Roadtrip from Chicago to Houston: How and what?
May 7, 2008 9:51 PM   Subscribe

Chicago to Houston in one week, two lovely gals, one Camry: We're taking a road trip the week before July 4, starting in Chicago and ending in Houston. Any route tips? Things to see? Do? Quirky free attractions to see along the way?

I'm in Chicago and she's from Houston but hasn't explored much. We're taking a week to drop her car back off starting in Chicago where we both are...we have 3-4 days to get down to Houston from Chicago and see what there is to see along the way. I'd rather not take big highways...but I've never ever ever been to the South or the Southeast, and would like to soak up as much as possible in the little time we have.

Things we like: hot springs, quirky roadside attractions, photography moments, rivers, THE BIGGEST ____, monuments, not spending a lot of money.

She's come up with 6 distinct itineraries that go in radically different directions, some involving Oklahoma and others involving Kentucky. I'm not sure what the best way is to get between here (Chi) and there and was wondering what kind of suggestions you have in mind.
posted by melodykramer to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I noticed that your tags don't include Missouri, but if you could veer a little to the west before you get too far south, you could visit Excelsior Springs, which was featured in this great post by Horace Rumpole last year. It fits your criteria for hot springs, quirky roadside attractions (although it's a little off the beaten path), photography moments AND monuments.
posted by amyms at 11:47 PM on May 7, 2008

Well, I've always sort of wanted to check out the Alton Museum of History and Art, just outside of St. Louis. It contains documents and memorabilia relating to Robert Wadlow--aka "The Giant of Illinois" (mp3)--the tallest man on record. I haven't visited yet, however.
posted by washburn at 12:35 AM on May 8, 2008

spend some time on the national scenic byways website, which has a lot of great recommendations. when you find a city, search for it on flickr (or flickr leech). I enjoyed oxford, mo, which was quite cute and charming (and had faulkners grave) but may be a bit out of the way for you and following the mississippi river down past vicksburg. it's a really beautiful area, so go slow, avoid the major highways, interstates and such and enjoy the ride. do stop at tourist informations and pick up the flyers. I would recommend getting some podcasts going - radio down there sucks.

one final thing: flickr has groups for pretty much every state and city. once your interest has been peaked in a place, just post a question there.
posted by krautland at 2:15 AM on May 8, 2008

Natchez Trace to New Orleans is a winner. Is Mammoth Cave National Park too far east?

If you haven't been to Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, you should visit now.
posted by billtron at 3:33 AM on May 8, 2008

The Menil Collection is free and ASTOUNDING. It's an amazing collection of surrealist art.
posted by cachondeo45 at 6:35 AM on May 8, 2008

Oh, and it's right next to the Rothko Chapel. An absolutely incredible space.
posted by cachondeo45 at 6:36 AM on May 8, 2008

Not sure if you'll be coming down 45 in TX but about an hour and a half north of Houston is “A Tribute to Courage” the Sam Houston Statue. It is the world’s tallest statue of an American Hero at 67 feet tall on a 10 foot sunset granite base.
It's pretty big and driving by at night is almost spooky seeing this giant statue pop out of nowhere.
posted by doorsfan at 6:38 AM on May 8, 2008

You'll be passing very close by Graceland.

I've made the Chicago-Austin drive…a lot. I've only really gone out of my way to do interesting stuff once on that route, but just avoiding the interstates and national chains will expose you to a lot of opportunities to see the world's largest cellophane wad, etc.

I'd prefer the route that goes south to Tennessee and then through Arkansas, rather than the one that goes west and then south through Oklahoma. Oklahoma is really empty; Arkansas has the Ozarks.
posted by adamrice at 6:49 AM on May 8, 2008

Highway 7 through Hot Springs and the Ozarks is really fun, beautiful, and intense. North of Hot Springs is a small cave with a tour. It was a fun stop. The cave was small but the story was good - during prohibition people used to have parties down there and there's a burn mark where the stil caught on fire one night. Sorry I don't remember the name (maybe Mystic Caverns?) of the place but there were campy signs for miles encouraging you to stop beforehand. There was another odd stop and I can't find anything online about it - but if it's still there you can't miss it. It had signs about how you are in the middle of nowhere hickville or something similar. Goofy t-shirts and ashtrays for sale.

Hot Springs is fun too. Worth a stop - the architecture of Bathhouse Row is lovely.

Parts of the River Road (along the Mississippi) are scenic too. There's a place where the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers merge that's pretty interesting to look at.

Have a great time!
posted by dog food sugar at 7:00 AM on May 8, 2008

It's a little out of your way, but Metropolis, IL, is delightfully ridiculous. I stopped there on my way to Memphis once, and then used one of the state routes (US 60?) to return to the interstate. Whatever route I took was just unbelievably scenic, in the rolling hills of Kentucky way.

I especially liked the Superman statue with the 70s sideburns.

Another option is to use some of the Route 66 travel information to find neat places to stop for lunch, etc. Maybe use that to hit Springfield and then St. Louis (because the Arch is bigger than you think it is if you've never seen it), and then backtrack to Metropolis. Then hit Memphis and see Graceland (equally ridiculous). I still have my gold-plated Elvis glasses.

The bridge at Alton, IL, over the Mississippi river is some kind of engineering triumph as well. It's a suspension bridge supported from two big-ass poles in the middle rather than the usual towers on either side. Then hit the Jack in the Box for some not-available-in-Chicago fast food.
posted by gjc at 7:07 AM on May 8, 2008

Quirky places in Houston:
Orange Show
Art Car Museum
Beer Can House
The Flower Man (he's very sweet, he'll invite you into his house, give you a personal tour, tell you his story - it's a unique experience to say the least).
Each of those places can point you to more local oddities.
posted by dog food sugar at 7:16 AM on May 8, 2008

If you skirt through Arkansas (which you should, it's beautiful), stop by the Crater diamond mine in Murfreesboro. You pay a small amount of money for some equipment and head out into the fields sifting for diamonds. It's not all a mindless wash, either -- people regularly find small diamonds, and larger-caret nuggets pop up every once in a while. Especially fun for kids.
posted by nitsuj at 8:28 AM on May 8, 2008

If you go through St. Louis, definitely stop and spend some time at the City Museum.
posted by MsMolly at 8:38 AM on May 8, 2008

(pulls up chair and sits down)

First: track down the book Road Trip USA. It's a fantastic road-trip travel guide -- rather than being organized by state, it picks a series of coast-to-coast or border-to-border two-lane highways, and follows them. Along the way it discusses what radio stations you get, what roadside attractions exist, and even tips you off to "the next 30 miles are all strip malls so don't bother". There's a web version if you want to peek first. About three different itineraries from the book could coincide with your plans, so you'll have a lot to choose from.

I checked out some things at its recommendation: in Illinois, you've got the Cahokia ruins, an impressive site devoted to an early mound-builder civilization near the Mississippi River. It's about 20 minutes away from St. Louis and the Gateway Arch; I found the Gateway Arch to be a little hokey, but still glad I went. Venturing a little further into Missouri you have the Meramec Caverns, a CLASSIC Route 66 roadside stop that was the perfect mix of "cornball" and "natural wonder." Venturing further into Missouri -- it's close to the Missouri/Kansas border -- is the Precious Moments chapel, which I'd recommend if you're seriously into kitsch.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on May 8, 2008

Check out the Bayou Bend Gardens when you get to Houston. Absolutely amazing :).

Very cheap too, $3 a person to tour the house.
posted by isoman2kx at 9:14 PM on May 8, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! What helpful suggestions! I will let you know how it turns out!!! :P

posted by melodykramer at 9:17 PM on May 8, 2008

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