Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Midwest Road Trip

Downtown Lawrence, KS

In August, my son moved to Lawrence, Kansas for grad school at KU. We gave him a few months to settle in, and then thought the fall would be the perfect time for a visit. So in early October, we headed out for a 9 day road trip halfway across the country. Other than a few trips to California and Chicago (all by air), I’ve never been off the east coast. In fact, I’ll admit that I’ve been very east coast-centric all my life, never giving the Midwest much thought. Well, we had a wonderful trip, and now I’ve become completely enamored of America's heartland. The landscape is picturesque, the roads and cities are uncongested, the pace is slower, the towns are charming, the people are friendly...what’s not to like?

Heading west on I-64 is nothing like heading north on I-95, a trip I’ve taken way too many times. Midwestern friends thought I might find the drive west boring. Not even close. You drive the northeast corridor a few times, take a few trips through New Jersey, try to navigate in and around NYC, and then let’s talk about boring. The drive west was scenic and serene, from the mountain views in West Virginia, to the green rolling hills of Kentucky and southern Indiana, across the bucolic farmlands of southern Illinois and Missouri into Kansas, and there were stretches of road where we hardly saw other cars. Ten hours north is grueling; 10 hours west is pleasant.

The "boring" interstate through Kentucky:

People talk about Midwesterners as being particularly friendly. I think I figured out why. They are getting more sleep than we east coasters are. Midway through Indiana, Central time wraps you in its warm embrace, and suddenly, prime time TV starts at 7 pm, and you can watch the Daily Show and Colbert and still get to bed by 11. What a luxury. Come on, east coasters...how can we make that happen here?

I've heard Lawrence called the "blue dot" of red state Kansas, but the overwhelming sense I got there was not of liberal politics, but of the domination of the Jayhawk, that mythical bird once used to describe militant 19th century abolitionists. No matter where you go in Lawrence, you can't escape the KU Jayhawk:

KU has a beautiful campus. Here's some typical architecture:

Pretty fountain in the middle of campus:

We made it to Lawrence in 2 easy days of driving, and spent 2 full days in Kansas, with a day trip to nearby Kansas City. We took our time coming home, with stops in St. Louis, MO and Louisville, KY for some sightseeing. Our goal was to eat barbecue in Kansas City, hear some blues in St. Louis, and drink some bourbon in Louisville. Check, check and check.

In Kansas City, we visited the riverfront (the Missouri River), checked out the city market, and went to the excellent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and adjacent Jazz Museum. But the highlight was our visit to the iconic Arthur Bryant's, established in 1908, and considered by some to be the most famous barbecue joint in America:

Lots o' meat. And white bread. And greasy fries.

Next stop, St. Louis. The Midwest is land of big rivers. I was excited to get my first glimpse of the Mississippi, although in St. Louis, it’s more industrial than picturesque.

Of course, the arch is the big highlight. Here's a view of the arch, the old courthouse, and a cool fountain:

How many photos of the arch do you need to see? Because I've got plenty more:

We spent some time under the arch at the Museum of Westward Expansion, visited the old courthouse where the Dred Scott case was first heard, and visited the renovated Union Station ( just like D.C.!). Here's the front of the station with the famous Milles Fountain.

St. Louis has lots of parks and fountains. In a city park, we came upon an exhibit of sculptures, including this giant head...

and this water feature:

Our trip to St. Louis included an evening spent at Beale on Broadway, a great music venue where we heard the dynamic Kim Massie, arguably St. Louis's best blues/R&B singer. After two nights in St. Louis, we headed for Louisville on the banks of the Ohio River:

Louisville's riverfront plaza:

One of Louisville's claims to fame is the ornate cast iron architecture of Main Street:

We toured downtown, and stopped in at the Louisville Slugger bat factory and museum:

Before heading home, we drove down to Loretto, KY, to take the tour of the Maker's Mark distillery and complete the BBQ, blues and bourbon trifecta.

We just scratched the surface of the surface of these cities, and are planning to go back each year, taking in more sights, and trying other routes. I leave you with a last look of just one more reason why our Midwest trip was so satisfying: it's the home of White Castle. Reason enough to go.


mike said...

I've heard great things about that Maker's Mark distillery.

Merry N said...

It came highly recommended! Now someone needs to send me a recipe for something delicious with bourbon in it, because frankly, I don't like to drink the stuff.

Curious George said...

I stumbled across this while searching for a song and immediately felt a kindred spirit. I am from near Lexington, KY, like Bourbon, Barbeque, Blues, & White Castles. We are also empty nesters. We live in southeast KS now, and our daughter attended a Reagent's Summer Program at KU one summer when she was in HS. Was also impressed with the architecture.
It was a pleasure reading your post.

Crafty said...

Hi Merry!

I live in FredVegas too, and just stumbled upon your blog, so neat to see someone else's view of similar...if not the same activities I have enjoyed around town.

I had to comment when I saw this post about Lawrence. That is the most adorable, friendly, fun city in the mid-west, I hope your son loves it there!

Merry N said...

Thanks for the positive comments. My son will be in Lawrence for a few more years, and we're planning our next trip out there, hopefully this year. This time, I think we'll take the southern route, and check out Tennessee.