Travel & Tourism
Christmas Spirit Glows in Hermann Rectory PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Tom Uhlenbrock   
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:41
Hermann, Mo. — If there was an award for Christmas decorations inside a home, Father Bill’s residence would win hands-down.

The Rev. William Debo lives in the rectory adjoining Hermann's St. George Catholic Church, whose bell tower stands high above this quaint river town in the hills of the Missouri River Valley. Every Christmas, the 21 rooms inside the three-story red brick building are decorated, top to bottom, in a prodigious labor of love by a group of dedicated town residents.

“Everybody says, when they come here, that it’s the best they’ve ever seen,” Father Bill said.

There are no prancing reindeer, no animated Santas, no overbearing music. Each decoration is carefully planned, and artfully executed. The visitors who go through on tours are overwhelmed by twinkling lights, pine boughs and trees, and vintage ornaments, carolers and manger scenes. There are 31 trees, 7-foot or taller, this year.

“We started decorating in mid-October with a core group of about 20 volunteers,” Father Bill said. “Numerous people pop in and out, people in the community who know we need help. We opened Saturday, Dec. 1. Since then, there have been bus tours kind of non-stop.”

The tours are free, but donations are welcomed. The event raised some $10,000 last year; money was distributed to the needy by Hermann-area churches. Tours are by appointment; call 573-486-2723.

The Franciscan Friars served St. George Parish until 2002, when Father Bill was appointed the first diocesan priest for the parish. He brought with him his art degree and Christmas spirit. This is his 10th year decorating the rectory.

“A representative of the Chamber of Commerce wanted us to be on the house tour, but I was afraid they weren’t going to get enough bang for the buck,” Father Bill said. “She stood in the foyer here and said, ‘I assure you, there’s more in this room than we’ll see in all the other houses combined.’”

Carrying J.P., his white Maltese, Father Bill began a tour of the home in the parlor.

“This is the Victorian tree that started all the madness,” he said. “These are hand-dried flowers out of my garden, vintage ornaments, hand-strung beads. I hand-dipped the lights to get that shade of pink.”

Several of the decorated rooms have themes. The dining room is all white and silver, with poinsettias, a tiered cake and seven donated dresses on forms, representing a vintage wedding. There is a Mardi Gras room with masks, beads and clowns; a Wizard of Oz room with Father Bill’s collection of memorabilia; and a military room decorated with uniforms, helmets, medals and photos of soldiers, young and old.

“Every year we get more photos and uniforms,” Father Bill said. “People want to memorialize their friends and family.”

The attic is Santa’s workshop, with a seated Mr. and Mrs. Claus taking a well-deserved rest. The basement wine cellar is decorated for the first time; tiny white lights and pine boughs hang from the pipes and rafters. Hermann is in Missouri’s wine country, and the wine racks are full of local vintages received as gifts.

“We’ll leave it all up until mid-January,” Father Bill said. “We take our time taking it down.”

Tom Uhlenbrock is a staff writer for the Missouri Division of Tourism.

About the Missouri Division of Tourism
The Missouri Division of Tourism (MDT) is the official tourism office for the state of Missouri dedicated to marketing Missouri as a premier travel destination. Established in 1967, the Missouri Division of Tourism has worked hard to develop the tourism industry in Missouri to what it is today, an $11.2 billion industry supporting more than 279,000 jobs and generating $627 million in state taxes in Fiscal Year 2011. For every dollar spent on marketing Missouri as a travel destination in FY11, $57.76 was returned in visitor expenditures. For more information on Missouri tourism, go to

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“The Loop Runs Special Hours on New Year's Eve” PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Becky Passman   
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:32

The Loop riverfront circulator will operate special hours on Monday, December 31 to accommodate New Year's Eve festivities.  The service will run its regular route beginning at 6PM and will end with the last stop in Bettendorf  at 2:45AM.  Four buses will be in operation that evening -- two traveling in a clockwise direction and two running the route in a counter-clockwise direction each hour -- giving riders more frequent service and increased capacity for the busy night.

The Loop riverfront circulator gives riders easy access to downtown attractions in Bettendorf, the Village of East Davenport, Davenport, The District in Rock Island, and Moline.  It is a safe and enjoyable way to travel among popular venues and enjoy local festivities.  The brightly colored orange retro-style buses – with stadium seating, huge windows, full glass ceilings, and friendly drivers –  are easy to spot and comfortable to ride.  Buses may be boarded either at a designated "Loop Stop" or by flagging the bus down in "The Loop Zone", which is anywhere along the route in the downtown areas.  Please note that all downtown hotels are on The Loop route, making it extra easy to bring in the New Year safely.

Cost: $1 per trip or $3 for a day-pass, 50 cents for those over 60, the disabled and those with a Medicare card.  Additional information about The Loop bus service, including downloadable .pdf's of the New Year's Eve schedule and The 2012-2013 Loop Rider's Guide, may be found at


2013 Brings New Sights, Sounds and Events to St. Louis PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Donna Andrews   
Monday, 17 December 2012 15:11

ST. LOUIS -- December 14, 2012 -- Here’s a New Year’s resolution that’s fun to keep: resolve to visit St. Louis to enjoy what’s new in 2013.

Each year brings big surprises to the St. Louis scene. During Lucky ’13, visitors can experience new sights, sounds and events at some of the Gateway City’s famed attractions.

Greet 2013 by saying buh-bye to 2012 at the artsy, family fun celebration called “First Night® Saint Louis.” This year’s theme, “A Traveling Circus,” brings acrobats, clowns and jugglers to entertain revelers in St. Louis’ Grand Center arts and entertainment district. The creative fete rings in the New Year on Monday, December 31 from 6 pm to midnight. Revelers of all ages can take in 60 performances at more than 12 venues, two free fantastic firework displays and free outdoor shows throughout the evening. Admission on site is $12 for adults and $6 for kids. Discount admission is available in advance for $10 and $5 at

The Gateway City’s nightspots and hotels host spectacular New Year’s Eve parties to greet 2K13. They’re going to party like it’s 1929 at the Fountain on Locust. The Art Deco-style dining and luxe dessert establishment presents a Speakeasy Spectacular and Prohibition Bootleggers’ Ball. An over-the-top soiree, complete with an extravagant laser light show, lights up Three Sixty. Located atop the St. Louis Hilton at the Ballpark, the sky-high venue features spectacular 360-degree views of Downtown St. Louis and was named one of the Top Ten Rooftop Bars in the World. You’ll be “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by dancing in the New Year at the Lobby Lounge party at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. For information about these events and special New Year’s hotel packages throughout St. Louis, click on the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission’s website at

St. Louis’ Forest Park is always a “go to” location for visitors and will have even more to offer in 2013. The New Year brings an expansion to the Saint Louis Art Museum, new habitats at the Saint Louis Zoo, and popular outdoor theatre offerings.

See more of the world-class collection at the Saint Louis Art Museum when its highly anticipated expansion opens with a two-day-long festival on June 29 and 30, 2013. New galleries, an underground parking facility, a café and restaurant are just the beginning of the 200,000 square foot addition. The $162 million project means visitors will now be able to view more works from the museum’s collection that places it among the top 10 comprehensive art museums in the nation. Founded in 1879, the museum’s existing building was designed by architect Cass Gilbert and used as the Fine Arts Palace for the 1904 World’s Fair. Admission to the Saint Louis Art Museum is always free.

Also in Forest Park, you can now come face-to-face with some of the Saint Louis Zoo’s most popular animal residents. Visitors can’t get enough of the newest wet and wild exhibit, Sea Lion Sound. Rising over the central hub of the zoo in Forest Park, the 1.5-acre, $18 million habitat includes a 35-foot-long underwater viewing tunnel -- the first in North America -- where visitors will see the animals swimming around them. Marine mammal residents include 11 California sea lions and four harbor seals. An 811-seat arena offers shows where the marine mammals will display their natural swimming, diving, balancing and sliding behaviors daily during the summer and in weekend shows in the spring and fall. Daily sea lion feedings and keeper chats also get visitors close to the sleek and powerful animals. Admission to the Saint Louis Zoo is always free.

Spotlights shine in Forest Park when The Muny, the nation's largest outdoor theatre, kicks off its 95th summer season in 2013. The seven musicals, four of which are Muny premiere, included Les Misérables, Mary Poppins, Nunsense, Shrek—The Musical, South Pacific, Monty Python's Spamalot and West Side Story. The massive park also is home to the Shakespeare Festival St. Louis which brings the comedy Twelfth Night to life this May 24 through June 16.  Free performances are held nightly, except Tuesdays, in Shakespeare Glen near the Saint Louis Art Museum.

During 2013, thrill seekers will pilgrimage to Six Flags St. Louis, a Mecca for Midwest rollercoasters, for the inaugural season of Boomerang.  The new, 125-feet-tall steel coaster will have brave riders twist, turn and shout during a 50 miles-per-hour, heart-pounding ride along 1,650 feet of twisting, corkscrew, looping track.  Boomerang is the ninth coaster at Six Flags St. Louis which is home to more roller coasters than any other theme park in Missouri.

The Magic School Bus® rolls into The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum and parks its Kicks Up A Storm exhibit there from February 9 through May 27, 2013. This electrifying exhibit features three interactive and hands-on Magic School Bus environments, in which parents and children will have a great time learning about different types of weather and weather prediction. Visitors will get an in-depth and behind the scenes look at scientific weather measurements, weather tools, maps, graphs and the various natural indicators we can use to understand and predict weather patterns.

For details on these events and everything that’s happening in St. Louis during 2013, check out the detailed Calendar of Events at the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission’s user-friendly website at


Follow St. Louis on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest information on what's happening in the Gateway City.;


New Life on Historic Route 66 in Missouri PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Tom Uhlenbrock   
Thursday, 06 December 2012 16:05

Jefferson City, Mo. — New owners of two vintage motels on Route 66 in Missouri are doing their best to see traffic keeps on trucking on the legendary highway.

The Wagon Wheel Motel, in Cuba, is in tip-top shape after a complete renovation under Connie Echols, who bought the rundown motel in 2009 and has lovingly restored each of the stone cottages.

“It was horrible,” Echols said of the motel, which was built in 1935 and is the oldest continuously operating tourist court on the historic highway. “It had the original wiring and plumbing.”

On the far western side of the state, the Boots Motel, in Carthage, opened (last spring) the completed wing of a restoration project that will return the motel to what the first Route 66 motorists found.

“We want to make it as authentic a motoring experience from 1949 as we can make it,” said Deborah Harvey, one of two sisters who bought the Boots, which once was scheduled to be torn down for a Walgreens. “We want to make the rooms as though you’re stepping back in time.”

A four-night tour of the Mother Road included stays at the Wagon Wheel and Boots, as well as the Rail Haven, in Springfield, the city where Route 66 got its name, and the Munger Moss Motel, in Lebanon, where the iconic neon sign has been repaired and relit.

Route 66 ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, a total of 2,448 miles, including 317 miles in Missouri, from downtown St. Louis to the Kansas state line west of Joplin.

The highway was named officially in April 30, 1926, at a meeting in Springfield. It served as one of the nation’s chief east-west arteries until it was removed from the U.S. highway system in 1985, replaced by Interstates. Interstate 44 through Missouri now follows much of the route from St. Louis to Springfield.

But by then, its romantic status as a roadway to the west, and a pathway to adventure, had been recognized in song and on TV. “Get your kicks on Route 66” was the mantra of the faithful who refused to let the highway fade away.

Today, states such as Missouri have erected “Historic Route 66” signs along bypassed sections of the highway, and tourists come from the world over to drive its twisting two lanes and visit the Mom ‘n Pop motels and roadside attractions that still line its route.

“It’s the best way to see America, end to end,” said Echols, owner of the Wagon Wheel. “Overseas, it’s a prestige thing to ride 66, especially on a motorcycle. In summer, a third, maybe closer to a half, of my business is from overseas. One night last summer, we had 11 rooms rented from 10 different countries. Half of them didn’t speak English.”

Followers of the Mother Road know the important stops, and the people they’ll find there.

“I rented 36 rooms to travelers from Australia two weeks ago,” said Ramona Lehman, who owns the Munger Moss. “Last year, I had a group from the Union of South Africa.”

They come to stay in the motel, and to visit with Ramona and her husband, Bob, and hear their stories of life on the Road.

“I make sure I’m here when we have big groups,” Ramona said. “I had a guy from Brazil come in and he said, ‘Are you Ramona?’ He reached over to touch me and said, ‘You are real!’

“There’s something about the people who travel on Route 66. They fall in love with our country, and our road. It puts goose bumps on me.”

A labor of love
Connie Echols owned a florist shop on Route 66 in Cuba, but long had admired the Wagon Wheel, which included a gas station, café and motel.

“I always thought it was a cool place,” she said of the fieldstone buildings.

When the owners died, she bought it from their son and began the arduous restoration, which had to conform to the motel’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the old café houses the motel office and Connie’s Shoppe, which sells women’s accessories and souvenirs; the 19 rental rooms are stylishly decorated, with modern amenities.

“I know what I like when I travel - white linens, good beds and clean, up-to-date bathrooms,” Echols said. “We did keep the original doors and windows, and saved the hardwood floors that we could.”

Room 22 is a suite with a queen bed, table and chairs, and flat-screen TV in the front room. A jetted tub, shower, small refrigerator, microwave and granite-topped vanity are in the back room.

The motel has become a popular base for exploring Cuba, which is making an impressive bid as a tourist destination. The town has decorated its buildings with 12 murals, and is home to wineries and restaurants including Missouri Hick Barbeque, Frisco’s Grill and Pub, and Cuba Bakery and Deli.

“There were a few times I could have quit in the middle of it,” Echols said of her labor of love, “but I’ve never been a quitter.”

Rooms at the Wagon Wheel range from $55 for a single to $110 for the suites. Visit, or call 573-885-3411.

Streamline Moderne architecture
Deborah Harvey, of Decatur, Ga., and her sister, Priscilla Bledsaw, of Decatur, Ill., are devoted Roadies who were making the trek from Chicago to Los Angeles in 2006, when they came upon the closed Boots Motel at the intersection of Route 66 and Highway 71, in Carthage.

“We were driving along and kept saying how fun it would be to own a hotel on Route 66 and wave at all the people going by,” said Harvey, who is 62 and a historic preservation consultant.

Five years later, the two were the proud owners of the motel built by Arthur Boots in 1939. The original had a gas station and eight rooms with carports. A back annex of five rooms with an underground garage was added in 1946.

The back building was the first to be restored, opening last May. The sisters combed the flea markets and used furniture shops in Carthage for antique chenille bedspreads and period furniture to decorate each room, many of which maintain their original wood floors and tiled bathrooms.

There are no TVs, but each room has a radio to fulfill Arthur Boots’ promise of “a radio in every room.”

Future plans include removing a gabled roof that was added later, spoiling the Streamline Moderne architecture of the main building, and replacing the green neon that decorated the exterior.

The sisters figure it will take up to five years to have the Boots back to original condition, but it’s already drawing international visitors.

“We got a couple of motorcyclists from Tahiti, and we’ve had people from nearly every European country,” Harvey said. “This is our first year, but we’re making enough money to pay the bills.”

And they’ve already achieved one of their important goals. “In the evening, we sit out front and wave to passersby,” Harvey said. “People will stop by and tell us stories about staying at the Boots.”

Rates for a single are $66 and for a double $71, as in Highway 71. Visit, or call 417-310-2989.

State’s first Steak ‘N Shake
Springfield bills itself as the “Birthplace of Route 66,” and the Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven is a good place to stay while exploring the city’s attractions.

The original Rail Haven, built by brothers Elwyn and Lawrence Lippman in 1938, had eight sandstone cottages with adjoining garages and a rail fence. By the time the motel became a founding member of the new Best Western chain in 1951, it had 28 rooms.

Today, that total is up to 98 and the original eight cottages have become part of a modern strip motel with all the expected amenities. Antique gas pumps, vintage signs and a pair of 1955 and 1956 Fords decorate the grounds, paying homage to its link to the historic highway.

“Nothing’s been torn down here,” said Tonya Pike, a Route 66 historian who helps in marketing the motel. “We’re considered a classic example of how a cottage court becomes a strip motel. There are other hotels out there as old as we are, but we’re the only one that’s a founding member of a national chain and still part of that chain.”

A brochure in the motel office describes other Route 66 highlights in Springfield, including the Rest Haven Court, Shrine Mosque, Gillioz Theatre and the first Steak ‘N Shake in Missouri, which has its original black-and-white sign and offers curb service.

Rates start at $79.99. Visit, or call 800-304-0021.

Keeping it alive
Change may be coming to yet another landmark motel on Historic Route 66.

Ramona and Bob Lehman, who have owned the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon for 41 years, have listed it for sale.

The hotel has 44 rooms, and 17 two-room efficiencies. Some of the rooms are decorated with themes, including Room 18, which is dedicated to the dearly departed Coral Court Motel, the infamous no-tell-motel that was torn down and replaced by a subdivision in St. Louis.

“It’s decorated in pink and black,” Ramona said of Room 18. “I also call it my bordello room.”

Although Ramona and Bob, like their motel, are in good shape, they both are in their mid-70s and looking for a new lifestyle.

“I won’t sell it just to anybody,” Ramona said. “I want somebody who loves Route 66 to take it over. It’s part of our heritage. We’ve got to keep it alive for our kids.”

Rates are $48 for a single, and $55 for a double. Visit, or call 417-532-3111.

Tom Uhlenbrock writes travel stories for the State of Missouri.

About the Missouri Division of Tourism
The Missouri Division of Tourism (MDT) is the official tourism office for the state of Missouri dedicated to marketing Missouri as a premier travel destination. Established in 1967, the Missouri Division of Tourism has worked hard to develop the tourism industry in Missouri to what it is today, an $11.2 billion industry supporting more than 279,000 jobs and generating $627 million in state taxes in Fiscal Year 2011. For every dollar spent on marketing Missouri as a travel destination in FY11, $57.76 was returned in visitor expenditures. For more information on Missouri tourism, go to


Links referenced in this article:

Wagon Wheel Motel

Boots Motel

Best Western Route 66 Rail Haven

Munger Moss Motel

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For more information contact: Ryan Bickel, Blank Park Zoo, 515-988-9485 Two Rhinoceros Arrive at Blank Park Zoo PDF Print E-mail
News Releases - Travel & Tourism
Written by Ryan Bickel   
Thursday, 06 December 2012 15:51

Des Moines (December 6, 2012) – Two eastern black rhinoceros have arrived at Blank Park Zoo in preparation for the new $4 million Africa exhibit opening next spring.

“Rhinoceros are the perfect addition to the Blank Park Zoo. They are a very large animal that will be popular with our guests. They are also an animal in great danger in the wild as poachers are killing them at devastating rates because of the value of their horns,” said Mark Vukovich, CEO of Blank Park Zoo. “We want to raise awareness about this because it’s possible that within our lifetime these animals will be extinct in the wild.”

According to the International Rhino Foundation, there are less than 5,000 black rhinos left in the wild and less than 30,000 of all species of rhinos.

Blank Park Zoo acquired two black rhinoceros, a male named Kiano and a female named Ayana. The rhinos are part of a breeding program called a species survival plan (SSP), and zoo officials hope they will breed when they become mature. This program’s goal is to maintain a sustainable population of black rhinos in zoos. The male came from the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and the female came from Zoo Miami in Florida. Ayana was born in August 2010 and weighs 1,900 pounds and Kiano was born in October 2010 and weighs just over 1,000 pounds.

Ayana and Kiano are now going through a required thirty day ‘quarantine’ process which helps the animals become accustomed to their new home and keepers monitor their health and stress. Once this process is completed, keepers will begin to introduce the animals to each other.

About Black Rhinoceros (source: International Rhino Foundation,

The black rhinoceros has two horns, with the front one being the larger of the two. They can weigh up to 3,000 pounds and be 5.5 feet tall at shoulder height and up to 12.5 feet long if you include the head and body. The black rhino has a prehensile lip that is well-suited for grasping branches, leaves and shrubs. This is the species’ most distinguishing characteristic. The black rhino lives in Africa, primarily in grasslands, savannahs and tropical bush lands. Female rhinos reach maturity at four to seven years of age while males reach maturity at seven to ten years. Between 1970 and 1992, the wild population of this species has decreased by 96 percent. The term ‘black rhino’ is believed to come about because of the color of the soil the rhino covers itself with while wallowing in the mud. Unlike the white rhino, black rhinos are only semi-social and do not live in herds.


About Blank Park Zoo

Blank Park Zoo, Iowa’s WILDEST Adventure, is open 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. seven days a week this winter. The Zoo will be closed Dec. 24 & 25, & Jan. 1. Winter Admission rates are $7 for adults, $3 for children under 12, and $6 for seniors and active military. Children two years and under and Blank Park Zoo members are free. The Zoo is located at 7401 SW 9th St., Des Moines, IA 50315. Visit the Zoo online at The Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) The AZA is America’s leading accrediting organization that sets rigorous, professional standards for zoos and aquariums. The AZA is building North America's largest wildlife conservation movement by engaging and inspiring the 143 million annual visitors to its member institutions and their communities to care about and take action to help protect wildlife.



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