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Cars on the Route historic service station on Route 66 in Galena, Kansas
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Discover quirky stops, shops and photo-ops when you take a ride on the Mother Road through Southeast Kansas

Kansas sits in the center of the American heartland and is known for its wide-open skies and free-spirited vibes. The state is a gateway to the American West, so it’s fitting that Route 66, one of the USA’s original highways and a roadway synonymous with westward travel in the USA, crosses through it. Kansas features a short, yet significant, stretch of The Mother Road with historic places along these 19 kilometers of Americana that are not-to-be-missed. Stop often as you make your way through the towns of Galena, Riverton and Baxter Springs on Route 66.

Quirky, Retro Service Stations

Located at the corner of Front Street and Main Street in Galena, the Kan-O-Tex Service Station is a retro-style attraction also known as “Cars on the Route.” A landmark on Route 66 since opening in 1934, the sporty red, white and yellow structure is accentuated by the antique vehicles parked outside and decorated in homage to the animated characters from the Pixar movie Cars. Grab a photo with the “Tow Tater” truck, then pop inside for a homemade sandwich before continuing west down Main Street into Galena for another photo-op at the Texaco gas station. There, spot another Cars-inspired antique vehicle reminiscent of the character “Doc Hudson.” Beside the vintage gas pumps is another photo-op: a Big Boy statue of Big Boy restaurant fame, holding up a stack of tires instead of the usual stack of hamburgers.

A third historic service station greets drivers in Baxter Springs, where the Independent Oil and Gas Service Station maintains its original design resembling a cottage. The “automotive cottage” service station designs were attractive to travelers in the early days of Route 66 with welcoming features visitors might find home-like. Today, it’s not only a great photo-op but also home to the Kansas Route 66 Visitors' Center, still greeting travelers with its friendly façade.

The house-like appearance and vintage gas pumps at the Kansas Route 66 Visitor Center in Baxter Springs

The house-like appearance and vintage gas pumps at the Kansas Route 66 Visitor Center in Baxter Springs
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Historic Byways and Bridges

The 1.9-kilometer section of Route 66 that makes up the East Galena Historic District may be short, but it is one of the most intact portions of historic Route 66 that you can drive today. The road is still concrete, the same hard surfacing material that paved much of Route 66 in its heyday. The industrial area the road traverses in this short ride harkens back to Route 66’s roots connecting mining towns across the southeast corner of Kansas. For a photo-op along this stretch, check out the arched concrete viaduct bridge. Like many of the thoroughfares making up today’s Route 66, this stretch of road has an alternate name – modern maps list it as Front Street – but you’ll see Route 66 historic markers along the way.

Another historic bridge awaits on your Route 66 drive through Kansas: the Brush Creek “Rainbow” Bridge, located 5.6 kilometers north of Baxter Springs. It was built along the concrete road in the 1920s when the white “rainbow” arches were once common in the region. There were once three of this same style along Route 66 in Kansas, with dozens more dotting the Midwest. Today, this bridge is the last of its kind on Route 66 in Kansas, making it a great photo-op for curious travelers.

An arched “rainbow” bridge spans over Brush Creek in Riverton, Kansas

An arched “rainbow” bridge spans over Brush Creek in Riverton, Kansas
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Stop and Shop

Leaving Galena and driving toward Riverton, you’ll encounter the Old Riverton Store on the east side of town. This family-owned grocery store and plant nursery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been in continual operation for nearly 100 years. Admire the plants for sale as you walk in and order a custom-made sandwich at the highly rated deli. This is a great place to find your Route 66 memorabilia. It’s also the headquarters of the Route 66 Association of Kansas, a group dedicated to preserving the history of this charming stretch of Americana.

In Baxter Springs, visit Somewhere in Time Antiquities for flea market shopping and friendly service. The store stakes its claim as the premier place to buy craft root beers and sodas along Route 66; they also sell a selection of Amish jellies. There is no telling what other treasures visitors will find. Wares include record albums, jewelry, home furnishings, trinkets and postcards, as well as a variety of Wizard of Oz themed merchandise (this is Kansas, after all) and Route 66 souvenirs.

The red brick exterior of Nelson’s Old Riverton Store on Route 66 in Riverton

The red brick exterior of Nelson’s Old Riverton Store on Route 66 in Riverton
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Getting There

Fly into a Route 66 gateway airport, such as Dallas, Texas, (DFW) or St. Louis, Missouri, (STL) and rent a car to start your journey on the Mother Road. You can also include Kansas as part of your larger Route 66 road trip.