Sunday, August 31, 2008

Life Along The Mississippi

Riverboat pushing the Dutch Star.
One of the resident herons and riverboat.
LST 325 sails by the campground.
325 docked in Moline
325 on D-Day
The Interior
American Queen sets sail
Talking to passengers as the stern wheeler locks through.
The smokestacks folded down to clear the bridge.
American Queen sails by the campground. Listen closely and you may hear the calliope.

We are really enjoying our time parked on the banks of the Mississippi. We have watched the birds and the riverboat traffic glide by. Even though the summer here started with two floods that twice covered this campground with several feet of water the river was closed last week for a few days because of low water. The Mississippi above St. Louis is a series of navigation pools created by dams that have locks so the boats can pass through. Sometimes there is not enough water to maintain the proper depth for the big boats and the river must be dredged. The towboats push up to 15 barges and are 1200 feet long. Each barge carries as many as 58 trailer trucks. Most locks are only 600 feet long so in order to pass through, the barges must split their load and lock through one half at a time. Below St Louis the river is free flowing and no dams are necessary because the Ohio, Missouri and Illinois Rivers provide plenty of water to keep it deep enough for river traffic. We have seen many different birds including herons, gulls, vultures, duck, geese, and white pelicans.

We saw a WWII ship, LST 325 (Landing Ship Tank) sail by and then we went to Moline, Illinois to tour it. The ship was used for landings in the Mediterranean and was part of the back up force for troops going ashore at Omaha Beach on D-Day. During the invasion the ship made 40 trips across the English Channel to Normandy. In 1963 it was transferred to the Greek Navy and served until 1999. In 2000 it was acquired by The USS Ship Memorial and was sailed across the Atlantic by a crew of 29 veterans whose average age was 72. It arrived in Mobile, Alabama where restoration began on January 10, 2001. It is one of only two LSTs in the US and restoration continues at its new home port in Evansville, Illinois. The ship is 325 feet long and when in service had a crew of 150, could carry 40 battle ready tanks in its hold and other equipment on the deck. It would land directly on the beach and the front opened to unload the cargo.

In Davenport we saw the American Queen, the worlds largest river cruise ship at 418 feet, set sail and then pass through a lock. In order to pass under a bridge below the lock they laid the smokestacks down. The ship carries passengers on cruises up and down the river. As it was going through the lock it was so close to the side that we talked to the passengers who were heading to St. Louis from St. Paul. A few days later we saw the ship sail past the campground on its return trip. As it was going up the river they were playing the giant calliope on the stern. It could have easily been a ship with Mark Twain on board from over 100 years ago.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Obama for President

Phil & Karon Noll
Watching Obama's Speech
Liz : Obama Field Organizer in Muscatine
Jim & Nanc working the phones

We are now at the Shady Creek Corps of Engineers Campground on the Mississippi River near Muscatine, Iowa. We arrived here on August 20 with no real plan and decided to stay for two weeks taking us through Labor Day and just kick back for a while. We hooked up with Phil and Karon Noll, full timing Escapees, who are also fellow Obama supporters. They invited us to join them on Thursday evening to go to a local pub and listen to Obama's acceptance speech with a group of local Democrats. That lead us to signing up to work the phones calling Iowans Saturday morning asking them to support Obama. We had a great time doing our little part in what we HOPE will be a win for Obama - Biden in November. We know this is going to be a tough election especially with McSames choice of Alaska's governor as his running mate. After all she has so much foreign policy experience being the only governor who has to face down Russia directly across the Bering Strait each day. Also, she is a former queen and we all know that requires being a real diplomat. If you would like to learn more or make a donation to the campaign you can click here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Amana Colonies

The visitors center is an old corn crib.
A clapboard siding building.
Stone and wood building
Old Barns
Stone House
Nanc wanted it but we did not have room.
Harry the broom maker

We stayed at the Amana RV Park while visiting the Amana Colonies of Amana, East Amana, Middle Amana, High Amana, West Amana, South Amana and Homestead. These small towns were started in 1855 as an agricultural commune based on a religious movement from Germany known as Pietism. The residents received all their necessary resources in exchange for their labor. In addition to farming, craftsmen worked in the woolen mill, the brewery or produced furniture and other goods in workshops. While they continue to follow the same religious practices today the communal system ended in 1932 in part because of the economic hardships of the Great Depression but also to keep the children from leaving. For the first time community members worked for wages and owned their own homes and businesses. At that point the Amana Society, Inc., a profit-sharing corporation, was formed to manage the farmland, mills and other enterprises. Private business was encouraged and the largest started in 1934 was Amana Appliances which has since been sold to Whirlpool and continues to produce appliances in the same factory. Today the Amana Society owns the land, including the largest private forest in Iowa, and operates the campground, general store, woolen mill, furniture and clock shop, and the meat shop as well as seven museums. About half of the businesses, wineries, restaurants, inns and shops are privately owned and in most cases by descendants. Future plans include German noodle and organic soft drink companies that will be building plants there. Many of the buildings in the colonies are uniquely constructed with brick, stone or clapboard exterior walls and date back to the mid 1800's. We talked to a couple of old timers who have lived in the colonies their entire lives and like many of the residents speak German. They both worked in the colony and one of the gentlemen, Harry, continues to make brooms in the old way for sale in a shop. Harry was recently recognized by the Czech Republic for his service during WW II. While we were in Amana we had a major computer crash and so we are a little behind with the blog. After a few days, with the help of Dell and the local repair shop, all seems to be well with the computer and we were able to save all our files including all our pictures. We really do need a back up.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Duke and Us

Holliwell bridge was featured in the movie. It was damaged by a huge tree during the spring floods.
Culter-Donahoe Bridge
Stone bridge was used in the movie.
Ethanol Plant
Winterset street named for its famous son.
The birthplace of The Duke.
Jim, who did not have a beer, offers wine to Marion Morrison.
"A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do"

We are at the Winterset Community Park in Winterset, Iowa, another new state for both of us. Winterset is the county seat of Madison County made famous by the book and the movie about its covered bridges. We took a drive to see some of the bridges that were in the movie. One disappointment was that many of the bridges have been moved to new locations and you can no longer drive over them. You could see some of the damage done to one of the bridges caused by the spring floods. Almost all of the streams and rivers we have crossed in Iowa show signs of the flooding with trees and vegetation washed out along the banks. In many low lying areas mud still covers the land. Another thing we have noticed driving across the Corn Belt is new ethanol plants being built to turn corn into energy.

Another claim to fame for Winterset is that it is the birthplace of the famous actor, The Duke, Marion Robert Morrison who was born here in 1907. We toured the house which contains memorabilia from his movies and famous friends. In 1984 President Reagan visited the home and signed the guest book with his address 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For a couple of days we just took it easy, relaxing, reading and watching the Olympics. Iowa reminds us of Western Pennsylvania with rolling hill, many trees and farms.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Golden Spike Tower
New trains being made up. In the background is "the Hump" where the cars are released for sorting.
Engines waiting for trains.
Yes, they even grow corn by the rail yard.
Great Platte River Road Archway
No, this is not me with Nanc.
This is what often happened to wagons going west. When people would give up and go back it was said, "They had seen the elephant."
Coffee pot from along the Lincoln Highway. There was one of these on Route 30 in Chester, West Virginia.

For the last nine days, as planned, we have slowly been moving our way across Nebraska. After leaving Scotts Bluff we stayed in North Platte at the Buffalo Bill State Park, then we spent one night in Kearney and are now at the Riverview Marina in Nebraska City on the banks of the Missouri River looking across at our next state, Iowa. In North Platte we visited the Union Pacific Railroad's Golden Spike Tower. This is a must stop for anyone who loves trains. The tower overlooks the Bailey Yard, the world's largest railroad classification yard. In this yard 3000 rail cars travelling cross country are resorted each day for their new destination. The cars are pushed to a hump and then released one or two at a time to roll slowly into one of the bowls which have a total of 50 tracks to become part of a new train. There is one area for east bound trains and another for west bound. Over 150 trains a day pass through the yard which is eight miles long. There is also a engine and car repair facility, as well as, a train that is always prepared to respond to a derailment. It was great watching the constant activity going on in the yard. In Kearney we toured the Great Platte River Road Archway, a huge structure over I-80 that was constructed on site and then moved into place over the road in one piece and in one day. Exhibits trace the history of people moving west along the Platte River and include stories of mountain men, wagon trains, stagecoaches, the Pony Express, railroads, Route 30 (Lincoln Highway) and finally the interstate. The history is presented over headsets through a series of multi-media displays that tell the stories of individuals involved in each type of transportation. It is a very worthwhile stop to get a better understanding of the role Nebraska and the river valley had on western expansion. That night in Kearney we dry camped in the parking lot of the Archway which was a first for us. Being free was the plus side, being 20 yards from I-80 was the down side. The campground we are in now on the banks of the Missouri River was under water for three weeks at the end of May and work is still being done to return it to normal. We travelled only on two lane roads and enjoyed our drive across Nebraska. We now understand why they are known as the Cornhuskers because for mile after mile we drove through acres and acres of corn. It is great being back in a part of the country with green grass and trees after spending so much time in arid areas.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

From the Mountains to the Prairie

Scotts Bluff
Chimney Rock
Mitchell Pass
The rut made by wagons 150 years ago.
Prairie Schooner
Grave of Rebecca Winters
We have left the mountains and have begun our trek across the Great Plains. Our first stop was the Robidoux RV Park, a city run park in Gering, Nebraska another state neither of us have ever visited. The campground is near Scotts Bluff National Monument and Chimney Rock, two important landmarks on the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails and also for the Pony Express. These two formations are remains of a once higher plains which are slowly eroding away. Scotts Bluff rises 780 feet above the river and you can drive or hike to the top along routes built by the CCC in the 1930's. We did both and enjoyed two totally different perspectives. Chimney Rock, which is pictured on the 2006 Nebraska quarter, is 325 feet high. We chose not to hike to the base along the narrow, less traveled trail because of the numerous warnings about the Prairie Rattlesnakes that inhabit the area. These two welcomed landmarks signaled the end of the monotonous plains, one-third of the trip and the beginning of the more difficult Rockies for the more than 350,000 pioneers who passed through this area traveling west in the middle of the 1800's. While the trails followed the North Platte River for much of the way it had to divert through Mitchell Pass to bypass the bluffs and badlands near the river. Here you can still see the ruts worn in the ground by the many wagons. There are wagons on display that show some of the 2000 pounds of supplies the pioneers carried for the trip which could take up to six months. They traveled about 15 miles a day and people walked to ease the burden on the pack animals. Contrary to the Hollywood myth, they had very little trouble with the Indians who often helped and traded with them. An unknown number died from disease and accidents along the way but there are very few graves to mark where they were buried. One exception is the grave of Rebecca Winters who was buried nearby in 1852. Her family etched her name on a wagon tire to mark the grave and a railroad surveyor found the marker years later and moved the right of way to preserve the site. A monument was erected there in 1902. Seeing the harsh land and climate they encountered gives you a new respect for those American pioneers who settled the West.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Rocky Mountain High

Up close with the elk.
There is a moose in there.
Quack, Quack!
Deer along the road.
Nymph Lake, notice the brown trees.
Dream Lake
Quzel Falls
Calypso Cascade
Tundra above the treeline.
Regrowth after fire 30 years ago.
Old Falls River Road
Trail Ridge Road
While at Mary's Lake Campground in Estes Park, Colorado we drove and hiked through Rocky Mountain National Park. We saw many animals including deer, fox, beaver, elk, moose and a variety of birds. We were able to get good pictures of some but others were just to quick. We enjoyed our last days in the high country with the great views of the Rockies. We took two day hikes into areas with high alpine lakes, streams, cascades and waterfalls. The drive started on Old Falls River Road, a nine mile steep winding one-way dirt road that at the top connects with Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in America. Eleven miles of this road is above the treeline topping out at 12,183 feet in the tundra zone with only small plants and a few animals. The road continues over the Continental Divide to the west side of the park and the town of Grand Lake. One problem facing the park as well as all forests in the west is the pine beetle that is killing many of the trees. The reason this has become such a problem is that the winters have not been as cold in the last ten years and the beetles have been able to survive. It was really evident on the west side of the mountains where more then half of the pines are dead and brown. While at a stop along the road we began talking to a woman whose husband, Doug Plant, had family in Burgettstown where Nanc and I grew up. Another of those small world things. Even though we were in Colorado at the height of the tourist season (really against our normal plans) we found it was possible to find places that were uncrowded by just going a little off the beaten path. The pictures are small so for a better view just click on them.