October, 2018 – Paris, Tennessee

As we headed south out of Illinois and through western Kentucky, our travels into new territory for the year was over.  For the remainder of the fall and winter we will be visiting areas we have been before as we head once more to Auburn and our winter location near Foley.  However, this will still take us 1.5 months to make the journey as we were still not in any hurry.  Our first stop was along the western shores of Kentucky Lake at Paris Landing State Park.  Over the last couple of years we have stayed at a number of locations around the Land Between the Lakes, but this was the first time on the western shore.  About 75% of the trip was along Interstate 24 as we traveled through the western tip of Kentucky into Tennessee so the trip was not too bad except for the cool rain/drizzle most of the day.  As the name implies, Paris Landing was the location of a important landing on the Tennessee River before the construction of Kentucky Lake and the state park dates from that time period.  It is an old state park and the campground is in bad shape.  On top of that our GPS decided to save us a few hundred feet and had us turn off US 79 before the main entrance to the park.  From here we crossed over US 79 on a bridge directly into the campground.  What we thought was the building to check in stated it was open only from Wednesday-Sunday, so we were on our own to find our campsite.  I left Kal at the truck and walked into the campground to check it out first.  It was a good thing I did, since the campsite I had reserved was too short and had a large tree in the way of using our slideout!!   I walked back to the truck to give Kal the bad news and she went in search of a camphost.  After checking the other 3-4 rigs in the campground, none of which were the camphost, she was directed to the Park Offices at the main entrance.  She walked over there and found out that this is where we should have come in the first place, however, if we had done that I would not have known the site was going to be impossible.  She also found out that the other building was a small campstore/laundry that was not going to do us any good anyways.  She got us moved to a larger site that would hold our big RV, although it was not going to be an easy place to back the RV into.  There was a drainage ditch going under the road right at the spot across the road that I needed to turn the truck into.  It took a couple of attempts to get the RV lined up with the deteriorating paved pad while keeping the truck out of the ditch, before I could back it in.  Thankfully we were able to level the RV using both planks under the wheels, as I was not sure this would be possible.  Although these were supposed to be electric/water sites, the water hookups were actually shared between two sites.  It took both hoses to reach the spigot and we located our splitter in case we had a neighbor later in the week or weekend.  I suppose you can tell from this that I was not happy with this campground.  Of course the weather did not help as it was still cold and wet.  When Kal found out that the only TV station we could get was PBS, she was not happy either.  To top it all off we there was an electrical smell when we opened up the boot under the RV.  We were not able to determine the source and everything seemed to be working, so we spent a few uncomfortable days and nights worrying about it.  By Tuesday both of us also smelled a “funky” odor that was hard to identify.  It was an astringent smell that did not quite smell like something was burning.  You would notice it when you stepped out of the RV and sometimes in the bathroom.  However, there was no smell in the storage area under the RV.  It was not until later in the week that we found out the cause.


We spent Tuesday in the campground since the weather was still cold and wet all day.  However, on Wednesday the weather improved significantly and we had wonderful sunshine and warmer temperatures.  Since we would only have a couple of days of this nice weather we went out to explore the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge.  This is a very large refuge stretching 65 miles along the Tennessee River and is divided into three units.  The Visitor Center is located north of Big Sandy, Tennessee in the Big Sandy Unit of the refuge.  It is a very nice Visitor Center with a nice video and exhibits.  While most of the refuge is accessible only by boat, there are a couple of hiking trails, however, the main trail was questionable due to downed trees.  Since it was nearly 8 miles long, we decided against it.  Instead we took advantage of a 0.5 mile trail at the Visitor Center that they use for presentations and school trips.  There were a number of cute stops along the trail for children to imitate different animals.  The trail ends at a nice overview of Kentucky Lake and we decided to make a loop of the trail by walking back along the shore line.  Since they had already lowered the lake levels for the winter, there was a broad area of small stones to walk along the lake.  This may not have been such a good idea as the rocks made for a challenging hike, but we got to see more of the lake along this path.

Since we were not interested in hiking the longer trail, the only other option we had was to drive over to the Big Sandy Peninsula where there was a driving tour.  This meant we had to circle around south to go through Big Sandy to get over the Big Sandy River and then back north into the peninsula.  This trip took 45 minutes.  Once there we obtained the brochure for the auto tour titled “Back to the Old 23rd.”  The people that lived on this peninsula before the construction of  Kentucky Lake did not have any towns and the area was known as the 23rd Voting District.  In 1938, the TVA began the construction of the dams on the Tennessee River and the government bought everyone’s property as they did throughout the Lands Between the Lakes area.  In addition, the families had to either move their homes or the federal government demolished them.  Thus there are no longer any physical evidence and the only remaining structure is the Fairview Church of Christ and cemetery that are still used annually for a rememberance in July.  In addition, the Friends of Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge have created this brochure along with numbered posts along the drive.   Unlike other auto tours we have taken in other Wildlife Refuges, this tour was not about the refuge and wildlife.  Instead it was about the families that lived here prior to 1938.  Except for pictures of most of the homes included in the brochure there is nothing left, except for some of the fields that are still used today for agriculture crops to provide feed for the migrating birds.  In addition to the auto tour, we took a side trip up to Pace Point where we had a nice lunch overlooking Kentucky Lake.  After lunch we continued to the end of the driving tour learning something about the people and their lives prior to being forced from their land by the TVA.

Thursday was another beautiful day so we took advantage of the hiking trail in the state park, Raptor Ridge.  This is 2.5 mile trail through the forests up to a point on a small peninsula on Kentucky Lake.  While it is a moderate trail, there were enough moderately steep ups and downs that we decided to cut the trail short by looping back on the other part trail since it does a figure eight meeting half way at a bridge over a small stream.  It was a nice hike through the beginnings of the fall foliage through the bottomland hardwood forest.

Friday was spent doing laundry and cleaning the RV, so we mostly stayed in the campgrounds.  By Friday evening we knew we had a problem.  Kal noticed the lights in the RV appeared to be getting dim and I agreed with her, so we checked the batteries.   The inside indicator showed the batteries to be empty and when we checked the water level in the batteries, they were dry.  Kal headed into town to get some distilled water and we filled all the batteries, even though we found out later this was a waste of time since once they dry out they are dead.  We turned off all the lights and hoped there was enough power left in them to ignite the propane heater during the night.  Since the TV, refrigerator, microwave, etc all ran off the AC power, this was our only concern.  This was also the cause of the funky smell all week as the batteries became more acidic as the water boiled off.  However, I don’t understand why there was never any smell at the battery compartment when we checked.  I had been checking the water levels once a year and they never needed water, but obviously I need to check much more often.  It is recommended to check them once a month.

It was obvious Saturday morning that the propane heater did function all night, however, the batteries had not recharged.  Even though it was my 64th birthday, with plans to watch the Auburn football game at an Applebees in Murray, Kentucky, we knew we had to find some new batteries before everything closed up at noon.  We drove to a nearby RV service center only to find out that their technician would not be in until Monday and they did not have the heavy duty batteries we needed to replace the one we had.  We drove into Paris to an Auto Zone store, but they did not carry the deep cycle 6 volt battery we needed.  We got the same story at the local Advance Auto store.  However, they both mentioned Mathis Battery in Camden about 20 miles away.  They checked their webpage and found they were opened until noon and since it was after 10:30 we quickly got on the road.  We found Mathis with no problem and they had exactly what we needed in stock!!  We bought 4 new 6 volt batteries and headed back to the state park to install them.  Let me tell you, these batteries are HEAVY.  It was all I could do to carry them from the truck to the RV and lower them into the battery compartment.  I don’t know if was the stress of the day or the exertion but I allowed one of the connectors to touch both terminals on one of the batteries which sparked like the fourth of July!! Hoping I did not ruin the battery, we got them all hooked up correctly and checked the charge.  We had only 2/3 charge, which I assume was due to my mistake.  By this point it was late in the afternoon, so we still had time to drive to Murray for a birthday dinner, although we had missed the Auburn game.  We did get to watch Alabama beat up on Tennessee, which was not all that exiting, however, the steak was great.

Kal got up early on Sunday to take the bad batteries back to Mathis since he was kind enough to offer to meet her early to return the battery since they were closed on Sunday and we were leaving the area on Monday without plans to go through Camden.  Although she had to wait over an hour for him to show up, she got our deposit back.  The bad news is the batteries were still showing 2/3 full and either I had ruined one of them or the converter was not charging them.  We spent an uncomfortable day in the campground minimizing our use of the batteries.

On Monday we got an early start hooking up the RV as normal, except we did not plug the refrigerator into the inverter so it would not run off the batteries.  From the state park we headed to the nearby RV service center to have the converter checked out.  Initially, it was going to be at least a couple of hours before the technician was available since he was out winterizing RVs in the area.  Luckily, he dropped in before we finished the work order and immediately got on the job.  By the time we finished the information for the work order, Kal had emptied out the storage area and he was ready to check out the converter.  As we suspected it was dead and this was likely the electrical smell we arrived last Monday.  It is still unclear why this would have caused the batteries to fail as well.  They should have just lost their charge over the week, so it is likely we had two unrelated problems?  In any case, it took him less than half an hour to install a new converter and we were on the road to our next location.  Once we got there we determined that the truck had charged the batteries as we now had a full charge, so I guess I did not hurt the one battery with my mistake.  All the next week we continued to check the batteries and they continued to show a full charge, so the problem is fixed with no disasters, except to the bank account.

October, 2018 – Carbondale, Illinois

Our trip south from Carlyle to Carbondale was an easy trip as most of it was on I-57.  The trip took less than 2 hours and we found the campground in Ferne Clyffe State Park with no problem.  As with all Illinois State Parks that we have stayed in, there were only electric hookups at each site.  So we once again went in search of a water spigot to fill up our fresh water tank.  We found one close enough to the road and while Kal filled the tank I went to talk with the Campground Host.  This state park has no entrance booth or check-in so I wanted to let someone know we were there.  I like to at least double check our reservation, however, the Campground Host did not even have the ability to check this.  It seems the Illinois State Park Rangers handle the reservations and should be around about 3:00.  since it was just after 1:00 this was not much help.  In any case, I went to the site we had reserved only to find an RV already set up in it.  Since this was Monday of a 3 day weekend for Columbus Day, there were still a few RVs in the campground.  So it was back to the Campground Host to see what could be done.  There were two possibilities.  Either this RV would be leaving since check-out time was not until 3:00 or we could choose another site that did not have a reserved tag on it.  We found a better site then the one we reserved with a spigot close enough to use if we wanted to and easily backed the RV into it.  By this time my sister Suzy had showed up to spend most of the week with us and helped us get set up.  Once again since it was a holiday weekend, the Park Rangers had been lax with putting up the reserved tags for the following week until they came around about 3:30.  I saw them talking with the campers that were in our reserved site, who had also come in that day.  It was obvious that the ranger was going to make them move, so I walked down there to help figure it out.  He checked our site and found it was reserved for the coming weekend, so we were going to have to move.  However, there was no reason for the other campers had to move as well, as we would gladly take the site next to theirs that was open all week.  I convinced the Park Ranger we would move, however, I got him to agree to wait until Tuesday as we were ready to go into town to the store and dinner since none of us had eaten lunch.  All was settled and except for having to move again everyone was agreeable.  We drove into Carbondale to a nice restaurant for dinner with my sister.

We gave Suzy her choice of activities for the week and she choose to just relax in the RV which gave her a break from her daughter’s family that lives with her along with their many cats and dog.  It was obvious she needed the time to just relax and we were happy to provide it especially since the day time temperatures were in the upper 80s.  So except for moving the RV on Tuesday we did nothing more than talking, reading, playing on our IPads or phones and watching TV.


Suzy had to leave very early on Thursday in order to make a dental appointment in the afternoon and to get ahead of the cold front.  After she left we spent the day doing laundry and cleaning the RV while the weather finally broke.  We went from summer to nearly winter in the space of a day.  The rest of the week was much cooler with temperatures not getting out of the 60s and rain at least part of each day.

We got out fairly early on Friday for a hike in Ferne Clyffe State Park.  There are a couple of trails from the campground overlooking some bluffs and to a waterfall, however, they were longer than we wanted to do.  Instead we drove over to the Round Bluff Nature Preserve to a 1.5 mile loop around a sandstone outcropping.  The trail follows closely to the bluff which provided some nice pictures and an easy hiking trail.  However, as the trail came around to the other side the trail became much rougher.  Thankfully they provided steps up and down the steep side of the bluff, but still it was a challenged for both of us.  We enjoyed the hike, which was good since it clouded up again in the afternoon for more rain.

The weather over the weekend was equally nasty so we just stayed in the campground, watched some football at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Carbondale, and worked on this blog.

October, 2018 – St. Louis, Missouri

After a week of staying in Missouri, we headed back east to Illinois to Lake Carlyle.  After a week of normal temperatures in the upper 70s, it was back to the heat in Illinois.  I don’t know the reason why, but our experience both last spring and this fall is that Illinois is HOT.  We were into another week of above average temperatures for fall with high temps in the upper 80s and low 90s.  Also since we were traveling from west to east of the Mississippi River we added a significant amount of time to the trip.  What should have been around 2 hours south became a 3.5 hour trip.  For us this is a long trip, especially when you factor having to travel through St. Louis to get over the river.  Thankfully, the traffic through St. Louis was not bad on a mid-day Monday, we found our next campgrounds, Dam West COE Campground, around 2 in the afternoon.  I was a bit concerned as I was not able to get reservations for the weekend in this or the other two COE campgrounds around Lake Carlyle and there were not many first-come first-served sites listed.  Once again pulling in on a Monday proved to be the correct strategy as we had over a dozen sites to choose from.  While Kal filled up our fresh water tank, since this campground did not have water hookups, I walked around the campgrounds and picked out a great site.  Plenty of trees for shade and a paved pad were standard and I was able to pick out a site across the road from the bathroom.  It was a perfect site.  This was also a great campground since there was a new Walmart Superstore just across the highway, less than 2 miles from the campground and this campground had laundry facilities.  We quickly got set up and settled in for the week.


While Tuesday was hot with temperatures climbing into the low 90s, it was also sunny and rain was forecasted for later in the week.  I selected this campground for its proximity to St Louis, about 45 minutes to the west, as there were a number of sites we wanted to visit.  The first of these was the Cahokia Indian Mounds State Historic Site.  While it is east of the Mississippi River and therefore not technically in St. Louis, it still meant traveling back to the metropolitan area.  We were not surprised to find there were not many visitors on a Tuesday, however, once we realized the very nice Visitor Center was not open on Mondays or Tuesdays, we understood why.  Usually we check out the website before planning our visits, but for some reason this time we did not.  I am sure the relatively new Visitor Center would have been worth visiting and thankfully they had provided brochures outside the main door.  At least we had a map of the site and we had it nearly to ourselves for the day.  Cahokia is the largest Mississippian Culture site in the US covering 2200 acres (3.5 square miles) and 80 of the estimated 120 mounds in the complex.  It is a huge area with a lot of flat topped mounds.  With its location at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois Rivers, Cahokia was the at the center of the vast trading network of the Mississippians.  Cahokia was at its height from 1050 to 1100 AD and had a population in the central area of 10,000-15,000 people.  If you include the surrounding agricultural areas this estimates rises to 40,000 people.   It was easily the largest city in the US and was even larger than London at that time.  While it is not known how many mounds were destroyed by the plow, there are still over 120.  We did not have time to visit them all and it was too hot to even think about it.  So we limited ourselves to the mounds in close proximity to the Visitor Center beginning with the Twin Mounds at the southern end of the Great Plaza, which they have also determined was artificially leveled.  Along the hike you also learn about the wooden palisade they had erected around the central area for defense.  Archeologists have mapped out the old post holes of at least four different palisades erected at different times.  Most of the mounds were constructed by prominent families for living structures, however, they have determined the Twin Mounds were for burial ceremonies and graves.  Once we completed this 1.5 mile loop we headed over to the largest mound on the site.  Monks Mound is absolutely huge, being the largest earthen mound in the Americas.  It covers 14 acres, stands 100 feet tall, and rises up with three terraces.  They have a stairway leading up to the top, which was a challenging climb for us, but well worth the effort.  I would assume you can see a lot of mounds from this height, however, they tended to blend into their surroundings and were difficult to pick out.  However, the views of St. Louis across the river and surrounding countryside was breathtaking.  To think that there once was a house/temple at the top that rose an additional 50 feet was amazing.  Also to know that they constructed this mound by hauling dirt in woven basket is inspiring.  Very amazing place!!  After a quick lunch at their picnic area, we drove over to the reconstruction of Woodhenge.  There is evidence of 4 circles of wooden posts that overlap each other and were erected at different times.  They have reset the posts for the largest and oldest circle, painting the base of those that mark out the winter and summer solstice.  They also mark off the equinox post that lines up with the leading edge of Monks Mound, which could be the reason the circle was placed here.

Tuesday was another hot day and with the forecast for rain and cooler temperatures on Wednesday, we decided to spend the day doing laundry and cleaning the RV.

As forecasted, Wednesday was cloudy and cooler with light rain for the afternoon.  We decided to take advantage of the cooler day to drive back into St Louis to explore the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch National Park.  The first challenge was to find a parking place, since these sites are located on the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis.  We had hoped there would be a parking lot for the national parks, however, there isn’t one.  Our only option was one of the many parking decks in the area.  If you have ever tried to park a large pickup truck in a parking deck you can understand the apprehension Kal had!!  We drove by a couple of parking decks with heights less than 7 feet (our truck is right at 7 feet).  We found one that the entrance was over 8 feet in height and we pulled in.  However, the first three floors were all reserved parking spaces and beginning with the fourth floor the height descended to just over 7 feet.  It was getting tight!!  It is also impossible for us to pull that truck into a right angle parking space with the narrow roadway.  We need at least two empty spots side by side to have any chance.  We were lucky to find an open space at a turn which in essence provided an angled path into the space.  After a couple of attempts to straighten the truck into the space so the cars on either side could get out, we were set.  Hopefully, nobody will come barrelling around the corner and clip the truck which still stuck out into the road.  We certainly HATE parking decks!!  In any case, we now had the day to explore the Gateway Arch and Jefferson Expansion Memorial which was just a couple of blocks from the parking deck.  The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial and Gateway Arch National Park are both essentially at the same location, so it is a bit confusing.  Up until this summer, the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial was housed in the Old Courthouse which is a stately Greek Revival courthouse built in 1839-1845.  The architecture is magnificent, especially on the inside.  It was the courthouse for St Louis until 1930 and was a central location during the period of westward expansion.  During the 19th century it was a public gathering place for wagon trains to gather and outfit before heading west.  It was the last major city emigrants would see.  It was also an important location for the divisive issue of slavery in the mid-1800s.  One of the most important Supreme Court decisions at the time began in this courthouse when Dred Scott was granted freedom for he and his family by the court in 1846.  However, the decision was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court who overturned this decision in 1852.  In 1857, the case finally made it to the US Supreme where Chief Justice Taney wrote the majority decision that slaves were personal property and the Constitution guaranteed property rights.  He even went further stating that the federal government could not restrict property rights, thereby negating the Missouri Compromise and leading opponents to slavery to fear the expansion of slavery into the western territories.  This was a very important decision by the Supreme Court that led to the Civil War three years later.  They have a very nice exhibit devoted to the Dred Scott case in the Old Courthouse, along with exhibits about the history of St. Louis.  I learned that St. Louis was actually the location of the western most battle of the Revolutionary War when in 1780 the Indians led by the British attacked both the Spanish fort in St. Louis (San Carlos) and the Patriiot held settlement at Cahokia.  Both attacks were repulsed, so the battle did not amount to much as the British led Indians quickly withdrew.  They also had a few exhibits left about the westward expansion, however, these were in the process of being removed since the main exhibit was now in the brand new museum under the Gateway Arch.

After a nice lunch downtown, we headed over to the Gateway Arch which is located in the center of a nice park right on the banks of the Mississippi River.  The new museum is directly under the arch along with the loading areas for the trams up the north and south towers.  Luckily we were there during the middle of the week since we did not have advanced reservations for the tram.  We were able to purchase tickets for the next ride up the arch and headed through their extensive security area to board the tram.  After watching their short presentation about the arch they lined us up to board the tram cars.  However, just before the cars showed up for us to board an alarm sounded for some kind of fire and we were ushered back out!!  We did not get very far when they once again turned us around since the alarm quit.  Since we were underground without any quick exits to the surface, this concerned me.  However, they did not seem to be concerned so we boarded the tram and rode up to the top of the arch, 630 feet above the ground.  Over the years we have traveled through St. Louis many times and I have always wanted to ride to the top and now my chance finally came.  I was not disappointed!!  Although the tram ride to the top is in cramped bubbles that slowly rotate to keep you level, the view from up top was worth it!  We were concerned that the skyscrapers in St. Louis would block our view, but since the arch is much taller than any of them, it was not a problem.  You could see 30 miles out both to the east and west and also straight down to the ground.  After we rode back down to the ground we had 45 minutes before the last show of their movie about the Arch to explore the museum.   For me, this was not nearly enough time in the museum which was filled with information about the westward expansion which began with the Lewis and Clark expedition.  They did a great job presenting the story from both viewpoints and I would have liked to have more time to study it.  However, we will be seeing more about this history as we continue to travel west over the years.  The movie about the construction of the Arch is also well worth seeing.  It is truly an engineering marvel that had never been done before.  Although federal funding was approved in 1935, designs were not approved until 1948 and construction did not begin until 1960 and completed in 1965.  After all the delays in clearing the land, moving the railroad tracks, and other lawsuits, the actually construction went smoothly and quickly.  After the end of the documentary, the museum was getting ready to close and it was time for us to face getting the truck out of the parking deck and dealing with 5:00 St. Louis traffic getting out of the city.  Once on the interstate, we were quickly across the Mississippi and the traffic lightened up quickly.  Even then it was a long day for us, but worthwhile.

After dealing with St. Louis twice during the week, neither of use were very interested in going back again, especially since the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site is on the west side of the city.  We will leave that for next spring when we are traveling north through Missouri.  Instead we just stayed and relaxed in the campground from Friday through Sunday.  We did head east to an Applebees on Saturday evening to watch the Auburn football game as they lost to Mississippi State.  Other than that we did not accomplish very much.


September, 2018 – Hannibal, Missouri

When planning our travels I like to keep our trips to around 100 miles between stops.  However, since we only traveled about 50 miles last week, we had to make up for it this week.  Thus, we had a 3.5 hour trip south to Hannibal, Missouri on the Mississippi River.  Once, there we crossed over the river and headed west another 30 miles to Mark Twain Lake where there was another Corps of Engineers Campground, Ray Behrens.  Unlike the previous Corps parks along the Mississippi, this was a newer campground and was designed for large rigs.  Unfortunately, when I was making reservations a month ago, there were no reserveable sites over the weekend at this campground or the other two Corps parks on Mark Twain Lake.  Ray Behrens had the most first-come first-served sites so we headed there first hoping to get a site.  As expected there were quite a few sites available on Monday, so we had a lot to choose from.  Since most of the sites were full hookups, spacious, paved, and with lots of shade, we took the first open one we came to.  None of the sites were pull-through, so I first had to back-in the RV along the paved pad, which was no problem.  We got set up quickly on our site and I went back to the check-in to pay for it.  Although we had a bit of a walk to the bathroom facilities, we were very happy with the site.  The only drawback that the sewer connection was in the rear of the site and I would have to use to the extension to reach it.  Instead we decided to just use the dump station when we left.  The Wi-Fi connection with our hot-spot was excellent since there was a tower less than 0.25 miles from the campgrounds.  The TV reception, however, was a disappointment as all we could get reliably was NBC for the week.  Since this was the beginning of the new season on TV, Kal was not happy all week having to miss the new episodes of NCIS and other CBS programs she likes.  She got along with watching the Voice on NBC and complaining about it all week.


Tuesday was a bust with rain off and on all day, so we just stayed in the campground relaxing and working on this blog.  However, with the rain a nice cold front came through and we were blessed the rest of the week with temperatures in the 60s and 70s.

The weather on Wednesday was sunny and warm so we headed out to explore the reason for being here, Hannibal Missouri.  As most of you probably know, Hannibal is the model for the fictional town St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain, grew up in Hannibal in the early 1800s and his childhood friends formed the basis for the characters in these two books.  For this reason the old riverfront district of Hannibal has been preserved and his boyhood home is now a museum.  In fact, the museum consists of 7 buildings with a single admission fee.  The tour starts in a modern day Interpretive Center where they tell the life story of Samuel Clemens.  Through a number of exhibits you learn about his family and growing up in Hannibal, his time as a printer apprentice after leaving school following the fifth grade, his life as a steamboat captain on the Mississippi River, his journeys west with his brother Orion to Nevada, his trips as a journalist to Europe and North Africa, and of course, all the books he published over the years.  They did a very good job providing an overview of the many stages of his life.  For those really interested in the details they had a lengthy documentary playing on a continuous loop that went into a lot of details.  Of course, sprinkled throughout the museum were Mark Twain quotes, mostly from his autobiography.  I have to admit, I did not know much about the life of Samuel Clemens and learned quite a few interesting stories.  Once we completed exploring the Interpretive Center it was time to continue the tour through the historic buildings in this corner of Hannibal.  Behind is a reconstructed home that is believed to be similar to the home of the Blankenship family that formed the essence of Huckleberry Finn.  Not much to see here, as it was little more than a shack and their few belongings were scraps the family collected from the trash.  Next on the tour is Samuel Clemens boyhood home, which they have filled with period memorabilia and more Mark Twain quotes.  They certainly have it designed to move people quickly through the exhibit by opening up one side of the house for viewing platforms into the various rooms.  An interesting way to do it.  After a quick visit to the adjoining gift shop, it was out onto the street in front of the house.  I got a picture with Kal holding a paint brush in front of the recreated picket fence before crossing the street to the more affluent home of Laura Hawkins, the inspiration for Becky Thatcher.  The exhibits in this home were first to contrast the life of Laura with the fictional life of Becky and then to contrast the likely lifestyles of the affluent Becky, the middle to low income of Tom, and the poor income of Huck.  Most of the exhibits were designed for kids, but they were still interesting.  Next door was the offices of Samuel Clemens’ father, John, who was the Justice of the Peace for Hannibal.  It is a very modest office with wooden benches and tables creating a rather informal setting for hearing and deciding local cases.  Next to the offices is the Grant’s Drug Store on the corner which was the store and home of Dr. Grant.  Unfortunately, the store was currently closed for rennovation, so we could only look in the windows.

All of this exploration of the life of Samuel Clemens had taken up the morning, so by this point we were both ready for lunch.  Fortunately, for us the Mark Twain Brewery was just across the street and it was a short walk to have a nice lunch while we both sampled some of their local brew.  They make a very good brown ale that went well with the BBQ ribs.   Kal tried some kind of fruity beer that was also good, but had a high enough alcohol content they she was a bit tipsy after lunch.  We still had one more building to explore on the tour, which was located a few blocks along the waterfront buildings.  Most of these buildings also date from the same time period and have plaques on them giving their history.  Today all of them are tourist shops with local crafts and memorabilia.  Both of us assumed that the Museum Gallery would be some nice art work and while art work was part of the Gallery, it was so much more and is certainly worth the time.  On the first floor they have recreated a series of exhibits and scenes from the more well know works by Mark Twain.  Included were, of course, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but there was also exhibits for the Prince and the Pauper and the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  There was also exhibits about his travels to Nevada and the Mediterranean voyage.  On the landing between the two floors was a reconstructed wheel house overlooking the Mississippi River that included a working ship horn.  I was surprised to find out the horns you typical hear associated with steamboats is not driven by steam at all, but by a small bellows forcing air through the pipes.  I also learned the origin of his pen name, Mark Twain.  They monitored the depth of the water by lowering a weighted rope with large knots every 6 feet, called marks.  Two marks was known as twain so a called depth of Mark Twain meant a depth of 12 feet and safe passage for the steamboat.  However, the highlight of the Gallery was their collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings used to illustrate a special edition of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.  They are marvelous works and it was great to see the original paintings.  By this point it was late in the afternoon, so we found a local Walmart and headed for the campgrounds.

Thursday was another beautiful warm day, however, we got captured in the morning by the Kavanaugh and Ford Senate hearings.  I guess a lot of people across the country watched these hearings live and we were one of them.  They both were highly credible and compelling, however, I can’t imagine they will ever find out what truly happened over 30 years ago.  My only suggestion to the members of the Senate is to remember that the main reason for confirmation to the Supreme Court are his legal opinions and experiences and not what a teenager might or might not have done in high school or college.  In any case, we did not get anything else accomplished all day.

After sitting all day on Thursday, I was ready for a hike on Friday to we headed over to the MW Boudreaux Memorial Visitor Center at the Clarence Cannon Dam of the Mark Twain Lake to get a hiking trails map.  Once we got there, however, we were both blown away with the Visitor Center.  It is relatively new facility, opening in 2010, and had some great exhibits.  We spent over an hour in the Visitor Center learning the history of the area, the construction of the dam, and the generation of hydroelectric power.  Unlike the Mississippi River, the Salt River is more of a gorge through steep bluffs on either side.  Consequently flooding was an annual problem for anyone living along the river.  Thus the main purpose of the dam was flood control, however, the generation of electricity and water supply have become equally important for the region.  After exploring the museum we took a short 0.25 mile hike along a paved trail at the Visitor Center.  It was an easy warm up through the mixed hardwood forest and along the bluffs overlooking the lake.  By then it was time for the main event for the day.  Their recommendation was to hike the Lick Trail, which was an easy 2.5 mile loop through the forest.  Especially since the trailhead was right across the road from the entrance to the Ray Behrens Campground, we decided to take advantage of their recommendation.  Except for a short up and down stretch getting to the loop, the trail was as described.  It was an easy 2.5 mile loop through the mixed hardwood Missouri forests with a couple of nice overlooks of the Mark Twain Lake.  We completed the hike at around 1:00 and since we were so close to our campsite, we headed there for lunch and a relaxing afternoon.

We spent the weekend relaxing in the campground, getting caught up on this blog, and watching football on the TV.  Not a bad way to spend the weekend!!