In keeping with our excellent luck on this trip, we fluked into being back in Canada for Thanksgiving and no one refused us when we invite ourselves to dinner-and-a-driveway with 2 days notice. And of course, as had been another theme of this trip, we were very thankful for good friends and family.
We also had many other reasons to be thankful this year.
Thankful to America for an amazing trip through a beautiful country with awesome $2 wine, many cool accents and consistently-friendly people.
Thankful for getting back to Canada - a fabulous country with expensive booze, cheap healthcare and year-long parental leaves.
Thankful to our solid little van Dolly for holding her aged-self together and keeping us cozy at night.
Thankful for our awesome kids who napped and held bladders like champions.
Thankful for my amazing husband who kept the van running and drove her safely all over this continent, despite the occasional apparently homicidal tendencies of our dear GPS.
Finally, thankful to be back to our little house in Ottawa with its spacious area to play with toys, endless hot shower water and full-sized refrigerator.
After a quick breakfast and a last-minute post card drop, we hopped onto the Blue Water Bridge and over to Canada, said a prayer and passed through customs.
For comparisons purposes, we decided to check out the Canadian side of Lake Huron and stay at Pinery PP. It was a tough call but crazy bugs aside, the Canadian side was a bit prettier we think. Staying at Pinery also gave us the chance to continue an 8-year tradition of spending a (freakishly warm) Thanksgiving weekend camping at an Ontario park.
Leaving Holland, we headed eastward making a very brief stop at a gas station in Flint which did not have a bathroom (a first on this trip) but did have many, many security camera stills of people who had robbed the place on display at the counter. We've really tried not to judge a place on reputation alone but Flint didn't do itself many favours.
Arriving at Lakeport SP, located on the American side of lovely Lake Huron, we found we'd arrived just in time for their Halloween-themed weekend. We managed to snag one of the last spots available in the very intensely decorated camper-trailer suburb. These people love them some Halloween - many severed heads, limbs, and other assorted body parts included.
After a brief visit to check out the shore area at Indiana Dunes to see where dunes meet Lake Michigan (looks very similar to where dunes meet ocean - LOTS of sand) we headed to check out some of Michigan's "Gold Coast" and Holland. The fall leaves, time change and apples for sale let us know we were getting close to home.
Holland turned out to be well worth the visit. We walked around Windmill Island to check out the replica Dutch village (their windmills were under reconstruction) and play at the great park. We also visited the super cute downtown area to pickup some killer fudge from Kilwins and some brilliant craft liquor from New Holland Brewery - the "Dragon's Milk" porter aged in bourbon barrels was incredible - before finding ourselves an awesome spot at Walmart. A Walmart that turned out to be right across the street from both the Dutch Village theme park (complete with rides) and a great flea market.
Holland: we will be back.
From New Salem, we saw a few more (read: constant) corn fields - at one point watching a corn husk blowing across the road we decided they should be call Illinois Tumbleweeds.
We made a stop in Normal to pick up some groceries at a Normal Walmart (sorry, had to be said) before jumping on the I-80 at Joliet to regretfully by-pass Chicago, opting to save it for another day. Shortly after we left the "Land of Lincoln" for Indiana: "The Crossroads of America" (more like the "Land of Strippers" if you go by billboards). This also marked the official end to our on-and-off-again relationship with Route 66.
After a long day of trying to find a laundromat, we treated ourselves to a second night in a row of electrical hook-ups and showers. Plus it let us legitimate our time in Indiana to more than a drive-by.
Leaving Granite Park (with it's subtle cellphone tree tower), we continued on a stretch of Route 66 through historic small towns and many, many corn fields.
We took a break in our third Springfield - a town who's love for Lincoln knows no bounds. We checked out the gift shop at the Lincoln Library and Museum with it's offerings Lincoln-themed products such as: shot glasses, fake beards, pink confederate soldier hats, fridge magnets and drum sticks.
An excellent tip from a volunteer at the museum led us to spend the night at Lincoln's New Salem Campground where we visited the reconstructed village of New Salem and learned that a tavern back in Lincoln's day did not serve alcohol - apparently a grocer's licence was require for that. B enjoyed finding a sycamore leaf bigger than her own head and sampling some Lincoln-themed candy.
With the van loaded up with free Troutapalooza swag thanks to the lovely park attendants, we said goodbye to free park-wide wifi and continued towards St. Louis via the "Trail of Tears". Travelling through the Ozark Highlands and Missouri wine country apparently (sweet reds mainly) we started spotting the occasional tree changing colour. We also saw our first Ontario license plate in months.
Driving through St Louis, we were struck by how quickly American cities transition from "good" to "bad" neighbourhoods; from a block of beautiful restored brick homes next to a block of buildings falling apart. We got a peak at the famous Gateway Arch before stopping for treats at Tower Grove Creamery and a walk through beautiful Tower Grove Park.
Crossing over the bridge into Illinois (a land with strict penalties on cigarette smuggling it seems), we were thankful to find a cozy Walmart in Granite Park despite our dear GPS's best efforts to get us lost.
From Vinita it was a quick drive into Missouri (the land of cheap smokes, booze and fireworks if the billboards are to be believed) through Joplin, a town decimated by a tornado in 2011. This was about the point that we noted it was actually tornado season right now.
We also spotted the second of three Springfields we've seen this trip (the first was in Oregon). Springfield MO turned to be a cool little university town and we decided to take a break at Jenny Lincoln Park (located near marker 6 for the Battle of Springfield).
Driving on, we enjoyed noting the quirk of Missouri naming its highways using letters. Taking a brief detour towards Lebanon, we enjoyed the rolling countryside and our first cool night in many days at Bennett Spring SP camping in a hilltop oak forest.
In the morning we had a late start leaving Red Rock enjoying the cool canyon breezes as a welcome relief from the hot, A/C-busted van. We opted to pass Oklahoma City (OKC) and head for Tulsa lured by promises of nice riverside parks and stunning Art Deco architecture. Sadly, we found downtown Tulsa to be a complete ghost town on a beautiful Saturday at 5pm. Like creepy-empty. Like looking for zombies empty. Attention hipster gentrifiers of the world: downtown Tulsa needs your help!
Not finding much to do in Tulsa, after a park break, we took the "Will Rogers Turnpike" to a Walmart in Vinita perfectly located right off the turnpike - though it did turn out to also be the "all night train horn sounding" capital of the planet. Nonetheless, we enjoyed celebrating our 6th wedding anniversary with a bottle of Charles Shaw's (aka Two Buck Chuck's) finest vintage red that we saved for the occasion.
Leaving Amarillo heading east on the I-40 (aka "Purple Heart Trail") it was flat farmland as far as you could see in either direction. We drove past an impressively massive rest area/tornado shelter before crossing the Texas panhandle into the red fields of Oklahoma where we had our first armadillo sighting (dead, upside down on the side of the road sadly).
We took a longer break in Elk City to check out Ackley Park and the huge annual flea market going on there (for all your vintage gun and knife needs) before driving to Red Rock Canyon SP (we can't get enough of the red rock apparently). Our night at Red Rock was spent listening to the cicadas sing there hearts out with a storm warning hanging in the air. A large thunderstorm came through later that night bringing a few hours of heavy rains and some amazing non-stop "strobe" lightening.