Miles 9133 – 9836
Mountain View, AR – Chicago, IL
After leaving the awesome Blanchard Springs Caverns, I headed over to nearby Mountain View, Arkansas for some culture. The Ozarks are known for three things, at least in my mind: beautiful scenery (check), hillbillies (er, check), and music. The first two are shared pretty closely with lots of places, among them southwestern Wisconsin. The last makes the area unique, and in a lot of different ways. Most people have heard of Branson, MO, and a lot have been there. That’s one example of the excellent country music available in the Ozarks, but Mountain View shows off another side of things.
In warm weather, visitors to historic downtown Mountain View, “The folk music capitol of the world,” can listen to accomplished musicians picking guitars, banjos, mandolins, and bass on porch stoops all over town, and even join in if they had the foresight to bring an instrument along. Nightly concerts at multiple locations around town bring in sell-out crowds, and several museums of mountain music and crafts round out the experience.
In November, though, most of those places are shuttered up tight, along with the ice cream shops, fudge factories, and t-shirt dealers. In late fall, I was left with a few die-hard music stores, a luthier’s studio, and a small post office from which to mail the last of my postcards. I nearly bought a mandolin in town, just to say that I had, but settled on just a few picks, instead (after all, I’d barely played the mandolin I’d just dragged over 9,000 miles around the country with me). I walked around town in the chill, and drank a hot tea in lieu of the ice cream before heading over to the Ozark Folk Center. Of course, even that closes early in the off-season, and I got there just as the doors were shutting. Instead of displays of heirloom crafts and musical artistry, all I got was the gift shop… but even that was full of high-quality, handmade items. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to look for some last-minute gifts from my long travel – and even a couple Christmas presents!
I left Mountain View with a determination to head back on some warm summer day in the future, and headed north. I crossed into Missouri just before sunset, drove straight east, and a few hours later crossed into the southern tip of Illinois. I meandered around, generally northward, for a few hours before finally finding a spot to spend the night in the Shawnee National Forest.
I headed up from Cairo towards Carbondale, with a short detour to go through Anna, IL, which I had always wanted to see. Around mid-morning I got to a park near Carbondale that had been recommended to me by a friend (thanks, Jared!) for one last hike. The Little Grand Canyon is a favorite among college students and families alike, and on this beautiful fall day I could see why. Not only was the scenery itself beautiful, but I had the chance to look out on the flat Mississippi River floodplain and realize that these were the last hills for many, many miles.
My drive north confirmed that fact, as I got on the interstate and zoomed my way north through cornfields and concrete for another 6 hours until I hit the urban sprawl of the Chicagoland area. I threaded my way through it until I could smell Lake Michigan, see familiar store fronts, and make second-nature turns through narrow city streets. I rang a familiar bell, and my mom opened the door and welcomed me in to the fragrant meal they had been keeping warm all evening. Home at last! And ready for the next adventure…