<< Day 46: St. Louis | Day 48: Central Iowa to St. Paul, Minnesota >>
St. Louis to Central Iowa
When I raised my bedside window shade this morning, I was treated to the sight of a bright red cardinal perched on the handlebar of Sebastian’s bicycle. The bird was only a few feet away, and we looked at each other for several long seconds before he raised his wings and flew away.
I wonder if he was as fascinated with me as I was with him.
For breakfast, Cordell and Pam introduced us to the delicious wonder of the “gooey butter cake”, which originated in St. Louis in the 1930’s and is traditionally served for breakfast. The square cake is about an inch or two high, with a very gooey and rich center and a slightly crisp, cake-like edge to hold everything together. The top is sprinkled with powdered sugar. One bite, and my taste buds were doing a sensational rumba---mmmmmmmmmm! The cake was simply divine.
We snapped some final photos before saying our farewells.
Our wonderful hosts:
Our plan for the day was to drive north along the Mississippi River. We wanted to stop for a short time in the town of Hannibal, where Mark Twain grew up.
As a farewell gift, Tate gave Genevieve and Sebastian a copy of Mark Twain’s book “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
Tate and Sebastian, with one last hug:
As we crossed over the Missouri River, we saw this monstrous casino on the west bank.
Missouri law allows gambling on specially licensed riverboats, so this large non-floating casino was a surprise. Turns out that the $265 million luxury Ameristar casino, with hotel and spa, is classified as a “stationary boat.” Ha! I wonder how much money exchanged hands to get that designated label.
We soon left the freeway to crawl north along the 2-lane “Great River Road” (Highway 79), which parallels the Mississippi River. The route is considered one of America’s scenic byways. (The website http://www.byways.org is a good resource in locating these gems.)
The surrounding land is part of a flood plain that was once covered by water intermittently throughout the year when either the Mississippi River or Missouri River naturally diverted from its course. After cities were built along the rivers, levies were constructed to try to keep both rivers in their respective channels. Floods still occur, however, with devastating consequences. The last big flood happened in 1993, when both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers overflowed, and much of the surrounding land was under water.
The fact that this area is a flood plain did not hinder developers during the construction boom starting in the late 1990’s. Approximately 28,000 new homes have been constructed, and over 6,000 acres of land are now covered in new commercial and industrial businesses. This causes some concern by geologists, environmentalists, and other people who foresee the possible catastrophic consequences of living/working in a flood plain.
We drove by pockets of new development. Along with the occasional sign that advertised new housing projects, there were two warning signs.
The first sign was large, with a white background and black letters that proclaimed, “It’s called a Flood Plain because it is Plain it Floods.”
The second sign was more colorful (as shown in the fuzzy photo below) and depicted some buildings sticking out of a flood, with some people looking scared or perplexed in a car with water up to the door handles; the text read, “Welcome to Flood Plain City.”
Ben and I speculated that the signs were attempts by a local person (or group) to ward off prospective home buyers. (The signs hadn’t seemed to scare off the developers.)
We drove along rolling green hills with lots of fields for grazing and agriculture.
This new "farm house" was substantially bigger than most of the others we had seen.
We passed through quite a few tiny towns today.
This commercial building was for sale—complete with a little pig on the roof.
There was quite a drop from the second story door on this building.
In the town of Elsberry, we exchanged friendly smiles and waves with some of the local people.
The town of Annada, population 48.
We passed this field of cheerful sunflowers.
With its several blocks of businesses and homes, Clarksville seemed like a “big” town even through its population was less than 500.
Cordell had recommended that we ride Clarksville’s scenic “Sky Lift” to get an elevated view of the Mississippi River. However, the lift was closed for renovations.
At the northern edge of Clarksville was Lock & Dam No. 24, stretching across the Mississippi River.
The dam project was completed in 1940. The single lock, attached to the side of the dam, is 600 feet long and provides a 15 foot lift for vessels traveling on the river.
The Holcum concrete facility.
We passed the tall grain elevators of Bunge North America, a large exporter and domestic supplier of soybeans, corn, wheat, sorghum, canola and rice.
The town of Louisiana, Missouri had a bridge crossing over into Illinois.
The Louisiana Mural Organization was founded in 2002 and has completed 20 community murals. Here is one on the side of a bank, depicting Native Americans overlooking a fort.
As usual, I was enamored with the older houses:
Some of the homes looked as if they had been recently renovated.
This sweet, white-washed home seemed very peaceful, with its huge shade tree, small pots of colorful flowers, wide front porch, and metal folding chairs from which to watch the world go by.
After Louisiana, we passed through miles of farmland.
This high tractor seemed designed to easily slide over and between crop rows.
I loved the combination of geometric shapes on top of this barn roof.
One more weathered farmhouse.
This old building looks as if it might have been a schoolhouse.
As we drew closer to Hannibal, the hills were markedly taller; the road wound up and down.
The Mississippi River flowed along beside of us.
Entering Hannibal, Missouri.
Our view of the town was segmented by the multiple telephone/electric lines running across the road.
We easily found a (free!) parking spot in a large lot by the river. Nearby was the Goddard Grocery Co., which was started as a wholesale grocery house in the late 1800’s.
We walked a couple of blocks to the Mark Twain Museum.
In the museum gift shop, we met Linda Bryan. She is from Sonoma, California. We were surprised to discover that her brother lives in our small town of Aptos!
The Museum had some interesting exhibits about Mark Twain’s life along the Mississippi River. Mark Twain had moved to Hannibal in 1839 when he was four years old. He drew upon many of his childhood experiences in writing the books “Huckleberry Finn” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Clemens. He adopted the pen name “Mark Twain” when he started writing stories. The phrase “mark twain” means “safe water ahead” in riverboat language. A “mark” is 6 feet, and “twain” mean two—together the term means 12 feet, which is the depth needed for a riverboat to safely navigate.
Mark Twain had been fascinated with riverboats. The museum had a huge riverboat steering wheel, with which the children could pretend to be riverboat captains.
On the second floor of the museum was a collection of original Norman Rockwell paintings that had been created to illustrate the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer stories.
We then wandered down the main street of Hannibal to reach Mark Twain's childhood home.
Here are a few of the buildings along the main street.
This building was in the process of being restored to its initial grandeur.
Sebastian really liked this small, old car.
Mark Twain’s home (below, with the green door) had been completely restored in the early 1990’s.
Connected to the home was a white-washed fence that provided the inspiration for the story in which Tom Sawyer convinced his friends that painting the fence was fun, allowing him to sit back and watch while his friends took turns with the paintbrush. This scene was purportedly based upon a true incident that happened to Mark Twain.
Across the street was the law office of Mark Twain’s father (who died of pneumonia when Mark was 11 years old).
Up the block was the home of Laura Hawkins, which was being restored. Laura was the inspiration for Mark Twain’s character Becky Thatcher.
To reach the inside of Mark Twain’s home, we had to wind through an “Interpretive Center” that was behind the home. The exhibits had been completely revamped in 2005 and provided various stories and explanations about Mark Twain’s life in Hannibal.
In the Interpretive Center, we learned that Sam’s family had owned one slave named Jennie; at some point Jennie had been sold to pay for the family’s debts. Sam was very close to an older slave named “Uncle Daniel”, who used to tell many stories to Sam and the other children. Sam later modeled the fictional character “Jim” after Uncle Daniel.
Mark Twain’s childhood home was furnished with items from the mid 1800’s. Each room had a life-size model of Mark, along with a quote from him.
Mark Twain based the character Tom Sawyer on himself. The character of Huckleberry Finn was modeled after his good friend Tom Blankenship, whose family had a small house nearby. The home, shown below, had been reconstructed in 2005.
Tom was from a very poor family with 8 children, and his father was the “town drunk.” Mark Twain wrote that Tom was “ignorant, unwashed, [and] insufficiently fed.” Mark and his friends wanted to be like Tom—they liked him and “enjoyed his society.” Furthermore, “as his society was forbidden us by our parents, . . . we sought and got more of his society than any other boy’s.”
Across the street was the Mark Twain Dinette. We admired the big mug sign, but we didn’t stop to eat—we had plans this afternoon for a riverside picnic.
Mark Twain died in 1910 and has been celebrated as a gifted storyteller and philosopher. Some of his quotes are famous. One of my favorites concerns traveling: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
After visiting Hannibal, we continued our drive north. We knew that we were getting close to the Iowa state border when we saw this fireworks shop.
Fireworks are legal in Missouri, but require a permit in Iowa. This summer we have often seen fireworks businesses lined up near the border of states neighboring those where fireworks are prohibited.
We crossed the Des Moines River.
Welcome to Iowa! (With its “fields of opportunity.”)
We had met several people from Iowa during our travels. Whenever I had mentioned that we would be driving through their state, the person had generally made a joke about Iowa being “one big cornfield.” I was expecting the land to be fairly flat and monotonous. Yes, there were corn fields galore! And they were stretched out on beautiful rolling hills with lots of green vegetation and farm houses with personality. What a visual treat!
Small birds were congregating on these wires.
The tall corn provided these homes with some privacy.
Stacks of hay peeked out of the hay loft window of this red barn.
This farmhouse looked like it the front door area was being remodeled.
In the distance, we could see the beautiful white and silver silos of this well-maintained farm.
We crossed over the wide, flat expanse of Cedar Creek.
This barn was in need of some TLC.
We appreciated the creative “Y” in this sign.
The favorite “color” for houses seemed to be white. One home that we passed had a large field to the side with tall narrow tombstones along one end. There appeared to be 10 to 15 graves—most likely a family graveyard before laws restricted burial locations. The markers looked very old, with some having worn edges and others tipping over at slight angles.
In the city of Cedar Rapids, we passed the gigantic Quaker Oats facility.
We stopped tonight in central Iowa at an RV park called “Lazy Acres.” This small group of cows greeted us at the entrance.
We were very pleased with this campground! The owners were warm and friendly, and the park had free paddle-boating and miniature golf, free Wi-Fi (that actually worked!), a large playground, games, and plenty of grass.
I liked the propane tank decorations.
Tonight the skies provided some exciting entertainment. We watched as a storm brewed overhead.
We had never seen clouds like this before. They looked like someone was sticking their fingers down from up above.
Thunder growled continuously in the distance, like an animal warning us of danger, for at least half an hour before the rain arrived.
The bright flashes of lightning gradually came closer and closer.
Waiting . . .
. . . for the lightning—there it is!
When the rain finally pounded our roof, it was accompanied by powerful winds that rocked our well-built RV from side to side. Woo hoo!
Before bedtime, we all enjoyed a children’s book about Mark Twain that I had purchased in the museum earlier today.
Then we drifted off to the soothing sound of drumming water.
<< Day 46: St. Louis | Day 48: Central Iowa to St. Paul, Minnesota >>
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