In mid-January, when most of us due north of Oklahoma, are clawing at the front door for heat and humidity (well, at this this chick is), Sarah Grace set out on a 5 week road trip, damn near across America. And back again.
First stop, St. Paul, MN for the first of two pickups. Photographer #2 joined the journey as we headed to Wisconsin with rain, turned freezing rain, turned black ice and vehicles ditching out right and left.
We made it through the first of many less-than-desirable driving conditions and pit stopped in Peru, IL for our first night abroad. We dined at Social Kitchen and had above average pours for the wine flight we shared, oh ya, and the meal was pretty stellar too. (See my TripAdvisor recommendation.) We then spent way to much time pursuing the shelves of Walgreens with so many store branded coupons, it may have been illegal for a Monday night.
The next morning, we decided on a morning workout of snow hiking through to the frozen Canyon Falls at the Starved Rock State Park. Great little hike through closed gates as the government was shut down, again.
Normal, IL was our next stop, because who doesn’t want to say they spent some time in Normal-land. Normal has a great little poke bowl joint called Zen Sushi. And for dessert, there’s Denny’s Donut & Bakery shop in Bloomington, IL, which inhabits an entire city block – long and wide.
Denny’s is by far the largest donut shop I have ever visited with enough parking to host it’s own form of dough-gating, like tailgating but with donuts… oooh, I think I may have just invented a new sport.
St. Louis, MO was our next destination as I had never seen The Gateway Arch. While hanging around St. Louis, we decided to take in some live bluegrass music and local fare at Broadway Oyster Bar. (Oh yes, here comes another review!)
We arrived in Carterville, IL for our next package, Photographer #3, and for our stay for the evening. In the morning, we left the cute little town and made our way to Nashville, TN. We bumped around Broadway Street, better known as “Honkey Tonk Row” and took in a brief hour long visit of the sites.
Onto Hot-lanta, which really failed to live up to it’s name while we were there with temps hovering between 32 and 39 Fahrenheit with a wind tunnel that a tornado would be proud of. While staying in the city for Imaging USA, I had the pleasure of dining at the following fine establishments: Atlanta Breakfast Club (obviously delicious for wake up food), Budi’s Sushi, Nonis and The Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
While staying in Atlanta, we experienced a huge hotel fire alarm, sans evacuation, went to the spectacular Oakland Cemetery where we saw the graves of Bacon, Redwine and most unexpected, Waldo.
We met up with Photographer #4 and toured Amicalola Falls State Park for a good 5 hours of hiking & waterfall photos. We saw a stately Baptist Church with beautiful structure from the 1800’s, at sunset, and heard from an entertaining key note, Scott Stratten, whose podcast now has a new subscriber.
There was more than one night we danced & belted the tunes away because the hiking simply wasn’t enough of an outlet for all this bottled up energy. Failing arms and wild feet need a place to feel safe too.
Once the four girl band broke up in Atlanta, this chick continued her journey westward. Next stop was Memphis, TN to see Beale Street and of course, eat. In case you haven’t noticed, I tend to eat a lot, as in at least every three hours.
On the way to Memphis, I experienced a pee pee break at a McDonalds in Alabama, saw the Talladega Superspeedway (from the interstate it even looks HUGE!), drove through some jaw dropping fog in Mississippi seeing mountains & evergreens and stopped only for another tinkle break off of I-20 where I had a disturbing experience in the bathroom that is not appropriate for blogging. (I’ll simply say it involved blood and an uneasy sixth sense as I all but bolted to get out as fast as possible).
Arriving at Beale Street at dark was impeccable timing as all neon signs were aglow and streets alive with music patrons and bustling artists carrying guitar cases. After scarfing down a half rack of ribs at Blues City Cafe, I meandered down Beale Street taking pictures and scooted inside a tourist shop to yes, buy a sweatshirt because it’s stinking cold … WHEREVER I GO!!
After a night at a sub-par hotel in Brinkley, Arkansas right off of I-40, I left to get back on the road only to see miles of backed up semi-trucks on the two lane interstate. So, back roads and adventure, here I come.
Now, I must tell you that back roads in Arkansas resemble something like a very low maintained country road in the middle of BFE … with no shoulder and divots the size of craters. My first off-the-literally-beaten-path was Claredon where I explored the Louisiana Purchase Historic Site.
Let me paint a picture for you, 20 miles out of the way, sparse rural areas of possible farmland, not a car in sight, early in the morning with the LPHS where the road dead ends into a literal swamp with trees as tall as skyscrapers coming up everywhere.
While this was a truly magical site, I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of reptiles were underneath the boardwalk that held me in the middle of 8 acres of swamp. Reading the signs posted, I confirmed my wonders, American Alligators with Cottonmouth and water snakes to boot.
Mind you, I was hiking at a balmy 27 degrees with a light layer of ice on the swamp surface. However, that didn’t stop my mind from racing just about as quickly as my feet when I heard something unusual next to me in the swamp. I was never to happy to see a vehicle that wasn’t covered in snakes.
I arrived in Little Rock around noon and of course had to eat. I found the Garden Square River Market and gobbled down some lamb curry from The Indian Feast while chatting with some locals about the adorable city and it’s fantastic architecture and bridges.
After spending a couple hours touring around town in the much needed sunshine and barely 40 degrees, I drove to Petit Jean State Park where I spent another couple of hours hiking and exploring until the sunset on my wilderness adventures. This park has phenomenal overlooks on the plains of Morrilton along the Arkansas River and quite the history behind it’s name. No surprise I met another pro photographer while climbing to the edge of a rock cliff to get a better shot of the 180 degree views.
The photographer mentioned Cedar Falls overlook, which I was positive I had enough time for if I ran-hiked the trails. On my way out of the park, the sun was setting and I came to another overlook upon the expansive valley of glacier carved land reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. It was here I caught two lovers silhouettes enjoying the sunset. Overall, Arkansas was one of my favorite states to tour.
I wasn’t done yet, I stayed the night at a decent hotel in Muskogee, Oklahoma where I thought I had a great room and comfy bed while as I yoga stretched, I discovered a very significant, lovely termite trail coming down from the ceiling. After changing rooms, checking the ceiling, and getting a second-hand high off the pot smoking going on with all the rodeo folks in town, I slept pretty hard.
Next stop, Amarillo, Texas. Oh good Lawd. I lingered in Oklahoma City for about as long as it took for me to consume a beer at Stone Cloud Brewing Company and a goat cheese chicken pizza at a delightful place called The Jones Assembly. My carb-loading made me a little sleepy & headachy, so I found it a good idea to hit the road again with painkillers.
After a few turns off of I-40 to find a pee hole, I figured I was safer holding it than driving through another deserted town where pretty, young girls like me die in horror movies.
Arriving in Amarillo, TX with an overflowing bladder and sunset and hunger upon us, I decided to pit stop at the cemetery to get a couple of good shots of the jewel-toned sky through the trees. Only, I did some drive-by shooting from my vehicle window as there was a mysterious car that appeared to be tracking me through the cemetery.
Needless to say I fed myself close to the hotel, came back, locked the door and didn’t emerge until sunrise. Upon waking, my stomach calls to me, I mean 7-8 hours is like starvation mode for my body.
My options for a healthy continental breakfast were limited so two hard boiled eggs and a waffle were on the docket. Much to my horror, when I looked down at my waffle to pour some delicious honey on it, I found it to be in the shape of … Texas. Good god, I literally laughed out loud. Don’t mind the crazy girl over there who hears jokes from her waffles.
Alright, at this point I’d had enough of Texas and decided to see if Cadillac Ranch would redeem this uber-proud state. It wasn’t bad, but redeeming, I’ll draw the line there.
Next up, Alamogordo, New Mexico. One of the main reasons for this cross-country road trip. A place I had been looking forward to for years. A place that was affected by the government shut-down since I had left MN. The place I wanted to see more than anything and I was just a day away!
Until next month…. 😉