Out Your Backdoor

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Team OYB Road Trip 2: Cave, Zoo, Arch, Fountain, Road Food

May 27, 2010

So we got to St. Louis and out to the west side of the county and visited my sister for a few days. Lots of nice parks around there. Hilly with twisty roads that are good for biking -- but challenging. Parks along the big rivers, with trails along their high bluffs -- we took a day hike at one and got hit by a powerful rainshower for about 10 drenching minutes, leaving the world hot and steamy after it passed.

Lots of caves around there, too. If you're in the area, visit a cave. The Jesse James Cave has to be good, but the state park caves are half the price, if that matters (like $8 versus $15 ea.). We went to a park cave then went and visited the Jesse James foyer. Ha. And gift shop. Quite an entrance. Quite a story. He escaped from the law using that cave, for real.

We visited a well-preserved hipster hillside neighborhood near downtown STL and the zoo where stopped in at a gallery with a neat display of art-dresses. Some looked to me like they'd work pretty darn well at a party. Make an impact, for sure!

The zoo is amazing. Free admission. So is the vast city park it's located within. We were most mesmerized by the Herpetarium. What a building! Mainly it's the accents on the building that caught our eye. But a Gaboon Viper is pretty neat, too. (We must've been hungry, too, because the salads they were feeding the lizards and turtles were most appetizing and are still inspiring even today. I've already posted elsewhere on this undoubtedly most compelling of subjects. : ) )

We took a ride up in the Arch. We were told by two different sets of officials on the walk in that the tickets were sold out for the day and that the last ride was going up. I went to the counter to ask about the next day and the lady said we could still get on, so away we went! We did cut it close and missed the museum as a result. My advice: buy your tickets online ahead of time. Also: the tram going up is indeed claustrophobia-inducing. I used all my tricks and efforts to avoid panic. (Look out the little window at the machinery passing by.) Maybe a ride early in the day would be better, too: less stuffy. But, really, it was fine. Quite a view.

Then we went to Crown's, the oldest soda fountain in town, a mile from the Arch. The neighborhood there was run-down yet it still had spunk. I mean, you couldn't get more run-down -- a whole block was nuked next door -- yet it wasn't defeated. Their BLT really does have about a half-pound of bacon on it so be careful. (Thankfully I'm on the Primal Diet now. Um, and the Carbo Diet, too. Two better than one? Time to ride! Sweat it out!)

After leaving my sis's we stopped for lunch on the River an hour north of the City in Clarksville at the Clarksville Station, a localvore farm-based place, run by the family of a centennial farm. www.overlookfarmmo.com. I really liked its patio. I prefer al fresco dining and go for it whenever I can. An evening there would be a great place to linger. They had a rockin' burger and also quite a gift shop -- like a Cracker Barrel for hipsters. We were there a bit early in the season for true garden dining. I bet if you go there when figs are in season that would be a good idea.

An hour further north brought us to Mark Twain's hometown of Hannibal, a place he left as soon as he could. But which he came back to, to admire its mud. Still, roots is roots. It was neat to add the museum of his life to the experience of our visit to Lincoln's town earlier in the week. It's dimes on the dollar but still an amazing story of storytelling, and one with its share of tragedy, too. Whew... Life! ...It makes you appreciate medicine. So many children perishing back then... (and today in deprived countries...) It's interesting to read of these talents who could do ONE thing well, and even that had its scary ups and downs. Where any step to the left or right met with failure. Twain, an experienced journeyman printer from before his literary days, invested heavily in a typesetting machine that flopped and ruined him. Lincoln tried shopkeeping before lawyering...a total flop.

We stayed again in Springfield. When we arrived in the evening we drove around town a bit with restaurant guide in hand and came up empty. (One place recommended online as "hasn't changed since the 50's" looked downright scary.) Then we saw a quirky sign and had a fine and sociable dinner at Ross Isaac's. I don't think that's the owner's name so it's a bit like "Ruth's Chris." It was a hip yet sincere place, and welcoming.

The next day we had lunch at a famous old cafeteria, Gray Brothers, in Mooresville, IN, just south of Indy. It had a dandy retiree atmosphere and very friendly service and attractive interior. They do try with their food but in the end it's institutional. So go to enjoy but not with hopes out of place.

Then we powered on home.

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