So at about 6:30am on Tuesday morning we headed off right on schedule, planning for an early arrival in Phelps, New York for our first night back on the road. All was going as planned until just after we had driven along a single narrow lane through a construction project along the New York Turnpike. Unbeknownst to us, we had picked up a screw along the way in our front driver side tire. As soon as the lanes opened up this tire blew. Fortunately we were in the right lane and I was able to get over into a narrow breakdown lane to evaluate what had just happened. Once I realized we had blown the tire we contacted Good Sam Roadside Assistance where they eventually told us they had contacted a guy to replace our tire. They told us he’d be arriving in 2 ½ to 3 hours. In the meantime, a New York Turnpike officer pulled over and told us we weren’t allowed to stay on the turnpike so he called for a tow. Within about an hour we were towed to a nearby truck stop where our tire guy was waiting for us. Shortly afterwards we were once again on our way with a new tire and only a few hours behind schedule.
Over the next few days we spent our days on the road as we camped at one night layovers in Phelps, New York, Conneaut, Ohio and Marengo, Ohio. As usual we kept our traveling down to between 4 and 6 hours per day and for the most part the weather was good although we did have our periods of rain as well. The rain turned out to be more of a problem than anticipated when our passenger wiper broke during the heavy rain (not the first time this has happened) which meant the remainder of our trip to Texas would be with only one wiper. Our afternoons remained quite pleasant however so we were able to enjoy our daily happy hours. It was a chance for both of us to unwind and chat about what was ahead. It also gave Stella a chance to relax.
On that following Friday afternoon we arrived at our first three night stay at a campground in Indianapolis, Indiana. While there we headed off to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We decided to enjoy a two hour VIP tour with access not only into the Indy 500 Museum but also a behind-the-scenes tour to the Media Center, Victory Podium, Panasonic Pagoda (Timing & Scoring, Master Control Room), and a corporate suite. This tour also included a drive through Gasoline Alley and the Garage Area before driving out onto the track and making one full lap around the oval on a tram. Our final stop was at the finish line to give us the chance to “kiss the bricks”. We’ve never been real race car fans but as our tour guide reminded us, you don’t have to be a geologist to enjoy the Grand Canyon. It was a wonderful tour.
Our next stop and campground was in East St. Louis, Illinois, right along the Mississippi River and just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri. The weather was beautiful so we headed out and caught a metro train that took us over the Mississippi and near the Gateway Arch. We arrived early enough that there was no waiting and we were able to catch a tram to the top of the arch very quickly. It really was a great ride with some wonderful views but if you’re claustrophobic at all, the ride up and down would be a challenge. I wasn’t crazy about the ride myself but we rode up with another couple which left us one empty seat and some good conversation to help make the four minute ride more tolerable. The ride up takes place in a small capsule, just big enough to squeeze five people in with very little room to spare. The four minute ride takes place with no view other than an occasional glimpse of the emergency stairs that run along beside the tram as you make your way up to the top of the arch. Once the ride is over, you walk up a steep set of stairs to the top and lean over to look out the windows to the ground 630 feet below. As I mentioned, we had a gorgeous day so we were able to enjoy some beautiful views. The ride down only took three minutes. Now we can say we did it and check that one off our bucket list.
While in St. Louis, we took a ride over to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, a few miles from our campground. Cahokia Mounds is the site of a pre-Columbian Native American city. The remains of this most sophisticated prehistoric native civilization north of Mexico are preserved there. We enjoyed visiting the museum, watching a film and walking around the grounds including a walk up to Monks Mound, home of the chief and the largest earthen prehistoric structure in the Americas. It was a fun and educational take on a very hot day.
On our final day in St. Louis we decided to take a ride to “The Hill”, an area of St. Louis that is a long-established Italian-American neighborhood with family-owned delis, sandwich shops and bakeries as well as old homes and churches. It was interesting to walk along an area that still has that old fashioned feel to it. You could imagine life here a hundred years ago not being much different. During our walk we stopped into an old Italian grocery store that has probably been in the family for generations and picked up some pasta, sauce and of course some wine. While there we stopped at historic Amighetti’s for lunch where we both enjoyed some old time Italian sandwiches before Claudia headed to the dessert counter to order some cannoli’s and cookies for a treat later.
After a short drive the following day we set up camp in Hannibal, Missouri, the location of Mark Twain’s boyhood home. The surrounding area as well as the Mark Twain cave complex which was located right in our campground served as inspiration for his novels.
We started our first day there by enjoying a delicious breakfast at Becky Thatcher’s Diner. Following breakfast we began our walk around the town and visited many of the places that were part of Sam Clemens, aka Mark Twain’s childhood. We began by taking a tour of the Mark Twain Museum where we learned all about his life, including his childhood and teenage years that molded the person he was to become and how his environment and people he knew would become the inspiration for his Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn novels. The museum tour was followed by visits to his home and the home of his first love, Laura Hawkins, who became the inspiration for his well-known character Becky Thatcher. We also toured the office his father worked in as Justice of the Peace as well as the Norman Rockwell Mark Twain Museum containing most of the original prints used in the original publications of his Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn novels. Along the way we stopped at several gift shops so that Claudia could look for stuff. I never know what she’s looking for but she sure does have fun doing it. There was a corvette show going on along the main street so I walked around looking at some of the 250 plus corvettes that were on display.
On our way back we decided to take a stroll over to the edge of town to see the Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn statues. Next to the statues there was a staircase up to the Mark Twain Lighthouse so we went to go check it out. After about two or three hundred stairs we arrived at the top and enjoyed a view down into the town and across the Mississippi River. The walk down certainly was a lot easier and the air conditioning felt very nice once we arrived at the car. Last but not least, we decided to take a detour on the way back to the campground and drove up to Lovers Leap with another beautiful view into town and along the Mississippi.
On our second full day in Hannibal we took a tour of the Mark Twain Cave. This cave complex is massive and unlike any others that we’ve been in. The passageways were narrow and the ceilings were tall. They were formed by massive cracks in the earth millions of years ago and that’s exactly what it felt like. Sam Clemons spent many days exploring these caves with his friends and eventually used them as a setting in his novels.
That evening we headed out on the Mississippi for a dinner cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat. The boat was an old paddle wheeler and we were lucky enough to land a private table along the windows. A live three piece jazz band was playing as we enjoyed a very nice dinner. There was a fully stocked bar on board and we were able to walk around the boat and enjoy the atmosphere as we floated along the Mississippi. There was a beautiful sunset that evening as we returned to our dock, finishing our trip off on a beautiful note.
Our next stop took us down to Edwards, Missouri where friends of ours lived along the banks of the Lake of the Ozarks. After traveling along some winding roads, along a gravel road and then backing up a few hundred yards to our camping spot in front of our friends home, we settled in for what we knew was going to be a great visit with wonderful people.
We realized quickly that we were definitely “off the grid” with no internet and no cell service so we settled in and enjoyed every minute of it. We spent the next few days enjoying the company of our hosts as well as four other of our friends from Texas, two of whom own a house in another cove about a mile away. We spent time on the boats, did some tubing, played some card games out on the deck and just sat around and relaxed. And as always with our Texas group we enjoyed some delicious meals together including a fish fry, smoked ribs and a smoked ham along with loads of wonderful side dishes.
Our final full day at the lake turned out beautiful and we took full advantage of it. After a cup of coffee out on the dock with a beautiful view overlooking the lake we headed out on the boat. Once we were out on the lake we took a leisurely cruise along more than 10 miles of shoreline. Along the way we found a nice quiet cove where we dropped anchor and enjoyed some swim time. Once we were again underway we enjoyed more of the lake as we made our way over to the Red Fox Bar and Grill for some lunch and drinks. Following lunch we continued our cruise across the lake as we sipped cocktails while sunbathing on the boat until we returned to the home of our friends. Claudia and I just looked at each other at one point on the lake and just smiled. Yeah, this was very nice!!
On our last night on the lake we decided it was time for a night out with all our friends so we headed out on the boat to the Redneck Yot Club, a local grill and bar. There we enjoyed some drinks, great pizza and a wonderful final visit.
The next morning we said our goodbyes and headed back out on the road, this time to Branson, Missouri. We started our first full day in Branson with a ride around town to pick up show tickets we had reserved in two separate locations so it gave us a chance to get a lay of the land. Our first impression was as expected. There was just so much we could do and so much money we could spend. We decided we’d just pace ourselves and take in the five shows along with the Branson Belle Dinner Show and Cruise we had reserved ahead of time. With that said, we knew we would also have some in between times so we started off with an afternoon at Branson Landing, an area along the waterfront where shopping, dining, and entertainment take center stage with over 100 specialty shops and restaurants. We walked along for a couple of hours taking in the sights before calling it a day and heading back to the campground to grill some dinner.
On our second day in Branson we realized we were in for a rainy week. Luckily for us, that didn’t affect our plans for the shows we planned to see although we’d have to skip some of the outdoor activities that looked interesting. That evening we headed out early and enjoyed dinner at Shorty Small’s, a popular BBQ restaurant just next door to the King’s Castle Theatre where our first show was being performed. Following dinner we walked over to the theatre and enjoyed an excellent live performance tribute show to Frank Sinatra and Friends. The show featured the music Sinatra loved the best, with a special salute to the showbiz friends he loved the most. It also had some great film footage of the highlights of his career. The musicians, singers and dancers were all excellent.
Our third day started with a matinee performance highlighting the sounds of Motown. This was a performance consisting of recorded music with three excellent veteran singers singing and beautifully harmonizing two hours of Motown hits. For the second performance in a row, we bought the CD and met the performers.
Our fourth day was our only day that we enjoyed two separate shows. We began with a matinee performance with another excellent group of musicians, singers & dancers. This time it was a tribute to the music of the 50’s and 60’s and we were bopping along with the music the entire time. Our seats were front row center so it couldn’t have been any better. The lighting for this show was exceptional as well. Once again we bought the CD and once again we met the performers after the show.
That evening we headed out to attend a show that was advertised as Branson’s “most popular show”. The Haygood family consisting of four brothers and one sister entertained us with some excellent harmonies, energetic choreography, incredible special effects and amazing performances on over 20 different instruments. It was their 26th year performing together here in Branson and was the first “variety” show of our visit. We were not disappointed.
The following evening we enjoyed a riverboat dinner show aboard the Branson Belle that turned out to be a great time. It was worth the extra money for VIP treatment. We were allowed priority boarding and we had some of the best seats in the theatre. The food was good and the show was excellent. The biggest downside was that no alcohol was served on board. We didn’t know about that until just before we boarded. Although a beer or two would have been nice with dinner and the show, I was glad I hadn’t had any because we had to travel some narrow winding roads on our return trip to the campground.
Our final show on our final day in Branson was a tribute to the Irish Tenors and the Celtic Ladies. We loved most of the music they performed and the singers were great with some very nice harmony. We stayed busy in Branson by enjoying five shows and a dinner aboard a showboat over five days. We also ate out at several very nice restaurants and did some shopping but still felt we could have done so much more. We really did enjoy Branson and will probably return another time.
Our next stop was in Depew, Oklahoma so we headed west as planned. At the last minute however we decided on taking a more northern route which was about 40 miles longer rather than our planned more scenic route to the south due to weather forecasts. It turned out to be our best decision of the year as we watched the weather radar show us some significant weather passing over where we would have been. Later we learned that there were many serious accidents along that route. We definitely made the right decision.
We arrived to some great weather at our camping resort in Depew, Oklahoma. They had a beautiful pool and that’s exactly where we spent most of the next day. Early on our second morning however, that changed when we were awoken by some serious Oklahoma style thunder and lightning. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so much lightning at one time. Poor Stella was terrified by all the thunder as she huddled in bed with us.
Next it was on to Oklahoma City for a four night stay. We began by heading over to the Oklahoma National Stockyards section of the city where we walked around for some sightseeing and shopping before having a couple of outstanding filet mignons at the Cattlemen’s Steakhouse which opened its doors to hungry cowboys, ranchers, cattle haulers and the like in 1910. Following lunch we headed over to the stockyards themselves where we watched a truckload of cattle being unloaded. Knowing they were destined to be slaughtered shortly, Claudia felt bad for them. I had to laugh since we had just enjoyed those delicious steaks.
Our following day started on a more somber note as we spent a couple of hours over at the Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial. There we learned all about the victims, survivors, rescuers, and all who were affected by the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995. After walking through the museum, we strolled around the grounds where the memorial to the 168 people killed, some of whom were children, now stands.
Next it was a trip over to Bricktown. Bricktown has become Oklahoma City’s premiere entertainment district. For several decades, the warehouse district sat dilapidated and underused. In 1993, the City of Oklahoma City constructed the Bricktown Ballpark and a one-mile canal through the area along with many shops and restaurants. It was an enjoyable walk and we ate lunch at the Bourbon Street Café at a table within a couple of feet of the canal. The day was beautiful and the ducks loved our company.
On our last full day in OKC we visited and explored the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. It was an excellent museum and it took several hours to see everything we wanted. The museum included more than 28,000 Western and American Indian art works and artifacts. The museum was also broken up into many separate sections, each containing a variety of collections focusing on preserving and interpreting the heritage of the American West. We particularly enjoyed the Western Performers Gallery, a 4,000 square-foot exhibit that explored the various ways the west has been interpreted in literature and film. Honoring western performers who have contributed to the making and preservation of the stories and legends of the west, the gallery also displayed an extensive collection of memorabilia. While there, Claudia and I took a quiz matching various TV shows with their theme songs and scored 12 out of 12. Not sure if we should be proud of that or not. In either case, it was fun.
The next morning we headed south to Arlington, Texas, situated between Fort Worth and Dallas. On our first morning there things started off on a sour note. As bad as the news was, thank goodness Claudia noticed the unraveling of the two top cables on our large dining room/bedroom slide out. This was another repeat of a problem we had two years ago except that they actually broke last time causing us to have them replaced while parked in the campground. We have since had them inspected and realigned but obviously the problem remains.
It was at this point, with the issue heavy on my mind that we headed over to the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district for some fun with our friends Gary and Vivian who live nearby. This is an area that was once home to cowboys, cattlemen and outlaws. Today the Stockyards National Historic District is one of the most popular attractions in Texas. Day and night, visitors come to the Stockyards to get a taste of the true American West where the weathered brick streets are lined with historic buildings, restaurants, shops, saloons and other attractions. Gary grew up in this area and knew the stockyards well, long before they were a tourist stop. He was a great tour guide as we explored the town and the girls did a bit of shopping. As we returned to the original area of the stockyards we watched as cowboys on horseback drove a few dozen longhorns through the streets and off to the pasture for the day. These steers were enormous and it was a thrill to watch them being herded past us. Following the cattle drive we headed over to Riscky’s BBQ for lunch where we all enjoyed some very good brisket. After lunch the girls engaged in some more retail therapy while Gary and I hung out and chatted about the area.
By the time we returned to the campground I had made up my mind that we were going to get the slide back in one way or another. Being a Saturday, I figured if we were unsuccessful I could begin to make plans for someone to come out and replace the cables for us on Monday. If we were successful, we’d leave the slide in and just live without that area of the RV until after we reached Sandpipers where we could make arrangements for permanent repairs. With a little extra muscle from Claudia and me, the slide came back in without any more broken cable. We placed a block behind the slide to stabilize it and we decided to enjoy the last ten days of our trip as planned although a bit more confining than we’d like.
On Sunday we headed into Dallas and visited the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza where we took an audio tour. Here on the sixth floor, the exhibit: John F. Kennedy and the Memory of a Nation, provided us with a historical context for the events of November 22, 1963, and the aftermath of President John F Kennedy’s assassination. The sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository was the primary crime scene for the JFK assassination and now contains historic images, news footage, artifacts and original areas that were once primary evidence. The museum contains a history of the early 1960s, an outline of JFK’s trip to Texas and the corner window where shots were fired, striking the president and Texas Governor John Connally. The exhibits then move on to discuss the crisis hours including the arrest and killing of Lee Harvey Oswald and the investigations that followed. Although this tour was a somber reminder of what happened that day, it was a powerful and very interesting visit that we enjoyed.
We spent the next week enjoying a lot of rest and relaxation (and a bit of partying) with our friends at their summer home, Star Ranch in McDade, Texas. They were great hosts, we had a lot of fun and we made a lot of new friends. We spent our last night together enjoying a farewell dinner at a very nice BBQ restaurant near the resort.
The final leg of our journey was uneventful as we arrived back at Sandpiper’s to begin our winter stay. Yes, we had several bumps along the road this year but we also visited some very interesting places and had a lot of fun in the process. Next we’ll settle in for our winter off the road but we’ll stay busy. We have plans for several improvements to the mobile home, we’ll take care of necessary repairs to the RV and we’ll spend our winter once again having a wonderful time with all our great friends. For us, it’s like coming home.