Road Trip Day 3 – Exploring Caves and Remembering Joplin

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After bidding farewell to St. Louis, we headed west on I-44 on Day 3, taking short jaunts on old Route 66 just for fun (or should I say just for kicks?) from time to time. We had no real plans for the drive, but ended up making a few memorable stops (including having our first meal at Sonic!).


Exploring Caves

Our first stop of the day was in Stanton, Missouri — home to the Meramec Caverns. If you are driving anywhere in this area — hell, anywhere in Missouri, even — you can't miss the endless advertising for this natural attraction. There were billboards every half mile or so for at least an hour before we reached Stanton. In fact, I've even seen ads painted on the roofs of barns as far north as Ohio for these caves.

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

When it comes to something so advertised and exploited, there's always a fear that it won't actually be worth the admission fee. Well, with the exception of perhaps the $50 zip lining over the parking lot, I think the Meramec Caverns ARE worth the admission fee. $20 gets you an hour-and-a-half-long guided tour into the depths of the caverns, where you'll see everything from underground rivers to slimy stalactites and stalagmites. The tour was interesting enough to even keep the young children in our group quiet most of the time.

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri
Some rooms even come complete with pretty lights.
Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri
This formation is roughly 75 million years old – it took longer for this to form than it took for the Colorado River to carve out the Grand Canyon.

And the added bonus? The caves are a constant 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a nice respite from the current 100-degree temperatures outside.

Meramec Caverns, Stanton, Missouri

But then came the more serious part of the day.

Remembering Joplin

I knew I-44 would take us through Joplin, the Missouri town that was devastated by an EF-5 tornado on May 22, 2011. At least 160 died in Joplin that day, and thousands more were displaced from their homes as a tornado a mile wide ripped through town.

Joplin, Missouri
A main street in Joplin today.

After having visited Christchurch, New Zealand, 3 months post-earthquake earlier this year, I knew that making a stop in Joplin was important. Important because, with disasters like this, people tend to forget about the “after” portion of the event. Once the quake or tornado or famine falls off the front pages of our newspapers, we tend to forget that they ever happened — even though the people affected are still living through it. So it was in Christchurch, and so it was, too, in Joplin.

Joplin, Missouri
Joplin's out-of-commission hospital.

Joplin almost felt like a ghost town. Tented relief centers are still set up on the outskirts of the city, and the tornado's path through populated areas can still easily be traced. Joplin is FAR from recovered, even if we aren't hearing much about it anymore.

I could go on and on about how surreal it was to drive down Joplin's deserted streets, or how heart-stoppingly sad it was to see destroyed homes, but I think these photos can say it much better:

Joplin, Missouri

Joplin, Missouri

Joplin, Missouri

Joplin, Missouri

Today, I ask you to remember Joplin. And Christchurch. And Japan. And every other country or city that has been affected by a natural disaster this year. Just because the media isn't covering it anymore doesn't mean that these places are back to “normal.” They still need your thoughts, prayers, and help. If you want to donate to any of these disasters, consider making a donation to the Red Cross.

Each day, I’ll be cutting together a quick video to show you what we’ve been up to. Today I made two, because I felt like Joplin deserved its own video.

Here's the first one:

And here's the second, dedicated to Joplin:

Tomorrow, it's on to Amarillo, Texas!

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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22 Comments on “Road Trip Day 3 – Exploring Caves and Remembering Joplin

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  1. Those are some impressive images. Caves are fun to visit. I’ve visited few one them and one of my favorite was the carlsbad Cave in NM.

    I just ran across your posts. I know you posted the pictures from joplin over a year ago but it is all fresh in my mind. Because me and my family live in joplin. It missed our house by 2 blocks and my boys and I went out first responding. I can say my 17 and 21 year old boys saw things that no one should ever have to see. But I am proud of what they did to help and I am proud of our comunity for how we came together to save lives. And I thank people like you for the continued Prayers for all of us. If you ever make it through Joplin again look me up or facebook me Rocksannia Alvarado . I think I am the only person with that strange of a name on facebook !

      Thank you for stopping by, and for sharing your story. It was hard driving around Joplin, but I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must be for you and your family and the rest of the people who call Joplin home. Stay strong, and keep up the positive attitude!

    These caves look beautiful especially with the lighting! What an adventure 🙂

      These caves were a huge surprise! So glad we made the stop, though.

    Great video showing the Joplin tornado disaster. You see photos and brief video clips on the news but to watch a video of y’all driving by and seeing the damage go on and on is quite impactful! Are people rebuilding at all or is it going to become a ghost town? I couldn’t tell if the white plastic on houses was from siding that got ripped off or from new construction. Thanks for sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly, it’s important to be reminded of all these aspects.

      Thanks, Cat. The video is pretty rough, but I just felt the need to show it exactly as we saw it. It was really emotional driving up and down those streets. I felt kind of weird filming and taking photos of it, but, at the same time, I knew I wanted to show people.

      For the most part, there doesn’t seem like a whole lot has been done since the tornado. Yes, there are perhaps a couple of houses that are being rebuilt. But there’s still a lot of rubble lying around, and most homes are deserted. I don’t know what this means for the future of Joplin, but I certainly hope they can bounce back from this!

    I would definitely pay the $20 to see the insides of those caves, too – you got some gorgeous shots, there! The photos and video of Joplin make me sad, but it is important to know and remember that these things happen, and to remember that it could happen to us any day too. Thanks for sharing 🙂


      The caves were a fun side trip that day. And, while Joplin wasn’t “fun” by any means, I’m still glad we saw it for the same reason that you mentioned — because it’s important to remind ourselves how precious life is and that something like this could happen to any of us!

    Love those amazing shots of the caves. We have been to some similar caves in Vietnam in Halong bay where they light all the formations with colourful lights. Cool pics of them!

      Thanks, Anthony! I wasn’t sure at the time how those photos would come out, but I’m actually really pleased with them. The caverns were much cooler than I expected them to be. Who knew something like that existed in Missouri??

    Thanks for sharing these photos of Joplin. You’re right– just because the media stops covering a natural disaster, doesn’t mean everyone affected has gotten their lives back together. Great post.

      Thank YOU, Danielle. As someone who has worked for a newspaper the past few years, I’m always aware of what’s getting news coverage. But now, after visiting a few disaster-hit places a couple of months after all that news coverage has disappeared, I almost feel like it’s my duty to bring attention back to them. There are still stories to be told in places like this. I think it’s extremely important for us to remember Joplin and cities like it, if only to remind ourselves that life is precious, and we are very lucky to be alive.

    I visited Joplin in 2004, and I remember thinking what a cute, All-American looking town it was. What a shame. Hopefully it can rise from the ashes.

      When I told my sister that our route could take us through Joplin, she went online and looked it up on Wikipedia. The first thing she said was, “It looks so cute!” And, indeed, the downtown area did look cute. But, these days, it seems very few of the businesses there are actually open. I really hope it can get back on its feet, too.

    Thanks for putting Joplin back on the radar. It can be so easy to forget once the cameras leave. Great post.

      You are very welcome. It is so easy to forget, that it’s scary. Some people might argue that it’s fine when we forget. But I have to disagree.

      I’ll probably do a more extensive post featuring Joplin once the trip is over. I have more to share from there.

    I need a road trip. You are making some interesting choices as far as stops, my last Road Trip also included a Sonic as first stop haha. Yup, forgot about Joplin I must say. Nice pictures of the caves.

    Have fun on the rest of your road trip!

      I think everybody needs a good road trip every now and then! And yes, we aren’t making what would perhaps be the “usual” road trip stops. But I like it this way!

      Thanks for following along. I’m glad we could remind you about Joplin, and entertain you with some cave photos!

    I like that you shone the spotlight on Joplin. It’s easy to forget about the devastation once the media stops covering the aftermath.

    Enjoy the rest of your road trip! 😀

      It is very easy to forget. I’ll admit that even I was surprised. I hadn’t expected the damage to look so… fresh, I guess. It was a very sobering drive through town. But I’m glad we made the detour.

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