Archive for November, 2011

November 20–We Are Following Fall

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

One of the great things about our adventure so far is that we haven’t been out of fall since we first saw the leaves begin to change while visiting Wisconsin in September. We keep driving into fall!

We were camping at Governor Dodge State Park in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, when the leaves first started to change. The trees on the hills were at about 50% with mostly yellow and orange leaves by the time we left. The wild mustard filled the fields with their golden flowers with some of the plants being taller than our girls.

We saw Michigan come into full color and then turn to those beautiful burnt shades of late fall. They were mostly yellow and orange with a little red sprinkled in here and there.

As we drove through Illinois, the cornfields that still hadn’t been fully harvested were brown and framed by yellow trees.

Missouri greeted us with bluffs that were red—all red. It was so beautiful and continued to be so as they darkened into the dark burgundies that signal fall is coming to an end. We were surprised that sunflowers were still in bloom.

Arkansas has mostly been burnt oranges made even more gorgeous by the still very green grass and many pine trees.

It feels strange to still see the leaves turning as we approach the end of November. Autumn and winter are my favorite times of year. We’ll be skipping winter this year but I’ve enjoyed the elongated fall.

We’re hoping spring will be the same way—months and months of driving into it!


Mammoth Springs—A Whole Lot of Water

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

On our way out of Missouri on November 17, we made a brief stop at Mammoth Springs State Park which features Arkansas’s largest spring and the second largest spring in the Ozark Mountains. This spring flows nine million gallons of water hourly. The area around the spring is very beautiful. We enjoyed watching breeds of ducks and geese that we don’t have in Michigan. I think they were a little disappointed in us as we didn’t have any treats for them.

We also got a bit of a Science lesson as we studied the source and flow of the spring. We also toured the remains of a mill and hydroelectric plant and saw how water is used to make electricity.

Mammoth Springs was our first stop in Arkansas. It was a great introduction to a beautiful state!


Books Come to Life—November 16

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Twice I’ve read the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder to our girls. We have very good memories of being snuggled together on the couch as went back in time to America’s pioneer days with Half-Pint as our guide. We’ve also watched many of the episodes from the TV series. They are quite different from the books but good all the same.

Unlike many museums we have visited that feature items that are reproductions from the time period in which the subject lived, The Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum contains the author’s very own possessions. We were delighted to see Pa’s fiddle, quilts Laura and Mary had made, photographs of the family, clothes sewn by the family, the Christmas clock, Laura’s Bible, and many more items we had come to know in her books. We spent a lot of time in the Museum and read through every bit of it! We also enjoyed learning more about the Wilder’s only child, Rose. Sketches by the Little House illustrator Garth Williams are also on display.

The home, which is just as Laura left it when she died, was built by Almanzo and Laura using materials from their land. It is very unique. Because we went during the off season, we went on an abbreviated tour. There is another home to see, one that Rose built for her parents, but it was closed for the winter.

The staff at the museum were very nice and patient in answering our many questions. The girls and I walked around the front of the home one last time before we left. It was a special stop for all of us as we felt like to finally got to meet someone with whom we had long been acquainted. We now have a goal to reread the books. This time we won’t have to imagine many of the items Laura described in her books. We can picture the real thing.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home and Museum: http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com/index.html


Little Rock, Arkansas: It’s Worth a Visit!

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

We made a promise to ourselves after visiting Little Rock: We will not let people’s comments bias us against a place we want to visit.

When we announced that we were headed to Missouri we got a lot of comments like, “Missouri? You won’t see much there.” After spending only two weeks in that beautiful state, we wished we could have spent another two months! There was so much more we could have seen at the state parks alone. Unfortunately, we didn’t learn and we listened to people who told us that Little Rock wasn’t worth a stop. Boy, were they wrong!

We visited Little Rock from November 17–19. We really only had one day to sight see but we all fell in love with this friendly, clean and historical city. We saw the beautiful capitol building lit up at night and then at dusk with a beautiful Arkansas sunset behind it. The building is smaller than other capitols we have visited but it is no less majestic.

The architecture in Little Rock is worth a stop in and of itself. We were especially taken with the beauty of Little Rock Central High School where the Arkansas Nine stood up against the angry crowds that wanted to keep nine young African Americans from attending the high school and claiming their rights of desegregation. The Visitor Center across the street from the high school is another great part of our National Parks Service. It starts out by highlighting the writing of the U.S. Constitution and who “We The People” really meant and who were excluded. This was very poignant for the girls having just studied this a couple of months ago. It then moved on to the history of Central High School itself and ended with what is still taking place in the area of civil rights. The park rangers were very courteous and helpful in answering our many questions. I was pleased that even though we aren’t anywhere near the 1950s in our study of U.S. History, the park tied in events that we had already studied and how they affected the Civil Rights Movement. Central High School still holds classes so we weren’t able to go in (we had missed the tour) but we did walk the grounds.

A few years ago, I read several of the recent First Lady’s autobiographies. I remember a couple of them discussing the building of their husband’s presidential library’s. One of them said that no matter what your politics, you should visit every presidential library you can because they aren’t just about that president but represent the history of the country during his term/terms.

She was right!

We spent most of our afternoon at The William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. The library is beautiful and very well done. Barry and I were amazed at all we had forgotten of the Clinton years as we walked through the exhibit of the timeline. Notebooks full of the Presidents daily schedules accompanied the timeline and were very interesting to look at. Even the girls, who were very little during Clinton’s presidency, thumbed through the notebooks. There are various letters on display that Clinton received from a number of famous people, a display showing the process that goes into the writing of a State of the Union speech , a replica of the oval office and cabinet room during his terms, a movie narrated by Clinton and various artifacts. We greatly enjoyed viewing the many gifts the Clintons were given by many Americans and various Heads of State. There were many little tidbits about the presidency itself that were very fascinating. Our campground was across the river from the library so we walked across the Clinton Bridge that spans the Arkansas River. The grounds around the library are unique and beautiful. The museum staff was very nice (I mean really nice) and at the ready to answer questions. We look forward to visiting all the presidential libraries we can.

On temporary display at the museum is The Art of Brick featuring the work of artist Nathan Sawaya who builds his art with Legos. Mind boggling and very cool!

Little Rock Central High School: http://www.nps.gov/chsc/index.htm

William J. Clinton Library and Museum: http://www.clintonlibrary.gov/

The Art of Brick: http://www.brickartist.com/


Jefferson National Expansion Memorial—The Gateway Arch

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

I’m having a hard time finding time to blog. I’m either busy with school or visiting the places that I need to write about. The original plan was to blog while we travel. The countryside is too distracting, however. I’m going to try to do better.

We woke up on Sunday, November 13 with the plan of going to church in St. Louis and then visiting a whole list of places. It was very windy, however, and we soon realized that we either had to take our screen room and awning down or we would lose them. We got a late start but finally made it to the Arch around noon. Right away we jumped in on a lecture by one of the National Park Rangers about The Louisiana Purchase and The Lewis and Clark Expedition. It was very interesting. The neat part was that we had just studied this part of history the previous Friday. The lecture was a little above Eva but she enjoyed the exhibits in the general vicinity and found a TV that was airing a related documentary done by the History Channel.

The museum at the Memorial is amazing. It is one of the most unique that we’ve visited. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that we really should have planned on spending an entire day just at this National Memorial, Gateway Arch and the grounds. I felt like we were given a really great book and then skimmed it as quickly as possible. We did walk through the entire museum but we didn’t really get a chance to spend the needed time at any of the exhibits.

We weren’t going to spend the money to go up to the top of Gateway Arch but fortunately, a friend talked us into it. It was well worth it. I think part of the experience is the shared amazement with the other tourists. The atmosphere was electric. We were told that you rarely feel a sway in the Arch unless it’s very windy. Well…we felt the sway. It was a little unsettling but the beautiful views kept us from going back down too soon.

After going to the top of the Arch, we viewed the 45 minute movie, Lewis and Clark: The Great Journey West. We debated taking the time away from the museum to watch this but we decided in the end that it would be beneficial to the girls understanding of the expedition. The movie is well done and it definitely gave deeper meaning to the whole experience. (I believe this movie airs from time to time at the Imax Theater and The Henry Ford in Dearborn, MI.)

We very quickly walked through the Old Courthouse where the famous Dred Scott trial was held. The architecture of this building is very beautiful and it was worth the walk from the Arch.

After the Arch we drove past Kiener Plaza where the Occupy Wall Street Protest is being held. This of course, launched a huge conversation that turned to the Bill of Rights, which we had read at the beginning of the school year (along with the Declaration of Independence and the entire Constitution). This reminded us again of the amazing, up close and personal History, Civics, and geography course this trip is giving our girls.

We left St. Louis having only seen the National Memorial. We have a long list of places we want to visit on a return trip.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial: http://www.nps.gov/jeff/index.htm


Hannibal, Missouri

Friday, November 11th, 2011

“Now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good,
God would permit us to be pirates.”
Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi

2011-11-05_12-18-01_361

2011-11-05_14-01-41_731Walking through the town of Hannibal, Missouri, there’s no doubt as to why Mark Twain found such inspiration for his stories from his boyhood home. You almost expect to see two naughty little boys-Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn-peeking out behind every corner, waiting to pull off some shenanigan on an unsuspecting citizen. The downtown is old and quaint with many of the shop’s names coming from Twain’s books. The Mississippi River is of course beautiful and is different from the many areas of the river we’ve seen in Wisconsin.

There are several things to do in Hannibal but because most of them are quite expensive. We chose to tour the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum as this seems foundational to the area.  I think my oldest daughter and I enjoyed this the most because we’ve both read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Life on the Mississippi. There is A LOT of reading in the various buildings on the self-guided tour. The time-line is very helpful and made personal with the added quotes from Twain’s autobiography and books. The Museum is also very well done and boasts original Norman Rockwell paintings.

2011-11-05_14-57-23_561I was delighted to find a bit of my home state, Wisconsin, in Hannibal. I saw a sign for Badger Cheese Haus and had to stop. It is decorated in Packer green and gold and everything Wisconsin!

We had the pleasure and advantage of being with friends who live in Hannibal. They took us to Lover’s Leap, Riverview Park, and through some really neat neighborhoods. With them we visited Clarence Cannon Dam and Powerhouse which is the biggest dam any of us had ever seen. Near the dam is M. W. Boudreaux Memorial Visitor Center. Unfortunately, the best part of the center was closed for repairs but we were told that it’s definitely worth a stop. We had hoped to see a bald eagle while we were there but it was very foggy. As we were leaving the area the next day, we did see one soaring over Mark Twain Lake!

We stayed at Mark Twain Landing. It is a really nice place. Barry and I enjoyed sharing a cup of coffee with a nice couple from Florida. They are retired teachers and had lots of ideas for me as I’m now teaching history not only from a book but from real life experiences.

2011-11-05_14-58-25_703Below are some links to some of the places we visited:

Places without a website:

  • Pudd’n Heads (antiques and primitives)
  • Badger Cheese Haus

The Land of Lincoln

Saturday, November 5th, 2011

I think the phrase that has been uttered more than any other since we started full-timing is, “I wish we could stay here longer.” We’ve only been to 4 states and yet we’ve seen some amazing beauty.

We didn’t know what to expect at Sangchris Lake State Park in Rochester, IL, which is just outside of Springfield. We had driven for hours across the flat prairie land of northern and central Illinois which is really quite beautiful—there’s just so much of it. For a girl who was raised in Wisconsin and has lived most of her adult life in Michigan, the flat, open country makes me feel very vulnerable. My family feels the same. We are used to the safety of thick forests. Still we enjoyed the ride and saw some of the most amazing country when our GPS took us 10 miles out of our way into some very remote but beautiful farm country that is around Sangchris Lake. The sunset was beyond description as we found our way to the state park. We were only one of 4 campers so we had our pick of sites choosing one that backed up to the lake. We stood in awe as we watched the last rays of the sun peek over the horizon showcasing the fall colors and placid lake.

It started raining in the night and continued to do so throughout the next day. This greatly limited our activities around Springfield but we still were able to enjoy some of the Lincoln attractions.

Our first stop was the Lincoln Home National Historic Site. We toured the Visitor Center and Lincoln’s Home. The neighborhood around the home has been restored to its 1860 appearance. It was very quaint but with the rain and Jenna being on crutches, we opted to put it on our list of places to visit again. The home itself was worth the stop. This house, the only one that Lincoln ever owned, was the site where he accepted the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States of America and the home he left to become the 16th President. The rooms of what was then considered a large home knew many joys and much grief. He also penned the famous “House Divided” speech at the writing desk that is on display in his bedroom.

We kind of went back and forth all morning as to whether a stop at the Lincoln Tomb would be worth the time. It definitely was. It’s a beautiful structure that is nestled in a cemetery of rolling hills and trees. The tomb is a tribute to Lincoln, his wife and sons, the states that represent his ancestors, the states in which Lincoln lived and the Presidency of the United States. It doesn’t take long to visit this site but you leave not only with a solemn awe of this great President but also with a renewed pride of being an American.

We only drove by the State Capitol but it is very beautiful and we made sure we drove around the entire block.

We were encouraged by the locals to visit the Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum but it would have been over $50. We’ve decided that for the most part, we had better stick to the free or very inexpensive attractions. We have a lot to see and it’s amazing how quickly we can go through the money when sightseeing.

We all really wish we could have stayed longer in the Springfield, IL, area after only 2 nights here. There is so much more to do! Sangchris Lake State Park is at the top of our all time favorite state parks list. We hope to visit again.

Sangchris Lake State Park, Rochester, IL: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r4/SANGCH.HTM

Lincoln Home National Historic Site: http://dnr.state.il.us/lands/landmgt/parks/r4/SANGCH.HTM and http://www.nps.gov/liho/index.htm

Lincoln Tomb: http://www.visit-springfieldillinois.com/hpartners/hpartnerdetail.asp?id=111 and http://www.illinoishistory.gov/hs/lincoln_tomb.htm


And We’re Off…

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

DSC00092Yesterday, November 1, 2011, we left for the REAL trip! After months of planning, several small trips, one large trial run and a month of final preparation we are off to see America.

We spent our first night at Fort Custer Recreation Area in Augusta, MI, which is near Battle Creek. We stayed at this same park last spring on one of our smaller trial trips. It was raining cats and dogs then. We didn’t realize that the guy from whom we bought the camper had put on tires that were too big. This wore down the leaf springs causing the suspension to rest on the wheels. Holes were worn in the wheel wells and sludge and muck were being kicked into the camper. We spent a good part of the day cleaning not only the floor but everything that was on the bottom shelves of the camper. My husband had business in Battle Creek and ended up driving down to Ohio as well. We didn’t think twice about him taking off for the day leaving the girls and I alone in an almost uninhabited state park with no rangers on duty. After he left, we weren’t quite so brave. The beauty of the park far outweighed our uneasiness, however, but we still decided to enjoy it from behind locked doors. Last night we were only one of two campers at the park. It was much better having Barry with us the entire time!

When we visited the park in the spring, we were very green to the world of RVing. I remember wondering as I helped guide my husband into the campsite if our marriage would survive a trip full of trailer back-ins. Last night I realized how far we have come when we backed the trailer perfectly into our site on the first try in total darkness without raised voices, snide remarks, or dirty looks.

Fort Custer is a beautiful state recreation area. It is very peaceful and very large. Hopefully, we’ll stop there again when we have more time. The web address for the park is: http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?type=SPRK&id=448.

I think we all feel a little nervous now that we are getting started but it’s the kind of nervous that comes from planning something for months and realizing that this is it. I guess it’s probably more anticipation than nerves.

So with one last Biggby Coffee in hand, it’s goodbye to our beloved MI until next summer.