If you are like us, you take road trips. And without fail, you will come across a roadside attraction. Something with dozens if not hundreds of billboards or barn roofs advertising some once in a lifetime opportunity to see something. To this, I say – Stop.
For the last few years, we make a pilgrimage back to where we are from – the great state of Oklahoma. We connect family and friends, notice new restaurants and see things that have gone out of business. We race there and we race back – taking turns driving the 12 or so hours, with kids and pets.
This year we said no more. If you recall – one of my Family Annual Goals was Adventure / Travel / New Experiences.
- Visit extended family in Oklahoma – This year we will drive to Oklahoma to see family and friends. As a new experience, we will stop in St. Louis so that we can relax as a family and visit a new place, such as the Merrimac Caverns or the St. Louis Arch. We will coordinate with family to ensure we maximize our time while also enjoying our well-deserved relaxation.
Well – we did it. We found a pet friendly hotel near the caverns and we slowed out trip down. We explored a little area outside of St. Louis, swam in the indoor pool and hot tub – And….wait for it… we exceeded our goal for adventure (at least on this trip!)
Well – the Meramec Caverns. Proof that tourist traps are really worth the exit. And since everyone seems to loves lists – let’s list it.
- Caves are cool – and this cave is really cool.
So – kids love caves. Really, I remember going to caves as a kid and there is always that moment when they turn off the lights. It’s that moment when you realize what absolute dark is. And kids remember it. I remember it – that realization that you are helpless without your eyes. How lucky you are to be able to see. The feeling drops from your stomach and you cling to the rail or your dad and, though you are tough, you secretly can’t wait for the lights to come back on. Until they do – then you wish they’d turn them back off.
Plus, there is something so raw walking through rock and seeing the amazing things rock and water can do. Stalactites, Stalagmites, underground streams and weird texture formations. It feels like the cave is living and breathing around you.
And when I say cool – I mean it. Meramec is always 60 degrees. There’s a ballroom and a dance floor dating back decades. They have concerts and parties in the cave. Maybe it’s cheesy – maybe I’m easily impressed – but the tour was sweet. And the kids liked it.
- It was Jesse and Frank James hideout.
What’s a roadside attraction without some history? Jesse and Frank James – the famous outlaws, evidently learned the caves from their days in the Confederate Army. This was helpful when they turned to a life of crime – as they used the Meramec caves as a hideout to evade law enforcement.
This leads to great statues, wax figures and old memorabilia on display. You can buy wanted replica signs in the gift shop. See old civil war firearms. Walk along and read about the war, train robberies and the James daring escape in an underground freezing river.
- It has one of the biggest stalactites in the world.
No kidding – stalactites are freakin sweet. Water drops down and deposits rock over years and years and years – they said it takes 100 years for a stalactite to grow an inch! So the fact that there is this stalactite that looks like a mountain (of poop, my son tells me), means that it’s been grown thousands…millions of years. It’s not the coolest thing to look at but it’s kind of amazing. And right there in central Missouri.
- It has this thing called the wine table
Ok – this is even more impressive than the stalactite. Really. Evidently there are two “table formations” in the world. One is in Italy and one is in Missouri. Go figure. Anyway – this formation basically looks like a weird table with three legs and three formations on the top said to look like wine glasses. You have to squint but, OK – I’ll give it to them. And one of two in the world – pretty sweet.
- You can visit the traditional souvenir shop.
By traditional, I mean they have the junk you expect at a souvenir shop. They have lots of rocks and crystals and arrowheads – of which we purchased – but they are all pretty much from Peru. They have toy guns, cowboy hats and Meramec clothing – of which we didn’t buy. But we looked and it was fun, and truly, everyone there is super nice.
- You can eat.
As a dad who plans the road trip, coupling cool stuff with eating is nice. It cuts down on stops and makes it more of an event. They have what to me was very similar to a counter you would find at a skating rink. Florescent lights – booths, and a bunch of Americana fried food. But you know, my kids got burgers and said they were “amazing”. I must point out that they believe McDonald’s burgers are also “amazing”, so be warned. But they had a salmon burger and a cod sandwich. I ordered the cod and my wife told me I was brave. But all in all it was a fun little meal.
They have about a dozen flavors of ice cream. I had a scoop and it was OK – not great. Sad I wasted my calories on it. They have a fudge shop that looked good. And last but not least…
- It’s easy to get to
Ok – so dads – I know this is important. Because we have a destination – some hotel or house that is waiting for us to arrive at. And, as a dad, my job is to get us there safe and fast. So the fact that this place is like 10 minutes off the interstate is important. Genius, in fact, because you don’t feel like you annihilated your drive time.
This is important – and part of my own #daddydevelopment.
Stop along the way.
In fact – this might be the most important lesson I learned. I need to slow down. We get out the door when we get out the door. We need to stop when we need to stop. There are things to see along the way. I want to be the kind of dad that stops along the way. I haven’t been, but I’m trying. As part of my Daddy Development Plan and our Annual Family Goals – I am saying yes more and stopping along the way.
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