<< Day 44: Twin Knobs Recreation Area to Rend Lake, Illinois | Day 46: St. Louis >>
Rend Lake to St. Louis, Missouri
The rain had stopped when we woke this morning. We took a short walk along the edge of the lake.
Sebastian had “happy feet” this morning, dancing and skipping along the rocks.
The water level looked very high to us, climbing up the bases of the trees.
Picking a path through rocks is definitely one of Genevieve and Sebastian’s “top 10” favorite activities—rocks just seem to trigger their “gotta’ climb” instincts.
The Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park campground was surprisingly empty. Is this one of Illinois' best kept secrets? The grounds are beautifully maintained, with large camping spots, miles of bicycle paths, and the beautiful lake.
We packed up quickly and were soon on the road heading for St. Louis, which was only an hour and a half away.
We passed a speedboat on the lake.
The water in this small section was blanketed with pale green algae.
There was not a lot of clearance between the lake and the roadway.
A stone’s throw from the highway, men were exercising and getting some fresh air at the Big Muddy River Correctional Facility (a “high medium” security facility).
We passed a long stretch of double billboards.
Apparently, some marketing whiz had decided that one ad at a time was insufficient, and that we needed a double-whammy. I protested this bombardment by not looking at the billboard faces.
After traveling through the dry deserts of Nevada and New Mexico, I fully appreciated the lush plant life that was all around us. There were delicate purple flowers growing by the roadside. I might have overlooked these flowers three months ago, before this journey began. I vowed not to lose my delight in, and awareness of, the seemingly small bits of beauty and perfection that exist in everyday life.
I spy with my little eye something that is GREEN.
We passed a sign that warned of road construction and a lane closure half a mile ahead. All the drivers cued up immediately and got into the right lane, even through the left lane had not yet closed. We were in wonder at the politeness of the drivers. No one was jamming to the front of the line as we have experienced many times in our home state of California. Just look at that empty left lane!
The road crew was busy tearing up the old road and putting down new asphalt—a common scene in many of the states we had visited this summer.
Our first stop today was the Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO World Heritage site located east of St. Louis.
While researching our China trip for next spring, I found numerous World Heritage sites there that sounded intriguing. I became curious about what World Heritage sites might exist in the United States. My research revealed that there are 20 such sites—most of which I had visited or at least heard of (the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, Yosemite, the Statue of Liberty, the California Redwoods, Olympic National Park, etc.).
And then there were the Cahokia Mounds. (The what?) This place was truly amazing, with a rich history so startling that it begs the question of why I never learned about this place in school.
In the parking lot of Cahokia Mounds, we had a joyful reunion with some dear friends--Pam and her two children, Tate and Sullivan ("Sully"). Pam and her husband, Cordell, had moved their family to St. Louis from the San Francisco Bay Area about five years ago. They had generously invited us to stay with them while we were in the St. Louis area.
Our kids have known each other since they were a few months old. Genevieve is Tate’s age, and Sebastian is Sully’s. They hadn’t played together for several years, however, and it was interesting how they immediately paired up this time based upon gender, and not age.
Genevieve and Sully:
Sebastian and Tate:
We saw some mounds over to our left on the short walk to the Visitor’s Center.
Sully, Genevieve, Sebastian and Tate in front of the sculptural doors.
We watched a short movie called “Cahokia, City of the Sun.” The movie was well done and very informative. I learned that Cahokia Mounds contains the largest earthen structure in the Americas; in fact, it is the largest archaeological site north of Mexico. Archaeologists and historians believe that about 12,000 years ago, the first humans settled in the fertile valley next to the Mississippi River. About 1000 years ago, the group of Native Americans that scientists call “the Mississippians” built a large city here, with numerous mounds of earth. The large, flat-topped mounds had temples on top of them. The largest mound (now called “Monks Mound”) was 100 feet high, and the base covered 14 acres. There were also a number of conical burial mounds.
Here is a visual size comparison of Monks Mound (the green structure on the right) with the Temple of the Sun (on the left) and Chichen Itza (in the middle).
The mounds were created by the people, who dug the earth with stone hoes and then carried the dirt on their backs in woven baskets. Archaeologists determined that Monks Mound took over 300 years to build.
The city had houses that stretched as far as the eye could see. In fact, the population was about 20,000 in 1250 A.D., which was larger than the city of London during that time. There was not any U.S. city larger than this until 1800, when Philadelphia grew to over 30,000 people.
The city had enormous plazas, as well as miles of stockade walls that protected the central mound.
Cahokia Mounds was governed by a theocratic chieftainship, with the chief claiming divine powers. Archaeologists believe that the chief had a residence on top of the Monks Mound, where he could speak to the sky. The chief had unquestionable authority over the city, and he created a balance between the spiritual forces of the upper and lower worlds.
Agriculture was very important to the people who lived here. The city had huge agricultural fields where the people grew corn, squash, sunflowers, and other vegetables. Corn was a daily staple of diet.
The people could grow a surplus of food and store it for future years when crops were poor. They could also trade the food for other things. This trading allowed some people to work as artisans or craftsmen and to trade their products for food.
This exhibit showed a sub-chief, born into the noble class, trading salt for a knife. The shell beads worn by the flintmaker indicate status.
Many clay pots have been uncovered in the local area. In fact, more pots have been found here than any other artifact. Here is an exhibit of a woman making a pot.
Some of the pots were shaped like heads.
Many of the people had decorations on their faces and bodies, which identified their status within the community. Here are some samples of how their faces may have been painted.
Archaeologists found a large cache of ax heads.
Cahokia was the seat of power for several hundred years. It is a mystery regarding why Cahokia started declining in the late 13th or early 14th centuries. Some speculate that there were possibly conflicts from outside, which necessitated the stockades. Others say that perhaps there was class warfare, or diseases and poor nutrition.
“Cahokia Mounds” was the name given to this site by European-Americans. It refers to the Cahokia tribe of Native Americans that lived here in the 1600’s, well after the people who built the mounds had left.
After absorbing the educational information in the Visitor’s Center, we wanted to go outside and climb to the top of Monks Mound, which was located down the drive and across the street.
In the parking lot, we found this group of white, plastic gourds, which provided bird homes for a colony of purple martins.
Purple martins are purplish birds that live in cavities, such as hollow tree trunks. In the eastern United States, natural cavities are in short supply, so the birds depend upon manmade homes. The circular rack, which has aluminum owl guards poking out, was installed by St. Louis resident John Miller. The gourds are carefully checked each week to record the number of eggs and other activities. Sometimes the caretakers have to evict other birds that have moved in, such as house sparrows.
Across the street, we first visited the reconstructed stockade walls. These walls once stretched for two miles in one direction and completely enclosed Monks Mound.
We then walked over to the base of Monks Mound.
Two sets of stairs had been built in the front, in the same place as the original stairs. The first set led a short distance upward to a small flat terrace area.
And the second set went to the top.
A corner of the terrace once contained a small ceremonial temple, which had burned in 1150 A.D. The Mississippians had then built a small earthen mound on top, with another structure that had been rebuilt 8 times over the next 100 years. In the 1730’s, some French priests built a small chapel here for the Cahokia Indians. Some archaeologists believe that the Cahokia had a small village on the terrace, as several graves were found near the chapel.
At the top, the mound was wide and flat.
Looking back down the stairs.
What a view! We could see St. Louis in the distance. (How can anyone not gasp when they see the Arch for the first time?!)
We were surprised to learn that St. Louis was once called “Mound City” because of the 26 mounds that used to cover the downtown area when the city was first established.
This flower was nestled by the walkway.
To the east of Monks Mound is a circle of wooden poles that has been named “Woodhenge”.
In the 1960’s, road builders were doing ground studies to prepare for a freeway through this area when they discovered a number of post holes; they plotted the holes and discovered that the holes formed a large circle. Archaeologists believe that these posts were part of a solar calendar.
We crossed the Mississippi River into St. Louis.
The architecture in the city was a beautiful blend of old and new.
The dome of the Old Courthouse:
I loved this neon artwork of “walking people”.
Unfortunately, the city parking lots were not meant to accommodate an RV, so we drove around the warehouse district looking for a large, and safe, parking spot. Here are some scenes we saw while searching.
On the edge of the downtown area, we finally found a short block that had a long stretch of open curb and an absence of “no parking” signs.
We had lunch on the outdoor back patio of Sundecker’s restaurant, with a fabulous view of the river and nearby bridges.
The children wanted to sit at their own table.
After lunch, we headed for the Arch—riding to the top was on our "must do" list! Cordell had purchased tickets for us earlier in the day.
The Arch is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
Someone pinch me.
A large Visitor’s Center is located underground between the two large ends of the Arch.
The children all wanted to press themselves against the smooth stainless steel base.
The 630-foot Arch is the tallest monument in the United States; it was built between 1963 and 1965. Its exterior is stainless steel, with concrete and carbon steel on the inside. The design was considered highly innovative, and constructing the two sides of the arch so that they met in the middle was quite challenging.
As we approached the entrance to the Visitor’s Center, I looked over to see a woman and two teenage girls (presumably her daughters) huddled next to a part of the Arch wall. The woman was rubbing the edge of a coin back and forth against the stainless steel. I then noticed that the base of the Arch has numerous graffiti marks scratched into the surface. I heard the woman say, “This isn’t working.” Then she pulled out a key and started scratching with the end. I was shocked—not only was a mother teaching her kids to deface a national memorial, but she was doing so in broad daylight! I pointed the woman out to Pam, whose response completely reminded me of why I love and admire her so much. She walked right over and casually but clearly asked the woman what she was doing. The woman immediately put her key away and said something to the effect of “Everybody else is writing their names here too.” Without missing a beat, Pam responded firmly, “Yes, and isn’t that a shame.” The woman then shepherded her two girls away from the Arch, with a few backwards glances at Pam.
I then looked over and saw a security guard who was lounging about 30 feet away, looking like he was taking a nap with his eyes open. I walked over and asked if he had seen that woman trying to scratch her name on the memorial. He admitted that he hadn’t. He had the decency to look slightly (but only slightly) embarrassed; then he hoisted his pants up and sauntered off with slow steps toward the Arch base, looking casually around at nothing in particular.
We entered the busy Visitor’s Center, where a tram carries over one million passengers to the top of the Arch each year. The tram system was built in 1967, with a design that incorporates elevator, streetcar, and ferris wheel technologies. The tram has small barrel-shaped capsules, each carrying five people; the capsules dangle upright during the entire ride up and down.
Here is a sample car, with Pam, Tate, Genevieve and Sully.
While we waited for our tram, we watched a short film on the first bridge to cross the Mississippi into St. Louis—the Eads bridge. The Eads bridge was finished in 1874. Its builder, James Buchanan Eads, had never constructed a bridge before. His cantilevered design, however, influenced the design of bridges for many years afterward.
The kids tried out some old-fashioned swings that were in the waiting area.
Our capsule finally arrived! It looked like something from the “space age.”
Ben and I rode with Sebastian and Sully, along with a woman we didn’t know.
It was very tiny inside, and we all had to huddle together. This is not the place to be for those people who like their “personal space.”
Ben and Sully:
The four of us.
At the top of the Arch, we spent some time marveling at the incredible views.
Looking east, over the Mississippi River.
Looking west toward the city of St. Louis.
Looking down at the base of the Memorial.
Ben rode with the kids on the way down.
After we returned to the bottom of the Arch, we watched a movie about the Lewis and Clark expedition, which left from St. Louis. I was pleased to note that the film acknowledged the tremendous and invaluable assistance provided to the expedition by the many Native American tribes who lived on the land covering virtually every segment of the journey.
We then wandered for a while inside of the museum. This exhibit paid tribute to the designers and builders of the Arch.
Outside, I just couldn’t get enough of looking at the shining Arch against the blue sky.
We walked out onto the large grassy field.
And then we took turns showing our strength by “holding up the Arch.” Tate did a fabulous job!
Sebastian rested from the exhausting effort.
This was my first visit to St. Louis. Not only was the city beautiful, but it had a terrific energy. We would explore more areas tomorrow.
Pam and Cordell pampered us with a delicious meal at their home, and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxing evening.
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