Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Road trip: Part 6 - Goose Island to Manhattan, KS

Duck weed on the backwaters of the Mississippi. (Photo: Michael)
The day before we left Goose Island there was a lot of talk about our last night on the road. To get to my prefered location, 30 minutes outside of Kansas City, we would have to be on the road for 8 hours. That was going to make for a very long day, as we were finding 6 hours on the road long enough, even when the drivers switched every hour. Granny found a location that was only 6 hours away, somewhere where we could camp, just off the highway, and then only have 2 or so hours to drive to Watkins Mill before we headed into Kansas City. We were going to play it by ear, but I think I've already given the game away...

Day 13: Goose Island to Watkins Mill State Park
We had no trouble getting up early, for no other reason than it was just so nice to be up as the mist rolled across the river. Somehow we managed to be all packed up, washed, breakfasted and on the road by about 9 am. We had our route planned, but weren't sure how far we would end up travelling - as I mentioned above, we were not keen on travelling for 8 hours, but if Jimmy was doing ok, and the drivers were doing ok, and we didn't like the 6 or so hour spot, then we would continue to Watkins Mill State Park. The early start meant that we would have time on our side and could relax and enjoy the journey.

About to cross the Mississippi.
Well, that was until we realised that we were down to the last few baby wipes, and the way Jimmy was going, we were going to need to find a shop and buy some more before we reached Manhattan, KS. Of course we made this discovery after passing the Walmart and crossing the Mississippi, and we weren't going to turn around and get some, we would just buy some on the way. That day. Whenever an opportunity presented itself.

Driving along the Mississippi.
We did enjoy travelling up the Mississippi for a bit, before turning west. Cue more rolling hills, closely followed by open plains. And lots of wind turbines! Oh they are magnificent! Did I mention that we passed trucks pulling the big blades while we were travelling north? Well, we did, and once we were on a straight freeway again, we saw more. Plus all the ones on the turbines in the fields around us.

Wind turbines... We just kept driving past them and marveled at them. They are almost majestic. I really, really don't understand why people don't like them. I've even seen the ones in Ravenshoe, up in the Atherton Tablelands, Australia, and heard the gentle hum. The ones here in the USA are probably much bigger, but they just look beautiful. They stretched on and on, as far as our eyes could see in some places. At one point there was a lovely juxtaposition of wind turbines next to a few smoke stacks, and we talked about how certain comments made by a certain Australian politician made no sense. Give me wind turbines any day!

We traveled west to Albert Lea, Minnesota, and turned south, making for Des Moines, Iowa, and then a little... It was a grey old day. Windy too. And cold. None of this helped when we had an emergency nappy change to perform, without the help of a gas station restroom with change table. And only 2 wipes. At least it was a slight over-reaction on part, but still, it wasn't a fun stop. Plus we used the last of the baby wipes. This sort of thing is not in the parenting 101 books - actually, it might be, I just never really read past the first few pages... 

After that nappy related detour, we kept going, and kept our eyes out for somewhere sheltered for lunch. And anywhere that might sell baby wipes. And somewhere sheltered we found! It was one of those "just off the freeway" kinda places with clean toilets, change tables, sheltered picnic tables, and free maps of Iowa. Actually, the building was pretty amazing, but we were in a bit of a rush and didn't stop to take pictures.

On the outskirts of Des Moines there is a Target, just off the freeway. With much excitement on my part, we took the turn off and went in. Ahhhhh baby wipes... And beef jerky for a teething boy, who didn't really like it.

A little further south we stopped at another visitors center, checked phone numbers and locations of things and drove off with a eye on the time. If we needed to stop, our roadside campsite was 45 minutes away, otherwise we would keep going to Watkins Mill State Park. To say we were a little tense is probably not quite right, but I was keen to keep going if Jimmy was ok (or asleep).

Jimmy slept. We reached the 45 minute mark and couldn't see our turn off. Jimmy was still asleep. We kept going. Granny called to see if we'd be ok turning up after 6 pm, and it turned out that we would be fine - they'd take our money in the morning. We made for Watkins Mill State Park.

And we arrived there with a happy-ish Jimmy, and before sunset! The campsite host (a volunteer, who stays long term on the site) came and took our money for a site and wood, and answered whatever questions we had. We may have chosen the wrong type of site for the mats we had, but the RV site was close the showers and toilet block, didn't have too many other campers or RVs around, and our ears were inundated with the humming of cicadas, just like the ones in Manhattan, KS. Plus it was warm and dry, just like Manhattan. Just like home.

Packing up our forest campsite.
We had actually been on the road long enough for me to have forgotten what our home life was like. Perhaps that's what happens when you're a mum and you have little choice but to live in the moment, or perhaps I was enjoying myself so much that everything else sort of slipped away.

We slept well, with bellies full of warm food. The ground was hard, but it was only one night. The cicadas were noisy, but familiar. And it was warm and in the morning the tents were dry, so packing them up was fairly quick and easy.

Mum! Mum! Muuuum! Pick me up... I want a cuddle.
Day 14: Watkins Mill State Park to Manhattan, KS
Jimmy enjoyed playing in the gravel after breakfast while we were packing up or showering. The showers are lovely and the whole toilet/shower/laundry facility is probably fairly new. I highly recommend the Park as a nice place to stay, and it's just outside of Kansas City too.

Practicing the all important skills of taking things out and putting them back.
Although we were heading to Kansas City for cooofffeeeee, we (and when I say 'we' I mean 'I') wanted to look at the Mill. (Ok, so I had actually convinced Michael, Granny, and Pop that the Mill was worth visiting.) And as the Mill museum didn't open until 9:30 am, we had time to enjoy our last camp breakfast and some camp-kettle coffee.

Our last camp-kettle coffee.
It was really nice to relax and not feel rushed. None of us were keen on getting into the car, but the Mill wasn't far, Kansas City was another 30-45 minutes, and then home was all of 2 hours. We were almost home. We were able to relax.

How milky do you take your coffee?

And relax we did!

We finished our coffees and with a little protesting from Jimmy, we headed to the Mill. Well... when I say Mill, I mean the visitors center. And what a visitors center! It's basically a mini museum, dedicated to the history of the Mill and the Watkins family. Their room is packed with displays and they have a short video with footage of the Watkins Woolen Mill next to footage of a working woollen mill, in Canada, with the key difference being that the Watkins machinery is the same machinery that was used when the Mill was productive, while the Canadian mill machinery was collected from around the place. I honestly can't remember the name of that mill but I think it's the Almonte Mill, but the internet has not been helpful.

Watkins Mill wool and woolen blankets. (Photo: Michael)
They put a lot of thought into the visitors center at Watkins Mill, so if you're in the area, you should go see what they've done. And if you can't get there, here's a way to visit without leaving your chair. We would have taken a tour, but we would have had to have waited until 11 am and wouldn't have finished until 1 pm and we had a bubba. Fortunately it's possible to walk the grounds and enjoy the property without being on a tour. 

Pretty little local.
Michael found this little local near the family cemetery. We don't know what species of snake it is, but it's it pretty? It was sort of happy for Michael to hold it, while Michael was in awe at its strength as it held onto his fingers. It was pretty happy to be returned to the grass.

Productive gardens.
Michael and I caught up with Jimmy, Granny and Pop near the chicken run and productive gardens. Now, I thought I had pictures of the chickens, but no. There are no pictures of the heirloom chickens, nor the turkey. Shame. The gardens are pretty cool: they use heirloom seeds, plant seasonally, use crop rotation and plant green manure; and they are looked after by park staff and Missouri master gardeners

Pretty little pest (I think that's a cabbage moth...). (Photo: Michael)
The grounds around the old family house and mill are just lovely. Have I mentioned that this place is worth a visit? It would be fun to go back for a special day and see people in period costume etc. 

The Watkins family house.
Jimmy playing with an old metal thing that had a use, once upon a time, probably in the smokehouse.
Near the house is a summer kitchen, because cooking inside the main building, during summer, would have made the house unlivable, there's also a smokehouse for hams etc, and fruit drying house. Jimmy enjoyed the freedom of the lawn around the house and was happy to tease Granny and Pop and Dadee by running towards one but stopping short and making for the other, while ignoring Dadee's calls. Oh he's a cheeky boy.

There are a few sheep at the Mill still, just a few. Heirloom too, I think. They were fairly shy, but had a nice paddock to roam in.

Pointing out the sheep.
We walked around the Mill, but couldn't get inside (a downside of not being on a tour). It's huge and once upon a time it would have been very noisy, but that day it was the cicada's making all the noise. And Jimmy.

The Mill.
It's almost a shame we didn't have a packed lunch. The grounds are really nice, and it was a lovely day, but we had to get home and there was coffee to have. So we circled the old Mill and headed back to the car.

Old fencing. (Photo: Michael)
After doing a quick nappy change and toilet trips, we set off. Just before my toilet run, I bought Jimmy a little toy at the visitors center, but didn't give it to him until we were in the car - it was sort of a bribe and sort of a reward for getting in the car again, as he was pretty well over the whole road trip thing. We couldn't blame him - we were pretty over sitting in the car too, but it's not easy telling a one year old that he has to get in the car in order to get home, which is at least 2 hours away. The toy worked and we made for Kansas City.

Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo: Michael)
Our first stop in Kansas City, or KC as it is called here, was Quay Coffee. Our local coffee shop owner (of Arrow Coffee Co) gave us a list of coffee shops in KC that he thought were worth visiting. We had planned to go to quite a few of them, but the day was hot, it was lunchtime, and we were all keen to back to Manhattan before dark.

Two lattes and one macchiato.
It was definitely a hipster coffee shop. Most people were drinking fancy, well handled pour overs, but we went for the milky stuff... Basically it was the best coffee we'd had since leaving Manhattan. I'm not saying we didn't enjoy our camp kitchen coffees or the ones we had with our family in Canada, there's just something about a really good latte and sitting in a quiet corner of a cafe. Not that it's really quiet when you're with 3 other adults and a toddler....

The back room at Quay Coffee.
The didn't do much in the way of food, which is cool. That's allowed. Sometimes it's worth focusing on one thing, and I think it's working for Quay Coffee. We'll probably stop by there again, next time we're in KC.

Another place we'll definitely be going back to is the Farmhouse. I don't remember how we came by it, I think we asked one of the guys at Quay Coffee for a local lunch spot. It was good. Actually, it was very good - I highly recommend going there.

They do everything they can on site, and by everything, I mean everything: from pickles and preserves to butchering and curing. They buy from farmers in Missouri and Kansas, and change their menu according to what their farmers are producing.

Our entree. (Photo: Michael)
Jimmy had is own cup of cold water.

Even though the day was hot, we decided to eat outside because it was nice in the shade and we would be spending 2 hours inside a car soon enough. We had some trouble deciding what to eat, but we eventually decided. The entree was really good, and the mains were excellent.

A little hot in the heat, not so happy to be confined to a chair, but happy to have everyone adoring him. (Photo: Michael)
My burger and fries. It was really good. (Photo: Michael)
We were really enjoying ourselves: the food was excellent, the service was wonderful, and the setting was really nice, even in the heat and with the roadworks nearby. And then we let a barefoot Jimmy loose... None of us had seen the glass all over the outdoor area. Not even the staff. Somehow Michael and I were prepared and managed to get the teeny-tiny piece of glass out of Jimmy's right foot, clean him up, and cover it with a bandaid and sock, all with minimal fuss and without having to get the first aid kit out of the car (Swiss army knife tweezers, baby wipes, bandaid in purse). The poor staff were mortified, yet heartened that we had already decided that we would be coming back - the glass hadn't changed that. We may have to sit inside, as it might just be a little too cold in the coming months for alfresco dining.

The outdoor area at The Farmhouse.
With very full bellies we took a stroll around the area and found the local markets. On weekends this site is teeming with food stalls as farmers sell their produce, but as it was a Tuesday we only saw the permanent shops and a big car park, where the stalls presumably go.

Bulk spice shop? Now this is my kind of city! (Photo: Michael)
We poked our heads in at the Arabia Steamboat Museum, noticed that there were even more shops - this place seems a lot like the Queen Victoria Markets, in Melbourne, Australia. Michael and I resolved to come back one weekend, some time, when we needed to get out of Manhattan, KS. Jimmy was getting tired and started to nurse, so we made for the car, hoping that Jimmy would transfer from boob to car.

And he did. We left KC with a sleeping Jimmy and were inundated with peak hour traffic. We were all in a little bit of shock - we hadn't seen that many cars on the road in months! We were happy to clear the Kansas area and head home.

When we arrived home it was still light. We unpacked the car and let Jimmy loose in the apartment. He checked everything out and was pretty excited to see his highchair - no more sitting on laps! He was also pretty excited to see his toys, but he squealed when he saw his books!! Oh it was wonderful: one minute he was exploring and holding Kew (our badger puppet) and as soon as he saw his books he dropped what he was doing, squealed as I've never heard him squeal, and went straight for them.

We were all happy to be home, even though it meant that our holiday was over, Michael had to go back to work and our days with Granny and Pop visiting were coming to a close.

Home! (Photo: Michael)
As much as I enjoyed our holiday, it was good to be home. Michael and I have decided not to do any more road trips while we're here (the journey to KC doesn't count - it's only 2 hours), flying will be much easier. The US is vast, we've seen the middle of it, and a little bit of Canada. We can now say we've seen some of this country, we can fly to our next far off destination.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our road trip, we definitely enjoyed the doing part. There are still 2 more road trip related posts to come, but they're not as big or photo heavy. They should be out in the coming week or so...

Thanks again to my parents for making the journey and visiting us and thanks again to our Canadian relatives for having us - it was lovely seeing your corner of the world. And thank you Jimmy, for being a really good traveller.

If you missed the previous road trip adventures, here are the links:
Part 1 - Manhattan to Winnipeg
Part 2 - Winnipeg to Lake of the Woods
Part 3- Lake of the Woods
Part 4 - Lake of the Woods to Thunder Bay
Part 5 - Brule River to Goose Island

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