S. 54 in Kingdom City in Callaway County.


A longer stop was made west of Columbia, Missouri, just before I-70 crosses the Missouri River.  A 2-mile side-trip on Hwy. BB took us north to the quaint town of Rocheport, where we parked at the converted old Rocheport train depot (   ).  The depot is now part of the historic KATY Trail State Park and has an extensive information display on the history of the town, the railroad and the old steamboat days on the adjacent Missouri River.


Wanting to stretch our legs a bit on the KATY Trail (   ), we walked westward from the depot to the former railroad’s only tunnel (   ).  We also took an additional side trip trail from the tunnel to the Diana Bend wetland conservation area (   ) in the Missouri River floodplain, along with an offshoot up to the top of the bluff overlooking the area.


After heading back westward on I-70, we side-tripped a mile north on Hwy. 7 at Blue Springs in Jackson County for more hiking on a couple of trails at the Missouri Department of Conservation Burr Oak Woods Nature Center (  ).  On these trails we managed to get within a few feet of a couple of long-bearded wild turkeys.  On our return to the nature center, the naturalist introduced us to a few bullfrogs along with some very vocal and extremely tiny cricket frogs ( ) on the lily pads in the nature center’s outdoor pond.


We ended the day by checking into the conveniently located Best Western Truman Inn on the n.w. corner of I-70 and Noland Rd. in Independence, Missouri (,_Missouri  ).  Via Interstate Travel Buddy motel coupons (   ), we were given a $30-discount off each night of our stay there.


We have visited all the tourist sites in Independence in the past.  For those interested, I would highly recommend spending at least two days for some must-sees there.  These include the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library ( ), Truman’s Home  (  ), and the National Frontier Trails Museum (  ).  Also not to be missed are the 1881 Vaile Mansion (  ); the 1855 Bingham-Waggoner Estate ( ); and the 1859 Jail, Marshal's Home & Museum (  ).


After a good night’s rest and a filling “continental breakfast” at the motel, we struck out for about half-hour drive southeastward to Powell Gardens (   ).  It is located in the hills on the north side of U.S. 50, about 20 miles west of Warrensburg, in Johnson County.  With our hiking staffs in hand, along with plenty of water, we had intended to hike the 3-1/4 mile Byron Shutz Nature Trail ( ) at the gardens.  However, we changed our minds after garden employees warned us that the outback part of the trail had not been maintained very well and was now covered in over foot-tall grass along with “tons of ticks and chiggers.”  We “settled” for an extended stroll along the rest of the garden’s winding paved paths. We took the opportunity to take dozens of photos of the flowers and numerous stone sculptures along the garden’s well-designed landscapes.  We also lingered at the beautiful Fountain Garden (  ).  Before leaving, we were glad we had plenty of time to catch a bite there at the garden-view Café Thyme as they had some of the freshest and best tasting food we had ever eaten!


From Powell Gardens, we headed west on U.S. 50 for a dozen miles and then south a short distance on Hwy. 150 to its junction with Hwy. E at Lone Jack.  We had hoped to check out the civil war museum (  ) there, but it was closed that early in the week.  Heading west and north from Lone Jack, we crossed over the dam at Lake Jacomo and over adjacent Blue Springs Lake on the way back to the motel.


The next day, we took I-70 west to Kansas City and then went south a few miles on I-435.  Within 15 minutes of leaving the motel we exited I-435 and went westward on Gregory Blvd.  The boulevard immediately passed under a very high and architecturally interesting concrete bridge as it travels downhill for a very scenic winding drive through Swope Park ( ).  After crossing the park’s lake dam, we drove by the Lakeside Nature Center.   However, our destination for the day in Swope Park was the Kansas City Zoo (   ).


KC’s zoo has considerably improved its facilities since our last visit a couple of decades ago.  (Unfortunately, so has the admission fee.   Guess we’re just spoiled by the free admission to St. Louis world-class zoo!)  We spent the entire day walking the mostly shaded pathways and concourses.  We especially enjoyed seeing the zoo’s inquisitive meerkats, and the free-roaming (around you!) kangaroos/wallaroos/wallabys.  We also took the zoo’s entertainingly-guided excursion boat ride and rode the zoo train loop, too.  (Caution:  If you do ride the diesel-engine train note that it passes through two tunnels; while it speeds through one tunnel, it crawls through the other.  So, do be prepared to hold your breath on the passage through the diesel-smoke-saturated tunnel!)


The next day, we headed through downtown Kansas City via I-70 and then south on Broadway, and then east on Pershing Road  to Kessler Rd. at Penn Valley Park ( ) across from historic Union Station (  ).  Our first stop was the park’s National World War I Museum ( ).  As you approach the sunken entrance to the museum, you pass by a terraced reflecting pool.  This heightens your impression of the massive architecture of the two “faceless” stone sphinxes and the Liberty Memorial (  ) tower above the museum.


The WW I museum contains a large collection of artifacts and weapons from the war, along with well-done visual and audio displays of the horrendous trench-warfare that took millions of lives in the war.  They also have a couple of 15-minute films about what led up to the initial declaration of war and the later U.S. participation.


 Above and outside the museum are two additional exhibition halls.  They contained flags and war memorabilia, along with a collection of soldiers’ metal mess kits upon which had been hand-etched personalized artwork commemorating their experiences.


The Liberty Memorial tower (literally atop the museum) was erected right after WWI. After an escorted elevator ride up, you walk the final 45-step spiral stairs to emerge out of the top for an incredible must-see, 360-degree view of Kansas City.

After the breathtaking view atop the memorial, we walked back down the Penn Valley Park hill and crossed Pershing Avenue to Union Station.

The long downhill approach gives you plenty of time to admire the station’s front-side dancing fountain. 

Once inside the historic train station (an active Amtrak stop),

you are immediately impressed by the 95-foot ceiling adorned with artistically colorful plaster work and massive hanging chandeliers.

While there is plenty to see and do in the station, including a museum and science center, we headed straight for its iconic Harvey House Diner (  ), which is one of four eateries inside the station.  Having seen the 1946 MGM movie “The Harvey Girls” starring Judy Garland (  ), we wanted to literally have a taste of the flavor of the time period for ourselves.  In addition to experiencing ground-floor seating in the diner, we climbed its wide back stairs for the overlooking balcony views of the inside of the station.  The stairs also led to a glassed-in skywalk which passed right over KC’s Main Street on the east side of the station to Hallmark’s Crown Center.


Back at the Best Western in Independence that evening, my wife enjoyed her last taste of Sheridan’s Frozen Custard (  ), which was immediately adjacent to the motel parking lot.  Unfortunately, they did not offer a sugar-free variety, which would have been my choice.  So, I had to take her word for it that their product was much better than the St. Louis “concretes” frozen-custard variety served-up at Ted Drewes ( ), which is literally world-famous by virtue of one of  its outlets being located right on historic Route 66.


On the last day of our trip, our last stop was back at Rocheport for a final perambulation on the KATY Trail.  However, this time we walked the trail (for 4-plus miles; out-and-back) in a eastward direction downstream alongside the Missouri River and below its shaded bluffs.  Along this portion of the trail, there are a few park benches (made of recycled plastic soda bottles) conveniently located right on some of the most scenic stretches of the river bank.  However, caution is advised here as a couple of the benches are literally sited within a couple of feet of the edge of the river with no protective barrier between you and the swift moving water below!  Since it was a weekday, this time around we only saw about a half dozen fellow travelers, and two tandem kayakers way out in the river, who were well outnumbered by the numerous frogs and vultures we saw along the way.


We also stopped along the trail to admire the old “MKT” (   ) spring waterfall which emerged from a small hole about a dozen feet up the bluff face.   Immediately below was an outcropping of watercress which was well-populated by more frogs.  Not far from this location was a 3/10-mile (one way) side trail which we climbed to the top of the 250-foot bluff for a panoramic view of the Missouri River valley below from outside the Bistro Blufftop Restaurant (   ).  After enjoying the view and the restaurant’s garden and sculpture, we headed back down to the KATY and the Rocheport depot.  As we left for home we drove slowly out of Rocheport on Hwy. BB for a lingering look at the Amber House Bed & Breakfast (  ).  We hope our next visit to Rocheport will be sooner rather than later.