Mondays with Morie–Episode 31–The Great River Road

After several weeks spending our Mondays caring for our fur baby, Lily, we (or should I say I) decided we (read here, me) needed to get out of the house and see something other than the grocery store and the vet clinic on this Memorial Day. My husband suggested that we take the motorcycle out; however, with his hip problem and now a new wrist problem, I didn’t think it would be a really good idea. Somehow the idea of him putting his foot down to hold up the motorcycle with my “petite” frame on it and the hip deciding to not cooperate and both of us landing on the pavement with the motorcycle on top of us, just wasn’t appealing. We just decided to take the truck and make our normal trek over to Calhoun County, Illinois.

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Illinois, unlike Missouri, is still mostly under lockdown. It was something I hadn’t thought of when I suggested we take our normal drive. Our favorite river town, Grafton, hasn’t been allowed to open yet, serving up a double whammy to the businesses that deal almost annually with flooding which shuts down their town. Pere Marquette State Park was also closed so our options became somewhat limited.

Our normal route on this excursion is to take the Golden Eagle Ferry across the Mississippi River through Calhoun County to the Brussels Ferry that crosses the Illinois River and onto Highway 100.  On the approach to the Brussels Ferry is Swan Lake, more formally known as “Swan Lake Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project“. We’d passed the sign for this area countless times and I’d always wondered what it was. As we approached it, I suggested we stop and see what it was.

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The US Army Corps of Engineers describes this area as:

Swan Lake is bottomland lake approximately 2,900 acres in size with an average depth between 3 and 3.5 feet.  This water body constitutes a significant portion of the backwater habitat in the Upper Mississippi River Valley and the Illinois River.  This is the largest backwater complex in Pool 26 of the Mississippi River and one of the largest on the Illinois River.

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At the end of the gravel road, we found a “Gravity Flow Sluice Gated Culvert”, (like I really knew what that was.)  We stood and watched the water flow for a few minutes and saw some of the dreaded jumping Asian Carp leaping out of the water that are becoming very prevalent in this area.

After crossing the Brussels ferry we were on The Great River Road (Highway 100). It runs parallel to the Mississippi River and you could park your car and walk ten feet and be at the river bank. This is a very pleasant drive but also because of the proximity to the river, this highway floods often. During the great flood of 1993, the Mississippi River at this point stretched from the bluffs of the East side of the River Road to Highway 94 in St. Charles County on the west and was a mind-numbing 20′ over flood stage.

We’ve driven the stretch of the Great River Road from Grafton to Alton countless times over the last twenty years and many times while driving past the small town of Elsah, I’ve wanted to stop and see what this quaint little town was all about. Enjoyillinois.com describes Elsah as:

The entire village of Elsah is on the National Registry of Historic Places. This village, with a population of around one hundred people, is often referred to as the “village where time stood still.” Visitors to Elsah can escape back to the Americana of the early 1800s with quiet streets and 19th century stone homes. This “picture perfect” village nestled in the valley is a perfect place for photographers – amateur and professional – anxious to capture a glimpse of the past.

What a joy this little town was. We both want to come back later this year when the world (hopefully) has opened up again.
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As we continued our journey toward Alton and the bridge into Missouri, we passed the Piasa Landmark, which is a hand-painted creature on the side of the rock bluff. We didn’t stop, but I did notice there were port-a-potties in the parking lot. I mentioned to my husband that I wished I’d mentioned stopping but decided we could finish the drive into Alton and stop at a restaurant, grab some lunch and use the restroom. Wrong. I’d completely forgotten Alton was not open yet. At that time we had two choices…continue on into Missouri and stop at a gas station in West Alton or turn around and go back to the Piasa monument. We didn’t want to gamble that the gas stations in West Alton wouldn’t have restrooms open so we decided to turn around and go back.
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The Legend of the Piasa (pronounced Pie-a-saw):

Many moons ago, there existed a birdlike creature of such great size, he could easily carry off a full grown deer in his talons. His taste, however, was for human flesh. Hundreds of warriors attempted to destroy the Piasa, but failed. Whole villages were destroyed and fear spread throughout the Illini tribe. Ouatoga, a chief whose fame extended even beyond the Great Lakes, separated himself from his tribe, fasted in solitude for the space of a whole moon, and prayed to the Great Spirit to protect his people from the Piasa.
On the last night of his fast, the Great Spirit appeared to Ouatoga in a dream and directed him to select 20 warriors, arm them each with a bow and poisoned arrow, and conceal them in a designated spot. Another warrior was to stand in an open view, as a victim for the Piasa.
When the chief awoke in the morning, he told the tribe of his dream. The warriors were quickly selected and placed in ambush. Ouatoga offered himself as the victim. Placing himself in open view, he soon saw the Piasa perched on the bluff eyeing his prey. Ouatoga began to chant the death song of a warrior. The Piasa took to the air and swooped down upon the chief. The Piasa had just reached his victim when every bow was sprung and every arrow sent sailing into the body of the beast. The Piasa uttered a fearful scream that echoed down the river, and died. Ouatoga was safe, and the tribe saved.

As we drove through the other tiny town of West Alton, we came across their Memorial Day remembrance program. We were at a stop sign so we weren’t able to watch long, but it looked like an impressive program.
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I’m so hoping the country is opening successfully and there isn’t an uptick in the Covid-19 virus. I really, really want to get back to normal, even if it is the “new normal”.

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