West Virginia Vacation – Part II

One of the plans for this vacation was for everyone to learn to play poker. The house we rented had a poker table, where the top of it flips over to expose cup holders and a felt table top. I picked up a few rolls of coins so we’d have something to use, and Brooke printed and laminated a few “cheat sheets” with which hands beat what. We didn’t end up playing a ton, but we got a few hours of entertainment out of it. Meg ultimately won, though she didn’t really bet all that often, so that’s my excuse…

Since we explored a bit on Sunday, we reserved Monday to mostly just hang around the property. There was an old logging road that went for a few miles up onto the mountain that Brooke and I checked out, but the heat, humidity, bugs, and elevation change made it rather unappealing to go hiking. If we were there in the Spring or Fall, though, I think we’d be able to kill a ton of time just walking around and exploring the area. It really was a beautiful place!

We used the hot tub a few times, mostly in the evenings. The owners rigged up a neat pulley system to lift the lid on the hot tub (that had previously been used to butcher deer, we think). This way, Calvin could get the lid off by himself without our assistance. They also had fencing around the top of the tub so that no one could fall off the porch if they were sitting on the side of the tub.

We did take a hammock along, though Brooke only used it once. Again, we had intended to mostly just hang around the property for at least one day, just getting some relaxation in. We had Wifi at the house that worked surprisingly well (no regular cell service, though), but you had to be pretty close to the house for it to work. It was nice to just hang out for a day without having to travel anywhere!

For our last day in West Virginia, we visited Shenandoah National Park. This park was…..weird…compared to what we’re used to seeing. For one, it’s really a series of plots of “park” along a two-lane road, where you can pull over sometimes, but mostly, you’re just driving through a forested area. There were some overlooks, but nowhere near as picturesque as Colorado or Utah. As in, the overlooks we’re used to seeing to pull over, get out and take pictures….there existed, but there weren’t a ton of them, and they were overlooking a land mass that didn’t look that different than the Ozark Mountains, so it was a bit less impressive than we were expecting.

Also, a huge storm blew through the previous day. We were at the house when it happened, so it was cool to watch it come through, but apparently a lot of other communities lost power when our house didn’t (incidentally, the owners lost power and checked in on us to make sure ours still worked…and it did!). Well, the Visitor Center we went to in Shenandoah was still without power, though they had a generator to keep a few things working. However, they a). couldn’t process credit cards, and b). their exhibit was shut down, so we could really only go in to ask a few questions, but not really learn much about anything there.

We had found a 4 mile loop trail that was supposed to pass by a waterfall that was relatively close to the Visitor Center, so we found it and got started on the one longer hike we did on the whole vacation. It was, indeed, a loop, and there were a decent number of people out there on it. I wouldn’t say it felt crowded, thankfully, and we were able to get a parking spot relatively easily. The loop wasn’t too bad, nor was the terrain, though the temperature did start to rise a bit. The kids were a bit tired (as evidenced by the image above), but Brooke and I were fine.

I would have liked to do more hiking if we had more time, but it ended up taking an hour and a half to get from the house we were staying at to Shenandoah, and the actual drive through Shenandoah added another hour…which means we were now an hour north of where we started, and we had to drive that full distance south to actually get back home. Anyway, it ended up being a longer driving day than I think we were initially thinking, but we’re still glad we did it so we can check it off the proverbial list.

While we were there, we also made sure the kids got to walk along the Appalachian Trail….for all of 100 feet. At least they can say they’ve been on the AT before!

After all that, we were ready to chill in the A/C for a bit! We still played more poker that night and got in the hot tub, as it was our last night in West Virginia. The kids were happy to just lay down and rest a bit, though, and the house provided plenty of space to spread out. It ended up being a good place to stay, getting us rested up before the next few days in Tennessee!

West Virginia Vacation – Part I

Since last year took us all the way to the West coast for our family vacation, this time, we opted to head in the other direction. The original plan would have had us make it all the way to the East coast to hit North Carolina, but Brooke and I already went to San Juan earlier in the year and we had the foundation of our house re-done, so we scaled back plans just a tad.

Calvin was in Columbia with my parents for the week at an art camp, so we loaded things up on a Friday and took off to pick him up before heading out. We had decided to stay in Evansville, IN for the night because that got us closer to our destination, but would also set us up to see Mammoth Cave that next morning. The drive to Evansville was mostly uneventful, and we found Turoni’s Pizza and Brewing for dinner, so at least I was happy. While we were there, a magician was going from table to table doing some tricks, so we got a kick out of the dinnertime entertainment!

The next morning, we had an appointment at Mammoth Cave, but only had about 2 hrs of driving to get from Evansville to get to the national park. There were multiple tour options available, but we stuck with a cave tour that would last long enough but not too long because we were still making the rest of the journey that afternoon. There were some cool lantern-light tours we could have done, but those take around 4 hours and we didn’t have that kind of time!

The facilities at Mammoth Cave were pretty good, with a big gift shop and ticket area. There was also a set of exhibits talking about geology and the various organisms one could find in the cave. Apparently, Mammoth Cave is the longest known cave system in the world, clocking in at 426 miles (and that number keeps changing as more areas are discovered).

There were definitely impressive aspects about Mammoth Cave, among them the size of the open spaces. Of course, there were definitely areas that got pretty narrow, and I absolutely bumped my head a few times during the tour. We were a part of a relatively large tour group, so it felt kind of slow getting through aspects of it, but I don’t think we got the sense that there were a lot of stairs, or climbing over boulders, or anything like that. The tour lasted for an hour and a half, but I don’t think we left it feeling tired or anything. It was very hot and humid outside, though, so we were glad we were at least wearing jackets, because there were plenty of other folks in there that looked pretty cold!

If I’m going to make comparisons (which I do…), I would say that Mammoth Cave was unimpressive in the “rock formation” department. There were things to see, but really, it just felt like we were walking through big, open spaces under the ground. This picture above represents perhaps the only traditional rock formation that I’d expect to see in a cave in Missouri. I know that’s just representative of the geological differences between caves in Kentucky vs Missouri, but still, I was surprised that there weren’t more things to see like we saw at Meramec Caverns in 2020.

After we were done at Mammoth Cave, we booked it to our destination for the next few days in West Virginia, but we didn’t get there until well after the kids’ (or Brooke’s) bedtime. We were in Eastern Time by this point, but it was pretty close to midnight by the time we got there and got settled.

The next morning, we were able to survey our surroundings a bit better! Brooke found a few houses between Airbnb and Vrbo that were (on a map…) centrally located to various outdoorsy things in the Appalachian Mountains, and she let the kids determine which of the houses we would stay in.

Of course, when we let the kids make that kind of decision, they tend to make really weird choices, so I was a bit apprehensive about this decision, but once we got there, it was actually fine! The house was down a gravel road that went past a few other properties, and this house was at the end of that line. It had 6 bedrooms and, as you can see above, it had been added onto at least a few times over the years. The kids liked it because of the number of bedrooms, and it also came with a hot tub (pictured on the front porch above).

Still, the house was pretty far from most things. There was a grocery store “in town” a good 30 minutes away, but going anywhere from this house definitely had to take time, no matter what we did.

We couldn’t argue with the view, though! It was beautiful there! There was a small creek running past, as well as a few outbuildings that were dilapidated to the point that the owners said “uh, don’t go in there…”

Later that morning, we went to check out the “highest point in West Virginia,” that just so happened to be located relatively close to the house. It was something to get us out to see what the surrounding area looks like in the daytime, but that wouldn’t overwhelm us on the first day out there. Also, this particular “hike” was less than a mile long, so it wasn’t a huge ask of the kids.

There was an observation tower at the top of the “highest point in West Virginia,” so we climbed up there, but the tree line was actually relatively close to the top of the tower, so while we got a decent view, it wasn’t completely unobstructed. After that, we walked around a bit more on the trail that was up there, but there really wasn’t much else up there to see.

After that, we went to the closest town, Franklin, WV, to get lunch at one of the few restaurants in town, AGK Italian Restaurant & Pizzaria, which was right next to T&K Market so we could load up on groceries for the next few days. For the rest of Sunday, we mostly hung out around the house!

Garden Update: 08.20.23

It’s been a bit since I last updated this. The garden has done very well for us this year! The fruit trees had a bit of a “down year,” aside from the cherry tree (the jury is still out on the apple trees). The regular garden stuff, though, has done remarkably well.

The tomatoes started turning red in earnest at the end of July. We didn’t end up with any paste tomatoes, but we have a variety of “slicer” varieties, many that worked really well for BLTs. The cherry tomatoes produced well, too, but since Meg wasn’t really here for most of July, I wasn’t going out to pick them as often as I normally would.

We picked a few at the start, but in the last few weeks, we’ve ended up with at least three 5-gallon buckets full of them. We got our fill of BLT slicers, and the rest have been processed to be frozen for sauce over the next few months.

We’ve probably got at least 7 bags like this filled so far? We have another bucket outside full of tomatoes yet to be processed, so at this rate, we are going to run out of freezer space. I don’t think we’ve had a tomato haul like this for a few Summers, so this has been a welcome change!

The zucchini plant died a few weeks ago, but we certainly had our fill of those, too. At least 10-15 big ones, many of which we ended up giving away because, frankly, no one likes zucchini that much…

The pepper plants are doing well, but we’re only just starting to have them ready for us. They have been drooping quite a bit when we haven’t had much rain, but thankfully, while we were on vacation last week, we ended up with 3-4 inches, so that’s helped keep them going.

The anaheim peppers are doing really well! We’ve got a few plants, but many of the individual peppers are 8-10 inches long, so we ended up with quite a few that we’ll be able to process.

Honestly, no idea what these are. A lighter-colored variety that we think is going to be a hot variety? Brooke’s hoping to dehydrate chop these up to make chili powder, so we’ll have to see just how hot they are. She picked a hot bell pepper variety (I don’t think it was this one?) and it had me sweating, but that doesn’t take too much…

Still, a good year for peppers, too! Last year was a pretty good year, so I suppose we’re just on track for another solid one.

Brooke’s been picking soup beans already, though I feel like she’s usually doing that well into November. Since we got a decent amount of rain in the past few weeks, she’s had to slow down to let them dry out a bit. It’s too soon to know how this haul is, but we’re pretty consistent about soup beans, so it’ll probably be plenty

The kale and barley are….still doing their thing. We haven’t picked kale in over a month, but it still looks pretty good? At this rate, hopefully it’ll last into the winter so we can keep on picking it. The barley is still there….and we probably won’t get much out of it…but hey, it’s growing…I guess….

Last, but not least, Brooke picked some potatoes! They’re…pretty tiny. The leafy parts died off, so Brooke dumped them out to see what we had and…they’re probably edible? She’s letting the other bag keep developing a bit in case they’re still growing. The sweet potato plants look bigger, so we’ll find out in a few weeks whether they fared better.

Probably only one or two more posts for 2023’s garden! I think it has done well for us, but school starts Tuesday, so our processing and weeding is going to slow down even further than it already has.

State Park #21: Thousand Hills State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

We were taking Meg up to Truman State for a 3-week “nerd camp” this weekend and drop-off was at 1:00 pm, so we figured we’d try to knock another state park off the list! Thousand Hills State Park was one of our old stomping grounds back in college when we went to Truman and we already had a handle on what there was to see there, so we decided a picnic lunch would suffice, given the amount of time we had available for the stop.

The main “claim to fame” for us was always the 573-acre lake, which is relatively large for a state park in Missouri. It was created in the 1950s and has served to provide boating and fishing opportunities for decades now. Its proximity to Kirksville, MO also makes it pretty accessible, if you want to go boating yet also want the access to groceries, restaurants, etc.

The thing I used to do, though, was hike and mountain bike around the lake. I don’t think I ever made it all the way around the lake, but I know people who did. It’s a 17 mile hike to get all the way around it, and depending on the time of year you go, you’re going to run into brush and over-growth along the way.

The mountain bike trails, however, I definitely took advantage of back in college. When we drove through this time, we noticed that they’d really expanded a paved trail since we were last there, so they’ve made more cycling accessible to those that don’t really want to go down any bike trails.

They’ve also got a full marina and restaurant, the latter of which was considered relatively “fancy” back in our college days. When we were there, we didn’t see a ton of boats out, but there were definitely a few out enjoying the shockingly good early-July weather (seriously, it was in the low-70s. What?!).

To top it off, there were solar telescopes set up at the site we picked to eat lunch! They had 3 of them set up with different filters so allow you to look at the sun in different modes. We didn’t ask too many questions, as we were kind of on a schedule, but one of them showed the sun as it “normally” looks (i.e. yellow-orange), whereas another was set up to make it look “black and white,” so increased contrast. It was some pretty neat equipment they had set up for folks who were stopping by!

We didn’t view the campgrounds at all, though we did drive past a series of cabins that are available, overlooking the lake. Perhaps sometime, we’ll camp there, but for now, we spent enough time to knock it off the list!

State Park #20: St. Joe State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Okay, so hear me out… Technically, we mostly visited Missouri Mines State Historic Site, which is not a State Park. However, we did hike into St. Joe State Park while we were there, and both sites are adjacent to one another, so it’s getting counted. Sue me.

The historic site is actually rather interesting! Apparently, Missouri was the biggest exporter of lead in the world for decades, and that area has a history with lead mining that goes back to the 1700s. After the Civil War, the St. Joseph Lead Company purchased the land and started the mine until the mine started to decline in output by the 1970s, when the company donated the land back to the State for use as a State Park. The buildings were left in disrepair for years until there was enough money budgeted to start the historic site.

So, the 8000+ acres around it became St. Joe State Park, whereas the 25 acre space that housed the mine and the mill itself became the Missouri Mines State Historic Site.

It’s clear that the historic site is very much a “work in progress.” They’ve got some artifacts and some dioramas on display, but you can’t really go down into the mine itself, for example, or walk through most of the buildings. I think that’s the ultimate goal, but many of the buildings are in such disrepair that safety is something of an issue.

It seemed decently well-attended around there (for reasons I’ll get to in a bit), so there were families walking around checking out what there was to see. Again, there were a mix of models and displays, but some of the more interesting aspects of it was the information about geology that was somewhat unique to this site, in comparison to other State Parks we’ve attended.

There weren’t a lot of interactive things to do, though, so for younger kids, there were some neat displays, but there was still a lot of reading. Other State Parks have an obvious “kids area” that have bugs, taxidermy specimens, or fish in water tanks. This place has….rocks….

…but some of those rocks looks really cool under UV light!

Again, there were a decent amount of people there, but part of that was connected to the market outside. They must do this most Saturdays, but it had something of a “Farmer’s Market” vibe, selling shirts, big rocks, and other crafts. One gentleman was selling geodes, so the kids got to pick one each and then he cracked it open in front of them. Pretty cool!

After that, we “hiked” on the paved trail that went into St. Joe State Park. We only went out for about 0.8 mi, total, so it barely qualifies, but again, technically we were hiking in the State Park, so I’m counting it.

The paved trail heads further into St. Joe State Park, and it’s mostly intended for cycling. It crosses a lot of ATV courses, which is apparently the “claim to fame” for the Park.

I didn’t take a ton of pictures, but you can imagine the scene. There’s a lake if you want to go boating; there’s a beach if you want to go swimming; and there’s a lot of dirt/sand if you want to ride your dirt bike or your four-wheeler. There were tons of Jeeps and other trucks with trailers in the parking lot.

Honestly, for that purpose, this Park is pretty cool! We don’t have that kind of equipment, but if we did, I suspect it’s a place we’d check out more thoroughly. However, kind of like St. Francois State Park, there were just a lot of people there, likely coming down from St. Louis or coming up from Ste. Genevieve. I suspect this place also attracts folks from southern Illinois, too. So, again, like, St. Francois, go into St. Joe State Park expecting to see tons of people, because they’re going to be unavoidable!

We drove through the campgrounds and looked at other facilities, but the lake and off-road vehicle area seems to be the big draw. I guess when I’m ready to take the Outback out to find some sand dunes, I know where to look!

State Park #2: St. Francois State Park, Revisited

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

So yeah, we have actually been to St. Francois State Park before. Now, at the time, it was April 2013, so Meg was there, and technically so was Calvin! Still, we were in the area of Farmington, MO and figured we could stop in and count Calvin as having visited while outside of a uterus.

We had already gone to Hawn State Park and were heading to St. Joe State Park, so it seemed like a good opportunity to stop at a grocery store and pick up some lunch stuff. Then, we could eat there and check out one of the features of St. Francois that we didn’t take advantage of 10 years ago.

St. Francois is relatively large and also has hiking trails and plenty of shaded picnic tables, so it’s an ideal place for a stop. We didn’t look at the camp facilities this time, since we actually stayed there once.

Instead, we checked out the aptly named Big River, which was just down from the picnic area. We didn’t take our swimming stuff along, and frankly, there were a ton of people down there with rafts and inner tubes, some just floating by and others just hanging out on the sandbar.

Of course, the last time we were there, it was April and Meg was all bundled up in a coat, so we wouldn’t have gone to check out this river at the time. This time, though, would have been an ideal time to spend the afternoon playing in the water and taking in the sun!

However, like I said, it was pretty crowded with a lot of people, and many of them were very, very loud… There was even a birthday party complete with balloons and table cloths. So yeah, like many rivers in Missouri, they tend to attract plenty of locals looking for outdoor entertainment, so if you’re going to check out a place like this, know what you’re getting into. It won’t be a “private beach experience:” far from it!

Anyway, again, this is more of an “update” than another visit, so it still goes on the list as #2! I think this is the only one on the list that didn’t “fully” include Calvin, so we probably won’t have to post any more updates, but we’ll see!

State Park #19: Hawn State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Our schedule this Summer is quite full, but in the interest of eventually visiting all the State Parks in Missouri, we spent the weekend in Farmington, which happens to be located near a few different sites. One such location is Hawn State Park, which I’m pretty sure I’ve been to, but it would have been back in my Boy Scout days, as they have a pretty good group site. I don’t remember it being a park we visited often, because it isn’t particularly close to Columbia, but I definitely remember other Scouts in other troops talking about going there frequently.

If you look on the map, you’ll see there really isn’t a ton to do there, unless you like hiking and fishing. We were making our stop mostly as a way to check it off the list, so the plan wasn’t to stay all day or anything, so we picked a hiking trail that was maybe a mile or two long. We went along the Pickle Creek Trail, named because it follows the eponymous body of water. It’s actually a relatively long loop trail, so we went about as far as a fork and turned around.

We ended up going 1.8 mi, out and back, and while it wasn’t particularly strenuous, it was definitely pretty rocky and still involved some climbing over large-ish boulders (not quite Elephant Rocks-style, though). There’s actually a 10 mile stretch of trails in the park that’s available for backpacking, so if that’s what you’re after, it may be one of the better locations in Missouri that isn’t on the Ozark Trail system (at least, so far as I can tell).

The camp sites we saw seemed fine, though somewhat limited. There were people staying, including a decent number of folks in tents rather than campers. We were there in mid-June, and though it was a hot June for us this year, it wasn’t too bad that weekend. Honestly, I think the kids would have gotten relatively bored had we actually stayed there, so it was good to visit and not spend the entire weekend there. If they were more into fishing and hiking, that would be a different matter, obviously.

I can certainly see the appeal, though. It isn’t that far from St. Louis, and if you want to hit a 10 mile hiking trail, it’s a good option that’s close to a lot of services. You can also stay in Farmington, like we did, and head in for the day to get a good hike in and dip your toes in the water.

Last, but not least, this is the first weekend Meg had a phone. She used it to take ridiculous pictures. Like her father before her. 🙂

Garden Update: 07.03.23

The garden’s in full-swing! First, I should note that we’re in relatively severe drought conditions here in Missouri, though we got a little rain over the past few days. There are storm chances still this week, but a lot of it is “pop up” kinds of systems, rather than good, sustained, rains. Thus, I’ve been watering the garden every few days. I mowed today, but honestly, I can only see where I’ve mowed near the garden, as that’s the only grass actually growing…

First, we’ve got some zucchini! This is the biggest one, though there are others coming on. We’ll give this one a few days, but we’re well on our way to getting some of these to dehydrate and chop up for smoothies later this year. Maybe we’ll have one fried zucchini (as that’s usually enough), but the kids aren’t huge fans and we’d probably just end up wasting it.

The tomatoes are doing well! We’ve got one (or two?) cherry tomato plant, so those are just now starting to turn, but a lot of the big “slicer” plants are doing well. Brooke’s tied them up a few times so far, so with watering help, they’re still growing pretty well.

Given how much sun we’ve been getting, I wouldn’t be surprised if these start turning within a few weeks! There are a lot of big-ish ones like this on the various plants, but this was probably the highest concentration of them.

And some cute cherry tomatoes! Meg’s going to be gone for a lot of July, so she isn’t going to get to eat a lot of these, I’m afraid, but hey, it’ll save us a few trips to Aldi for them…

The pepper plants…well….look like our typical pepper plants. Last year’s crop did shockingly well, so perhaps I’m a bit spoiled, but I was hoping for a bit better out of them. It’s still a little early, I guess, but the plants are still relatively small and I haven’t seen many (any?) flowers on them. Perhaps it’s because they’re mostly under the tree so they get more shade, or maybe it’s the lack of rain…but either way, they’re still pretty tiny.

The beans are doing alright, though! Brooke had to re-plant a few seeds to fill in some gaps. She picked an ice cream bucket of them today, so I think we’re bouncing back after a somewhat “down year” in 2022!

The leafy greens, we’ve mostly let go, at this point. I think Brooke’s going to pick some and dehydrate them for smoothies this Fall, so it won’t all go to waste. Strangely, they haven’t really gone to seed all that much, so I think they’re still mostly growing? Probably about time to dig up those carrots and see if anything’s actually down there, too….

And last, but not least, the potato bags. The sweet potatoes are looking pretty good (the middle, green one). The regular potatoes, though, those leaves just don’t look all that good to me, so I’m not sure how those are going. The onions look alright, too, so hopefully all is not lost from this little experiment.

The peaches are starting to turn, but I didn’t take a picture because they’re sooooo little due to lack of rain. We also haven’t seen japanese beetles this year, either, but maybe that’s because of the lack of rain and lack of peaches to feed on. Blessing in disguise, perhaps? Hopefully we end up getting something!

On second thought, I never posted pictures of cherries, so here goes!

We were actually in town during the main cherry haul, so we actually got a pretty decent amount! Plenty for Calvin to go out and eat a handful, and also enough for a cherry pie, so that worked out well! Our strawberries also did pretty well, though they’re getting smaller with each year, so it’s probably about time to re-plant some new ones!

State Park #18: Bennett Spring State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Part of the benefit of this little “exercise,” highlighting state parks we’ve visited with the kids, is that there’s always one I’ve somehow missed that I should have mentioned before, and it turns out, Bennett Spring State Park is another such example. Thankfully, we didn’t visit this park that long ago, but it was still mid-August 2022, as we were heading on a float trip with the kids for the first time (which I also never blogged about. Oops.). As part of the trip, we hit Bennett Spring on the way down to go floating on the Niangua River and stay in a cabin for the night, which was a nice little getaway before school started.

Regardless, Bennett Spring State Park has a few things going on, but it’s primary “claim to fame” is the start of trout fishing each year. This year, over 1600 people showed up the weekend of March 1st to go fishing, so it ends up being a pretty big draw for that crowd.

Thankfully, those of us that don’t do much trout fishing still had a few other things to see. Bear in mind that we were heading down to go “glamping” in a cabin (with A/C, no less…because it was mid-August in Missouri…), so we didn’t have a ton of time to explore everything the park had to offer, but we did get to check out the interpretive center they had.

Honestly, we were pretty impressed by the extent of the exhibits! I don’t know if it was a combination of funding for making a destination for semi-local schools, or if it was an excuse to entertain kids while their parents went fishing, but there were tables set up in an open space for instructors to talk to kids about local flora and fauna; there were displays talking about springs across the Ozarks (pictured above, obvi), and a lot of cool models of animals and insects endemic to the region.

We ended up killing a remarkable amount of time checking out all of the exhibits in the area, especially the large insect models that Calvin was quite interested in. He’d already heard/read about some of the species we could find in the park, but seeing them enlarged to 1000x was pretty cool for him. Meg and Brooke mostly read through some of the signs, but still got a lot out of the nature center.

Again, we didn’t actually camp at the park, but there are quite a few options available, including tent camping, group sites, and cabins. A substantial amount of the focus is on fishing, so we suspect this park gets especially busy during the trout season, perhaps making it a little less “isolated” than some of the other state parks, depending on what your desire is. I could see it being more “busy” than we’d really want to deal with, but then again, you can’t argue with the fishing opportunities if that’s your thing.

There are a few hiking trails along the State Park, most of which are less than a mile long. They do have a 7.5 mi Natural Bridge trail that runs in a loop through the park, but after the drive down there, we weren’t going to get the kids to go along on that kind of thing. It didn’t seem all that hilly in the area, so I suspect the trails aren’t too bad for most people, but in mid-August in Missouri, the bugs and spiderwebs weren’t particularly fun, so I’d recommend hitting those earlier in the year than when we attended.

Bennett Spring seems alright, but it clearly has a focus on fishing! Maybe when the kids are more grown up and I decide to get into trout fishing, we’ll go back and check it out further. For what it was, it seemed pretty good!

Sam Linsenbardt: ca. 2005 – 2023

Brooke and I were married in June 2005 and shortly moved to St. Louis. As many young married couples do, within a few months, we thought it was time to consider a pet, but given our work schedules and general lack of desire to walk a dog a few times a day (at the time…), we considered getting a cat. Neither of us had ever had an indoor pet cat before, though Brooke had plenty of outdoor cats at her house growing up, and I was exposed to farm cats at my Grandma’s house. Honestly, we weren’t entirely sure what we were getting in to, but we figured that a cat would probably be easier to manage because we could leave it at home when we went back to Columbia, Hannibal, or on trips. It seemed like a relatively convenient and pragmatic option.

So, we checked out the St. Louis Humane Society to see what they had available. They usually name cats that come in based on a theme, and the current one caused them to name cats after recent movie characters. Thus, looking over our options, we settled upon “Constantine,” who was named after the Keanu Reeves movie out that year. He seemed like a relatively friendly cat, though to Brooke and I, who didn’t grow up with indoor cats, we weren’t really sure what “friendly” meant in this case, as cats tend to have their own personalities (as we’d come to find out).

I don’t remember exactly how we settled on the name “Sam,” but I know we liked the idea of a name usually given to humans, and we also liked that it had fewer syllables than “Constantine.” Somehow, it seemed to fit, so we went with it. In that first few months, I didn’t even really post much about him, except that December when I posted about how he liked to climb up Brooke. One of the good things about a cat is that they’re present, but not necessarily the center of your life, unless you want them to be!

Sam was a good cat, though. He had his claws, which meant that we went through some furniture, as he never really liked scratching posts or catnip. He never really played with many toys, though he did love laser pointers. He somewhat famously hid under our bed for a week and peed on the bed after we brought Edie home a few years later. He was always pretty curious when we’d bring someone new home to stay, such as Edie, or especially Meg, after she was born in 2010. By the time Calvin arrived in 2013, Sam was used to having a young one toddling around.

Sam only made it outside a few times. In Soulard, he slipped through a rip in the screen window and went down the stairs to the courtyard below. We didn’t even know about it until we heard “meow” from outside and had to investigate! Another time, in our house off of Kingshighway, he got out Memorial Day weekend and we were gone for three days, only to return and see that the litter box hadn’t been used and no food was eaten. After a frantic search, we eventually found him in the garage out back, which had a door that could be locked, but couldn’t be closed all the way. Here in Marshall, he got out a few times after we first moved here, but it usually didn’t take too long to get him back from under the front porch.

As I said, cats tend to have distinct personalities, and Sam was no different. He was pretty friendly and would at least say “hi” to strangers when they were come by the house. A lot of our friends knew Sam to be a good cat to just sit and pet, and Sam would happily oblige. Early on, Brooke had to carry him around like a baby over her shoulder as she brushed her teeth in the morning. For most of his life, he’d curl up on top of us as we’d lay on the couch watching TV.

We also learned early on that Sam couldn’t be trusted sleeping with us, as any time we would move a leg under the covers, he would pounce on it (with claws drawn). This would remain an issue for years, especially as he grew older and couldn’t retract his claws as easily as he used to, making it less and less comfortable for him to curl up with us on the couch. He’d also get his claws stuck in blankets, rugs, and more.

Speaking of “couldn’t be trusted,” he also (in)famously helped Edie get some deer jerky from my uncle by climbing up on the fridge to knock the bag down for Edie to open and eat. Sam liked eating jerky, too.

Over the last few years, starting in 2020, he really started to slow down. Frankly, we weren’t sure how much longer he was going to make it back then. He stopped cleaning himself as much, and his fur became progressively more matted and difficult to manage. He still got around well and was eating and drinking, though it was getting more difficult to maintain his body weight, and he’d start throwing up if he ate too fast (common among cats, but not an issue until relatively recently).

In late-2020, seeing Sam already sleeping more and more and being less active, we opted to introduce him to Charlotte. He took to her far better than he took to Edie, and they would play together about as much as he could. She could run past him and get up on her hind legs to hop on his back, and he would “yowl” at her, presumably in annoyance. For a long time, Charlotte would lick his head, which would keep him looking a little better, but it only went so far. Still, those two cats got along well and we think Sam liked having another furry friend around to keep him company in his later years.

It is difficult to fully express what losing Sam means, but I can at least say that I’m a routine oriented person, and I’ve had a housecat for nearly 18 years, practically as long as we’ve been married. We have had this cat longer than we had Edie, and longer than we have had children. Not having him is going to leave a hole in our family that is difficult to fill, but in the end, we know that 18 years is a long, full life for a cat to live, and we are glad he was with us for as long as he was.

We love you, Sam, and will miss you. Rest well, Friend.