Planning a trip? Dreaming of travel? Perhaps some of our adventures could inspire yours! Over the last several years we’ve had the distinct pleasure of many cross country journeys traveling though the Lower 48 in tents and our various teardrop campers as well as an amazing Alaska adventure that did not involve a camper. To learn more about our day to day adventures, recent blog posts are below. To learn more about Steve & Karen, click on the About Us link. All Things [email protected] is about using and caring for [email protected] trailers. Every other link is about travel adventures. Enjoy exploring, and leave us comments! We love hearing from you. And if you’d like to follow us, Subscribe by signing up at the bottom of this page.
We’ve just celebrated our Forty-Ninth Anniversary in western Massachusetts. We opted to linger a while longer with our trailer parked in Greg’s driveway. It’s a salubrious time of year here. For dinner on our anniversary we asked Greg to join us for drinks and dinner at Champney’s Tavern in Deerfield. Then yesterday we two breakfasted on Steak and Eggs as we did at the Carousel Inn in Cincinnati on September First in 1973. This morning we reminisced about waking up in our canvas tent at the KOA in Carlock, Illinois as we ventured out on our first cross country camping trip together. We stayed in the same park, same campsite right next to the railroad tracks thirty-five years later on our last cross country camping trip just before we discovered the joys of teardrop travel. As we begin our fiftieth year together we’re already planning our anniversary celebration which will involve Transatlantic travel and waking up on this day next year in London. It’s been a glorious journey together thus far and we’re happily anticipating many more shared adventures!
On our first visit to Cahokia Mounds State Park near Collinsville, Illinois, across the river from St Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we were so impressed with the importance of this site we chose to join the Cahokia Mounds Museum Society to support ongoing efforts including acquiring more historically significant sections of land. A benefit of membership is that the society keeps us informed about happenings here. Although we missed the news that the Interpretive Center is closed for renovation, we did key into news of their Augmented Reality Project. Once we figured out we could do that tour at any time regardless of the visitors center hours, we downloaded the Cahokia AR Tour (both iPhone and Android) for $4.99 and we headed there this morning. It was an absolutely stupendous experience despite some minor technical bugs, the heat of midday, and sun glare on our phone screens. The program allowed us to transition from the present view of the landscape to an immersive view of the past or any hybrid of the two. That coupled with audio descriptions of the scene gave us a much deeper understanding of the history and culture of the Cahokian people than we could have ever garnered from reading interpretive signs and looking at the modern landscape. Not only was this once a teeming metropolis on the east bank of the Mississippi at the confluence with the Missouri River but it was a spiritual center. It was incredible to stand on the eastern edge of Monk’s Mound and see an artist’s rendering of how the interior of the temple may have appeared and realize this piece of ground was the spiritual center of an organized religion much like Mecca or The Vatican. This was very much an exploration of the past using technology of the future to travel through time while remaining present in our own time. As we leave here we are looking forward to our next visit which will at least include an AR tour of the Grand Plaza where so many Cahokian community events took place. Now as we’re heading east, we’re continuing to expand our knowledge by listening to the History Unplugged podcast, In 1200 AD, this Indian City on the Mississippi Was Larger Than London And On The Verge of Starting An Advanced Civilization. (We listened on Apple Podcasts for an ad-free experience but the link above starts off with a series of ads.) The more we learn, the more we’re inspired to learn.
Today has been a comedy of errors. Our plan had been to visit Cahokia then head on to our campsite near Carlyle, Illinois. All that would have been about four hours of driving. But as we were preparing to leave Fisherman’s Corner COE Campground near Moline, Illinois this morning, we learned that the Cahokia Mounds Interpretive Center is closed for extensive renovation. So we moved to Plan B, to drive the Great River Road awhile then head to the campground and possibly visit the grounds at Cahokia in the evening or early morning. Then we got a crazy idea to visit Twain’s Boyhood Home in Hannibal. We altered our route and needed to do an around the block u-turn in a tiny hamlet. (Our trailer jack didn’t fare well on one particular steep intersection.) Then we calculated the distance from Hannibal to our campground and abandoned that plan. So ultimately it’s nine hours of driving with only a few short stops. Traveling small highways, touring Illinois cornfields, Mississippi River views, tiny towns, and no major attractions under gorgeous blue skies. We’re finishing the day at the Dam East COE Campground near Carlyle, Illinois just across the water from Dam West where we stayed one night in 2016. And we’ve figured out an excellent reason for making the one hour trip back to Cahokia tomorrow morning.
Last night we enjoyed our stay at Dam East-McNair Campground, near Carlyle, Illinois remembering our 2016 stay at Dam West, on the other end of the dam. So today’s journey was a trek across the Illinois from just east of the Mississippi River to just over the Ohio River to the Paducah/I-24/Kentucky Lake KOA Journey near Calvert City, Kentucky. Along the way we did a fuel stop in the southern part of the state not far from Carbondale, at Stuckey’s of Johnston City. What a trip back in time! A trip back to road trips with our parents back in the 1960’s when we’d beg for Pecan Pralines and other sweet pecan candies! The iconic roofline and distinctive red and yellow logo brought back a flood of memories and we went prowling for a pecan treat. Our tastes have changed so instead of pralines, we came away with a bag of lucious Georgia grown Pecan Halves for noshing as we continued on our way. It’s great to know that Stuckey’s history, begun in 1937 is continuing!
“Build it and they will come.” It’s the theme of the 1989 movie, Field of Dreams which we watched shortly after our teenaged son read W.P. Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe. Through the years we’ve rewatched this film quite a few times fascinated with the historical baseball figures, the voice of James Earl Jones, and the tenacity of Ray Kinsella. As we began our cross country travels, the opportunity to visit the movie site drifted around at the edges of our travel planning but truly we didn’t know where in Iowa to locate Dyersville. Until today. As we drove south along the Great River Road we saw a blue highway sign telling us to turn left for the Field of Dreams Movie Location. We did. We parked. We donated. We shopped. Then we just stood in awe. It was the movie come to life in front of us on a beautiful summer afternoon. We stood and watched some youngsters play a pickup baseball game and as we watched them we could see just a few individuals sitting in the bleachers with the farmhouse and barn behind them. And in the background was the corn at just the height it was in the iconic film. It was perfect. We lingered just long enough to engrave this moment into our memories. Baseball! Yes!
The 10:30AM Ranger led Fire Point Hike at Effigy Mounds National Monument near Harper’s Ferry, Iowa was well worth the effort to leave our campsite early this morning. Located adjacent to Iowa’s section of the Great River Road overlooking the Mississippi River the park partners with a number of Native American tribes to preserve this sacred site in the northeast corner of the state at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Yellow Rivers. We had time to explore the museum at the Visitor Center before the walk. As it turned out we were the only ones to join Ranger Alex this morning which gave us and him a chance to expand upon some of major points of his talk. Atop a ridge in Iowa’s Driftless Area Native American ancients built mounds of various shapes and for multiple reasons. They buried their dead, studied the sun, stars, and seasons, and performed religious ceremonies. We were especially fascinated with the Marching Bear effigies that are lined up to point to the sunrise on the Cross Quarter Days, midway between the Equinox and Solstice. We were also thrilled to learn that the park will be rehabilitating the effigy mound area by removing several trees that have grown up on the mounds since white settlers arrived in the area and began preventing wild fires. The opportunity to hike with a ranger allowed us to fully appreciate our surroundings, to understand the ecology of the area, and to experience the sacredness of this location. Knowing that the ancients would come long distances for ceremonies here gave us the feeling of visiting a great cathedral.
Together we’ve crossed the Mississippi River countless times via bridges. A few years ago at Lake Itasca we did it across stepping stones. Today Karen did it on a stand up paddle board! Ever since our first experience trying a stand up paddle board in Wisconsin, Karen has been anxious to try it again. Today was a great opportunity. After the great Sunday morning exodus from Prairie Island Campground near Winona, Minnesota, we rented a paddle board and the headed to the bank. Astonishing both of us she quickly transitioned from knees to standing and maintained that position all the way across the river and back but at the last moment learned that it’s wise to transition again to knees just before landing. Despite that small mishap, she’s eager to do it again and again!
As we left the Minneapolis-St Paul area we deliberately avoided the urban section of the Great River Road and instead skirted the Twin Cities to the south and east to Hastings where we picked up the scenic road again. As the road meandered along the west bank of the Mississippi River we delighted in seeing some familiar vistas. We’ve driven this section once before. As we headed south with the river on our left we were awed by the beauty of the geology and forests of the Driftless Area on our right. We delighted driving through Redwing, and along the shore of Lake Pepin, stopping at a park in Florence to stretch our legs and grab a geocache across from Maiden Rock, finally arriving at Prairie Island Campground near Winona, Minnesota. As we registered we learned that there would be live Bluegrass music, a food truck, a beer truck, and a dessert truck a little later on this Saturday evening as part of their Campfire Concert Series. After set up we joined in the festivities. Later as we strolled the park at sunset we realized that we’d stayed here once before in 2015 and there was Bluegrass music happening here that weekend also. As before we enjoyed the Mississippi Sunset as music wafted in our direction.
Today’s adventure yielded so much more than we ever expected even from a Minnesota Historical Society site. The human history at what became Fort Snelling here at the confluence of the Minnesota and the Mississippi Rivers began at least 10,000 years ago according to the archeological record. To the Dakota who resided here at the beginning of the French fur trade era, this is a sacred site, Bdote, the place of their creation. This fort also played a central role in the US-Dakota War of 1862, a horrific episode in the westward expansion of the United States. We arrived with time to spare before the 11:30AM General Tour so we wandered briefly through the trades shops watching a blacksmith, a wheelwright, and a fish weir builder at their crafts. Then on the tour we got great overview of the history of this site spanning the Dakota Creation, the French Fur Trade, the Zebulon Pike expedition, the construction of the Round Tower, built in 1820 and considered the oldest building constructed by European-Americans in Minnesota, through the American Civil War, World War I, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and World War II, to present. We were fascinated with the Military Intelligence Service Language School where Japanese-Americans were recruited from interment camps and educated to serve as code breakers and interpreters and the all African-American 25th Infantry. But the part of Fort Snelling history that most captivated us was learning about the service of enslaved people that served the officers there, including a future US President, Zachary Taylor. The most compelling story of all though was of Dred and Harriett Scott. We stood in one of the rooms where they worked and lived at the fort and learned that after their time as slaves at Fort Snelling in the Unorganized Territory where slavery was outlawed that they sued for their freedom under Missouri’s judicial standard of “once free, always free” by which quite a few slaves had succeeded in gaining freedom. However the Scotts lost the case. Ultimately in 1857 the US Supreme Court upheld the Missouri decision with the Dred Scott Decision, but further inflamed the division between North and South and pushed the country towards civil war. Back at the Visitors Center we invested in a copy of Seth Eastman: A Portfolio of North American Indians and a t-shirt then headed to Brothers Meat and Seafood in Maple Grove before heading back to the camper and cooking up a birthday feast on the Weber Q. Life is good!
Despite misgivings about venturing into the traffic of a metropolitan area, we headed into the heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota. After finding a garage parking site (We love the ParkMobile app) and breakfasting at the nearby Farmers Kitchen + Bar, we walked the short distance to the Mill City Museum, a part of the incredible Minnesota Historical Society. We kicked off our visit by viewing the film Minneapolis in 19 Minutes Flat! which gave us a brief overview of 400 years of local history. Located in the ruins of the Washburn-Crosby flour mill building the museum traces the history of the Falls of St Anthony, the only waterfall along the entire course of the Mississippi River. Owámniyomni is a spiritual place for the Dakota people but by the 1840’s white settlers were constructing saw mills that harnessed the power of the fifty foot falls. By the late 1860’s flour mills were beginning to supplant the saw mills to process a new strain of wheat that could survive Minnesota winters. When the Washburn-Crosby flour took top honors at an 1880 miller’s convention, the company named their product Gold Medal Flour. In 1921 fictional Betty Crocker was representing their products. By 1828 they’d merged with three other mills to become General Mills. Nearby were many more mills including the nearby Pillsbury A Mill. For us a trip around the interior of the museum was a trip back into the kitchens of our childhood with images of Bisquick, Wheaties, the Pillsbury Doughboy, and so much more. But we also got to do some hands-on activities demonstrating things like the power of water or how a lock works. The Flour Tower show wasn’t available but one of us did choose to ride the glass elevator to the 14th floor for some astounding views of the city as well as a better look at the preserved ruins of the old mill. As we left the museum we saw a sign with a link some history of woolen mills in the nearby area. Then from the museum we walked just a couple blocks to the St Anthony Falls Visitor Center and Lock and Dam, part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. There we got to chat with a couple of rangers about the history of the falls, the dam, purposes of the dam, first for hydromechanical power for the mills, then navigation, hydroelectric generation, and now as an environmental barrier for invasive species. This part of Minneapolis is rife with opportunities to learn but we finally decided to quit while everyone was still having fun counting on the chance to return on another trip.