Texas to New Orleans to Home…

Am fleshing out the planning for the final segment of the trip — from the Big Bend back to New York, and once again have questions and options to consider. And this is probably something we will need to decide BEFORE we leave…

The current trip plan has us doing the following:

DAY 40: Big Bend to Palmetto state park, TX

DAY 41: Palmetto state park, TX to New Orleans, LA

DAY 42: New Orleans Visit Day

DAY 43: New Orleans, LA to Lurleen state park, AL

DAY 44: Lurleen state park, AL to Smoky Mountains National Park TN

DAY 45: Pick up day

DAY 46: Smoky Mountains National Park TN to Shenandoah National Park VA

DAY 47: Shenandoah National Park VA to HOME

That would give us no time to spend in the Cajun area of Layfayette which seems to really have a lot of fun and interesting things to do (almost more so than New Orleans itself)… Think it could be really good to break and spend the evening there and possibly do the swamp boat ride with that guy  in exchange for the pickup day we currently had in the Smoky mountains (i mean they are beautiful… but we will have seen so much incredible nature already… i think the Cajun bit is more interesting at that point in the journey…)

So if we decide to make the switch we have:

DAY 40: Big Bend to Palmetto state park, TX

DAY 41: Palmetto state park, TX to Layfayette, LA

DAY 42: Layfayette, LA to New Orleans, LA

DAY 43: New Orleans Visit Day

DAY 44: New Orleans, LA to Lurleen state park, AL

DAY 45: Lurleen state park, AL to Smoky Mountains National Park TN

DAY 46: Smoky Mountains National Park TN to Shenandoah National Park VA

DAY 47: Shenandoah National Park VA to HOME

The only “down” side to that is it leaves us with the last 4 days as straight “DRIVE” days with not much else…

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The Zion Narrows permit scramble…

Picture 28

Was up really early this morning, and had alarms and reminders flashing and beeping since yesterday, because today is the day the reservations for permits on the Narrows opens up! There are only 12 campsites and only 6 are reservable in advance… And we have to have the permit for a specific day because of our complicated trip plan!

I had tried the site last night after midnight, but it was not yet showing the August reservations calendar (perhaps it posts after midnight Utah-time… which is 2 time zones behind New York… and I just couldn’t stay up that late… was too tired!).

When I went on the site this morning around 6a.m., there were already days/sites that were full! Luckily there was still a 4-person site open on our required day, and I didn’t hesitate to reserve! SUCCESS! We have a permit for site 3!

Now we have to get a shuttle reservation to the trailhead. And get to the park from Las Vegas in time for the early a.m. departure (which may be earlier than planned because of road construction that has caused disruption to the shuttle schedule).

… And we have to hope the weather and river conditions cooperate … we are only allowed to hike the river if it is flowing at below 120 cubic feet per second and if there are no flash flood warnings in effect. So there is a fairly strong likelihood that even with our permit we may not be able to do the trip. We need to be prepared for that eventuality as well… and we need to be SMART about considering the weather forecasts with due caution (and not the usual unbridled can-do enthusiasm)… as we have “graduated” to “grown-up” expeditions and the Rangers will not make decisions for us here! We need to make our own go/no go decision based on conditions on the day of the trip.

Here is the link to a video (it may take a few moments to download) the Rangers put together about safe Canyoneering in Zion. It is worth watching for the section on Flash Flooding…

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Options from Moab to the Big Bend…

Moab to Big BendWe had an interesting discussion yesterday about the need for rest during the journey. Originally it was built into the plan with pickup days between the various travel legs, but as we refined things we have (on paper, anyway) decided to split up some of the drive days, eating into those pickup days. And adding on the Zion Narrows required further reworking the schedule, stealing a bit more from the “rest” time.

This has left us with a segment from Death Valley through Moab which may be a bit of an endurance challenge for the driver (though not exactly, as there is a big difference between driving 12 hours from point A to point B on the highways and doing an off road jeep trail through the canyons and deserts we came to explore…). However, we do always have the option on those off-road trails, of just stopping and staying in place (that is the beauty of the road side camping … we don’t have to have an approved pre-determined campsite) — though for the Death Valley segments I think we just need to be aware of environmental factors, and make sure if we decide to hold up somewhere, we chose a wise location…

So with the discussion of “rest” still in mind, I am looking at the post-Moab segment of the trip… the long ride down to the Big Bend… and seeing how best to approach it…

In the original plan we had Day 33 (our exit from the White Rim) staying in a hotel in Moab (btw, should we go back to the one we had last time? The Big Horn Lodge…), then Day 34 canyoneering, with the option of leaving Moab that evening…

But perhaps we stay that night in the Moab hotel again… (allowing for a good night’s rest before hitting the road again)…

Then the following day we have a couple of options. Basically we have 3 days to get down to the Big Bend (we need to be in the area on the night of Day 37, as we have the river trip starting the morning of Day 38)… And to put it in perspective, the total distance from Moab to Big Bend is just about 100 miles less than Nesconset, NY to Orlando, FL (where we went to Universal Studios park)!

so Option A:

Day 35 – rest in Moab till lunchtime, then drive 2 – 3 hours to cortez colorado, settle in there and  see the indian dancers at 7pm… (overnight in Cortez area)

Day 36 – drive Cortez to Elephant Butte or El Paso (8 – 10 hours drive depending on how far we go)

Day 37 – drive Elephant Butte/El Paso to Big Bend National park (5 – 8 hours depending on start point)

Option B:

Day 35 - depart moab after breakfast and get as far as we can either Aztec or Albuquerque… (it is 6 – 8 hours to Albquerque… if we could get that far, or stop around farmington/aztec NM area which also has a number of lodging options)

Day 36 – drive Aztec to Elephant Butte or El Paso (7 – 9 hour drive)

Day 37 – drive Elephant Butte/El Paso to Big Bend National park (5 – 8 hours depending on start point)

Option C:

Day 35 – early wake up and marathon drive to Elephant Butte (approx. 12 hours)

Day 36 – day off / rest

Day 37 – drive Elephant Butte/El Paso to Big Bend National park (5 – 8 hours depending on start point)

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California, Las Vegas and the Zion Narrows choices…

Picture 9

As we are refining the plan, we should probably think about whether or not we want to include the Zion Narrows hike

It was not originally in our plan, but while researching the route, and looking for stopping points between Las Vegas and Moab, we discovered it… and it seems like it could be really AMAZING…

In early drafts of the plan, we had it as an optional stop along the route… but if we want to do the hike and overnight along the river, we will need to get a backcountry permit soon (there are only 11 campsites along the route)

Estimated time for the hike itself is 12.5 hours walking (based on the estimates of the National Park Service, which says it takes into account allowances for rest stops and slower hikers), and about 60% of the time is walking through the river. So it is definitely a two-day activity.

Timing-wise, the shuttle that takes us to the departure point (Chamberlain’s Ranch), leaves twice a day — at 630am and 930am.

The estimated drive time to the park from Las Vegas is about 3 hours (so calculate based on 4 hours for this segment of the drive). We would have to leave Las Vegas by at least 430 or 5am to make it in time for the 930am shuttle.

Assuming we have a campsite close to 6 hours in, we will have at least 6 hours to walk the next day… there is no way we will want to do the 7 hour drive to Moab the same day! So we will have to overnight somewhere near Zion NP, with the plan of leaving for Moab the following morning…

Then, instead of doing the rapelling the first day in Moab, we should plan to go directly into the white rim that first day… and leave the rapelling for the last day…

Here is how our schedule looks now:

DAY 22 – Leave LA — DRIVE 12 hours along Pacific Coast Highway — ARR San Francisco Hotel

DAY 23 – San Francisco Visit Day – morning free , optional visit to Fishermans’ Wharf in the afternoon, 4pm – cruise to Alcatraz – tour Alcatraz 730 pm arrive back at Fisherman’s Wharf (night in hotel)

DAY 24 – Free Day – (can use as San Francisco Visit Day 2 or to go part way to Death Valley or direct to Death Valley)

DAY 25 – DRIVE to Death Valley (8.5 – 10.5 hours from San Francisco) — ARR Death Valley Wildrose Campground

DAY 26 – Death Valley Day 1

DAY 27 – Death Valley Day 2

DAY 28 – DEP Death Valley — DRIVE 2.5 – 3.5 hours — ARR Las Vegas Hotel

DAY 29 – Las Vegas Visit Day

DAY 30 – DEP Las Vegas — DRIVE 8.5 – 11 hours — ARR Moab hotel (with possible short visit to Zion NP to stretch legs)

DAY 31 – Canyoneering in Moab (hotel)

DAY 32 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 1 (backcountry camp)

DAY 33 –  Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 2 (backcountry camp)

DAY 34 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 3 (backcountry camp)

DAY 35 – DEP Moab

and here is how we could do it if we want to include the Narrows:

DAY 22 – Leave LA — DRIVE 12 hours along Pacific Coast Highway — ARR San Francisco Hotel

DAY 23 – San Francisco Visit Day – morning free , optional visit to Fishermans’ Wharf in the afternoon, 4pm – cruise to Alcatraz – tour Alcatraz 730 pm arrive back at Fisherman’s Wharf (night in hotel)

DAY 24 – DRIVE to Death Valley (8.5 – 10.5 hours from San Francisco) — ARR Death Valley Wildrose Campground

DAY 25 – Death Valley Day 1

DAY 26 – Death Valley Day 2

DAY 27 – DEP Death Valley — DRIVE 2.5 – 3.5 hours — ARR Las Vegas Hotel
(leave DV early in the morning, arriving by noon in Las Vegas… see the city… do our shooting range… sleep)

DAY 28 – DEP Las Vegas 4:30am — DRIVE 2.5 – 4 hours — ARR Zion NP for 9:30am shuttle to Chamberlain (departure point for the Narrows Hike) — HIKE 6.5 hours — CAMP along river

DAY 29 – HIKE 6.5 hours to exit — shuttle back to parking — hotel or campsite TBD (somewhere in or near Zion NP)

DAY 30 – DEP Zion NP — DRIVE 5.5 – 7.5 hours — ARR Moab hotel (or Canyonlands White Rim first campsite?)
(if we leave early enough, we can potentially make it in time to go directly to the White Rim first campsite — the one we had last time)

DAY 31 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 1 or 2 (backcountry camp)

DAY 32 – Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 2 or 3 (backcountry camp)

DAY 33 –  Canyonlands – White Rim trail day 3 or 4 (END at hotel)

DAY 34 – Canyoneering in Moab (hotel)

DAY 35 – DEP Moab

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Grand Canyon dilemma…

We have talked a lot about the whole Grand Canyon thing — whether or not we really want to spend much time there, given the mass tourism aspects of the south rim, and the fact that we could not get the overnight mule trek into the canyon. Currently we have a reservation for the “Abyss Overlook” mule trip, which, according to the guy at the booking agency is designed as a compromise trip for folks who were kind of afraid of riding the mules down into the canyon, but still wanted to go on a mule ride. Essentially the 3 hour trip is just an easy ride along a trail through the forest that takes you to an overlook point where you can see the whole canyon, you get off the mules and take a picture, then get back on and ride back to the lodge. Here is the description from their brochure:

<< If you feel like an adventure but an Overnight Mule ride to the bottom of the Grand Canyon is too much, take a ride from the Grand Canyon Village to the spectacular Abyss overlook.  You will pass through a Ponderosa Forest and a Piñon and Juniper woodland filled with abundant wildlife on your way to a magnificent cliff at the edge of the canyon.  While at the Abyss, riders will dismount their mules and stretch their legs while viewing the Grand Canyon for the first time on the ride.  Here they can take photos atop the 3,000 foot vertical drop and marvel at the beauty of the Grand Canyon’s many colorful pinnacles, buttes and mesas.  Your total ride time includes 2 1/2 hours in the saddle and roughly 30 minutes at the Abyss overlook. >>

At the time I booked it, I took it because the overnight trek into the canyon was full. But the more I think about it now, I am not sure it is really worth doing — particularly because it locks us into a schedule. We can cancel the mule ride (and receive a full refund) up to 3 days before, so we can decide whether or not we want to do it at some point in the future…

However, the Grand Canyon schedule dilemma remains, because we have discussed the idea of reserving a room for the night we will be near there. We had decided to book a room at the Cameron Trading Post, which is on the east side of the canyon nearest the Desert View Watchtower, and on the way up from Flagstaff. I still think this is a great place to stay, but if we do not HAVE to be there on a certain day/time for the mule ride (which I am currently leaning toward cancelling), do we want to be locked in to the date?

If we don’t make a reservation, we can potentially spend an extra day on the road between Amarillo and here… and there seems like lots of cool stuff to do in New Mexico…

On the other hand, we probably should try to stick to the planned itinerary days as much as possible so we don’t build up a delay… so maybe we really SHOULD book the room to give ourselves the obligation to keep to the plan…

Also, if we go without a reservation to the Grand Canyon area we are liable to end up having to take a very expensive accommodation at the last minute…

Any thoughts on this?

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Started making some reservations…

Over the last couple of days we have started actually making reservations for some of the definite stops along the route (starting at the beginning of our trip, in Ohio, and working westward).

It feels good to be doing something as concrete as this — it is like becoming more of a reality as we are working through the details, down to the banal task of making the reservations and printing out confirmations (which i am storing in a folder dedicated to the trip so i don’t lose them somewhere in the pile of papers all over my desk).

The process is a bit interesting, because we have to strike a balance between making some reservations for places that are either “definite” way points or that risk being full if we just show up late in the afternoon, and between keeping a certain amount of flexibility within our plan so that we don’t get tied down to chasing a schedule along the way.

We want to keep as much room for maneuver as possible, while still keeping to enough of a schedule so that we are actually back in time for Cactus Killer and Silly Squirrel to make their flight (preferably with a few days to spend in NY before leaving)!

We have tried to set up a number of “checkpoints” where we have reservations that require us to arrive by a certain date. As long as we make our checkpoints on schedule, we will get there and back within our timeframe. And if we have to speed up in between to make up for something else, we can do it in reasonable chunks… kind of letting us “catch up” and get back on track, rather than having delays build up until at the end we find ourselves physically just too far behind the timeline…

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St. Louis to Tulsa to Amarillo camping options

After discussion the other day, we decided that we will try to split this segment of the trip with shorter drives over a few days rather than trying to do St. Louis to Tulsa in one day, then have a rest day, then do Tulsa to Amarillo in one day, followed by a rest day, as our original plan indicated (and we can always go back to that formula if we come across something super interesting to do in a specific location).

So, on Day 5, we are spending the day canoeing at Meramec state park, then visiting the Meramec Caverns. The ideal scenario would be, if after visiting the Caverns, we can get a start on the next day’s drive by moving forward about an hour and a half or two hours (not sure how far we can get, depending on hour tired we might be, but any mileage we can do will make the next day a bit easier).

We have the great list of campgrounds put together by the folks at Route 66 News, but i decided to research the National Forest and State Park campgrounds in Missouri and Oklahoma as we might prefer more primitive camping options.

Was able to come up with a workable list of state parks/national forest areas that could make good stopping points along the way (none are that far off the Route 66 itinerary, though they may not exactly be “on” the route itself).

state park locations along the segment from St. Louis to Tulsa to Amarillo.

state park locations along the segment from St. Louis to Tulsa to Amarillo.

Here’s the best scenario (with some options):

The first possible National Forest stop is near Rolla MO, about an hour and a half west of Meramec state park. At the Mark Twain National Forest, dispersed camping is allowed. According to the main campsite page for the forest:

<< Dispersed Camping areas have few, if any, amenities or other facilities. Primitive Camping is allowed throughout the forest except in day use areas, administrative sites, within 100′ of springs, stream, caves and other natural features or archeological sites, or where otherwise prohibited. Follow Leave No Trace principles and protect the forest resouces. >>

Depending on time, we could try to find our own spot, but might be best if we head for the Cole Creek Trail, which is actually for horses, but hikers are welcome and primitive camping is allowed along the trail. The reason i suggest this, is because we have written directions to the trailhead, and if we tried to find our own location, we might spend a lot of time driving around looking for an entry point, etc. If we chose Cole Creek Trail, we will have to leave the jeep at the trail head and hike in a bit…

If we can drive a little bit further, about 2 hours west of Meramec (and a little bit east of springfield MO), is Bennett Spring State Park, in Lebanon MO.

So we sleep at one of these locations, then pick up the route in the morning of Day 6, with a goal of reaching the Keystone state park near Sand Springs, OK, which is just outside of Tulsa. If we need to stop sooner, there is a state park, Twin Bridges State Park, which is not that far off the route a bit east of Tulsa.

Then, on Day 7, we head for Crowder Lake state park, which is a good halfway point between Tulsa and Amarillo. But also has some interesting activities. We have some other alternatives for that night, too. Either Red Rock Canyon state park, which is a little closer to Tusla side, or Foss state park, which is a little closer to Amarillo.

Then Day 8, we get into Amarillo as planned, but a little more rested (hopefully) and ready to explore!

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Getting closer…

It is February today. We hit the road in six more months!

It’s  a strange point in time vis-a-vis the trip, because it is still so far off, but we are already deeply involved in the planning. We are speaking a lot more about it. And going over minute details of logistics.

The good thing is that in the process we have discovered some hiccups in the initial plan, and have been able to re-work some segments to better align with our personal likes and dislikes in travel — and the realities of time, mileage, and road conditions.

And thinking about the great western deserts is certainly helping to keep morale up over this very cold winter!

In terms of preparations we are certainly ahead of schedule–but not as much as all that (as we saw when we got blocked out of the overnight mule trip at the grand canyon because we were “too late” already)… Looking ahead I figure that this month we will finish up the “paper plan,” which is the rough routing, scheduling, and research phase. Then we can move on to the “next” step, which will be actually beginning to make some of the reservations, and making “lists” … lists of things we will need to bring, list of things we will need to buy, lists of things we will need to do before departure, lists of things we will need to do along the way, checklists for on the road, etc… and the list-making phase should take us through to SPRING!!!!!

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The Mojave…and the ghost towns…

So moving forward with planning the Route 66 segment from Arizona to California, i think we definitely want to stopover in the Mojave National Preserve and spend a night roadside camping then spend some time on the desert trails. If we don’t linger too long at the Grand Canyon, as i suggested earlier, we should have time to do this. And we will probably be glad for the emptiness of the Mojave in contrast the the crowd at Grand Canyon.

Picture 6

The locations we are likely to choose for camping can be found on the map above (if you click on the map it opens up much bigger). Considering we will be coming from I-40 (at the bottom of the map), am thinking one of these locations might be good:

Granite Pass: 6.1 miles north of I-40 on Kelbaker Road, just north of Granite Pass, then west on one of several access roads. Campsites are located just north of the granite spires. High clearance vehicle recommended; no RVs.

Kelso Dunes Mine: 4 miles west of Kelbaker Road on the unpaved Kelso Dunes Road. One campsite is located south of the road, 1/4 mile past the marked trailhead. Several others are available 3/4 mile beyond, near a clump of trees. Except at these sites, roadside camping is prohibited along Kelso Dunes Road (including at the trailhead).

Black Canyon Road
About 4 miles south of Hole-in-the-Wall Information Center on the east side of Black Canyon Road, above the wash and near a hill with excellent views of the Providence Mountains. Another site is located about 4 miles futher south, also on the east side of Black Canyon Road, near rock piles.

Rainy Day Mine Site
15.2 miles southeast of Baker on Kelbaker Road, then 0.3 miles northeast on the unsigned and very sandy road to the Rainy Day Mine. Four-wheel drive recommended; no RVs.

THEN, while we are there we can do a JEEP TRAIL :-)

There are actually a number of cool 4×4 trails out there. Here is a list of some of them provided by the park service. The Lava Tube sounds fun… (and also “Caruthers Canyon” for possible camp site?)

Actually might also be really fun to try to get up early and catch sunrise at Kelso Dunes…

About 42 miles southeast of Baker (7 miles south of Kelso Depot), then 3 miles west on a graded dirt road, Kelso Dunes were created over the course of 25,000 years by winds carrying sand grains from the dried Soda Lake and Mojave River Sink. Nearly 700 feet high and covering a 45-square-mile area, they are among the tallest and most extensive dune fields in the United States.

The Kelso Dunes produce a “booming” or “singing” sound when sand with the right moisture content slides down the steep slopes. Try it for yourself—run down a dune slope (but don’t trample vegetation!) to initiate the sound.

Kelso Dunes Trailhead: 3 miles west of Kelbaker Road on the well-graded, but unpaved Kelso Dunes Road.
Hikers at sunrise and sunset are treated to both cooler temperatures and the rose-colored glow of the dunes. The roughly 3-mile round-trip hike might take several hours as you slog through the sand, then slide down the slopes. Moving sands sometimes create a “booming” sound—run downhill and get the sand moving to hear the sound.

we will likely to be able to do these activities ONLY if we don’t spend the extra day at Grand Canyon…

THE FOLLOWING DAY, we continue to Barstow. In Barstow area I think it would actually be fun to stay at the Calico Ghost town itself. It is definitely a hokey attraction, but will likely be the last one we do, as after LA the Route 66 segment of the trip is over and the return has more “adventure”-oriented activities. It seems like the town is a state park. Here is the official parks page . And here is the page for the Calico Ghost Town attraction. We have the option of actually reserving a “mini bunkhouse” here, and maybe we should consider that “luxury” now that we are headed back to “civilization.” (afterall we don’t want to show up in LA looking like savages!)

Through researching Route 66 sites, i think there might actually be a better “Old West Ghost Town” experience at OATMAN, AZ, which is before the Mojave (it is the last town on the Arizona side)… There they have wild burros in the streets, and an actual gold mine you can visit, and daily “gunfights” in the street (at 1:30 and 3:30pm). Might be more fun than Calico town? I can’t really tell, but it seems like it might be a tad less crowded… and comparing the two towns’ websites, i feel like Oatman is “less” disney-ified (though that doesn’t necessarily make it the better experience)…

In any case, we will pass through Oatman on the road, even if we don’t spend extra time there, and if we don’t like it, we can always still do Calico town on the way out (or just camp at Calico town)… Or if we have totally had our fill of  wild west recreations by then, we can just pass by Calico…

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Caves and choices in Missouri…

Locations of the caves along the route

Locations of the caves along the route (coming from St. Louis)

On around day 5 of the trip we will be in the St. Louis area and will likely be staying at the Meramec State Park and the current plan is to spend part of the day canoeing the river, and then do a guided tour of the Meramec Caverns

In doing some research about the area and looking at our trajectory i see some options:

Apparently Missouri is a state with lots of caves (second only in the nation to Tennessee), and right nearby in the State Park where we will be staying is Fisher Cave, and not far away is an additional state park with another cave/cavern (i am still not sure what the difference is between a cave and a cavern)…

It seems people have mixed reviews of the Meramec Caverns (see reviews here), and according to their own site, the cavern tour takes visitors on “well-lighted, walkways”… and the whole location seems like something very kitsch (which could be charming and part of the route 66 experience) with a motel, a campground, a riverboat ride, their own canoe rentals, panning for gold, etc…

Fishers Cave has a positive review (as a more “real” cave visit), and i actually called the park and spoke to a woman at the information desk there who said the cave tour at the park is definitely more “naturalistic” than a visit to Meramec, but still a solid 90 minute visit that includes about a mile or more of walking…

There is also the Onodaga Cave state park with a cave and a cathedral cave tour… it is a little further from St. Louis…

So question is… which cave/cavern do we want to visit…

here are the issues as to how they relate to our trip:

First, do we want something kitsch-y and touristic and definitely a Route 66 icon (Meramec), or do we want a more naturalistic experience (Fisher or Onodaga)…?

Second, which is most interesting? Meramec seems like the bigger, more elaborate (3rd largest something in the US, Jesse James hideout, a cavern versus a cave) choice for sure… but will the theatrical lighting and walkways make it less interesting than a more “natural” cave experience with flash lights and dirt floors (Fisher)… or will it conversely make it BETTER…

Do we want to take advantage of some of the other kitschy activities… like panning for gold… at Meramec Caverns… or is it more convenient to do everything at the State Park (canoe trip from there and cave tour without having to leave and drive to another location)… if we want to we can also choose to consolidate at Meramec Caverns (they have a campground and canoe rentals/shuttle for trip downriver which is probably about the same as the one offered from the park, though their campground might be a bit more “packed together”… think about the place we stayed that one time on a private campground in virginia… however, i cannot guarentee that the State Park is any “better” in terms of campground spacing)…

If we are staying at Meremac State park, going back to the Caverns requires us to backtrack a little bit (not that long, so we can do it if we want to), and if we wanted to go to Onodaga, it is even further away from St. Louis… (but as it is an end-point of the day, i would probably prefer closer to St. Louis, unless there was a real reason we preferred the idea of staying at Onodaga)…

see the relative locations and distances on here: View Google Map

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