Destination: Charleston, South Carolina

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Six years ago this week I traveled from where I was living in Tennessee to visit a friend in Charleston, South Carolina.  The drive there was the bad kind of eventful: that mysterious phenomenon peculiar to the coastal south where you’re just driving along, minding your own business, & out of nowhere it’s raining so hard that all you can see is the taillights of the vehicle in front of you.  Nothing to deluge instantaneously.  That trip was also the first time I ever saw an armadillo dead on the side of the road & I legit thought it was a dinosaur for a hot second.  My friend told me that Charleston doesn’t allow any buildings to be taller than the tallest church steeple, which gives the city a very open, down-to-earth feel since there aren’t any skyscrapers.

My first stop was to the history park at Charles Towne Landing, the site of the first English settlement in the Carolinas in 1670.  They have something for everyone – a reconstructed fort, a sailing ship, a historic home, & even a small zoo displaying native wildlife.  I was NOT expecting to see a huge alligator in the pond as I was exploring the gardens!

The next day I visited the South Carolina Aquarium and Charleston Museum, but my camera decided to completely break in between those two sites so I didn’t really get any pictures of the museum. 😦  The aquarium has this incredible ocean tank with a giant two-story window that their resident sea turtle likes to hang out in.  When I was there they had a special Madagascar exhibit with lemurs & they were really fun to watch!  Charleston Museum is packed with just about everything possible & keeps going forever, it would take multiple visits to even come close to absorbing it all.

On my last day I visited two historic forts – Fort Sumter & Fort Moultrie, both of which were in use for generations & saw many changes & renovations over several wars.  Fort Sumter was where the Civil War got its official start when Confederates drove out the federal troops stationed there.  It sits on a tiny island in the harbor, accessible by ferry for a 2-ish hour tour.  Its a really great museum, they even have the original flags that were flown over the fort in the 1860s.  Fort Moultrie takes you backwards in time – they’ve restored it to various periods, starting at the World War II entrance & going back to the Revolution-era log fort.  Most places like this are set in a specific time frame, so it’s really interesting to see these two forts actively embracing the changes & innovations that occurred.

Charleston is a very pretty city, & I wish my camera hadn’t broken so I would have better pictures of it!  My phone camera just couldn’t do it justice.  I was also sad to miss the H.L. Hunley museum – it’s only open on weekends.  There’s way too much happening in Charleston for a three-day trip to cover it all anyway so I guess I’ll have to go back!

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Road Trip 2018: Stop 5

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Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Stop 5: Springfield, Illinois, July 3rd – July 6th

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 4 | Stop 6 | Stop 7

I heard you like Lincoln so I put some Lincoln on your Lincoln.

I mean I get why Springfield is totally obsessed with Abraham Lincoln but like…dang.

Day 16 was just getting to Springfield from Kentucky, about a 250-mile drive.

On Day 17 I went to 2 Lincoln-related things – the Presidential Museum & the Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  The museum is AMAZING, they chronicle the lives of Lincoln, his family, & the people around them in such a vivid way that you can’t help but feel like you understand them all better as human beings & not just as historical figures that you read about in school.  The tour is a series of rooms with mannequins telling Lincoln’s life story with exhibits of other objects & events in between.  Apparently the 2 youngest Lincoln boys were total brats, there’s a whole room that just shows them destroying their dad’s office while he’s reading the newspaper without a care in the world.  Some displays are real tear-jerkers, like the one of a slave auction & another of Abraham at 12-year-old Willie Lincoln’s deathbed.  They’ve also got the most epic theater presentation EVER at the holographic “Ghosts of the Library” show – seriously, don’t miss it!  The Lincoln Home site preserves not only Abe’s house but his whole neighborhood.  There’s a guided tour through the house & then you’re free to wander through the surrounding couple of blocks for some displays in front of the neighbor’s houses.  Make sure your phone is charged, I missed out on at least one augmented reality experience because mine was too dead to download the app. 😦

 

On Day 18 I rounded off my tour of Abe’s life with a visit to the Lincoln family tomb in Oak Ridge Cemetery.  The inside of the tomb is beautiful & the whole Lincoln family rests there except the oldest son, Robert, the only one to live into his adulthood.  Poor Mary Todd Lincoln buried her husband & 3 of her 4 children.  I spent the afternoon at the only non-Lincoln related site of my visit to Springfield, the Washington Park Botanical Garden.  The grounds are beautiful & there’s a domed greenhouse to visit with lots of tropical plants.  They also have a carillon, a musical instrument that’s actually a tower with bells.  Sadly it only gets played a couple of time each week & none of them were when I was around to hear it.

 

Next stop: nature & history in Peru, Illinois!

 

Road Trip 2018: Stop 4

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Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Stop 4: Paducah, Kentucky, June 30th – July 3rd

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 5 | Stop 6 | Stop 7

On Day 13 I left Nashville & made a quick drive into western Kentucky so that I could spend Day 14 exploring in Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.  Unfortunately by the time I got there I’d been on the road for two weeks in weather roughly the same temperature as the surface of the sun so although it’s a huge park with lots of trails & stuff I was running out of energy for outdoor activities & didn’t stay long.  I’d like to go back though, maybe in the fall when it’s cooler & the leaves are turning.  The name is pretty literal – it’s a big weird peninsula trapped between two forks of a dammed river, so there’s lots of water for boating, kayaking, swimming, etc.  There’s also a wildlife lab zoo thing, drive-through bison safari, living history farm, a really nice museum at the visitor’s center, & some ruins of iron smelting furnaces.

 

On Day 15 I went wandering around in Paducah, where I found a tugboat with the same name as my dad, an art gallery, & a tree on the sidewalk where the roots somehow grew into a square (the square root, lol).  Then a short hop over the Ohio river to Metropolis, Illinois to take a picture with the Superman statue in the middle of town & walk across the street to the Super Museum, which is basically a warehouse jammed floor to ceiling with some guy’s Superman obsession.  If you’re around in early June they have a Superman Celebration every year!

 

Next stop: all of the Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Illinois!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 3

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Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Nashville, Tennessee, June 26nd – June 30th

Stop 1 | Stop 2Stop 4 | Stop 5 | Stop 6 | Stop 7

On Day 9 I headed out from Chattanooga & drove 150 miles or so northwest to Nashville, with a stop about halfway through at Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park in Manchester.  The park is home to a Native American ceremonial enclosure which was long abandoned by the time Europeans arrived & mistook it for a fort.  I didn’t really see much of the earthworks because I got so hung up on the beautiful waterfalls!  Enclosure Trail is a 1.4-mile loop leading from the visitor’s center along the Duck & Little Duck rivers, as well as to some other trails.  Near Big Falls the trail passes through the ruins of the Stone Fort Paper Company mill, the last of several factories that were built here to take advantage of power supplied by the river.  I only had a couple of hours to spend there but there’s a lot to see & I would love to get back there to hike some more.

Day 10 was just wandering around seeing what the place had to offer.  Downtown Nashville was OK except for having to get after some guy in the middle of a gift shop to get him to stop dancing all up in my personal space.  I think he was part of a scavenger hunt or something, he was in a group all wearing the same t-shirts & headbands, & I kept seeing people all over town wearing the same t-shirts with different colored headbands.  What was the challenge – get a stranger to dance with you?  If it was get a stranger to yell at you they definitely got to check that one off the list.  Anyway I walked down Broadway to the river & it was mostly just bars & kitschy shops so I didn’t hang around long.  I went over to the Parthenon at Centennial Park.  It’s a full-scale replica built for the 1897 Centennial Exposition, complete with 42-foot statue of Athena.  The building also houses an art museum & plaster casts of the original Parthenon Marbles (sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles but that’s a whole rant I won’t get into today).  I ended my day at Belle Meade Plantation, which started off as a single cabin on 250 acres purchased by John Harding in 1807.  The property was right on the Natchez Trace, the main trading route between Tennessee & Mississippi.  The farm eventually became a successful thoroughbred breeding & racing operation that allowed Harding to build a large brick house.  John’s son William expanded the house & property before being one of just a few Confederate prisoners sent to the fort where I used to work on Mackinac Island!  The mansion & grounds were very cool & in the middle of a fancy-pants part of town so when I was done with my tour I basically just drove around staring at rich people’s houses.

On Day 11 it rained.  It rained alllll day.  So I headed down the road from my campground to do some indoor exploring.  Gaylord Opryland is a resort & convention center but it’s also basically a jungle inside a building.  There’s 3 sections of garden, complete with waterfalls & a river, all protected from the elements by giant glass domes.  It’s amazing & beautiful & free as long as you park at the shopping mall next door & walk over because parking on site costs a bajillion dollars ($27 – seriously) unless you want to eat at one of the expensive restaurants or stay in the expensive rooms.

On Day 12 I did what I do at least once on every single trip I ever take & went to the zoo.  The Nashville Zoo isn’t huge but has plenty to see, including an aviary with a sloth & a whole pen of guinea pigs that are pretty darn cute.  Plus of course lots of large African animals, monkeys, reptiles, & big cats (I didn’t take many pictures there.  I have no idea why.).  In one corner is the Grassmere Historic Home, which offers tours & a chance to pet heritage breeds of farm animals.

Next stop: nature & Superman in Paducah, Kentucky!

Road Trip 2018: Stop 1

2018.06.20.034Hernando, Florida to Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1,360 Miles

Forsyth, Georgia, June 18th – June 22nd

Stop 2 | Stop 3Stop 4 | Stop 5 | Stop 6 | Stop 7

About 6 weeks after I graduated from USF I was offered my first job on an archaeological project & headed out on a cross-country adventure from my home in Florida to the job site in Wisconsin.  On Day 1 I drove a little over 350 miles from Hernando, FL to Forsyth, GA, with a stop in Thomasville, home of the Big Oak.  The Big Oak is just that, a 300+ year old live oak tree which has grown to a height of 68 feet & a trunk circumference of 27.5 feet.  I really developed my obsession with KOA cabins on this trip – I bought a membership & it really paid off, 10% off each night plus I earned enough points to get a discount on my way back to Florida & even another whole year of membership for free!  The one in Forsyth is pretty nice, & the location halfway between Atlanta & Macon was great for visiting sites in both cities & the surrounding area.

 

On Day 2 I visited the beautiful historic downtown area of Macon, which has several historic homes open for tours.  This time through I visited The Cannonball House, which is named after the projectile that came through the living room wall during the Civil War (even though it wasn’t actually a cannonball!).  A few miles away is the prehistoric mound site at Ocmulgee National Monument, which has a museum and recreated earth lodge built around an original 1,000-year-old floor.

 

On Day 3 I finally made it to Georgia Aquarium!  After years of driving back & forth, each time thinking I’ll go see the whale sharks & then deciding I didn’t feel like dealing with Atlanta, this time I finally went.  It was AMAZING, I could seriously sit there & watch the whale sharks swim around all day, it’s very calming in the dark theater with the blue water & these super chill animals just drifting slowly around their tank.  Apparently they were shipped in from Thailand via UPS, just like all the junk I buy on Amazon.  They have tons of other stuff to see as well, including a dolphin show (avoid the first 10 rows if you don’t want to get wet), sea lions, penguins, & thousands of fish from a variety of ecosystems.

 

On the way back to Forsyth I stopped at High Falls State Park, which has some nice trails along a river as well as an abandoned ruin of a power plant.  It’s fenced off but the profusion of graffiti says that a lot of people ignore said fence.  It’s still really cool to see though.  On Day 4 I had lunch in Juliette (where parts of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed at the Whistle Stop Cafe & they never let you forget it) & stopped by the historic Jarrell Plantation, where all of the original buildings are open for visiting.  It was owned by the same family for 140 years before the founder’s descendants donated the property to the state.  Also they have goats to pet, & it just doesn’t get any better than that.

 

Next stop: trains & battlefields in Chattanooga, Tennessee!

Museums of St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is one of a handful of pretty little cities out on the peninsula between Tampa Bay & the Gulf of Mexico.  With beautiful beaches & palm-lined streets it’s been a tourist destination since the beginning of tourism.

The Museum of History is on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier, which juts out into Tampa Bay & is currently closed for construction.  It’s a small but interesting museum, $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $9 for children, military, & students (this was the first place I got a discount with my student ID!).  Their permanent exhibits include an Egyptian mummy, general area history, aviation, a few signs about pirates, and for some reason two rooms filled with nothing but autographed baseballs.  When I went in April they had a shipwreck exhibit on that showed models & artifacts as well as the technology involved in finding the wrecks & retrieving small bits from them.

Just around the corner is the Museum of Fine Arts ($17/adults, $15/seniors/military, $10/children/students), which holds many works from some of history’s greatest artists in its permanent collection.  After viewing ancient pieces from all over the world, I found myself in the presence of three genuine Monets.  Unlike most art museums, they welcome photography in their permanent collections.

Destination: St. Louis

 

St. Louis is, weirdly enough, the only city I’ve ever been in where I saw an actual tent community on an empty lot.  It’s also the only city I’ve ever been in where entire buildings were painted with murals and Roman columns.


The Gateway Arch

For anyone unfamiliar with St. Louis, the Arch is exactly that: a gigantic steel structure randomly sticking up from the bank of the Mississippi, holding up nothing.  It’s actually part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, which also includes the nearby Old Courthouse.  They’re doing some work on the museum underneath the Arch, so until that reopens the Courthouse is acting as the museum/visitor’s center/ticketing location.  I opted for the Arch + river cruise combo for $25 ($22 with a NPS pass).  After checking out the incredible dome and somewhat comical dioramas in the Courthouse I hopped aboard the not-so-imaginatively named Becky Thatcher for a narrated 1-hour trip up & down the Mighty Mississippi.  Our captain told us some of the history of the area and pointed out some interesting things along the way, including river traffic, abandoned buildings, and a casino that filled its basement with river water to comply with the law that all casinos must be “on the river”.  I guess it works.

Disembarking from the boat, I headed back up the Grand Staircase (being sure to find the 33rd one, the high-water mark of past flood) and headed down into the heart of the Arch.  Getting in here only costs $3, but while the museum is out of commission there’s really only the documentary movie.  The cool thing to do is to head to the observation deck on the weirdest elevator ride in town, up through the leg of the Arch itself ($10).  The elevators are these crazy little round pods with 5 seats that tilt & ratchet themselves along with the leaning leg of the arch, with windows in the doors that offer a great view of the inner workings of the building.  The visitor’s center in the Courthouse has a sample one set up for anybody who’s not sure if they can handle the confined space.  It takes 4 minutes to get to the top, but only 3 to get back down (yay gravity!), and they run about every ten minutes.  The view from the top is of course spectacular, with one side facing out over the city and the other across the river into Illinois.  I stayed up there for a long time watching people and cars, and looking for whatever little oddities I could spot.  Click here for a short video I shot on the way down.  (It’s not the greatest, but hey.)


St. Louis Zoo

The zoo itself is free, but they charge a huge amount for parking in the lots.  I was lucky enough to find a single open spot on the street that I didn’t have to pay for.  It’s a surprisingly nice zoo for not costing anything.  I only had time and energy to cover about half of it.  I really liked the insect house, although I was careful to avoid the employee walking around with a hissing cockroach asking people if they wanted to pet it.  One of the coolest things was a display of ants: they had the ant nest on one side of the box and the food on the other side, with a winding vine in between that the ants walked on.  I could have stared at them for hours, going back and forth with their little leaf pieces.  I also enjoyed the indoor penguin habitat (bring a jacket, the climate is for the penguins, not the humans!) and the seal tunnel.  There’s a train ride through the zoo ($5) that I didn’t go on but I’m sure it’s fun.