Traveling Thursday
July 12, 2018

Driving along one of the tree-lined state highways in a destination we have no idea where. I have to pull over and am in a rush to get out of the SUV.  Both Scott and I are stunned to see something so unexpected, so surprising.  This is not a one-time thing for us; this happens every time we travel. This is what I believe Ruskin Bond was talking about when he said “The adventure is not the getting somewhere, it’s the on-the-way experience. It is not the expected: it’s the surprise.”

Recently we went on a waterfall hunt in Kansas.  Yes, there are waterfalls in Kansas, but that is another Traveling Thursday story… someday.  Anyway!  As we were on this waterfall hunt, we found something extremely surprising. We found a State Park that was no longer a state park. That’s right Cowley County State Park was no longer a Kansas State Park due to the state not being able to afford the upkeep so they gave it to the county. This may seem drastic, but we have come across this many times. Oklahoma has at least three former state parks, Okmulgee, Adair, and Walnut Creek, that now belong the county or city it resides. Fortunately, the county and the city were able to keep these parks open, but not all state parks are that lucky. We have come across a couple of signs that state there is an Oklahoman State Park “next right” only to find there is not a park to be found.  We spent a full afternoon searching for Rocky Ford State Park but it was nowhere to be found; it was just gone.  However, if you look at Google Maps, there it is! Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Google hasn’t taken it away, but it sure was surprising.

In the fall of 2017, we did a massive county grab in Arkansas and there were some pretty wonderful surprises for us, but we both agree that the best experience was our drive through the St Francis National Forest. We needed to get from Philips County to Lee County and instead of backtracking Scott insisted we take the gravel roads through. I was a bit nervous due to the fact that we were right along the Mississippi River and it was storming all around us. You see, I am not as brave as you would think with all this travel, cliff sitting and such, plus I have an imagination that would scare the pants off you. Because of this, all I could think was that the Mississippi was going to flood and take us, the SUV, and Cordie out to sea.  Yes, I know, but that, too, is another story for another time. Anyway! As we drove along the tree-lined road we came across a sign that said “Louisana Purchase Baseline Survey 1815”. Suddenly I began getting very excited at the thought that we were touching history. We were driving in the place where the frontier began. It was making the history I learned in school come alive and become very real making it a special experience. This touching history is one of the reasons I love to travel; it wakes me up, shakes me to the core because it reminds me of where we have been as a nation.

How often are you driving down the road and you see something that just blows your mind?  It happens to us way too often. We had taken a trip from the Eureka Springs area in Northwest Arkansas down the middle of the state along the Buffalo National Scenic River area the end of 2016. We knew Arkansas was a beautiful state, but it seemed to surprise us every turn this trip. Neither of us had ventured in this area and the experiences were new and exciting. As we drove down past the George Ridge, we saw one of the prettiest sights. There was part of the Buffalo River running alongside the road cutting through the bedrock with a covered bridge crossing just above it. The sight caused us to pull over and spend a little time taking photos and admiring the wonder we stood upon. This would have been enough to have made the drive worth our time, but after a stop in the town of Ponca we headed out to visit the Lost Valley Trail but we were delayed due to yet another surprise, Elk. Elk in Arkansas!  I was stunned and Scott was taking hundreds of photos. I had no idea there were Elk here, but they are indigenous to the area, but their numbers were so low that it was thought they were completely lost.  However, in 1981 the Arkansas Game and Wildlife Commission created the Elk Restoration Project and they are back. There is something about seeing wildlife in nature that causes the heart to be joyful; it’s almost as if it is a signal from Mother Nature herself that there is hope.

Last year we were traveling from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Piggott, Arkansas, to bury my mother-in-law. She was unable to do much traveling due to a large family and, eventually, her health, but she loved watching our videos and reading our blog and Facebook posts about when we traveled. She told me once that she was traveling right alongside us in spirit.  This is one of the reasons I try to do Facebook posts as we are traveling. I wanted her to be able to enjoy the journey at the time we were taking it. Because of this, we took one long trip in her memory. We did as much as we could that trip; visiting one state park in every state we touched. We drove through Oklahoma (Two Bridges State Park), Kansas (Crawford State Park), Missouri (Big Oak Tree State Park), Illinois (Giant City State Park), Kentucky (Columbus-Belmont State Park), Tennesee (Reelfoot State Park), and Arkansas (Davidsonville State Historic Park). While we were driving to Giant City State Park in Illinois we crossed the Mississippi River at Cape Girardeau heading toward McClure when a historic marker caught our attention. Needing to pull over for a stretching break, we thought this the best time.  It was at this rest stop that would bring us a huge surprise.

The historical marker explained that just south of where we stood was one of the original county courthouses for Alexander County. Of course, we were only about two miles from Thebes and we knew we would regret it if we didn’t take an hour and go see it.  Before heading into the center of town to see the courthouse, we stopped at the shoreline of the Mississippi. Looking back Scott points to the house on the ridge and comments what a wonderful view they must have of the river and train bridge. We decided to head up and see what type of view it was. To our amazement, the building turned out to be the very courthouse we had come to see! We were stunned because normally the county courthouses are massive and built with huge stones, statues, and belltowers; however, this courthouse was very humble in its appearance.  The stop charged us causing us to discuss and research (thank heavens for smartphones and a good cell phone signal) the history of Abraham Lincoln. We were further hyped up when we found we would be passing directly through Jonesboro, IL, where the third Lincoln-Douglas Debate occurred. Even though it was a short stop, we had to visit this National Historic Site.

Travel is meant to be an adventure. It is meant to inspire, encourage, and teach. If one travels and it does not cause one to rethink who they are and what their life means, then it is not being done correctly. You should allow yourself to be surprised on every roadtrip.

Safe travels y’all and see you next Traveling Thursday,
Ren