Lands of Lincoln pt 2 (southern Indiana)

Three states get to claim Lincoln as their “son.” Kentucky gets bragging rights because he was born there. Indiana gets bragging rights because he lived there for a few years when he was a boy. And Illinois (the self-proclaimed ‘Land of Lincoln’) gets the biggest claim of all because he lived there for most of his life.

Several posts ago, I mentioned going to Lincoln’s Birthplace National Monument in Kentucky. Today’s post will be about the next leg in the Lincoln journey – southern Indiana.

Being one of (at the time) only two National Historic Sites in Indiana, we of course had to go the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in the aptly named Lincoln City, Indiana.  After leaving the George Roger’s Clark Memorial in Vincennes, Indiana, we headed south east. About an hour and a half into the trip we stopped for gas and I realized that I’d left my wallet at the George Roger’s Clark Memorial when we purchased our Christmas ornament (our classic souvenir for trips). So…. luckily I had enough gas to get back to Vincennes to retrieve my wallet.

Ugh — adventures can be a challenge… and I have a bit of a habit losing my wallet on trips (I also accidentally threw my wallet away on the way to the Smokey Mountains once… that was fun). However, despite our setback, we headed back in the direction of Lincoln City and went to the National Park.

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View of the museum from the flagpole (pictured below)

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Closer view of museum

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Looking out from the museum

The site is beautiful! There is a small museum, but the majority of the sights are outdoors. There is a lovely hike you can take that shows you various milestones in Lincoln’s life — it’s called “The Trail of 12 Stones.”

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Tombstone of Lincoln’s mother

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The “ninth stone” on the trail – taken from where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address

Along the trail is also a living history museum of a replica of how the Lincolns would have lived in the early 1800s.

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That’s a real sheep, folks!

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They wanted to come home with us, but we didn’t have enough room in the car.

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The living room/kitchen – Gabriel couldn’t get over that the ceilings were so low. “Wasn’t President Lincoln really tall, mom?”

The whole experience there was wonderful. I’d really love to back again. The rangers are the museum were amazing. I didn’t realize that there was a fee to get in (only $5) and they only took cash for the fees. However, they let us in anyway without seeming put out at all. When we got home a few days later, we wrote them a very nice card and included a donation because of their generosity to us.

The most wonderful part about the Junior Ranger program that I’ve mentioned several times in this blog is how excited the rangers are to interact with the kids. We have been to almost to twenty sites operated by the National Park Service and without exception, every single one of them have been eager to talk with Gabriel, show him around and talk about the history and science behind the various places.

At Lincoln Boyhood the two rangers actually argued over who would get to swear Gabriel in as a Junior Ranger! In the end the settled on letting the intern do it since she had never sworn in a Junior Ranger before. It was so cute to watch her get excited about it!

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Our time at Lincoln Boyhood was wonderful! I also recommend stopping by Santa Claus, Indiana which is very close to Lincoln City. In Santa Claus it is Christmas all year round! Even in the June heat!

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We stayed at the luxurious Motel 6 in Dale, Indiana (that’s sarcasm if you couldn’t tell). It wasn’t much to speak of, but it was cheap and clean and had a pool! That was all Gabriel cared about! 🙂

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Dale, Indiana is a very cute little town that has TONS of “mom and pop” restaurants.

Thanks for reading about our adventures in one of the Lands of Lincoln!

There’s more than a canyon in Arizona!

The last few weeks of my blog have been highlighting a trip I took with my son and my mother to the Grand Canyon. The first few days of our adventure were taken-up with the joys that the canyon had to offer. Honestly, you could spend weeks there and still not see and do everything you want to. We focused our trip around the south rim of the Canyon because that is where most of the ranger stations and lodges are, but there is LOTS to see around the north rim as well. I hope to be able to go back some day and go up there instead.

But four days into our trip, we decided to see more of what Arizona had to offer! There are so many National Parks, Historic Sites, etc. all over the Southwest, but since my son was still relatively young,  we stayed “pretty close” to the Grand Canyon for our adventures.

In our research for the trip, I decided to let Gabriel pick some of the places that we would go see. The first place he wanted to visit was Montezuma Castle National Monument, so that’s where we headed first.

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On the road to Montezuma Castle

I think I said this in an earlier blog, but the thing that surprised me the most about rural Arizona is how beautiful the desert can be. I honestly did not expect to be blown away by the rugged beauty of Arizona. I’d been to Arizona before, but the city (Phoenix), not out in the middle of nowhere. The browns and reds and greens and the blue of the sky create this magnificent palette of colors that I’d never seen in my other travels.

“MontezumA Castle, Mom! Not MontezumaZ”

My son is a bit of a know-it-all when it comes to things he loves, and Gabriel was OBSESSED with the National Park Service at this point in his life. I kept accidentally calling the monument “Montezuma’s Castle” (because as an English teacher, that makes more sense to me), so he corrected me a few dozen times while we were out there.

For those of you who have never been, Montezuma Castle is a cliff dwelling perched high into a cliff face that had to be accessed through retractable ladders. Very cool!

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Close- of some of the rooms closer to the ground

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The “castle” isn’t really a castle… and despite the name, it has NOTHING to do with the Aztecs or Montezuma. Interestingly, it got its name from a faulty assumption that it had something to do with the Aztecs, when it was actually left vacant quite some time before Montezuma was even born. So it’s name is very inaccurate, but … hey, we do what we want here.

The castle is a five story complex of interconnected rooms and, according to the National Park Service information, it was constructed over about 300 years (different additions added on over time). Unlike some other cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, you cannot go up to Montezuma Castle. I thought Gabriel would be upset by this, but he couldn’t have cared less! He loved walking down the paved path and looking up at the impressive construction.

There are also a few replicas that you can interact with down on the ground that, for some reason, I didn’t get pictures of. It is definitely worth the trip from the Grand Canyon or Phoenix… or Indiana!

There is also a well near by that Gabriel didn’t care to go see, but a fellow blogger wrote about it recently – you should check out her post here —> (Gen-X Traveler).

More Cliff Dwellings Ahead… but first!

After leaving Montezuma castle, we drove through the beautiful Sedona, Arizona. It’s a lovely little town– very commercial, but still cute. It reminds me a lot of a desert version of Gatlinburg, Tennessee– a little kitschy, but still worth seeing. Honestly the area around the town is what you want to see. There are SO many hikes and so many rock outcroppings to lose yourself in (in a good way) that it makes the little town very worth it (just like the Great Smoky Mountains make Gatlinburg with it).

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I wanted to stay here for days and explore, but since this trip was more about Gabriel than about me, we moved on after eating lunch at a two-story Burger King with the most amazing view!

Walnut Canyon: Where I nearly died of fear about 1000 times in the span of one hour

So… here’s the thing about me and being a mom… I wanted to do what my kid wanted to do, and I didn’t want to be the kind of mom who told her kid no because of my own fears. Having said that, Walnut Canyon is not for everyone (my mom stayed in the ranger station and I DO NOT blame her one bit!). The visitor center is very lovely and you can see some beautiful views from their floor to ceiling windows, but that’s not what Gabriel wanted to do…

Walnut Canyon has a couple of trails that you can take, one that is paved and relatively flat, and one that requires going down into the canyon via a group of 240-step winding stairs. Before getting to the stairs you read quite a few signs warning about strenuous return trip and the limited (and dangerous) accessibility ahead.

Once you get down into the canyon there is a gate… like a point of no return… because the trail is so narrow it is one-way only.  It is so narrow that in most places it was more narrow than my hips, no railing, and a gloriously awful looking “plummet to your death” kind of drop-off. My knees were literally shaking on the mile (or so) loop around the cliff dwellings.

The upside? Too many to count! You actually get see and GET IN the cliff dwellings and see how the people of long ago lived. It was fascinating. The view was so beautiful (as long as I pretended I couldn’t see down.

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Also, this face:

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Gabriel was SO excited! He walked bravely on the trails and was not phased one bit by the height or how close he was to scary-scary-bad-death. And through my gritted teeth and trembling knees and hands (and heart), I began to appreciate the trip around the cliff dwellings because of my son’s joy.

As a National Park Service Junior Ranger you learn about lots of things concerning the parks, one of which is that you do not take ANYTHING from the park other than what you bring in. So Gabriel asked me to take pictures of about twenty different rocks that he wished he could take home with him (how adorable is that?).

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I only included one rock picture 🙂

 

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Cliff dwellings to the left, scary-scary-death to the right

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One of the few places where the trail was almost wide enough for me to not be afraid, but keep in mind where that ceiling is… and I’m 5’2” on a good day.

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Gabriel telling me (and other families nearby) about the history of the people who lived in these types of cliff dwellings.

The trip back up, was a challenge, but we made it all without stopping because Gabriel wanted to “get back to Nanny so she wouldn’t be worried.” All in all it was well worth the fear and trembling. Not only was the view beautiful, but my son got to experience something he’d being researching for weeks even though his mom is a wimp.

When all was said and done, he had a few more badges to add to his backpack!

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If this is your first time to the blog, don’t miss out on our other adventures here: 

The Grand Canyon Adventure Begins

An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

St. Louis, Missouri

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

Scotland in Kentucky?

An Acrophobic’s Grand Canyon Experience

Several weeks ago I began sharing with you the adventures that my son and I have taken together over the years. We started our travel adventures when he was in the first grade by going to St. Louis, then later that same year we went to Mammoth Cave and Lincoln’s Birthplace National Historic Site. Two weeks ago I continued with one of our bigger trips, all the way to the Grand Canyon.

Today’s blog recounts our first full day at the Canyon.

We woke up early that morning so we could get to the Grand Canyon’s supply store as soon as it opened so my father and his buddies could get the supplies they couldn’t keep in their luggage.  They wanted to get as early of a start as possible for their rim to rim to rim hike (south rim, down into and across the canyon, up the north rim, and then the return trip). We then took the group to the trail head and snapped a few pictures before they set off on their adventure.

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My dad with his gear

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The Crew

After wishing them luck, Gabriel, my mom, and I went off to the ranger station to get Gabriel’s workbook so that he could get his Junior Ranger badge and add it to his growing collection. Once we had the workbook, we were off to the rim to discover what the Grand Canyon was all about.

Several things … nearly everything, in fact… surprised me while we were at the Canyon. For one, I was not anticipating it to be so cold at the Grand Canyon. My midwestern mind knew we were in Arizona and Arizona is hot, right? I’d been to Phoenix several years before and it had gotten up to 124 degrees Fahrenheit one day. But at the rim of the Canyon (a much higher elevation than Phoenix) it was actually quite chilly, hovering closer to 30-40 degrees in the morning.

Another thing that surprised me is how much my fear of heights (acrophobia) would bother me while we were there. Now, I’m no dumby, I knew the Canyon was big and deep, I’d just assumed it would be more of a gentle sloping kind of height, or that there would be a guardrail at the least. Nope!

My fear kicked in pretty quickly as I tried to keep my fearless child from plummeting to his death every ten minutes! Of course I am exaggerating, but I had been completely clueless at how open the Grand Canyon would be for the more adventurous of humans (not me). And Gabriel was loving the views and was even transfixed with bugs (that we also have in Indiana), and keeping up with him and making sure he was in no way close to the edge was a full time job, it seemed.

I’d made a little formula for how close I could get to the edge and still feel safe (yes, that’s how crazy I can be when it comes to heights). I decided that I needed to be my height (a bit over 5 feet) and a few feet extra in order to be safe (just in case I rolled while I fell face first?). 

That didn’t last long with Gabriel, but luckily for me, we were also with my mom who seemed slightly more rational than I was about the proximity to the edge of the canyon. She would brave closer with Gabriel, while I turned away… because somehow that kept them safe (I don’t know, but it made sense in my mind).

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Mr. Adventure Man – always climbing on something. 

 

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One of our first views of the Grand Canyon

The other thing that surprised me about the Grand Canyon was the massiveness of it. Of course I knew the Grand Canyon was… well, grand! I just didn’t have any frame of reference for what that meant. I was continually frustrated that my camera could not capture how massive it was. Every picture I took was amazing, but the pictures are NOTHING in comparison to the reality of the Canyon. It was beyond anything I’d ever known before.

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In the pictures the colors are not nearly vivid enough, the scope not nearly broad enough. But I tried to capture what I could in my mind as we went around to some of the places we needed to see for Gabriel to be able to get his Junior Ranger badge work completed.

We learned many fascinating things about the Canyon, the habitats, and the wildlife surrounding it. One of the interesting facts that I still remember is that the only place that you can see the Grand Canyon all at once is from outer space! Even in an airplane, you can’t take the entire Canyon in at once… it’s too big! You have to be out of Earth’s atmosphere to see all of it at the same time. DUDE.

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Always ready for a picture

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Canyon selfie (at a safe distance from the edge)

Once we’d filled out the workbook for the Junior Ranger badge and completed the necessary tasks (like picking up trash that others rudely left behind), we went to a ranger station so that Gabriel could get sworn in. The Canyon (unlike the other parks we’d been to) swears in several kids all at once just due to the volume of kids getting the badges, but it was still a very cool experience, and again, one that Gabriel almost felt he wasn’t “good enough” for.

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Gabriel feeling very intimidated by the “old” kids.

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Signing his name to his certificate

The Grand Canyon has several restaurants in the park ranging from relatively cheap cafeteria style to very fancy sit-down places that have incredibly expensive food. Since the Canyon isn’t near any large cities, the park has everything you could need for an extended stay. There’s even a Catholic church in case you need a little Jesus with your nature.

Our lodge was outside of the main village (with several hotels, stores, and restaurants), but was just a quick walk away from the rim and a few convenience-type stores. In the evening we went and got some coffee (not Gabriel) and watched the sun set over the Canyon. There were tons of places to sit around outside and Gabriel especially liked the carvings in the stones of several different local birds.

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Showing off his own wingspan 

Our Grand Canyon adventure will last a few more weeks. Next week, join us as we drive around the park and see a few very cool places on the south rim!

Kid-venture 2: Mammoth Cave

After a successful trip with the boy (to St. Louis, Missouri), I felt very empowered to take my young son on more adventures. The park ranger at The Gateway Arch National Park was monumentally important in determining the trajectory for all of our trips from that point out.

Gabriel wanted more junior ranger badges!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Junior Ranger program and you have small kids, I highly suggest doing this with your children. When visiting National Parks, Historic Sites, National Shorelines, etc, visit the ranger station and your child will get an activity book to fill out while exploring the area. The workbooks are age adjusted, so the activities for preschoolers are much less intense than the ones for older elementary children. It’s a great way to learn about the park, and the park rangers get totally stoked to swear-in the kids. Every park we’ve been to, the rangers stop whatever they are doing to help kids– even at one park they “fought” over who got to swear Gabriel in that day.  They are wonderful, wonderful people!

Mammoth

Being a teacher has many positives and negatives, but one of the positives is that I have breaks from work when my son has breaks from school… for the most part. And, in central Indiana we have a modified schedule where we have multiple two-week breaks: two weeks in October, two weeks in December, two weeks in March/April. My school does something slightly different now, but at the time of this trip, we had two weeks in October- and so we looked for National Parks that we could drive to pretty easily.

Gabriel decided that his next adventure should be Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, just 3 1/2 hours from where we live. We decided to go over our fall break since the tree colors would be pretty on the drive and in the park.

On the first day of our trip, we started off early and went straight to the park. We got there in time to go on a tour of the main cave. There is a small fee to go on the guided tours, but it is well worth it for the vast knowledge of the park rangers.

There are a plethora of tour options from the very tame, where you walk on well-lit paths that are basically paved and accessible to everyone, to the extremely intense, where you are crawling on your belly and need head-lamps. I believe they even have zip-lining now!  We took the basic tour of the main cavern since my son was still quite young, just six years old.

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Entrance to the main cavern – note the park ranger on the far bottom right for scale

At that age, Gabriel soaked up every. single. word. the ranger uttered. He instructed me what I should write down in the activity book, and he made sure that I kept track of the different uses for the caves over the years.

Some of the great facts we learned:

  • It is the longest system of underground caves in the entire world
  • Originally it was thought to be several different systems that were eventually connected through further exploration
  • Portions of the cave are still unexplored and underwater
  • Evidence of Native American habitation has been found in multiple portions of the cave
  • For a time it was used as a tuberculosis hospital
  • Discoveries are still being made
  • Some animals discovered in the cave (insects) have completely translucent skin because of the complete lack of light (Gabriel’s favorite fact)

Park rules prohibit flash photography in the cave, and this was 2012, so I probably had an iPhone 3 that I was using as a camera. 🙂  Here are a few pictures that are less awful than the rest.

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The slope down into the cave

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It’s difficult to describe how massive the cave is– the shadow on the left is about four times bigger than the actual person that gives some kind of scope.

One of the coolest part of the tour we went on was that once we had walked around for a while and looked at the various sites, the ranger warned us and then turned out all of the lights in the cave. I have never known complete darkness like that. I had my hand right in front of my eyes, and couldn’t see anything – not even the movement of my hand. If it makes sense, it was even darker than when I close my eyes! The lights were only out for a few brief moments, but it was nothing like I’d ever experienced before.

After our tour, we hiked on several trails around the main cave and the visitor center. It was a beautiful cool day, but not so cold that you needed a coat.

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Trees on the trails

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This is the face of a very excited young man. He loved the hiking we got to do!

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“Take a picture of me walking by myself, Mom”

Fall was the right time to visit Kentucky. The leaves on the trees were turning, and it was positively beautiful.

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One of several “sink-hole” cave entrances

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This is his pensive stance

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Like many National Parks, Mammoth Cave has a lodge where you can stay in the park, and they also have several campgrounds for both tents and campers. We chose to stay in nearby Glasgow, Kentucky – but I’ll talk more about that in the next post when I talk about day two of our wonderful time at Mammoth Cave National Park!

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New to the blog?

Check out the first mom/son adventure that my son and I went on: 

Or, check out my adventures in Ireland in 1997 by starting here: 

How about my trip to Italy and Greece with some of my students? Start here:

St. Louis, Missouri

Welcome to a new series on the blog!

Since last September, my blogs looked at my travels either by myself or with students. However, this Mother’s Day (in the US Mother’s Day was this last Sunday), I am starting a blog about the trips that my son and I have gone on — mostly by ourselves, but there will be a few travels that we also took with my parents.

We are kicking off the series with our very first mother/son trip.

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a single mom of a fabulous 13-year-old young man. At the ripe ol’ age of 28 I found myself suddenly single with a 2-year-old– that’s a different story that I’d rather not get into in this light-hearted blog, but it gives you a little background.

Growing up, my family went on some truly wonderful vacations, and as my son got older, I felt like he was getting cheated out of those kinds of experiences because of my fear of traveling alone with a young child. So I decided that I was done “waiting around” for our life situation to change, and we began to go on trips, just the two of us.

So one day while driving home from Dairy Queen (an ice cream store for you non-Americans), I asked my son where he would like to go on vacation. He was five years old at the time, and I anticipated hearing something along the lines of Disney World or some other place that children have heard of. Instead he says boldly that he wants very much to go to St. Louis.

St. Louis? Where on Earth does a five-year-old year about St. Louis? And then it came to me… Veggie Tales… “Meet me in St. Louie, Louie. Meet me at the fair.” So I laughed, and figured when I asked him a few weeks later he might change his mind (as five-year-olds often do). However, Gabriel was consistent, and so a few weeks later I booked us a stay at a (cheap) centrally located hotel in the lovely city of St. Louis.

Though I grew up only a few hours away from St. Louis, I had NEVER been! I’d heard many lovely things about the place, but I mainly new about the arch and that was it. So I did some research, and a few months later, we were on our way- braving the road on our own!

Honestly, St. Louis was a wonderful place for us to start our adventures. For one, it’s only a four-hour drive from Indianapolis, which isn’t too terrible for a five-year-old to handle in one go. We did stop for lunch, where he lost his second tooth, and we found out that the Tooth Fairy does find you no matter where you are staying. AND she gives bigger gifts in new places because Mom didn’t have any change. 🙂

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Our first stop was, of course, the Mississippi River. We crossed the bridge from Illinois into Missouri, and pulled over almost immediately into the riverfront parking. We walked along the shore for a while enjoying the cool breeze off the water – the temperatures for the days we were there were in the mid-90s, so the breeze was welcomed!

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The first thing Gabriel noticed was a river boat, and we simply HAD to take the day cruise right that minute! So that’s what we did — it was the perfect way to see the city for the first time. The guide came over the speakers and pointed out famous landmarks and gave us historical insights into the city and the expansion of Anglo-invaders to the western portions of the United States.

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We chose the boat Tom Sawyer for obvious reasons– I’m an English teacher!

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The English teacher in me found the name of this boat particularly hilarious

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After our trip on the boat, we headed straight for the arch! Gabriel was blown away by the sheer size of the arch. We went under the arch where there is a museum run by the National Park Service and it is free (donations are accepted).  The museum gives much of the history of Westward Expansion, life on the prairie, and how people lived before the west was “settled.” It was truly fascinating for us both, and we came back the next day as well because Gabriel wanted to see it again.

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A statue of Thomas Jefferson – the president who pushed Westward Expansion

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partial replica of a sod house

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At this museum we had a defining experience. It seems strange to say that, but it is true. The park ranger who explained the museum to us gave us a worksheet for Gabriel to complete while we looked around, and he told us to come back when we were finished.

We walked around the exhibits and answered the questions and returned, as instructed, to the park ranger station. The ranger then told us about the Junior Ranger program, and explained to Gabriel (not me) the importance of keeping our National Parks and historic sights clean, safe, and protected. He told Gabriel that as a Junior Ranger, it was his responsibility to make sure he did whatever he could to keep the parks clean and safe. Then, he swore Gabriel in as a Junior Ranger and gave him his first (of many) Junior Ranger badges. Later Gabriel expressed to me that he thought the responsibility was too big for him and insisted that we go back and return the badge. It took quite some time before I was able to convince him that he was up to the challenge (so cute)!

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After leaving the museum, we went back above ground and walked around the arch.  We laid on the grass under the arch and looked up and traced it with our fingers and talked about how, from where we were, it looked like it got paper-thin at the top. He was fascinated and horrified (thankfully) that you could travel all the way to the top and look out at the world from the top.

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Here is a life lesson for you new parents out there: I should have stopped there. We had experienced quite a bit in our short time in St. Louis so far, and I should have steered us to the hotel and have been done with it. However, wanting to squeeze as much as we could into the day, I insisted that we keep going.

Five-year-olds do not have the same attention spans as their parents, and though I enjoyed the Old Courthouse quite a bit with its beautiful architecture…

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… Gabriel did not!

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This was after I told him we could get ice cream if he just stoped frowning. 

That night at the hotel we ordered a pizza and relaxed. Gabriel’s good mood returned when he learned that there was an entire channel on the TV dedicated to just golf! We watched golf for nearly an hour before I couldn’t take it anymore, and I finally got us both to sleep!

Day 2

We started out our day back at the arch, back at the museum, and of course the gift shop! We also took another cruise because our hotel gave us a free ticket… so we HAD to go! Then we visited the Dred Scott museum, and Gabriel was much more into that than he had been at the courthouse.

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Peek-a-boo!

We also encountered a lovely public park in the middle of the city with statues, fountains, and interactive art. I highly recommend going – it is just west of the Old Courthouse.

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Another note: You cannot do St. Louis the justice it deserves in two days! There were SO many things we didn’t do on that trip because we simply didn’t have the time. I’d learned my lesson the first day, and I let Gabriel guide the trip – and though I wanted him to see even more, I decided he would have the most fun if he got to choose the itinerary. So that’s what we did. We didn’t see the zoo, or the sportsball stadiums, the City Museum or Grant’s Farm. However, my son has the time of his life, and I enjoyed watching him enjoy the city!

All in all this was a wonderful first vacation for the two of us! We had an amazing time, despite the record heat they had that summer, and we made life long memories!

Come back next week to read about our next adventure – Mammoth Cave!