Paducah. What a great name. It is just a little – 25,000 people – county seat town in Western Kentucky. There are more than 1500 cities in the U.S. that are larger. But I am guessing that at one time or another you have probably heard of Paducah and, reading this, you most likely recognize the name Paducah.
William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame laid out the town and named it. Somehow that seems like a pretty good pedigree to me. In its past Paducah has been a riverboat town and a railroad town. Today Paducah is a county seat and a nifty little river town with an artistic bent and part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. There is an artists' co-op, an active theater community, and a number of museums, including the National Quilt Museum. The downtown area is filled with little shops in early 20th century brick buildings.
The city lies at the precise point where the Kentucky River flows into the mighty Ohio. Long barge tows move past the town every day. In 1937 the Ohio River reached a flood height of over 60 feet and effectively closed the town for about three weeks. After that catastrophe the Army Corps of Engineers built a flood wall for Paducah.
The Paducah flood wall along the Ohio and Kentucky rivers protects the town when those waters rise. But the wall is an ugly 15 foot high ribbon of concrete that completely blocks the town's view of the river. In the 1990s Paducah finally got tired of looking at a concrete slab. The city commissioned artist Robert Dafford to paint murals on the flood wall depicting the history of the Paducah area. Now the flood wall is a mile-long work of art. I took a few pictures, but I also found a YouTube video taken with a drone which gives an overall view of the wall and its murals.
The flood wall murals not only gave the citizens of Paducah public art for all to enjoy, but the murals also became a tourist attraction, bringing visitors into the city. Ugly concrete to art. A city eyesore to a tourist attraction. Lemons to lemonade.
There are a number of small museums in Paducah, but there is also one of major importance, The National Quilt Museum. Quilts? Really? Yeah. Really.
Let me assure you. These are not your grandmother's quilts. These quilts are works of art. I was astonished by the first quilt I saw and spent almost 10 minutes talking about it with a docent, learning exactly what makes a quilt a quilt.
A quilt is made up of three layers, the backing, a middle layer of batting, and the top layer or face. The design of most quilts is made up of discrete pieces of cloth sewn together with incredibly precise stitches, although some quilts have a face of a single piece of material. Those quilts depend on the stitching alone for their design.
Look at the two photos below. These are not Van Gogh's Self-Portrait with Straw Hat and Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring. These are quilts. Quilts made of an incredible number of seemingly random bits of cloth painstakingly sewn together with fine tiny stitches. Click on a photo to see the phenomenal detail of the quilt.
As a matter of fact, if you find yourself in Western Kentucky, Paducah is a great stop. Our next time through we will plan to spend more time in this interesting little town. For now, our next stop is Carlyle Lake in Illinois where we will spend a few days before crossing the river into Missouri.
Carlyle Lake is a Corps of Engineers campground on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, just about 35 miles from St. Louis. We like public (federal, state, etc.) campgrounds. They "tune in" to nature and the campsites are generally wooded and private. Their major negative is a two-week limit for a stay. So we end up being local nomads, for want of a better term, moving from campground to campground while visiting St. Louis. Carlyle Lake, not really close to the kids, is our first stop on this trip.
The day's trip was a pleasant ride through the southern Illinois farmlands, We were surprised to see cotton fields, but there were plenty of them. Some were ready for harvest, and they were so white they looked as if there had been a snow-fall the night before. It was as though we were still in Louisiana or Arkansas.
We pulled into the campground on Friday afternoon, got settled in and rested up. Saturday was to be a busy day at the orchard picking apples.
With fall finally here, the air has turned a little cooler and crisper – perfect for picking apples. Eckert’s Orchards on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River has to be the Walmart of apple-picking. There are untold rows of apple trees, pumpkins are piled high and hay bales are scattered about. Hundreds (thousands?) of cars are in the parking lots. Families are milling everywhere. Apples and pumpkins are truly in danger – they are going to be picked and carried away.
Here’s how it works. At a booth you pay a small entrance fee, get your hand stamped and grab some bags for your apples. Then you get in a Disney-like serpentine line and wait for a tractor and wagon that will take you to the apples. You get on the wagon and ride to the orchard. The tree rows all have signs with the apple variety grown on that row. You want Braeburn apples? Look for the sign and hop off the wagon.
Once you are off the wagon just walk down between the trees picking apples for your bags, maybe munching on one as you go. If you want another variety, just walk down a couple of rows or wait for a wagon to come by. You will end up with heavy bags and more apples than you need.
You can head back to your car, but, hey, why not stop in the store for some fine foods and gifts. Let’s see. Apples. Pumpkins. Applesauce. Apple butter. Apple this. Apple that. Do you have everything? Great! But don’t leave yet. Have lunch in the restaurant. And if the kiddos get a little antsy, there is a small playground with a slide that goes through an old John Deere harvester.
Eckert’s Orchards. Apples for everyone. Walmart on the farm.
What could be better than some Sunday soccer? Sounds good, right? You bet. But it is even better when the soccer players on the pitch are three- and four-year-olds.
This is soccer at its finest. Kids kicking soccer balls. Kids not kicking soccer balls. Kids paying attention. Kids doing other things.
Some very nice, caring young dads volunteer their Sunday mornings to teach the rudiments of the sport to the kids. Somehow they have the knack to keep the little ones reasonably focused and engaged. They practice kicking and dribbling and maybe some other skills. Then there is a short game. The kids get exposed to the sport, and the mothers learn to be soccer moms early on.