Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Land of Lincoln-Springfield, Illinois

Presidential Libraries are always on our “must-see” attractions list.  So when driving from St. Louis to northern Indiana 285we had our GPS set on Springfield, Illinois to get a little more acquainted with our 16th President, Mr. Abraham Lincoln.  Two centuries after his death, it is clear that Springfield’s best known resident is a revered icon and his life and legacy are celebrated throughout the town.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum does not rank as an “official” Presidential Library; however, we are pretty sure old Abe deserves a “Library” of his own.  Let’s stop there briefly and explain something about “Presidential Libraries.”  The Presidential Library System is a nationwide network of 13 libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).  These are repositories for preserving and making available the papers, records, collections and other historical materials of every President of the United States since Herbert Hoover (our 31st President).   Before the NARA was enacted, documents, gifts, and other materials amassed by Presidents were considered their own personal property.  This meant that over the decades materials were lost, destroyed, sold, or went who knows where.  Today, these items are the property of the U.S. Government and are housed until a Presidential Library is built and transferred to the federal government.  So since Lincoln's presidency came before the NARA, it is not an official Presidential Library.

Lincoln faced tumultuous times during his presidency.  He led a country that was deeply divided in the Civil War and issue of slavery.  When he became president in 1860, seven slave states had left the Union to form the Confederate States of America.  Four more state followed suit.  Lincoln vowed to preserve the Union, uphold federal laws and end the succession.  But the bloody war would rage over four years and bring the death of some 600,000 lives lost on battlefields across the eastern U.S. 


Midway through his presidency Lincoln issued the controversial Emancipation Proclamation which called for all slaves to be free.  This transformed the war from one which was to preserve the Union to a battle for freedom.  The country and even Lincoln's administration were fiercely divided over this act.  In the end, Lincoln was successful in preserving the Union. 


A week after the Confederacy surrendered an assassins bullet claimed Lincoln’s life.  His commitment to preserving the Union, ending slavery, and demonstrating that states were not sovereign over the federal government have led many historians to conclude he was America’s greatest president.
The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a city block-long complex that immerses you in Lincoln's world and time in which he lived.  The Lincoln story is told through an array of interactive exhibits, displays, artifacts, and holographic theaters.  Visitors journey from his poor childhood growing up in a rustic cabin, his life as a public servant and president to his early demise in the Ford Theater.   

When you first enter the main gallery the wide open space is filled with a replica of the White House as it looked during Lincoln’s presidency with the first family greeting you.  This also serves as a popular spot for taking selfies with Lincoln.  This exhibit takes you through some key parts of Lincoln’s time in the White House most notably the Civil War, his gravely ill son, and declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation with his divided cabinet.  

But before Lincoln made it to the White House he educated himself by firelight in a rustic cabin that served as the family home.  The rustic cabin is a replica in which Lincoln grew up in and emphasizes the family’s level of poverty and his determination and hard-work as he became a militia captain, respected lawyer, Congressman, and U.S. President. 

Two of the most dynamic exhibits are the holographic theaters that create dynamic and magical presentations.  In “Ghosts of the Library” an onstage actor appears to control the ghosts that appear as misty images wafting through the library on the quest to answer the question, “Why save all this stuff?”  The presentation explains that objects and papers housed in libraries are important in connecting people and events and who we are as a country. We were wowed by the presentation!  

The museum and library are an amazing explanation of Lincoln's life and legacy but you're not done exploring the Land of Lincoln yet.  The Lincoln Tomb, housed in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery, is the final resting place for Abraham, his wife and three of their four sons.  The 117-foot tall granite obelisk is a stark feature on the landscape marking the final resting place of the president.  Inside the rotunda is a replica of Daniel Chester French’s statue of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington.  The curved marble walls lead you in a hushed silence to the burial room. 


Another popular attraction in Springfield is the Lincoln Home National Historical Site - a four-block area featuring Lincoln’s 12-room Greek Revival home set among a restored 19th century neighborhood.  The free tours (of which you are required to obtain a ticket) are led by a park ranger and takes about two hours. 


Being that Springfield is the capitol of Illinois meant we could not leave without a swing by the capitol building.  The building took 20 years to complete, costs $4.5 million (which is a bargain by today's standards) and held its first session in 1877.  The structure is designed in the shape of a Latin cross with a 361-foot high dome making it nearly 75 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol.  Free guided tours are offered or you are free to wander about on your own during the week.

We stayed at the Illinois State Fairgrounds which is a great location to all the town's attractions and only $25/night for a full hook-up site.  The park has a range of sites from full hook-up to dry camping, paved to grass, and level to unlevel.  We chose a full hook-up site on pavement and were quite content there for the few nights we were in town.  While the campground is nothing special we really liked the in-town location and plenty of room to wander around the fairgrounds and walk Spirit. 

There is a lot of history in Springfield of which we just scratched the surface.  Maybe on our way back to St. Louis in the fall we will stop again to hit more sights.   Included are one of the most lavish Frank Lloyd Wright houses ever designed, the Korean War Museum, and the Cozy Dog Drive In – a Route 66 classic. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Escapees RV Club and Xscapers Needs Your Help

Hello Fellow Working RVers,

Escapees RV Club’s lifestyle group for working RVers- Xscapers- seeks input from working RVers in response to surging growth in the RVing community.  They are circulating a survey focused on the experience of working RVers as they balance work and travel.  Please take a few minutes (it literally took me three minutes) to complete the survey by clicking on the following link:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/xscaperswork

Escapees RV Club has long been focused on the needs of the RV community.  In March 2015, Escapees launched Xscapers.  One of the main focuses of this group is to provide resources that meet the needs of the working RVer.  Using their hard-earned reputation of advocating for all RVers, Escapees will utilize input from the survey to ensure the needs of working RVers are included in future advocacy efforts.  Additionally, feedback will shape events hosted for this growing demographic, as well as knowledge and education resources designed specifically for them.
Escapees works hard to operate in accordance with their mission statement, serving as a total support network for all RVers.

Your participation is very much appreciated and important to understanding the changing face of the RV community. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bennett Springs State Park - An Anglers Ozark Paradise in Missouri

Just off I-44 in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains lies a little state park with a big fishing problem.  And that’s a good thing!  Bennett Springs State Park is actually designated as one of Missouri’s “Trout Parks” and is so serious about their fishing they even have a trout cam so you can watch other anglers testing their skills.  As one of Missouri's oldest state parks (established in 1924), Bennett Springs has transformed from an ideal spot for grist and flour mills in the mid-19th century to an angler and outdoor enthusiast's paradise. 

The cornerstone of the park is the natural spring that delivers over 100 million gallons of crystal clear, cool water each day.  Here, natural beauty and ecological resources combined with recreation opportunities are plentiful.  We came to camp, fish, and hike but there is also canoeing, floating, a nature center and museum, trout hatchery, dining facilities, a church, Olympic-size swimming pool, and much more. 

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was the catalyst behind many of the improvements to the park and provides it’s historical character.  They built a dam, arched bridge, cabins and shelters, dining lodge, roads, and trails.  The CCC influence is obvious when looking at the dining lodge with its stone and wood exterior and post and beam interior that stands the test of time and emits rustic charm.  The dining lodge still performs its original function and is popular among visitors.  Especially those who want to have their freshly-caught trout prepared for them. 

When we pulled into the campground and picked out a super sweet paved full hook-up site we let out a sigh of approval and knew we were going to really like it there for a few days.  The park has 143 campsites comprised of five loops ranging from reserveable full hook-up to first come, first serve basic campsites.  There are wooded sites and those in the open where you are close enough to the fishing action to watch anglers from your RV.  In addition to camping, there are 65 other lodging units which are cabins, duplex/fourplexes, and motel rooms.

Let’s move on to what really got us jazzed about staying at this park . . . fly fishing.  (It has been a couple of years since we were out west where productive and scenic trout streams greeted us around every bend.)  I was all too happy to rummage through the basement and dig out my fly rod and waders.  The area surrounding the park has long been popular for hunting and fishing among farmers who were waiting to have their grain ground at the mill.  But a real transformation in fishing popularity occurred in 1900 when the Missouri Fish Commissioner introduced 40,000 mountain trout into the spring-fed stream. 


Trout had to be introduced because the natural conditions were not favorable for trout to spawn in but those that were introduced survived.  Rearing ponds and a fish hatchery were built to go about the business of keeping a constant supply of trout.  Today, approximately 3,000 females and 500-600 males are kept for brood stock.  Females are injected with a small amount of air that causes the release of their eggs.  Eggs are then mixed with milt (a.k.a., fish semen) which is hand-extracted from males.  Fertilized eggs are moved into large tubes where the movement of a stream's current is simulated.  After 21 days moving in the tubes, tiny fish emerge.  The 15-20 percent of fry that survive are moved into troughs where they are reared until they are three inches long.  After six months the fish (referred to as fingerlings because they are finger-length in size) are moved outside into one of the hatchery’s many raceways.  The fish will continue to be reared in these outside raceways for 18 - 24 months (approximately 12 inches) before being released into the park where they await anxious anglers.


You might think that catching fish here is a sure thing, but not so fast.  While I saw hundreds, if not thousands of fish swimming by, it is still a test to get one on your line.  One must enter the mind of a trout or at least figure out a few basic questions.  What do they want to eat – is it a nymph, egg, streamer, worm, dry fly, wet fly, etc.  How do they want the fly or lure delivered – smoothly floating by or slapped down on the water.  I was successful in catching plenty of fish to get my hands wet but I found it more interesting to watch the fish’s reactions to my casting and fly choice.  Some would swim over to take a close look before passing on my $2.59 offering.  It is a lot like watching people at a buffet.  Some go all in hard for the shrimp cocktail while others head to the beef carving station.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what they want. 


When I wasn’t wading in the water, we were walking through the woods.  The park has over twenty miles of hiking trails meandering through its 3,216 acres.  Trails range from a leisurely walk along the stream to that of rigorous mountain trails that reward hikers with great picturesque views of the Ozark Mountains.  Guided ranger-led tours are also available for those wanting a little more information on your walk.

Some state parks are remote and have a quiet and tranquil feel.  This park has a lot going on so that is probably not the case in the busy summer season.  When we were there in early April the park’s campgrounds were pretty empty and quiet and while we really liked that we also liked that there was a lot to do.  Our three days passed quickly and we would definitely come back. 

After we left Bennett Springs we stayed in St. Louis for a family visit.  When I told my parents about the awesome state park we stayed at they told me that we took a summer vacation there as kids many moons ago.  While I don’t particularly remember that vacation to Bennett Springs I do have plenty of fond memories of lots of camping and fishing trips.  It is nice to know that state parks stand the test of time and apeal to people throughout their lives.