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Looking back…

In the summer of 2013 we planned a day-trip to Mansfield (MO) in search of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homestead.  The drive itself was rather memorable as we found ourselves alongside Amish buggies.

The farmhouse that Laura and Almanzo built still stands – frozen in time. A calendar on the wall from the 1950s is a reminder that although times have changed, somethings should remain the same for posterity. Learning about their life and struggles makes you appreciate American willpower. They crossed the country in a wagon with a hundred dollars stashed in a box and made a new life for themselves in Missouri. That very box can be viewed at the museum located on the property.

Most people have heard of the “Little House” series, either through the books and later TV show. Yet most do not realize that Laura Ingalls Wilder did not begin writing down her stories until her daughter Rose encouraged her to. A little corner nook by their bedroom contains a small writing desk where she wrote her stories on paper tablets.

Now, a few generations later, we are reading her stories on electronic tablets. 🙂

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Over the years we’ve had our own unexplained ghostly adventures… like our time spent at Bodie State Historic Park (CA). Bodie is a modern-day ghost town. When the California State Park system took over Bodie, it left all the buildings as they stood. This is one of the most unforgettable places we have ever been. There is so much history there it consumes you. You can almost feel towns folk walking along the street beside you. Peering through windows you feel invisible eyes staring back. It is a must-see for anyone visiting the Eastern Sierras.

Another place to note is Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (MO). This was the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. The park is a five-mile driving tour and you are literally driving back through time. In fact, at one point I think I really did! I had gotten out of the truck at one stop to take a photo of two cannons in a field and when I walked past the first cannon I was overcome with chills. I assumed it was from stepping out of the air-conditioning into the ninety-plus degree heat. But after I took a photo of the farthest cannon, I walked back to the first and I got chills and goosebumps again. I stepped toward the cannon to take a photo and swear I heard someone shout “NO” in my ear. Boy, did I hustle myself back to the safety of the Silverado!

Although we have visited Pensacola Lighthouse (FL) several times, we returned to visit last year to see the lighthouse decorated for Christmas. Even though the lighthouse is haunted, I didn’t see the Ghost of Christmas Past – but I did feel a section of cool air as I entered the Keeper’s room. The last time I visited there had a similar experience in that area. And on the previous visit I had also felt someone watching me in the basement. So even after telling myself I wasn’t going in the basement this last visit, I did. However, they had a clothed dummy sitting at the desk at the base of the stairs and it startled me so much I jumped backwards onto the steps again!

Then there was the time we planned a trip to see Appomattox Court House National Historic Park (VA). Those a little dusty with their history may recall the name but not the significance of the location. This was the surrender grounds, where Generals Lee and Grant put an end to the Civil War. The building where this historic moment occurred, the McLean House, still stands. After touring the house we went outside to one of the other buildings. No sooner had we stepped through the doorway when we found ourselves quickly stepping back outside. Hard to explain why we all got goosebumps, but it just felt very wrong in there. We resumed our tour of the park and enjoyed the other buildings without problem. At least for a little while…I have a tendency to lag behind as I read every plaque and take a number of photos. We were visiting the new jail and the other two were already heading outside while I was alone upstairs. I was snapping a few photos of the window when I felt a chill. Looking down I saw I had goosebumps again. I shrugged it off until I heard a cough come from the cell. Then I headed down the stairs as quickly as I could!

But the eeriest thing happened just a few weeks ago while touring the USS Alabama (AL). The battleship is about seven hundred feet long from stem to stern and if you take the self-guided tours it will take about two hours. Parts of the ship were rather warm and stuffy and I quickly found myself finishing the tour alone. Although there were other people touring the ship, I managed to always stay a room or two apart. I was getting a little dehydrated and just poked my head in a few rooms to quickly finish that section of the tour. As I looked in one room, an officer’s quarters I believe, I noted the typewriter on the desk and was about to head to the next room when I heard the sound of an old typewriter. It was just two keystrokes. My first thought was that another room nearby had some sort of voiced display and a visitor had activated it. So I quickly continued with the tour. But after I finished that section of the tour, I saw there was nothing like that. Where did that distinctive sound come from?

Sometimes when you visit historic sites you get more awareness of history than you paid admission for… 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Pythian Castle

If you have ever seen “Haunted Collector” on the SyFy Channel, then you probably recognize Pythian Castle. This historic landmark is located in Springfield (MO) and can be toured. They offer historic and haunted tours.

This unusual structure was built by the Knight of Pythias in 1913 as an orphanage and senior home. In the 1940s, the government took over the property for injured WWII vets. A lot of “souls” have visited this landmark.

If you find yourself near Springfield and want to stop for a tour – be advised that Pythian Castle is located near the downtown area and streets are narrow for wide-turning RVs. Although there is ample parking at the castle, you would be better off just taking a tow vehicle.

For information on tours and times, visit their website at: http://www.pythiancastle.com

You just never know what kind of history you are going to dig up (hmm… poor choice of words, perhaps!) at a cemetery. Like the time we were gold panning along the Yuba River (CA) and found a small trail leading to a cemetery. The small cemetery revealed to be the resting place of a Captain Thompson and his descendents – a ship’s captain until his crew abandoned ship for the promise of riches in California’s gold fields. And there are those with a voiceless past, like the Yuma Territorial Prison Cemetery (AZ) where there are no grave markers, just rows of rock mounds… It really is amazing what you can learn at these locations. So why not plot… uh, I mean plan, a trip to visit a historic one near you?

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © “ScareKrow”

Aww! You don’t scare me! 🙂

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Giant Fiddle (MO)

If you’ve ever been on a road trip, you’ve probably seen over-sized statues, a themed or odd-shaped building, bizarre monuments or just plain wacky stuff! These roadside attractions are a great way to add to your trip and travel memories. So next time you see something, slow down, turn around and take a look. You never know what roadside wonder you may discover.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © King Kong (VA)

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © S.S. Ripley (FL)

 

NOTE: A site worth visiting for roadside attractions: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Rose O’Neill home and statue

So you planned to take that dream trip across the country to a national park or visit that must-see museum only to find out it’s closed… What’s a family to do about vacation plans now?

There are many wonderful hidden treasures across the USA and if you take a closer look, a few are probably right in your own backyard!

The first thing to do is visit an area’s local tourist or visitor center website. Often they will list attractions, recreation and events and have links to other websites that contain more details. Don’t forget to look for small museums, historical sites and botanical gardens! And there are still places that offer free admission, but appreciate donations. Your support of these smaller attractions and non-profit organizations helps keep them open. You may find yourself enjoying the less popular attractions as they are not as crowded and their volunteers are eager to share information about the site with visitors.

So before you begin to panic about your upcoming travel plans, browse the web! Like TV shows? Find out about your favorite and visit places from the show, like the Walton’s Mountain Museum (Shuyler, VA). Enjoy history and art? Check out Rose O’Neill’s home “Bonniebrook” (Walnut Shade, MO). Love sci-fi? Drop by the International UFO Museum & Research Center (Roswell, NM). The possibilities are endless!

If you had planned to stay in a park lodge or campground, don’t fret! Most private campgrounds offer cabins with basic bunks and beds to deluxe cabins completely furnished.  Ask if they have discounts, as most campgrounds will offer a free night if you stay longer than a week. Although private campgrounds are a bit higher priced than national and state parks, consider ones with additional amenities like playground, scheduled activities/events, ice cream socials, free breakfast, Cable TV and WiFi to get the most for your money.

This is a beautiful country and there are plenty of ways to experience and explore the USA outside of it’s national parks and museums.

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Walton's Mountain Museum

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Walton’s Mountain Museum

  

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Rose O’Neill home

If you aren’t familiar with Rose O’Neill, then you probably haven’t seen a Kewpie doll. This talented woman created the Kewpie dolls (as well as other characters) and was a well-known writer and artist between the early to mid-1900s.

Her family home, which she called Bonniebrook, is located off Hwy. 65 (mile marker 20.2) in Walnut Shade (MO). The original home burned down after her death in the 1940s, but years later dedicated volunteers rebuilt the 14-room mansion. Today the home appears as it did during O’Neill’s time.

Admission is $8 for adults and includes a guided tour of the home (3 stories), entrance into the gallery and museum. There is a walkway around the grounds and a couple of her large sculptures are on display. A short walk along the creek leads to the family cemetery. Flowers adorn Rose’s grave.

More information on O’Neill and Bonniebrook can be found at: http://roseoneill.org/mainpage.html#/

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Footbridge at Bonniebrook

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Rainy Wednesday

I knew I shouldn’t have put my raincoat away…

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home

If you find yourself within a day-trip of Mansfield (MO), I recommend a visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Homestead. The homestead consists of the farmhouse Laura and Almanzo built, a museum devoted to the Ingalls and Wilder families, a gift shop and vegetable garden. A brief drive will take you to the Rock House, which Rose Wilder Lane built for her parents.

The farmhouse remains as Laura left it in the 1950s – you are literally stepping back into time. Admission price includes a guided tour of both homes and entrance into the museum. Current admission prices are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors.

For more information: http://www.lauraingallswilderhome.com/

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Wilder sign

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Rose Wilder’s Rock House

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © WCNB

If you find yourself traveling along I-44 between Springfield and Joplin (MO), consider making a day trip to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Wilson’s Creek was actually the first major Civil War battle fought in the West. The battlefield remains preserved and visitors can drive along the historic five mile route.

There are several hiking areas. Visitors who plan on hiking should be prepared with good shoes, bottled water and bug-tick repellant. Oh, and you may find yourself coming face-to-face with deer! 🙂

The entrance fee to Wilson’s Creek is $10 per vehicle (or $5 per visitor) and a gate token can be obtained at the Visitor’s Center. The Visitor’s Center also features a film, Civil war collection, library and gift shop.

For more information on this historic stop, visit their website at: http://www.nps.gov/wicr/index.htm

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © The Ray House

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Cannon

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Houseboat

Could it be better than RVing? I guess you wouldn’t have to worry about your slides being in the way of a tree or electric box! 🙂

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © By Outlaw Run SDC

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © SDC view by train

If you like rolling hills and coaster thrills, consider planning a trip to Silver Dollar City just west of Branson (MO). Silver Dollar City is an 1800s theme park with a handful of roller coasters, water-themed rides and toe-tapping shows. There are a number of craftspeople and specialty shoppes, in addition to some older attractions to see. And don’t forget the train ride! 🙂

With the numerous shows schedules and rides there is just no way to enjoy the whole park in just a few hours. So if you are one of those folks who want to see and do it all, plan on a second-day visit.

Like other theme parks, admission and food costs are high. But free parking is available and they have tram service from each parking lot so you can save your feet for the hilly park. If you are just passing through the area and want to visit, they  have designated RV parking.

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Geyser Gulch at SDC

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Fire-in-the-Hole at SDC

Photo by H.S. Cooper ©

Photo by H.S. Cooper © Titanic Museum

The one thing I would not have expected to see in the Ozarks! And don’t even get me started about King Kong across the street! 😉

Photo by H.S. Cooper © RFM Steam Engine

Photo by H.S. Cooper © RFM Steam Engine

If you find yourself along highway 65 in the southern part of Missouri, make sure to plan a day at the Ralph Foster Museum near Hollister (MO). The Ralph Foster Museum is located inside the College of the Ozarks and offers visitors three floors of items related to the Ozark region.

Although the museum covers everything from handmade dolls and antiques to weapons and natural history, one of the most popular attractions is the original truck used in “The Beverly Hillbillies”. The museum is air-conditioned and has an elevator for those who are limited on stairs.

While you are there, don’t forget to visit the Edwards Mill and other attractions located on the campus grounds.

Admission to the Ralph Foster Museum is $6 for adults and $5 for seniors. Since the museum is located on a college campus, parking is only for smaller vehicles. So leave the rig and take the tow.

For more information and museum hours, visit their website at: http://www.rfostermuseum.com/

Photo by H.S. Cooper © RFM Doll Room
Photo by H.S. Cooper © RFM Doll Room
Bodie State Historic Park, CA

Bodie State Historic Park, CA

I recently read an article on places you “must” visit in the United States before you die and I was shaking my head in disbelief. The writer focused more on expensive lodging (and wine) and it read like an advertisement in a hospitality trade magazine.

I always wonder how much travelling the writers of these “must visit” articles have done and the reasons they pick various destinations. The usually do not explain their criteria for choosing these “must visit” sites.

Of course, that prompted me to think of places that I personally recommend folks visit! My criteria for these are based on the following: historic significance, photographic opportunities, expense and remoteness.

I think historic significance is very important. It makes your trip more than just a vacation; it makes it a learning experience. Opinions vary on the subject of what is beautiful, so I think a photographic opportunity is a good way to describe an area. It may not be breathtaking to someone, but they’ll find their camera memory card full when they leave! With the economy these days, most folks have found a tighter budget, especially dealing with travel and vacations. These destinations are either free or have a modest admission charge. They also have other sites or attractions nearby that are affordable to the average family. Remoteness is another criterion, as some of those “must visit” destinations are so far off the map that they are not practical for most families to visit. These destinations are accessible to anyone – no need to parachute in or trek 30 miles through the jungle to get to it! And most are great spots for RVers and families to spend some quality time.

Many state or national parks are either free or involve a small fee. If you plan to experience a few of America’s incredible parks, take advantage of purchasing an annual National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass ( http://www.nps.gov/ ) . If you are 62 or older, it only costs you $10!

Here are 49 destinations – one in each state that that I have visited (sorry Hawaii… haven’t got to you yet!) that I recommend seeing if you get the chance. A few states have numerous sites of interests (like lighthouses).

 1) U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Huntsville – AL (Great museum and exhibits; also home to the U.S. Space Camp. This is very educational for all ages.)

2) Gulf of Alaska, Seward – AK (Take a glacier cruise and experience glaciers, whales and the most beautiful scenery you can imagine! If you take the train from Anchorage, make sure you allow enough time to explore Seward before or after your cruise.)

3) Grand Canyon National Park – AZ (After touring the park, I took a helicopter tour – amazing!)

4) Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro – AR (Hunt for precious stones and diamonds at the only diamond site available to the public. Keep what you find!)

5) Bodie State Historic Park, Bridgeport – CA (A modern day “ghost town” kept exactly as it was when the state acquired it. Be prepared to spend the day to enjoy this amazing look at our past!)

6) Mesa Verde National Park, Cortez – CO (Anasazi ruins that you won’t forget! Dress for walking though.)

7) Lighthouses – CT (There are a handful of breathtaking lighthouses that shouldn’t be missed!)

8 ) Lighthouses – DE (The thing I like about this region of the U.S. is the lighthouses and there are some interesting ones in DE.)

9) Orlando / Kissimmee / St. Cloud – FL (There is so much to see and do in Florida, that I couldn’t narrow it down to that “one thing”. This region is great because it’s only 2 hours from the coast and pretty much anything you like to do is nearby! From theme parks to flea markets to nature walks and great food – it’s all here!)

10) High Falls State Park, Jackson – GA (Interesting history how this area became a “ghost town”. Now it’s a beautiful park with great places to hike and camp along the river.)

11) Ghost Towns – ID (Many people don’t realize that Idaho has a number of ghost and mining towns left to explore. A few of the state park sites offer gold panning as well.)

12) Super Museum, Metropolis – IL (Yep, Superman! Kids will love it and adults will remember the good old days. IL is actually a “super” state, with the Dick Tracy museum.)

13) Shipshewana – IN (From flea markets and shopping to experiencing the Amish culture, there is something for everyone here.)

14) Covered Bridges / John Wayne’s Birthplace, Winterset – IA (If you enjoyed the movie and book about Madison County, it is definitely a must see. Although a few driving tours are not good for RVs or big rigs. If you like trains, you may want to head over to Boone and hope on the B&SV!)

15) Wetlands and Wildlife National Scenic Byway – KS (From sandhill cranes to bald eagles, an amazing route!)

16) Mammoth Cave National Park – KY (A must see if you enjoy exploring caverns. They offer a variety of tours and have senior rates. If you aren’t a cave person, then the next spot to see in KY would be Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.)

17) North & South Toledo Bend – LA (This region has so much to see and do it would keep an active family very busy for several weeks. From historic sites to aquariums to outdoor activities!)

18) Lighthouses / Bridges / Waterfalls – ME (Too numerous to list, but if you haven’t visited a lighthouse, you haven’t experienced ME!)

19) Assateague Island National Seashore – MD (See the wild horses at Assateague Island, but remember they are wild and are not tame animals. Respectfully observe from a distance.)

20) Salem – MA (Rich in history and plenty to see and do!)

21) Mesick – MI (Go mushroom hunting! Although it is not recommend for big rigs to go into the parks. Find a campground to unhook your tow. There is nothing like getting up before the deer and tromping in the woods for morels!)

22) Voyageurs National Park, International Falls – MN (A water-based park that is great to canoe or kayak.)

23) Gulf Islands National Seashore – MS (Before another hurricane hits the Gulf coast – go see it!)

24) Meramec Caverns, Stanton – MO (Missouri is a great state for touring caves and families will love this one. It’s open year-round and we actually toured the caverns in the winter.)

25) Wild Horse Island State Park, Kalispell – MT (Don’t miss this park on your way to Glacier National Park!)

26) Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park – NE (Lots of birding opportunities in NE, but don’t forget about the past!)

27) Hoover Dam / Lake Mead / Las Vegas – NV (RVers will be stopped by Homeland Security to search your rig before crossing Hoover Dam and once at the dam, be prepared for congestion as you navigate the winding way down. Hoover Dam tours are rather expensive for families, but watch the movie VEGAS VACATION before you go so you know what you missed on the “dam tour”. 😉 )

28) Shaker Village, Canterbury – NH (Lots to do in NH, but this is a great stop that is often overlooked.)

29) Lighthouses – NJ (Plenty of really neat lighthouses in NJ, especially Cape May.)

30) International UFO Museum & Research Center, Roswell – NM (Roswell is really a neat tourist stop that has a little bit everything. Their museum and art center is also well worth a visit!)

31) Sleepy Hollow – NY (Where else can you visit Headless Horsemen Bridge, Sleepy Hollow cemetery and Sing Sing Prison Museum on the same day?)

32) Nantahala National Forest, Bryson City – NC (Catch the train along the Tuckasegee River and through Nantahala Gorge, then visit the outdoor center and go white water rafting. It’s a beautiful area and incredible drive.)

33) International Peace Gardens, Densieth – ND (Why not visit Canada while you’re there? Park also has building remains from the World Trade Center.)

34) National Museum of the USAF, Dayton – OH (Great museum and lots to do around the Dayton – Cincinnati region – from great food to flea markets and King’s Island.)

35) Museums, Tulsa – OK (A variety of great museums in Tulsa that appeal to all ages.)

36) Sea Lion Caves, Florence – OR (See Stellar sea lions year-round and get an amazing view of the OR coast and Heceta Head lighthouse – which is just “down the road”.)

37) Lancaster County – PA (Really worth visiting and especially experiencing a buggy ride!)

38) Heritage Walks – RI (They call their historic walking trails “heritage walks”. A lot of great historic buildings and sites to see – especially like Southeast lighthouse at Block Island.)

39) Myrtle Beach – SC (Great destination for families and RVers – plenty to do for all budgets! We usually state at Ocean Lakes Family CG – it’s like a city itself and right on the ocean.)

40) Badlands National Park – SD (If you can’t make it to the Grand Canyon and are already heading for Mount Rushmore, then you must stop at the Badlands. And while you are in SD, don’t forget to visit Wall Drug or Corn Palace!)

41) Gatlinburg / Pigeon Forge / Sevierville – TN (This area is not only beautiful but great for all families. From scenery to outlet malls, to trolleys and fun centers, to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park – this region in the Smokey’s offers a little bit of everything.

42) The Alamo, San Antonio – TX (Many sites to see in Texas, but a visit isn’t complete until you visit the historic Alamo and experience San Antonio’s River Walk.)

43) Arches National Park, Moab – UT (We actually visited this park in the winter and it was incredible with the snow! If you don’t like crowds, winter is perfect for visiting this park. Just be prepared for the winter weather and pay attention to the local forecast.)

44) Connecticut River Byway – VT (Scenic byway that goes for hundreds of miles and has plenty of covered bridges to keep your camera busy!)

45) Blue Ridge Parkway / Shenandoah Valley, Waynesboro – VA (Start at Waynesboro, VA and head south along “America’s Favorite Drive” to enjoy the Parkway, Shen Valley and continue south to the Great Smoky National Park ending in North Carolina. And don’t forget to explore the historic towns along the way!)

46) Olympic National Park / Hurricane Ridge, Port Angeles – WA (If you only visit one place in WA, this is the place. ONP has so much to offer – from the Hoh Rainforest to Mt. Olympus. You need at least a week in this area – more if you want to hike and explore everything the Olympic Peninsula has to offer. And don’t forget to catch a ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, BC for a day trip to Canada.)

47) Harper’s Ferry National Historic Park – WV (Great place to hike and explore the past!)

48) Botanical Gardens – WI (Surprisingly, WI has some great gardens. And most U.S. botanical gardens have reciprocal agreements for members. So if you belong to one botanical garden, see if you get in others free or for reduced cost.)

49) Yellowstone National Park – WY (Spend at least a few days to enjoy the area and take advantage of activities, such as fishing and hiking. We especially enjoyed a small bus tour which focused on the geological formations.)

Feel free to add your own “must sees” by commenting. And if you’ve been to Hawaii – don’t hold back! I want to know where to go when I finally get there! 😉

Hoh Rainforest - Olympic National Park, WA

Hoh Rainforest - Olympic National Park, WA

IN MY SITES: A Campground Mystery (Book #4)

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