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The Ghost Town of Cairo: Arkansas Diamond Mining, Day One

Planning the Trip

I’m from Central Illinois, but my hus­band was born in north­east Arkansas and still has a lot of fam­ily along the Arkansas-Missouri bor­der. We’ve been to Northeast Arkansas and Southern Missouri more times than I can count to visit fam­ily on hol­i­days and for fam­ily reunions. Despite that, I can’t say that we’ve ever really seen much of Arkansas itself.

I decided that at some point we needed to see more of Arkansas than the 30 or so square miles we’d seen so much of! I mean, there must be more to the state than the soy­bean fields and the hill my husband’s grand­mother lived on, right?

Over last sum­mer, another fam­ily reunion in Arkansas  gave me just the excuse I needed to plan an extended fam­ily vaca­tion with the inten­tion of explor­ing more of this great state my fam­ily had seen so lit­tle of.

The cen­ter­piece of the trip sprung from our neigh­bors’ pas­sion for min­ing trips. In casual con­ver­sa­tion they hap­pened to men­tion vis­it­ing a dia­mond mine in cen­tral Arkansas. A dia­mond mine? In Arkansas? Considering that I have two sons who would jump at any chance to dig in dirt, espe­cially if I added the lure of a “get rich quick” scheme, I fig­ured this would be a good thing to cen­ter an entire trip around.

I spent count­less hours search­ing for some good old-fashioned cabin-style lodg­ing and other attrac­tions in the area; and spent even more time con­vinc­ing the in-laws and my husband’s sis­ter and her fam­ily to go along with us. Knowing we would spend the last two days of the trip attend­ing my husband’s fam­ily reunion, I put together an itin­er­ary for the entire fam­ily that included dia­mond and quartz min­ing, vis­it­ing his­toric spas, and spend­ing a few nights in a pair of rus­tic coun­try cab­ins, com­plete with camp­fires and river views.

The evening before the trip was spent with our usual hec­tic last minute pack­ing. When it was just my hus­band and I, pack­ing for trips seemed so easy. Adding two sons ages 8 and 10 to the mix tends to make my job a lot harder! After get­ting the kids all packed, we hus­tled them into bed, with visions of dia­monds the size of their fists and roast­ing marsh­mal­lows danc­ing in their heads and then hit the sack ourselves.

Day One, Tuesday, June 9

Northern Illinois to Doniphan, Missouri

Finally, day one of the great min­ing adven­ture was upon us! The kids were excited to be on the way. Amazingly, every­one man­aged to get up by 6:30, get dressed and ready to be out the door by 7am. This was a new record for us! Despite our best inten­tions, and my husband’s increas­ing frus­tra­tions, we typ­i­cally leave at least an hour later than we orig­i­nally plan. In fact, its’ a bit of a run­ning joke with fam­ily and friends. Such is the life of parents.

We loaded up the rest of the gear, got every­thing in it’s place, but some­how I man­aged to mis­place the new game I had bought the kids espe­cially for the jour­ney. So much for some­thing new to do on the trip. After wast­ing time search­ing fruit­lessly for it, we finally gave up and I just hoped it made its way into a bag unno­ticed and we would find it for the way home.

We finally headed out, only about an hour later than planned. Ah, I knew it was too good to be true. We struck out along Route 47, a county high­way, opt­ing for this more scenic route than the tra­di­tional Interstates. By 10am we had only endured one ques­tion of “how much longer til we get there?” from the kids. Out of the cor­ner of my eye, I’m pretty sure I saw them grin­ning as they asked. Maybe it was the count­less sto­ries my hus­band had told the kids about his epic four week grand vaca­tion by car to California and back when he was young, with lines like “back then we didn’t have video games, so my sis­ter and I had fun the old-fashioned way, by pick­ing on each other and ask­ing my par­ents ‘are we there yet’ over and over and OVER again!” Whatever it was, the kids had obvi­ously fig­ured out exactly how to get under Mom’s skin. I punched my hus­band in the arm, as just punishment.

We got stuck behind the longest semi I’d ever seen, which was haul­ing a sin­gle wind­mill blade to a nearby wind­mill farm. Considering the load, I couldn’t really fault them for mov­ing slowly, and it was inter­est­ing to see how big the blades were up close. Despite that, we still made good time.

Route 47 even­tu­ally runs into Interstate 72 near Champaign-Urbana, which we took over to Interstate 57 and then con­tin­ued south. Before we got too far, we stopped for lunch at a rest area just south of Champaign-Urbana. For a change, this one had very clean women’s bath­rooms. While that might sound silly, for a female it’s worth not­ing for future trips. I cir­cled that one on the map!

We assem­bled sand­wiches, ate some grapes and let the kids run around on the play­ground for a few min­utes to siphon off some of that pent-up energy before get­ting back on the road.

We  stopped for gas in Salem, Illinois and every­one caved in and bought some choco­late. My husband’s eye was caught by a sexy look­ing retro-style A&W Root Beer Float bot­tle and just HAD to have it, pro­claim­ing “wow, this is the coolest look­ing thing EVER! I bet it tastes GREAT!” While it looked inter­est­ing, the gen­eral con­sen­sus was: YUK. We couldn’t even give it to the kids, which should tell you some­thing! Ah well, live and Learn.

Abandoned round liquor store in Odin, Illinois

Coldest Beer In Town

As luck would have it (or is it a curse?), an old aban­doned liquor store over­run by ram­pant foliage, hap­pened to be sit­ting on an equally aban­doned dead-end road right next store to the gas sta­tion. My hus­band is a sucker for urban decay, so we drove over to it and he jumped out of the car and excit­edly took pic­tures. I hap­pened to steal a glance back at my old­est son and caught him look­ing at his father and shrug­ging his shoul­ders with that “he’s crazy, but we’re used to it” look on his face.

Cairo, Illinois

Speaking of urban decay, our next stop was Cairo, Illinois. More pic­tures for our photo album of signs. It is amaz­ingly sad how dilap­i­dated this town is. Here it sits, at the junc­tion of two major rivers, and it’s boarded up.

Massive levy floodgate, Cairo, Illinois

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter

As you come into town, there is a very cool iron gate that rises up into the over­pass, a rem­nant of very old times. We drove through and into the old down­town area. At least ninety per­cent of the build­ings are vacant and boarded up. As the kids looked around, they both exclaimed “Looks like the zom­bies could show up at any time! Then that iron gate will drop, and we’ll be din­ner for sure!” This town should make its next mil­lion as a movie set. You could shoot a hor­ror film here with­out hav­ing to build a set; just use the aban­doned town.

We took the bridge out of town and within min­utes found our­selves in Missouri. Yeah, next state on our jour­ney! Now we just needed to fin­ish the long stretch through the state to make it to our first stop for the night. Our plans called for meet­ing up with the rest of our party that evening, then form­ing a car­a­van for the drive to the dia­mond mine the next day. Ten hours today, then another six tomor­row, then hope for treasure!

All pho­tos by eJourna

View a com­plete set of pho­tos of Cairo, Illinois

Related posts:

  1. Superman’s Hometown: Arkansas Diamond Mining Day Five and Six
  2. A Day In The Quartz Fields: Arkansas Diamond Mining Day Three
  3. Sifting for Treasure: Arkansas Diamond Mining Day Two
  4. Hot Springs: Arkansas Diamond Mining Day Four
  5. Ghost Haunt Spirits the Way to Spooky Pleasures at Calico

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