Sunday, July 18, 2004

Today we're following the Mississippi River north, mostly along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway, while taking in all the wonderful, peculiar Americana we can find.

Duct Man

The first town of note is Chester, Illinois, home of Popeye! The creator of Popeye, Elzie Segar, was born in Chester in 1894. Strange that the sailor man was created so far from the ocean, but I suppose Elzie must have been inspired by the boats on the Mississippi.

From Ellis Grove to Prairie du Rocher we took Bluff Road, a scenic drive with limestone bluffs on one side of the road and the rich farmland of the original riverbed of the Mississippi River on the other. We stopped at Modoc Rock Shelter, a bluff where evidence has been found of Indian habitation as early as 8000 B.C. The road goes right through the middle of a rock quarry - Rock Around the Clock Mine.

Rock-Around-the-Clock Mine

Midday found us skirting around the outer edge of East St. Louis. We could see the St. Louis Arch in the distance, but there isn't time to do EVERYTHING, so we opted instead for the suburb of Collinsville, home of the World Largest Catsup Bottle! It was Magnificent! A water tower originally built in 1949 to promote Brooks Tangy Catsup, after Brooks went out of business, the landmark fell into a state of disrepair. Luckily, in 1995 the Catsup Bottle Preservation Group was formed, and the tower was restored to its original appearance. In 2002 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Hooray!

Catsup, anyone?

Just west of Collinsville is the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site, the remains of a city inhabited from 700 to 1400 A.D. by a tribe of the Mississippian culture. At its peak, the city had a population estimated at 20,000. It is the only prehistoric Indian city discovered north of Mexico. The 100-foot-tall Monks Mound is the largest prehistoric earthen construction in the Americas. It is composed of an estimated 22 million cubic feet of dirt. Experts belive a massive building, over 50 feet high, stood on the summit, where the ruler lived and governed. Tom and I believe he had the mound built there for the great view it affords of the St. Louis Arch. (Surely you realize I am only kidding.)

Monks Mound

St. Louis Arch from Monks Mound

Back to the Great River Road, we continue our journey north. It isn't long until we reach Alton, Illinois, where after some searching we found a life-size bronze sculpture created in memory of Robert Wadlow, 1928-1940. At 8 feet, 11.5 inches, he was and still remains the World's Tallest Person.

Jana and Robert

Little Tom or big chair?

On our way out of Alton we stopped at a defunct roadside quarry with no "keep out" sign, so we didn't.

Artwork at an abandoned quarry

Meeting of the Great [Mississippi and Illinois] Rivers Scenic Byway, from Alton to Kampville, is an especially scenic road. We were there on Sunday and watched the numerous recreational boaters on the river and bicycle enthusiasts along the way. At Kampville we took another small, free ferry, this time across the Illinois River, where we end up - still in Illinois.

Kinderhook, Illinois, population 250

An emergency crossing of the Mississippi River into Hannibal, Missouri, replenished us with some much-needed gasoline. We didn't plan on visiting Missiouri on this trip, but this way we got to see a giant Mark Twain head on the way into town - unexpected Americana bonus!

Mormon temple, Nauvoo, Illinois

Seventy-five miles north of Mark Twain's head we finally entered Iowa, a state I'd never been to before! We pulled over at the Linger Longer Rest Area north of Montrose, the beginning of the Mormon Trail of Tears. Escaping religious persecution in Illinois, the Mormons gathered near Montrose, Iowa, where they began their journey west for "the promised land." Across the river you can see the reconstructed Mormon temple at Nauvoo, Illinois.

Finally, we stopped for the night at a Comfort Inn in Burlington, Iowa, and enjoyed fine take-out dining from the local Taco Bell. Note: At this Iowan Taco Bell, in addition to the usual Mild, Hot, and Fire sauce, they also had catsup. That just ain't right. We drove a little bit less today, a mere 390 miles.

Continue to Day 3

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