A Midwest Road Trip

In early October, while some snowbirds (the human kind with RVs and trailers) began migrating south, Danny and I proceeded on an eleven-day road trip north. Instigated by his nephew’s wedding in northern Kentucky, we decided to expand our journey to encompass parts of Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. Because we had not taken a vacation since 2005, we went a bit snap-happy and returned home with over 500 pictures. (Yep, holy cow!) It had been such a pleasure to see things we had not seen before, or in such a long time, that we could not help ourselves. My digital Kodak, unused to such an overload, went through three battery changes. Danny’s iPhone was kept busy as well.Having made scads of daily trip notes, I began drafting this post as soon as I downloaded the photos. Originally, I planned to write a blow-by-blow account; however, after the first few pages encompassed only the first two days, I decided not to subject you to a “Day One” version. (Believe me, it’s better this way.) In the beginning, we traveled quickly through Texas, Arkansas, and Tennessee to get to Kentucky; at the end, we traveled quickly through Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas to get home. In between, it was grand!

The first thing we revelled in were the tall trees as we neared Texarkana.

We crossed many rivers and creeks in every state. The first one I photographed was the wide Arkansas River of Little Rock.

The next was the Mississippi River into Memphis.

By this point, we had been on the road for nearly 12 hours, but there was still daylight left, so we continued on I-40 past Memphis. (When we stayed there in 2001, we had dinner on a river boat.) We spent the night in Jackson, TN, named after Andrew Jackson and home to railroad’s famed Casey Jones. The next morning we could not find a coffee shop for Danny’s fix and resumed our journey along the tree-shaded interstate, crossing the pretty Tennessee River and an exit to Bucksnort before stopping in Hurricane Mills for breakfast.

As we neared Louisville, KY, where we would spend two nights with relatives, the trees had slightly more color changes. Without unpacking, we were whisked away to historic St. James Court to see all the wonderful victorian homes.

If you’re ever in Louisville, you should ask directions to Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, a funky eatery with tons of distractions and delectible food. An order of French toast could be shared by three or four people.

Before lunching there the following day, we spent time at Architectural Salvage in downtown Louisville, which was full of some gorgeous doors, windows, lamps, and every bit of hardware you would need for a restoration. Danny was entranced.

After lunch at Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, we explored floors and floors of antiques at Joe Ley’s Antiques. There are three stories and a basement overly full of fantastic furniture, sculptures,  paintings, and everything else in between. While we were there, a stunned  dealer from Pennsylvania kept crossing our path and shaking his head at all the goodies his many clients would love. He had found antique heaven. 🙂

Louisville, KY is full of history, antiques, art, architecture, and pottery, home to Louisville Slugger bats, KFC, and Churchill Downs. It’s across the Ohio River from Jeffersonville (my birthplace), Clarksville, and New Albany, IN, where more of my relatives live and a huge dinosaur fossil river bed has been exposed at the Falls of the Ohio State Park.  http://www.fallsoftheohio.org/

However, after a too-brief visit, we headed to our prime destination, Bellevue, KY – 80 miles away. Halfway there, we hit road construction and arrived an hour later than expected at the Wingate by Wyndham hotel, near the Cincinnati International Airport (which is NOT in Ohio) and where we joined Danny’s family. To get to the church the next day, we crossed the Ohio River into Cincinnati and recrossed it on a different bridge back into Bellevue, KY. Crazy but delightful. The river meanders so prettily in this area.

The day after the wedding, we explored Cincinnati with Danny’s sister, whose plane wasn’t leaving until later in the day. The Bengals football stadium and the Reds baseball stadium are right next to each other on the river, where parking seems to be a major issue.

We saw an unusual, modern condo building smack dab in the middle of old buildings on the KY side. So we transversed an old bridge being renovated to get a closer look. I don’t know if Cincinnati has more or fewer bridges than Louisville, but it certainly has colorful ones.

Knowing there had to be historic homes somewhere, we wandered this way and that, passing by President W.H. Taft’s home and museum at least three times, but never quite getting into the old-money area of downtown. (There were no city maps available!) We did happen upon the home of Daniel Carter Beard (1850-1941), founder of the Sons of Daniel Boone, which later merged with the Boy Scouts of America.

After a late lunch we left Molly at the airport and crossed the Ohio River one last time – but into Indiana. A coal-burning energy plant was right on the river, which gave us  pause.

We took a narrow, winding road and found an abundance of colors before hitting the interstate for Indianapolis, where I was raised.

After spending the night on the west side of Indianapolis, we drove to Boone County, where my ancestors used to live and farm. The back roads’ scenery was full-on autumn.

At the only intersection which made up spot-in-the-road Fayette, IN, we boldly inquired of strangers if they knew of any Leaps in the area. Astonishingly, we were given directions to a distant cousin of mine, who lived not far from historic Mt. Tabor Baptist Cemetery. Atop a rise in the small cemetery I found the monument, dated 1735-1845, of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, John Wesley Leap, an aide of George Washington.

We left the cemetery and introduced ourselves to my cousin, with whom we talked for an hour and received some genealogy papers, before getting on the road again to Chicago. (Unfortunately, it was Columbus Day and all the county record offices and libraries in nearby Lebanon were closed or we would have stayed longer for more ancestor research.) We passed miles and miles of wind farms before passing over the Wabash River in Lafeyette, home of Purdue University.

After crossing the Iroquois and Kankakee rivers, the heavier semi-truck traffic became out of Chicago. (Throughout our trip we noticed a significant increase in transport trucks from our 2005 road trip.) In case you didn’t know, Chicago is a major port city, receiving/distributing goods from all over the world via the Great Lakes and the waterways from the Atlantic Ocean, as well as exporting U.S. products.

After passing over the Little Calumet River, there were huge silos at the Illinois International Port, where ships pull up right next to the silos to fill their holds with grain. Amazing! http://www.theportofchicago.com/pages/facilities.html

Before finding a motel, our first priority was finding Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, which was under reconstruction and closed anyway due to the holiday. It was located near the University of Chicago.

By the time Danny was finished exploring the outside and taking several dozen pictures of the Robie House, we were doomed to hitting commuter traffic in our quest for a place to stay. We drove around for 2-1/2 hours, not knowing where the heck we were going, until we wound up at a Holiday Inn Express in Hillside, far west of downtown. Exhausted and grumpy, we were rewarded with an unexpectedly good dinner around the corner at Emilio’s Tapas Bar and Restaurant.

The following day my frustration with lack of city maps grew, as we searched and searched for Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio in vintage Oak Park. Although we had an atlas with each state’s major cities expanded, many small streets and thoroughfares were left out. (Throughout our trip we stopped at gas stations to acquire detailed maps, only to be told there were none. Ridiculous! Are the Internet and GPS or tour companies to blame?) Eventually, we happened upon famous Oak Park and parked across the street from Wright’s home. After touring the extraordinarily designed residence with all its nooks, cranies, and furniture and the attached studio/office, we reflected on how far ahead of his time Wright had been. It was built in 1889, the studio added on in 1896. He and his wife had six children in this house. Only exterior photos were allowed, of course.

Down his street and within several blocks were other homes Wright designed and built between 1889 and 1913, the same time period during which those ornate Louisville Victorian homes were being built. Not only did he design and build the Prairie homes, he insisted on designing and building all the furnishings as well.

We changed motels, because of poor wifi connection and no refrigerator, to a remodeled Holiday Inn on Touhy Ave. in Skokie, Il. The atlas showed Touhy going straight east and ending at Lake Michigan. Perfect. That night we ferreted out a theater and saw “Ides of March.”

The next day, Day Nine, we spent six hours walking the Magnificent Mile and through the huge Art Institute of Chicago. The Michigan Avenue bridge over the Chicago River still splits in half and raises for boats to pass, but we didn’t get to see much of Lake Michigan.

Although Danny was in seventh heaven with all the buildings and art work, his neck was killing him from all the looking up and his back/hips/feet had had enough. We only managed one large section of the second floor of the Art Institute, but still had to walk ten blocks back to the van. Unfortunately, by then it was commute time along Lake Shore Drive and no opportunity to pull over, park, and take pictures of Lake Michigan. Only dog walkers, joggers, boaters, and bikers had that privilege and access.

After having marvelous weather for nine days, we awoke and packed the van on a very dark and rainy Thursday morning. There was so much traffic and confusion with the roads and the heavy rain, we slipped by a toll booth on our way out of Chicago. (We paid the $2 fee by mail.) We crossed over the huge rail yards and the Illinois River.

Not long outside of Chicago, Danny let me drive for the first time during the trip. As soon as we crossed the Mississippi River into St. Louis, MO, he snapped the arch.

There were some construction warning signs: “If you hit a worker, fine is $10,000 and 14 years in jail” and “Hit a worker – $10,000 – Lose your license.” (People need to be warned about this?) Another Missouri oddity, to us anyway, was that the county and state roads were letters:  ZZ, U, F, N. etc.

We spent the night in Springfield, MO, and decided to head west towards Oklahoma rather than south into Arkansas, getting home ASAP with no more stops than necessary for food or gas. We were in the Ozark Mountains and learned that “hillbilly” was coined 1,000 miles away to the east by an ignorant journalist. As we neared Joplin, MO, and the Oklahoma border, the land began flattening out. Gas price at a Kum-n-Go was $3.25.

Eufaula Lake in Oklahoma is huge; we crossed it three times. Between the second and third crossings, the landscape became very hilly and we could see up and down for miles.

We passed over the unimpressive Red River into Texas and hit Dallas not long afterwards.

Old Nellie, with over 211K miles, had been getting 21mpg during the trip. Gas prices ranged from $2.98 in Indiana, $3.05 in Louisville to $3.47 in Chicago. Mostly, they were $3.09-$3.24 along the interstates. Besides keeping track of gas prices, I also noticed that every state catered to truckers with many adult video/book stores at strategic exits.

(BTW: Danny now has a 4S phone which will be a great help – next time.)


About Cyranette

I have been writing since I was 11 and am now a grandmother of 9. Aside from my family, I love writing, reading, movies, gardening, genealogy, and travel. I met my soulmate online and we've been married 19 years. I am a survivor of rape, abuse, and cancer. I believe in love, kindness, and common sense. I was born/raised in Indiana and have lived in Massachusetts, Texas, and California. I have visited: most of the United States, British Columbia, Germany, Austria, and Costa Rica. My husband and I would like to visit England, Europe, and New Zealand and to take a train ride along the Canadian/American border. I have written essays, articles, short stories, a romance novel, a self-help book, and several children's books.
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