2019- Spring Roadschooling trip to Mammoth Caves (& more)

In the tradition of the Great American Roadtrip, we packed up the minivan and headed out on a grand adventure.  Our main objective was the amazing caves in Kentucky, but we hit a lot of different learning opportunities on our trip. In preparation, we studied Greek/Roman mythology, Mark Twain & Tom Sawyer, the Gateway Arch, .Genesis (Noah's Ark), and were even able to pull in our Walt Disney fall study!

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Day One:
Metamorphoses @ The Guthrie
Travel Day (MSP- Des Moines, IA)

Literature: Metamorphoses- Ovid
Theater Arts: Audience member

We started out our trip right here in Minneapolis, with a school performance of Metamorphoses (the Zimmerman production).  While my students were by FAR the youngest ones, they were so engaged.  That's what happens when they study the content and are obsessed with Greek/Roman mythology to begin with!  They all enjoyed it very much.
After the show, we loaded up into the AWS Minivan and headed down to our first nights' stop in Des Moines, Iowa.

Day Two:
Walt Disney Hometown Museum (Marceline, IL)

History: Walt Disney (biography, entrepreneurship)
On our way from Des Moines, IA to Hannibal, MO, we stopped by a treasure.  The Walt Disney Hometown Museum was simply a gem.  We studied Disney and his works extensively this past fall, so it was a treat to be able to walk the lands of his family farm, picnic at the site of the Dreaming Tree, and browse the collection at the museum.

Perhaps the best experience of the day, however, was our students getting to talk with Mrs. Inez Johnson, personal friend of Walt, Lillian, Roy and Edna Disney.  She had some delightful stories from their visits to Marceline.

We topped off the day with a walk down the original 'Main Street USA' and had a famous old-fashioned Dusty Miller sundae.

Then it was back in the van for our drive to Quincy, IL, which set us up perfectly to enjoy the next morning in Hannibal, MO.

Day Three:
Mark Twain Cave (Hannibal, MO)
Mark Twain Boyhood Home (Hannibal, MO)
Gateway Arch (St. Louis, MO)

History: Mark Twain (biography)
Literature: Tom Sawyer
History: Westward Expansion
Architecture: Gateway Arch
Geography: Mississippi River

After staying overnight in Quincy, IL, it was a quick jaunt to Hannibal.  We started our morning off with our first cave tour of the trip!  It was fantastic to see how excited the kids were about exploring the SAME cave that Mark Twain wrote about in Tom Sawyer.  Mark Twain Cave is a dry, maze-like cave that was very different from any other cave we visited this trip!
We had lunch at the Mark Twain Dinette and enjoyed some house-made root beer as we broke down our morning.  Then we slipped into the Mark Twain Boyhood Home during a lull in large school groups.  We had the place to ourselves and enjoyed exploring and imagining life as a child in Hannibal.
After we finished our tour, we found ourselves on the road to St. Louis.  Our hotel was right next to the Gateway Arch, and we could see it from our window!  (The upgrade fairies were working overtime for us on this trip, as we received a complimentary (or VERY low-priced) upgrade at EVERY. SINGLE. HOTEL we stayed at!)
We walked over the the Arch and slipped into the documentary film just before our tour time.  The elevator pods reminded the kids of spaceships, and we had quite the adventure going all the way up top to the bridge!
We ended the night with some Korean food, a walk around the grounds, drawing and playing Pokemon Go!

Day Four:
St. Louis City Museum (St. Louis, MO)
Cahokia Mounds (St. Louis, MO)

Art: Interactive Installations
History/Archaeology: Pre-Columbian mound-builder civilizations

It was a slightly rainy morning, so we took an Uber to the City Museum, a massive interactive art installation that is part sculpture park, part natural history museum, part architecture gallery.  There are no maps, as the artists are continually working on it, and we read online that knee pads and headlamps were highly recommended (especially for the sprawling, anthill-like cave system on the first floor!).  We had so much fun and we were REALLY glad we'd brought walkie-talkies to stay in touch with each other.

In the afternoon, we drove over to check out Cahokia Mounds, the largest earthworks structure in the Americas.  We climbed Monk's mound and enjoyed the view (and the breeze) for a bit before heading down. The interpretive center was beautifully curated, and we could have spent quite a bit of time there, but there was an arts festival going on, and it was a bit crowded/hard to navigate around the displays. 

Day Five:
Travel St. Louis, MO -Cave City, KY
Crystal Onyx Cave (Cave City, KY)

Science: Cave Studies (speleothems, cave biology, cave geology)

We took off bright and early for our long drive from St. Louis, MO to Cave City, KY.  The weather was beautiful and we made it just in time for our 1pm tour.  Our entire Mammoth Cave portion of the trip was planned through Homeschool Road Trips group.  Since we are such a small microschool, their family-unit format works perfectly for us!

Crystal Onyx was a great cave to start with-  it had beautiful formations, and was very well lit (meaning you could see a whole lot more than you could in other caves).  The rock shop gift store had the BEST rock prices we saw all trip.

After the tour, we settled into our cabin at Jellystone Park Mammoth Cave.  We brought our sheets, towels and food from home-- otherwise everything was provided for us!

Day 6
Cave Crawl at Hidden River Cave (Horse Cave, KY)
Cedar Sink Hike (Mammoth Cave NP)

Science- Cave Study-  Biology- Geology- Hydrology

This cave crawl is rated 'most adventurous activity ever' by all three kids (even compared to last year's river rafting trip!)  We donned our rainpants, warm layers, rain jackets, gloves, boots and headlamps (provided by the cave) to venture into the muddy, muddy Hidden River Cave.  Our guide did a fantastic job leading the way and helping us spot wildlife (cave crickets, blind cavefish and blind crawfish).  The cave crawl was very strenuous, and two of the kids opted for an early exit (an hour in!).  We did have one student who stuck with the entire tour and emerged two hours later, muddy, tired, shaking (adrenaline) and so happy that she'd conquered!

We rested at the cabin for the afternoon and then went on a guided hike of Cedar Sink trail (Mammoth Cave National Park).  The woods were beautiful, and we enjoyed a change of scenery from the cave as well as learning about one of the most important sites for hydrology in the world.

Day 7
National Corvette Museum (Bowling Green, KY)
Diamond Caverns (Cave City, KY)
Mammoth Cave (Mammoth Cave NP)

Business/Marketing: Corvette
Science- Cave Study-  Biology- Geology

The next morning, we gathered at the National Corvette Museum.  We not only learned a lot about Corvettes, we were able to get up close and personal with a karst sinkhole that opened up a few years back, swallowing a number of cars.  It's since been reinforced and made into a part of the museum's attractions! 

Then, after lunch, we headed to Diamond Cavern, which had some spectacular cave bacon and other formations.  We ended up our day at Mammoth Cave for the historic tour.  The sheer size of this part of the cave is amazing!!  It felt totally different than any other cave we'd been in so far.
Day 8
Hidden Cave tour (Horse Cave, KY)
American Cave Museum (Horse Cave, KY)
The Ark Encounter (Williamstown, KY)
Great Wolf Lodge (Mason, OH)

Science- Cave Study, Geology, Biology
Architecture- Suspension Bridges
Bible Studies- Genesis (Noah)
Our last morning in Kentucky, we packed up and headed back to Hidden River Cave in order to tour the cave and walk on the world's longest underground suspension bridge!  For the cave crawl, we had gone to the 'wild' part of the cave, but for today's tour we stayed clean and dry!  We also got to tour the American Cave Museum as a part of our morning.

Soon after our last cave tour of the trip (this will make #6 if you've been counting!), we took off towards our destination of Cincinatti.  Along the way, we enjoyed the green pastures of horse country, drove within sight of the Kentucky Derby sign, and stopped by The Ark Encounter to have our minds blown by the immensity of the recreated ark!  The museum was beautiful and so interesting.  We loved wandering around, peering into different crates and cages to see what creatures were within. 

We ended the night at the Great Wolf Lodge in Cincinatti, OH.  The kids enjoyed swimming for a bit before trying out MagiQuest.  GWL has become a favorite roadschool stop for obvious reasons!
Day 9
Indianapolis Children's Museum (Indianapolis, IN)
Sand Dune National Lakeshore (Portage, IN)

Archaeology, Oceanology, Space Studies, Paleontology, Pop Culture: Children's Museum
Geology: Sand Dunes
On our way from Mason, OH to Portage, IN we had to stop at the Indiapolis Children's Museum.  I have heard for years how it is the greatest children's museum of all time-- and people are probably right!  It was huge, and spread into many different sections.  We explored and explored until we were too tired to go any further.  It was JUST on the edge of 'too young' for our group (8-11 years old), but if you have littles, dont' miss it!

Unfortunately, when we rolled into Portage it was raining and cold, so we ended up skipping visiting the sand dunes.  We were disappointed, but tired and happy to swim in the hotel pool and hot tub instead.
Days 10-11
The House on the Rock (Spring Green, WI)
Great Wolf Lodge (Wisconsin Dells, WI)

Architecture, Collectors, Art Installations

It was still drizzly and cold the next morning, so we agreed to forego the sand dunes completely and just head to our next location-- The House on the Rock in Spring Green, WI.  This is an absolute cacophony of sound, colors, sensations and experiences.  It was so large (three buildings) and so jam-packed full of things that it was a bit overwhelming.  We really enjoyed the Japanese gardens the most!  Interesting architecture in the original house- the endless hall was a fun illusion.

By this time, we were all getting ready to be home in our own beds.  We had only one more night left, so we spent it at another Great Wolf Lodge (they should really sponsor our trips, huh?).  This time we arrived with plenty of hours in the day left to swim and play before sleeping and making the (relatively) short drive back home the next morning.

This was by far the longest of any of our trips, and we learned so much and made countless memories.