Virginia Trip 2021 | Days 8 & 9 | Driving from West Virginia to Nebraska | Gateway Arch National Park
The final two days of our Virginia trip mostly consisted of long drives and short stops. We rose early in our campground at New River Gorge to find low-hanging clouds hovering around the mountain ridges, which reminded me of the way clouds used to hover around the Ko’olau Mountains on Oahu. It’s been a while since any place has reminded me of Hawaii, and I certainly didn’t expect West Virginia to be that place. We packed up our tent and hit the road, enjoying more cloudy, mysterious mountain views during the early morning hours.
For today’s drive, we stuck with I-64 from New River Gorge all the way to the KY/IN border. Our first stop was in Charleston, WV, to see the capitol building. The sky was overcast, but it made the air cooler than it had been for the past few days. While the capitol building and monuments were all enjoyable to see, the memorable part of this stop was how somehow all of their sprinklers were watering the concrete instead of the gardens they were placed around.
We entered Kentucky, and our only stop in this state was also for the state capitol building in Frankfort. A wrong turn on our way there took us to a cool view overlooking the capitol, then we got back on the right track and were able to take a walk around it. It had been raining off and on throughout our drive, but thankfully we stayed dry for the half-hour we were here.
After making it through Louisville, we left the interstate and took US-150 West across Indiana. We were planning to take it across the entire state, but part of it turned out to be closed so we ended up taking a back roads detour through Hoosier National Forest. It felt pretty weird to go from interstate and main highway to this very rural area and drive through hills. It was also weird thinking about how the highest point in Indiana is this seemingly flat spot when there was so much elevation change here and probably some more enjoyable hiking opportunities. I guess that’s the thing with Midwest state high points — the ‘high point’ may simply be a little mound where the elevation happens to be the highest, but that doesn’t mean you should overlook what the rest of the state may hold. Some examples being two of our “home states” — we bagged Iowa’s “high point” in 2017, and only in the past year have we discovered the many hiking opportunities and the simple beauty that is the Loess Hills. Then in Nebraska, you can stand on Panorama Point and think there’s nothing special about this state, but just less than 100 miles North stands Scotts Bluff, a prominent and scenic spot that’s absolutely worth visiting. All that to say, maybe there’s some places worth exploring here, and someday maybe we’ll come back and check it out!
Our only stops in Indiana this trip were in Vincennes. We first stopped at George Rogers Clark National Historic Park. We made it within a half hour of closing, but since it’s a smaller national park site we were still able to see it all and not feel like we missed out. Curtis started with the visitor’s center, then we made our way over to the monument. We each took turns going inside to see the artwork, then walked around along the Wabash River some more before moving on. Curtis was able to find his first letterbox in Indiana, and then we stopped to see the courthouse and Whispering Giant statue.
Finally, we finished our drive on US-50 through Illinois to our campsite for the night in Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area. We originally picked this place because we thought we’d like to kayak here, but it was cold and looked like it might rain so instead we just took it easy at our campsite. We made pasta on our soda can stove, looked at maps, and relaxed.
On Sunday morning, we awoke to a thick morning fog. We broke camp and got back on US-50, headed for St. Louis. Another reason why we chose this campsite was so that we’d be less than an hour from the city, and we hoped we could beat the traffic and have a quieter early morning downtown.
Normally we avoid cities when we travel, but this time we decided to stick it out and visit another newer National Park Site — Gateway Arch National Park, which consists of the giant metal arch next to the Mississippi River and surrounding area. If I had to compare it to another national park, I’d say its main feature is most similar to Arches National Park. 😉 We parked in a nearby lot which cost $5, then went for a walk around the park. Charlotte was of course allowed on the grounds (but not in the arch) and when we started out, the park was very quiet. We actually visited the arch back in November of 2010 with our group of friends, so we took advantage of this chance to recreate some pictures we took back then.
Left images taken November 2010; Right images taken August 2021
We realized that the visitor’s center didn’t open until 9, so we decided to wait around until then so that we could get our cancellation stamps (something we had failed to do in 2010). We walked over to the old courthouse for some pictures and to stand on the national park’s “highest point” which is just the Southwest corner of the courthouse. Then we noticed a line forming for the visitor’s center, so Curtis went to wait while Charlotte and I hung out in the shade away from other people. Thankfully the stamps were outside the main building so Curtis didn’t have to go through the metal detector and all that, but after his brief time stamping in he felt very sympathetic for the national park ranger whose job was to answer questions right at the door…questions that could easily be answered if people just took a second to read the sign right there. According to the ranger, having to stand there and answer questions was so bad, they switch off every hour. We idealize the life of being a national park ranger quite often, but I guess sometimes the job isn’t quite as exciting as we imagine!
After getting our stamps, we made our way back to the car and got back on the road. In order to maximize new counties and avoid Kansas City while still getting home in a decent amount of time, we took I-70 all the way MO-23, up to US-65, and then West on US-36. We stopped in St. Joseph for Culver’s and then finally finished our drive up I-29 to Omaha. We’re very thankful for this military-supported “anniversary trip,” and that we were able to make an East coast trip enjoyable and accomplish a lot of our goals!