Driving in Indiana it was raining, dark and late.
We were hot, tired, hungry and frustrated after six hours driving.
We got in our bed laying there, listening to the drizzle, annoyed at the day in general when we heard “Tink! Tink! Tink!”
Someone was hammering tent stakes into the ground and setting up a tent — in the dark and in the rain. Suddenly, we were thankful for what we had.
With thankful hearts, let’s run through the midwest. I’ll give you a hint: It’s mostly corn.
Back in Texas I began meeting Oklahomans and asking them where we needed to go in their states. This is a common question I’ve asked Virginians, Texans, and Louisianans, among others, and they’ve all had good tips. The first Oklahomans I asked about their state thought for a long moment and then said “Oklahoma City is pretty nice, I guess.” The next Oklahomans I asked described a nice place, but when I asked which side of the state it was on, they said it was across the line in Texas. The third set of Oklahomans I asked also described a great place, not far from Branson — right across the line in Missouri.
Dear Oklahoma Tourism Department, you’ve got some work to do.
So, we didn’t go to Oklahoma.
From Arkansas, we headed for Missouri. An unplanned stop at Camping World to check on our awning left us leaving a little later than we’d hoped and having to skip Johnny Cash’s birthplace in Dyess. Next time.
Most of the drive was uneventful save for the dog we saw in full motorcycle gear.
We spent two nights in St Louis at the Casino Queen RV Park. It was our most expensive night so far ($53 with a Good Sam discount) but we could see the arch from our campsite.
We got in late Friday and planned an absolutely packed Saturday, starting with the Missouri Botanical Garden. We got in free thanks to our reciprocal membership at the Chattanooga Nature Center. The gardens were great, including a maze, cactus exhibit, large kids area, Japanese garden, English garden and Chinese garden.
The heat index that day in St. Louis was 112 so we moved inside quickly to the St. Louis Science Center which was free thanks to our membership at the Tellus Museum in Georgia. Braden really enjoyed the dinosaurs and other exhibits. We stayed for a time, but it was overflowing with other families trying to stay cool, so we headed for the Arch.
For me, the Arch is the coolest American landmark. It can be seen from all over the city and just has the look and feel of a great nation saying “Check out what we can do!” We rode up to the top with another family in these tiny capsules that were about the size of our RV bathroom. It’s a fun experience and a great view at the top. The complex was under heavy renovations so part of the cool underground museum at the feet of the Arch was closed and partially relocated to the capitol-like old courthouse across the park. Braden got to meet a pioneer/trapper re-enactor who gave Jess a frontier wedding ring made from a nail. The nail doesn’t go all the way in a full circle, which the man said was to remind us that work is never done being a good husband/wife/father. Wise words from a man in funny clothes.
On the way to the Arch, we stopped to watch a parade with a marching band playing “This Land is Your Land” and carrying signs for Bernie Sanders. Say what you will about Bernie, I’ve never seen people hold a parade for another presidential candidate — especially after he’s already lost. I haven’t seen anyone carry around a cardboard cutout of any other candidates either.
The Arch, museum and garden were excellent, but nothing topped the experience that evening at the City Museum.
Jess called it simply, the “coolest place we’ve ever been.” The City Museum is an old shoe factory turned into a 10 story artist’s installation made from reclaimed parts of the city. Everything in it came from within the city limits and it’s all strung or welded together into a funhouse of slides, secret passages, ball pits, tunnels and jungle gyms. We crawled through an old school bus hanging off the roof, inside two stripped out airplanes, into and out of a fiberglass whale, down a couple of multi-story slides and then watched a juggling show. There are no maps because they encourage you to get lost and explore. We stayed until almost midnight. It’s hard to do it justice, aside to say that everyone in America, with or without kids needs to go.
St. Louis in my mind, remains one of the best family friendly, walkable, affordable cities to visit. Someone recently described it to me as “a very worthwhile city” and I think that’s true. Just wait until the renovation is done at the Arch and don’t go when it’s 112 degrees there.
Sadly, we had to leave Sunday morning for Illinois and Indiana.
It was pretty much just corn, but we did stop and Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, which continued our unintended tour of capital cities. This was the home where the Lincoln’s lived when Abraham was elected president. The two coolest items for me were his writing desk and out house. Braden also picked up a Junior Ranger Hat where we put many of the pins he has earned along the way. We were later treated to our first midwest thunderstorm which was a spectacular mix of crazy clouds, lightning and dark sky. It would have been better if we weren’t driving through it.
It was dark and stormy as we got to Hoosier Land, as I said in the intro. We stayed at Indiana Dunes State Park and visited Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The dunes were nice with a good view of Lake Michigan with Chicago on the distant shore. Jess and Braden climbed Mount Tom, which the elevation sign proudly marked at 192 feet high. Indiana is pretty flat.
After the Dunes, we were booked for a couple of nights at the Jellystone Campground in Plymouth, Indiana. When we pulled up they had signs everywhere saying “Boil Water Advisory.” The lady at the counter explained that everything was probably fine, but they were waiting on test results to meet new standards for drinking water. I’d heard about enough when I headed out to the car to tell Jess. On my way to the car, a rough looking woman drinking a beer with three kids in a beat up golf cart told me “Don’t stay here — people steal your $#!+!” I took the water, the warning and the women herself as three signs we didn’t want to stay there. So we left.
To his credit the manager was very understanding on the phone the next day and refunded our money, but I still think they were obligated to tell anyone with a reservation that the water advisory was in effect. I wasn’t about to pump that into our RV plumbing to contaminate everything.
Luckily, there were plenty of sites at nearby Potato Creek State Park. The parks wasn’t 1/4 full, so we enjoyed having some space to spread out. Potato Creek was close to South Bend, Indiana (home of Notre Dame) and near Elkhart, Indiana, which houses the RV Hall of Fame. Sadly, we weren’t in the Hall yet, but they did have some really unique RVs from the 1930s-1950s and some celebrity RVs like Mae West’s and Charles Lindbergh’s. It was a cool museum for a few minutes. As it turns out, 80 percent of RVs in America are made in Elkhart County. From there it was just a few miles to Michigan!