by Carmel L. Mooney
After spending a few days in Hendersonville, NC hiking many of the waterfalls filmed in The Last of the Mohicans, we continued to Cashiers, NC where we enjoyed the beautiful High Hampton Inn and Country Club. It’s an exquisite and very classy historic resort that brings to mind Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing – very old-fashioned in a great way!
We played family BINGO the first night and feasted both days on all the wonderful Southern Gourmet dining plus afternoon teas.
We entered the annual Teddy Bear Picnic and contest, a marvelous celebration with hundreds of festivities all day and night including a terrific magic show and performer at night. We even took a fly fishing lesson at High Hampton.
Sad to leave High Hampton (after eating a delectable breakfast of grits, biscuits and gravy, and wonderfully seasoned chicken livers) we traveled across the eastern Continental Divide along the Great Smoky Mt. Expressway and the Blue Ridge Mts.
Crossing through Tennessee and then into Kentucky, we passed the Cumberland Gap and Trail and Boonesborough named after our great uncle 8 generations back, Daniel Boone. When we reached Lexington, KY we toured the spectacular Henry Clay estate.
The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky the Horse Capital of the World, was where we saw many of the most famous horses of all times like Cigar, the horse that made millions before retiring. The place was truly spectacular. We drove out to Shaker Village and ate lunch at a Shaker restaurant and toured the grounds.
We even passed Boone’s Cave where Daniel Boone spent a winter.
We got into Cave City, KY in the evening and toured Dinosaur World, a park with Dinosaur-themed activities and exhibits.
While in Cave City we visited Kentucky Down Under and saw the animals and cave tour, and then we visited Mammoth Cave Nat’l Park.
In nearby Bowling Green, we toured the National Corvette Museum and savored a scrumptious dinner at Verdi Restaurant and Bar where we had wonderful natural Kentucky-raised steak; delicious homemade grits, and appetizers. Everything was outstanding.
We toured Bowling Green by first taking the fascinating tour of the Lost River Cave where Jesse James reportedly hid. A great boat tour through the cave adds to the excitement.
Mariah’s Restaurant is in an old historic building from 1818 so we enjoyed a great lunch there – the best-grilled portabella sandwich I’ve had in ages.
We continued on the Civil War Discovery Trail to tour the Kentucky Library and Museum where we saw the Duncan Hines exhibit and Civil War exhibits. We then visited the Historic Railpark and Train Museum.
Fountain Square, Circus Square, the Riverview, and Hobson Grove were lovely.
We finished out the day enjoying the old-fashioned 100-year-old Beech Bend Amusement Park and Splash Lagoon where we enjoyed a vintage 100-year-old wooden roller coaster and another ride from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.
Continuing to the Missouri Ozarks in the SHOW ME STATE, we stayed in Poplar Bluff one night, and when we arrived in Branson.
During our first show in Branson, we enjoyed the Liverpool Legends show, a superb Beatles revue. George Harrison’s sister was a guest and she told the audience stories and answered questions.
The next day we saw a Broadway show for a matinee. Then we saw Branson’s oldest show of 50 years, The Baldknobbers, which had relatives of the originals all performing.
While in Branson, we visited the Butterfly Palace and Rainforest and we saw Cathy Rigby star as Peter Pan. The show was absolutely fantastic!
Springfield, MO was the next stop, where there were lots of great things to see and do on Route 66.
In Springfield, we visited nearby Mansfield, MO, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder historic homestead and farm.
In the early evening, we went to the Discovery Center in Springfield and the famous Lambert’s Café where the waiters THROW the rolls at you (very cool and unique). It’s so popular we had to wait an hour for a table!
We enjoyed Anton’s Coffee Shop for breakfast where we had the best omelets ever. Our busy day in Springfield included Dickerson Park Zoo, and a drive-thru Wild Animal Safari where we stayed in our car and hand-fed wild animals. We had lunch at Incredible Pizza – very fun and well run and surprisingly actually had good homemade sauces and pizzas for a family fun center.
Later that night we ate dinner at Nakato Japanese Steakhouse where they cook in front of you and again all the locals packed in – excellent in every regard! Springfield has consistently excellent dining everywhere. Andy’s Frozen Custard is throughout Missouri, so like we did in Branson, we had to visit Andy’s a couple more times.
Before leaving Springfield, MO we ate breakfast at Mudhouse – a local favorite and then toured Fantastic Caverns.
Taking a few minutes in St. Louis to touch the GI-NORMOUS St. Louis Arch, we crossed the Mississippi again into Illinois where we ate at the Ariston Café, the oldest existing restaurant on Route 66 and quite a little gem. They serve the best liver and onions we had ever had and even the kids love the liver there! The elderly gentleman who runs the restaurant inherited it from his grandparents (about a century old) and lots of famous stars stopped there.
We passed a sign on the interstate (I-72) that said “90 degrees Longitude, 1/4 way around the world” – I begged to differ – it felt, at that point, like we had circumvented at least twice!!! We drove through gorgeous farmland with corn and soybeans as far as the eye could see for over 100 miles.
Finally, we arrived in Macomb, my college town, home of Western Illinois University, Macomb, is a quaint little college and farming city with a population of 20,000.
Locals directed us to Chick’s, the cool happening college-y place to eat and then we checked into the wonderful Pineapple Inn Bed and Breakfast in Macomb. I loved sitting on the porch at dusk watching the cardinals and robins and fireflies! It was one of the highlights of our entire trip – sitting and doing nothing for an entire hour. Wow, what a novel concept. What a wonderful B & B in every regard, with excellent food, hospitality, and a lovely ambiance.
We left Macomb and drove through Roseville, Illinois, and on through the Ronald Reagan Trail past Galesburg (Carl Sandburg’s birthplace).
We drove through Sparta, Wisconsin the BICYCLE CAPITAL OF AMERICA (where we never saw one single bicycle – does a jogging stroller count?) We had driven 7610.2 miles when we left Sparta.
We crossed the Mississippi River too many times to count, all day, as we wound our way in and out of WI and MN. We crossed the Chippewa River into Pepin County and finally arrived at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. We toured there and then drove down to Lake Pepin.
Stopping at a local produce stand to munch on blueberries, raspberries, and the sweetest peach I can ever remember savoring (we fought over the last bite), we then continued on County Road CC to the Little House in the Big Woods where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867.
Crossing the Mississippi AGAIN we passed the most beautiful farms for miles, eventually making our way out of the country and into Mankato, MN.
After resting up a day in Mankato, we felt ready to tackle the last 4000 miles and 2-3 weeks of our trip!
Leaving Mankato, MN we drove along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway to Walnut Grove, MN (On the Banks of Plum Creek). We waded in “Plum Creek”, by Laura’s real dugout house from the 1800s. We even spotted a crab under the same big rock, where 150 years ago Laura tricked the famed Nellie Oleson, in Plum Creek.
After we ate a big pageant dinner at the little local community center we went to the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant in our dresses and bonnets with hundreds of folks who came from all over the US for this big annual event.
Afterward, we camped on Plum Creek with about a hundred other people, next to “Lake Laura”.
In the morning we ate at Nellie’s Café and left Walnut Grove for the next LIW site in De Smet, SD where “Little Town on the Prairie”, and the “Long Winter”, took place, and “By The Shores of Silver Lake”, and “These Happy Golden Years”.
We visited the Surveyor’s house, the house that Pa built for Ma in town, The Ingalls Homestead, The Wilder Claim, and we got a special media tour of the “locked and fireproof & closed to the public – archive room” filled with Laura’s and her family’s actual clothes, dishes, jewelry, and belongings.
Staying the night in Pierre, SD, we then drove over hours of prairie after crossing the Missouri River. We spent a few hours in Badlands National Park where we ate Buffalo Tacos and hiked amazing trails and geological formations.
That afternoon we stopped in Wall, SD at the world-famous Wall Drug. You’d have to see it to believe it!
In Rapid City, we went to the Dances with Wolves set, and there we enjoyed a chuckwagon dinner and musical show at Ft. Hays, before retiring at the historic Hotel Alex Johnson.
The next day we arrived in Keystone, SD, and took a tour of Custer State Park where we drove the entire wildlife loop during an intense thunderstorm. We saw lots of donkeys, deer, and antelope. We ate at The Historic Powder House Lodge in Keystone for a delicious dinner of Elk, Buffalo, and Venison kebobs. After dinner, we went to Mt. Rushmore for the lighting ceremony. It was wonderful.
We stopped by the famous Keystone historic cemetery where many folks who were involved in the creation of Mt. Rushmore were buried. It’s the only cemetery in the world with a view of Mt. Rushmore.
(Just a little more LHOTP trivia… the real-life Carrie Ingalls of Little House on the Prairie, married David Swanzey (he’s buried there) and he was a very prominent historical figure there – naming Mt. Rushmore.)
We left Keystone after a terrific helicopter flight over Mt. Rushmore and Crazy Horse where we saw buffalo. We also enjoyed the Alpine Slide there too. Then we ate at Peggy’s Place for breakfast and drove on to Devil’s Tower, WY where they filmed Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
There we rode funky low rider 3 wheelers at the KOA near the base of the tower.
Later a fascinating local rock climbing instructor, musician/ bed and breakfast innkeeper Frank Sanders, gave us a terrific tour of his private property at the base of the tower where he takes folks climbing to the top daily. Devil’s Tower Bed & Breakfast and Wilderness Climbing Retreat is truly unique and wonderful.
We ate dinner at the KOA while enjoying the views and the warm and gracious hosts. It rained all night and the next day we rode horses around Devil’s Tower. We saw a mother fox and her babies on our trail ride.
Frank Sanders and the owners of the KOA were amazing people and so kind. They all had captivating stories of when Steven Spielberg came there to film the Close Encounters movie and all sorts of other local tales that were just awesome and captivating. They also make world-famous Devil’s Tower Fudge at the KOA too.
Sad to leave, we had to continue on to Cody. We drove through the gorgeous Big Horn Mts., stopping in Ten Sleep, WY at Dirty Sally’s for Huckleberry ice cream. We arrived in Cody just in time for the famous Cody Rodeo which was terrific!
We visited the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and Firearms Museum right before we left Cody for Yellowstone. Driving through Yellowstone Nat’l Park and the Grand Tetons was stupendous. We saw lots of wild buffalo as we crossed the Continental Divide again and finally arrived in beautiful Jackson Hole. We stayed at the Snow King Resort where we went on the Alpine Slide. The views were amazing.
Before leaving the Jackson, WY area we visited Teton Village and rode the tram to the very top. It’s so high it makes the tram in Squaw Valley seem like nothing – three times as high and far more spectacular of a view. We did the bungee jump there also and drove back into Yellowstone. Crossing the Continental Divide many times, we stopped to get ice cream at Old Faithful, while we watched it erupt.
We spotted lots of moose and critters in Yellowstone and many geysers, before checking into Mammoth Hot Springs. Locals recommended a nearby hot spring on the WY/MT border called Boiling River so we took a dip and also spotted more wildlife.
On our last day in WY, we rode horses through the areas around Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone where we spotted lots of bison and elk skeletons, aspen, and wildflowers. Driving through the park we even had to stop for several herds of wild buffalo.
Join us for the next installment of our story, for the conclusion of our trip 11,600-mile trip through Montana and Idaho.
Carmel L. Mooney is a travel columnist and the editor of Road Trips for Couples.