We had a quick winter visit to Galveston Island this past week. Our main objective was to see the Sandhill Cranes which winter along the Gulf Coast and Mexico. They travel down across the Great Plains from the Alaskan and Northern Canadian tundra. So unless you happen to be in the midwest when they are passing through, the Gulf Coast is the place to see these great birds.
Weather was not exactly with us as Monday was a cold rainy day and Tuesday was very windy with gusts up into the 35 mph range. Birds are not dumb and they stay hunkered down and nowhere to be seen in those conditions.
Wednesday was a magnificent day and the cranes and all the other birds were out enjoying the weather. Sandhill cranes are large and plentiful and like open fields. They should be easy to photograph. But the cranes seem to have a knack for finding the far reaches of the fields, well away from the roads. Even so, with a long lens (500mm) I managed to get a couple of okay pictures. Sandhills are slate gray with a bright red patch of skin on their forehead. They may have some rust color mixed in with the gray, but, generally, the browner the coloring, the younger the bird. Remember to click on the pictures to see them in large size.
After we had time with the cranes we headed over to Seawolf Park on Pelican Island. Here we could see the comings and goings in Galveston harbor, watch the shipping traffic head up the channel to the Port of Houston, and enjoy the fishermen and pelicans.
The big ship below is known as a "RO-RO" (roll on-roll off) and is specifically designed for shipping vehicles. It seems that I always see a RO-RO in the harbor.
The ferry connects Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula. It operates 'round the clock and is completely free. Look closely at the picture and you can see three school buses on the ferry. The lower peninsula has an elementary school, but the older kids cross the water every day.
Along with the sandhill cranes, we also saw a few other birds, although not too many. As always, the brown pelicans, egrets, herons, and white ibises were out and about, but not in great numbers. Anyway I managed to get a few pictures.
...the White Pelicans have returned to Lake Conroe.
Linda and I took a day on the boat Wednesday and saw two different pods – pod is the collective noun for pelicans not in flight – of White Pelicans on the lake. They show up every year around the beginning of December, migrating in from the lakes and rivers of the Midwest and Canada. Most of them will eventually find their way to the Galveston coast, but some will stay on the lake for the winter.
We'll be heading to Galveston in about 10 days to enjoy the Sandhill Cranes, another group of visitors from the Midwest which come to the Gulf Coast every winter.
We’re on our way back to Texas. We were in Missouri for about 4 weeks after taking two weeks to mosey up along the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. We have made it through apple-picking, soccer for three-year olds, record low temperatures, three-day rainstorms, and the agony of the World Series.
We have had a great time. Linda and I have watched barges go through a lock on the Mississippi River, toured the Missouri countryside, enjoyed local eateries, and visited the St. Louis Art Museum for an exhibit of Dutch Masters.
We have also spent lots of time with the twins, picking them up from daycare, visiting playgrounds, eating at Chick-fil-A, visiting train museums, Halloween costumes, and, of course, watching 3-year-old soccer.
All in all, it has been a pretty busy (and a pretty great) time for a couple of septuagenarians. But it ain’t over ’til it's over, and we still have some days scheduled in the Sam Houston National Forest which is conveniently near Lake Conroe and the boat.
This post is extra long. It is really two (or maybe three) posts combined as a result poor and non-existent internet connections. I just kept writing and adding photos, and it just grew. In fact, with the lack of useful internet service, we will probably be home by the time I send this out. Anyway, lots of words and lots of pictures. Don't forget to click on the pictures to see them full size. Enjoy!
The Twins and Ben
Since we were married fifty years before grandchildren ever appeared on the scene, we have a lot of catching up to do. So we try to visit Missouri every spring and every fall for a few weeks. And now we have three grandkiddos with Baby Ben who was born this past April.
Tom and Jack are now 3-1/2 years-old and great fun to be around. We love to take them places and share experiences with them. Ben seems to be getting bigger every day, and we look forward to the time we can include him in our activities.
We try to maximize our time with the twins. We pick them up from daycare to take them to a playground or take them on little “field trips.” Sometimes we stop for a bit of lunch at Steak 'n Shake or Chick-fil-A. Paper hats, fold-up cars, coloring, and good eatin'. Life is good when you are three.
This fall the twins were part of a kinder soccer program. For an hour every Sunday they met with other three- and four- year-olds to learn the basics of soccer (no hands allowed, kick the ball to the net, etc.), practice their skills, and play a short game. It was wonderful. Somehow the coaches have been able to organize and teach these little people the basics of the game. Half of the hour is spent on skills and the other half is playing a game (no score kept) against another team. A liberal number of water breaks are sprinkled throughout the hour and there is a snack at the end of the game. The coaches are wonderful, it is all rather low key, and the kids seem to enjoy themselves. I find it all great fun.
While the practice session is surprisingly well organized, and the kiddos actually appear to be focused, the game is pretty much what you might expect from these wee folks. There is much running after the ball by the players grouped together in a tight mass. A few always seem to be a couple of steps ahead while another two or three always seem to be a step or two behind. And then there is always someone who would rather look at the grass or clouds. Here are some pix so you too can enjoy a bit of three-year-old soccer.
Who doesn’t like Halloween? With a chance to dress up and a sack full of candy to look forward to, it is bound to be a favorite time for kids. The twins are no different than anyone else. This year they dressed as astronauts in spacesuits complete with NASA patches and flags on the sleeve. To make it a family affair, Ben also had on his spacesuit. When they returned home they had big smiles and full sacks. It was a successful night.
Several weeks ago on our way to our campsite on Carlyle Lake in Illinois, we passed a strangely named road, Crackerneck Lane. We looked at each other and asked, “What the heck is a crackerneck?” Well, I think we now have it figured out.
While at Cuivre River State Park in Missouri, we were out touring and went down an unpaved road toward a Mississippi River viewing area – we were in search of a huge squadron of pelicans we had seen from afar. As we got close to the river we came to a small bridge with some folks fishing. There was a pickup truck parked on the bridge. There were two men with fishing rods at the guardrail. There was a woman sitting in a lawn chair on the bridge. There was a hound-dog sleeping in the middle of the bridge. It was a small bridge.
As we began across the bridge we received unfriendly looks from all. The dog had to move, the woman had to shift her lawn chair, and a number of fishing rods had to be repositioned. Linda lowered the window and asked, “Will this road take us to see the river?” After more than a moment or two there was a response of, “No.” Then after another long pause, “Road flooded.” Three words. Two long pauses. One hostile look.
The “Road flooded” comment did not mean the road down by the river. It meant the road right on the other side of the bridge. Sure enough, just 50 feet on the far side of the bridge we ran into the water-covered road. There was no way to turn around so we had to go back over bridge in reverse. What fun! More dirty looks. More grudging movement from the dog. Linda got out and guided me to make sure I threaded my way through the men, the
This picture of the bridge was taken on a another day. The water had risen further and was up to the bridge’s edge. And as we were heading down the road to take this photo we passed a pickup coming the other way. Sure enough, it was our friend from the bridge. Linda recognized the vanity plate – BUM.
Workin’ on the Mississippi
Moving goods down the Mississippi today is really not all that much different today than it was at the end of the Civil War. In the 1850s they started pushing barges – ones originally used on canals – with sternwheeler steamboats. They would even lash several together and move them as a unit.
Today, some 170 years later, they still lash barges together and push them up and down the river. Of course there are some differences. Today’s barge is 195 feet long and 35 feet wide with a typical “tow” being 15 barges lashed in a 5 x 3 pattern. Add the Tow boat to push them along, and the total length is close to 1200 feet – almost a quarter mile. And the first lock and dam was opened in 1907, some fifty years after they began using barges.
We watched a tow move through Lock & Dam 24 at Clarksville, Missouri where they have nice observation platform. Locks are typically 600 feet long and this means the tow has to go through in two passes (double-lockage), moving three barges through followed by the remaining two barges and the tow boat. Once through the lock, the barge tow is reassembled and continues on its way.
The tow we saw go through the lock was heading downriver and most likely carrying grain in its covered barges. But coming up the river and waiting its turn to go through the lock was a barge tow loaded with wind turbine blades. Big, 180 foot long blades for huge wind turbines that will be part of the country's new power grid. My inner math teacher burst forth momentarily to tell me that these turbines, will be about 400 feet in diameter and the tips of the blades will be traveling at over 60 mph when the turbine is rotating at just 5 revolutions per minute.
Wandering the Countryside with the Camera
We had a free day in our schedule and decided to wander the countryside looking for some possibilities to get a few interesting photos. I wasn't disappointed. Several buildings caught my eye and ended up in the camera.
This brick house appears to be post-Civil War in age. We had seen it on another day and went back for some pictures. It is closed up and deteriorated and most likely will be razed in the near future. But for the moment it still stands, and I won’t be the last person to stop and photograph it. I was able to get several good shots of the house. Here are two views, one in color and one in black-and-white.
This old barn is an absolute treat. It just gives and gives. It sits by itself close to the road with plenty of room for moving around it for pictures. It is semi-abandoned, paint bare, weathered, and beginning to collapse. There is an old Camero under a collapsing shed roof on one side and a 1971 Chevy sedan tucked in on the other side. It just begs to be photographed, and with its character and texture it is perfect for both color and monochrome images.
This water is known as Sandy Chute. It is separated from the Mississippi by a very thin – less than 100 yards wide – strip of land and is referred to as a backwater. Sandy Chute is located at Lock 25 on the river. You can see from the trees standing in the water that the Mississippi and its backwaters are high. The workboats seem to be always moored on the bank, ready to go where they are needed.
Here are some photos of the local farm landscape in the Mississippi River Valley. Two views of a barn, grain storage on a farm, and a local commercial grain elevator or what Linda refers to as countryside industry. There is nothing special about these shots. They are just typical views of the rural countryside north of the St. Louis suburbs.
Places like this grain elevator just seem to pop up in the middle of the farmland or at the edge of a small town. This one was in the farmland. The white barn in two of the photos was adjacent to the old brick house, and I took these photos while walking to the house. The small grain silos were near to the big elevator. This photo was taken from the open door of the car.
We visited the St. Louis Art Museum to see a special exhibit of Dutch Masters from the time of Rembrandt. It was a wonderful exhibit.
Alas, no photography was allowed. But I managed to capture the colorful art of autumn with some iPhone shots of these scarlet-leaved trees in front of the museum in all their glorious red. An identical line of red-hued trees bounds the other side of the large greensward to frame the front of the museum.
If you are as old as I am, you might remember your father (or grandfather) using the word calaboose when referring to a jail. It’s an old word, and not one you are likely to encounter today.
So it was with some surprise that I saw a sign in a small town pointing to the town’s calaboose (you just have to love the word). I obviously had to check it out. Sure enough, there along one of the streets was an oddly placed little stone building, hugging the sidewalk and very close to a small cottage. A one-room jail. A calaboose. Left over from another era.
A Tree on the Bottomland
This tree, alone in a plowed field, struck me with its solitude. We had driven past this field on the day we ran into our crackerneck friends on the bridge. Seeing the lone tree in the midst of the bare soil, I knew it was a picture I wanted. So we drove back on another day (Linda really is very indulgent) to capture this photo. There was a great sky and the sun was where I wanted it. For me, the result was just the image I had in mind.
If you made it this far, thanks for your perseverance. Linda and I wish you the best of Thanksgivings. For us, we are thankful for our families – especially our super grandchildren – and our wonderful neighbors. Enjoy your holiday!
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.
Lemons to Lemonade
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.
Quilts, Quilts, Quilts
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.
Not all the quilts in the museum were like this. These happened to be in an exhibit of a particular quilting artist whose work totally fascinated me. There were many more traditional looking quilts on display as well. If you like art and appreciate fine craftsmanship, this is a great stop.
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.
Our First St. Louis Stop
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.
On your way back from the orchard, you might want to jump off at the pumpkin patch to select the perfect one for a jack-o-lantern. When you finally get back from the orchard, get in line and pay for your apples (who knew you had 12 pounds in your bag?).
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.
We'll be back soon with some stuff about the Mississippi barge tows and some other things. See you then!
It is good to be back!
It's been a while – 10 months actually – since I have written a post for Travels With Linda. It's not that we were hiding in a cave or anything, it is simply that life sometimes just gets in the way. For us, this was a good thing – the birth of our third grandchild. We spent the three months of spring in Missouri helping take care of the twins (just three years old) while our daughter gave birth to their baby brother, Benjamin. Then it was home to recuperate – it's hard for old folks to keep up with three year olds.
So after summer at home in Texas catching our breath, we are now on a fall road trip that will include a few weeks with kids. We are meandering up through the Lower Mississippi River Valley. We spent two nights on the Arkansas River, and right now we are beside a small lake in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Our next stop is Paducah, Kentucky on the Ohio River.
Our planned start was delayed for several days as the Houston area was recovering from tropical storm Imelda. While all of the Houston area experienced torrential rains and flash flooding, the hardest hit areas were to the east and north of the city. As a result many of the main roads leading to Louisiana were still closed after the storm with flooding or flood-related damage.
Living Large at the Eat-a-Bite
When traveling in the motorhome we try to stay off of the highways when we can, and we try to stop overnight at public parks rather than commercial RV parks. These include national forests, state parks, and Corps of Engineers parks. The scenery generally beats looking over the parking lot of the Hampton Inn. Sometimes convenience does rule our choice such as our regular stop at the RV park for the Coushatta Casino.
Our third night on the road was spent at the delightfully named Chemin-A-Haut state park in Bastrop, Louisiana. We took advantage of a needed run to the local Walmart to have dinner at the Eat-a-Bite restaurant just across the street from the county courthouse. We mix in local restaurants with the chain eateries when traveling as we try to keep our cooking to a minimum. And as travelers rather than campers, we are not into cooking on a grille.
On our way from Chemin-a-Haut to the Pendleton Bend Campground along the Arkansas River, we went through the town of Back Gate – you don't get town names like this along the Interstate – and happened upon Tire Man. Is it any wonder we like to avoid the major highways?
We spent two days at Pendleton Bend, a Corps of Engineers' campground right on the river. We all like a water view, and Linda engineered it so we had one of just three campsites right on top of the levee. Super! We enjoyed watching both the fisherman and the commercial river traffic. And to make things perfect, there were also beautiful sunsets.
The park is located just down the road from two river barge ports; one port is for soybeans and the other handles grains and fertilizers. Tucked in along the river bank were empty barges waiting to be filled. I watched a towboat move down past us and return with one of the empty barges. I surprised it took them only a few minutes to move the barge out from the riverbank, make it fast with lines, and move it into place to be loaded.
Watching Work on the River
I looked out the window and saw a towboat, the Frances Ann, going by, so I grabbed my camera and went outside for a photo or two. Well, the Frances Ann was going to retrieve an empty barge from along the riverbank to take to the loading port. The whole process took only minutes. The four pictures below show the towboat heading toward the barge, moving the barge from the riverbank, and then moving back toward the loading port. Click on any photo to see them full size.
It looks like a tugboat. It pushes the barges. It is called a towboat. Huh? That's right it is a towboat that pushes barges up and down the river. It seems that multiple barges lashed together are referred to as a "tow." Hence, the boat that moves them along is a towboat. Now you know (and so do I).
Here are some neat barge facts I found at GreatRiverRoad.com:
Craighead Forest Park
Now we are in Jonesboro, and this town has an absolutely super city park. It is almost 600 acres of woodlands with a lake at its center. There are all sorts of facilities, including the RV park where we are staying and enjoying another water view. Next we will be on our way to Paducah, Kentucky.
The last couple of days have given us some very nice sunsets, so I will leave you with some of nature's really good stuff. Enjoy.
We like to go to Galveston Island State Park, and we particularly enjoy it in the late fall and winter. We especially wanted to make sure we got in a visit before year's end as the park is scheduled to close early in 2019 to be rebuilt. It was severely damaged and lost almost two-thirds of its Gulf-side campsites as a result of Hurricane Ike some ten years ago (the wheels often move slowly in Texas).
When the cooler weather sets in, the Gulf of Mexico seems to change. The sky gets lower and always appears to be a bit overcast while the Gulf's water looks almost as if it were liquid pewter. To me, the island is almost a totally different place from that sunny beach playground of summer. We walk the beach; we tour the island; we look for birds.
One of the birds we looked for is the Sandhill Crane. Sandhills summer and breed in the north – mainly Canada and Alaska. Then they migrate across the Great Plains to winter in New Mexico and along the Texas coast. Unfortunately while these birds like open fields and can be easily seen, they also seem to like being far, far from the road. At the Galveston Airport Linda counted a group (called a construction) of 52 cranes! Alas, they were so far from the road that without binoculars we couldn't even be sure they were cranes. Oh well, photos will have to wait until next time.
A Busy Body of Water
We wandered up to East Beach, the absolute eastern tip of Galveston Island where you can see the ships moving in and out of Galveston Bay on their way to the Port of Houston. The port is the country's largest in foreign goods and second largest overall, and ships are continually moving through Galveston Bay and into the Houston Ship Channel.
Often you can see ships anchored in the Gulf all along the coast waiting for their time to move into the port. This day I counted more than a dozen ships crowded at the east end of Galveston Island, each waiting for their turn to enter the bay on their way to being shepherded into the port. The orange ship is empty and riding high, heading into the port. The blue ship is fully laden and riding low in the water, heading out into the Gulf to parts unknown.
While on our way out to East Beach, we stopped at a small lagoon that always seems to have some birds to check out. We were not disappointed. This day we were treated to a wonderful show by a Reddish Egret shopping for food. Unlike its cousins, the Great Egret and the Great Blue Heron which are calm and composed hunters that wait patiently for prey to come to them, the reddish egret is a very pro-active hunter.
The reddish egret puts on a real show when hunting for food. It stalks. It staggers. It dances. It prances. It leaps in air. It spreads its wings – sometimes both, sometimes only one. When it locates a fish it will make a lightning quick stab. And in between its bizarre choreography it stands quietly studying the water. There is absolutely no pattern to its movements. You never know what you will see. But you do know you will be delighted.
Last spring I lay on my belly on a very wet sand bar for about an hour watching a reddish egret, waiting for the bird to perform its feeding gyrations. Unfortunately, that egret was apparently not very hungry and I managed only a few photos. This guy definitely wanted some lunch and showed us its every move – multiple times. Watching it was a sheer pleasure, and I came away with a slew of good images.
We are fortunate to have these reddish egrets on Galveston Island. According to the Audubon Field Guide there are only about 2,000 pair in the U.S. and they are all along the lower Florida coast and the coast of Texas. This gallery is just eight images from the over 120 I captured of this lovely bird. Be sure to click on one of the photos so you can see them in large-size.
There Were Other Birds
The unphotographable cranes and the performing egret were not the only birds we saw. On the beach we enjoyed watching the Sandpipers and the Dunlins as well as the little Sanderlings running along with their legs moving so fast they were a blur. Of course there were the gulls and terns and the squadrons of pelicans flying out over the water.
We rode around to a few places we have visited while at the birding festival and were treated to a variety of egrets along with some ibises and spoonbills. In one field we saw a Roseate Spoonbill, a Snowy Egret, and a juvenile White Ibis all grouped together doing a bit of foraging.
As we slowly drove along a wetland we also saw a variety of herons, including the Great Blue, the Little Blue, the Tricolored, and the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. I managed a few photos you can see below. The photos of the dark brown adolescent white ibis and the juvenile and adult night herons clearly show how birds change their plumage as they mature. Just click on one photo to see it full size and then click again to move on to another picture. And when you finish with these photos, please see the beautiful snowy egret that posed for me on the Weekly Photos page. Thanks for visiting!
Mark Twain has nothing on us. For the past couple of weeks we've been enjoying spending time enjoying the land and sites along the Mississippi. We've seen a lot of different and sometimes weird stuff – everything from the World's Largest Catsup Bottle to the locks on the big river to an air show.
The photo above shows The Confluence, the point where the Missouri River – Big Muddy – converges with the Mississippi. It wouldn't be wrong to consider the little bush in the water on the left side of the photo to be the dividing point for the two rivers. We have been to Lake Itasca in Minnesota and the headwaters of the Mississippi and we have been to the river's delta in Louisiana. Now we have added Big Muddy to our Mississippi experience.
It was from the confluence that Lewis and Clark began their journey westward in May of 1804. But the courses of both rivers have shifted over the years, and at that time the confluence was some two miles from where the rivers meet today. The picture above is a panorama composed of seven shots stitched together. Make sure you click on the image to see it across your computer screen. Below is Linda looking out over the rivers.
While we were staying on tne Illinois side of the river, we visited Cahokia Mounds, the archaeological site for Cahokia, the largest city in pre-Columbian North America. In the 1200s Cahokia was larger than London with over 20,000 inhabitants. At its peak it had some 30,000 to 40,000 people, and it wasn't until 1780 when Philadelphia's population passed 40,000 that a city in the United States would be larger.
The Cahokia settlement began in the 8th century and lasted some 700 years until 1400s. The Mississipian culture did considerable farming, and it is speculated that the city dwindled away as the land became "farmed out" and less able to support the population. During the time it was a major population center there was considerable trading with tribes from as far north as the Great Lakes and as far south as the Gulf Coast.
The most unique feature of Cahokia was its mounds. They estimate there were more than 120 earthen mounds over the 6 square miles of the city. The mounds were of all sizes and several different shapes. The largest of these is a huge hummock known as Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthen mound in the Americas. It is 950 feet long, 835 feet wide, and 100 feet high with over 130 steps. All those steps seemed like a challenge, so I took it and went to the top. Was I surprised! Standing on top of Monks Mound I looked out and saw a dramatic view of the St. Louis skyline and Gateway Arch some ten miles away on the other side of the Mississippi.
Some Fun Americana Along the Mississippi
One of the fun things about traveling is seeing the silly, strange, and unusual. In Alton, Illinois there is a statue to one Robert Wadlow, known as the tallest person in history. Wadlow died in 1940 at the age of 22. He was 8' 11" tall and weighed 440 pounds and never stopped growing.
Reading about Robert's life, you can't help but feel sorry for him. While his family worked at giving him a normal life, his size never let that happen. Even though he was a normal size at birth, he grew rapidly and was already taller than his dad at the age of eight. The statue of Robert is perfectly life-sized.
To make big things a bit of a theme, let's move on to the World's Largest Catsup Bottle. That's right. World's Largest Catsup Bottle. Who doesn't want to see this? The folks in Collinsville, Illinois are most proud of it and consider it a landmark. It is lit at night so it can be enjoyed at any time.
The bottle-shaped water tower was built in 1949 and was near demolition in the early 1990s when the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group – yes, the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group – began fundraising to save it. It was restored in 1995. Now the 170 feet tall catsup bottle has its own website, is visited by maybe tens per day, and has a place in the National Register of Historic Places.
St. Louis Air Show
This past Saturday we met up with April, Jeremy and the boys at the St. Louis Air Show. It was a gray and very chilly day, but we all braved it to watch all sorts of neat airplanes. In fact, it wasn't chilly, it was COLD! It was gray and sunless, and 50 degrees. Cold. The only saving grace was the lack of wind.
Linda and I have never been to an air show, so this was a new experience for us. We saw a B-29 Superfortress, one of only two still flying; current day jets including a performance by a plane from Canadian CF-18 Hornet demo team; and some great trick flying by the Phillips 66 Aerostar aerobatic flying team and an aerobatic biplane. It was all great fun, even if a little chilly.
A week or so ago while visiting with the twins the boys became fascinated with a picture of our motor home that was on my iPad. So it became obvious that a visit was in order.
The other day Jack and Tom showed up to check out MeeMaw's bus. There were many things to see and inspect, including the refrigerator, the bathroom, and the bed. They even saw the table and the sofa move as Pop-Pop moved the slide in and out. But the main attraction of the day was sitting behind the steering wheel and driving the bus.
Once again we are in St. Louis to see the Die Wunderkinder, Jack and Tom. They are just a month or so short of
2-1/2, growing great and as busy as can be.
We spent a day doing some apple picking at a local orchard with the boys and April and Jeremy. The trees were heavy with sweet, crispy apples, and the apples were low enough for these little guys to reach up and pick. And eat. Each of them was able to put away a complete apple before heading to the restaurant to polish off a pretty good-sized lunch.
We have lots of activities planned to do with them, and we are all very excited. There will be a trip to Purina Farms to see the animals and the dog show, and one day the boys will visit us at the campground and see MeeMaw and Pop-Pop's bus. They very much like buses – and other big vehicles like trucks.
From Arkansas we headed into Illinois and picked up the Mighty Mississippi, driving along the Great Rivers Road. Near Kaskaskia, Illinois, not too far into the state, we found ourselves on a bluff overlooking the river. So here is this trip's first really good look at Ol' Man River.
Two septuagenarians and a 35 foot motorhome towing a car – what could possibly go wrong?
You and I have memories
Longer than the road that stretches out ahead
McCartney & Lennon
one state at a time
"On the road again,
Goin' places that we've never been,
Seein' things that we may never see again,
And we can't wait to get on the road again."
Written & Performed by