Middle America

A road trip through Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Kansas

The Photos

The photo album can be accessed here.


Day 1 Fly into St.Louis, Missouri Explore Missouri Ozarks. Scenic drive through Mark Twain National Forest, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Alley Spring to Thayer, MO
Day 2 Enter Arkansas.Drive through Ozark National Forest. Visit Hot Springs National Park. Visit Arkansas State Capitol at Little Rock.
Day 3 Enter Oklahoma. Visit Cherokee Heritage Center, Oklahoma State Capitol, Oklahoma City National Memorial, Bricktown
Day 4 Enter Kansas.Explore Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, Visit Council Grove, Santa Fe Trail, Kansas State Capitol
Day 5 Reenter Missouri Visit Missouri State Capitol at Jefferson City, Explore Missouri Rhineland Scenic Drive, Gateway Arch in St.Louis

Total Miles driven: 2000

Missouri Ozarks

Between the Rocky Mountins to the west and the Appalachians to the east, in the central United States lies the mountainous region called the Ozarks.

Ozark Mountains

The Ozark Highlands (47,000 sq. mi.) covers much of the southern half of Missouri and an extensive portion of northwestern and north central Arkansas. The region also extends westward into northeastern Oklahoma and extreme southeastern Kansas.

Although referred to as the Ozark Mountains, the region is actually a high and deeply dissected plateau. Geologically, the area is a broad dome around the Saint Francois Mountains.

Water springs from limestone crevices deep in the the subterranean aquifer forming tranquil pools. Several lakes were created by damming the plentiful rivers. The Buffalo National River was created by an Act of Congress in 1972 as the nation's first National River administered by the National Park Service. In Missouri, the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, was established in 1964 along the Current and Jacks Fork River as the first US national park based on a river system.

Starting from St. Louis, we initially headed west on I-44 until Leasburg before veering south to explore the Missouri Ozarks. A network of minor roads weave in and out of the Mark Twain National Forest and alongside the Ozark National Scenic Riverways offering a multitude of eye-soothing scenes from rushing rivers, bubbling springs, high cliffs and lush forests.

The route passes by the beautiful Meramec Spring Park. Located near Steelville, it is named for the largest of the springs that nourish the Meramec river. The 'red earth' of the area was rich in iron ore and it was once a site of a 19th century mining community. In 1826 the first successful ironworks west of the Mississippi was established here and it continued to operate for 50 years.
Road throught Mark Twain National Forest

Further along, lying mostly in the Ozark Plateau, Mark Twain National Forest is 1.5 million acres of forested area that was once given up for dead after timbering operations denuded these hills by the turn of the century. Careful stewardship has brought the forest back to life, and the forest now holds some of the Midwest's wildest, most remote lands.

The city-polished Mark Twain perhaps never set foot in the forest that bears his name but it is a land of limestone mountains of surprising steepness, clear-rushing streams and a diversity of plant and bird life.

Heading further south, the Current River and its southern tributary, the Jacks Fork, form 130 miles of free flowing, spring-fed federally protected waters known as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Meandering down narrow valleys and no wider than country roads, the two rivers are used extensively for recreation.


Arkansas Scenic Byway (Hwy 7) traverses two national forests (Ozark and Ouachita) and one National Park (Hot Springs). Rolling with the rhythmic rise and fall of the hills and valleys, this scenic drive is often rated as one of Americas's top ten.

Forested slopes appear at almost every new bend along Scenic Hwy 7

The Fordyce,a former bathhouses, operates as a museum and visitor center for Hot Springs National Park.

Unlike other National Parks, Hot Springs National Park is important not as a pristine natural preserve but for its unique character and colorful history.

The town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, a lively town with tree-lined streets, coffee houses, antique shops, art galleries, hotels and Victorian homes, was built around the Hot Springs reservation to accomodate people who came to bathe in its thereupatic waters. People have used these hot springs for more than two hundred years to treat illnesses and to relax. Both rich and poor came for the baths.

Nicknamed "The American Spa,” Hot Springs National Park today surrounds the north end of the city of Hot Springs. A row of ornate bathhouses on Central Avenue (Rte 7) recalls the early 1900's when health-seekers traveled to the springs in pursuit of cures.

Arkansas State Capitol Building, Little Rock

Built in the neoclassical style that is the common style found in monumental architecture of the early 20th century, construction was completed in 1915.

At the rear of the Capitol building is the Little Rock Nine Monument. In 1957, nine African-American students enrolled at Little Rock's Central High School, beginning the process of desegregating Little Rock's public schools and marking a seminal event in America's civil rights movement..


Starting the next day from Little Rock, AR we crossed over to Oklahoma on I-40 near Fort Smith. We were pelted by heavy rains for the entire duration of the drive and therefore made no stops until we pulled over into the Oklahoma Welcome Center at the state line.

Trail of Tears, scene depicts the Cherokee's arrival in their new country

The northeast corner of Oklahoma is Cherokee country. The Cherokees, who had farmed and hunted in the southern Appalachians for centuries were forced by the government to relocate here in 1830. On their way, thousand succumbed to sickness and cold along a trek that has come to be called the "Trail of Tears". Those who survived made this forested terrain their new home.

Leaving I-40 at Gore, we headed north on Rte 100 through Cherokee country toward Tahlequah, to visit the Cherokee Heritage Center. This is where the marchers on the Trail of Tears ended their arduous journey. The Cherokee National museum offers exhibits on tribal life, both past and present. A recreated village depicts life in the 1500s.
Back on I-40, we reached Oklahoma City late afternoon and made a beeline to the Oklahoma State Capitol. Built primarily of white limestone and Oklahoma pink granite, the building was completed in 1919. A sculpture in front of the building named 'As Long As The Waters Flows' is a tribute to Native Americans. It refers to President Andrew Jackson’s vow to Native Americans that they shall posses their land “as long as the grass grows and the rivers run.”

Outdoor Symbolic Memorial at Oklahoma City

We then went to the location of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a United States Federal Government complex located in downtown Oklahoma City that was the target of the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, which killed 168 people. The memorial honors the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the bombing.

The Outdoor Symbolic Memorial consists of twin bronze gates that mark the moment of destruction. A Reflecting Pool runs east to west down the center of the memorial. On one side is a field of 168 empty chairs, hand-crafted from glass, bronze, and stone represent those who lost their lives. The name of a victim is etched in the glass base of each chair. The chairs are arranged in nine rows to symbolize the nine floors of the building; each person's chair is on the row (or the floor) on which the person worked or was located when the bomb went off.
We spent a part of the evening at Bricktown, an entertainment district just east of downtown Oklahoma City. Formerly a major warehouse district, it is now the hub of resturants, cafes and movie theaters.


Kansas State Senate in session

Travelling north on I-35 from Oklahoma City towards Kansas, we stopped for the night in the city of Blackwell OK. Next morning, we crossed the state border on Rte 81 heading north towards Wichita.

Just northeast of Wichita, Rte 177 north called the Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, takes you through the heart of the Flint Hills, a rolling landscape where land rises and falls like waves on a sea of grass. Much of the land in an area 30 to 40 miles wide along the byway has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, heading north toward Cottonwood Falls.

Rte 177 passes through Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Tallgrass prairie once covered millions of acres of North America. Now less than 4 percent remains, mostly in the Flint Hills of Kansas. This national preserve was created to protect a significant example of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem.

The undulating Rte 56 belies Kansas' reputation for flatness

Rte 177 intersects the Santa Fe trail at the historic city of Council Grove which played a major role in the development of the Santa Fe trail.

The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century transportation route through central North America that connected Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. At first an international trade route between the United States and Mexico, it was the 1846 U.S. invasion route of New Mexico during the Mexican–American War. It served as a vital commercial and military highway until the introduction of the railroad to Santa Fe in 1880.

After the U.S. acquisition of the Southwest, the trail helped open the region to U.S. economic development and settlement. A highway route (Rte 56) that roughly follows the trail's path through the entire length of Kansas, the southeast corner of Colorado and northern New Mexico has been designated as the Santa Fe Trail National Scenic Byway. We followed this road from Council Grove for a short distance on Rte 56 going east.

Eventually we veered north towards Topeka to make a brief stop at the Kansas State Capitol Building. Luckily for us, the the Kansas State Senate was in session and we were able to watch the proceedings for some time from the visitors gallery. After concluding our visit here late in the evening, we hit the road heading due east on I-70. We entered Kansas City during peak commute traffic and decided not to stop. We kept going for the next several hours till we hit the Hwy-63 south turnoff at Columbia to get to Jefferson City, the capital of Missouri State.

Missouri Rhineland and St. Louis

The Flint Hills National Scenic Byway, heading north toward Cottonwood Falls.

Stretching from Jefferson City to just west of St. Louis, the Missouri river is a wide sparkling band of silver flowing through the landscape. Along its banks lie verdant hills and valleys dotted with picture book farms.

The soils of the Missouri River Valley and surrounding areas are mainly rocky, which is excellent for viticulture though poor for most agricultural purposes. Early nineteenth-century German pioneers settled down in this region, and were reminded of the home they had left across the sea and the region was nicknamed "Missouri's Rhineland". The tradition of winemaking took root and these new Missourians were so successful in their endeavor that today's Highway 94 is also known, officially, as the "Missouri Weinstrasse."

The end of the road for the Missori Rhineland drive is at St. Charles, once the last outpost for westward-bound pioneers. It was here that Lewis and Clark launched their historic expedition to the Pacific. The city also served briefly as Missouri's first state capital.

The nation's tallest monument, the iconic Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis.

Having completed our jaunt across four states, we were back where we started - St. Louis.

Located on the banks of the Mississippi river, the Gateway Arch is the centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Because the Mississippi River played an essential role in establishing St. Louis' identity as the gateway to the west, it is fitting that a memorial site to contemplate the epic mass-migration and settlement of the American West during the 1800s be located at its banks.

Built between 1963 and 1965, this 630 feet tall structure is the tallest man-made structure in the United States. It is a sandwich made of stainless steel on the outside, carbon steel on the inside and concrete in the middle. The tram ride to the top of the arch is one of the highlights of the visit. The north-leg and south-leg trams - a unique capsule transporter system - consist of barrel shaped capsules joined together to form a train-like vehicle that runs on tracks inside the hollow legs of the arch. Each capsule holds 5 passengers and it take 4 minutes to get to the top.

We spent some time at the extremely intersting Museum of Westward Expansion that is at the base of the arch. It preserves some of the rarest artifacts from the days of Lewis and Clark. It also chronicles the work of 19th century pioneers who helped shape the history of the American West. It was then time to leave and we headed back to the airport.

Trip Tracks

Click here for the KMZ file for the trip. This can be opened in Google Earth.

Alternatively, you can view the waypoints and trip tracks in Google Maps below.

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Photos and Text: Malini Kaushik and R.Venkatesh