Part One covers our three day drive from South Dakota to Virginia
Part Two covers our short two day stay in Virginia
After our brief, but memorable, visit to the coast we headed home. The plan was to take our time getting home. Stop and smell the roses and tour some sites. We considered taking a more northern route to get home, but since we'd missed out on Mammoth Cave (and since I'm a BIG baby) we chose to go back the way we came, for the most part.
While in Virginia we bought a GPS device. She was extremely helpful. Though, she is quite fond of the phrases, "Perform a U-Turn as soon as possible," and "Perform a U-Turn."
At one point, we missed our turn, heard the phrase for the first time, and my husband was going to get testy with her (at this point she was named Mrs. GPS Lady). I reminded him of his manners, because Mrs. GPS Lady could REALLY mess with our day. We took to thanking her for getting us past every obstacle and pointing out the red light cameras and letting us know when we were speeding.
Eventually, my middle daughter named her Rosie. My sweet six-year-old told us we'd call her Rose for a nickname. I figured this was just fine because she is a companion and not just ANY GPS. (This reference is for all Doctor Who fans - my oldest is an extreme fangirl. My husband and I also enjoy the show.)
I think my husband was sick of my white knuckled approach to the traffic and programmed our newly acquired GPS device, to avoid freeways and toll roads. For this reason, I'm not certain of the exact route we took. I only know we drove through downtown Richmond, followed Highway 60 for the most part, and drove through downtown Charleston at night before we rented a room about twenty miles from the Kentucky border.
The brick bridges were gorgeous. I took this picture for both the bridge and the sign. We were in a very historical part of our country.
This is what we saw just before we found ourselves downtown Richmond. I thought these houses were neat. But, I am also surprised at how close they are. Don't forget who is writing this post. I'm the lady who gets to live on 80 acres with my neighbors a nice distance away.
We didn't stop a lot when driving out of Virginia, so most of these pictures are still taken from the window of the car. The blue sky, clouds and mountains were just too gorgeous to pass without marking the occasion with some hastily snapped photos.
We did stop to get these pictures. The view was amazing and I'd swear those plants were wild blackberries (not certain since they don't grow wild around here.) I want to drive back in a month or two to find out - and PICK them!
We spent the rest of the day and late into the night driving through West Virginia. In the first part of this vacation series I said I fell in love with Kentucky. I also fell in love with West Virginia. It is an amazingly beautiful place and reminds me a lot of home, but it's different enough to add that extra splash of excitement of new things.
The winding roads were breathtaking and traffic was minimal. Most of the time it felt like we had the roads all to ourselves. That's something I love. It makes the experience feel like it's all mine.
I even found bridges in the back country. Yes, it still counts! It doesn't matter that it's fallen down. It's even cooler that way (for those of us who didn't want/need to take that route.)
We even came across a small swampy area.
We found a great little roadside trailhead, The Falls of Hills Creek. The sun was already very low in the sky or we might have hiked to the falls. Plus, a sign we saw after starting our adventure made us cut the walk short. I wish I had taken a picture of that sign. It read something like, Don't Forget to Lock Your Vehicle. Thieves Also Frequent This Area. Reading that sign was very reassuring at dusk with our three girls trailing behind or sprinting off into the distance. (She says sarcastically) I watched for Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men, but we must not have gotten deep enough into the forest for them to make their move, thankfully.
Later that night we ended up right next to the capital building in Charleston. I tried to get a photo as we drove by and ended up being disappointed because it's blurry. We also took a wrong turn in downtown Charleston and ended up on a narrow road that led up a steep hill. Rosie kept telling us to perform a u-turn as soon as possible. It was next to impossible on that narrow road with steep hillsides on both sides of the road. Thankfully, we found a driveway we were able to slip into. It was worrisome, but fun at the same time. Once we were back on the correct path I found some more bridges. The lights on the one I'm sharing here changed colors.
We got up early the next morning and left West Virginia for Kentucky, and Mammoth Cave. I booked a room for the night at Mammoth Cave. Actually, it was a cute little cabin with no TV or internet.
I have no idea if the route listed above is correct except that we did drive through downtown Lexington, fairly close to Versailles and came to Mammoth Cave from the north because we took the Green River Ferry.
My husband used to live in Versailles many years ago - before we ever met and he was out and about in the world. He was excited to show us a castle between Versailles and Lexington. As luck would have it, we drove past it in the dark on our way down. So, this was another reason we chose this route. One more chance to see that castle. He said he thinks William Shatner used to own it, but we found out it is now a resort.
We drove through Lexington first. I have to say, though they scare the crud out of me, cities fascinate me. Every city is made from large servings of the same ingredients, people, cars, and buildings. Yet, every one has their very own secret ingredient.
Lexington, from what I saw, has a lot of ostentatious parks, gorgeous horses and MONEY. Honestly, I have no idea how much money runs through Lexington, but it seems as if everything is touched with just a little bit more than what needed to be spent to get the point across. I have to admit, downtown Lexington is gorgeous, but it was the large manors and stables right outside of town that gave me the full impression of lots of money. Regretfully, I didn't get great pictures of this area because we didn't stop, just kept driving. But there are a few I feel I should share with you.
Here is that castle I talked about. If you're interested, you can find it online at Kentuckycastle.com. We considered getting a room here our first time through, but someone told us it was much too expensive. After we got home, I looked it up. $195.00 a night for the cheapest room. Probably worth it for the experience, but more than we wanted to spend. (That's the main reason we didn't take the northern route home - we planned on touring DC, but the rooms started at $300 or $400 a night. Nope, not inside our budget.)
After miles of back roads, beautiful scenery and even the Green River Ferry, we found ourselves outside our little cabin at Mammoth Cave. It was great! It was a two bedroom cabin with a bathroom between the two rooms. One of the rooms had two twin beds and the other had a full and a twin. PERFECT for us. We arrived just after the last tour of the day, so we had several hours to kill before bedtime.
We went for a hike!
My oldest was up throughout the night trying to figure out what animal just made that noise. She even got me up a couple times to ask, "What's that?" Other than the disturbances from her, we slept very well.
The next morning we took our tour of Mammoth Cave. I'd scheduled us for the Domes and Dripstones tour, but found out it was a two hour tour, but it only covered 3/4 of a mile. So, I switched our tour to the Historical Tour. It was a two mile tour. I thought I'd see more of the cave on the Historical tour. We really should have taken both tours, but we didn't. That's fine by me because that means I have a reason to go back.
I don't want to use any negative words to describe my Mammoth Cave adventure, because it wasn't at all negative. I'll use the word regret. I regret not going on more than one tour, and I regret the fact that the tour moved very fast. I wish they would have allowed flash photography. Between the constant movement of the tour and no flash photography, I didn't get any pictures worth keeping. They are only good enough for me, and only to remember how dark it was inside the cave. It's all good, though. I bought a DVD of all the highlights from every tour.
After the tour we got back on the road and made our way further and further from Mammoth Cave. I really would love to get back down there someday to do some more exploring.
We pushed on until we reached St. Louis. We arrived in the city just before dark. Rosie, kept telling us to turn down streets that were under construction, so we compromised. We shut Rosie off and found a parking spot on our own. We only had a couple block to walk to get to the massive structure.
I could tell it was big before we got near, but it still didn't hit me how big it was until we were closer. I definitely need a wide angle lens. We also saw several horse and buggies. My girls' favorite one was the lady with brightly colored hair and the pumpkin shaped carriage that lit up at night.
After the arch, we pushed on late into the night and stopped in Iowa City for the night. We stayed at Alexis Park Inn. It was the first hotel we saw as we pulled into the city. No one was at the desk and the lobby was all locked up, but there were instructions to go to the adjacent building and call. We did and someone was there to greet us after only a couple minutes.
They only had suites with a King bed and a couch available. We were too tired to look elsewhere, so we paid for the room and went to get the few things we might need. When we were walking back toward the room, the desk clerk stopped us and offered a different room that was a little bigger. We took the key and went straight to the room.
We were so surprised when we unlocked the door and walked in. It was more like an apartment than a hotel room. It had two floors. The bottom floor was a full kitchen with full sized appliances, refrigerator and stove. There was an actual living room and a bathroom on the bottom floor. The second floor had two bedrooms with queen beds in each and a bathroom with a whirlpool tub. I seriously considered the tub, but was too tired to be swirled around. Then, we left first thing in the morning.
We made it to Albert Lea, Minnesota on day nine of the trip. My husband has family there and we spent the day visiting. We got a room for the night and then finished our trip the next day.
This was quite the adventure for me and I'd love to do something like this again, someday. However, time and funds are always in the mix, so I'm pretty sure, unless I find millions of dollars just floating on the wind, it'll be a while before we are able to do something like this again.