Midwest – U.S.A.

Five days after getting home from Costa Rica, and after washing the soles of our boots, we were taking off again, this time for another driving/tent-camping trip across the Midwest. The ultimate goal of this trip was to get the last eight states crossed off of our bucket list; Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Wisconsin. We’d not originally planned on Wisconsin, but The Hubs decided that we could do it.

Kentucky – Missouri

Our first stop was in Kentucky where we camped for one night. We were early and bored, so we found a state park, Grayson Lake State Park, to do a little hiking in. Trouble was, we couldn’t find the trail heads for either trail. We wound up hiking over a mile just trying to find them. We finally gave up and went back to camp.

The next day we continued on and made a stop for lunch at the Irish Rover in Louisville – a place recommended by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on the Food Network. The food was very good. Next, on to…

St. Louis, Missouri

As cities go, the skyline of St. Louis is a pretty one – the Arch makes for an amazing visual as you drive in on the highway.

After arriving and checking into our hotel we walked about a mile to the Arch via Kiener Plaza Park and I met a really cool photographer who was scoping locations with his drone for a class reunion shoot over the weekend. We nerded out about photography for at least 30 minutes – with the poor Hubs sitting nearby trying to not look too bored. He knows I don’t get this sort of opportunity very often and is wonderfully patient about it when I do.

After finding our way to the Arch (not hard, really) and taking a few pictures, we headed back to the hotel via Washington Avenue and had dinner at a funky BBQ joint, SugarFire, next to the National Blues Museum. I found that there was a performance going on at the museum at the same time, but there was no room left for some stragglers from North Carolina, not that The Hubs would have wanted to go anyway.

Back at the hotel, we bought tickets online to go up in the Arch the next morning, having to make due with an e-ticket instead of paper.

The next morning we were up early and walked to a restaurant called Roosters for a terrific breakfast, then walked on to the Arch and got in line earlier than our ticket time – it paid off as they let us in on the South Side entrance and we were among some of the first to ride up the Arch. We took car #5 up. The cars were tiny – barely 5 people can fit in one – and they go up in what felt like a Ferris wheel style. This is not something for the claustrophobic. Near the top we had to go up about 40 short steps to get to the viewing area where you can see all of St. Louis and beyond on a clear day – and we had a beautifully clear day. We didn’t stay long, and we got in car #3 for the ride down, stopping in the gift shop for a pin, and a few photos on the history of the Arch.

From the Arch we walked to the Sculpture Garden and enjoyed the odd sights there, then we went to lunch at a sister location of Roosters called Bailey’s Bar and Grill for lunch. It was about this time that The Hubs mentioned that his ankle was hurting. He described it like something needed to “pop” like a joint or a pinched nerve, but he did pretty well getting around, so we didn’t worry about it.

We walked back to the hotel for a rest and catching the blog up from our Costa Rica trip (boy was I behind!), then on to dinner at Sauce on the Side. From there we walked to a little market for breakfast muffins and bananas to take on the road, then back to hotel for the night.

Oklahoma

Were supposed to camp at Osage Hills State Park for a night, but they were doing a control burn and the smoke had started to move in the direction of the campground. With my asthma, we decided to skip camping and I found a cheap hotel in Pawhuska, just a block from The Mercantile, the store Ree and Ladd Drummond renovated downtown. Ree Drummond is better known as The Pioneer Woman from the Food Network. Since we got in early, we decided to check out Tall Grass Prairie Preserve, just north of Pawhuska. There we saw Meadow Larks, Lark Sparrows and more, and considered going back the next day.

Dickcissel

Meadow Lark

Lark Sparrows

Upland Sandpiper

In the morning we had a wonderful breakfast at The Mercantile, then The Hubs walked back to our hotel while I did a little looking around in The Merc (i.e.; shopping). I found a couple of things that I could honestly use in the kitchen; a really sturdy apple corer/slicer (mine is broken) and a very hefty rolling pin, which will replace the crappy one I have, and both at a very good price. Oh, and a t-shirt, of course!

Once back at the hotel we packed up and then, having decided not to return to Grasslands, we drove to Deep Fork National Wildlife Reserve (NWR), south of Tulsa, and hiked three short trails; Boardwalk, a trail to a photo blind, and old railroad trail. We saw our first Painted Bunting and Indigo Buntings there.

Indigo Bunting

From the NWR we registered at the KOA just east of Oklahoma City and set up camp. By this time The Hubs was starting to limp and I was getting more concerned, but he kept reassuring me it was okay.

In the morning we got up early and drove to Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge. The Hubs conceded that he had a genuine problem with his ankle, so we dropped any ideas of hiking any length. We drove around and walked a little bit, but that was it. At the Visitor Center, while waiting for me to return from a restroom break, The Hubs spotted a Blue Grossbeak, which is considered unusual for this time of year at that location, and later we saw another Painted Bunting and also a Summer Tanager.

Blue Grossbeak

From that NWR we drove to the Toy & Action Figure Museum in Pauls Valley. What FUN! We wandered around the place just amazed at all the action figures there, most old, some new. I just had to get The Hubs a t-shirt.

Back at the KOA we changed shirts and went to Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Stockyards City, south of Oklahoma City, for some really good rib-eyes. To complete our romantic evening, we went to see “Avengers: Infinity War“. I knew The Hubs was not doing okay when he agreed to park in a handicap spot and use my mom’s handicap tag. By this time he was limping really, really bad. Despite this, we both enjoyed the movie immensely.

We got back late to camp, and were still worked up from the movie, so we didn’t get to sleep until well past 11:00 PM. Around 12:30 AM I woke up to someone hammering on something nearby. I lay in my cot trying to figure out what was going on. As the noise progressed I began to realize that there was a 1) drunk; 2) stoned; or 3) crazy person in the campground. He was hammering on the bathroom building with (I think) a pipe and cursing loudly and talking to himself. It continued to get worse and I started to get very frightened. We were in a tent – the only tent in the camp, and very vulnerable. Around 1:00 I woke The Hubs and explained what was going on. After another twenty minutes of this, and the fear that he was headed down into our area of the camp, I called 911. I explained the issue, my fear, the fact that we were in a tent, and gave her the location. Within eight long minutes, two patrol cars showed up and confronted the guy causing all the ruckus. I have no idea what was said or done, but after another 10 minutes, they had the guy moving on away from the campground. It took me forever to stop feeling scared, but I convinced myself that if the police didn’t feel he was a threat, then I would have to be okay with that. I got about one hour of sleep between three times awake (three hours total). The Hubs slept fine after the interruption. I hate I can’t do that.

Kansas

We drove to our hotel in Oakly, then drove out to Monumemt Rocks to scope for possible night photography. The weather wasn’t going to do us any favors so I scrapped the whole shoot. We did see a Horned Lark, Western Meadow Lark, Loggerhead Shrike and some Burrowing Owls and prairie dogs, and Alan spotted a Rough-legged Hawk. Also saw a couple of Ring Necked Pheasants. Alan’s ankle was worse. We packed it with ice and I picked up a cane for him at the Loves Truck Stop nearby. Decided to cancel all camping and started making other arrangements.

Loggerhead Shrike

Horned Lark

Burrowing Owl

American Kestral

Nebraska

I stopped at the truck stop again and picked up a taller cane for The Hubs before we drove toward our next destination. Along the way we stopped at a little hamburger joint called Runza and had their Runza Sandwich – a bun filled with ground beef and cheese – sort of a loose version of a Philly Cheesesteak. After switching out driving with The Hubs I poked around on Google maps and found an Audubon park, so we drove there. After chatting with the naturalists there we decided that this is definitely where we will go next spring for the Sandhill Crane migration. At this location I got lucky and managed to shoot a fuzzy photo of a pheasant.

Ring-necked Pheasant

Iowa

We cancelled the campground in Des Moines in favor of a hotel because The Hubs could not help as much with pitching camp, and then there was the issue of getting up off of the cot and having to walk the distance to a bathroom, which is always a considerable distance, especially if you are limping.

Driving from Nebraska into Iowa we saw some nasty skies brewing, so we turned the radio into local station and heard about a severe weather alert with tornado warnings. We saw that we were driving straight into it, so we made a few stops as the bad weather got worse. I kept my eye out for funnel clouds and Alan drove. I saw a few possibilities to the south of us, but they all unwound and nothing came of them. It was exciting (to me) since I’ve always been a storm buff, but The Hubs wanted nothing to do with it. I told him that I wanted to go out storm chasing someday and he said I was welcome to go – on my own.

We made it to our hotel in one piece, but saw evidence of lots of hail. We were glad we had held back a bit down the road. The Hub’s ankle was hurting more than before, so I dropped him at the front of the hotel and got our bags in for us on a trolly. Poor guy. I suggested that for tomorrow he stay in and go nuts while I go to West End Architectural Salvage (HGTV show business) and he readily agreed.

The next day I drove out to McDonald’s and picked up an Egg McMuffin for The Hubs, filled the truck up with gas, and picked up several bottles of his favorite drink, Diet Dr. Pepper. I got him settled with a promise to stay put with ice on the ankle, then took off for downtown Des Moines and West End Salvage.

I had a blast at the Salvage. I met Don, the owner, and after proclaiming my fan-girl status to him, asked if they might have a set of already mounted hooks I could use at our front entrance at home. He directed me to all three floors and off I went. After looking around for more than an hour, I finally gave up on a ready-made solution and picked up an old cabinet door with the glass and hardware still intact. I plan to take it home and put my own hooks on it.

While checking out I asked Don if I could have a picture and he said sure, and one of his employees came over and took my phone and got a picture of us. Sweet!

Leaving the Salvage, I decided to drive on out to Cedar Covered Bridge to scope out the location for the next morning. I was very surprised by what I found – I guess I should have done my research before leaving the hotel. The bridge had been burned down (arson) for the second time in its life.

Having not much else to do, I decided to check out John Wayne’s birthplace (museum) in Winterset. Just a few more miles down the road, it was a very nice set up, with a striking bronze statue of The Duke out front, marble tiles with all this movies on them, the house he was born in, the museum, and a huge painted boulder with his likeness on it, the American flag and the likenesses of the town’s known POWs. I took photos for a friend of ours and shared them on Facebook for him to see.

While I looked around at the museum, a siren started up, clear and loud. This is the same siren that warns of tornadoes. It was less than a block away and was LOUD! It went on, and on for what felt like five minutes and I realized that it was calling the volunteers for the fire department. It finally began to subside and sure enough, the wail of fire trucks started up right about then. It’s cool how these things don’t change.

I drove back to the hotel after leaving Winterset, and found The Hubs being a good boy, still in bed with his ankle elevated. For a treat, we went to lunch in downtown Des Moines at the Zombie Burger & Drink restaurant. Oh. My. God. The burgers were sooo good! They have milkshakes to die for too. The Hubs had the THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU BARBARA burger made with two grilled-cheese-sandwich’ buns, American cheese, caramelized onion, bacon, and Zombie sauce. He also had the TALLAHASSEE shake made with vanilla ice cream, a Twinkie, strawberry purée, and cherry Kool Aid powder. I had the DAWN OF THE DEAD burger with bacon, egg, American cheese, red onion, and mayo; along with a CHOCOLATE NUTELLA MARSHMALLOW shake made with chocolate ice cream, Nutella, and marshmellows. Neither of us finished our meals, or shakes. It was just too much. Neither of us opted for the Soylent Green dishes either – we weren’t about to take any chances on those!

After stuffing our faces we drove out to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge for a look-see. I got our book stamped and yacked with a fellow, who works with the environmental agency, about birds, then The Hubs and I headed out to drive the car route around the Reserve. We saw some pheasants and listened for Bobolinks, but had no other luck. There had been a group of 150 young school kids through the reserve just before we got there, so the chances of seeing much was pretty slim. From there we drove back to the hotel for some rest, then had dinner at a Cracker Barrel nearby. When we returned I started making phone calls to cancel the rest of the trip (hotels) and then make one new reservation to get us heading home. I called my girlfriend, who lives north of Chicago to see if she wanted out tickets to the baseball game at Wrigley Field, but she texted back that she was out of town and couldn’t go. Drats.

We left early Sunday morning and drove out to the Neal Smith NWR again, determined to sight a Bobolink. Alas, it was not to be. However, we did see a Bobwhite!

We stopped overnight in Crawfordsville near Indianapolis and in the morning headed toward Roanoke, Virginia.

After an overnight in Princeton, West Virginia The Hubs drove us to Black Dog Salvage, another HGTV TV show I love. I went in search for drawer pulls to complete the items I needed for my project, and while there saw, and spoke briefly with Tay Whiteside. He seemed in a hurry, so I didn’t bother him with a photo request. I did find some neat drawer knobs, so I purchased those and a t-shirt.

I’m such a silly fangirl.

From there we headed home with a lunch stop at Sticks & Stones Pizzaria in Greensboro.