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Another summer, another Big Trip…  Here’s a brief rundown of where we went this year and a return of the daily videos. (Don’t worry – each video is less than a minute long!)

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Day 1

We didn’t even leave the state of Virginia on Day 1.  The beauty of a shorter distance to cover in a day means you have more time to stop at places along the way.

Giant Roller Skate

The first stop was just a quickie photo opportunity at this large concrete roller skate.  The building used to be a roller rink but is now some sort of warehouse.

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Montpelier

A visit to the lovely country home of President James Madison.  We ended up on the Constitution Tour due to the timing of our arrival so we learned a lot about his contributions to the US Constitution but not as much about his life other than that.

Standing outside the home of President James Madison
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Standing outside Montpelier, the country home of President James Madison

Exchange Hotel Civil War Medical Museum

Just down the road from Montpelier is a Civil War medicine museum.  It is located inside The Exchange Hotel which prior to the Civil War served railroad passengers.  In 1862 it became the Gordonsville Receiving Hospital.  During Reconstruction the building served as a hospital and education site of the Freedmen’s Bureau then returned to business as a private hotel in 1877.  Side note – it is also apparently the 2nd Most Haunted place in Virginia.  Glad I didn’t know that before our visit!

A room in the Exchange Hotel is set up to show how it may have looked when it was used as a hospital during the Civil War
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Just add soldiers… This room at the Exchange Hotel is set up to show how it may have looked when it was used as a hospital during the Civil War.

National D-Day Memorial

If you’re ever tasked with designing a large monument full of meaning and symbolism, use the National D-Day Memorial as an example.  Every part of this memorial is purposeful and relevant.  Not an inch is wasted.  I enjoyed this memorial so much that I’ve already written up our stop in a separate post. (Click here to read about the National D-Day Memorial and see more pictures).  It is unfathomable what our brave soldiers faced that day and the huge sacrifices.  Taking a moment to reflect and honor them is important.

A view of the landing pool at the base of the Overlord arch at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA
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Honoring all those who lost their lives in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, this memorial is worth a visit.

Roanoke Star

The Roanoke Star, also known as the Mill Mountain Star, sits high above the city on Mill Mountain.  Constructed in 1949, it is the world’s largest freestanding illuminated man-made star.  We saw it during the day so we missed the lights but happy that my friend Julie was nice enough to drive us up for quick photo op before dinner.

The Roanoke Star is the world's largest freestanding illuminated man-made star standing high atop Mill Mountain and overlooking the town of Roanoke, VA.
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Look at me! I’m a star!

Day 1 video

Day 2

Day 2 takes us out of Virginia and across the state of Tennessee.  Not as many stops today since our main goal was to get to our friend’s house in Memphis before dark.

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

Checking off my first National Park System property for the trip and learning about another president. Coincidentally, we learned even more about the US Constitution at this stop.  As the first US president to be impeached, learning about President Johnson is an excellent opportunity to learn more about impeachment and the constitution.  He was born poor and eventually owned his own tailor shop which you can see here at the site.

This tailor shop belonging to President Andrew Johnson is preserved inside the visitor's center at Andrew Johnson National Historical Park
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President Andrew Johnson launched his political career in this tailor shop!

Museum of Appalachia

This museum was great!  It far exceeded my expectations based on minimal pre-trip research.  It was raining and we were pressed for time so we didn’t get to walk around to all the buildings they have on display and would definitely go back again if we had a chance.  The Hall of Fame is very cool too.  As Felisa said, it’s like a guy decided to make a museum about all his friends and neighbors.  Which is pretty much what it is.  There are some well-known people from this region of Appalachia included in the museum as well as all the everyday people, extraordinary in their own way, that lived here.  (Click here to read more about our visit to Museum of Appalachia.)

Looking inside the small shack that housed the local doctor's herbs and medicines with paperwork on the desk.
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Have you ever wondered what an Appalachian doctor’s office looked like? Dr. Andy Osborne’s Medicine House has been set up at the Museum of Appalachia, just the way the doctor would have had it. He learned medicine from his uncle.

Day 2 video

Day 3

Today we are driving from Tennessee through Arkansas and into Texas.  Did you know that Arkansas is closed on Sundays?  A couple of our planned stops were closed so we ended up driving a little further into Texas instead of stopping at the border as we had originally planned.

Little Rock High School National Historic Site

School is great – you learn all kinds of history there.  But you can learn more and understand more deeply when you go to the place in real life and imagine how it must have been.  It was pretty quiet here on a Sunday afternoon but the visitor center is very well done with lots of information, stories, and video to help you try to understand and imagine how the world was and how we can make it better.  Civil rights still have a long way to go.

A peaceful scene looking at Little Rock Central High School
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Though quiet and serene on a summer Sunday afternoon in 2019, Little Rock Central High School was once the scene of great civil unrest during school desegregation in 1957.

Texarkana State Line Post Office

The rain let up just long enough for us to get a couple good photos here.  This Post Office and Federal building is built across the state line between Texas and Arkansas.

Straddling the state line outside the Texarkana post office
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Which side of Texarkana is better – Texas or Arkansas?

Buc-ee’s

Technically it’s just a gas station but the immense size and overwhelming selection of goods inside elevate it to “point of interest” status.  It’s not our first Buc-ee’s stop and it won’t be our last!  My bag of glazed pecan pralines kept me happy for several miles.

Buc-ee's mascot statue
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Vacation Mouse and Buc-ee are talking about the awesome snacks we picked up here.

Day 3 video

Day 4

We start our day in Waco, Texas.  The skies are dark and the thunder is rumbling when we leave the hotel so our visit to the cattle drive sculptures and to the silos of Magnolia are completed post-haste.  Once we get on the highway, the skies open up and it pours rain for our entire drive to the ranch.  We arrive just in the nick of time to watch the US Women’s team playing in the World Cup.

Magnolia Silos

The bakery was open early so we stopped here first.  Delicious cupcakes and cookies for breakfast then a quick spin around the courtyard before we dash away from the impending storm.  The Market isn’t open yet so we peek through the window and call it good enough for this trip.  Coming early is definitely the secret to getting a parking spot and minimizing your wait time at the bakery and the market but you’ll miss the food trucks that serve lunch.

Posing for a picture in front of the Magnolia silos in Waco, TX
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Does it look the the skies are about to open up? Because they are! Quick – smile for a picture before the storm arrives!

Day 4 video

Day 5-7

Time to relax and enjoy our time at the ranch.  We drove to San Antonio one day to look at colleges and ate lunch at La Panaderia (so yum!).

a tray of dessert pastries at La Panaderia bakey in San Antonio, TX
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La Panaderia is a small deli and bakery in San Antonio with DELICIOUS food. You should go too.
cows grazing next to a pond
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It’s not a visit to the ranch without pictures of cows!

Day 5 video

Day 6 video

Day 7 video

Day 8

On the road again.  Our goal is to make it to Lubbock, TX in time to catch the next US Women’s World Cup match.  We made it perfectly in time.  After the game we stopped by Buddy Holly’s place for pictures.  Farther down the road we stop for a photo op at the National Mule Memorial.  Finally we make it just across the New Mexico state line to our hotel in Clovis.

West Texas Walk of Fame

This park just across the street from the Buddy Holly Center in downtown Lubbock features a statue of Buddy Holly and several plaques recognizing other noteworthy people from West Texas.

Standing next to the statue of Buddy Holly at the West Texas Hall of Fame
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Visit the West Texas Hall of Fame and get your picture taken with Buddy Holly!

National Mule Memorial

Here in Muleshoe, TX you will find a mule statue and a plaque recognizing the contribution of the mule to American history and industry.

Two girls standing in front of a mule statue at the National Mule Memorial
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Along the hot desert highway in the dusty little town of Muleshoe, you can visit this National Mule Memorial. A very patriotic mule, isn’t it?

Day 8 video

Day 9

A visit to the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner then we’re off to see the cousins.

Billy the Kid Museum

It’s a small town but the museum covers more ground than you initially think.  This museum has several artifacts from Billy the Kid as well as local history and a replica of Billy the Kid’s gravestone.

Billy the Kid relics on display at Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumter, NM
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Billy the Kid relics and lots of local history too at the Billy the Kid Museum in Fort Sumner, NM

Day 9 video

Day 10-15

The next few days are spent enjoying time with the grandparents and the cousins.  Ryan flies down to celebrate the 4th of July and Bella is off for a college tour of the Northwest with Grandma.  We managed a couple field trips while we’re here- to the Coronado Historic Site and the balloon museum – and an afternoon at the movies.

Historic Coronado Site

We drive past the sign for this every time we come to town.  We finally make it over for an early morning visit before it gets too hot.  The site has information about the Native Americans who lived here and the Spanish (and other) explorers who also passed through as well as replicas of the original kivas.  When the site was first excavated, archaeologists found large colorful artwork in a kiva which is now on display in the building.

Entrance sign outside Coronado State Historic Site of Kuaua Pueblo
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Today’s the day! We’re finally going to see what the Coronado State Historic Site is all about! (Spoiler – Native Americans and Europeans)

Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum

We visited this museum many years ago when the kids were little.  They barely remember it so we decided to go again.  It’s a very interesting museum that covers the history of hot air balloons from the earliest days to current times.  Several trans-oceanic voyages are featured in the displays.  I find it amazing that anyone would willingly cross an ocean in this way.

a display at the Anderson Abruzzo Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, New Mexico
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It’s cool to see hot air balloons flying and it’s fun to learn about them at the Balloon Museum in Albuquerque!

Day 10 video

Day 11 video

Day 12 video

Day 13 video

Day 14 video

Day 15 video

Day 16

Time to get back on the road once more.  A friend of ours from Virginia is working at Philmont Scout Ranch for the summer so our first stop is here to say hello and also to visit the Scouting Museum.  After that it’s a long drive across northern New Mexico, the southwestern corner of Colorado, and just across the state line into Utah where we stop for the night.

Scouting Museum

This museum is newly constructed here at Philmont.  It used to be in Texas.  The museum has great displays about the history of scouting in general and the history of the Philmont Scout Ranch.

A view of the gallery at the National Scouting Museum at Philmont
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The museum has just recently opened at this new location and is very nice. Lots of scout history on display plus displays about the Philmont Scout Ranch itself.

Day 16 video

Day 17

Start the day with some Women’s World Cup before we leave the hotel.  Then we drive to Salt Lake City and return Ryan to his dorm.

A view of the mountains east of Salt Lake City with the University of Utah at their base and some of the city visible in the foreground.
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Such a gorgeous view of the mountains with University of Utah campus nestled into the foothills. From the university there are great views looking over Salt Lake City valley.

Day 17 video

Day 18 – 21

Spending a few days in Salt Lake City.  We get to see Ryan when he’s not in class and Ron flies out to join the trip.  Bella returns from her college tour and we’re all together for one evening.  While here we made it out to Camp Floyd, Golden Spike National Historic Park, Olympic Park, and This Is the Place Heritage Park.

Camp Floyd

Camp Floyd is a former army post, Pony Express stop, and stagecoach stop with an inn. At one point more than a third of the US Army was stationed here but all that remains now is a tiny town with the commissary building (which acts as the visitor’s center/museum) and the stagecoach inn.

looking out across the desert at the former site of Army post Camp Floyd.
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Out in the desert, southwest of Salt Lake City, is the site of the former Army post, Camp Floyd. It was also a stagecoach stop and a Pony Express station.

Emmigration Canyon and East Canyon State Park

A fun drive through the canyon and over the pass.  We stopped at East Canyon State Park to dip our toes in the lake. I may have slipped on the stairs and fallen into the lake…

Geese next to the lake at East Canyon State Park in Utah
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A lovely lake but watch out for the concrete stairs at waters’ edge. Super slippery! But on the plus side, the sunshine and dry air will dry your wet clothes reasonably quickly.

Olympic Park

On our way back to Salt Lake City we stopped at Olympic Park in Park City.  There is a small museum which you can go through for free and lots of fun activities you can pay to try.  It’s always fun to watch the kids learning to ski jump land in the pool.

Several slopes end in the pool at Utah Olympic Park
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Want to learn how to ski jump or practice in the off-season? Come to the pool at Utah Olympic Park. Or just sit on the patio and watch – that’s fun too!

Golden Spike National Historic Park

North of the Great Salt Lake, out in the middle of nowhere, is the place where the east and west tracks of the trans-continental railroad met in 1869.  There are two replicas of the train that participated in the Golden Spike ceremony and if you time it right, you can see a live demonstration of the historic meeting.

two trains meeting on the site of the historic golden spike of the transcontinental railroad
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The final spike (the Golden Spike!) of the First Transcontinental Railroad was driven right here 150 years ago.

This Is the Place Heritage Park

Not too far from the University of Utah is This Is The Place Heritage Park.  This is the place where Brigham Young, overlooking the valley below in 1847, declared that this is the place that the Mormons would settle.  There is a large monument at the top of the hill and a couple other smaller monuments honoring the Pony Express and Mormon soldiers farther down.

This Is The Place Monument in the foothills on the east side of Salt Lake City
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“This is the place!” is a nice park overlooking Salt Lake City

Day 18 video

Day 19 video

Day 20 video

Day 21 video

Day 22

We have driven 4,167 miles so far and now it’s time to head back towards the East coast.  Today we are driving across Wyoming and down to Denver. We stopped at Fort Bridger Historic Site and also drove past the infamous Wyoming campground, scene of the dramatic thunderstorm 6 years ago. Ah, memories…

Fort Bridger Historic Site

A nice quiet park where you can tour former Army base buildings, look out across the prairie, and visit a replica of Jim Bridger’s original trading post on the Oregon Trail.  A museum gives history of the many groups who have lived or passed through here from the mountain men to the army to early automobile travelers.

historic buildings at Fort Bridger state park in Wyoming
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Fort Bridger has been a stopping point along this cross-country route for many years. It started with the fur traders in 1842 and went on to serve travelers on the Oregon Trail, California Trail, Mormon Trail, Pony Express Trail, Overland Trail, Cherokee Trail then became an Army post. Once automobiles came onto the scene, this became a stop on the Lincoln Highway.

Day 22 video

Day 23

Our shortest day on the road – driving from Denver down to Colorado Springs.  Felisa has a soccer camp here this weekend.

A soccer field with a view... soccer camp at Colorado College with Pikes Peak in the background
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A soccer field with a view… soccer camp at Colorado College with Pikes Peak in the background

Day 23 video

Day 24

A late start to our drive.  Felisa has soccer in the morning then we’re back on the road at 3 p.m. Our goal is to get a few hours closer to South Dakota.  The drive is very stormy with hail and lightning.  Luckily we beat the biggest storm to the hotel. We stop for the night in Chadron, Nebraska.

Bolt of lightning in a dark sky
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“Thunderbolt and lightning; very, very, frightning!” (You were singing that right?) Not a high quality picture (cell phone at night in a moving car, okay?!) but just imagine yourself driving down a dark highway with ominous, lightning-filled storm clouds bearing down on you and weather alerts on the radio every 10 minutes…

Day 24 video

Day 25

Today we are driving through South Dakota and North Dakota.  Our main goal is to arrive in Medora in time for the Medora Musical at 7 p.m.  We stopped at Wind Cave National Park, passed Crazy Horse Memorial, ate lunch in Deadwood, SD, and passed through the geographic center of the nation.

Wind Cave National Park

The elevator is broken so there are no tours of the cave today.  We drove through the park and enjoyed bison and prairie dog sightings along the way.

herd of bison in the distance at Wind Cave National Park
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The elevator was broken so we couldn’t go into the cave but we did see this herd of bison and a few prairie dogs at Wind Cave National Park

Pringle, SD Bike Sculpture

Happened across this along the side of the road so pulled over for a picture.  Very interesting creation – looks like a cave made out of bicycles.

Sculpture made out of bicycles welded together in Pringle, SD
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Part of the fun of road trips is stumbling across random things like this fort made out of bicycles welded together!

Crazy Horse Memorial

We visited here in 2008.  We didn’t stop this time but it was fun to see it again from the highway on our way by.

Looking at Crazy Horse Memorial from the road passing the entrance
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The Crazy Horse Memorial is so big you can see it from the road. And unless you go up onto the rock face where they are working you’ll still never really realize how big it is.

Deadwood, SD

Lunch and shopping in the historic downtown area.

Standing in the middle of the road looking down the street through the historic Deadwood, SD main street area.
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Look past the cars and the modern traffic signs, etc. Can you imagine how Deadwood looked way back when?

Geographic Center of the Nation

Several years ago we visited the geographic center of the continental US (it’s in Kansas) and now we’ve been to the geographic center of the nation (all 50 states!).  The town of Belle Fourche has a lovely monument where you can take pictures and a nice museum of local history.

Center of the Nation in Belle Fourche, SD has a lovely garden perfect for your photo op
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Check out this fancy plaza at Center of the Nation in Belle Fourche, SD. Ready to capture your Kodak moment and document your visit to the center of the 50 United States.

North Dakota

Made a quick stop to celebrate Ron’s 50th state.  This makes 49 for me – I’ll pick up 50 when we get to Minnesota.

Man standing at side of the road in front of a Welcome to North Dakota sign displaying a thumbs up sign.
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His 50th state!

Medora Musical

We made it to town in time to eat dinner and check into the hotel before the show.  It was a fun family show – live band, dancers, singers, live horses on stage, and fireworks at the end!

View of Medora Musical stage and surrounding landscape
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Check out that view! Definitely a cool place for an outdoor amphitheater!
The Medora Musical cast sing and dance onstage
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The Medora Musical – family-friendly singing and dancing against the backdrop of a sunset over the gorgeous North Dakota scenery.

Day 25 video

Day 26

Starting the morning at Theodore Roosevelt National Park then driving east to Minnesota.  This was one of our longest days on the road for this trip.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It’s a rainy morning and part of the scenic road is closed for construction.  We do see a few bison but most of the prairie dogs are hiding from the weather. It’s a beautiful park and hopefully we’ll be able to visit again someday.

Grasslands to the horizon at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
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Grasslands for miles… the scenery at Theodore Roosevelt National Park is great!
a bison walking in Theordore Roosevelt National Park
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This guy was just walking down the side of the road so we snagged a picture out the window as we passed him. Remember – stay 25 yards away from wildlife at the parks. Leave room, use the zoom! (In this case we used the “zoom” of our van as we drove safely past!)

North Dakota State Capitol

Have you ever seen a capitol building without a dome?  Well now we have!

North Dakota State Capitol building
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A capitol building without a dome? How is that possible?

Largest Sandhill Crane

You have to stop for a photo with the world’s largest Sandhill crane…

world's largest sandhill crane statue
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Sure you could just see it from the highway as you drive by but wouldn’t you rather see it up close and take a picture too?

Fargo-Moorhead Visitors Center

This visitors’ center features a fun sign for anyone who checks off North Dakota as the 50th state as well as the wood chipper from the movie, Fargo.

woodchipper prop from the movie Fargo
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It’s worth a stop at the Fargo-Moorhead visitor center to see the woodchipper prop from the movie Fargo and read more about how that scene was made. Plus it makes for a fun photo op…

Minnesota

Not even a “Welcome to Minnesota” sign… but even without the sign, I’ve still been to all 50 states now!

Thanks for visiting Minnesota sign
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This is the only sign picture I got for checking off my 50th state… taken as we whizzed by at 70 mph.

Itasca State Park – Mississippi Headwaters

Hard to pinpoint on a map but if you can find your way here, you can wade across the mighty Mississippi River.  You also have to fight off the gigantic flies but it’s worth it to say you walked across the Mississippi!

taking pictures at the Mississippi River Headwaters at Itasca State Park
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If you’re going to walk across the Mississippi River, you’ll need a photo to prove that it happened!

Paul Bunyan Park

Photo op with Babe and his pal, Paul Bunyan

Stopping by to take pictures with Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox in Bemidji, MN
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Stopping by to take pictures with Paul Bunyan and Babe, his blue ox…

Day 26 video

Day 27

Despite our midnight arrival at the hotel last night, we’ve got to get up and going today.  We have to make it to Grandma’s house in time for dinner!  Driving through Iowa and Illinois today. College tours and the Buddy Holly crash site are on the list.

Buddy Holly Crash Site

It’s been raining for a lot of the trip this year and today is no different.  We stopped alongside the cornfield in Iowa where Buddy Holly’s plane crashed.  These glasses are at the side of the road and you can walk into the field to see the actual site.  Since there was thunder and lightning nearby, we just did our picture at the roadside then got back on the highway.

Buddy Holly's signature eyeglass frames sit above the corn to mark the site where his plane crashed
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Buddy Holly’s plane crashed in bad weather so I guess it’s fitting that we visit the crash site also in bad weather?

Day 27 video

Day 28

A nice relaxing day at Grandma’s house watching Game Show Network and just hanging out together.  Ron and the girls went to town to stock up on our favorite potato chips which is very important.

backseat of car is piled high with bags of kitchen cooked potato chips
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It’s not a complete trip to Grandma’s house until we stock up on our favorite chips!

Day 28 video

Day 29

Hanging out at Grandma’s for part of the day then on the road to Chicago in the afternoon.  We enjoyed a sunset tour at Northwestern University on our way to the hotel.

A sunset view of the Chicago skyline from the Northwestern University lakefill
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A sunset view of the Chicago skyline from the Northwestern University lakefill

Day 29 video

Day 30

Today featured many college tours and a drive through Chicago.  A hot summer Saturday means lots of people around town so we enjoyed the sights through the window as we drove down the lakefront on our way to Indiana.  We managed a quick visit of Indiana Dunes National Park (lots of people here on a hot summer Saturday!) as well.

Indiana Dunes National Park

This was a nice park. We decided it would be nice to visit in the fall when it’s less crowded.  We drove by Mt Baldy and would love to see more when the weather is cooler.

Looking up Mt Baldy (the largest dune at Indiana Dunes National Park) from the parking lot.
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Wow! That’s a big dune! Hoping someday we might return to this park and see the dune from the lake side.

Day 30 video

Day 31

Another soccer camp for Felisa today.  The rest of us went to Prophetstown State Park and the Tippecanoe Battlefield.  After camp and dinner, we all went to see The Lion King.

The Farm at Prophetstown State Park

It’s very hot and humid but I didn’t care because oh my goodness – so many cute farm animals!  (I love the mountains but there’s also a bit of midwest farm girl in me too!)

Sheep in barn at Prophetstown State Park farm
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She wouldn’t tell me her name but she did at least look at the camera…

Tippecanoe Battlefield

The museum covers the history of the area and the battle between the Native Americans (led by Tecumseh and his brother) and the US Army (led by Governor William Henry Harrison).

Tippecanoe Battlefield Memorial monument
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You know the phrase Tippecanoe and Tyler too but do you know the history about how it came about? Visit the Tippecanoe Battlefield in Indiana to find out.

Day 31 video

Day 32

Getting closer to home! Today we drive through Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia.  We stopped at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and visited a few more colleges along the way.

Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park

This park has a very nice visitors center and museum about the Wright Brothers as well as another noteable former resident, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  The Wright Brothers’ cycle shop is also here and tours are available.

Park ranger entering the visitors center at Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park
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Want to visit the Wright Brothers’ Cycle shop where they developed their airplane? Want to learn more about how they did it? Well this is the place!

Day 32 video

Day 33

Homeward bound!  Driving from West Virginia, through Maryland, and finally back across the Potomac River to Virginia.  We made it home before dinner!

Man and two girls standing outside the front door of home
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8,233 miles later… we’re home. Do they look tired? Or just annoyed that I’m making them stop for a picture before they can finally be HOME already? Haha!

Day 33 video

Daily Video Playlist

Would you like to see all the videos at once? Click here to access my Big Trip 14 playlist on YouTube.

Big Trip Lucky 13

Did you see last year’s trip?  Click the photo to go to Big Trip Lucky 13.

cover photo big trip lucky 13 travel mascot map
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Big Trip Lucky 13

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