Since we are a Sport Touring Club, we have rides that are more sport oriented, like the Erwin Loop, and we have some other rides that are more touring oriented. This following article is one such article. It concentrates more on what there is to see and do along the route, and not so much on the route itself. It follows the travels of Carl and Denise Weiman as they travel from their home in Minnesota to our National Rally in Cape Girardeau, Missouri.
….The Avenue of the Saints… It starts in St. Paul, Minnesota, and ends in St. Louis, Missouri, which makes it 563 miles long. We started this trip in Owatonna, Minnesota, our hometown, which is about 65 miles south of St. Paul, although we have traveled that portion many times. We have also traveled the next 240 miles many times per year, along with visiting many of the interesting locations along the way. We are going to give some suggestions to make this an enjoyable trip with stops along the way. The concept of a four-lane highway from St. Paul to St. Louis was started in the 1980s and the final route was approved in 1990.The Avenue does include a portion of I-35 and a few other small portions of Interstates with a speed limit of 70 mph. But mostly the speed limit is 60 or 65 mph making for more relaxed riding or driving and to give one time to sit back and look at the scenery. There is a lot of beautiful scenery along the route as it goes through rolling farmland, hills, rivers, near the Mississippi River and the flat lands with the hills to the west. Some of this area is the Driftless Area, which makes for some scenic traveling. Being this is not an Interstate highway; it does not have the heavy traffic and the drivers seem to be in a more
relaxed driving mode. With less traffic, many times you may not see another vehicle for a mile or more. There are many interesting and scenic locations to visit along the route. There are no twisty sections like on some routes. This makes it a very different type of route as you will see many different types of scenery along the way that are not close to the road but may be a few miles off in the distance. There are many places along the way that provide camping so that you can stop for the night. There are also many small towns that have very reasonably priced hotels.
On this trip, we decided to spend a night in Hannibal, Missouri, and spend some time seeing the sites that we will explain later.
There are many places to stop along this route and take in the sites and history of the area. We have visited most of these places
through the years, and some more than once. We hope this sparks your interest to check out the Avenue of the Saints, whether it be on your next trip through this area and decide to take a more relaxing route, or you decide to make a vacation along the route.
Starting in St. Paul and heading south you are just a few miles from the Mall of America. If you have never been to the mall, and decide to check it out, you can easily spend a whole day viewing the sites in the mall. It is not just about shopping. There are also many places to eat as well. And we cannot forget the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park in the center of the mall. The rides are on rubber coated wheels, so that when you walk nearby or underneath it will be quiet. The mall is the largest mall in the western hemisphere and is celebrating 30 years of operation this year. There is also an underwater aquarium in the basement. The
mall is on the site of the original Metropolitan Stadium where the Minnesota Twins played baseball. There is a chair high up on the wall of MOA that commemorates the 520-foot home run that Harmon Killebrew hit in 1967, the longest ball ever hit at Met Stadium. There is also a home plate marker in the exact location on the floor where the Twins’ home plate was from 1956-1981.
From the mall we head south and come to Owatonna. On the north side of Owatonna is home to the first Cabela’s store outside of Nebraska. Next to the Cabela’s store is the Owatonna Degner Regional Airport which has three USAF-T38A Talons at the entrance. These are the only three that are on display in the USA in this formation. They originally were on display at the Heritage Halls Museum and were move next door to the airport after the museum closed in 2001.From Owatonna you will head south to Clear Lake, Iowa, home of the Surf Ballroom. This is the ballroom where Buddy Holly played his last gig, during the 1959 Winter Dance Party Tour, featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, Dion & The Belmonts and Frankie Sardo. It was this fateful show that made the most lasting mark on the Surf Ballroom, when the plane that was flying the three headliners from Clear Lake to Fargo, North Dakota, crashed shortly after taking off from the nearby Mason City Municipal Airport. On January 13, 2021, The U.S. Department of the Interior designated the Surf Ballroom a National Historic Landmark, recognizing its enduring role in the history of American music. The Surf is Iowa’s 27th National Historic Landmark. The Avenue of the Saints heads east from Clear Lake towards Floyd, Iowa, home to a great restaurant that serves home cooked meals. Rick’s Wagon Wheel Restaurant is just off the Avenue. This place may take a little longer to get your meal than some of the fast-food places, but you will enjoy it much more.
This area goes through some flat farmland before heading back south to Waterloo, where they have the John Deere History Museum. You will enjoy the free museum even if you never lived on a farm. The museum has many interesting items along with the history of the company. There are several more museums in Waterloo, pertaining to the history of the city and its people. Waterloo has the first stop lights since leaving St. Paul. Even though there are stop lights, the road is still either 4 lanes or more for the entire length to St. Louis. As you go through Waterloo, the stop lights give you a chance to slow down and relax a little from
the open country road. Heading south to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the land turns to a rolling countryside, as it follows the Cedar River and eventually crosses the river in downtown Cedar Rapids. Cedar Rapids has a few museums of different cultures, such as Czech, Slovak, and African American. From Cedar Rapids, you can head east for about 25 miles to Anamosa, Iowa to the National Motorcycle
Museum. It has many very old cycles on display as well as a 110-year-old airplane. Some of the old motorcycles are on loan from owners and rotate, so every time you go, there may be different bikes to look at in the museum. Also, in the area while heading south from Cedar Rapids, you can take a side trip to Amana Colonies which is about 15 miles to the west. The Amana Colonies consist of seven villages, that all work together. It is a world of authentic German ambiance that was created by their ancestors and preserved for today. The unique culture has its roots in Germany and flourished in the US during a communal era for over 90 years, which can still be seen today in the villages. This is the location where Amana countertop microwaves were invented in 1967. These were the first models of microwaves for household use. The villages also are known for their great foods, and large servings as well as the many different local wines and beers. There is so much more to see and do in Amana Colonies that you will want to plan on several days on your visit. We have been there many times through the years, and sometimes staying for more than one day at a time. That is because it is like a place that takes you back in time in many of the villages and is very relaxing.
Denise and her two sisters spent four to five days there about 10 years ago and did not run out of things to see and do. Many of the places to stay are B&B’s that provide a home cooked meal for breakfast. Yes, it is a meal, as it contains so much German style food and different varieties. From Amana Colonies you can head back to the Avenue of the Saints towards Iowa City, and south to Swedesburg, Iowa. Here you will find the Swedish American Museum.
After this visit, it is another 100 miles and you will be in Hannibal, Missouri. On this section of the Avenue, you will see a lot of flat farmlands to the east for about 1-2 miles and then some trees with the Mississippi River on the other side of the trees. Looking to the west one will see flat farmland that eventually slopes uphill to the trees. This area is flat land is a product
of from the ice age when the water was very high and created some good farmland without the hills or valleys. Hannibal was home to Mark Twain. You can visit his home along with many other historical places. On this trip, we spent almost two days here. The Mark Twain Riverboat on the first evening was a fantastic way to relax. This is an old riverboat built in 1964 that serves a great Missouri style buffet meal the night we were there, and a one-man band. Or, should I say, he played his tenor saxophone with some backup recorded music at times. He also sang a few songs. The next day we took a tour of the Mark Twain Cave, located south of Hannibal. The tour guides are very informative with the history of the area and the cave, and this cave has been giving tours since 1886, making it the oldest operating show cave in the state. That afternoon, we took a trolley ride through the town. We were very lucky, as we were the only passengers on the trolley and could easily ask questions very easy of the guide. It was like having a private tour. She explained the history of the town as well as the famous people from Hannibal. As we went past the Mark Twain boyhood home and museum, the tour guide which she gave us a lot of details on the house, since we were not planning to visit it on this trip. These are just some of the places to visit in Hannibal, before heading back on the Avenue of the Saints towards St. Louis, which is about 100 miles away. St. Louis is where the end comes for the Avenue of the Saints. From there we continued another 100 miles south to Cape Girardeau the location of STAR 2022.
I hope everyone enjoyed our counsel about Traveling the Avenue of the Saints