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More Midwest National Parks Road Trip from La Plata, MO

More Midwest National Parks Road Trip from La Plata, MO

Oklahoma City National Memorial & George Washington Carver Nat'l Monument

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:

September 23-25, 2014

The above map covers the "road trip" portion of our journey and the stops along the way in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas
(Map designed by Robert & Kandace Tabern)

The authors of this article, Kandace & Robert Tabern (center and right), pose for a picture with Karri Cox (left), daughter
of APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox, at the Welcome to Oklahoma sign on their road trip
(Photo by Robert & Kandace Tabern)

One of our first blogs written for TrainWeb earlier this year took a look at some of the National Park Service units that one can visit by using the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, Missouri as a base. On that trip made in July 2014 (which you can read here), we took you on a journey to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Kansas and also the Harry Truman National Historic Site in Missouri. We got excellent feedback about this article and decided to do a repeat visit out to La Plata, Missouri before the end of the year to show you some additional National Park Service units that are with-in a day or two's drive of the Depot Inn & Suites.

This particular trip started out on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 at Chicago Union Station.  We both performed a Trails & Rails trip westbound on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri; this was our final westbound Trails & Rails run of the Summer 2014 season. We got off to a late start out of Chicago because the interior door between the Sightseer Lounge and Dining Car was stuck closed. Amtrak’s mechanical crews came aboard and we were ready to roll about 15 minutes late. We were also 15 minutes late in to La Plata, Missouri, so we didn’t lose any more time en route, which was good, because we had quite a busy itinerary planned.

Co-author and Trails & Rails Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern takes the microphone near Earlville, Illinois
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Co-author and Trails & Rails Chicago Coordinator Robert Taben presents a 'thank you' cerificate to Conductor Shea on behalf of Amtrak, the National Park Service, Texas A&M University, and the APRHF for her support of the Trails & Rails program
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Co-author and Trails & Rails Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern lets a young passenger
feel some llama fur, just after the Southwest Chief passed by a llama farm outside of Ormonde, Illinois
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Upon our arrival in La Plata just after 8:00PM, we had our rental car waiting for us at the station, courtesy of Enterprise in Kirksville. This is the second time that we have had a rental car delivered to the station in La Plata through the Kirksville Enterprise and were quite pleased both times with their service. We got the feeling that they don’t do this as a regular thing, so it’s always a good idea to call a day or two before hand and remind them about what you arranged. Also, it is good to call the day of your arrival and check which car you will be provided (make, model, and color) so it can be more easily found in the parking lot, which can sometimes be quite full and confusing after dark. We paid just over $40 for a one-day rental on a mid-size car.

After getting our car, we headed over to La Pachanga Mexican Restaurant in La Plata, MO, which in our opinion, is the best place to eat in La Plata. We both had our usual there – 6 tacos, beef and cheese only, for Robert and the Polo California for Kandace. We joined some friends for dinner including Bob, Amy, and Karri Cox, and Tom Anderson who was in town working on the new Silver Rails Vineyard Project. After dinner, we checked in to our room at the Depot Inn & Suites, even though we did not really plan on staying there the first night. We always enjoy our stay at the Depot Inn & Suites… and being a regular there as Chicago Coordinator of the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief… we can say it really is the best place to stay in Northeast Missouri. There is a pool, railfan camera viewing on the television sets, a pool table in the lobby, and great train-themed materials to look at in the hallway. Don’t forget the lookout point a few blocks away and the APRHF Exhibition of Amtrak History!

APRHF President and Trails & Rails La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox gets quite festive during a meal at La Pachangas
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

We left La Plata, MO around 10:30PM and decided to make Oklahoma City our destination… of course, this would require a long overnight drive. Being a former third shift television producer, it was decided that Robert would get the “short straw” and do the overnight 520-mile drive. Kandace ended up sleeping in the passenger seat most of the ride… while our special guest on the trip… Karri Cox… got to take over the complete back seat. It was a pretty uneventful drive overnight West on U.S. 36 and down to Oklahoma City via Kansas City on I-35 South. The highlight was a beautiful lightning show in the distance around 4:00AM that woke everyone up and featured green and purple lightning. Gotta love Kansas!


We arrived in Oklahoma City, OK around 7:00AM on Wednesday, September 24, 2014... and after a quick stop for breakfast... it was decided to head over to the Amtrak Station to see the departure of the southbound Heartland Flyer to Fort Worth, TX. The historic Art Deco Santa Fe station, located at 100 South E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, originally opened in 1934. For many years passengers would board here for the Texas Chief, initially operated by the Santa Fe and later by Amtrak. The station also served Amtrak’s Chicago to Houston Lone Star until October 9, 1979. The station was purchased from BNSF in 1998 by Jim Brewer, a developer responsible for creating a nearby entertainment district. The station was soon renovated using $2,000,000 in funds provided by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, allowing for train service to begin in 1999. Another $3,100,000 renovation was completed in 2007. The station is currently open only from 8:00AM to 10:00AM and from 9:40PM to 11:40PM, so one has limited hours to check out the historic murals and lobby areas.

After driving all night from La Plata, Missouri, co-authors Kandace & Robert Tabern (right) and Karri Cox (left) reach Oklahoma City
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

The historic Santa Fe station in Oklahoma City, built in the 1930's, is now used by Amtrak; Karri and Kandace pose for a picture
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

A post card of what the Oklahoma City Santa Fe station looked like in the 1940's; note not many changes!
(Public domain)

A view of an old light hanging from the ceiling and the old windows inside the station
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

A view of the intricate art work on the ceiling of the station
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

A view of part of a mural by the area leading up to the boarding platforms
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Co-author Kandace Tabern checks out the waiting room, which looks like it stepped out of the Santa Fe days
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Karri, Kandace, and Robert (left to right) pose for a picture on the stairs leading up to the boarding platforms
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

The engine of the southbound "Heartland Flyer" is seen up against the Oklahoma City skyline
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Kandace and Karri pose for one last picture with the "Heartland Flyer", before it departed for Fort Worth, Texas
(Photo by Robert Tabern)


Our next stop, and the main reason for our travel to Oklahoma City, was a visit to the Oklahoma City National Memorial. According to the National Park Service which manages the site, the memorial was built to honor the victims, survivors, and rescuers, and all affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. The memorial is located in downtown Oklahoma City on the former site of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which was destroyed. The building was located on NW 5th Street between N. Robinson Avenue and N. Harvey Avenue.

One of the most prominent features of the memorial is the Gates of Time, twin bronze gates that have “9:01” and “9:03” engraved on them. These times reflect one minute before and one minute after the bombing.

The "9:03 Gate" at the Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

There is also a field of empty chairs which symbolize the 168 people who lost their lives in the bombing; the saddest part of this was the small chairs which represented the 19 children killed in the bombing.

Empty chairs reflect each person lost at the site of the Murrah Building, now part of Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

There is also the Survivor’s Wall, the only remaining original portions of the Murrah Building, inscribed with the names of the more than 600 survivors from the building and the surrounding area, many of whom were injured in the blast.

Some of the original walls of the Murrah Building still stand; now part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Of course, there is also the reflecting pool. It is made up of a thin layer of water that flows over polished black granite.

The "9:03 Gate" seen here with the reflecting pool, at the Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Karri and Kandace take time out to look at the reflecting pool, at Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Another view of the reflecting pool at Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Our favorite part of the memorial was the Survivor Tree, an American elm that was heavily damaged by the blast, but survived. The force of the blast ripped most of the branches from the Survivor Tree.

The "Survivor Tree" at Oklahoma City National Memorial
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

We spent most of our time walking around the outdoor areas of the monument, where a National Park Service ranger was present to answer our questions. If you visit, there is also the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum, however due to our time restrictions we had to skip this part of the memorial.

Part of the original chain link fence around the Murrah Building, where people can leave their own tokens to the victims of the boming
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Kandace checks out a message that was spray painted on a nearby building in 1995 by search and rescue teams
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Robert and Kandace pose for one last picture at Oklahoma City National Memorial before moving on
(Photo by Karri Cox)


After spending about two hours walking around the Oklahoma City National Memorial, we hit the road and decided to start heading back in the direction of Missouri. After going through Tulsa, we took a slight jog off I-44 and crossed into Arkansas. While Kandace and Robert both spent a significant amount of time actually living in Arkansas many years ago, Karri said she had never been, so we decided to cross the far northwest border and have lunch in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. We also made a brief stop in Decatur, Arkansas to view an engine and caboose that belonged to the Kansas City Southern; it is located in a park off a state highway there.

Robert (left), Karri (center), and Kandace (right) pose for a picture at the Welcome to Arkansas sign
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Arkansas State Highways 59 and 72 travel close to where Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Missouri come together
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

A Kansas City Southern engine and caboose can be seen in a park in Decatur, Arkansas
(Photo by Robert Tabern)


We crossed back into Missouri, southwest of Joplin, and made a stop at another unit of the National Park Service, this being the George Washington Carver National Monument. The site preserves the boyhood home of George Washington Carver, as well as the 1881 Moses Carver house and the Carver cemetery. George Washington Carver was an American scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor.  All three of us spent most of our time enjoying the park’s nature trail, museum, and interactive exhibits. The park is open year round from 9:00AM to 5:00PM; it is located near Diamond, Missouri.  Karri got the biggest kick out of completing the Junior Ranger booklet and becoming a Junior Ranger for the first time (with a little assistance from Robert and Kandace!)  We spent about an hour at the park which was really enough time to take it all in. George Washington Carver National Monument was on our list because it was the only National Park Service unit in Missouri that Robert had never been to.

The National Park Service sign at the entrance of George Washington Carver National Monument
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Kandace (left) and Karri (right) hit the nature trail together at George Washington Carver National Monument
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Karri reads a National Park Service sign explaning who George Washington Carver was
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Kandace (left) and Karri (right) explore the restored Carver family cabin at George Washington Carver National Monument
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

This was Karri's favorite park of the national monument, the Carver Pond, where they used to get their drinking water from!
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Kandace checks out a broze bust of George Washington Carver at the end of the nature trail
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

A statue of George Washington Carver, as a boy, can be seen on the trail at this national monument in Southwest Missouri
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Karri gets sworn in as a George Washington Carver National Monument Junior Ranger at the end of our time there
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)


We left George Washington Carver National Monument around 3:30PM and hit the road back to La Plata. We made a brief stop at a Waffle House in Rolla, Missouri, as Karri told us she has never been to a Waffle House before. Waffle House seems to be a restaurant they only have in the South… so it’s actually a real treat now that we live in the Chicago area. The closest Waffle House to where we live is in Toledo, Ohio, but that is still over 200 miles away. We all ended up having the same order – chocolate and peanut butter waffles!!

Between George Washington Carver National Monument and Rolla, Missouri our trip paralled parts of Old Route 66 from Chicago to L.A.
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Who could resist stopping off at the Waffle House?  Not Kandace (left) and Karri (right), near Rolla, Missouri
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Karri enjoys her peanut butter and chocolate waffle at the Waffle House near Rolla, Missouri
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

From there, it was somewhat of a quick trip up U.S. 63 back to La Plata, via Jefferson City and Columbia. Without hitting any significant traffic and without making any stops, it took us just under three hours to make it from Rolla, Missouri back to the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, Missouri, again a straight shot up U.S. 63 North.

We dropped Karri off and briefly visited with Bob and Amy Cox and told them about our grand adventure which involved more than a 1,000-mile drive in 20 hours of time. It was a lot of driving, but also an excellent adventure to two units of the National Park Service that are with-in a reasonable driving distance when you stay at the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, Missouri. Of course, you can stay more nights and do this at your own pace, preferably without the overnight drive I am sure!

After a much needed night of rest at the hotel, we got up early on Thursday, September 25, 2014, and concluded our Summer 2014 Trails & Rails season by doing another program for the eastbound passengers on Train #4, the Southwest Chief. We left La Plata about 20 minutes late, but with the “padding” in the schedule, we actually made it into Chicago four minutes early, at 3:11PM.

Leaving La Plata, Missouri by train, as our 1,000+ road trip to Oklahoma comes to an end
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Kandace Tabern poses by the BNSF tracks in La Plata, Missouri waiting for the eastbound Southwest Chief, Train #4
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

A look at the GPS track for the return portion of our trip (in blue);  Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to La Plata, Missouri (by rental car),
La Plata to Chicago, Illinois (by train/Southwest Chief), and Chicago to Glenview, Illinois (by train/Hiawatha Service)
(Photo by Robert Tabern)


Depot Inn & Suites | Enterprise Rental Car - Kirksville, MO | La Pachanga Mexican Restaurant - La Plata, MO

Oklahoma City, OK Amtrak StationOklahoma City National Memorial, OK City of Decatur, AR

George Washington Carver National Monument, MO | Waffle House - Rolla, MO


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