On most days, the time spent behind the wheel of my trusty minivan finds me navigating Joplin’s city roads on autopilot. In my efforts to get kids to school, to soccer, to dance, to anywhere on time, I rarely notice my surroundings.
But then there are moments when I’ll catch a glimpse of the rolling, tree-covered hills in the distance, reminding me of the natural beauty of the area in which we live. And I begin to breathe just a bit easier.
For almost two decades, I’ve enjoyed cruising area roads in a car. Recently, I had the opportunity to cruise the same roads while riding on the back of a motorcycle.
I know it sounds cliché, but being on the open road with the wind on your face really does heighten your senses. From the back of the bike, I was able to see land formations and buildings that I’d driven past hundreds of times before but had never noticed, and I was able to smell subtle changes in the air (and some not-so-subtle, like when we passed a dead skunk).
I was able to experience this sensory carnival thanks to Bailey Goodall and TJ Thomas, instructors at the Route 66 Motorcycle Safety Course.They offer a three-day basic rider course, which they teach on on the weekends. Graduates of the course receive a Missouri Motorcycle Safety Program (MMSP) completion card which they can take to the Missouri DMV in order to waive their riding test for their endorsement. This is a pretty cool deal for people who don’t have much time, yet want to learn how to ride safely.
On a perfect Sunday in late summer, Bailey, TJ, and a couple of their friends let me tag along on a ride. Being that it was the first motorcycle ride OF MY LIFE, I was relieved that it was with people who lived and breathed motorcycle safety.
Bailey, who’s also the safety course’s program manager, put together a motorcycle ride in southwest Missouri that showcases the area’s most scenic spots. So I hopped on the back of TJ’s Harley (which was as comfortable as a La-Z-Boy), and off we went.
From Joplin, we headed south on Reinmiller Road. Riding the curves and hills on this road gave me the exhilarating feeling of being on a roller coaster.
We then headed west to River Road. This is, hands down, my favorite road in the area. Sandwiched between a bluff on the north side and Shoal Creek on the south, this road is picturesque year-round, but it’s utterly breathtaking in the fall when the many trees along the creek proudly display their rich crimson and gold colors.
The next part of the ride took us past the following Joplin attractions:
Grand Falls:Not only is this a fantastic spot for photographs, but Grand Falls is also the largest continuously running waterfall in Missouri.
From Joplin, we headed south on curvy, hilly roads through the tiny towns of Spring City and Racine, and enjoyed views of spring-fed creeks and animals grazing in pastures on our way to Neosho.
When it came time to fuel our bellies, we turned north from Neosho and stopped at the one-of-a-kind Undercliff Grill & Barin Tipton Ford for a late Sunday breakfast.
Built into the side of a bluff, this eatery has a casual atmosphere with plenty of outdoor seating, making it an ideal spot to meet up with friends for a relaxing meal.
From Tipton Ford, we headed north to historic Route 66 in Carthage. We passed the 66 Drive-In Theatre, which was built in 1949 and is still in operation.
Most of the original structures are still utilized, including the neon marquis in front. Watching a movie here is like traveling back in time.
From Carthage, we traveled east towards the old mining town of Carterville. Historic Route 66 cuts through the heart of this town, passing an old rock filling station from the heyday of the Mother Road, plus Supertam on 66, an ice cream parlor where visitors can see Superman memorabilia that owner Larry Tamminem has been collecting for over 30 years.
Turning south, we passed by the impressive praying hands in Webb City, a 32-foot-tall set of hands that rest on top of a 40-foot hill.
Next to the praying hands is the equally-impressive Webb City Farmer’s Market, located under the pavilion in King Jack Park. Local vendors sell produce, meat, honey, bread, crafts and more at this year-round market.
As we entered the Joplin city limits, I started to feel like the Harley was going to transform into a pumpkin. I’d had a magical time enjoying the scenery while riding along with TJ, Bailey, and their friends, and I didn’t want it to end.
I look forward to the time when I can ride with them againIn the meantime, I guess I’ll have to settle for cruising the country roads in my minivan.
Maybe I’ll get crazy and try to recapture that freedom-on-the-road feeling by rolling the minivan’s windowsall the way down.
Christine is a Chicago native and has lived in Joplin for almost two decades. Growing up in the Windy City, she loved to explore the wide variety of museums, restaurants, sports venues, theaters and parks. When she moved to Joplin her goal was to learn about the unique culture and attractions in the area. Now Christine discovers new things each week, whether it be a little-known park, a new restaurant or a community event. Joplin can be just as exciting as a major city if you dive in to all the community has to offer.