After time with friends, we decided it was time to get some history lessons. First up was a stop in Hannibal, MO to learn about the life of Mark Twain. We stayed at Ray Behrens COE park on Mark Twain lake, just a bit SW of Hannibal. While a nice park, relatively quiet and first come, first serve FHU sites, their ranger enforcement and cleanup left something to be desired. Be forewarned, this is a shitty story...literally.
We arrived early on a Monday, around noon, and snatched up one of the last 2FHU sites. Our site was about 80ft long and paved. We had lots of room for the truck and RV.
We found it pretty crazy that they were that busy on a Monday, but we soon found out why. The majority of the sites around us were all a group of tent campers and popups. Yes, tents in FHU sites...what a waste of a FHU site, right? Well don't underestimate the craftiness of a camper. One site had a large animal trailer full of all sorts of stuff to make, what we affectionately called a shitty shanty. They made a "room" out of a refrigerator box and placed it over the sewer hookup pipe at the site. They then put a full size TOILET inside the box and commenced to use their new outdoor bathroom!! I kid you not, I cannot make this stuff up!!! The most horrific part is that when they left they took the toilet and hosed it off in the grass with the fresh water faucet!!! We do know they were told to take it down and then proceeded to resurrect the shanty and then were evicted from the park. It takes all kinds! Pictures for proof...
We went to Hannibal for a day to explore the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum. What a well done exhibit and museum!! If you are ever near Hannibal you really need to stop by. The self guided tour starts off in the visitors center and then moves into Mark Twain's boyhood home. Each room in the house is behind glass and set in period style with Twain quotes and figures. Not only was the inside information well done, outside was just as nice! Beautiful grounds and gardens, cobblestone streets and interactive exhibits. In fact, Rick had to get in on painting the fence!
The museum was a couple blocks away and was just as nice. Both locations really immerse you in the time and life of Mark Twain and the museum has numerous Twain artifacts as well as several of the Norman Rockwell paintings of Tom Sawyer and the gang.
We really enjoyed walking through the quaint downtown area and found these great little stamps on the sidewalk throughout, celebrating the towns anniversary. Unfortunately, because of all the flooding with the MIssissippi River, we didn't get to see much of the riverfront because they had the flood walls closed to protect the downtown.
We also had to check out the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn statue downtown, again, beautifully landscaped. The delicious smells got the best of us and we decided to have a late lunch at the Mark Twain Brewery. The food was really good, especially the pub chips and beer cheese dip. A really cool place on the river.
On our last full day in MO, we explored Mark Twain Lake that we were staying on and the COE Visitor Center. Wow, what a beautiful visitors center, complete with beautiful views of the lake, a very nice Veterans memorial and plenty of space to have a picnic and enjoy a nice walk through the woods.
With the flooding in the area, the dam on the lake was opened and you could really see the rushing water and just how full the lake was.
From Hannibal, we moved on down the road to Springfield, IL, where we stayed at the IL State Fairgrounds campground. We stayed there one night last June as well on our way down to Branson. This time we stayed 3 nights so we could explore more of Springfield and the Lincoln must see's. At $20 military rate for FHU site, albeit a parking lot, it is a great deal and very convenient and safe.
On our first day we set out to explore the Lincoln National Heritage Area and the Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. The Heritage area encompasses a couple blocks near downtown and has a visitor center that really does a good job of laying out what Springfield looked like during Lincoln's day to help immerse you in the time period. You can take a free tour of Lincoln's home with a park ranger. Their knowledge is wide and deep and Caleb, our guide, really was passionate about the history of Lincoln's life. It was fascinating to see the home and hear the stories behind it. What was surreal was touching and seeing items that Lincoln used that were not reproductions or period pieces. We really enjoyed walking around the area and seeing the other homes.
From the historic area we made a quick trek a couple blocks north to the Lincoln Library and Museum. It is in the downtown area as well, and there are several other places to visit in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating and we ducked quickly inside the library to walk around and then over to the museum, which, in our humble opinion, is the crown jewel of the Lincoln experience in Springfield. It is $15 for adults and $10 for military and worth every penny. We were also fortunate enough to be there on a day that they put on a 2 man play of the weeks after the Ford Theatre shooting that was very good!
The museum is set to show his early life in one section as you walk through a cabin and then the other section is his presidential days as you walk through the White House. We both agree that the most moving piece is as you walk into a room that is a replica of the Springfield capital with Lincoln lying in state. Lights are dim, lilly arrangements are in place and you are walking past the casket. It was very moving to say the least. There is also a rotating section that is currently a wonderful gallery on WWII and finally a cool Holavision Theater that has holographic images talking about the history of life and times of Lincoln. We were told that Disney specialists were brought in to help develop the museum and we could definitely see similarities and the level of detail.
After the museums, we dodged the rain and thunderstorms to get back to the RV and hunker down for the night. Unfortunately we only were able to do a drive by of the capital and other points of interest.
The next day started with some rain, but mid morning it stopped so we decided to go out and see Lincoln's Tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery. The cemetery itself is quite impressive and well kept. The Lincoln Tomb area is very impressive with a beautiful caretakers home that looks like a castle.
The tomb and monument is amazing! There is a bust of Lincoln out front that is known for the good luck it gives when you rub it's nose. When in Rome...
The tomb's exterior is granite and the obelisk stands 117 ft high. Statues on each corner represents a branch of the military and are cast from metal of 65 cannons donated by the US government. Very detailed statues! During the day you can go into the tomb, which was quite impressive and chilling at the same time. At every turn there are various statues of Lincoln at various times of his life and then you enter the tomb area, which everyone immediately goes silent out of respect. Indeed a beautiful tribute and well designed.
With the weather still in our favor, we headed over to the IL State Military Museum. We were fortunately there on a weekend when veterans and reenactors were set up there showing their period pieces and military vehicles. The museum itself was really nicely done and takes you through the military history of Illinois' military units through the years. They even have the gun that Lincoln fired on the White House grounds and his target.
By this time we were getting super hungry and found a great little place near downtown. Boone's Saloon was a great find and highly recommended. Rick had the Mushroom Bourbon burger and I had the Bourbon Chicken Club wrap. Oh man...both were amazing and we were stuffed!
From Springfield, we moved on to the greater Kankakee area for a quick visit with my brother and stayed at the Kankakee South KOA. There is not alot of campground choices in the area, so this was about our only option for a spot on a Monday night and we had FHU to boot. Just as we pulled in to our site, the sky let loose with a gully washer for about a half hour. Not really knowing how the weather would be in the morning, we stayed hooked up to the truck as the site was pretty level. That night we went out for a mexican dinner with my brother and retired early, since I was not feeling well.
The next morning we moved on closer to our destination of Elkhart, IN. We stayed for a night at Potato Creek State Park. We had stayed at the park back in 2014 for our annual family camp outing and really enjoyed ourselves so we came back. The park encompasses a 6 square mile area (3,840 acres), and has a really nice lake for small boats or kayaks. There are several trails, bike trails, camp store, cross country skiing, swimming and camping. They have over 200 sites that are all pretty much 60 ft long, but some of the sites, based on angle and trees may not accommodate a big rig very well. AGAIN, while we were there, it rained. I swear it was following us. Lots of large puddles and sites that were not habitable until the waters went down. Luckily the site we picked did not have any standing water and we parked for the night. Again, with the unstable weather, we decided not to unhook fo the night and hunkered down for the night.
Next up...Elkhart, IN and a big upgrade for our home!
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