July 23 - July 27
Logs * Steering Damage * Pere Marquette State Park * Bluffs * Mosquitoes * Mississippi River * Alton * Wadlow * Piasa Bird
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Day 26 -Sunday, July 23
Pere Marquette State Park, Southern Illinois
In the morning we had a little trouble leaving our anchoring spot. Something, probably some underwater branches, caught our engine when we were trying to pull away from the bank and bent the steel rudder bar on top leaving a small hole in the engine cover. Luckily, the engine still worked fine. We just couldn't make sharp rudder adjustments.
We made it to Pere Marquette State Park just fine. We knew they
would have a marina and we were anxious to dock in a slip. Their
marina was a dugout area off of the river filled with lots of little metal
floating docks. It was fairly new and not completely finished yet,
plus it had been flooded and underwater earlier in the spring so there
was nothing but mud and new grass along the banks. There were electric
outlets and water hook-ups at the end of each dock, but nothing was coming
through them yet. There were pit toilets nearby, freshly built and
just painted, but without any signs or locks on the
doors (and no toilet paper, but luckily we carry our own!) The
marina wasn't much, but it was better than anything else that had been
on the river over the past 100 miles.
We went up to the Visitor's Center for the park. It was pretty new and very nice. The park rangers said there were no fees for using the park or the marina and we could stay tied up to the dock as long as we wanted to. We liked the price, so we decided to stay awhile!
The docks in the marina got heavy use all day long from small power boats, the boat of choice along the river. It was a hot, sunny Sunday and lots of people were out enjoying it. Our boat got lots of attention from everyone who passed by. Most of them had never seen a catamaran before, especially not one as big as ours. We probably could have made money by giving tours!
The state park has lots of hiking trails on the bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. It was too hot to hike today, but we're planning to go out early tomorrow.
The Visitor's Center had a very nice little museum. We learned that the park is a popular nesting place for bald eagles during the winter months. The eagles that live in Canada and the northern states during summer come to the river down here from December thru March.
The park is named after the same Father Marquette that has a statue in front of the Brown County Courthouse back in Green Bay. It seems that Father Marquette really got around! He was the first European to set foot in many towns up and down these rivers. We found his statue here, and it wasn't even lifesize - not nearly as impressive as the monument in Green Bay.
Right now Dan is talking to a fisherwoman on a neighboring pier. She's a truck driver and she knows all about the orange Schneider pumpkins. She's giving us lots of info about the local area.
Oh, yeah, Dan did get our engine repaired. He heated the steel rudder bar on the gas stove, then straightened it out using the iron rings on the dock. And the hole in the engine cover was another chance to use fiberglass and epoxy.
Day 27 - Monday, July 24
Pere Marquette State Park, Southern Illinois
Last night was a heated battle against mosquitoes in the boat. In the end, they won due to their never-ending supply of replacement troops. We went to bed at 10:00 with our mosquito nets up. We started killing the mosquitoes on board, but instead of getting rid of them, we seemed to be getting more. We found some small openings along the edges of the mosquito nets, so Dan got out some masking tape and taped them all up. We started to make some headway against them and fell asleep about midnight. At 2:30 I woke up with buzzing around my head. Dan and I kept swatting and swatting the buggers until our bedroom walls looked like a ghoulish war zone. It was covered with big splotches of bright red blood (presumably ours, although it spurted out of the mosquitoes).
I had thought our room was the worst, but then we found out the Tricia was having trouble with them to. She was burying herself under her quilt to escape them, but then she would overheat and she would have to come out and get bit. We turned on the lights and went after them for at least another hour, thinking we could do them in with our superior intelligence and greater size. Eventually we just gave up because we couldn't win and we were getting too tired to continue. We realized we would just have to go to sleep with that annoying buzzing around our heads. We put our heads under the sheets and snoozed until late in the morning.
We had planned on an early morning hike to the look-out spot at the top of the bluff overlooking the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Because we slept late, our early morning hike started at 11:00, but it was still bearably cool out in the forest.
The hike was a good challenge, half a mile uphill. When we saw the view of the river, we understood why we had so much trouble with mosquitoes. The marina was right next to an arm of the river that was full of low, stagnant water - a veritable mosquito breeding ground. The rest of the view was grand.
We met a very nice couple with three dogs at the second overlook. He had two cameras around his neck and she was writing in a pad. They said they were travel writers. A week or two ago they had an article on the Lewis and Clark trail in the Chicago Tribune. Soon they would be going to Rhinelander in Wisconsin for another assignment.
The kids spent the afternoon playing a game of giant-sized chess in the lounge while Dan did some more painting and sanding on the boat and I washed all of the blood off of the walls.
Right now it's bedtime and we're having a contest to see who can kill the most mosquitoes BEFORE we go to bed. Tricia won with 26. We also stuffed rags in all of the sink drains and every other opening we could find. We'll beat those pesky little skeeters yet!
Day 28 - Tuesday, July 25
Pere Marquette State Park, Southern Illinois
We all slept well last night. We got the mosquito problem under control. Tricia and I got up early to take a hike thru the woods. We got lucky and had five white-tail deer run by on a trail that was very close to us. The last one noticed us, then turned around and ran back where he came from. We brought the camera along this time and got a nice picture of the Illinois River from up on the bluff. We also took a picture of a very shaggy shagbark hickory tree. These woods are filled with hickory, maple, catalpa, oak, sycamore and pawpaw trees. Scarlet trumpet vine grows wild everywhere.
We decided to spend another day in the marina since the price was right. I wanted to take all of my rugs out onto the dock and give them a good cleaning, and Dan had some more painting to do. Zion spent the morning reading everything in the Visitor Center's museum, and Tricia was busy writing and reading.
The day was very hot and very sunny - not a cloud in the sky. It was perfect weather to get our sun oven up to 350 degrees. We had cornbread for lunch and even made our first loaf of whole wheat yeast bread for supper. They both turned out great. The loaf of wheat bread was eaten up in about 15 minutes.
Day 29 - Wednesday, July 26
Alton Marina, Alton, Illinois
We left Pere Marquette Park in the morning and soon found ourselves on the Mighty Mississippi. The river got wider, the current picked up, and the barges got bigger. We started seeing more whirlpools in the water, and more floating logs. Avoiding these things made the pilot's life a little more interesting.
It didn't take long to reach Alton, and we all breathed a grateful sigh when we saw that the marina had everything that the advertisements had promised. It was operated by Skipper Bud's, the same people that run the Racine Marina. This one was just as luxurious. There was indeed a pool and hot tubs. We soon learned that the pool is the largest floating pool in the world (or so they say, and who are we to prove them wrong?). The pool is built into a floating barge-like platform.
In fact, all of the marina buildings were floating, even the bathrooms. It was the only way to deal with the Mississippi when it floods. In fact, although the water level looked perfect while we were there, we were told that the weekend before the river was five feet lower, and none of the boats could even get out of their slips. When the marina opened three years ago, the water was ten feet higher. All of the buildings and docks were connected to giant pelican poles. They were at least 20 feet high and you could see them towering everywhere throughout the marina. And another first for us - almost all of the slips were underneath roofs and had automatic boat lifts. This kept them out of the water and out of the sun and rain - a pretty good life for a boat!
We were intending to stay in the marina, and the attached civilization, for just one night, so we had lots of errands to attend to. Our first stop was the library. We hiked thru town around one o'clock in beastly heat. The roads in Alton are steep and hilly since they are on a bluff, and many of them are paved in brick from an earlier time. The kids couldn't figure out how people could park their cars on such steep hills. I couldn't figure out how anyone could live in this kind of heat every day. I finally understood why southerners drink so much iced tea. I also learned that they are smart enough to stay inside in air-conditioning most of the time. Anyway, we finally found the library at the top of a steep hill, but we couldn't get our file uploaded because they had some kind of security system in place that wouldn't allow it. So we walked back to the marina, this time going the shorter route past the riverboat casino painted in eye- popping orange, lime green and purple. Needless to say, when we got back we were all ready to hit the pool since our boat doesn't have air-conditioning. We all got cooled off, then I left to do some grocery shopping. The local store offered a free pick-up service, and that was too good to pass up. A friendly young woman from Schwegel's came to pick me up at the marina. It was my first big shopping since we had left Manitowoc and it was a pleasure doing it on my own in a nice, cool store. I bought melon and strawberries and cottage cheese for supper, along with some sherbet and soda for cold drinks. I packed them in a cooler I had taken along to the store. Another friendly young woman took me back to the marina. She said that I sounded just like all of her relatives from Milwaukee - same gutteral accent, I guess. When I was unloading my groceries, I realized that I had left my cooler at the store. She was nice enough to go back and get it for me. I can't tell you how much I appreciated their friendliness and helpfulness. Their store was a very cheerful place to be because of their good-natured chatter and banter.
After dinner I did laundry in the marina's handy laundromat. There was no change machine, so a very helpful nighttime security guard gave us all the quarters he could find in his truck and we were able to wash everything and dry the little stuff. We didn't have enough quarters to dry everything, so we hung the pants and shirts out on our boat to dry.
Before going to bed, I learned that the kids had received an invitation to go with another family to the Robert Wadlow museum the next morning. We planned on making a morning visit to the sights of Alton, then take off in the afternoon for St. Louis and the Arch.
There were two more distinctions that we found at the Alton Marina today.
First, they have the most wonderful bathrooms we've ever seen anywhere.
The kids came back from their first trip talking about how great they were.
Their stories were hard to believe until we saw them ourselves. Each
toilet was in its own spacious room, with a sink, shower, and sitting chair.
The walls were all redwood, and there was a hair dryer and bottles of soap
and shampoo for your use. This luxury in itself was worth the stop
at the marina.
The second distinction was the Alton Bridge. The bridge was built in 1993 and is the most beautiful bridge that I have ever seen. It's distinctive and impressive during the day, but at night it becomes truly gorgeous with illuminated golden strings holding it up on two large towers. You'll have to look at the pictures of it because I can't describe it and it's not like any other bridge in the world. The marina sits right beside it and you feel like you are next to a great work of art. Walking to the bathrooms during the night was a real pleasure!
Day 30 - Thursday, July 27
Alton Marina, Alton, Illinois
At 9:00 we were met by Lisa and her son Clayton. Clayton is the
same age as Tricia. They took us to see the sights of
Alton. Alton has an amazing number of claims to fame. First
we saw the Robert Wadlow museum. Robert was the tallest man in the
world (check any Guinness book) and he lived in Alton. There was a lifesize
statue of him, then a collection of his belongings like his very large
shoes and very large ring. Sadly, he only lived to be twenty-one years
old and he had to
walk with a cane. His life must have been very difficult, yet
he always had a gentle smile on his face in all of his pictures.
He seemed to be an extraordinarily well-adjusted and satisfied man, which
is even more of a marvel to me than his size.
Next we saw the piasa bird painted on the side of a bluff. The piasa
bird is part of Native American folklore. The
stories are similar to the dragon stories in our culture - a fearsome
beast that stole away the locals until a brave chief
defeated him. The Native Americans had painted his likeness on
the bluffs. Now the local Chamber of Commerce keeps an image of the
beast/bird freshly painted on the nearby bluffs. And the painting is right
next to a giant series of limestone
caves. I'm used to seeing limestone caves in Wisconsin, but ours
are just babies compared to these grand-daddies! They
were huge caverns that easily recalled the stories of Tom Sawyer and
Alton's next claim to fame is an abundance of truly haunted houses.
We drove by some of them, including the one
inhabited by a ghost that does not like the color red. Many of
the houses in the area are beautifully restored old
mansions which blend wonderfully with the old brick streets.
And last, but not least, we saw the statues commemorating the Lincoln-Douglas debate on slavery that took place right in Alton. Because of the way that Illinois dips down between Missouri and Kentucky, this area was a hotbed for the slavery debate. The area became known as Little Egypt because it was the "promised land" for runaway slaves. The underground railroad was big here. A local newspaper man, Elijah Lovejoy, had his presses burned down several times because of his anti-slavery views. In the last mob uprising, he was killed. Some say that was the first skirmish of the Civil War.
We all were having so much fun together, that we decided to stay another
night at the marina and have dinner together on
their boat. We went our separate ways for the afternoon and got
some chores done, like getting gas and a pump-out. We even got a chance
to see the Lieutenant Governor of Illinois. A marina worker had stopped
by our boat earlier in the morning and told Dan he needed to take down
our laundry because they wanted the marina to look nice for the guv.
When he showed up, there was also a retinue of people in business suits
and photographers who all climbed aboard the "Jack Daniels" for a quick
cruise out in the river. Later in the afternoon Clayton and his Dad, Scott,
took Zion and Tricia across the bridge to see "A Scary Movie". The
kids loved it and Scott was very kind to endure it with them!
In the evening our kids got their first ride in a real power boat, the kind that had been zipping past us ever since we started our journey a month ago. As our speed picked up, the front of the boat lifted out of the water and we realized this was different from what we called boating! After going up the river to the piasa bird bluff, Scott cut the engine and Lisa served a fun dinner while we floated back down the river and had a nice chance to talk. Another small world happening - we learned that Clayton had just come back from Boy Scout camp in Atlanta, and would soon be going with his uncle to see the EAA in Oshkosh. Scott was on his way to - believe it or not - Two Rivers, to visit the same marina where we bought our engine. And in a few weeks, the whole family was going to the Apostle Islands in Bayfield, Wisconsin, for a family vacation. And, Scott was a sales manager for farm equipment, so he knew all about Brillion Iron Works the minute we said we were from Brillion. Dan mentioned that he was looking for an opportunity to upload our digital camera pictures. It can't be done at a library, because it requires special software. Scott and Lisa very kindly offered to let him use their computer to do it. Lisa also gave us a care package - chocolate chip cookies, snack crackers and a brownie mix for our sun oven. We were overwhelmed by their kindness, and are very grateful that we met them during our stay in Alton.