Traveling Treasures in Your Backyard
Need A Quick Getaway?
Everyone has received that text from a friend or family member saying "If I don't get a vacation soon, I'm gonna LOSE IT!!" Some of us have even been guilty of sending this message. As a frequent traveler, I get the itch every few months and try to find the perfect spot to scratch my travel addition. I find that escaping to the state next door can easily fix that travel itch until you can go on a larger trip. Living in Arkansas gives my family a variety of options to visit and I'm sure every state is the same if you do a little research. Being one of those determined to visit all 50 states in my lifetime, I know that every state has amazing qualities that make it special and unique. There are several reasons like this that make me proud to be from Arkansas. Our state has a natural beauty providing more than enough for us to do, but when we do need to escape the state, we have a large variety of major cities and spots to visit!
Do you take pictures with or of the state signs?
Yes, I'm a state sign personClick thumbnail to view full-size
What isn't to love about Louisiana? Cajun Food, French Culture, and my personal favorite; New Orleans. I could go on and on about the architecture and culture of New Orleans. Riding in the cab and seeing random beads on signs and in trees miles away, some remnants of Katrina the cabby tells us as he took us to Bourbon Street one night.
I honestly haven't traveled Louisiana as much as I would like. I wrote curriculum for a Louisiana History book and it inspired me to plan a trip along The River Road. I've driven across and passed through Monroe and no; I did not stop at the Duck Dynasty shrines. I apologize in advance to all you fans. I also find Si amusing but was ready to get home and New Orleans will take all your energy so be prepared. I've also never been to Shreveport but my fiance tells me its similar to Tunica, MS but with an actual city. My friend says there is a boardwalk so I'm looking forward to going and learning more.
My favorite part of Louisiana is and always will be New Orleans. The mystery, the colors, the uniqueness. There are so many cultural components that blend together in the city, it leaves you overwhelmed by beauty of the combinations. The serenity of the Cemeteries are chilling and a must when you visit New Orleans. Bourbon Street is as predicted but better than Beale Street in my opinion. It is stinkier, hotter, and crowded beyond belief sometimes but the entertainment is worth it! You never know what you will see next and you are enjoying street entertainment while drinking delicious bloody mary's. This is my signature New Orleans drink thanks to a restaurant somewhere in the area called Bourbon Heat. They had spicy, pickled green beans in their bloody mary's and I was instantly hooked and have made my own spicy blend when I need a trip down memory lane.
Make sure you take time to take the side streets and get lost in the French Quarter. There is so much more than just Bourbon St and my favorite spots were actually random spots we came across. Don't forget to have the beneigts at Cafe Du Monde while you are wandering around. You may have to wait in line but trust me they are worth the time!
I could go on about New Orleans but I want to share other treasures close to home to inspire you to go visit yours so our next quick stop is Mississippi.
Tennessee & Mississippi Travels
NOLA!!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Mississippi: maybe someone can help me out with this one?
I try to find the good in every place and this is coming from this girl that got lost on Skid Row in Vancouver with her 7 year old daughter. Mississippi is one of those states you have to go to and find their treasures. I have found my favorite Mississippi spot and I hope others can share some new ones with me because this is a state I need to learn more about.
I have found that during long travels or on our trips to New Orleans, Vicksburg is the perfect spot to stop for the evening. They have a downtown that will keep you entranced for hours and a decent outlet mall if you forgot something or just feel the urge to shop. The Battlefield at Vicksburg is the most impressive battlefield you will find on the Mississippi River in my opinion. Riverboat casinos also line the riverbank and I can't forget the most important part for Arkansans; this is the first spot to get a whataburger coming out of Arkansas from this direction. Some may find my knowledge of fast food chains locations amusing but I find them very helpful when planning a trip because I know that I can get a whataburger breakfast there on our way to New Orleans or to one of the gulf beach spots.
My other favorite thing about Mississippi: the distance to decent casinos. This is very important when you or your man need a weekend away with the friends or you two need some time together. Tunica has one small outlet mall and a nice row of casinos to choose from for a day or two away from home. Don't be surprised if you run into someone you know if you are from a neighboring state. I ran into a high school classmate at the roulette table on my last trip so you never know!
Our family is taking a trip to Biloxi this summer and I am looking forward to seeing the gulf again and seeing what the city has to offer. I know I'm not the first to hear negative things about their beach, so I'm going optimistic and looking forward to finding the positives that made it a hot spot in the beginning.
Vicksburg on Memorial Day 2015Click thumbnail to view full-size
Tennessee: This one deserves its own article!
I feel like I could sit here and write a visitor's guide for Tennessee so I will try to keep this quick. It's the home of American Music! Tennessee not only has Memphis, but it has Nashville and both are two of the most historically important locations in our country regarding music in our nation's culture. Each city has more than music to offer and Memphis is a regular spot for us to enjoy a show at the Orpheum or just to spend a day at the zoo.
Speaking of historical locations, the battlefield of Shiloh is one that should be visited by any Civil War buff. We tried to locate the battle area in Chattanooga but didn't have any luck. The Shiloh battlefield is as breathtaking as Vicksburg but with more stops and monuments in my opinion.
For the nature lover, the Smoky Mountains are a family favorite for us. Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge is our second Branson when it comes to outlet shopping and amusement park fun. When the fire occurred I felt a sadness for the people that live there I've met and encountered over time. To lose such beautiful scenery was horrific to this tree-hugger and I felt for the community and their loss.
I'm sure I'm forgetting something amazing about Tennessee but that is what makes it so special. There is SO much to do and see so pack your bags and go check it out!
Treasures of TennesseeClick thumbnail to view full-size
Our Tennessee Road Trip
This was one of our summer road trips we took as a family. I suggest doing it in the spring or fall because of the heat!
Missouri: Our reliable home away from home
Since my daughter was born, we have taken countless trips to Branson. Season passes to Silver Dollar City were a yearly necessity when she was a toddler, so we have been to most additional attractions and shows offered in Branson. We have stayed at most hotels and condo locations within and around the city and have enjoyed so many extended family trips.
A couple of years ago I had to take my daughter on our American Girl Doll vacation. I try to take her to a new store each year and St. Louis was next on our list. She and I left my fiance at home and enjoyed a girls week at the Union Station Hotel. The amount of outlet malls almost drained my credit but I found an amazing Vera Bradley carry-on for 70% off. To a traveler like me that was the find of a century! As natural tourists, we visited the arch and rode to the top with friendly strangers. I always enjoy being stuck in confined places such as that with random strangers from around the world. You never know who you will meet or what they do and I find it oddly fun and exciting. The view from the top of the arch is amazing of the city. The other side offers a nice view of the muddy Mississippi River and cargo spots for barges and such.
Overall, I can only really give a decent review of St. Louis and Branson, although we all know anyone who goes to Branson has been to Springfield and therefore has had a roll thrown at them. My parents took me for my 18th birthday to Lambert's because they made the mistake of saying wherever I wanted to go. I didn't want to push it too far but I pushed just far enough because it worked and we got a little mini birthday vacation out of my dinner request. If you haven't been to Lambert's, you will understand why my parent's said yes after you try it. Those of you that have are probably thinking I would've said yes too if it was only a couple of hours away and my daughter's 18th birthday.
Even though these are my only major Missouri locations, I have a list made of more places I want to go within the state. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!
St. LouisClick thumbnail to view full-size
To be an Okie from Muskogee
We all know the song, but how much do we know about Oklahoma? I honestly don't know that much except they have beautiful scenery that makes you feel like the sky goes on forever as you are driving. Southern Oklahoma is breathtaking and very serene with the random annoying toll thrown in to throw you off. Nice roads though!
One experience I have is from when I was in my twenties and one of my friends dated a guy from Norman. We took a road trip out there, saw a small music festival, and ate at some amazing pizza place. If you are from Norman, you know which one I'm talking about and I know I have a couple of round magnets from the restaurant.
My other experience was visiting the Oklahoma City Memorial with my grandmother and my daughter. Again, this is something I feel all Americans should do at some point in their life. A truly moving experience.
At 34, I'm sure I will learn more and visit more locations in Oklahoma. I have driven through it more times than I can count so I need to slow down and stop along the way to learn what amazing treasures Oklahoma has to offer.
The Oklahoma City MemorialClick thumbnail to view full-size
Only an Arkansan would leave Texas for last.
Yes, I did this on purpose. No, I don't dislike Texas. In fact, there are so many things I love about Texas I feel the same as I do about Tennessee. We have taken countless trips around Texas and there is always somewhere to go and something to do. Dallas is our other close city we escape to if Memphis is available, so we know it well but still not well enough for me to understand the interstates!
San Antonio has always been a favorite of mine since a high school trip to Six Flags, Sea World, The Alamo, and The Riverwalk. I took my daughter back this year and everything was just as I remembered from high school. There was a guy playing clarinet outside the Alamo so we enjoyed his talent for a while before taking a stroll through the grounds of the Missions.
Houston and Austin are two cities I have been to but haven't gotten to explore like I want, therefore I don't feel qualified to give my two cents on either... although I really want to have the whole Austin experience. I missed going to Austin City Limits with friends in my 20's and want to explore the city and all that 6th street has to offer. I am also wanting to go on a graffiti hunt of both Houston and Austin.
This past spring we took a small road trip and began with Galveston. This was my first trip to the beaches in Texas and I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn't the gorgeous teals of Mexico or Pensacola but it reminded me of Myrtle Beach. I live for the water so getting my feet wet and letting the waves hit me is my spiritual "church". A couple of days in Galveston and spending time at their Pleasure Pier and looking at the historic sites from the early 1900's hurricane was impressive.
We took our daughter to the Johnson Space Center because you can't take a trip to Galveston and not pull off for the space center. We enjoyed the space themed McDonald's before spending the afternoon at the Space Center. Thanks to us both being teachers we received the free teacher bonus going on that month! I recommend this for any parent or space nerd. Yes, during 7th grade I watched Apollo 13 countless times when it came out on VHS!
From there, we skipped a few spots in Houston and found the American Girl Doll store for my daughter. Another one checked off our list! We then drove on to New Brunfels thanks to a Groupon deal I had found for their waterpark. After playing at the beach, we were all ready for some waterpark fun. Too bad they were only open for Texas Springbreak and my Groupon mentioned nothing of the park being closed. It also mentioned 4 pools but we were only able to find one. Imagine that scary old hotel where they are sitting outside on their porches and there is no Wi-Fi or any entertainment promised in the description. We went and wandered around San Antonio the next day and then returned to our hotel room to pack up early. Our plans had gone down the drain like all the water did at the park so we decided to get our refund for the additional days and head on home. A wreck on the interstate delayed us a few hours so we skipped Austin and just headed home.
Sometimes plans don't work out and you either go with the flow or change them and we went for the change.
What can I say about West Texas other than you can taste and feel the oil in your mouth and it is all you can smell. My extended family lives in Odessa so I have spent time there and you don't forget the grittiness or the smell. Those who live there or have spent time there know what I'm talking about.
As a geography teacher, Texas is so impressive to drive across because you get to watch the landscape completely change on you as you travel Hwy 10. I still have Big Bend on my lists of parks to visit and intend to find more Texas travels when I return. There is so much available in Texas! You can plan several trips and I intend to as long as it's in my neighborhood!
Everything is Bigger in Texas they say...Click thumbnail to view full-size
Our Last Texas Roadtrip
What is in your backyard?
Do you visit your neighboring states? If not, I hope I encouraged you to plan a weekend trip. If so, then keep doing it because I am a firm believer in the educational values of travel! Google your neighboring states and plan a small getaway for your significant other or for the family. It's usually cost friendly and no one drives the other insane if you are only in the car for a couple of hours.