2017 Road Trip – Day 5

Today is the big travel day home. We aren’t even stopping much along the way. We’ve decided to take a short detour east so we can go through Indiana and miss most of the horrible traffic that exists between Chicago and Michigan.

We began the day driving through massive downpours almost all the way through Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. We stopped at a Perkins somewhere in Arkansas because I’ve never been in the state and I can’t count it as having been there if we simply drive through and never set feet on the ground.  Now I can say I’ve been there, although we didn’t see much through the rain. We did count our blessings that the rain had held off for all of our earlier adventures though, because we had pretty darn good weather for most of our trip.

We headed north through Missouri then southern Illinois, where we found Casey, Illinois. I have always loved the idea of road trips because of those fun roadside attractions that you can spend 5-10 minutes at. These are often unplanned finds and, for us, Casey was one of those places. Casey is home to some of the World’s Largest Stuff… a lot of it actually. With 8-1/2 hours of driving this day, we didn’t opt to drive around Casey and see them all, but we did see the World’s Largest Wind Chimes, World’s Largest Rocking Chair and World’s Largest Mailbox. There were giant pencils, rulers, and other items scattered around town as well. It was a fun break and something that we had been missing the rest of the road trip.

We stopped for dinner in Terre Haute, Indiana. It wasn’t too far past Casey, but we were getting hungry at this point and wanted to see the city. Terre Haute is a nice size city and we found Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant and had very yummy supper.

We still had about 3 hours of driving left and arrived back in Michigan shortly after 10pm… not too shabby for a 600+ mile drive in a single day. Looking back, I think if we were to do it over, I would have stayed in Indianapolis for the night and stopped a few more times along the way. Spending almost the entire day in the car was a bit of a challenge. In the end, we came pretty close to our $1000 budget and Indianapolis would have pushed us too far over, so it was the right choice at the time and we made it just fine.

As I mentioned in Day 1, here are our final Road Trip stats:

  • Elapsed time: 5 days, 4 nights
  • States visited: 7 (Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana)
  • Major Cities visited: 2 (St. Louis, Memphis)
  • Miles driven: 1430
  • Steps taken: 34,438 (we did really well the first couple days, then fizzled out)
  • Attractions/Sites visited: over 20
  • Hard Rock Shot Glasses added to collection: 2 (St. Louis & Memphis)

I hope you enjoyed following along, but more importantly; I hope this brief road trip, planned on the fly, has inspired you to get out and start living your bucket list. I’ve added as many links to these 5 blog posts as I could, to give you more information if you want to see any of the places we did, so no more excuses.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be big. You don’t have to do it all. You just have to start… somewhere.

 

 

2017 Road Trip – Day 3

We woke up today with another long day of driving ahead… destination Memphis, Tennessee. We scheduled several stops along the way again to break up the monotony and give us a chance to get out and stretch a bit.

Our fist stop after leaving St. Louis was Elephant Rocks State Park in Arcadia Valley, Missouri. Arcadia Valley is located in the Mark Twain National Forest and Ozarks area and has enough nature and hiking that a week trip here would be perfectly reasonable… we had about an hour. Elephant Rocks State Park was a bit out of our way, but well worth the additional drive time. An accessible, 1-mile long path winds among giant granite boulders, which can be climbed on… great fun for kids and adults alike. Part of the area has been quarried and stone-smiths would carve their names in the rock when they received their master certification, giving the appearance of heavy graffiti throughout the site. There is an additional 1/2-mile extension for those who are looking for an extended experience, but we had a bit of a late start and opted to get back to the car instead.

The drive through this part of Missouri is beautiful. It was a beautiful, sunny day and a perfect time to put the convertible top down and enjoy the amazing vistas. Our next destination, although we were enjoying the scenery and not in a hurry to arrive, was Burfordville, Missouri. There is a mill and restored covered bridge there and it was another beautiful place to get out and walk around a bit.

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It was a hop, skip and a jump (aka: a short distance) from the mill to Cape Girardeau, Missouri for supper. Before heading into town, we detoured across the cool bridge to Illinois and then right back again… ’cause bridges are fun and cool to look at! We were planning to arrive much earlier than we actually did, so we looked for somewhere to eat fairly quickly before continuing the 175 more miles of driving to Memphis.

After having a delicious and reasonable Cajun dinner at Broussard’s, we now hoped to arrive in Memphis around 9pm… significantly later than we hoped, but still in time to go check out Beale Street before hitting the hay. Unfortunately the universe had other plans for us. Just before leaving Missouri, we got stuck in stopped traffic in a single-lane construction zone. Traffic remained stopped for an hour, so we turned off the car. I had the joy of experiencing a construction port-a-potty for the first, and hopefully last, time during this extreme slow down. Once we were moving again, I was surprised to discover we were travelling through Arkansas (we’re playing this by ear remember, so I haven’t looked too closely at an overall map), and even more surprised when we drove through Memphis and into Southaven, Mississippi to find our hotel for the next 2 days. Turns out Southaven is only a 10-15 minute drive from Memphis and a convenient place to stay. We arrived at the hotel after 11pm, exhausted and thankful for somewhere to sleep, having forgotten all about our plans to see Beale street that evening. There’s always tomorrow….

 

 

2017 Road Trip – Day 2

On the second day of our road trip, we woke up in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch. It’s an iconic piece of architecture that defines not only the St. Louis skyline, but also the city itself. References to the Arch can be seen throughout the city and are almost impossible to escape. We saw photos, paintings and graphics of the arch in every nook and cranny of every restaurant, hotel, bathroom, and even in the casino carpet design. It is amazing to see such a seemingly simple piece of architecture being so thoroughly embraced by an entire community as a piece of their cultural identity. Hats off to architect, Eero Saarinen for creating such an iconic structure.

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It was only a 10-minute walk from our hotel to the base of the Arch. We purchased our tram tickets and waited in line to head to the top. Tickets to the top of Arch currently cost $13 per adult and can be purchased ahead of time online. We were doing this road trip on the fly and purchased them onsite. Fortunately it’s not the height of tourist season and it’s during the week, so we were able to get tickets on a tram right away, with no waiting necessary. If you head there on a weekend or in the summer, I’d suggest planning ahead and reserving tickets online. The journey to the top takes 4 minutes. It involves very tight quarters and some stairs, without accessible options… ADA requirements weren’t as strict when it was built in the 1960’s. There are windows at the top on both sides of the Arch, giving you a great view of the city of St. Louis, the Mississippi River, and southern Illinois. The whole journey to the top experience takes about 45 minutes, so plan accordingly.

After the Arch, we headed back to the hotel, hopped in the car and headed to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for a tour. The basic tour (which we took) is free and includes about 18 ounces of free beer per person (over age 21) during and at the end of the tour.  The factory is amazing and the architecture geek in me was on high alert the whole time. The stables have Tiffany stained glass windows, the brewing rooms look like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory and the brickwork on the outside of the buildings is more detailed and beautiful than you would expect to find in a typical factory. The tour itself takes about 45 minutes, and is quite enjoyable even if you aren’t a beer enthusiast, but plan a little extra time to enjoy your free beverage in the Biergarten, where there is often live music to enhance your experience. We happened to conclude our tour in the Beirgarten just before 3pm. Every day at 3pm, they have a Bud Light toast to the beer-masters, so we received an additional free small Bud Light to participate in the toast.

Note: Little people can come with you on the tour, but won’t receive any adult beverages. They do check ID’s carefully, so make sure to bring yours even if you aren’t normally carded.

Our next stop was the Hard Rock Café. My fiancée has a collection of Hard Rock Café shot glasses that needs to be expanded and he doesn’t yet have St. Louis. The Hard Rock Café is located in the back of the old Union Station complex. There is a pond out back full of very entertaining koi fish. For a quarter, you can get a handful of fish food and watch the fish go nuts! We had just started feeing the fish when there was a train whistle over the loud speaker, followed by music and a light-fire-steam show from the fountain elements in the pond. It was quite entertaining and apparently happens every hour. The grand hall in Union Station was closed for renovations, but I imagine when it reopens this will be a key destination for families.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to look at the outside of the City Museum. This is a crazy place to visit, and one of THE top attractions if you are visiting St. Louis with kids. We could have done the City Museum instead of the Brewery tour, but every time I’ve been in St. Louis before, I’ve either been a kid of been with kids, so I wanted to do something different this trip. I have been before, it was late in the day, and the museum was already closed, so we didn’t go inside, but if you have more time than we did, I highly recommend it.

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After a nap (geez, I’m getting old), we had a late supper at Joey B’s in Laclede’s Landing. Joey B’s has an extensive shot menu (but again, I’m getting old) and surprisingly yummy food. Their kitchen is open late, so it’s a great place to go if you’re looking for a late night meal. We headed back to the hotel under Spiderman’s watchful gaze, on a cloudy full moon night, to rest up for the next leg of our journey.

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Tomorrow we hit the road again… stay tuned…

2017 Road Trip – Day 1

The road trip was a lot of fun. I feel like we accomplished quite a bit in a very short amount of time. Here are the final stats:

  • Elapsed time: 5 days, 4 nights
  • States visited: 7 (Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Indiana)
  • Major Cities visited: 2 (St. Louis, Memphis)
  • Miles driven: 1430
  • Steps taken: 34,438 (we did really well the first couple days, then fizzled out)
  • Attractions/Sites visited: over 20
  • Hard Rock Shot Glasses added to collection: 2 (St. Louis & Memphis)

In addition, we stayed pretty close to our $1000 budget for the whole thing.

So you may be wondering what all we did. I’ll touch a little on the first leg, day one, here.

We left Michigan and travelled about 2 hours before getting out to stretch our legs at Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois. We did a short (about an hour) hike to St. Louis Canyon. It was beautiful, even though they’ve had a bit of a dry spell and the water fountain was actually more of a trickle. Starved Rock is easily a day, weekend or even week-long trip on its own, but we have both been before and the purpose of our stop was just to stretch our legs a bit.

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We continued on for about another 2 hours before stopping for lunch and a quick drive through Springfield, IL. It’s the capital of the state and worth a look if you’re driving nearby. We found the beautiful capital building… architecture geek moment.

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About 45 minutes after leaving Springfield, we arrived at Cahokia Mounds. It’s the site of a native American city that was actually larger than London in the 1200’s. Unfortunately the interpretive center had closed just before we arrived, so we didn’t get to learn as much about it as we’d hoped; but the park was still open and we were able to climb the insane amount of stairs up the top of 10-story tall Monk’s Mound.

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It was from the top of this mound that we got our first glimpse of our destination for the day… St. Louis., Missouri. Even though it was pretty cloudy at this point, the skyline was definitely visible; we knew we were close.

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Before we left the Cahokia Mounds, I hopped online quickly to book us a hotel. We only had about 15 minute left to drive, so the Cahokia site would be easily accessible to anyone on a visit to St. Louis. Our last minute hotel, Hotel Lumiere, turned out to be quite beautiful with a large indoor courtyard and attached to a casino.

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We arrived in the city, checked into our hotel and walked out into the historic Laclede’s Landing neighborhood to find some supper. There aren’t a lot of options there right now (although there is a lot of construction), but Morgan Street Brewery turned out to be a good choice… lucky for us, because not much was open.

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After a nice supper, we tucked in for the night, ready for a full day of sight-seeing in St. Louis the next day. We saw the Arch from a distance this evening, but in the morning we will be going up inside… stay tuned…