Monthly Archives: August 2012

Day 34 – Homeward Bound

Arrival in Philadelphia

Bethesda, MD to Chicopee, MA

Our final real travel day!  (After all this, the 2 ½ hours from my mom’s house to ours will seem like nothing.)  We’d been planning to get a somewhat earlier start, but we all were having too much fun spending time with our friends to be too efficient in the morning.  After Kathleen headed off to work we finally got everything packed up and on the road again.
The Liberty Torch in the Please Touch museum
When we’re looking for a break-up-the-long-drive destination, children’s museums are generally our go-to option.  Kathleen suggested the Please Touch! Museum in Philadelphia, and that seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  On the way we pretty much managed to eat up the last contents of our snack box – beef jerky, peanuts, granola bars, fruit leather – and call it lunch.  (I think that after this trip all of us will be ready for a break from these items.  Which is rather inconvenient with school starting so soon, as peanut-butter sandwiches are also a very popular school-lunch choice.)
The museum turned out to be quite stunning.  The setting was a large city park, and the building had once been the art gallery for the centennial World’s Fair in 1876.  It was ornate and beautiful, with a huge glass domed roof, and immaculately maintained.  (The other stunning part was the price.  It was very fortunate that we had our handy Children’s Museum Reciprocal Membership card with us, which covered four members of the family.  The price for the remaining ticket for one child was $16!)
Actual walking piano used in the movie Big
In fitting with their environment, the exhibits were beautiful too.  The kids had a great time playing in all the exhibits, but the part Bob and I liked best was a section on the 1876 World’s Fair.  There was a very large model of the fairgrounds with lots of information, and some replicas of exhibits that were seen there. We also took in a show called “Eat Like a Pirate” (with an extremely heavy-handed message about healthy eating that I doubt took in even the two-year-olds).We got through the museum in about three hours, which was just right for our planned time for hitting the road. 
Remember that Simpsons episode about the monorail?
I hear that song (“Monorail!”) in my head every
time I see the word.
Things did not go quite so smoothly for the remainder of the day.  We figured that leaving Philadelphia at 3:30 we might have some issues getting through New York near rush hour, so we called our friend Justin, New Yorker extraordinaire, for guidance.  He gave us some advice that I’m sure would have been very useful if we managed to follow it, but we ended up taking a wrong turn and going a substantial distance northWEST rather than northeast (though this certainly did help us avoid traffic, since apparently not too many people were interested in going to western New Jersey). 
Dinner was a surprising problem too, given that we spent a large amount of time on a road covered in strip malls, with restaurants everywhere.  The problem was that the restaurant we wanted always seemed to pop up at the last minute on the wrong side of the road with no break in the traffic to get to it, and an opportunity to turn around wouldn’t appear for so long that we couldn’t face the thought of going all the way back.  Or, in one instance, we happily saw a billboard for a place “ahead on the left” and managed to get into the left lane, only to find that it was one of those stupid “jug handle” turns where you have to go right to go left that New Jersey seems unaccountably fond of.  Eventually we made it into a Panera – which was fine until after we’d finished and the kids were crushed to discover an Olive Garden literally 100 feet down the road.  (Luckily the box of frosted scones we’d bought on the way out seemed to help ease the pain.)
Kids in space
Lastly, we had to contend with rude, Type-A drivers.  Usually we don’t have this problem unless we go to Boston.  (If, say, a lane is closed in New Hampshire and traffic has built up, you will see the cars from each line politely taking turns, and everyone gets through as efficiently and calmly as possible.  Connecticut drivers, on the other hand, seem to view this situation as some sort of contest for dominance, where their pride hangs on never allowing another driver in front of them, no matter the cost.  At one point Bob and I were actually annoyed enough that we both opened our windows and yelled at this particular woman simultaneously, which is probably something neither of us have ever done before.)  But eventually we made it to Grandma’s and comfortable beds.
On the positive side, our last few days of car rides have been made very pleasant by the two forms of CD entertainment we’ve been alternating – the radio drama version of the original three Star Wars movies (given to us by Bob’s sister Kris) and the four Melendy Quartet books loaned to us by our friend Katie, which were written way back in the forties but which everyone in the family loved.  (This not that easy when kids’ ages range from 4 to 10.  The other all-star in this department was Beverly Cleary – Ramona and Henry Huggins have stood the test of time well.)  Much thanks to Kris and Katie.

From Bob:
Many people are asking us: “What is the worst state you’ve visited on this trip?”  Until today we might have said Kansas, although that wasn’t that bad, or maybe mentioned our Great Salt Lake misadventure, though even that should not tarnish the whole state of Utah.
                Now, we have a clear winner, and we had to wait until our last new state to find it.  Connecticut stinks.
Having spent the first 23 years of my life there, I maybe should have known this.  The 90s-era tourism posters that said, “Connecticut: It’s between Boston and New York,” may have given me some idea there really wasn’t much going on in my native state to crow about.  In retrospect, is seems clear.
But I used to like Connecticut, and our drive through there today was filled with more than a tinge of nostalgia.  The corridor between NYC and New Haven is pretty well known to me, and once you get near Bridgeport, you’re right up near my points of origin.   It was a great place to grow up, largely because we took back roads everywhere.
Now I know that if you drive the highways in Connecticut, particularly after dark, you’re asking for congestion.  The already smooth and comfortable roads need belt sanding or something.  On 95 and 91 they’ve cut three lanes down to one in multiple places, and the population density of the lower half of the state can’t take it, even at 9 pm. 
That wouldn’t be that bad of the Nutmeg Staters were not in some competition with Massachusetts and New York drivers for the mantle of rudest in the US.  The captain of the Connecticut team drives a brown CRV and staunchly refused to let me merge at construction near the North Haven Costco.  There was no reason for her not to let me in.  Jen leaned out the window, arms spread wide in a “what’s your problem?” gesture but she squeezed on by.  What we should have done was taken her picture and posted it on the blog where this person could live in ignominy.  The best I can do it relay Nadia’s comment, “I can’t believe she was so rude; she was an old lady.”  Take that, CRV woman.
This is all included not because I needed a rant – I’ve calmed down in the soothing environment of Grandma’s house (Grandma is never rude) – but because many readers of this blog are from Connecticut.   We’ve been all across this great country and the Costco conflict was the only such effrontery we experienced. Just this one lady in five weeks of driving.  I want all our Connecticut readers to know that there are other places you can go to get away from this lady and her ilk – an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, for instance.

Sunset over the George Washington Bridge

Day 33 – Dude, where’s our car?

Washington, DC

 We had a lazy start today, which I think we probably needed.  The kids were having a great time eating pancakes and playing with their new friends, and Bob and I were enjoying a comfortable bed, showers, a reliable internet connection, and friends to talk to.  (Interestingly, both friends we’ve stayed with on this trip were the ones who introduced us.  Kathleen, Colleen, and I were good friends in college, and during junior year they studied abroad in Russia on the same program as Bob.  We met when he came to visit them our senior year.)
Our announcement that it was time to go see monuments was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, in fact.  Nevertheless, we hopped in our cars and began a caravan to the city.  Kathleen was kind enough to call us from the road and give us a guided tour of all the sites we were passing, including a lot of embassies and eventually the White House.
Downtown Washington is really beautiful, with everything pristine and perfectly manicured.  Apparently parking lots and/or garages are not sufficiently picturesque, because we discovered 
parking is a major issue.  In the midst of one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country (the Mall, the monuments, the Smithsonian, etc.), pretty much the only option seems to be on-street parking, which is limited and only lasts two hours.  Eventually we managed to find a couple of spots along the Potomac and close to the Lincoln Memorial (which Zoe later admitted to me she did find very cool, despite her earlier resistance to “monuments”).
That’s them, in the spinning car.
In our second search for parking, we found a spot right in front of the Museum of Natural History, and Bob actually managed to parallel park the van very competently.  We were very proud of ourselves.  (Note: this is foreshadowing.  If this were a film ominous music would be playing here.)
The Museum of Natural History is very large and information-dense, and we had to make a pretty high-level pass with all the little ones (despite the fact that Zoe wanted to stop and read every sign).  Lanie takes a dim view of museums that don’t have the word “Children’s” in the title (apart from the City Museum, of course), and much of the crowd were eager to get to our next stop – ice cream and the carousel on the Mall.

When it was time to leave, we wandered back toward the car, until we eventually noticed that (1) we were now past the museum, and (2) there were no longer any cars parked on the street.  Closer inspection of the sign that we’d blown past revealed that there was no parking from 4-6:30pm.  This was not our happiest moment.  Luckily we were able to get a little humor from the situation when Bob called the number on the sign and we learned that they don’t actually tow cars to a lot, but instead just tow them to a random “nearby street” – and no, the man on the phone did not in fact know which nearby street now contained our car.  Quite a system!  Too dispirited to randomly walk the streets in search of our car, we waited half an hour until the towing company figured out where it was.
The place where our car should be
Just to add insult to injury, two tickets — one for the
parking violation and one for the towing.  As though
they were separate offenses.
Send donations to: Jen & Bob Pavlik, 4 Pinecrest Ln,
Durham, NH  03824.
The night ended on a higher note with a nice takeout BBQ dinner at Kathleen and Daniel’s, with a special guest appearance from our good friend Ken – who, even though he’s a hip, single, TV-industry type, was enough of a sport to drive out to Bethesda and eat dinner with 6 young children so he could see us.  Ken gave me a very cool gift – a CD upon which he’d recreated a mix tape that he and I had made 20 years ago, in the summer of 1992.  Remember mix tapes?  A lost art.  He and I even snuck out for a beer after the kids were in bed.
From Bob:
I have many really good ideas that I often just throw out there for people to use to make their fortunes.  One I’ll throw out right now.  It’s a company that gives demographic data based on t-shirt logos seen at various high-traffic areas.  Someone must be interested in knowing which NFL franchise captures the most shirt space at Mount Rushmore or which corporate logos get the most walking billboard time in Times Square. I came up with this idea at Disney World.  It’s a good place to people watch.  Why not get paid for it?  Go ahead, knock yourselves out.
                For this trip, I have eight or so shirts and four logos among them.   Two are on the oldest pieces of clothing in my entire wardrobe, I think.  There’s the black Malerba’s Bail Bonds shirt given to me by my good friend Dee Dee Sonsini (whose grandfather played on a bocce team underwritten by said company).  The other is a maroon shirt with a big silver star on it and the words “Central Star – Central Avenue School, Naugatuck, CT.”  It was given to me by a lady who brought a bunch of kids to my office one a week for a while when I was a newspaper editor.  I helped them with their school newspaper.  Both of them prove conclusively that they made better t-shirts in the late 80s and early 90s than they do now.  They’ve gotten a lot of wear, but they don’t get many comments from people who behold them.
                The newest logo shirt in my suitcase is one that I just got for Father’s Day.  It has a stair car on it and it says, “Watch out for hop-ons!”  Some blog readers may get the reference.  A youngish park ranger in a Grand Teton visitors’ center got it.  She was the only one on the trip so far.
                The most recognized shirt I’ve got with me is shiny blue with a red stripe at the collar, and has the logo of the US Soccer Federation on it. It was given to me a few years ago, and I treasure it.  I also try to wear it on particularly patriotic occasions, such as today’s trip to the nation’s capital.  Just about every time I’ve worn it this trip, someone has commented on it.  In Custer State Park it led to a nice conversation with a high school soccer coach from Wisconsin. (I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but this guy gave me a pretty solid warning to be careful of bears in Yellowstone.  I’m just remembering it right now. He wasn’t scary bear lady or anything, but for those who have commented on my bear paranoia, this guy may have planted the seeds of my cautious approach in Wyoming.)
                Also, there was a fellow who worked at the YMCA camp who said he had a jersey from the year after the year the national team’s journey looked like mine.  He is big fan of US soccer and also a season ticket holder for the Columbus Crew of the MLS.   Later that day, there were the two ladies in Rocky Mountain National Park who noticed my shirt when we passed on the trail.  They asked me if the US women won their gold medal game.  The Columbus Crew man told me they had so I passed that along to the hikers, who were very happy.
                One surprising place where no one commented on my shirt was St. Louis, which I had always heard was a center for the sport in this country.  It might be that everyone was looking at all the other things in the City Museum and didn’t notice me. 
                Today, wearing the red, white and blue at the Smithsonian today, I was approached by a man who asked me if I knew who Sunil Gulati is.  Of course, you may also know that this is the name of the president of the US Soccer Federation.  This man sat behind Sunil Gulati in high school and says Gulati was a good forward on the soccer field despite being small in stature.  Had I known then what I know now (I just looked up Gulati on Wikipidia to get the spelling of his name), I would have commented to the Smithsonian man about the quality of the high school team Gulati played on.  I played against them several times in my own soccer career.  Guliati went to Cheshire High School in Cheshire, CT (according to Wikipedia).  Our paths did not cross on the field, however.  He is 12 years older to me (also according to Wikipedia).
                Aside from this Cheshirite Smithsonian man, we were pretty anonymous in DC.  There is a lot going on here — rangers and Park Service here and everything.  We got our own personal audio tour of Embassy Row and the environs from Kathleen, who works in DC and knows. The embassies we saw were too many to list, but some impressive ones were Togo, Indonesia, and, especially, Ivory Coast.  Many of the diplomats in side these buildings were wearing their own national team jerseys.  It was like a car ride through the World Cup. 
                I am left now only to lament that we did not return to our van a little earlier.  The tow truck driver and/or parking code enforcement officer might have mistaken me for Carlos Bocanegra and torn up the ticket.

Patriotic popsicles

Day 31 – OK, just a little more about the cave

Mammoth Caves to Wytheville, Virginia

It wasn’t easy to photograph the
lantern tour.  Flash would not have
been appreciated.
 Throughout all the many caves we’ve visited on this trip, Zoe has been desperate to get more of a genuine caving experience.  She’s always disappointed when either she’s not old enough, or her sisters aren’t old enough, to do the tours she really wants to do.  (It was a crushing disappointment to her that the Mammoth Cave Trog tour, which was for 7-12 year olds only and involved wearing overalls and headlamps and crawling through tunnels, was no longer running because the crazy Kentucky schools are back in session already.)  So this morning she and I went on the Violet City Lantern tour, a 3-hour, 3-mile strenuous trek through the cave by lantern light.
The rangers had all raved about this tour, and we weren’t disappointed.  In addition to the cool cave scenery, made especially romantic when lit only by old-fashioned gas lanterns, part of our route was along what’s called the Historic tour.  Now I’m as shallow and easily bored as the next person, and I have to admit the words “historic cave tour” hadn’t jumped out at me as bursting with excitement.  I thought it would be dry statistics about who discovered the cave and when and blah blah blah.  Instead, we saw the following, perfectly preserved due to the cave’s constant 54 degree temperature and 80% humidity: wooden pipes, made of poplar trees, that were used in a saltpeter mining operation run during the War of 1812, a ladder installed by Native Americans 2000-3000 years ago, various other Native American artifacts and drawings, 2500-year-old human poop, and stone huts – build right in the middle of the cave’s large passages, about a mile in – that were used to house tuberculosis patients in the hopes that the “healthy” cave air would provide a cure.  (In fact, it had the opposite effect – but the patients had agreed that they wouldn’t leave the cave until they were cured or dead.  Some of them spent 10 months in the cold, damp darkness of the cave – until there were sufficient fatalities that the medical authorities in charge decided to ban the experiment.  And in the meantime, tours were going through the cave, passing by the huts and peering at the patients.)  We saw the original rock paths used by tours in the 1800s, and walked on paths built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  All in all, quite an experience and well worth the price of admission.
Endless Kentucky (or possibly Virginia) road
After this exciting morning, we got in the car and drove approximately 27 hours across Kentucky and Virginia.  Or at least it felt that way.  Someone needs to build an east/west highway here, stat.  It seems impossible to believe that the route we took was the most efficient one, so maybe google was just messing with us.
From Bob:
The driving portion of this day got off to a bad start and it didn’t end that well, either.  The best thing about today is that we got our laundry washed and dried (though not folded and sorted) and we got out of our campsite on time.  Also, Zoe got to do a special lantern-lit cave tour with Jen.  Nadia and Lanie are probably happy that they could afford Pop-Tarts from the camp store while we laundered.   We managed to get some postcards off, too, and the laundry room had a few spare outlets that I could charge things in.  So the morning was actually a pretty productive time.
                Then we went to leave and drove around for a half hour and things started looking familiar.  Hey, there’s a sign for Mammoth Caves.  Is this a different part of the park?  No, we just drove in a big circle.  Jen was making sandwiches in the passenger seat and I must’ve got wrapped up in the book on CD (thanks for nothing, Crossman-Ellis family and your engaging audio literature). 
                After that it was just a slog through Kentucky, which I’m sure is a fine state, but it was like driving through molasses.  Even the brief bit of Tennessee we got into (I would not have thought it was possible to be in a state for a shorter duration than we were in Idaho, but such was our experience in Tennessee) and the novelty of going through the Cumberland Gap did not save the afternoon.   This is because driving through western Virginia is rather like driving through Kentucky.
                Even the knowledge that there was a mattress waiting for me and not a Thermarest did not perk me up.  I was perked up a little by the pizza from Pizza Plus in Duffield, VA.  We’ve been pizza-starved this trip, so any that we get seems good.  We may have left our one true chance for great pizza behind in Chicago with Colleen, but that was so early in the trip that it wasn’t high on our agenda.  And Colleen took us to some really top-notch places to eat, too, so we have no complaints.  It won’t be too long before we can order a White Buffalo at La Festa again.
                Talking about pizza is not making my headache feel any better.  I would say I’m dehydrated, but I had seven glasses of water at Pizza Plus.  It’s rather a hybrid fast-food, waitress-service place and although we sat near the soda fountain, the waitress was pouring our waters from a pitcher she brought out from the back.  If I could have gotten to that soda fountain, I might have drunk more water.   I don’t feel thirsty now, I feel smoky.  On this, our last night in a campground (we’re in spacious, two-room KOA cabin), we seem to be downwind from all the other sites.
                Enough complaining.  Good night.
                One more complaint: Although they clearly call it Mammoth Caves, there was not a single mammoth to be seen.  This seems like false advertising.
Nadia’s violin teacher was very insistent that she not skip five weeks of practicing.  Through a combination of threats
and bribery, Bob was able to get her to practice on occasion.  We expect a medal from Miss Louise for this.

Day 32 – Back on the Eastern Seaboard

Wytheville, VA to DC

Atop Stony Man
Zoe’s nature journal
Another substantial driving day today, but still felt pretty minor compared to yesterday.  We were a little slow getting moving, having not quite caught up with last night’s transition from Central to Eastern time.  We had stayed in a cabin (“kamping kabin” as they irritatingly call them, which almost made me not stay there) at another KOA, chosen for convenience, and actually found this one to be a step up from the others we’ve stayed at – convenient to the highway but not right on top of it, and very large and wooded.  There was also a pool with a water slide, and we were anticipating difficulties getting the kids to leave without trying it out (since it didn’t open until 11).  We needn’t have worried, however – the unseasonably cool weather continues and we were all still huddled in our sweatshirts when we eventually departed.  (Don’t get me wrong – that factor alone would not have been enough to keep the kids off the waterslide.)  The worst thing about this KOA is that their brochure promised free coffee in the office and when I eagerly went to take them up on it, found only a dry, empty coffee pot.
About three and a half hours of driving brought us to Shenandoah National Park.  We drove through on the famous Skyline Drive, atop a ridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and luckily found it not at all terrifying.  The air was wonderfully cool and fresh and piney smelling, and we opened all the windows and enjoyed the scenery.  We happened to arrive at the visitor center just in time for the kids to do a junior ranger program on nature journaling, and then set off on a hike the ranger had recommended called Stony Man (which actually covers a bit of the Appalachian Trail).  It was a fairly easy hike – a 1.6 mile loop leading to the summit of the second highest mountain the park – but Lanie is reaching the end of her rope with any kind of hiking, so threats and bribery were required to get her to the top.  (Our main threats on this trip consist of work detail (mainly dishwashing duty) and loss of dessert privileges, and bribery is usually food-related.)  The view was stunning and well worth it, and the trip back down was quick and easy.  Later we stopped at the road at an overlook to see where we’d hiked – the mountain is shaped like a reclining man gazing lazily up at the sky.
The afternoon nearing an end, we set off for an additional two and a half hour drive to DC (or actually, to our friend Kathleen’s house in Bethesda, MD).  On travel days we usually stop at a restaurant for dinner, which keeps the children from mutinying over the peanut butter lunches.  Today this was particularly necessary because we didn’t even really eat lunch – our car supplies are running low (just about out of peanut butter and beef jerky!),  and we didn’t want to take the time to stop, so lunch consisted of a can of honey-roasted peanuts and various other scraps from the snack box.  (The kids didn’t even complain about missing lunch – I think the monotony has successfully demoralized them to the extent that they didn’t even notice.)  So we were off to Applebees, which turned out to be a good choice because apparently kids eat for $.99 on Tuesdays.  (This was not quite as good of a deal as it could have been, since Zoe has now decided that her tastes are too sophisticated for the children’s menu.)
This is Lanie’s hint that she’s had enough hiking
We successfully reached Bethesda just after 8pm, and it was wonderful to have a friendly house to arrive at rather than another campground or hotel room.  Of course, I think we managed to arrive at the worst possible time and completely sabotage the Keller/Volchok’s bedtime routine, but all the kids immediately started having a great time together and we did too.
Did you know that we’ve been to the first two tourist attraction in the US?  The first was Niagara Falls and the second was Mammoth Caves.  They both opened within a few years of one another in the early 1800s.
                Now that I’ve established myself as an authority on US travel, let’s see what else I can tell you.  Surely you knew that Colonel Sanders was born in Kentucky because of the chicken, but did you know that Lee Majors is also from Kentucky?  He is, and just a few towns over from where the Colonel’s birthplace is marked with a KFC Café.  I don’t have many regrets about this trip, but I’m thinking now it would have been nice to stop by there.  It smelled like free chicken as we were driving past.
                We’ve passed many so many notable things that I can’t recall them all.  I know we passed through the home town of Little Miss Tiny Kentucky 2011, but I can’t remember her name or which town it was. Surely someone will pipe in with this information within a few minutes after this blog is posted.
                Several signs have pointed out Civil War battles that took place right along the side of the road.  We have not suffered any anti-North bias because of our New Hampshire license plate, though.  Rather, things are starting to look like home.  The hills here look like our hills, though the valleys and fields here look a little more productive than the ones around here.  If they put a road atop some of the Presidentials, it would be very similar to Shenandoah National Park (not that I’m advocating this, by the way).  
Once we got in the DC metro area, the cars started looking like ours.  Minivans have replaced pickup trucks.  Zoe asked a few weeks ago if we lived in the only part of the country that had neighborhoods.  We’re giving the kids exposure to vast swaths of the US that you can see from the highway.  Well, here we are tonight in a very nice house is a very nice neighborhood in Bethesda.  It all seems very close to home.
Very unscary road!

Day 30 – Just one more cave, I promise

Mammoth Caves

We had a nice relaxing morning today, since we’d booked a cave tour that started at 10, and was only a short walk away.  (The best part of the Mammoth Cave campground is that it’s so close to the visitor center and all the tours, along with many hiking trails.  We’ve become accustomed to all the huge national parks where you might have to drive half an hour to get to where you want to go.  We love it when we arrive someplace where we can set off on foot and give the poor van a break.)
Mammoth Cave is thought to be the largest cave in the world, and much of it is still unexplored.  There are quite a variety of different tours here, ranging from short and easy to long and strenuous.  We chose a middle path, and went with a two-hour, moderate difficulty tour called the New Entrance tour.  (It was not actually all that strenuous, since most of the walking was down stairs, but since the stairs were very steep and spanning deep chasms below, it was definitely not for the acrophobic.)  This was probably my favorite cave of the trip – the cave scenery was impressive and the ranger was knowledgeable and fun. 
In the afternoon we dragged the kids (or at least 2/3 of them required dragging) on a hike down past the natural entrance of the cave.  In the other caves we’ve visited, there was never much of a natural entrance – sometimes a small hole in the rock that the guide would point out on your way through the revolving door that they’d drilled into the cave for tours.  This cave had a real entrance like you’d picture a cave should have – a great black opening in the hillside, with cold air rushing from it.  You could walk into the “vestibule” without a tour, and we even saw a bat hanging on the wall.  Further along the hike, we saw the place where the underground river that had formed the cave emerged and joined the Green River above ground.
The natural entrance to the cave.  
We’d planned to do another hike into a sinkhole, but Lanie was just about at the end of her rope (her enthusiasm for hiking having been on the wane for several days), and Bob and I weren’t at our best either, since we both seem to be coming down with something.  So it was a quiet afternoon at the campground, which now – on Sunday afternoon – had become almost as much of a ghost town as Hannibal.  Tonight we had a campfire – probably our last, so we finally used up the rest of our s’more supplies.
The River Styx emerges from the cave
Lanie has declared, “One of my talents is
drying dishes.”  It’s nice to have one child
who’s still at an age where they feel it’s
fun to do chores.  She is pretty talented
at doing dishes, except that it takes her
approximately 10 minutes per dish.  She
is very thorough.

From Bob:

This is considered one of the three crown jewels of America’s caves (along with Carlsbad Caverns and Jewell Cave) according to our guide Ranger Steve. This gave me a pang because, as you know, we passed on Jewell Cave when we were in South Dakota.  Ranger Steve said that Jewell Cave really pales in comparison to Mammoth and Carlsbad, and that he wishes he went to Wind Cave instead of Jewell when he was in South Dakota.  This made me feel better.
There were some beautiful, very old trees along our hike
                Truthfully, although the caves are very interesting here, the most remarkable part of our tour was the stairway that leads you down hundreds of feet of vertical channels once you enter at what they call the “New Entrance.”  They wind among the rocks and give brief glimpses of the 100-foot drops stretch below.  Of course, by now we know that I eat 100-foot drops for breakfast with my granola bars, so I really enjoyed this part of the journey, though some of our co-spelunkers had trouble with it. 
                Ranger Steve said the man who created this entrance and exploited the caves in the 30s built wooden stairs down.  When it came under the NPS, they ripped out the wooden stairs and contracted out to have metal stairs built.  Nobody could figure out how to do it until one submarine contractor came along.  His company took six years, but they engineered what I think is a marvel.
                Another highlight of our cave tour: We got to see a bat and cave crickets.  Unfortunately, the tour where you get to see the eyeless cave fish was sold out.  All-in-all, though, I am happy with our cave adventures on this trip.   It’s always nice and comfortable down there, just remember to bring your sweatshirt.
                We’re down to just one night in the tent left.  Then it’s bed, beds, beds all the way home.  

Day 29 – Back into the familiar territory of zoos & carousels

One last view of the City Museum from below — we drove past it on our way to the zoo.

St. Louis to Mammoth Caves

Look at this crazy thing.  Giant anteater!
After another hearty breakfast, we sadly said goodbye to the Drury Inn and headed over to the St. Louis Zoo.  Unfortunately we couldn’t walk there.  After a lovely day with no driving at all, we paid the price by getting caught in various construction detours and, later, zoo traffic, but with the help of our GPS we eventually arrived in Forest Park, home of the zoo.
It was another beautiful day – sunny and low 80s – and the zoo was a great way to spend our morning.  Since it was Saturday, it was pretty crowded, and I was almost wishing for a little of the ghost-town feel that we’d had in Hannibal.
We wanted to get on the road by around 1:00, so we hit upon the brilliant scheme of withholding lunch until we left the zoo.  That eventually got the kids out of there without a battle (possibly because they were weak from hunger).  Then it was our usual lunch buffet in the car: peanut butter and bread, peanut butter and tortilla, peanut butter and banana, or peanut butter and apple.  (Also, we have sun nut butter.)
We had around a 5 ½ hour drive to Kentucky, so we decided to stop for dinner.  (The vision of a restaurant is one thing that really keeps the kids going these days.)  However, it never seems to fail that when dinnertime arrives, we’re in the middle of nowhere with nothing to be seen but farms and trees.  In this case, we eventually happened upon a Dairy Queen – not Bob’s and my first choice, but one that was met with much enthusiasm from the back seat.  Did you know the kids’ meals there come with a whole soft serve ice cream cone?  We are thinking of our friend Jamie, who practically had Dairy Queen cater his wedding.
Elephant mom & babies
Butterfly garden
We got to Mammoth Cave National Park with some daylight still left.  Although the cave is of course the main attraction here, there are also miles of unspoiled countryside, and we saw several deer and turkeys.  In stark contrast to Hannibal, the Mammoth Cave campground was hopping.  It was a Saturday night, and people were living it up.  Still, we had a nice large site among the trees, and speedily set up our tent for the last time. 
The inevitable carousel
From Bob:
We have not crossed so many states in one day since we entered Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Wyoming and Utah again.  This time is it was Illinois and Indiana (both of which we passed through on the northern run), sandwiched between Missouri and Kentucky.
                We definitely did cross the Ohio River this time, a few hours after the Mississippi.  Aside from that it was an uneventful drive, save for the mess getting out of Forest Park in St. Louis.  It was a beautiful summer day – mild for August – and everyone seemed to want to go to the zoo.
                We have been very fortunate weather-wise.  It is not oppressive at all.  The mid- to high 80s feel fine when humidity is low.  We have been sparing on the A/C in the car and not suffering too much for that. 
             We have not calculated our gas efficiency yet, but we’ll have to factor in an interesting (maybe) car-related note that some people may have realized: The gas has changed as we move back east.  Somewhere along the line out west the regular gasoline became to 85 octane, though the prices were similar all along the way.  I thought this was strange, but figured maybe I was imagining things; but, behold, we get back close to the Mississippi and the octane for regular gas goes back up to 87, where I always thought it had been.  What happened to those two octane?  Did they get lost in the high altitude?  Why was I paying just as much for 85 as I am now for 87?  Can I get a refund?

Day 28 – Possibly the highlight of the whole trip (for at least 3/5 of the family)

St. Louis

Today, right after breakfast, we set off on a 15-minute walk to the long-awaited City Museum.  This place really defies description, and I have to assume is unique in all the world.  It is not, as you might think by the name, some dry historical, educational kind of place.  Instead, it is a kid’s (or kid-at-heart’s) dream come true.  It is not, however, a place for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  Or claustrophobic.  Or inflexible.

This place used to be a shoe factory.  It’s since been taken over (presumably by some kind of brilliant and crazy mad-scientist-type) and turned into the most eclectic “museum” you’ve ever seen.  Almost everything is constructed from found and salvaged materials.  There are no maps.
On the 11th floor roof, you’ll find a school bus hanging off the corner (you can sit in the driver’s seat, actually off the edge of the building).  You can ride a Ferris wheel, which evidently has been
Outside of the school bus (look up)
Inside the school bus

 considerably souped up, since it goes about five times faster than any Ferris wheel I’ve ever been on, and gives you the distinct impression that you’re going to soar off the edge of the roof as you come down.  You can climb a 3-story cage tunnel up into the sky, then take a deep breath and plunge down the steep, fast slide underneath the tunnel.  You can climb and slide and swing and hop in various structures everywhere you look.
Looking down the barrel of this slide was
scary.  The bottom actually had a rough
surface to slow you down, but you couldn’t
tell that by looking.
When you’re tired of the roof, you can go inside and take a 10-story spiral slide down to the bottom level.  The slide is inspired by the old spiral slide that shoes traveled down in the factory, and looks similar.  It’s inside this eerily lit industrial courtyard, and involves plunges into darkness and strange flickering lights.
Where Lanie emerged during one of her
 caving adventures
The slide will let you out into the cave.  This is a multi-level, dimly lit area full of tunnels, wire ladders, slides, and rock carvings.  A huge pipe organ resides above, playing creepy music.  Some of the tunnels are so small you have to crawl to get out, and your parental commitment will be tested when you have to follow your four-year-old into a dark hole, where you find the floor dropping out beneath you.  (Eventually, your four-year-old will crawl into a space you just can’t fit into, and you’ll give up and hope that she manages to find her way back to you at some point.)
Looking down upon the 10-story slide.
There was a TV screen at the top showing
the bottom, so you’d know when the
person ahead of you was off and you
could start down.
Heading back outside, you’ll find wire tunnels everywhere, spiraling up to the sky and leading high above the heads of those below.  Every now and then you’ll come across a slide hidden in the tunnel-work, and bravely plunge down it, unsure of where you’ll end up.  (If you follow your children, sooner or later you’ll find yourself fighting your way uphill in a tunnel that is really not designed for someone your size.)  And everywhere, there is elaborate and beautiful artwork built into everything.
An alternative to the stairs
There are still four other floors to explore.  Maybe you’ll see a circus act, or maybe you’ll crawl through the tunnels that underlie the circus bleachers.  You can play in a huge indoor skate park (but without skates), or view the world’s largest pencil or largest pair of underwear, or take a train ride through a creepy museum of neon signs and old carnival equipment.  (This part reminded me of our Scooby Doo Wii game, which is set in an old abandoned toy factory.)  You can see turtles and fish in the undersea area, which is covered with beautiful mosaics everywhere you look.  If you want to go from one floor to another, you can take the stairs – or you can find a Slinky-like coil of wire that lets you climb there, hanging over empty space.  And there is much, much more.  We were there for the entire day.
See those feet in the top left corner?  They are on a grate
that comes down from the roof far, far above.  I was very
glad when Lanie looked at the horizontal portion forty feet
up and decided no way, so I didn’t have to follow her.
I still don’t think I’m doing this place justice.  Maybe you should look at the web site (  But really, that probably won’t help either.  You should just go there.  We’ll come with you.
In the caves
From Bob:
There was a lady sitting next to me down in the lower level of the caves and she told me her family has been to the City Museum about 20 times.  Her kids love it.  The family was from Akron.  Akron, she said, was about eight hours away from St. Louis.  I asked her if there wasn’t a City Museum in Cleveland or Cincinnati.  She said there wasn’t a place like this anywhere else.
                That’s about all I can say about the City Museum, except to add that is not a place where one asks, “Should I do this?”  The only question at the City Museum is, “Can I do this.”  Anything you can figure out you can do. 
Climbing across the ceiling to the tree house
The whole room was detailed mosaics
like this one
                Also, although it might not show up in the pictures, I went on the Ferris Wheel, the school bus, and the big mantis slide on the rooftop, and – although I still can’t believe it – I made it up the green tower to the airplane, then off the wing to the other airplane, and then over to the castle.  There were many other climbs and slides, but that was the hairiest.
                The Drury Inn provided us with three meals today – breakfast, including nice waffles, biscuits and sausage patties; lunch, which was mostly bananas and peanut butter taken from the breakfast spread; and dinner.  The seasoned taco meat and refried beans were just as good on a hot dog as they were on the nacho chips.
You never know where you’re going to emerge from
 the caves
From Zoe:
We went to the City Museum.  It was awesome 
but very hard to describe.  First we went to the roof.  On the roof there was this big white thing going up.  It was like a tube with a slide underneath.  We went 
Under the bleachers
World’s largest pencil
on it lots of times.  There were also stepping stones, a rope swing, a Ferris wheel, a slide where you could climb up the rope on one side and slide down the other, and a school bus hanging off the roof you could go in.  Near the rope swing was a ten story slide.  The slide went down to the caves.
The caves were my favorite part of the City Museum.  They are awesome.  They have places to climb and secret passages and no maps and are lit up creepily and dimly.  Mom let us wander the caves and explore them.  Next we went to a undersea area.  It was awesome.  Then we went to the huge outdoor structure to climb on.  It was awesome.  There were jets high in the air and wire tunnels and all kind of stuff.  We had lots of fun there.
Another scary slide. 

Day 27 – Arch proves more popular than Mark Twain

Do you get the sense that they’re a little obsessed with Tom Sawyer, here in Hannibal?

Hannibal, MO to St. Louis, MO

We’ve reserved this morning for seeing the sights of Hannibal.  We considered skipping it and lighting out for St. Louis immediately, but couldn’t stand to admit this whole side trip to Hannibal was a waste, so we went ahead into town and got tickets for the Mark Twain complex.  It was actually a pretty nice set of buildings (Mark Twain’s boyhood home, Becky Thatcher’s home (under construction), Huck Finn’s house, and a few other miscellaneous dwellings), plus a pretty elaborate museum.  But again – almost no people.  We’re left wondering whether the whole town is a front for some sort of drug running operation or something, because it’s mystifying how anything can stay in business.  In any case, we considered the morning fairly well spent, and headed on to St. Louis in the afternoon.
The Mark Twain Museum.  Apparently no one but us likes Mark Twain anymore.
 (We passed the car time happily with a new game Zoe read about.  One person is “it”, and the others come up with a silly phrase.  “It” has to answer every question with the silly phrase, without laughing.  Most of the family was taken down quickly by “Haggle snaggle huggle snuggle I love Justin Bieber” and the others quickly succumbed to “It was Grandma on a motorcycle with Grammy in the side car” (which spawned many interesting questions).)
We’re treating ourselves in St. Louis, staying at the Drury Inn & Suites.  We have a suite in this nice downtown hotel, which has actually turned out to be a very good deal because it includes free parking, breakfast, and “the 5:30 kick-back”, which is essentially a free dinner plus up to three free drinks each for Bob and me. 
Our elevator pod.  It was a 50/50 chance that Bob would
make a break for it rather than taking this photo.
We got in early enough that we decided to head to the Arch, about a 10 minute walk away.  It was around 2pm by this time, and we’d figured out that we’d actually not gotten around to eating lunch (somehow, no one was clamoring for peanut butter sandwiches in the car again), so we stopped at a convenience store and picked up some (suspicious but delicious) chicken fingers and a box of triscuits, found a picnic spot in the park by the Arch, and called it a meal.  At least enough to tide us over until our 5:30 kick-back.
View from the top
We all got tickets to go up in the Arch, even Bob (though I think this was only because he didn’t want to embarrass himself on this blog.  In the old days there’s no way  I would have gotten him anywhere near this place.)  The visitor center is underground, so that the Arch sits alone on a grassy lawn.  From the center, you sit in a small pod-like contraption (conveniently for us, with 5 seats) that travels up to the top.  It has to change directions as it moves up the Arch, so it kind of feels like a Ferris wheel car.  Interestingly, the doors were clear glass, so you could see the inside of the Arch and all the elevator machinery as you were going up, which was pretty fascinating.
Under the Arch!
The top of the Arch feels like nothing so much as an airplane, with the same kind of carpet smell and stale, pressurized air.  There are small windows on either side with expansive views.  Though it was a hot, sunny day, we noticed that it was hazy out on the western horizon – and sure enough, by the time we got back down, a thunderstorm was rolling in.  After the worst of it was over, we decided to brave the storm.  It had becoming beautifully cool out, and it seemed like a fun adventure running through the rainy city and watching the lightning in the distance as the storm moved away.
Best of all from the kids’ perspective: we got back in time to use the pool before dinner.  And get some free popcorn, which is another service this wondrous hotel offers.  And after dinner, we did something else we haven’t done in four weeks – watched TV.  (Also, the dinner included both macaroni and cheese and chicken fingers.)  Could this get any better?  Yes, as it turns out, it could – stay tuned for tomorrow.
From Bob:

Some people on the Internet seem to be surprised that I went up in the Gateway Arch in the Jefferson Expansion National Monument today when really they shouldn’t.  Perhaps they just feel like they need to spice up their part of the blog with a little “humor” at someone else’s expense.  
It may be true that I don’t like heights very much, but the Arch, at about 630 feet, is not as imposing as it looks on the television.  In fact it would fit nicely inside the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, whose high banks (1,000 feet above the river) we traveled along for some way without the benefit of railings.   That 1,000-foot-high path nearly did me in, true, but it also hardened me to mere 630-foot enclosed structures (on this day – read in this no assurances that I would go in any other 630-foot structures, enclosed or not enclosed at any time in the future.  Past performance is no guarantee of future activity.)  Other traumas that have hardened me to such experiences are the Unbelievably High Trail Road at the Rocky Mountain National Park and our visit to the Great Salt Lake.  Wait, that second one only hardened my sense of smell, not my sense of mortality.  Scratch that one.
Also, many of those tall structures, space needles and such, insist on putting the elevators on the outside with windows showing you how high you’re getting. The Arch pods have windows, but they wisely show you only the stairway you’d have to climb if you wanted to walk to the top.  Far from being a scary prospect, this makes you appreciate relative comfort and ease of the contraption, however wobbly it might be.  Moreover, those other tall structures are tall spindly sticks that poke right out of the ground.  The Arch, as anyone can tell you, stands on TWO feet.  This makes it twice as sturdy.
Lastly, since the Arch is part of a National Monument, it is owned by the people, including me.  I would be a lousy owner, indeed, if I didn’t go up and check on it from time to time.
There is actually nice museum under the Arch and pretty nice views from the top.  Looking west, I expected to see the Rockies, but instead there was just a just a grey gloom on the horizon that turned into the heaviest rain we’ve seen on our trip by the time we were ready to go back outside.  Also, from the arch you can see the Cardinals’ baseball stadium, the Mississippi River, a lot of buildings and some trains.  It is rather like being in an airplane, except the floor is curvy.
Although we were in the Arch too early to witness it, there was a baseball game at Busch Stadium this evening, and one whole section of the bleachers seemed to be on hand for our in-hotel dinner.  Once all the people in red shirts cleared out, there were plenty of hotdogs, chicken nuggets and baked potatoes for all of us.  Plus, our second helping of popcorn worked well with our movie night.  HBO was showing “Puss In Boots.”  As it was our first major TV experience in four weeks (The tv at the brewery in Estes Park didn’t count because it was really on in the background.  Also it was a little out of focus.), this movie was entirely sufficient.
On the top of the Arch

Day 26 – Reports of Hannibal, MO, might be greatly exaggerated

Mark Twain Caves campground in Hannibal, MO

Kansas City, KS to Hannibal, MO

This morning found us back in the water park.  I think our timing here was just right – a few hours in the park last night and a few hours this morning.  Both days, at the end of this time, I was feeling totally shriveled and ready to get out of the water, so I can’t imagine spending a whole day here.  (I should mention that the kids would strenuously disagree with this viewpoint.)  In all honesty I let Bob do the brunt of the water supervision today, while I took a shower and cleaned up the hotel room in peace.  I think I got the better end of the deal.
We arrived in Hannibal, MO in the late afternoon.  This may seem to be a rather oddball destination, but it’s the hometown of Mark Twain, the setting for Tom Sawyer, and (we’d read) a quaint old Mississippi River town.  We finished listening to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in the car a couple of days ago, and we all (except maybe Lanie) had really enjoyed it.
We were staying in a campground at the Mark Twain Caves, which features tours of the cave where Tom and Becky got lost in Tom Sawyer.  The campground was nice enough – basically a large grassy field interspersed with big, old trees – but seemed oddly deserted.  (We later found that this would be the theme of everything we saw in Hannibal.)  After setting up the tent we wandered over to check out the cave tours, and were able to book one leaving fifteen minutes later — for which we were the only guests, until another family jumped in late.
We did really enjoy the cave tour, though.  Unlike the other tours we’ve done, which have highlighted the natural, untouched elements of the caves, this one had more of a historical and literary interest.  The walls of many of the passages of the cave were covered with smoke stains and names scratched in the smoke – some from the 1800s and still looking fresh and new.  You could imagine the scenes from Twain’s books, with children flocking through the caves, leaving their mark behind.  There was a room that was supposedly the hide-out for Jesse James, and a room where some creepy doctor performed experiments in trying to petrify a human body.  Plus, of course, all the stories about Tom and Becky and Injun Joe.
Graffiti from 1870
We later went into downtown in search of ice cream, and were able to locate Becky Thatcher’s Ice Cream Parlor and Emporium – at which we were the only customers, the whole time we were there.  (If you have ever read the Stephen King novella The Langoliers,  you have a sense of what it felt like to be in Hannibal.)  We also climbed up 244 steps to a historic (and still functioning – whether for practical or entertainment purposes, I’m not sure) lighthouse on a high bluff above the Mississippi.  Then it was back down the semi-deserted streets to sleep at our semi-deserted campground.
We were allowed to climb around and sit down just in this one section of the cave.  You can see all the smoke stains
on the roof above our heads, from decades of explorers past.
From Bob:
We had a nice water-slide send off from Kansas  (Jen checked us out of our room at 11, while the rest of us frolicked in the water park until noon.  I think this is legal…)
                Then we added yet another state to our chain.  Missouri is not that much different from Kansas.  There were a lot of famous people born in each.  In Kansas we saw signs for birthplaces of Jesse James, J.C. Penney, General Pershing, Bob Dole and Arlen Spector (same town, even), Abraham Lincoln, and, I think, Eisenhower.  At least Ike’s presidential museum is there.  I don’t know if that means he was born there.
                In Missouri, we have targeted the birthplace of another famous person, Mark Twain.  It was my urging that got this place included in our itinerary, so I have to take credit for the fact that it’s a little of a disappointment.  It seems well setup for receiving tourists, and perhaps it has received a lot of tourists, but there just aren’t a lot of tourists here.  As a result, Hannibal has kind of a ghost town feel.  There are a lot of boarded up shops in antique buildings that look in danger of going extinct. 
                In this respect, Hannibal reminds me not so much of the quaint river town deep in the heart of the New West, but as a river town in southwestern Connecticut.  It was very much like Shelton, the town I grew up in, only without the Wiffleball Factory.  Take away the Wiffleball from Shelton and cover just about everything with Mark Twain and/or Tom, Becky, and Huck, and you have Hannibal, MO.   Gently receding toward their respective rivers are banks flecked with buildings that are not fancy, not well kept, or neither of the above.  There are gaps among them, in Hannibal, and several structures look like they’re ready to come down.  It’s not unlike what I remember seeing in the downtown area of the place where I grew up.  Old factories, old warehouses, old stores, a new public building or two.  The exceptions in Hannibal are the buildings dedicated to the Mark Twain tour, including the house where he spend most of his childhood, and the nice museum in a renovated multi-story stone building on Main Street.
                Granted the Mississippi is a bit more of a storied river than the Housatonic, but based on the river traffic I saw in  Hannibal today, neither river is more than a shadow of what Twain described in his writing.  Huge man-made banks line the waterfront in Hannibal, and where streets intersected these levies, large gates stood, ready to keep out flood waters.  This was a visible nod to the power of the Mississippi, but, otherwise it did not seem overwhelmingly vital to life here.  It is muddy red, though not so much as the most of the Colorado that we drove along, and it is about half again as wide as the Housy
once it meets with the Naugatuck, say where it flows behind Sunnyside School, if you’ve ever seen it from there.
                This is actually the second time we’ve crossed the Mississippi – the first being way back when we entered Iowa from Minnesota.  We had a nice view of it then from Effigy Mounds National Monument, if you remember from our blog posts of about two weeks ago. 
                I don’t remember crossing the Ohio River (it might have been in Cleveland) or the Hudson, though we must have.  We also skipped the heralded Catskill rivers by taking 80 north into Albany.  We may have even crossed the Housatonic when our trip was young and we were exiting New England through western Massachusetts.   Since we crossed, then re-met the Mississippi, though, we have come across several rivers that I knew by reputation and have been interested to see in real life.  Have I mentioned them yet? 
The Colorado, of course, helped guide us and Rt. 70 a good part of the way through the Rockies.  We also took our jet boat tour out of Moab on that river.  We might have even come across it in Utah.  We also saw a portion of the Snake River – I’d have to check the atlas to remind myself which state that was in.  There was lots of rafting action on the Snake.  The Powder River we crossed once or twice.  That river comes up a lot when you’re reading about the old west and Custer’s expeditions.  Speaking of which, we cross the Bighorn River in and amongst the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.  We also, of course, got several nice views of the Yellowstone River, which was a hot spot for fishing when we saw it.
The most fishermen we’ve seen, however, were in the Rocky Mountain National Park.  The name of the river we hiked along has escaped me, if I ever knew it, but we saw dozens of people wading in or following the banks and casting.  It was a small river, maybe 20 feet wide at its widest point and frequently half that.  I did not see anyone catch anything on any of the rivers we’ve crossed.
More people, apparently,  are reading books about fly fishing than are reading Tom Sawyer these days. The streets of Hannibal were quiet when we ventured downtown for ice cream (at Becky Thatcher’s Ice Cream Emporium) this evening.  Tomorrow we’ll actually tour the museum and historic homes and we’ll see then if anyone is around.     

Day 25 – Unfortunately, Toto, we’re still in Kansas

A model of the Escape Van (though this one is in somewhat better shape)

WaKeeney, KS to Kansas City, KS

Note: I feel like this entry is  a little boring.  But maybe that’s fitting for Kansas.
As if we didn’t spend enough time driving across Kansas last night, today it was here to torment us again.  We eventually got to the children’s museum in Topeka (another children’s museum!  The kids couldn’t believe their luck) which provided a good diversion for a couple of hours.  Then it was on to Kansas City, a destination the kids have been awaiting with great anticipation. 
The museum had this cool glass room and let the kids paint on the walls.  It was a very popular attraction.
 As a reward for making it across Kansas, we treated ourselves to a night at the Great Wolf Lodge – a hotel with a huge built-in water park.  (The expectation of this place is what allowed us to pull the kids out of the children’s museum.)  As soon as we walked in the door, bathing suits were donned and the race to the water park was on.
The water park was a lot of fun.  There were five big slides – some of them began and ended in the indoor water park, but went outside in between.  There was a four-story “tree house” filled with climbing structures and lots of water features.  (Every few minutes a huge bucket on the top tipped and dropped 1000 gallons of water to the floor below – that is a lot of water.  Unlike the kids, I wouldn’t stand under it.)  There was a “lazy river” tubing float ride, a few pools, some small kids’ slides, and various other water-based activities.
This is what 1000 gallons of water looks like
Lanie was thrilled because she was able to go on almost everything, despite her age.  She has no fear of anything water-related, which is both a blessing and a curse.  (Luckily, she has no objection to wearing a life vest all day, which helps our stress level.)
For dinner we walked across the street to “Famous Dave’s Barbeque”, where, hungry from climbing all those water slide stairs, we proceeded to order way too much food.  Barbecue leftovers for breakfast tomorrow!
Our camera has developed this issue where the lens cover doesn’t open all the way.
Therefore, about half the pictures we take end up looking like this.


From Bob:
One of the drawbacks to three or four Disney vacations is that every trip you take tends to have mouse ears stamped on it.  You’ve already heard us mention Disneyesque a few times in relation to places with natural wonders that seemed too perfect to be natural.
                This place, the Great Wolf Lodge, does not exactly fall into that category.  It is the least natural place imaginable; but it is a wonder, and very Disneyesque.   It falls on the calculated, orchestrated, fabricated side of the mouse ears, very well done, in its way, but not a bit subtle.
                They pack a theme park into this hotel (  They have their own lineup of cartoon characters who show up in the grand lobby and are on signs all over the hotel.  There are restaurants, themed hallways, and, of course, the water slides.  It’s pretty decadent, but it also meshes nicely with the way our trip is going. We can’t live by peanut butter, national parks alone, and wholesome family resorts alone.  I’ll admit that I’ve even purchased a few loaves of white bread on this trip – and not the crusty French or Italian kind, either.  But there are no regrets.
                If this, and the Discovery Center, are the memories that the kids bring home of Kansas, don’t be surprised if one or three of them wind up settling in Kansas City.  Or Topeka.