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Posts Tagged ‘Mississipi River’

We never did make it to the Gateway Arch yesterday.  By mid-afternoon, St. Louis traffic got the better of us, and we turned aside to find a lonelier road west through the Missouri River Valley.  At any rate, we had already found our symbolic “crossing the threshold” moment when we stumbled across a shoestring car ferry operation to take us to the west bank of the Missisippi.

Note the rusty and mangled metal apron allowing you to drive on to the car barge. Clearly, no one has wasted any money on maintenance for this operation.

Following a wholly unexpected sign for the “Modoc Ferry,” we found ourselves hopping over the levee on a tertiary road, one that ended in a silt-covered and seemingly abandoned parking lot right at the river’s edge.  But sure enough, there was the ferry over on the far bank, and a few minutes’ watching assured us that it was indeed moving over to fetch us.  How this ferry has remained in operation is an open mystery, particularly since there is a good bridge over the river only a few miles downstream.  Nonetheless, to cross the Big Muddy only a few feet from the surface, to feel the powerful muscle in all that water sliding past—this is vastly more interesting than soaring over on a highway bridge (or peering down from 30,000 feet).

Will’s comment in his journal: “We weren’t sure if we trusted it, but it got us across.”

Over the past two days Will has asked “Can we camp here?” at nearly every stop, so tonight we plan to give him what he wants at Niobara State Park in Nebraska.  We’ll probably be camping the next couple of nights, so it may be a while before I can put up the next post.  And yes, so far we are following (more-or-less) the same route as we did two years ago, aiming for a few days in Yellowstone before moving on northward.  But it’s firmly decided that we’ll take a pass on Mount Rushmore.

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The big advantage, of course, of having no real agenda is the freedom to waste time when it suits your purposes.  This morning we decided after breakfast that we hadn’t really seen the Mississippi yet, that brief flyovers were not really what we had in mind.  So we drove back over to the Illinois side and made for a little riverbank park near the hamlet of Thebes, a site which we found mostly submerged but which still afforded a great view of 685,000 cubic feet per second of water sliding by.  The boys amused themselves for a good while wading around in the slack floodwaters (don’t worry, Mom, we were well back from the open current) until Will took a stumble and drenched himself.  Now the memory (odor) of the Big Muddy travels with us as his clothes dry out in the back of the car.  All in all we frittered away a good hour or so watching a big barge string labor upstream and countless tree trunks cruise down river.

No can go this way!

A wonderful spot to spend half the morning.

The lower edge of Thebes quite underwater . . . notice the homeowner paddling out to his abode.

And then once back across the river in Missouri I gave the boys a choice: we could stay on the Interstate and make good time but not see much or we could stick to smaller roads and see more but have to spend perhaps an extra day getting to the Rockies as a result.  To my surprise, they voted me off the Interstate.  We drove and drove and drove on tiny little roads, first through rolling farm country and then through what I guess are the Missouri Ozarks, a surprisingly empty quarter of tree-covered crests.  Today’s big boredom beater: “Every time we come across cattle, the first person to blurt out “cooos” is the winner.”

In a spot on the map called Bixby, we stopped for lunch at a most charming country general store (in continuous business since 1906), the kind of place you only come across by accident when you are half lost.

The boys ponder their ice cream choices after lunch.

At 5:30 or so we had only made it as far as Columbia in the center of the state, and I got the boys to agree to Interstate cruising for a while before making camp in a motel for the night.  By tomorrow night, I’d love to see us make Badlands National Park, but I have a feeling that’s not going to happen.

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Back to start of trip

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Difficult night of sleeping last night, what with entirely understandable and predictable separation anxiety on the part of both the boys and Belinda and worries that all our stuff wasn’t going to fit neatly in the car.  But the boys woke up with sunny dispositions and I repacked the car and by about ten o’clock we actually put rubber to the road.  486 miles later we’ve stopped for the night in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Not really much to speak of for the day, as we mostly cruised along the Interstate and therefore saw nothing but semi’s and billboards.  One slighly interesting observation . . . every fifth truck on the road seems to belong to FedEx.  The boys and I play a game of “who will be the first to see (fill-in-the-blank)” to pass the time, and when Will suggested that “a FedEx truck” should be our next target, I figured our attentions would fade and the game would die from a lack of action.  But I’ll be damned if that didn’t amuse us for the rest of the day . . . those guys are everywhere, in semi’s, double-trailer rigs, panel trucks, delivery vans.  We’ll probably be unable to turn off our FedEx radar for the rest of the trip and be unable to not notice them any more.

Anyway, for me the trip didn’t really begin until just past Paducah, when we finaly left the Interstate for a while and cut across to the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers just south of Cairo, Illinois.  The river crossings themselves were spectacular, both on soaring iron truss bridges from yesteryear, long narrow spans requiring white-knuckle driving to avoid scraping the car against the guard rail or oncoming traffic.  Unfortunately, in the half-mile or so of dry land between these two cattle chutes, I somehow missed the entrance to Fort Defiance Park at the confluence, but that may be just as well considering that the Mississippi is cresting in these parts at about nine feet above flood stage and the whole place is probably underwater.  We tried again here in Cape Girardeau to get to a place where we could stand and watch the river roll by, but the big gates in the riverfront floodwall were predictably closed and the little historic downtown felt more like old East Berlin.

Oh well.  We’ve camped for the evening in a generic hotel by the Interstate, and we ate dinner at O’Charley’s (you know how I love their Louisiana Sirloin).

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