Calumet Dreams
Chapter 5

July 28 - August 3
Mississippi River * Barge-type Marina * Car to St. Louis * Visit Arch * Flying Fish Stories * Wilderness * Big Sand Islands * Strong Currents * Huge Barges * Ohio River * Cairo * Home of Superman Back to Home Page

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Day 31 - Friday, July 28
Hoppe's Marina, Kimmiwick, Missouri

This morning we headed out early. We were hoping to stop at St. Louis and tour the Arch, and then we needed to get beyond St. Louis to find the next marina where we could spend the night safely. And, there were two locks before St. Louis. We weren't sure if we would be able to dock at the Arch or not. Some people said we could, and some people said we couldn't. We didn't know who to believe.

The morning was rainy. We had to get out our rain gear for the first time. As we approached the first lock, it started pouring. Luckily, we were on the Mississippi. They have two locks side by side. One was already open and ready for us with the green light flashing. We didn't have to do any waiting in that downpour. We just went right in.

The Mississippi locks didn't have any ropes to hang onto. They just told us to keep our boat in the middle, which was easy to do because we were the only boat in the lock. The water only had to go down 11 feet, so we were quickly on our way. Dan was kind and told all of us to go into the dry, cozy cabin while he stayed out and skippered us all of the way down to the next lock right before St. Louis. Along the way we passed the spot where the Missouri River joins the Mississippi. This is where Lewis and Clark took off on their great adventure.

The second lock was the same as the first one -quick, rainy and uneventful. Once we were through the lock we were in St. Louis. The rain had let up, but it was still very foggy so we couldn't see the Arch until we were pretty close to it. The whole riverfront was sloping concrete, like one huge boat ramp that just kept going and going. There was no way to pull our boat up. There were a few big boats parked there. One was a restaurant on an old showboat. Another one offered one-hour river cruises on the Tom Sawyer or the Becky Thatcher. A third big riverboat was a McDonald's. Apparently, being part of the Arch experience is a big thing for McDonald's, home of the golden arches. Someone had told us that we would find a place to dock at the McDonald's under the Arch, but there wasn't anyplace to dock. We had to just keep going past the Arch and keep going down the river until we found a place to stop.

The rest of St. Louis was a lot like the Chicago Sanitary Canal - lots of industry and lots of barges. And now we started seeing lots of trash floating down the river. We had seen lots of logs and branches before, but never any trash. Now we saw plastic bottles and soda cans constantly. As we were going along, the engine suddenly started making a funny noise. Dan checked, and saw there was a plastic bag wrapped around the propellor. He couldn't reach it, so he asked for a volunteer to jump into the water and take it off. Now, things like this used to be a welcome challenge for Zion. But he had enough impromptu jumps into the river to make this request sound more like a chore than an adventure. He declined, which left Tricia the opportunity to become the family's hero. She put on her swimsuit and lifejacket, we tied a rope to her because of the current, and she went down to fix our prop. Her mission was a success. She came back on board and we were on our way.

The day continued to be drizzly. We eventually reached the first stop after St. Louis - Hoppe's Marina in Kimmiwick. I was amazed to learn that there were no marinas in or near St. Louis. There used to be years ago, but pleasure boats were such a hazard to the heavy barge traffic that the Corps of Engineers started shutting down marinas. Many marinas were wiped out during the flood of 1993 and not allowed to rebuild. Now the whole St. Louis area is devoted to barge traffic and small pleasure boats are a rare occurrence. St. Louis boaters go on other bodies of water nearby, but they stay off of the Mississippi.

Hoppe's Marina was a comfortable, down-home delight. It was a few old barges tied together at the river's edge. A long 3-foot wide gangplank connected the barges to the bluff. Several house boats and pleasure boats were tied up to the barges. The owner came down to greet us in his rainslicker. We told him we wanted to dock for the night and get a rental car so we could drive the kids to St. Louis in the morning and see the Arch. He helped us make all of the arrangements and Dan headed off to pick up the car.

The kids and I had time to make some chili for dinner and check out the marina. One of the floating barges had a covered area with some old lawn furniture beneath it near the gas pump. It was a very comfortable lounge area and some of the other boaters were there. The barges were painted white, with all of the over-size cleats and connectors painted a colorful yellow and blue. Odd-shaped carpets, that looked like they had come out of various boats, were laying here and there. Since it had been raining all day, they were all saturated and had a soft,squishy feel as you walked over them. Tricia thought this felt particularly good when barefoot. There were a few old potted silk plants scattered around, along with some busted up buoys and other river paraphernalia.

When Dan got back with the car, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and find the nearest Wal-Mart to pick-up a few needed household items. On our way up to the car, we passed the Cajun Queen houseboat that was docked near the plank, and we heard a cheery, but tinny, rendition of "Louisiana Saturday Night" coming thru a loudspeaker at the top of the power pole. On top of the bluff, Dan was talking to the local master storyteller who was watching the river with his binoculars. Now, we've learned that everyone around here is a good storyteller, but he was a master of the craft. He told how you had to watch out for the 'gator gars. They were the ugliest creatures God put on this earth. Their long noses were bumpy like an alligator's, and they tasted so awful no one fished for them because you couldn't eat them. But they would always rub up against you two times before they got you, so that gave you a fighting chance to get away from them before it was too late. And the river was full of snapping turtles, too, bigger than you've ever seen before. He said that years ago the river was full of boaters every weekend, zipping around the barges. But that was very dangerous. Now we would hardly see any boats at all along this stretch of river because all of the gas docks were gone, except for Hoppe's. He used to do lots of boating, at least along the six miles of the river that was for his people. That way if anyone was causing trouble, you could take care of them. Once when his first wife was water- skiing and was down in the water, he had to pull her out of a group of circling 'gator gars because they were starting to rub up against her . . . once . . . twice . . .

We eventually got to our car and were startled to learn that the nearby little town of Kimmiwick was one little gift shop after another. It reminded us of Cedarburg, Wisconsin. We got on the highway and eventually got to our Wal-Mart. On the way back it was dark and raining again. We were glad to get home to the quiet of our boat on the river.

We were getting ready for bed when Dan noticed some people down in the lounge area. Zion had started to express some concern about swimming in the river because of the 'gator gar stories, so Dan thought it would be good if someone else told him it really was OK to swim in the river. I told him to go talk to these people first and make sure their stories wouldn't add fuel to the fire.

Dan came back and said we should all come down and hear what they had to say. We met two very nice couples, Gary and Judy with three middle-school boys and a senior couple, Wally and his wife. Gary was an avid fisherman, and they assured us that 'gator gars would not hurt anyone. He hunts them with bow and arrow, and they are actually the best-tasting fish in the river. (They seem to be related to a swordfish, so they probably do taste real good.) But, what you do have to watch out for are the flying Asian Carp. They are big (2-3 foot) white carp that make 8-foot leaps out of the river. Last weekend Gary and Judy were suddenly surrounded by them. They would leap over their boat and hit them in the head. One hit Judy, then Gary, then continued back into the river. The worst part about them, other than possibly giving you a concussion, was that they were exceptionally slimy and usually had patches of green fungus growing on their skin. Anyway, on this particular day, there were so many of them jumping that thirty of them landed in their boat. They put them in a barrel and brought them back to the marina and had a big fish fry for everyone. Wally verified that they had indeed had a big fish fry the weekend before, so he had to believe their story was true. They also assured us that the flying fish only lived at the mouths of creeks flowing into the river. If we swam out in the river, we wouldn't have to worry about them.

Now that Zion and Tricia felt safe in the river again, they were invited to join Judy and Gary's kids in their boat watching a movie. The adults stayed outside and had a good time talking and trying some really delicious liquors served by Judy. The best were the little test tube vials of French Kisses that she brought out (she's a health care worker and assured us the vials were recycled but safe). A French Kiss is a combination of White Cacao liquor, Amaretto, and Bailey's Irish Cream. It's truly something special.

Judy and Gary do a lot of boating and have often thought about going down to the Caribbean. Their boat has all the comforts of home, like a freezer and a VCR. They are still getting their ice-maker to work. The last time he checked, his ice cubes were costing about $50 each. He's still working on that. They are also selling something new called Cool Lights. They are neon tubes of colored light that outline your boat and make it look really cool at night. I'm sure they will be popular with lots of boaters. They reminded me of floats in the Disney Electric Parade. We would have liked to stay up with them longer because we were enjoying their company, but we had to get up early in the morning to go to St. Louis and get the car back by noon. We said "good-night" to our new friends and went to bed.

Day 32 - Saturday, July 29
St. Louis and anchoring on the Mississippi

View from St. Louis Arch - Pond
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We left in our car at 7:00 so we could get to the Arch at 8:00 when it opened. The plan worked like a charm and we didn't even have to wait in any lines to get into a tram and get a ride to the top. The tram is a series of little cars, each one has five seats inside of a tiny little white room. They reminded me of those amusement rides at the fair that look kind of like a Ferris Wheel, but you get locked into little boxes that turn upside down. They say that the tram is a combination of a train, and elevator, and an amusement ride. The view from the top was awe-inspiring, even though it was cloudy out. You could tell you were in a v-shaped structure up at the top. You had to lean way over to look out the tiny windows that are barely visible from the ground. The whole Arch is so beautiful and grandiose in its simplicity. It was well worth the trip.

View of downtown from up in St. Louis Arch
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Viewing room up in the Arch
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Tricia up in Arch viewing room
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Big river barge viewed from up in St. Louis Arch
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Tram car ride down from the top of the St. Louis Arch
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Under the Arch is the Jefferson Western Expansion Museum. It teaches the history of the nineteenth century. We got a special program on the sodhouses of the early pioneers from a museum tour guide. She said some of the women settlers were embarrassed that they were living in sod houses. She showed us an old photograph of a family seated around their organ out in front of their cattle pen. The lady of the house had ordered the photographer and her husband to carry her organ outside for the photo because she didn't want her family back home to see that she lived in a sod house. Apparently, having an organ in a muddy cowyard was OK.

Tricia holding up St. Louis Arch so it doesn't fall
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Floating McDonald's riverboat by St. Louis Arch
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After the Arch we stopped for a Kentucky Fried Chicken family meal. There was so much food that we took some back with us for supper. We got the car back by noon and were given a ride to the marina.

While Dan was topping off the gas tanks on the boat, I got to see a neighboring houseboater catch a few blue catfish. They were much lighter and more silvery than the dark ones we had up in Henry. Bob had joined us in the lounge area the evening before, and now he was snapping green beans while watching his fishing line. He was preparing some green beans, potatoes and ham for lunch, and he gave me some tips on how to skin the next catfish I tried to eat. He helped us shove off, and we were on our way again. Thanks, Bob!

Bank of the Mississippi River
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View of the Mississippi River
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We travelled for a few hours and passed many beautiful sand beaches that were out of the channel. Then we saw one that was the best of them all. It was huge, pure sand, and no logs on the river bottom. We anchored for a swim and the kids discovered that the river bottom was pure sand, too. It reminded me of the Wisconsin River, but everything was bigger. We swam all afternoon, then took our leftover fried chicken up to the beach for a picnic around the campfire. Bob had even given us some more leftover chicken that he had in his fridge, so we had a second feast that day.

Since the place was so perfect, we decided to just stay there for the night. A few smaller boats pulled up upriver from us, and unloaded tents, grills, and chairs. They spent the night, too.

Day 33 - Sunday, July 30
Anchoring in the Mississippi near ?

We spent another day on our perfect beach. A few more people came in their boats and the kids found some friends to play with. They also built a giant Sand City. The river dropped about six inches overnight, exposing about eight feet of new beach front. Dan visited the adults on the beach and was treated to beer and watermelon all afternoon - a local tradition. They were all members of the Perry Dice Boat Club in Perryville, Missouri (about 12 miles from here).

Everyone else left about five o'clock. We moved our boat out about 30 feet so it would be in deeper water. We were still well out of the channel. We turned on our phone to check on things back home. After hanging up, we were amazed to have our phone ring. We hadn't had it turned on for the last two weeks. It was our friend, Reed, from Green Bay. He has some vacation time and he wants to meet us somewhere. This section of the Mississippi is pretty desolate, but in a few days we will be in Kentucky Lake. Everyone tells us its a wonderful place, full of sand islands. And, it's a dry lake (no alcohol) so the boaters aren't too crazy. We're going to put our mast back up when we get there. It's a perfect place for sailing lessons - small waves and predictable winds (so they say, but I don't believe any winds are predictable). We told Reed he should join us there, and we are looking forward to it.

Day 34 - Monday, July 31

Front View of a Big Barge Load
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Rear View of the Big Barge Load with a Tugboat pushing
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Dan and I got up at six and started motoring down the river again. The fog was thick until ten o'clock. Luckily, there were only a few barges. We saw our biggest one yet - seven long and six wide (1400 by 220 feet and weighing about 60,000 tons, 12,0000,000 lbs). The river twists and turns a lot here, but the water is very clean. There are islands and sand beaches everywhere.

We have finally succombed to the boredom of piloting. Dan did some wiring so our tiny TV/radio is now available in the cockpit for the enjoyment of whoever is steering.

We ended the day after going 92 miles down the Mississippi. Our average speed was nine miles per hour. The current was about 3 1/2 knots while our engine contributed the other 5 1/2 knots. We've been getting 20 miles to the gallon.

We anchored for the night just behind the downriver tip of Bumgard Island at mile marker 30.

Day 35 - Tuesday, August 1
Bumgard Island, south of Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Sand beach on the Mississippi River
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Our boat anchored in the Mississippi River
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We took a swim out to our island this morning. It was even more perfect than the perfect sand beach we stayed at over the weekend. That was an ordinary perfect beach; this one was extraordinary. This was a huge sand island, with sloping sand bluffs ten feet high on the downriver end. There was a small forest in the middle of the island. The bluffs and sand dunes were an ever- changing combination of sand and Mississippi mud. There were huge cakes of half-dry clay deposits that could be molded into pots or stepped on to make foot imprints. The kids spent most of the day making a Pueblo Native American village by carving the sides of a small sand bluff. They even carved tiny steps into the hardened sand. We all had fun walking up the beach then letting the current float us back down to our boat.

Zion's sand caves on Mississippi River towhead
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Close-up of caves dug out of sand cliffs
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Another view of our boat anchored in the Mississippi
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Barges went by throughout the day. Only one small boat went by. It was a fishing boat. We watched them throw something out then circle around and pick it up, then do it all over again. Their behavior stumped us. They finally got near enough and we asked them what they were doing. They said they were "jugging". You take a jug, like an empty soda bottle, then you put a fish hook and some bait on it. You throw it in the water and wait for a catfish to bite. This is how you catch the big ones - 40 to 50 pounds. But nothing was biting today.

This island was so wonderful that we decided to spend the whole day here. It was another bright, sunny one so we kept our solar oven cooking all day. (Thanks, Lisa, for the brownie mix. We made them today and they turned out great. Tricia, our chocoholic, ate most of them.)

Day 36 - Wednesday, August 2
Ohio River, east of Cairo, Illinois

We left our island this morning and continued down the Mississippi River. We had only 30 miles to go until we met the Ohio River.

Our plan is to leave the Mississippi when we get to the Ohio. The Mississippi twists and turns a lot as you start heading further south, plus it has lots of big barges. Most small boaters take a different route to the Gulf of Mexico. When we get to where the Ohio river enters the Mississippi, we will take the Ohio upriver for sixty miles. Then we'll have a short bit on the Cumberland River, then end up on the Tennesee River. The Tennesee River is dammed up at that point to make a huge lake called Kentucky Lake. Everyone has been telling us that Kentucky Lake is a wonderful place - no current, lots of sand islands, lots of gentle water. We're going to put our mast back up there and practice sailing. Dan says we're going to practice until the kids and I can handle everything ourselves while he's inside. We're not in any hurry to get further south because it will only get hotter.

After Kentucky Lake, we'll take the Tennessee River to the Ten-Tom Canal. From the Ten-Tom we'll get to the Tombigbee, then the Black Warrior River, then the Mobile River into Mobile Bay in Mobile, Alabama.

Today it only took about three hours to get to the spot where the Ohio River enters the Mississippi. At that point you can see three states - Missouri on the right, Illinois on the left, and Kentucky straight ahead. We turned and headed up the Ohio. Right on the southern tip of Illinois, on a skinny little peninsula, is the city of Cairo. We were calling it KI-RO, like the Egyptian city, but everybody here calls it KAY-RO, like the corn syrup. There was no dock, but there was a very, very long and steep angled concrete boat ramp that led into water that got 40 feet deep 40 feet from shore. We anchored nearby the boat ramp, then Dan and Zion took the dinghy to shore. A boy who was fishing for catfish gave them directions to the library. Tricia and I stayed on the boat, both to watch it and because a trek thru the heat at midday didn't sound like much fun. Tricia and I got to watch some people back a trailer with some jetskis down that ramp.

Dan and Zion returned more quickly than I expected. It turns out that the people of Cairo were very friendly and helpful. Someone gave them a ride to the library. At the library, they learned that the one internet computer was down. But the librarian said they could try City Hall which was nearby. At City Hall, their internet was down, too, so the City Clerk took them to her home PC. Not only were all of these places air-conditioned, including the cars, but the City Clerk gave them some cold Pepsis from her fridge. Now that's hospitality! Dan got the upload done, then she gave them a ride back to the dock.

We were on our way again heading up the Ohio. Because the current is now against us, we only move about three miles per hour. Our engine goes 5 knots, the current is 2 knots which leaves us at a speed of 3 knots. (From what I understand, a knot is very close to a mile, so I use the two interchangably.)

The other difference now that we're heading upstream is the buoys. All of the rivers that are navigable for barge traffic have their channels marked with red and green buoys. When you go downstream, you keep the red triangle buoys on your left side, and the green square buoys on your right. Now we have red on the right side. The buoys mark the edges of where the water is at least 20 feet deep. If you don't see any buoys, that means the water is deep all of the way to the river bank. Sometimes the marked channel is very wide, sometimes it is very narrow. But its very easy to follow once you understand it. The kids can even navigate it on their own.

While we each take our turns piloting, we have detailed river charts to follow. They mark all of the bridges, overhead power lines, docks, daymarks, islands, creeks and towers. You can pass the time by looking for all of the things on the map as you pass them by. Some charts even include the buoys. Tricia has fun looking for each buoy and she can tell when one is missing. Sometimes they are missing because a barge has knocked them apart. We often see banged-up buoys lying along the river bank. One day we even saw a Coast Guard barge with a crane and a load of new red and green buoys. They were setting them out where they were needed.

We spent the rest of the day continuing up the Ohio. The Ohio was just as large as the Mississippi, and the current seemed even faster. I can only imagine how big the Mississippi gets after the Ohio joins it. We anchored out of the channel in a large expanse of water. Barges passed by all night, but they were far away and we couldn't even feel their wake because the current wiped it out.

Day 37 - Thursday, August 3
Fort Massac, Illinois

We motored up the Ohio River during the morning. We wanted to stop at noon and rest or swim for a few hours because it was another beastly hot day. At noon we came to the city of Metropolis. There was a casino river boat, but no place to dock. Someone on board told us there wasn't any gas station nearby either. Further up the river, we saw a boat ramp and a large gravel slope. There was a dock, but it looked even smaller than our boat, so we tried to anchor instead. We were out of the main channel so the current wasn't very strong and the wind was strong in the opposite direction. We were drifting over our anchor, almost hitting the dock and almost hitting a dead tree in the water. A back anchor didn't hold. So we picked up the anchors and tied up on the little dock. It actually was bigger than it seemed and held us just fine.

We were surprised when we climbed up the steep, hot hill and found that we had hit the jackpot. On top of the bluff right next to the boat ramp was a state park, Fort Massac. It had an air-conditioned museum and flush toilets. Plus, right outside the park, just a short walk away, was a gas station and a grocery store. We carried up our gas can to get gas, and stopped at the grocery store for TP and popsicles. Then we spent the rest of the afternoon touring the museum and the replica of the fort.

It turns out that Fort Massac was originally built by the French and was named Fort Massiac, in honor of their Minister of the Colonies. The French turned it over to the British after the French and Indian War and the British butchered the name to Fort Massac. Then the British turned it over to the Americans after the Revolutionary War. In 1908 the local Daughters of the American Revolution worked to have Fort Massac become the first state park in Illinois. There is a lovely picture of the good ladies in their powdered wigs and colonial dresses at the opening of the park.

The fort has been reconstructed. It is used freqently by re-enacters of the French and Indian War. The big camp-out is in October.

The museum also boasts a very large display of Native American arrowheads and other stone implements, all of which were found locally by an avid collector. The park rangers were very helpful with information about the history of the park and the local area. Yes, Metropolis is the home of Superman. They have a Superman Celebration every summer, and a Super Museum which houses a collection of Superman memorabilia. Yes, the name of their newspaper is The Planet. Their other claim to fame is being the birthplace of the Birdman of Alcatraz.

The rangers also helped us try to identify the digging bees we had seen on our perfect sand island. The bees had stripes, were about an inch long, and they would come up to the sand and start digging like little dogs. The sand would just go shooting out behind them. We think they are Plasterer Bees. They plaster the inside of their little holes with saliva, then they put their eggs inside.

At four o'clock we were back on the river. We were glad that it was clouding up and it looked like a storm might come. The storm didn't come until midnight, but it sure was nice having a cool breeze all evening.

We had one small lock to go thru. This was our first one on the Ohio, and our first one where we would be going up instead of down. A kind tugboat captain said we could take his place and go right thru. If we waited for him, it would take over two hours to get all of his barges thru. We went into the low water in the lock chamber and the lockmaster threw us a rope. We were only about 15 feet below him. But rising up in the lock feels like rising from the dead. You slowly come up out of your deep, dark grave. First your eyes are level with the shore and you can see all of the boats and people around. Then you keep on rising until everything looks normal, and you cruise on out. We cruised for the rest of the evening in the cool breeze, then we anchored right before dark on the Ohio River. We were almost to the mouth of the Cumberland.

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