MISSISSIPPI RIVER RUN 34 DAY – RV Caravan
The Mighty Mississippi. You may have crossed it many times in your RV travels, as its 2552 mile route dissects this great nation we call home. Fantasy RV Tours provides you the opportunity to really explore the River and learn about her history, diverse cultures and ecosystems as you spend 34 days traveling from the headwaters in the north to her entrance at the Gulf of Mexico.
We rendezvous in Bemidji, Minnesota, whose official slogan is the ‘First City on the Mississippi’. Originally settled by a small group of Ojibwe Indians, the town began to take off in 1890 when two brothers established a trading post, even offering overnight lodging and a post office. Later, the Great Northern Railroad arrived and the logging industry took off, with 20,000 lumberjacks working in the surrounding woods. Today, it’s a small town of 13,000 hardy souls. We’ll explore the lively downtown area, visit the statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe (the Blue Ox), and the Bemidji Woolen Mills, manufacturing woolen clothing since 1920. We couldn’t begin this adventure without a trip to Itasca State Park, where we find the humble beginnings of the Mississippi River as it too begins a journey south.
South it is! Stopping in Brainerd for the night and on to a small town, just outside the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. We’ve got four days to explore the area’s museums, shopping, trails and attractions, starting with a guided bus tour of the Twin Cities. Later, we participate in a ‘Crook’s Tour’, where we experience the nightclubs, hideouts, kidnappings and gun battles of 1930s’ gangsters like John Dillinger, Ma Baker and ‘Babyface’ Nelson. We venture into the Wabasha Street Sandstone Caves underneath St. Paul, which provided salvation for Speak Easies during Prohibition. We tour Minnehaha Falls, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in Song of Hiawatha, and follow the creek until it joins the Mississippi River. In downtown St. Paul, we see the Cathedral of Saint Paul dominating the city’s skyline. And we experience even more of the city when we return to the Mississippi for a cruise and lunch.
We leave Minnesota and enter Wisconsin, spending the night in Prairie du Chen and visiting Ft. Crawford Museum. Here, the Wisconsin River joins the Mississippi, providing early river travelers coming from the east with a route south to the Gulf of Mexico.
Like those early travelers, we too follow the river south to Davenport, Iowa, a city geographically defined by the Mississippi River – the only place where it runs from east to west. On our way, we stop in Dubuque and enjoy the interactive exhibits and information at the National Mississippi River Museum. We’ve got four days in Davenport, and they’re jam packed with activities. We have hands on experience with all kinds of awesome machines at the John Deere Pavilion, where their products have been working the land for more than 175 years. We visit the seven villages of the Amana Colonies, stepping back in time to sample hearty foods, view hand crafted furniture and art, or simply stroll down the quiet streets. We continue on to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, located in the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site also featuring the two-room cottage where our 31st President was born.
What red blooded American doesn’t like trucks? Particularly antique trucks, each with its own story and a colorful history. We visit the Iowa 80 Trucking Museum, dedicated to preserving antique trucks and the important role they play in our lives.
October in Iowa means fall foliage prevails, and we’re here right at the peak of this colorful season. What better way to enjoy it than on a river cruise, especially when lunch is included! Next, we visit the Rock Island Arsenal, nationally recognized for its large and small arms collection – more than 1200 on permanent display! We commemorate our stay in Davenport by enjoying dinner at the Circa 21 Playhouse – home to Broadway performances, complete with singing servers.
The small town of Hannibal, Missouri embraces one of its hometown heroes and champion of the Mississippi River – Mark Twain. Here, we’ll tour Mark Twain’s boyhood home and museum where Samuel Clemens (with the pen name of Mark Twain) began his career as a printer and later as a river pilot, an inventor, and writer, finally authoring such novels as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Life on the Mississippi.
“Meet Me in St. Louis!” Because we have a lot to do! St. Louis welcomes us through its iconic 630 foot Gateway Arch, built in the 1960s to honor the early 19th century explorations of Lewis and Clark and the westward expansion in America. It’s our country’s tallest man-made structure, and we’ll ride to the top for views of the city. We take a unique look at the home of the St. Louis Cardinals when we tour Busch Stadium, visiting their radio broadcast booth and actual dugout. We also take time to explore the Cardinals Museum, boasting one of the largest team-specific collections of baseball artifacts and memorabilia in the world. We tour one of the Busch family estates, Grant’s Farm, originally owned by General Ulysses Grant. Heading out to the fertile rolling hills of the Meramec Valley, we go underground to the Meramec Caverns – once a hideout for Jesse James — with a guided tour along well-lighted walkways through Missouri’s largest commercial cave. We visit Annheuser-Busch’s largest and oldest brewery, which originally utilized the Mississippi River for transportation and the area’s natural cave formations for beer storage. Next stop is the site of the most fabled of all World’s Fairs – the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, which celebrated the centennial of President Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of the Louisiana Territories. And, to our delight, one of the largest mosaic collections in the western hemisphere is at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
We follow the River to Memphis, home to Elvis Presley and the birthplace of Rock-n-Roll. We tour Graceland Mansion, the home of the King himself. We drive through the iconic musical gates and enter the Mansion through the front door, visiting the living room, his parents’ bedroom, the kitchen, TV room, pool room, the famous Jungle Room, his father’s office, the newly-enhanced Trophy Building, a newly-restored Racquetball Building and the Meditation Garden. Outside, we can climb aboard Elvis’ customized jet, named after his daughter Lisa Marie, and then peek inside his smaller Lockheed Jet Star. Our guided city tour takes us for lunch on Beale Street, opened more than 100 years ago as one of the few places African Americans could shop, dine and enjoy themselves in the South. Today, it’s full of blues and barbeque, and was recently chosen by USA Today readers as America’s Most Iconic Street. It’s a short hop to Sun Studio, where we tour the studio (which still operates today) where Elvis made his first recording….”That’s Alright”!
We step back to sobering times at the National Civil Rights Museum and Lorraine Hotel, a place of history and symbolism. The museum is built around the former Lorraine Hotel, the site where Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. Next stop is much lighter—we see the Peabody ducks at the Peabody Hotel. Every morning the five ducks leave their rooftop penthouse and trot along a red carpet to a marble fountain where they swim the day away. It all started as a joke, but these ducks are definitely living the high life!
“Show me my way in life and I will build you a shrine.” As a young man, Danny Thomas said this prayer to St. Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Eventually becoming a most successful entertainer, Thomas fulfilled his vow – resulting in St. Jude’s Children’s Research hospital and our next stop. St. Jude’s leads the way the world understands, treats and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. On our final day in Memphis we return to the River at Mud Island River Park. We stroll along the Riverwalk model to see the Mississippi River in miniature form and visit the Mississippi River Museum, actually boarding full size paddle boats. The next day, we turn south again, following the River’s path to Vicksburg.
The River City of Vicksburg is perhaps best known for its role in the Civil War. On July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered to the North after a 47-day siege which was intended to starve the city into submission. Vicksburg’s surrender, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee in Gettysburg the day before marked the turning point in America’s war. This piece of history is commemorated on our tour of Vicksburg National Military Park, which includes more than 1340 monuments. We enjoy this town’s splendor and grace when we tour an Antebellum Mansion. And we learn more about life on the Mississippi at the Lower Mississippi River Museum, depicting how different communities, families and the US Army Corps of Engineers have all utilized the River.
Before leaving Mississippi the next day, we stop for lunch at the Old Country Store in Lorman, where we feast on true soul food – fried chicken, salads, mac & cheese, corn on the cob, green beans, dirty rice, sweet potatoes, cornbread and more …including the entertaining owner, Mr. ‘D’!
We camp in the small town of Vidalia, Louisiana, which sits on the banks of the Mississippi River right across from Natchez. We cross over the bridge for a Natchez guided carriage tour, where we experience history first hand by visiting some of the most well preserved and architecturally stunning antebellum homes in the South. We tour Stanton Hall, built in 1857 by Frederick Stanton, an Irish immigrant who died only months after it was completed. It was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War and later became the Stanton College for Young Ladies. Today, it has been lovingly restored to its former antebellum splendor, and furnished much as Frederick originally intended. Natchez’s history is still alive in its traditions, heritage and structures lining the city streets.
Before me move on, we stop at Bluff Park in Natchez. From ancient times, this location has been the best spot to see the majestic view of the great Mississippi River and the west beyond. It’s an endless vista, showcasing the multiple moods of the River, particularly at sunset.
We follow the River south to its final destination – where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s our final stop as well – and what could be more fun than The Big Easy itself, New Orleans! There’s lots in store for us during our five days in NOLA.
First, we take a peek into a bygone past on a guided River Road Plantation tour. Then, we take to the skies via sea plane with aerial views of the winding Mississippi and the beautiful surrounding bayous. We explore Le Vieux Carre, better known as the French Quarter (or simply the Quarter to locals,) and experience 100 blocks of New Orleans at its best – incredible musical entertainment and world-class cuisine. We learn to prepare delicious Cajun cuisine at the New Orleans School of Cooking, and enjoy some wonderful local creations after. We take a swamp boat tour through the watery regions surrounding the City, seeing exotic flora and fauna found nowhere else in the USA, long legged waterfowl and even get up close and personal with an alligator …or two!
As the Mississippi ends its mighty run from Bemidji to the Gulf of Mexico, so too must our Mississippi River journey come to a close. Our final evening together is spent where it should be — on the River aboard New Orleans’ only steamboat, the Natchez. We enjoy a freshly prepared dinner, breathtaking views of the city, some Louisiana jazz and of course, the company of our fellow River RV travelers.
The Mississippi River truly is mighty as it flows out to sea. And Fantasy’s Mississippi River Run tour is a truly …mighty adventure.