On Monday, October 4, we were up early and greeted by an awesome pre-dawn on the river. Although the idea was an early start, you know what they say about plans. As we were driving out of the park, Brutus flashed the message “Service Trailer Braking System”. WHAT??!! MW crawled up under Petunia to check it out, and a wire between the trailer and the wheel was disconnected. Easy peasy. He didn’t have a crimp connector in the tool box, but was able to take care of a temporary fix with electrical tape. The delay did allow me to get some pretty good shots of the river and sunrise, though.
Finally on the road about 45 minutes after we planned, we crossed Big Mo on the bridge by the campground and headed east on MO-92. At Smithville we headed southeast over to Liberty, then east on MO-210 to MO-10. Just after clearing Kansas City, we were back in big, flat farmland. Near De Witt we turned south on MO-41, then southwest over to Slater. At Fayette we stopped for lunch at Miknan’s Main Street Pub on the square, the first pub I’ve ever been in with a play area for children. MW had a grilled tilapia sandwich and I had their classic burger. Both were pretty darned good. Although I didn’t get pics, Fayette had a nice square with lots of active businesses. We continued east on MO-124, then zig-zagged over to Centralia and took MO-22 east to US-54 south. At Auxvasse, we turned east again over to Montgomery City, then south to our home for the next few days, Graham Cave State Park. Once we got on the road, the drive was pretty uneventful. We did see a couple of deer and a bald eagle. We scared the latter off of some roadkill, and I wasn’t fast enough to get a pic. He was big and beautiful, though. I was surprised at feeling a little claustrophobic when we passed back into eastern, wooded areas around the Ozarks. Setup was a bear, and what normally takes about 15 minutes took more like 45! I’ll give you those details in the park description below. After that, we were ready to sit on our butts!!
On Tuesday I worked in the morning, then we headed to town to scope out a laundromat, have some lunch, and find crimp connectors for the trailer wiring. Montgomery City is a fairly small town of around 2,600 people. The original downtown is small and a little run down, but a bright spot is Sugar and Spice Bakery. No, we didn’t have donuts for lunch, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross our minds. Well, not really donuts, but they had the most amazing-looking cream horns! This place covers everything…breakfast, sandwiches, pizza, donuts, pastries, cookies, wedding cakes…the list goes on. We both had the special, which was a cod sandwich that initially looked like a McFish with lettuce and tomato, but turned out to be really good. After lunch we headed over to Orscheln Farm & Home where we found the crimps we needed and spent a little time wandering around.
Back at the park, we went to check out its namesake cave. There is a short (3/10-mile, loop trail to get there that is an easy walk. In the north edge of the Missouri Ozarks, Graham Cave was formed by erosion between a layer of dolomite below and sandstone above. It is shaped like a pita, about 100′ deep with a 16′ high opening. You can walk under the ledge a bit, but most of the area is blocked off by chain-link fence to preserve it for archaeologists. Excavations have revealed a layered record of human use for the last 10,000 years. Pretty cool! On the way back to the site, we checked out the boat ramp, marked by a picture of a motor boat being backed into water. It turned out to be at best a narrow canoe/kayak launch that was clearly being used mostly by raccoons. Then it was back to Petunia to get some writing done. I’ll admit I was behind after all of the visiting.
Wednesday I headed back to town to get the laundry done. We scoped out the Crossroads Laundry on Tuesday. There were places to sit, plenty of machines, and a bill changer. Should be good, right? When I arrived and began loading washers, one glance into the first one revealed that it was full of debris…candy wrapper, pebble, crayon, etc…from the last person. Several were like that, but I did find enough clean ones to get my stuff going. I didn’t have enough quarters to get them all started, and you guessed it, that darned changer wouldn’t take any of the multiple bills I tried. (A lady on Tuesday said it always works.) Akkkkkkk! A quick run across the street to the bank solved that, and I was able to finish the start up. Just as I was preparing to do some work, I heard what sounded like a waterfall. Yep, the seal on one of the front loaders was shot, and a river was dumping out. There was no emergency stop button, and I couldn’t stand there the entire time pushing the door in, so I just had to let it finish. That created a big mess! Once on the drying side, I started the first load and almost immediately a shirt was hung up in the edge of the door. I fixed that, and it happened twice more in about a minute. Had I let it continue, I’m certain several shirts would have been ruined. What the heck?! I don’t think I’ve ever been to a business that was so poorly maintained! Oh and to top it off, the big “Air Conditioned” sign on the outside doesn’t say that they keep it set at somewhere above 80. Even with all of the ceiling fans on, I was sweating like a big dog! As I left, I saw the owner’s phone number on the entry door along with an email address. You can bet he/she received a detailed message later. After finishing the job, I headed over to Bundy’s Burgers and Ice Cream to grab a bite (the chili dog was very good) and get a bit of writing done. After a couple of hours, I headed back to camp.
Graham Cave State Park is the second park in just a few weeks that we would not come back to. Situated in the northern foothills of the Ozarks, this 386-acre park is beautiful, wooded acreage and could be great. It is named for the first settler, Robert Graham, who…interesting point…bought the land from Daniel Boone’s son, Daniel Morgan Boone in 1847. The property remained in the Graham family until 1964, when it was donated to the state. In addition to the actual cave, amenities include educational displays at the Visitor’s Center and near Graham Cave, 4.4 miles of hiking trails, a boat ramp (only suitable for canoes/kayaks…and raccoons LOL), a picnic shelter, and several picnic areas. The campground looks beautiful, but needs some work. There are 53 total sites, but only 18 have electricity. One of the non-electric sites is pull-through. Firewood and water are conveniently located, as are the dump station, trash, and bathhouse. They also have a laundry noted on the map, but I did not see it. MW said the bathhouse was older, but relatively clean. The main issue for RVers is trees too close to the pads. Our site, like most others, had trees right next to the pavement at the rear and both sides. MW is careful to check length when reserving, and we are short compared to most at 31′. Without the extra paved parking area (which was only at some sites), we couldn’t have gotten in. I honestly think most of the issues could be resolved by removing a few trees. In some cases, there are trees and/or posts on either side near the front, which just make it more difficult to back in. It’s too bad, because once we were in, it was nice. All of that said, though, it really is a good place for tent camping and small RVs. The park isn’t too far off of I-70, but the road noise wasn’t bad. The cell signal is okay, and we had plenty of over-the-air TV stations to choose from. Montgomery City is a convenient 15-minute drive. For this visit in October 2021, we paid $71.50 for three nights.
Thursday we timed our departure to be in southwest St. Louis when Costco was open. The first order of business, though, was to stop at the gas station on the corner and add some air to two of the trailer tires. It seems that, when we had the new tires mounted the other day, one side was inflated to the correct psi and the other was not. They just looked a little too “squishy” when leveling. That taken care of, we headed east on I-70 and southeast on I-64, where we crossed the Mightly Missouri for the last time on this trip. (I’ll have to go back and count, but we crossed those muddy waters A LOT during this circuit!) The morning was very grey, but it wasn’t raining as we skirted the southwest side of the metropolis on I-270. MW saw the sign for the Saint Louis Bread Company (SLBC), so he stopped for me to get a bagel. (I’d been wanting one for weeks, but you really don’t find them too much out west.) I noticed that the logo was the same as Panera, which was confusing. Turns out that Panera started in St. Louis and was originally named SLBC. When expanding, they decided to change the name to something less regional. The ones that were already in St. Louis retained the original name, although they also have Panera on the door. That asiago bagel was GOOD, too! Not New York City good, but few are. Next we stopped for groceries and supplies at Costco, Target, and Ulta, all conveniently located in the same area southwest of St. Louis. After that there was a little bit of zig-zagging basically southeast through Freeburg and New Athens. Just east of St. Louis, the land turned very flat and more open, and we were back in farms. At Marissa, we stopped for lunch at Tiff’s Cafe, which was clearly the local hot spot. MW had the BLT, and I had the Ranch Grilled Chicken BLT…both were excellent. They had an abundance of scrumptious-looking pies, already sliced and packaged up front, but we managed to resist. It was HARD!! Back on the road, we continued southeast to Pinckneyville, where the land began to roll and more trees were popping up. We turned east on US-154 over to Rend Lake and the South Marcum Campground, where we found ourselves back in the forest.
Having spent a lot of time looking at and crossing the Missouri this trip, we found the lack of boats interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever crossed the Mississippi when there wasn’t a barge and/or multiple boats in sight. Well, except up in Minnesota where it begins as a stream flowing out of a lake . I just assumed the Missouri would be the same. While parked right on the river in Leavenworth, we only saw one boat in four days, and that was just a tiny fishing vessel cruising back to the ramp after dark.
We started Friday morning sitting outside enjoying the weather. Our campsite faces out into the woods and a little glade near the lake. Just after sunrise, we saw something take off running on the hillside. It was being chased, too. Turned out to be two little deer playing. They raced across the far hillside, then circled down through the glade. It was so cool. People who don’t think wild animals play just haven’t spent any time watching wild animals. Mama was up on the hillside watching, and eventually they all three disappeared, heading for the open grass under the power lines. MW and I then took a nice long walk. This campground is huge with several loops, and there is also a terrific walking/biking path that goes for miles. In addition to the three deer at our campsite, we ran into at least a dozen more in various areas. They are just so beautiful. I think they know that hunting season is coming, but hunters can’t enter the campground. Not stupid!!
Later we headed into Benton for lunch at Joe’s Pizza & Pasta. MW had an Italian, which was 13″ long! (No exaggeration…this is not a fish story!) I had a Joe-boli – their version of stromboli – also very good and enough for two meals. After lunch we headed back to Petunia, where I dropped MW off and went back to Arby’s to get some work done. (While my phone says it has 2 bars of LTE at the campsite, the bandwidth on that tower must be tiny! We can call and text, but cannot load any websites or check the weather.) October 15th is fast approaching, and a few clients are sending in tax stuff to finalize returns. That means I have to do a little more regular work than normal in addition to writing. When I headed back to the park later, there was a greeting party at the front gate. They only looked up long enough to make sure I wasn’t getting out of the truck, though.
Saturday morning started with another nice walk. This weekend is supposed to be hot, but the morning was cool except in the direct sunlight. Later we got cleaned up and went across the lake to Sesser, Illinois, to check out the Illinois Wine and Art Festival at Rend Lake. The entrance fee of $10 per person included a wine glass to enjoy tastings from a variety of local and regional vineyards. By the time we got there, it had steamed up quite a bit. Let’s just be honest…it was HOT! That, and my lingering headache from the morning, kept us from partaking. There were plenty of vineyards represented, though, so a person could do a LOT of sampling if they chose. There were also quite a few arts and crafts vendors, a handful of baked goods sellers, and three food trucks. We opted for lunch from Street Kitchen. MW went for the Chop Chop Shoe, which was an open-faced sandwich with French fries, ground beef, several cheeses, onions, and scallions. I went for the Chop Chop Potato, which had the same toppings except for the French fries. Both were good and ridiculously large. (After having some for lunch and dinner later, I still had half of the darned thing left!) We ate at the picnic pavilion while listening to a band playing older country and Cajun music. The two ladies sitting at our table turned out to be wives of band members. I asked them if they were groupies or roadies, and one looked perplexed. I told her groupies “date” the band, but roadies haul their stuff. They said “both” in unison, then one said “well, if you can be a groupie at my age”, which I’m guessing was considerably older than me. Too funny! I so enjoy talking to strangers. After checking out all of the vendors, we drove through the town of Sesser and happened upon their Octoberfest. That gave us another opportunity to spend time in the sweltering October heat. Yay! We really do enjoy the small town festivals, though. Another unexpectedly cool thing in Sesser was the Opera House. Originally built in 1904, it was destroyed by fire and rebuilt 10 years later. It hosted live theater productions and silent movies until it closed in 1932, then reopened as a regular theater in 1939 that operated until 1957. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it was restored to it’s 1914 Spanish Colonial style and is truly beautiful. After walking around for a bit, we headed back to Petunia where we spent a relaxing afternoon.
Sunday started with another long walk. I’m trying to get my butt in the habit of being more Sandy Gilbert-like. (She is our Seattle family and walks 10,000 steps a day, every day. Did I mention she is a bit older than us? She makes me feel like a slug! There, I said it!!) Don’t know if I’ll ever make 10k every day…that’s well over 4 miles for me…but I am averaging 5,000 right now. I’m also trying to get MW on board with getting bikes. In all honesty, mine would probably be an e-bike for a little help in the hills, but riding would be so good for my knees! After getting cleaned up, I headed into town again to get some work done at Joe’s Pizza & Pasta. This time I was there for hours. I sampled the fried green beans and had a personal pizza and side salad. All were pretty darned good. When I finally made it back to Petunia, it was time to relax. Of course, MW had been doing that most of the day! LOL In the evening I visited for a little bit with our neighbors, Scott and Teri from Minnesota, who were just beginning their full-time RV life. They had some pretty neat e-bikes and gave me the low-down.
INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: As I crossed the bridge over the interstate going to Benton, I did a double-take at the billboard below. It was clearly George Harrison, but there is no writing at all to explain. Curious. Was there a series of Beatles billboards on I-57 installed and maintained by some rabid fan? Nope. Apparently, after the band was famous in England, but before they exploded in the United States, George and his brother made a trip to this little town in Illinois. Why? Because their sister and her family lived in Benton. That trip was probably one of the last times the young man was able to vacation anonymously. Mostly, he played tourist and visited, but they say he bought a guitar in a nearby town and even sat in with a local band. Too cool! Can you imagine being the local musicians who, several months later after the US Beatles invasion, realize they’d been hanging out with THAT George Harrison!? I wonder what it was like being his sister after the invasion?
Monday morning I headed out for an early walk. MW had already taken a lap around the campground earlier, so I was on my own. Storms were moving in, so people were up and getting ready to hit the road home. After getting cleaned up later, we headed over to Jack Russell Fish Company for lunch. Their big thing is the Old Tavern Fish Sandwich, which was pretty good cod on white bread with onions, pickles, and ketchup (it all comes on the side). To be honest, I had issues: 1) For me, the ketchup didn’t do anything but overpower the fish. Thankfully, I only put it on a small corner to taste.) 2) White bread is not substantial enough to hold everything together with the moisture in the fish. 3) The entire slab of onion was too much. It was a pretty darned good fish sandwich, though, after I switched to tarter sauce and eliminated most of the onion. Next we popped in at the grocery store to stock up for the coming week with our friends Lori and Jimmy. Then, after unloading back at Petunia, I headed back to town to find someplace to sit and get more work done. (The deadline for tax extensions was fast approaching!) The front passed through while I was out, and it rained torrentially. As I was pumping gas, the wind was blowing so hard that the rain was all going almost sideways! The cooler weather was a blessing, though. While sitting at Subway working, a guy came in for lunch. I was involved on the computer, and didn’t really notice him until he was at the register. All of a sudden he was yelling at the cashier: “I make 70 f***ing thousand dollars a year and can’t even buy a f***ing sandwich. This place sucks!! F***ing a**holes!” At that point he threw the bag back at the cashier and left in a fury, cussing all the way. He stomped all the way across the parking lot to his rig, seriously angry. I later found out his problem…his credit card wouldn’t go through. Wow. People have just lost all sense of decorum, haven’t they?!
South Marcum Campground is one of seven camping options around the 10-mile long Rend Lake near Benton, Illinois. Two of those areas are group camps…Shagbark and Dale Miller. The lake area provides everything from the typical water sports/activities to hunting to owl prowls, and nearby towns have plenty of options for restaurants, shopping, and even a winery. As you check into the campground, they give you the latest edition of Rend Lake Adventures, which tells you what is going on. There are beaches located at North Marcum and South Sandusky, and the former is dog-friendly. There are also miles of hiking/biking trails, including the 20.6-mile Rend Lake Bike Trail. The lake Visitor’s Center is on the west side of the dam and will give you a good overview of the area. The South Marcum Campground is open seasonally and has 160 sites ranging from $16 tent to $44 premium double. There are around 45 full-hookup sites, but most are 50-amp electric only. Potable water is located at the dump station. Amenities include picnic shelters, a playground, a boat ramp, and access to the bike trail. There are five loops, with bathrooms in each, and bathhouses in Covey Point (2) and Beaver Lodge, and a fourth, centrally located bathhouse available to all. Facilities were very clean and the park was well maintained. Sites are nicely wooded and laid out well, paved, and mostly level side-to-side, but some are sloped. (We had to raise our front end quite a bit, and our neighbors had to lower theirs almost to the ground.) Despite showing two bars on both the phone and the iPad, the internet was very slow in the mornings and non-existent in the afternoons. They must have terrible bandwidth on the local tower. Over-the-air TV had a lot of channels to choose from. All-in-all, this is a great park with lots of things to do locally. We would definitely come back. For this stay in October 2021, we paid $90 for five nights for 50-amp electric only.
That catches us up. Next on the agenda…fine friends and Buford. See you on the path!
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