Heading Back North (June 18 – 30, 2016)

During the winter, Phil accepted a consulting assignment for the months of July, August and the first half of September for a company based in west Chicago. Although it’s hard to turn down good money, Phil became increasingly reluctant to return to the working world as the dates approached. Phil had neglected to research the availability of nearby campgrounds when he accepted the job. When he finally began to look at his options, Phil discovered that there were no decent campgrounds anywhere near the city. Ultimately he found a campground with marginally decent reviews in Marengo, IL, about 45 miles from where he will be working. Although the campground is close to I-90, the commute will be about 1.25 hours each way. Fortunately Phil subsequently found out that he will be out of the country for four weeks out of the two month assignment. He will be in Malta for two weeks in August and in Shanghai for two weeks in September.

The drive from Kerrville to Marengo, IL was over 1,300 miles. We decided to break up the trip by spending a few days in Branson, MO and then visit Phil’s mother and sister’s family in Elkhart, IN for a few days. We began the trip on June 18th and spent the night at Buck Creek RV Park, outside of Abilene, TX. We had stayed at this campground on our way to Kerrville in May. On June 19th we continued on and spent the night at Pecan Grove RV Park in Chickasha, OK, a short distance south of Oklahoma City.

On June 20th we drove the rest of the way across Oklahoma. Nearly the entire day’s drive was on I-44, most of which was a toll road. This was our first experience with towing on a toll road and Phil found it a little unnerving to pull the dually and fifth wheel through the narrow toll booths. In addition, the tolls were quite high. Phil paid a total of $22.50 in tolls for the truck and rig and Jan paid about half that amount for the car. We stopped for the night at the Downstream Casino in Quapaw, OK. Phil had discovered this site on the RV Parky app. By going into the casino, we were able to get a free Q Club card that entitled us to stay overnight in their RV park for free. The RV park wasn’t much more than a parking lot with electric and water hookups. Fortunately it was a Monday night so there was plenty of empty space between us and our neighbors. In addition to getting the free campsite, the free Q Club card came loaded with $12 in free credits which we parlayed into another $5.91 in winnings on the penny slots.

Quapaw is in the extreme NE corner of Oklahoma, very close to the borders of Missouri and Kansas. We visited the monument where the three states meet.

We drove to Route 66 in Galena, KS to see the truck which the director of the Pixar movie “Cars” had discovered as the inspiration for the character “Tow Mater.”

Then we drove to downtown Joplin, MO and had dinner at the Red Onion Café.

On June 21st we drove to Branson, MO where we stayed at the Ozark Country Campground for three nights. Our activities were somewhat limited due to the extreme heat. The daytime highs were in the upper 90s and actually reached 100 degrees on our third day. Jan had found a couple of good deals on Groupon. On our first night we used one of these deals for dinner at Ernie Biggs, a piano bar in the Branson Landing district.

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On the second night we used the other Groupon deal to attend the show “Raiding the Country Vault” at The Mansion theater. The audience was quite small but the show was very good. An ensemble of outstanding musicians performed songs by a wide array of country superstars. During each of the performances, biographical material was displayed on screens behind the performers. After the show, we explored some of the attractions along the main drag.

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On our third day we ventured out in the heat to hit some of the other sights in Branson. We hit Dick’s 5 & 10, the Shrine of the Holy Spirit and the Table Rock Dam.

We also visited the College of the Ozarks, a Christian liberal arts college that expects its students to work on campus to earn their tuition. One of the student workplaces is the Edwards Mill, a water-driven grist mill from the 1800s. We bought a bag of cornmeal milled by the students. In addition to the mill, there is a weaving studio with numerous looms.

On June 24th we drove about 185 miles and spent the night at the Stanton / Meramec KOA in Sullivan, MO. On June 25th we drove about 175 miles and spent the night at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, IL. It was our first time staying at a fairgrounds and it worked out quite nicely. The fairgrounds were almost empty so we had our choice of sites from hundreds of possibilities. Most of the sites were on asphalt and, given how hot it was, we opted to park on a grass spot. The site was a back-in but, given that we had our choice of sites to back into, Phil didn’t have much difficulty and didn’t have to worry about being perfectly aligned. The campground host was very friendly and provided us with a guide to the sights in Springfield. Although we had lived in Illinois for six years, we had never been to Springfield before.

After getting our campsite set up, we headed out to do some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It was a very impressive museum and provided a good understanding of both Lincoln’s years before becoming President and his years in the White House.

The museum provided a perspective on Lincoln’s presidency that you don’t often hear, covering both the good and the bad. We learned that Lincoln was elected President with only 39% of the popular vote because of running against three other candidates. There was a whole hall devoted to political cartoons critical of Lincoln that were much more negative than what we see today. It appears that Lincoln’s status in American history only became very positive after the Civil War and his assassination.

While we were downtown, we also saw the Old State Capitol where Lincoln’s body had laid in rest and the office of the Lincoln Herndon law firm where Lincoln had been a partner.

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Next, we went to see the Lincoln Tomb. It was quite a remarkable structure and contained quite a few sculptures. The tomb contains the remains of all of the Lincoln family except one son who is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

We would have liked to have more time to sightsee in Springfield but we needed to keep going. On June 26th we drove on about 180 miles to the Old Mill Run Park campground in Thorntown, IN. It was very remote and we had some doubts about the accuracy of our GPS when it led us down some small country roads. We drove to the slightly larger town of Lebanon, IN that evening to finish doing our laundry after the campground laundry room closed at 5 pm.

On June 26th we drove about 150 miles to Goshen, IN. Although the mileage was the least we had done in a while, the route was via a large number of country roads and through various small towns and, thus, seemed much longer than the prior days. We were happy to be finished with our drive when we arrived at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen. Like the fairgrounds in Springfield, the RV campgrounds were almost empty and we were allowed to pick any site we wanted. Also like Springfield, the sites were all back-ins and Phil struggled to get backed in due to the proximity of a fence line. Finally he spotted another site that had plenty of room to line up the rig and then just back straight into the site. We were very close to the train tracks and, although we could hear the trains pass by frequently during the day, they didn’t affect our sleep at night unless we had the window open.

We spent three days in Goshen and were able to visit with Phil’s 96-year-old mother each day.

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On our second night, Barb and Dan Anderson, Phil’s sister and brother-in-law, came over for dinner. We had envisioned having dinner outside but the temperature had dropped into the 60s and was quite windy so we ate in our rig instead. On the third night, we had an enjoyable dinner at the Anderson’s and were joined by the extended Anderson family.

We took the truck to the Goshen Dodge dealer and discovered that the malfunctioning windshield wiper had been installed incorrectly at the factory. The wiper arm had to be replaced but the dealer didn’t have the replacement wiper arm in stock. It would take at least 3 days to get the part and, since we were leaving town, we decided to wait until we get to the Chicago area to get it fixed.

 

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