The second half of our journey took us further north once again, up along (or near) the Mississippi River. (If you missed the first half, you can read that here, in part 1 of our Lower Mississippi River Road Trip.)
After leaving Baton Rouge, we drove up to Natchez, MS. We were getting further from the gulf, and the temperatures were beginning to dip. The weather had been sunny and warm, albeit foggy most mornings. As we were driving through the steep hills of this mountainous area, we got a flat tire! There was chunk of metal in the road that Scott did not see (I didn’t either) that we hit. It was a bit frightening, because the hills were steep as the road followed them, but also because there were some steep drop offs on the side of the road we were driving on. And it took us FOREVER to get that tire changed! Our spare is nothing short of a pain to remove, and because we were on a slant, it was difficult to get the van safely jacked up. Plus all of the ground seems to be dirt there. A little bit of cold mist, chilling winds, biting ants, rusty parts, sandy soil, and possibly a bit of swearing later, we finally got the tire changed (thanks to some added help from somebody who pulled over!). That ordeal took a lot out of us.
We made it up to the city of Natchez, which is where we got our tire changed- it also happened to be our next stop on our trip. We decided to stop and visit “The City of the Natchez,” which was an old Native American city at one time. There wasn’t much to see, but there was a nice staff in the tiny museum, and there were mounds that the former city was built on (not burial mounds, but layers of a buried city).
From Natchez, we drove further north to Vicksburg (where we stayed for the night). We wanted to tour the Civil War Memorial park there, but there is a CD for the driving tour that we weren’t able to use our first day there, and had to wait until the second day to do it. It worked out okay. First we went to the Lower Mississippi River Museum where the sweet staff “ooh”ed and “ahh”ed the kids (it’s a retirement community and they were THRILLED to have kids!), and then we took an evening to just relax in the hotel room. We called it quits early, but we desperately needed the rest. (Of all of the cities that we visited Vicksburg was my favorite. The buildings were old and pretty, and being a retirement city, it had a slower pace than New Orleans, plus it was much cleaner!)
On the following day, we continued north again after we toured the park. The park was absolutely beautiful, and was quite a history lesson, though I’m sure that Scott and I paid much more attention to all that was going on than the kids did! That’s okay though, because it was still enjoyable!
We pushed on and by that evening, we had made it up to Memphis, TN. We toured the Rock N’ Soul Museum that day, which personally, I wasn’t impressed with, but the kids enjoyed it, especially Doodles, who I caught dancing to the music on his headset. The museum was silent, but I had a hard time not busting a gut, laughing at those dance moves! From there we walked to Beale Street where we found a diner, The Blues City Diner, where we had supper. I decided I’d try a piece of pecan pie while we were still “down south,” and oh my! It was absolutely delicious! Best pecan pie I have yet to try! (FYI, for anybody thinking about taking their kids their, I’d recommend avoiding Beale Street… it was half just fine, and half pretty questionable.)
We stayed in the city that night, and the following morning we took off early again. This time I said we needed to at least drive past Elvis’ house, the famed “Graceland.” What can I say, when I was a kid, I half had a crush on Elvis, and half wanted to be Elvis (young Elvis…for both). I loved his music! We didn’t do a tour, but we got to walk up by the house, and that was really all I wanted to do anyway.
I think it was that day that as we were driving north, we followed some road that I can’t recall the name of, but it basically rode the ridge of one continuous, long hill for a very long time. We were heading for Kentucky, and we had picked out our destination… another small little museum, not famous for much, but just inside the Kentucky boarder so that we could say we went there. But even though the museum’s sign said they were open, and all of the info we had on the place said it should be open, it wasn’t. So we turned right back around and left Kentucky. It was right in this area that we got to see the confluence of the Mighty Mississippi, and the Ohio River, but those bridges were kind of terrifying! They are so narrow, with NO shoulder, and then there are semis constantly crossing!
Well, we hadn’t planned to go so far north that day, but there just wasn’t much to see or do once we got that far north. We got to marvel at the surprisingly mountainous terrain of the lower portion of Illinois along the Mississippi (Northern Illinois is exceptionally flat). We tried making a couple of other stops, but some of the places we went to were closed for the season. We did stop in the park at the old Fort Kaskaskia which had a beautiful view of the river from up on the cliffs. The kids were able to get out and play for awhile, and we actually had to put on gloves and hats for the first time since we had left our house. Without much to see, and nothing between us and our next point of interest, we continued another couple of hours north to Mastodon State Park in Lower St. Louis, MO. When we reached the park, we walked through the museum, and then took a brief walk on the trails. We got their late, so we had limited time before sunset, but it was one of the few times we got to enjoy the beauty of nature in a relaxed way (or not in the car). We packed up and found a hotel. The kids and I went swimming while E hung out with Scott and Scott ordered pizza. And E called the police! (I forgot about this part!) Apparently there is a button on the hotel phone that is speed dial for the police… not a cool button to have when you have kids!!! Other than that, it was an uneventful evening.
By that night, I was getting run ragged. I was exhausted from the travel, exhausted from E’s crying every time we drove for more than two hours (which was every day, by about 2 hours min. every day), and I knew that E was exhausted as well. The next morning we discussed our options. Scott and the kids were hoping to make it up to Des Moine that day and spend one more day away from home, but I was just tired and kind of wanted to go home. Since I was outnumbered, I agreed to continue our trip. But as we were heading north, the highway we were taking (thanks to GPS) had us going East for something like 70 miles, at which point Scott said “If we’re going to go that far east, we may as well just head home!” So we discussed our options again, and this time decided that we’d just head over to Chicago, and while in Chicago, we’d go to one of the many very cool museums there. (Just as we were leaving St. Louis, we headed over to East St. Louis to check out the oldest continually active Catholic congregation, and the oldest church west of the Allegheny Mountains in Cahokia, IL. ) I was so surprised at how grateful I was to once again see the brown, plowed over fields, yellow grass, and naked trees that so perfectly represent fall in the northern states of our area. Even though it was amazing to see green grass, flowers, and fruit growing further south, I deeply missed fall, in all stages, that we have at home.
Well, Chicago was a good idea and a bad idea. We decided to go to the Field Museum, which really did have a lot of really neat things. We got there later in the day, so we didn’t have a ton of time to spend there, just a few hours. Everything about it was expensive. The parking, the admission (and I’ll be honest… we weren’t honest about Doodles’s age, because no 3 or 4 year old should be charged THAT MUCH for admission to a place like that), and yes, we even made the mistake of eating at the museum. Top it off with the fact that we had promised the kids that they’d get to buy one souvenir from the museum… phew! We felt significantly poorer. It probably would have been cheaper to get a hotel room in Des Moine! But the museum was neat. There are many Egyptian sarcophagi there (for as neat as that was, it’s a little sad that “we” think we can just disinter these people from their final resting places and put them on display), and they have an amazing collection of taxidermied animals on display in one wing of the museum. Since it’s a natural history museum, there are things like displays from different civilizations and things like meteorites (which by the way, their display of is quite impressive!).
We decided to see the dinosaur bones, but to put it nicely, if you are a creationist (which we are), the only way to reach the dinosaur bones is to walk through a maze of “evolution history” before you reach the dinosaurs. There may have been restrained eye rolling and head shaking on our part. Our other complaint about our trip to the museum was that a huge percentage of the visitors to the museum (and the staff) were incredibly oblivious or rude compared to the people we encountered down south. Our area has changed a lot in the last 20 years, but even so, there is a big difference in the behavior of people there than the people around here. That all being said, I think our trip to the museum would have been far more enjoyable had we not been there on a Saturday… a very busy day for the museum. The friendliest thing we saw in the city was a sky scraper with the words “Thank You Vets” written on it on Veterans Day, the day we drove through Chicago.
After us simple country folk escaped the clutches of the nasty city (okay, sorry, we just really don’t love visiting Chicago), we relaxed and rested as peacefully as we could for the remainder of the drive home (3.5 hours), while E cried his little eyes out. Of course, he fell asleep just minutes before we pulled in our driveway. When I asked the kids if they were disappointed we didn’t stay gone longer, they said that at first they were, but they were just really glad to sleep in their own beds.
It was an amazing trip, filled with lots of learning. We’ll be continuing to reference back to our road trip for teaching the kids in the coming year since there was just so much to take in from the trip. The scenery was amazing. The people were amazing. And it was a much needed break for our family after all that we had been through in 2017. The kids favorite parts were: Pumpkin-The Arch; Peanut-A bridge that he wanted to see; Miss Lady- Her Laura Ingalls bonnet and the visit to her uncle’s house; Doodles-The beach; E-The animals on the safari; Scott-A Civil War ironclad ship; Mom- the mountains, the Laura Ingalls museum, and the plantations, though looking back on it all,it’s really hard to pick a favorite, I was tired during the trip, but I really did enjoy it. I may have been a bit disappointed we weren’t able to stop and enjoy the different parts of nature, but when we did, boy did I love it! We made a lot of great memories, and we learned so much. I think it just took me some time to really soak the whole experience in!
We live near enough the upper portion of the river, so we’ll be able to make a shorter road trip following it if we would like at some point in time. I’d like to visit each of the Laura Ingalls museums eventually, and the Wisconsin museum is near the Mississippi, so it would be easy enough to include that in a trip, should we take one. Have any of you ever traveled on or along the Mississippi, or visited any of the places we did? What were your favorite parts?