We sort of backed into this idea of a Great River Road tour. We were already visiting family and old "shrines" near the confluence of Mississippi and Ohio and proceeding on to the river town of our youth, St Louis. With several routes available, Al kept moving West toward the River and Route 3.
Lots of family weekends driving this route.
Familiar landmarks sped by and the fields were lush with new crops.
Near Chester the road hugs the river and the truck route gets even closer. There we parked and watched a 15 barge tow struggle upstream at walking speed.
The river was bank full and seams of full size trees were skimming downstream. We took the bait there and really swallowed the hook watching the traffic from Bellerive Park in South St Louis.
Camping on The East side and crossing river bridges each day only set the hook. We quizzed folks who should know and received some encouragement and an equal amount of tempting distractions. The tourist information was plentiful and confusing, but we winnowed our list and checked for suitable campgrounds.
Pere Marquette State Park
Pere Marquette State Park was a no-brainer. It's the largest Illinois State Park, sits on the highlands near the juncture of the Illinois and Mississippi and is crowned by a CCC lodge.
Great biking along the Great River Road back as far as Alton, river museums, river town delights, hiking and the lure of the river traffic passing through the biggest locks on the River --this could become a destination....and anywhere you go by auto you are looking up at the Ivory Limestone Bluffs on one side and the river on the other.
The Vadalabene Bike Trail begins at the park and runs 30 miles back toward Alton, sometimes on highway shoulders, but mostly winding into the bluffs, climbing , descending and curving back along cuts to find a narrow crossing. Here it was shady and cool even as the temperature soared.
At Grafton the brimful river spilled onto the path and we rode ankle deep for a short stretch.
This is the Port of Grafton just at the confluence of the Illinois and the Mississippi. Grafton was once the worlds greatest fresh water fishery and source for boats from canoes to dredges.
Hottest day of the year
It was scorching by breakfast, so we began our day sharing the perils and privations of the Corps of Discovery in air conditioned comfort. The is spot #1 on the Lewis and Clark Trail. Here the Corps of Discovery wintered in 1803-4 preparing for departure. The displays are first class, highlighted by the cutaway keelboat showing the placement of supplies and trade goods and a well researched replica of the encampment at River Dubois.
Patty took in all of that but not before some quality tactile time with two loving Newfoundland sisters.
We lunched downtown Alton at My Just Desserts featuring Radical Cherry Pie -- three kinds of cherries, Bing, frozen and dried.
Then on to the where museum exhibits guide you through the long geological history of the Mississippi and others the natural history. Melvin Price Locks and Dam.
At the simulator, one skilled Captain was able to thread the intricate waterway and TOTALLY miss All the bridges.....Another sent the good ship Admiral to a watery grave.
But the real show was from 80 foot up on the lock watching a real Captain maneuver through with only a foot or two each side.But the real show was from 80 foot up on the lock watching a real Captain maneuver through with only a foot or two each side.
THE BRUSSELS FERRY RIDE
The Brussels Free Ferry is a mile or two below our campsite and links us with an area of farms, orchards and wildlife refuges pinched between the Missouri and Mississippi.
The overcast morning felt great as we spun through the Two Rivers Wildlife refuge and along the river, but we paid the price as we climbed the ridge. We could see the highlands of Pere Marquette in the distance and spread out below red barns, neat rows or orchard plots, huge tractors planting 20+ rows at a time. Soon we were baking, and we asked a local for the flattest way back to the ferry.
Just those two hills, then you are downhill ...
He was right, of course, and the rest was bliss.
We will be away from the river for a few days huddling with some Airstream buds. Don't expect a report; Whatever happens at Moraine View...