If you want to travel the old Route 66 alignment across Kansas, you’ll also pass through Joplin (pop. 52,195), a border town that’s the industrial center of the tri-state region. Formerly a lead- and zinc-mining town, in May 2011 Joplin made the national news in the worst possible way when it was hit by one of the most powerful tornados in recent U.S. history, 200-mph winds tearing a swath of destruction and killing more than 150 people in less than 10 minutes of terror. Before the tornado, Joplin was better known for its high-quality limestone quarries than for its history, though highway heritage is well served at Schifferdecker Park, west of downtown off 7th Street, a pre-Route 66 rest area that now has a mining museum, small historical museum, and a public swimming pool (417/625-4750, daily, $5) that is much appreciated on a sweltering late-summer day. Though the tornado destroyed dozens of homes and businesses, Joplin’s downtown area does hold one unlikely attraction, a vibrant mural by artist Thomas Hart Benton depicting life in Joplin at the turn of the 20th century. The over-70-square-foot mural, which turned out to be the artist’s final complete work, is in the lobby of the Joplin City Hall (602 S. Main St.).
Joplin has a number of good places to eat. Try the excellent barbecue at Big R’s (1220 E. 15th St., 417/781-5959). The smoky brisket and juicy ribs make it hard to leave room for the tasty fresh-fruit pies. The popular Eagle Drive-In (4244 S. Hearnes Blvd., 417/623-2228) serves up a delicious short-rib chili along with a wide range of burgers: veggie burgers, bison burgers, lamb burgers, tuna burgers, you name it.