It’s been several months now since we took our road trip, and I have still not written about our adventure! (Probably because it would have been a book, all of the details were so fresh in my mind!) I ‘ll be breaking this story up into two portions because there is just so much to share! This road trip had started to be planned a few years ago, but when we moved, our plans got put on hold, since buying our dream house was just a little more important. We strategically planned our trip to begin after we had butchered the chickens, but before the snowy season. That way travel was safe the entire time, and since the meat birds were gone, we only had the egg layers to care for, and the garden was finished for the year (and before getting a puppy). We got help from a neighbor and a family member in taking care of the animals while we were away.
Initially, we had wanted to take a trip and follow the whole of the Mississippi River, but we now had one child more than when we had begun planning, and we didn’t want to use up all of Scott’s vacation in one shot since there is always so much work to be done around here. So we opted to shorten our trip and take a “tour” of the Lower Mississippi River. By “lower”, I am referring to everything St. Louis, MO and southward.
Our trip was about 10 days in length (it may have been shorter by a day or two, honestly, I can’t remember anymore!). I think we planned for 10 days and ended up home a day earlier. The goal was to visit Scott’s brother and his family, make it down to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, and then take our time coming back up until we got tired and wanted to come home.
We left early on a Friday morning, at something like 3 in the morning, in hopes that the kids would fall asleep since we’d be driving straight down to St. Louis that day, well over a 6 hour drive (not including stops). They didn’t fall asleep. I guess they were too excited! I had done a lot of preparing before we left, packing their clothes in a way that was manageable so that we did not have to bring everything into each hotel we stayed at. I printed off games for them to play while we drived, packed snacks that could be passed out, and we had a system set up for good behavior to keep things calm. We don’t have a DVD player in our vehicle, but I still picked up a couple of DVD’s from the $5 bin at Walmart, and we planned to be able to play a movie on the day we’d be making our longest drive, using my laptop. My preparations did make things easier, but I have to say that after we got about halfway through our trip, the system started to deteriorate. E wasn’t loving the drive and the van got messy. Our driving times were longer than I had realized they would be, and by the time we got out of the van, I desperately wanted to stay out! But back to our story…
Our first stop was the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. We had planned to take the tram to the top and tour the museum at the bottom, and depending on how we were feeling, we thought maybe we’d try seeing some other sites. But we were exhausted. We did go up the arch, and the kids loved it. Pumpkin had been nervous to go up it, but by the time we got back down, he wanted to go up again! We had gone to the arch with him when he was just a baby while we were in town for a friend’s wedding, and we loved the museum that is in the base of the arch, but the museum was closed due to some construction, and only a portion of the exhibits were open for public viewing in the Old Capitol building. Oh well! We still had a good time. Back at the hotel, we discovered that we had a great view of the arch from our room, and that night I took the oldest three swimming in the hotel pool.
Our second day was also a lot of driving. We went from St. Louis down to Mansfield, MO. The final home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband, Almonzo. I can almost guarantee that I was the most excited person to go to this museum, but the kids were excited as well. Scott’s brother and his family drove up from the Bentonville, AK area to meet up with us and come see the museum too. We toured the museum and then the house. I think the house is really only interesting to most people if they’ve read The Rose Year books as well, since those books talk about their move from DeSmet, SD, to Mansfield, and the building of that house. I thought the kitchen counters were fascinating! Laura was a rather short woman, just 4′ 10″, a whole 6″ shorter than I, and Almonzo stood at my height. When they built the counters for their kitchen, she had them built to her height. They were so short! Not to go on about this portion of the trip for forever, but the museum was really neat if you’ve read the series. They have Pa’s fiddle there, and Laura’s china box that she got for Christmas one year. There’s some amazing sewing work of Laura’s, and beadwork done by Mary, letters from the family, old photographs, Laura’s sewing machine, and so much more. Seriously, if you love those books, you’d love visiting! The only disappointment of our visit (okay, maybe there were two… the tour of the house was not self-guided, which was a bit of a negative in my opinion) was that it was SO FOGGY! I really was hoping to see the scenery that is described in the Rose books. Laura and Almonzo chose that plot of land for a reason. And I never got to ask (or could I have seen) if there were any traces of the old orchard that still remain.
After our visit to Mansfield, we all piled in our vehicles and headed to Arkansas to Scott’s brother’s house. We ended up going on a “wilderness safari” which was really neat! You drive your car through a park that is half zoo, half enclosed “safari,” and animals can walk right up to your vehicle. The kids’ uncle touched the camel’s mouth when it stuck it’s nose in his face, Scott sort of allowed an Emu to stick it’s head in the vehicle, which pretty much had Scott terrified. Both events were absolutely hilarious to everyone else in the vehicle. E thought this little adventure was the GREATEST event of the trip! He could not stop squealing and laughing as we drove through the park. He was just shrieking with excitement!
After a fun day with our family whom we don’t see often, we took off the next morning, heading for New Orleans. We knew that this would be our longest stretch of driving on the trip. 9-10 hours, not including stops. Let’s just say that E hated it after the first couple of hours. The drive from the Bentonville area down to about the Little Rock area was absolutely gorgeous, rolling mountainsides covered in yellowing autumn oaks… From about the Little Rock area down into Mississippi near Vicksburg, the scenery was much the same. We were following a road that runs along the Mississippi River, and on either side of the river, for a long while it was really flat. The houses were up on “stilts”, and they were nearly all small. And it was quite obvious that the main crop of that region is cotton as it was being harvested at that time. There I saw my first bales of cotton ever, and scattered along the road like leaves up north were bits of cotton blown away from the harvesting.
By the time we reached New Orleans, it was dark. We spent our last hour of the drive to the city driving in near total darkness except for the glittering row of headlights lining the highway going in either direction. We had rented a condo for our stay in New Orleans, because we were planning on being down in that region for two days. Our plan wasn’t so much to see the famous city of New Orleans as it was to see the sites in the areas surrounding it. After hours of E crying in the seat behind me in the van, we were all so thankful to finally be at our destination. The condo had enough rooms that we were able to separate the kids into 3 different rooms, giving E his own space. He quickly passed out, seeing as he had not napped for more than 30 minutes all day and had thoroughly worn himself out from all of that crying. Peace. It was just quiet and peaceful.
The next morning, we took a walking tour of a portion of the French Quarter (don’t worry, we did not go anywhere near Bourbon Street). We ate benyas at Cafe Du Monde for breakfast, had a Jazz trumpet player play a few kids songs for the little kids (I think Pumpkin might have been a bit embarrassed, but the little boys loved it). And yes, we did end up buying his CD. I figured, why not? It was a gospel CD, and I figured if we were going to get a souvenir from the city this would be a good one! We went into the Cathedral which is right behind the square where the Louisiana purchase was signed. I had no idea!
That afternoon, we signed up for a swamp boat tour. We were in one of the pontoon boats since there is a height requirement for the other kind of boat. Which I was totally okay with! It was hot that day, reaching 100F on a November afternoon. Our tour guide admitted that it was warm for that time of year, but considering it had been below 30 back home just a few days before, it was a bit of a system shock! We got to see quite a few alligators on our tour, and watched our tour guide feed them a lot of marshmallows. The kids learned a lot of interesting things about gators that day, and we learned some really interesting facts about the flooding that happens down in that region, especially when they get hit with hurricanes. Maybe this is morbid, but our favorite sight on the tour was a cemetery on a hill. We were told that no grave is buried, they are all placed in above ground “tombs” or whatever you want to call them, since the water would force the coffins up out of the ground during times of flooding. He informed us that after the flooding, the tombs will float away, and the citizens of that area have to get out their boats and some rope and anchor their loved ones until the flood waters recede, so that they don’t have to try and move them once they get stuck on dry land in the wrong location.
Since there was nothing else we wanted to see in the city and our tour was over, we decided to head to the Gulf of Mexico. The closets place for us to reach the Gulf and be able to go swimming in the ocean was to actually head over about an hour into Mississippi. We found a spot at the beach and played for maybe an hour or so. We didn’t have a lot of daylight, but Doodles only hope for the entire road trip was that he could play at the beach and build a sand castle, so we had to oblige him that one thing! We almost didn’t make it to the gulf though, because as we were driving there, we noticed a Saturn V rocket on the side of the road! It was laying down, not standing, but we had to stop and see it! Scott was really surprised he hadn’t found that as an “attraction” when he was coming up with a list of places for us to visit on our trip. If we had more time, we would have stayed and gone through the museum. I’d have to say that not being able to stay at the museum was probably the biggest disappointment of the trip. We all would have enjoyed learning more there, but there just wasn’t enough time. Someday we’ll have to go to Cape Canaveral where we’d have the ability to see even more cool things!
That night we were completely and totally, happily exhausted. We put E to bed, and the rest of the family spread out on the couches and watched a movie together before climbing into bed for the night. Scott and I were woken up in the middle of the night for about an hour thanks to a brief house-party that was happening in the condo connected to us. A “nice” reminder to us what city we were staying in…
The following morning, we headed out early and started our drive back north. We didn’t go terribly far that day. We went to tour two different sugar plantations that day. Aside from the mountains, I think that may have been my favorite part of the trip. There was so much to learn! The history of the slavery is sad, but like I said, there’s just so much history there! And it’s just such a completely different culture than anything up here. We saw Oak Alley Plantation first, and when we were finished with our tour, we purchased a virgin Mint Julip to try and we all loved it. Lucky me, I got to drink most of it 🙂 We stayed there and had lunch in the restaurant, and all had their gumbo for lunch, which was delicious, though certainly a hot dish on yet another hot day. Oak Alley has the most amazing old oak trees covering the property, particularly, lining the “alley” up towards the house. The house was a large, white house, typical of what one might imagine when they think of the word “plantation.”
The second plantation that we visited was the Laura plantation. There we learned a lot about the Creole culture and what that term really means. That plantation was really neat for it’s stark contrast to the other plantation. The house was colorful, and much smaller, but still beautiful. There were large oak trees, but the “back yard”, what would have at one point in time been something like the kitchen garden and other out buildings, surrounded by slave quarters, is now partially filled with citrus trees and banana trees. I couldn’t get over how green and vivid everything was down there! Up here, we get those kinds of colors for but a brief period of time in the months of June and July, and mostly in the form of flowers. But here we were, in the beginning of November, and there was fruit growing around us, and I was hot!
After our visit to the plantations, we drove up to Baton Rouge where we saw their Old Capitol building (it looked like an old church or castle from the outside), and then we found a hotel room for the night. I took the kids swimming since we were all overheated, what with not being used to these kinds of temperatures this time of year!
I’m saving the second part of our journey for a separate post since this is pretty lengthy already! Oh my goodness, I can’t tell you how much I loved this trip. It was thoroughly exhausting, and it took me awhile to really be able to wrap my head around all that we saw and did. In some ways, it would have been nice to have had a few more days, but at the same time, we just couldn’t have handled it. I was completely amazed at the variety of landscapes and the beauty that each place held. And it was hard picking the right number of pictures from our trip… I could have easily shared them all! I hope you’ll come back later this week to hear about the rest of our trip 🙂