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Places Visited:

Illinois: St. Louis, Gateway Arch, Calhoun County

2003 Travelogue# 14 Grafton, IL

Mileage: 41052, Traveled: 0 miles
Pere Marquette State Park, Route 100, Grafton, IL 62037 618-786-3323
Electric Hookup, 50-amps, no water/ sewer, gravel pads, $11

Friday, October 03, 2003

We awoke this morning to heavy cloud cover and drizzle, not what we had hoped for, since we were driving into St. Louis to see the "Arch". Making our way down the Illinois side of the Mississippi, we could see the Gateway Arch on the distant horizon. The 630-foot, stainless steel structure is a reminder of how important St. Louis was to the westward expansion. It's about a 60-mile drive into downtown St. Louis and we were there by noon.

Our first stop, which was next to the Arch and the Mississippi River, was the Basilica of St. Louis the King, known as the "Old Cathedral". This stately old church, built in 1818, is simple in design and ornamentation, without the stain glass windows and intricate art of most Cathedrals. The stone exterior and elevation were more interesting than the interior.

Leaving the Cathedral, we found the Arch parking facility and followed a tree-lined brick path through a landscaped Park to the underground entrance. Even up close, there are no buildings to hinder the view of the seamless flow of this stainless steel structure into the earth…almost like looking at a silver rainbow. Coming up the north side of the Arch, we were greeted by reddish granite steps leading down into the earth to a special place. We excitedly anticipated the journey ahead when all of a sudden reality set in and we saw another example of how 9/11 had changed our lives. At the entrance officers, checked our camera bags, purses, and the metal detectors went off. Out came all the goodies in the pockets, etc. and I still had the darn detector beeping. Then the officer and I decided it was the metal on my suspenders, under my vest, making the machine go bazooka. Ah…nuts!!!

Entering the mammoth underground chamber, reminded me of the first time I walked into Grand Central Station in New York; just sort of took my breath away. At each direction of the compass, there was something to see and do. Our first stop were tickets to the giant screen theatre showing The Great American West, then through the Museum of Western Expansion. This museum captures the essence of the movement west in a contemporary presentation. We topped it off with a tram journey to the top of the Arch. This tram travels up the inside walls of the Arch on both the North and South sides. It's a series of small bells, reminding me of diving bells, each having 5 seats, one in the middle and two on the sides, leaving not much room for feet and heads. It moves at the rapid speed of 4 mph taking a while to ratchet up the curved passage to the top. The experience is definitely worth the trip. Even though it was a cloudy day, we still had a fabulous view of the St. Louis skyline to the east and west. We felt our visit to the St. Louis area would not be complete until we made this pilgrimage.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

It was a beautiful morning and Peggy got an early start on her walk while I stayed in to do some writing. When she returned, I decided to go for my walk. No one was at the campground the first of the week but today, all 80 campsites were full…dogs barking, kids on bikes, fires going, breakfast cooking…everyone out enjoying the morning air.

That's it for me…back to the motor home, pull out the hot plate, mix up some buckwheat batter and fix the bride some pancakes. Our next-door neighbors, who were pulling out, stopped to say good-bye and ended up joining us for pancakes. They even contributed some of their newly purchased sorghum syrup, from the country store in Calhoun County, which you almost needed a knife to cut.

After driving so far yesterday, we didn't want to go too far today. So, we took one last Brussells Ferry ride across the Illinois River to Calhoun County and drove to the end of the peninsula where the Illinois and the Mississippi come together. It was a beautiful "Indian Summer" afternoon, perfect for a drive in the country. We asked one another, "what makes this countryside different from the others we have seen"? It was the fields of many colors; small, close together, on rolling hills, with no fences and absolutely NO litter. We saw no livestock, only agriculture, on pristine farmland…that's what made it so different.

While on a small county dirt road that ran along the River; we stopped at a secluded place under a golden sycamore tree. I got out of the car, took the binoculars and watched an engine boat push its barges down river while several of the crew did some painting. You could hear the throbbing of the big diesels in the distance. It was rich and warm.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

All good things come to an end and today was our last day in Pere Marquette. We started early this morning, shortly after 7 am on our hike; we would tackle Goat Ridge this morning. It's a trail that leads up the ridge overlooking the River and valley, with several large rock outcroppings and several faults. We wound our way through these very interesting rock formations and up to the top of the ridge. Once on top, we could see for miles up and down the valley. Across the way was a wildlife refuge, behind that was the Illinois River, then an ox bow lake, and Swan Lake. The white pelicans have started migrating as well as the Canadian geese. The pelicans looked like big bombers as they flew and the geese were honking… what wonderful sights and sounds.

As we worked our way back up the trail, we met a gentleman with his dog. We stopped, asked for directions and struck up a conversation with Dennis. He walks these Park trails regularly because his roots are here. His great grandfather settled near this ridge in the 1850's and their family cemetery is higher up on the ridge. Dennis is retired now; sort of following his dreams. The walks with his dog bring closeness to the land for him. We shared a little about what we were doing and ourselves. He told us about the book he was writing and said he would send us some excerpts; we exchanged emails. In parting, he said he was leaving for Kitty Hawk on Wednesday to follow a long- time dream…good for him.

Life is a journey with many twist and turns, just like the mighty rivers we have seen these past two weeks. We have enjoyed the sights and sounds of it all, from the Cahokia Mounds, the travels of Lewis and Clark, to the magnificent Arch. It's time for us to move on.

Bob & Peggy Woodall


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