I had no idea how stressful planning to leave for a couple of months would be. Although we’re not sure we thought of everything, the stress fell away as soon as we left the driveway. Our objective is now to explore North Dakota and Hawaii, the last two states we need to road trip in to make up the 50. Yay!
The plan for the first day or two is pretty solid driving to get to our “starting point”, the Great River Road heading north out of St. Louis, Missouri. Our normal travel style is on the back roads, but this is a get there situation, so interstates it is. We hit the bricks before 6AM EDT and by the end of the day had four states under our belts (North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana) and had traveled through Asheville, Knoxville, Lexington, and Louisville ending up at the Indian-Celina Lake campground in the Hoosier National Forest. I was surprised at how beautiful the country is north of Knoxville on I-75.
While I was napping, MW saw nine semis go by with “Jason Aldean” all over them. What kind of show needs nine semis? That guy must be doing some amazing stuff?!
The weather was great for most of the day, and we stopped at the Kentucky Welcome Center for a picnic lunch and walking break. The luck left just before Louisville, though, when the bottom dropped out. The rest of the drive was rain, rain, rain. Thankfully it let up slightly when we made it to the campground around 4PM CDT. We found a site at the right angle so that we didn’t even have to unhook the RV from the truck…BONUS!
We were up at the crack of dawn and ready to head out. It rained most of the night, but this morning was just a little drizzly and gray. Due to the weather, we didn’t see much of the campground, but what we did appeared to be well-maintained with nice, wooded lots. We continued our trek towards St. Louis, stopping for lunch in New Baden at Good Ol Days restaurant. Let me just say…awesome! Terrific country cooking, huge portions, and great prices! The fried chicken was amazing, and we had enough left over for dinner, too. After lunch we were back on the road, finally making it to St. Louis and our beginning.
The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the Mississippi River for 3,000 miles from it’s humble beginnings in Northern Minnesota through ten states to the Gulf of Mexico. It is said by many to be the best drive in America, and although we started in the middle, we could certainly see why. Beautiful scenery and nice little river towns make for a good road trip. The river just north of St. Louis is huge, and it was interesting to note that in some places it flows really fast on one side and is slow enough on the other side to have huge areas of giant water lilies. There is also a cool spot where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers come together, but the water does not combine for quite a ways…half is muddy and half is blue.
Just north of St. Louis the terrain is very wooded and hilly, and it is a beautiful drive along the coast. We were mostly on the Illinois side of the river, but did cross several times. There are cliffs cut out that appear to be limestone along the road, and in several places caves appear to be cut into them that are being used for storage, but may have originally been mining. As we were driving along, we saw huge flocks of large birds on the water that I first mistook for swans in the distance, but they turned out to be White Pelicans.
We continued north to Nauvoo, Illinois, where we stopped at the Nauvoo State Park for the night. Nauvoo was established in the early 1800s by the Mormons. Joseph Smith was here, and it is where the migration west to Utah led by Brigham Young began in 1846. It is a pretty little town with quite a bit to see including a beautiful Mormon temple. The campground sites here were really nice and situated in a large pine forest. After setting up, we tried to sit outside and enjoy the weather, but some pesky little flies drove us inside. About 11PM CDT we woke to a cacophony outside that we finally identified as coyotes in the distance. That was pretty neat! One odd thing about this park, though, was that no one came around to collect the fee, and they did not have an after hours box. We ended up contacting the Indiana State Parks office to mail a check.
More pics from today: