I’m a few days behind on bringing you up to date, so here I go.
We left the Chicago area on Friday morning and drove to Jefferson City, MO. You say, why Jefferson City? There are no direct Interstates that go there, it is sort of out of the way for the big city destinations, but we chose Jefferson City for one reason, and that was to take the Missouri State Penitentiary tour. Now we all have heard of Alcatraz, but I had never heard of the Missouri prison until I started reading about things to do in the state of Missouri. Befoe I go on I will say that it was worth the extra time and distance to travel to Jefferson City.
The Penitentiary was decommissioned in 2004 and moved about 7 miles out of town to a new faciity. The day we were there they were celebrating the 175th anniversary of the prison. To help correlate the year it was opened, the Battle of the Alamo ocurred in 1836 and that is when this prison was open, amazing. The Alamo is still standing and so is this prison.
Regrettably the Penitentiary has not had much financial support and has been exposed to the weather conditions so it has fallen into disrepair. It is my understanding that portions of it has been torn down and there is an ongoing discussion of what to do with the facility. Once you get by the raw condition of the buildings listening to the history and picturing what it was like you can get lost in the moment.
We had an excellent tour guide, Mike. He was one of the previous wardens of the Penitentiary, how can it get any better. He was a wealth of knowledge and had some funny stories, and also some rather sad ones also. I could have listened to him all day. We took the 2 hour history tour, but there is also a 3 hour history tour, and starting in 2011 they now do ghost tours. I’m really sorry we missed the ghost tour as that sounded like lots of fun and really scary. I believe they have “sleep over” tours, but I would suggest you inquire about this as I’m sure advance reservations are needed and they are only at certain times.
We were able to see 2 cell blocks, one built in the mid-1800’s and the other built in the early 1900’s. Much of the presentation was how prison life has changed over the years, and how prisons were built back then and the changes in building style that occurred. The conditions were deplorable, that’s all I can say. This prison had some famous inmates such as James Earl Ray, and Sonny Liston. In addition to the cell blocks we also saw the “buried cells’, or as I would say the dungeon, and also toured the gas chamber. This Penitentiary did execute 40 inmates during it’s lifespan.
What’s also amazing about this Penitentiary is that it housed up to 5000 inmates at one time, while Alcatraz never exceeded 800. It gives you an idea of the scope of this place, the conditions that existed. If you stood still and closed your eyes while our tour director talked you could actually imagine what it was like. And I can tell you imagine is all I would ever want to do.
Some of you might be saying now, why would I go see this. From my viewpoint, it is a part of history, it was extremely educational and I can certainly tell you that if you were on the edge of committing a crime, once seeing this facility it might make you rethink your direction in life. If was one of the most infomative and enjoyable tours that I have taken and I know much of that was because of our tour guide, he made the tour excellent.
Now, there is one other place you should visit while in Jefferson City and that is the Missouri State Capitol. It is a beautiful building and what is unique about this building compared to other Capitol buildings is the artwork. The Capitol was completed in 1917 and is in downtown Jefferson City, only about 7 blocks to the Peniteniary. On a nice day it is walkable. When the Capitol was built they issued bonds. They were able to complete the building with an excess of about $1 million. Since this could not be refunded they used these funds to acquire artwork both in the building and on the grounds. They have tours from 9AM to 5PM daily (except for lunch) and it is free, it’s about 55 minutes. Once the tour is completed you can walk around the building and go back and look at the artwork in more detail. You can visit the Capitol without taking the tour, but the tour guide provides details that you would not get on your own.
Jefferson City is not a large city but they provide a very good Visitor’s guide that I’m sure you can look at on line also. I hope you consider Jefferson City as one of your future destinations or stop overs, and do hope you enjoy. Check for schedules as this part of the country does get cold and it does snow. I will be posting some photos shortly. Take care and continue traveling safely down your road you are traveling.
These are just a few of the cars at the Volo Antique Auto Museum in Volo, IL. This is a far North suburb of Chicago. In addition to the photos they have a lot of antiques to look at. So if part of your group wants to look at cars and the other look at antiques there is enough of each to keep everyone busy. It’s well done and I think you would enjoy your time visiting.
They do have a diner for lunch, but you get a wrist tag, so if you have time, about 1/2 mile away is a fast food restaraunt where you can go and have a good Chicago Vienna hotdog, or Italian Beef. If this is your first time in the Chicago area, please try the Vienna hotdogs, this is truly Chicago. The place is called Fratello’s and I don’t think you would be disappointed, this is a good lunch spot.
Have fun if you go. Tonight we were in Joplin, MO after spending the day in Jefferson City, MO and I’ll give you the update in the next post. Saw some intersesting things and can’t wait to tell you about them. Also have some photos to share. So until the next post we’ll be on the road traveling towards Texas.
Didn’t write a post for a few days as we have been busy visiting with family and friends. Thursday was an extremely long day. We drove from Branson MO to Grayslake, IL. MapQuest told us about a 10 hour drive, and because we chose to be adventurous we added an hour to the day. The drive started out in MO with nice rolling countryside but all interstate driving so no small town adventures, just straight thru driving. We traveled straight thru Saint Louis and traffic cooperated. Went right by the Arch and made it to Illinois on track to our time. Now I am born and lived most of my life in Illinois, but I think it’s about time that Illinois joins the rest of the Country and raise their speed limit to 70 mph. For some reason they still think 65 mph is reasonable. After the first 20 miles of looking at corn fields and soybean fields you’re also done with the 65 mph speed. So as we traveled north we were just going to hit the outskirts of Chicago at Rush hour. So living here as we did for years, we thought let’s take Rt 47 and bypass the city expressways. Well the 2 lane farm road is now a busy 2 lane road with lots and lots of stoplights and lots and lots of traffic, so much for the farm road.
Along our route most gas prices were in the $3.59 to $3.79/gallon then we were in IL, and the price is between $4.07 to $4.09/gallon and some higher. And traffic, OMG, we lived in the far northwest suburbs and traffic has increased greatly since we were here last, yet many roads have not been upgraded, and only a few are under construction to increase the 2 lanes to 4 lanes. Although that will be helpful, that won’t take away the number of stoplights. You just get going and you’re already at the next light. When you live someplace you don’t notice the change, as you deal with it every day, but when you’re away for a few years and come back, it is definitely noticeable. We are looking to going back to our small town traffic issues.
We have been visiting with family and friends and last night enjoyed a party held by my husband’s previous boss and owner of the last company he worked at here in IL. Although I didn’t know the people very well, it was still enjoyable and I know my husband really had a good time seeing many of these people as it’s been 9 years since our last attendance to this party. The hosts have a beautiful home and they throw a great party, very nice and very well done.
Today we will be off to visit Lake Geneva, which is just over the WI border. We used to boat on this lake but it has been at least 10 years since we were there, so we are looking at visiting and seeing the changes. Lake Geneva is a cute small town with quaint shops and many restaurants so looking forward to a nice afternoon, and the weather is just wonderful, cool and sunny, what I remember as a nice Fall day in the Midwest. Have always liked this time of year, and being here reinforces this, regrettably the trees are not turning color yet, just a little too early.
Many friends and family to visit this week, so we will be out and about for the next few days. Exciting for us, but probably not for you, so will catch up with you when we get back on the road to traveling home.
Our day in Branson was relaxing and we were able to enjoy some of the sights. I remember hearing about Branson years ago when they used to talk about how terrible the traffic was and to drive down the main road would take hours. I can tell you we didn’t have to worry about any of that. We talked with some local people and they said that it hasn’t been that crowded in years, and this week (week after Labor Day) is one of the slowest weeks of the year. We also learned starting next week is “bus season”. I can understand why, the summer family vacations are over, and you definitely want cooler weather when visiting here. Again it was hot today and that really limits how much you want to do outside.
There is certainly a lot to do for families as I do believe Branson could actually hold the record for the most Miniature Golf Courses and Go-kart tracks, and what most people come for, the Live Shows. The Shows are very family oriented. We saw 1 show called Pierce Arrow and we really enjoyed it. There were 4 singers who harmonized very nicely, a lady singer and a really great comic. It was the type of comedy that had no swearing in it and was just good old fashion humor.
Nearby is Table Rock Lake and Dam. There is a brand new visitor center that is very nice, has a good 20 minute movie that tells about building the dam. They also offer a dam tour. Right now the tours are at 10AM, 12, 2 and 4PM. We didn’t have time for the tour, but from watching the movie I think it would be very good, disappointed we missed this one.
In historic downtown Branson they have a new development called Branson Landing. It is a dining, shopping and entertainment area. Many restaraunts along Lake Taneycomo (which to me seemed to be a river) and they did a mini version of the Dancing Waters that are in Las Vegas. Every hour they have a programed music show to the water and at nights they add lights. There is a very nice walking area along the lake. Also downtown is Dicks 5 & 10, well worth the trip as it will bring back many memories. I saw many games and just stuff that I remember from when I was a kid, and you just can’t find anymore, was fun to rummage around. It’s open late so when you get done with dinner it’s in walking distance of Branson Landing.
There are boat trips, and fishing, and Live shows, and shopping, shopping and shopping. The Grand Village shops are worth the trip. Many one of the kind shops but the two outstanding ones were Peter Engler Woodcarving and Kringles Christmas Store, must see. Most theaters have Christmas shows which we heard are during the month of November and only until about mid-December, than as one of the locals said, a lot of people get laid off until business starts picking back up after the first of the year. With all the trees in the area the Fall foliage must be absolutely spectacular.
If you come this way, remember the shows are not inexpensive, especially if you want to go to 3 or 4 shows. The average prices are $25.00 – $40.00 per person. There are coupons books everywhere, but typically only $2 – $5 savings per person. They have booths selling Show tickets for $5 per person, but comes with a catch, be prepared to sit thru a Timeshare presentation. There are dinner shows that cost a little more. Branson has been here a very long time and in all the travels across our Country I have done, this is one place I had not been to before. We enjoyed the day, and if nearby again we will probably stop by to see another Show and take in the sights, hopefully when it is cooler.
We’re off on an early day on Thursday as we have a long drive to the Chicago, about a 10 hour drive. So will write about our drive down this road soon………
Had another great day seeing the local sights. We started in Bentonville, AR and ended in Branson, MO. Only a 2 hour drive if you drive straight through but we took the entire day as we saw some great sights along the way. I’ll start today’s travel in Bentonville, AR again. I truly enjoyed this town and need to say that if you’re anywhere near this town, you won’t go wrong stopping to enjoy what they have to offer. Of course Walmart headquarters, I believe, has a lot to do with why this town has what it does. It has 2 very good museums and both are free, and I would recommend both. Yesterday we went to the art museum and this morning we started our day at the Museum of Native American History. It was not very large, but had artifacts that I have never seen at other museum. They give you a hand held audio tour so you can go at your own pace. It took us about 1-1/2 hours to complete our visit. It is free, but I highly suggest a donation before you leave, it was well worth it.
The town has miles of hiking and biking trails, baseball fields, many golf courses, lots and lots of motels and restaurants and in the Fall I’m sure the fall colors are wonderful. I wish we were here about a month later to see the foliage. I will tell you it does get hot here, both yesterday and today were over 100 degrees.
After we left Bentonville, we drove towards Eureka Springs. The best way I can explain this town is that this is a great getaway for a girl’s weekend. Lots of unique stores and many places to eat. It is in the heart of the Ozark Mountains with a Victorian aura. It has lovely Victorian homes and a Carnegie Library. Parking is terrible in town. The streets are narrow, and it has steep roads, and parking is very limited. They do have a trolley that you can take into town with various trolley stops throughout town. If it’s a busy day I would suggest using the trolley. Also, make sure you do have change because if you are lucky enough to get a parking spot in town they are all metered and you need quarters.
After a little window shopping and a stop for an ice cream cone, we drove on to Branson. It was a nice drive on all back roads. It is very hilly in this area and the roads are quite curvy and sometimes steep inclines of declines, but not anything like the Rocky Mountains. They call these the Ozark Mountains, but to some people they might just be larger hills, it’s all in how one views it. Either way the scenery is nice and there are lots and lots of trees.
We had a chance to drive thru Branson this evening and it is not a walking town. It is quite spread out, and a car is needed. I can see why they could have traffic problems when the town is busy, but today it is quite empty. We went to the historic downtown area this evening which is quite quaint, and they have a relatively new area called Branson Landing right on Lake Taneycomo. Shopping is not an issue here. Every store you can think of is probably here and Outlet malls too. In addition to shops at the Landing there are many restaurants and a boat trip you can take. All quite nice.
Well, that’s it for today. Been a long day and will be calling it a day. We’re here all day on Wednesday and we already bought Show tickets for tomorrow so will let you know how this is tomorrow. Have a good evening and my travels down my new road is taking a break tomorrow.
Was a very enjoyable day except for the few mis-turns all went good. We left McAlester this morning and drove thru a beautiful section of Oklahoma. I know I have been in Oklahoma many times before driving to somewhere but don’t remember visiting much. When I was very young and traveling with my family I remember seeing an Indian ceremony with dancing and music, but not much else. I was rather surprised with the beauty we saw today, the rolling hills of limitless trees and beautiful lakes. The roads were empty and the drive was relaxing. They call this rolling countryside mountains, but my viewpoint is that they are larger hills, but certainly no mountains.
We arrived in Fort Smith. Go to the visitor center first. It is right downtown Fort Smith in a beautiful old restored home, it once was a bordello. We had a lovely lady take us on a tour of the house, and we picked up some additional brochures on the area. There is no charge for the tour, but a donation is always nice. We then toured the old Fort Smith fort and Federal building and saw the gallows that were used by the hanging judge. Remember to take your Senior Pass as this is a National Park, and once you pay for a pass you can enter all National Parks for free (65 and older). Fort Smith is an older town and besides the riverfronts parks, personally there wasn’t much else of interest.
We drove scenic route 71 north which runs parallel with the interstate. Regrettably I was disappointed. We have taken many back roads and most were more scenic than this route. Except for 2 pull offs to view the scenery you were really just looking at people’s yards and houses. There are too many beautiful scenic routes in this country, and if you don’t have time to take this route, my opinion, is that you are not missing much.
We arrived Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas – yeah Razorbacks! They had a very nice entertainment district which I’m sure would be hopping in the evening with all the college kids, but during the daytime there was no activity at all. They do have an Air Museum in town, but we didn’t stop, but that could be a good stop that we missed, maybe somebody can tell me about it. Drive carefully in this town, as the young kids don’t!
We headed north for our final destination, Bentonville, AR. Now you ask, what is in Bentonville? Well, any baby boomer is going to know that is where the Walmart story begins. In addition to Fort Smith and Fayetteville, we also stopped in Van Buren and Rogers, both old towns with antique and unique stores, but when we arrived in Bentonville, I liked this town a lot. It seems Walmart has been good to Bentonville. They have beautiful parks, bike and hiking trails, and more restaurants than any town this size should have, which in my book, is wonderful.
If you are in or near this area I have to say that stopping in this town is a definite must. We went to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and it was great. It has nineteenth and twentieth century art. If you like art, it is worth the stop. It is free as it is sponsored by Walmart. The buildings themselves and how they are built is art itself. It was too hot today, but they have many walking paths that none exceed a mile, with art along the way and nicely landscaped. You could easily spend half a day here. It is amazing that a small town this size has such a beautiful museum.
We had dinner at another good restaurant called Colton’s, which is a chain in AR and surrounding states. It is very similar to Logan’s with peanuts on the table and rolls that seem to be exact to what you get at Logan’s. If you see one of these restaurants I don’t think you would be disappointed.
Bentonville has a square downtown and the Walmart Visitor Center is right on the square. The hours it is open is from 6:30AM to 9:00PM, the hours are convenient so don’t miss it. It basically tells the story of Sam Walton and the beginning and growth of Walmart. Some might laugh at this but I thought it was well done and thoroughly enjoyed my time reading the Walmart history. I think I found it interesting as this has happened in my lifetime and I can relate to this story. It’s not history that happened long before I was born, but history in the making during my lifetime.
We then drove by the Walmart Corporate headquarters. It looks like a grouping of buildings that are at least 30 years old, no high rise, no gleaming glass, just an old looking building that basically a multi trillion dollar business is run out of, to say the least I was shocked. With so many of today’s company’s having these unbelievable fancy offices, you probably would also be shocked by the initial viewing of the corporate offices. I haven’t seen a Target or a K-mart; I do believe this is a Walmart town. It’s a very nice small town, so if driving near, take some time to take a look, I think you will enjoy.
Tomorrow we have another full day which will take us to Branson, MO. I will let you know what wonders we will see tomorrow. Until then I’m traveling down the road………