Twenty miles west of Cuba, about midway between St. Louis and Springfield, one of the liveliest towns along the Ozark Mountains stretch of Route 66 is Rolla (pop. 20,075; pronounced “RAW-la”). In the center of town, right along old Route 66 on the campus of the Missouri University of Science and Technology (MUST), one big draw is the half-scale replica of that ancient Druidical observatory, Stonehenge, created in 1984 to show off the high-tech stone carving capabilities of MUST’s High Pressure Water Jet Lab.
Adding to the surprising mix of international flavors is another Rolla tradition: a wild and crazy St. Patrick’s Day party, held every year since 1908, during which students paint the streets of Rolla green, slay rubber snakes, and drink just about anything they can find, all in homage to the Emerald Isle.
Amongst the I-44 freeway clutter of Waffle Houses and Shoney’s at the west end of Rolla, there’s still a sign for the fireworks and moccasins on sale at the landmark Totem Pole Trading Post. Once you’ve got your fill of T-shirts and postcards, head up the hill to Rolla’s most popular watering hole, Rob and Kricket’s Tater Patch (103 Bridge School Rd., 573/368-3111). It’s on the south side of Route 66 across from the Rolla visitors center. Try one of their signature baked potatoes topped with pulled pork for a unique taste treat. They’ve also been serving big breakfasts, pork tenderloins, delicious onion rings, and ice-cold beer for more than 40 years. And anytime you’re near Rolla, make sure to set aside enough appetite and enough time to enjoy A Slice of Pie (601 Kingshighway St., 573/364-6203), on old Route 66 south of downtown, where two former schoolteachers bake an amazing array of fruit, nut, cream, and meringue pies, and even a few creamy quiches.