Travel

Washington State Park

A couple weeks ago, we visited the delightful Washington State Park. We have visited there to hike before, but I haven’t camped there maybe ever or at least since I was like ten.

We went with my parents, which means we bring our tent and they bring their camper. Which means my oldest son and my girl child sleep in the AC while my youngest and my stepson sleep in the tent with us- by choice!

Washington State Park is not in Washington state and it’s not in Washington, MO. It’s in Washington COUNTY, Missouri between De Soto and Potosi off 21. It’s a very easy and close drive to St. Louis, but you feel like you’re a world away. Typically we go much further away to camp, so this was kind of nice.

The big draw to Washington State Park was the pool. Well guess what. They closed the pool the week before. Okay, but there are lots of other cool things to do here! There are some really cool hiking trails such as the 1000 Steps Trail, there are swimming and fishing and floating opportunities on the Big River, there are petroglyphs to view, and beautiful stone structures built by the African American Civil Conservation Corps nearly a hundred years ago.

Despite all that Washington State Park has to offer, Nick was disappointed to find out on the way there that we were not visiting his beloved Current River. He ended up having a good time, but not before some initial heartache.

The campground was very nice, but was not near anything cool. There was a playground there for the kids, and we did a lot of scootering around at the campground.

I was really excited to get my dad out to do the short walk to the petroglyphs with all of us. It was very HOT, but my kids enjoyed seeing the petroglyphs. I swear, I have taken them here about twenty times, and every time they forget we were ever there and it’s like a whole new experience. They enjoyed the petroglyphs and exploring the rocky glade. These rocky glades are very typical in the Ozark landscape, especially in the St. Francois mountains. I love them. They are dramatic and beautiful.

Speaking of dramatic and beautiful, the hiking in Washington State Park offers amazing views of the surrounding hills and the Big River below. We also got to explore and see those stone structures.

The 1000 Steps Trail is a trail that was built by that same African American CCC Company. They built the trail and its many stone steps up the ridge, as well as stone shelters only accessible via the trail.

The trail is pretty rugged. It is about a mile and a half long, but it shares a trailhead and part of its trail with the Rockywood Trail, so you can easily spur off, which we did.

If you are going to bring small children- our smallest on this hike was four years old- I would recommend keeping a close eye on them. It is very uneven and steep both up and down, and you are going down alongside of a steep ridge.

We began at the trailhead by Thunderbird Lodge. We went along and then straight up the hill via some of those stone steps. We went early in the morning, but it was going to be a hot August day, so lots of water breaks. The stone shelter along the way was perfect for a magical little break. The kids loved the idea that these steps and shelter were built so long ago.

Now when I say steps, it’s not like stairs. It’s large flat stones that were laid in the 1930s. So many of them are broken, and much of the trail is not steps at all. So don’t expect a staircase, because it is not.

The stone shelter is not the top, but it’s close. We continued to the very top where we hung out at a very pretty shelter with a fireplace that looks great for a family gathering. Then we continued on along the top of the ridge. Then it was time to descend.

Going down is always harder than going up. It takes more concentration and can be more physically demanding, even though going up might feel more difficult. This is the part I supervised Jimmy on the most.

We made it! The older three kept talking about how much they LOVED this trail, especially Lucy. I think they enjoyed the challenge of it and the beauty. It does feel like a magical forest.

We then walked all the way along the bottom of the ridge not far from the river back to our car. I was proud of these buddies!

If you follow me on Facebook, you saw the terrible faces of Jimmy throughout the hike. I take pictures pretty quickly on these hikes and don’t necessarily pay attention- I just kind of hope for the best. Anyway, hilariously, I got about eight pictures of Jimmy looking decidedly unhappy this particular day. He had moments of joy as well, but it was funny looking back at those pics.

Later that afternoon, we took them swimming in the river. There were plenty of people there, but it wasn’t crowded. We had lots of space. Closer to dinnertime, several groups were taking out a bit upstream from their floats.

This beach area is mostly rocks and sand. The river is very shallow here- the kids could walk across easily and not even be waist deep. There is rock and then the other side is a tall bank of dirt, which Nick enjoyed making into mud and getting exceptionally dirty. You can count on him for that! 🙂

The kids really enjoyed the beach time. And so did we! I love sitting my camp chair in the water and hanging out- don’t you??

We then returned to camp for dinner, fire, and s’mores. Early bedtime because everyone was beat!

We had a great weekend at Washington State Park and will definitely visit again.

The Four Covered Bridges of Missouri

I’m sorry I didn’t come up with a more creative title. It had so much potential and I just…..

Anyway.

So I had a four day weekend at the end of July/beginning of August. Perfect for an adventure!

Except.

I was looking into several destinations…. I was looking at my monthly budget… I was looking at the weather forecast for pretty much everywhere in a twelve hour radius…

No money? We’ll camp! One hundred degrees literally everywhere in the nation??

Okay, so we’ll adventure right around here then. We started talking options- Shawnee National Forest is one of my FAVORITE destinations, so we were looking at that. But ultimately, we decided to do something that Kareem had never done before- see all the covered bridges in Missouri!

Is that not that exciting to you? Well, we combined it with lots of side adventures and seeing people we hadn’t seen in a long time. It was delightful.

More about that part later. Right now- B R I D G E S.

The first day, we headed north. This is not a direction we head very often. In fact, Kareem has questioned me as to why we do not. Well, he found out that day. While northern Missouri may have some charm, it is mostly flat and everything is really far apart and far away. This particular Friday, however, it was within reach! And we really saw a lot of it.

The first bridge we visited was Union Covered Bridge State Historic Site. This bridge is near Mark Twain Lake in northeastern Missouri. There are no amenities at the site. This bridge is particularly pretty, all white and lovely. There is a low water bridge next to it that is in use today. It makes for a lovely background noise of water rushing over the bridge and rocks.

This bridge is very heavily surveilled with cameras everywhere. It also is the scariest bridge in my opinion to walk over. The slats are loose and you can see between them. I was a little nervous, but I did it both ways.

Unfortunately, I was checking out the low water bridge, and poor Kareem slipped and fell down a mud ledge making his way down there. His poor phone totally ate it in the mud, as well as his pants. Sad face!

The next bridge is the only one I had never been to. Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic site is located… well, I’m not really sure. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s between Macon and Chillicothe off Highway 36. Not far from Marceline.

Anyway, you will pull off onto a gravel road and go for a while. It will be the only thing off the gravel road. You will not be able to see the bridge. There is a small parking area, if you could call it that. There are no amenities here. From there, you cross a pretty wooden bridge (not the covered bridge!) to a trail that is a little over a quarter mile that leads to the bridge. It made for a very lovely walk.

Once we arrived, the bridge is stunning. It no longer traverses the creek, as the creek was rerouted at some point in the twentieth century. This really adds to the beauty and serenity. The creek is nearby, and you can explore this whole area.

There was a man on the bridge when we arrived which surprised me. He was a conservation agent (actually, an intern) studying bats. There were TONS of gray bats living in the bridge. The man said not many people visit the bridge, which did not surprise me. He said that in the evening, the bats all fly out of the bridge around sunset. I really wanted to watch, but unfortunately, we were there early and had to be moving on.

The next day, we headed to southeast Missouri, also known as God’s country around here. 🙂 We stopped at the popular and frequently visited Sandy Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site. This is a gorgeous red bridge that crosses a creek. There are restrooms and picnic areas at this site.

We spent most of our time here in the creek. We only saw one other family here. This is a popular spot with my kids, and we have visited several times, often on the way to other places. It’s along highway 21 in the gateway to the St. Francois Mountains.

Next, we continued south and we visited Bufordville Covered Bridge. This bridge is part of Bollinger Mill State Historic Site and is the oldest of the covered bridges remaining in Missouri. This site has restrooms and picnic areas, as well as a historic mill which you can tour. There are also some shops right across the street. It is about a half hour west of Cape Girardeau.

We toured the mill and enjoyed the river and the tall pines at this site. The bridge was very dark and very gorgeous. This one was the oldest and the coolest in my opinion. I remember visiting here as a kid and thinking it was amazing, and it definitely aged just fine for me because I still think it is amazing. We toured the mill while we were there as well. There was some construction around the site, so some of it was not accessible. I remember seeing the builder’s initials carved into stone, but we couldn’t get up to that. Maybe next time!

It was fun experiencing these with Kareem. I had seen all but one of them before. It was a cool Missouri tourism item to check off our list as well! And we got to visit Hamilton (info about that here) and a bunch of places and pals along our way as well!

These covered bridges are true treasures. I’m so grateful that somebody in Missouri in the 1970’s had the passion to protect them. Beautiful pieces of history and pride for us to glimpse ways of life in the past.

Watercolor Wednesday: Hamilton

Last week, I discussed Let’s Make Art.  I wanted to tell you about my recent visit to them.

While we were traversing our beautiful state a couple weeks ago, we found ourselves in a part of Missouri we rarely venture to- the Northwest.  We visited Hamilton, Missouri- self-proclaimed Quilt Town, USA, but also universally known as the Disneyland of Quilting and the Quilting Capital of the World!  It is also home to Let’s Make Art, the art company I mentioned in last week’s Watercolor Wednesday post.  

Hamilton is a delightful small town with a population under 2,000 but with many, many quilt shops.  It’s the home of Missouri Star Quilt Company, which is a HUGE quilting empire.  There are tons of YouTube quilting tutorials from them as well.  Let’s Make Art is a sister company of theirs, as I understand it. Anyway, speaking of tutorials, that’s how I got turned on to Let’s Make Art!  And that’s how we ended up in Hamilton!

Hamilton greeted us with a large, cheery mural- one of several in town- and the phrase “find your happy” was everywhere. 

We immediately visited Let’s Make Art, where we were greeted warmly.  I got to “tour” the “studio” where they film the YouTube tutorials, and they proudly showed me their YouTube award- it was super cool! 

The shop was a beautiful space as well, and we browsed for a long time.  I did get a cool acrylic kit that I am looking forward to doing this weekend, and we just had a great time talking to the Let’s Make Art people (new Insta friend!) and browsing.  Kareem is so cute- he’s like, buy everything!  Get whatever you want!  🙂  

After our Let’s Make Art time, we strolled the town and stopped and had a soda at the sweet shop.  At this point, we were kind of shutting the town down- most of the shops close at 5 pm.  The boyhood home of JC Penney is in Hamilton as well, and it is not far from Kansas City.  So if you are looking for other things to do or to add Hamilton in to another trip, it is easy to do.  

On our way back to the car, we stopped at a table a family had set up to sell their sweets, jams, honeys, and produce.  I got some cherry jam (my absolute FAVORITE!) and some hand pies, and Kareem got some goodies too.  Then we drove about half an hour/forty minutes east to Macon where we dined with a good friend’s daughter who lives in Kirksville.  

So I will leave you with this on a fine watercolor Wednesday.  This is the Let’s Make Art watercolor artist’s oath, and she starts every tutorial with it: I promise to be kind to myself.  I promise not to compare my work.  I promise to have fun.

Pretty wise advice for both watercolor and life. 

Check out their tutorials here:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCzzCo7lZGJ-sTCgpI7BJKEg

Grand Ole Opry

We were supposed to go to a music festival on our recent Carolinas trip.  It ended up not happening (dang it, COVID), so I found a different musical experience for the kids.  On the way home, we spent a night in Nashville.  In the morning, we toured the Grand Ole Opry!  

You are familiar with hearing this from me at this point, but I wasn’t sure if the kids would be interested in this or like it.  I wasn’t sure how engaging a tour of a theater would be, especially to young people who don’t have a historical context for it.  However, Nick is the self-proclaimed biggest Dolly Parton fan ever and Lucy dreams of being a singer, and I know a guy who could help us out, so on a wish and a prayer, we went to the Grand Ole Opry for our early tour.

It was incredible. I cried multiple times.  All the kids freaking loved it.  My girl realized her dream of being on stage at the Grand Ole Opry!  

We stood outside the theater for a little while because we were early and on the first tour of the day.  The tour guide greeted us.  She was very enthusiastic and friendly, very knowledgeable, and I was very impressed with her.  Our children were the only children on the tour lol.  

The tour began with a video which Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood “host.”  It was an immersive experience, and the set up of the room made it feel very intimate.  This is when the tears began for the day- hah!  This was a great orientation video and helped the kids understand more about the history and significance of the Grand Ole Opry.  

We got to tour the stage where they filmed Hee Haw, all the beautiful dressing rooms and the “living room,” and backstage… everywhere we went, the tour guide shared really great stories.  At one point she asked if anybody had any questions, and Nick raised his hand.  She goes, you have a question?  He said, no I have a statement.  I was thinking, oh man… Then he says, I just want to say that Dolly Parton is the most magnificent singer of all time.  And of course, everybody in the place started clapping and cheering in agreement!  Hah!  So after that, everybody loved Nick of course.  

The last place we went was backstage which ultimately led to the stage.  They really set this up nicely, so you felt deep reverence for the stage itself.  Each person had a chance to stand on stage and visit the “circle.”  They have a circle of wood from the original stage of the original theater where the Grand Ole Opry was live on air that is laid into the floor of the current theater where they have performed since 1974.  This was the best part of the tour for sure.

Lucy was very excited to visit- she had been talking about it for a while.  She went first, all by herself.  She held the microphone, but she did not sing.  🙂  They took a wonderful photo of her.  Then we all went out.  Nick took a chance and did it by himself as well.  It was a beautiful moment!

We then walked up to the back of the theater for another lovely view of the stage, then exited through the gift shop of course where I snuck a couple of gift purchases for the kids.  

All in all, once again, another experience I wasn’t sure about, but that the kids (and we) loved!!

Congaree National Park with Kids

Congaree National Park was an absolute treat.  I am always looking for National Parks to visit on our trips, and I came across this one about halfway between Charlotte, NC and Charleston, SC.  Perfect!  As I started researching, I found that it is regarded by many as one of the most underrated national parks in the system.  It really offers a lot more than you might expect from a national park with virtually no roads through it! 

The park is located near Columbia, SC.  It is some of the tallest deciduous forest on Earth and the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States, according to the NPS.  

We opted for hiking as our choice activity, as we only had a few hours for our stop.  But you can canoe, kayak, and camp here as well.  There are even canoe trails!  They offer frequent ranger-led activities too, and a great junior ranger program, which we did while we were there.  

We started with a picnic at the picnic area outside the visitor center which was as fun as it looks here- hah!

Attitudes improved once they had some food and got amped about the cool hike! It’s amazing what a little food, rest, play, and water will do for a person.

We did the Boardwalk Loop Trail which had a really cool “tour” pamphlet associated with it.  You can also get this digitally if you prefer.  It was super informative!  Between that and our Junior Ranger activities, we learned a ton!  🙂  While planning this trip, I read that the boardwalk floods from time to time, so check before you go.  We also spurred off on another trail- I think it was the Bluff Trail.  Gorgeous!

The park is swamp and forest.  On the Boardwalk Trail, you will see the river floodplain, an oxbow lake, swampland, and hardwood forest.  It is incredibly diverse landscape over a few short miles.  The loblolly pines were our favorite thing to say on the hike, and we loved seeing and hearing lots and lots of birds and animals.  

We had visited Jean Lafitte National Park and Preserve in March, and it had swampland too.  The kids noticed similarities and differences to that one, and it was really fun to hear their observations.  Lucy said it looked like a fairy forest, and I quite agree. 

The kids all earned their Junior Ranger badges! They take this pretty seriously, and the activities were really great for discovering plants and wildlife on our hike.

It was a great way to spend the Sunday afternoon.  We followed it with pizza at a classic dine in Pizza Hut and then drove straight to the ocean- more about that here.