Back when Kathy and I were first married, we inadvertently started what would become a family tradition.
I was new to this area and this entire part of the country. She suggested a few one-day "road trips" to help familiarize me with what could be found when heading north, south, east and west of Quincy.
It was a great idea, and 16 years later, we are still doing it. Our original trips were more prevalent. Two or three times a month was the norm. Nowadays, it's usually once a month on a Saturday, when we just "take off" in one of those directions with no preconceived itinerary.
Over the years, the beauty of these adventures have been their inexpensive nature. Outside of a meal or two, the only money we spend much of the time is on gas. In most cases, it's a one-tank trip at the most. We leave early in the morning, with the idea of being back in Quincy by sometime early in the evening. You'd be surprised how much ground you can cover in that span.
We made one of these excursions last week to southeastern Iowa, and during the trip we reminisced about such ventures from past years. The following would probably be a fair consensus of what we've enjoyed most in each direction:
South: I know, most people would automatically think "St. Louis" when the compass is pointed downward, but our favorite area is actually across the river in what is termed Metro East. From Jerseyville to Edwardsville to the breathtaking beauty of Pere Marquette State Park, Grafton and the Great River Road, it's easy to spend an entire day at any one of about a dozen different venues.
Alton might be our favorite town of all, with its riverfront location and steep, picturesque brick streets. You need to eat at Fast Eddie's and then go see the statue of the world's tallest man, Robert Wadlow. He grew to 8 feet, 11.1 inches tall before his death in 1940.
Even before reaching Metro East, there are numerous other surprises and finds along the way. One you should not miss is the tiny town of Hamburg, tucked way in the foliage south of Mozier. Some of the elegant riverfront homes will remind you of pictures of New England.
Another must-see is "climbing the mountain" near Hardin. The winding road and the sights are quite interesting, but who in the world would want to live up there in the winter?
Going south is by far my favorite direction when leaving Quincy.
West: Columbia and the Lake of the Ozarks are both great destinations. I love the college-town feel of Columbia and the crazy roads around the Lake of the Ozarks, but the little towns and their antiques shops along the way to both sites always have great entertainment value. On the weekends, there are usually numerous flea markets along the way.
North: Iowa City has interesting historical sites, plus the University of Iowa campus and nearby shopping centers. Fort Madison, where there is an actual "fort," is also worth the effort of getting there. Fort Madison also piqued my curiosity when it comes to the ancient prison located there. Right next to it is a miniature golf course, which for some reason just doesn't seem right, but it's interesting nonetheless.
East: We like to take the "old way" to Springfield and travel through such tourist sites as -- yes, I'm kidding -- Meredosia and Chambersburg. It's also fun to explore to the south of Pittsfield, down near Nebo and Pearl, where the colors of the trees in the fall have to be seen to be believed.
If you ever decide to explore like this on your own, just remember two things:
1. Don't plan, just let the highway (or backroads) lead the way.
2. Make sure your wife is willing to drive on the way back so you can take a nap.