First Hike, One Elk, and Brisket
The cold and wet weekends caused the Cricket to stay home during all of December. However we’ve found fun family adventures in St Louis over three recent day trips to help keep the Cricket Camping adventurous spirit alive. We’ve recently enjoyed Six Flags St. Louis, The Magic House, Dr. Edmund A. Babler State Park Historic District, Lone Elk Park, The World Bird Sanctuary, fireworks in Kirkwood, and enjoyed brisket at three different locations of Sugarfire!
Day One: December 26th
First stop: Six Flags. Except for our seven days at Walt Disney World in 2014, we don’t often visit amusement parks and we hadn’t planned to visit Six Flags, however, in October we were the high bidders in a St Louis getaway package that included tickets that expired at the end of the year. We learned that this was the first year Six Flags was partially open during the holidays, so we began monitoring the weather for the right day. We found a pleasant day and planned to arrive when the park opened at 2pm. On the way, we stopped at our first Sugarfire Smokehouse: Downtown. We were here the day of after Christmas as soon as they opened. There was no line and the brisket, sides, and employees were all awesome.
We got to Six Flags and headed into the park right at the 2pm opening. Based on our Disney research, we learned to tackle a park from the left and travel clockwise because the instinctive flow of traffic is to the right. Forgetting this strategy, we started counterclockwise and went to the right. Initially the park was quiet and we hopped on several rides with little wait time. The crowds peaked during the five o’clock hour when we did have long waits for two rides. Then the sun set and the park was aglow in holiday lights. As it cooled down even more, the crowd thinned out. We were able to go back and ride several favorite rides a second, third, and even fourth time before calling it a day about 8pm. The kids had a blast in the park and we were glad we made the visit. Six Flags St Louis in the winter time may be the ideal time of the year to visit.
Day Two: December 31st
We are always surprised how much the kids continue to enjoy The Magic House. We have always taken them here a couple times a year and we think they would get tired of going back. Mitchell, in particular, always loves going here and begs for return visits. We visited on New Year’s Eve and this time the visiting exhibit was a chess exhibit, on loan from the World Chess Hall of Fame. We learned the World Chess Hall of Fame is also located in St Louis and has good reviews. This was a fun, interactive learning exhibit. The kids interacted with every exhibit in The Magic House and we spent over five hours exploring. Mitchell really enjoyed the Lego table, where he built Lego cars and raced them on a race track. Lillian really enjoyed the bubble room. Each time we visit they seem to find a new favorite exhibit. We were hungry and decided to check out the brisket at the Sugarfire location in Olivette – the food and staff was great as we had hoped.
Day Three: January 1st
We learned about the First Day Hike Program, presented by America’s State Parks to encourage people to go on guided hikes on New Year’s Day, and we thought this would be a perfect way to get outside on New Year’s Day. We selected Babler State Park in St Louis County for our First Day Hike as it was the closest official First Day Hike location. This is a park we’ve never visited, but we had been curious to see their campground and this gave us two reasons to visit. We expected to be amongst a very few on the hike, but to our surprise, over 100 people showed up for the guided one mile hike. We were pleased to see so many people out for a hike, although we selfishly like to be on smaller guided hikes as the content is sometimes more insightful. Without a plan for the rest of the afternoon, we decided to make a detour south to try something new for lunch: Sugarfire, but this time the 44 location. Brisket, sides, and staff again very, very good. We left inspired to keep exploring.
Our next stop was Lone Elk County Park, a location we’ve often passed, but never visited. This was a treat! We drove through the park and saw deer, turkey, and bison up close. And then we saw it-- the lone elk of Lone Elk County Park! We finished the driving loop and left to visit the World Bird Sanctuary. At Mitchell’s request, we returned to Lone Elk as he wanted to climb the observation tower. To leave, we had to drive through the park again. This time, when we got to the slough, we spotted nearly twenty elk! Turns out at one time, there was only a lone elk remaining after the federal government took control of the land and attempted to remove the elk and bison. But the elk and bison herds have been reestablished at the park. We did notice the lake seemed low; upon further research, we learned a sinkhole under the lake has taken much of the water. Work has been done to stop the leak, which hopefully will prove successful. We would enjoy a return visit to Lone Elk and would like to explore the trails within the park.
Yet another stop that afternoon was a spot we’ve never previously heard about: the World Bird Sanctuary. You can see rescued eagles, hawks, owls, and even a condor on display. Lillian enjoyed talking to the Great Horned Owl as she mimicked his call and could get him to respond. It was pretty cool. We would like to better plan a visit to be here for their demonstrations and programs.
Our final stop of the visit was New Year’s Day fireworks in Kirkwood. We arrived early and got a great parking spot overlooking the Kirkwood City Hall. There was a DJ and a big crowd on hand. The coffee shop across from City Hall was closed, it was a holiday after all, and so we took a quick walk to Starbucks, then walked around the charming downtown area of Kirkwood. We were starting to get cold and decided to take advantage of our good parking spot by watching the very nice firework display from our warm car.
Maybe the most important questions – is Sugarfire really that good, and which one will we go back to? That is a complicated answer. We are fortunate to live near Mike Mills, nicknamed The Legend, and he was co-captain to one of the most celebrated BBQ teams ever and two of his 17th Street BBQ locations are close to home. We are also near Pat’s BBQ, a former teammate of Mills in Murphysboro, IL, which has been officially recognized as the BBQ capital of Illinois. Furthermore, we enjoy making our own BBQ and think we do a decent job. We had very good BBQ when we’ve traveled in Austin, TX, Memphis, TN, Charleston, SC. However, we are sometimes disappointed with BBQ when we travel. Until we discovered Salt + Smoke in The Loop and Sugarfire Smokehouse, we had never had great BBQ, in particular brisket, in St Louis. Granted, we hadn’t tried it all. Yes, Sugarfire is very good to great BBQ, great sides, great atmosphere, great employees, and we would happily return to any of the three we’ve recently visited, or would stop if we find ourselves near the three locations we haven’t visited.
We ended 2016 with fifty nights camping. We’ve been busily booking camp trips for 2017, with confirmed six confirmed trips on the calendar, four additional trips planned but not scheduled, and hopefully several more that aren’t even planned yet. This year should allow us to camp in at least four new states, visit two new national parks, and again exceed fifty night camping. We do not have plans to make a return visit to any campground so far, however there are several we would love to again visit. We booked three high demand campgrounds for 2017 and we consider ourselves fortunate to secure these destinations. One of the surprises in camping is how fast good campgrounds get booked up! For these three popular campgrounds, we set a reminder to book right when the reservation desk opened and got online as soon as it was available! Wait for the post to see if these spots were worth the anticipation!
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Shane and Jessica
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