Back in the olden days when we were both working, once vacation time rolled around our modus operandi was to take off on marathon drives to our chosen destinations (most usually, Colorado). It wasn’t uncommon to see us driving 700-800 miles in a day just to get there. Younger, and more impetuous, we operated under the belief “the sooner you can get there, the sooner the fun can begin”. Then retirement came. Our trips began coming more than once a year. Our destinations became farther away. Times on the road were longer. It took a little while to realize that marathon drives weren’t really a necessity. Besides tiring us out before the adventure even began, we were losing out on many sights along the way. We began to see time in a whole different perspective . . . actually, to see our new way of living in a whole different perspective.
Time was now on OUR side! We had the time . . . to slow down, to look around, to open our minds as well as our curiosity. Instead of the most direct route, we could take the roads less traveled, follow the road markers that aroused our interest, explore the back roads often passed by before, to stop and “smell those flowers”.
But it didn’t happen overnight. Our 800-mile days of driving became 600. Then 400. And now, this year, instead of adding up the total miles to our ultimate destination, we search out places of interest to factor into our route. We set limitations on our ‘thru drives’. This time around, 200-300 miles seem much more reasonable. And then, we look for what’s around. What a particular place has to offer. Where those enticing signs will lead us. And that has opened up a whole new experience for us. What fun there is in the unexpected!
Take Arrow Rock Missouri, for example. Who knew that it was there? Only 13 miles north of I-70 (one of our more well-traveled roads when headed west), it is bookended by Columbia and Kansas City. Once a booming Midwest river town, today it’s a small village (population 56) made up mostly of specialty and antique shops, a couple quality restaurants and a few quaint B&Bs. In 1963, the entire town was designated a National Historic Landmark and the Arrow Rock State Historic Site preserves much of the area adjacent to town, providing an enriching educational experience as well as several hiking trails, picnic areas, a well-kept camping area, and a high-quality Visitor Center. A perfect place for a stop-over of a day or two.
Located on high ground overlooking the sinuous course of the Missouri River, the rock beneath this river bluff is composed of flint, which provided the material for tools and weapons of indigenous cultures as far back as 12,000 years. Marked on a 1732 French map as pierre a fleche (“rock of arrows”), it would later be known simply as Arrow Rock.
You’ll see homes dating back 100 years or more that have been faithfully restored and carefully tended.
Undoubtedly, the town’s heyday peaked in the early to mid-1800s when the Santa Fe Trail ran straight down main street. Making the river crossing on the Arrow Rock ferry, caravans of covered wagons replenished supplies in the town, filled their water barrels from the nearby “Big Spring”, before heading on down the trail leading west.
Although much of the town’s importance lies in days gone by, it still has something noteworthy to keep its place on the maps today. From June through September, and then in December, the historic Lyceum Theatre attracts people back into town. Outstanding musicals and theatrical plays bring professional actors, directors, designers and technicians from across the country to take up residence in Arrow Rock for limited engagements. It must be quite the big deal, keeping businesses thriving, quality restaurants serving, and lodgings filled in this small once-upon-a-time important river town.
The Chez Trappeur Bar and Bistro harkens back to the early days when French fur traders plied the waters of the Missouri. Preserving one of the old Arrow Rock homes, it serves outstanding cuisine and fine wines in a comfortable setting. Have a meal on their terrace or sip wine while conjuring images of days gone by.
How about having a meal in the oldest continuously serving restaurant west of the Mississippi River? The J. Huston Tavern has served travelers since the Santa Fe days from 1834. Its three dining rooms serve hearty country fare, and their fried chicken has rave reviews (as well as their pecan bread pudding). Who could resist the history (and desert) here?
With many wooded trails of varying lengths to choose from, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the state park amenities. With water and electric hookups, we found the campground to be quite satisfactory. Sites well-spaced, with mature trees shading just about every one of the 46 sites, we felt it would definitely be a place we could return to, if only for a stopover night. Obviously popular with the locals, it was completely filled on this Labor Day weekend. It would probably be wise to consider having a reservation, at least during busy times of the year.
As if Arrow Rock didn’t have enough going for it, we learned about another interesting spot in the neighborhood. A 30-minute drive along country roads hemmed in by acres upon acres of rolling cornfields brings you to the gates of Warm Springs Ranch, appearing somewhat out-of-place within a landscape of ramshackle old barns and aging farm equipment.
And what, you might ask, exactly is the big deal about a place called Warm Springs Ranch? Well, it just happens to be the breeding farm for the Budweiser Clydesdale horses. Sound interesting, perhaps? We sure thought so!
It’s a beautiful place—quite the layout. It would appear that no expense was spared. Immaculate. Spacious. More than three hundred acres of lush, rolling hills in the heart of Missouri. The big barn is where all the “action” takes place. Laid out in the configuration of a huge letter “H”, the center of it all (in more ways than one) is a big indoor space where the mares and stallions do what comes naturally.
Adjacent to that is situated the examination room with two stalls and a vet lab off to one side. Plenty of stalls line two corridors for the “ladies-in-waiting,” as well as birthing stalls and the more spacious stalls for mother and child. Quite the operation.
There’s about 100 Clydesdales currently on the farm, spread out over 10 pastures, each having a customized, walk-in shelter. About 30 foals are born each year, spread out throughout most of the months. As a matter of fact, two foals had been born just days before we were there, still confined with their moms to well-appointed and comfortable stalls.
You aren’t allowed on the premises without purchasing a tour ticket (sold online). It begins with a short video showcasing the famous Budweiser Clydesdales with clips from some of their more popular commercials, followed by a brief introduction and explanation of what goes on here at the Ranch. As you’re guided through the barn you get a behind-the-scenes look and then outdoors you see the giant semi-trailer-trucks used to transport these giant horses across the country.
You have a chance to observe their grooming routine . . . or have a few moments for photo opportunities. You’ll come to understand why they’re known as ‘gentle giants.’ All with their own personalities.
Then it was on to see what else we could find in central Missouri . . .
When time works in your favor, you might find yourself meeting interesting people . . . finding places you’d want to return to . . . or browsing through shops that catch your fancy (maybe coming away with a purchase or two).
The Mulberry Grill & Bakery is run by a retired gentleman that liked to make wood-fired pizzas and built his own backyard kiln. Now that’s talking Chris’ language!
Chris thinks he’d like to bike the Katy Trail someday soon,
while Melinda finds interest in shopping—for gifts, of course.
Back on our route, still heading west, the next leg of our journey was a short one. How many times do you pass by a place that always sounds interesting and tantalizing, but it simply doesn’t work into your plans? Independence, Missouri was just such a place for us—this time we would grab the opportunity.
Once again, we swung off our course.
Independence lies on the outskirts of Kansas City, best known as the hometown of our 33rd President, Harry S. Truman. Here you’ll find the home that Harry and Bess lived in since their marriage, the place he retired to after leaving office. Connecting the home to the Presidential Library, the Truman National Historic Landmark District spans many blocks through the heart of the town.
The Harry S. Truman Library, built in a very plain and angular style, seems to be a reflection of the simple and humble life that Truman came from.
The Truman home, where Harry spent all of his adult life, has guided tours daily.
Truman had a very close relationship with both his wife and daughter. During his presidency, the press often referred to them as “The Three Musketeers.”
The entrance lobby of the Library delivers quite a visual wallop. The famous American artist, Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri native, took three years to complete the mural “Independence and the Opening of the West.” It totally dominates the room, and tends to give a person pause.
As if that weren’t enough of an impact, we were greeted by the man himself, newly elected to his first full term in office.
In keeping with a simplicity of style, the President and Mrs. Truman, as well as their daughter, Margaret and her husband, are interred in the Library’s courtyard—a dignified yet unpresuming setting.
The day ended for us at Victorian Acres RV Park on the outskirts of Nebraska City. A very convenient and pleasant campground we’ve stayed at several times before. But unlike other times, we weren’t pulling in after a marathon day of driving, too tired to care what might be around. Only a couple of easy hours of driving from Independence, this time we were still fresh. Ready to take in some sights. Small town that it is, Nebraska City still left its impression on us.
The Morton family mansion, built to resemble The White House in Washington D.C. Now part of a state park, Arbor Lodge (as it is known) was where Arbor Day had its beginnings.
Another wonderful Lewis and Clark Museum stands on grounds of rolling prairies just a stone’s throw from Victorian Acres. See a full-scale authentic replication of one of their keelboats that carried them on their journey west.
This land of ours is immense, full of incredible places. Our travels are teaching us that. Even though we’re headed on to destinations much better known and on a grander scale, nevertheless these stops along our way have left their own indelible marks. Impressive in their unique ways. Places we won’t soon forget and encourage others to include in their own travels. Or find your own hidden treasures. They will be waiting just off the main roads. All you need do is find the time.
We’ll be taking in a few more stops as we make our way on to the Tetons, still many hundred miles away. We saw the first signs of mountains ahead as the rolling prairielands of Nebraska were left behind. And the Great Platte River Road Archway spanning the highway marks the westward expansion of our nation.
Melinda & Chris