Two weeks had passed by while I had spent some time with each of my adult sons, first in St Louis with the oldest and his wife and then in Georgia with my youngest.
The original plan was to explore the river all the way down the western side to St Louis but when I got detoured in Davenport that plan quickly went out the window. I had also planned to go straight to Minnesota by passing the river on my return trip as I headed to a volunteer work project in Northern Minnesota. I headed back towards the Mississippi River Road on highway 61 North of St Louis. I had one day to pick up the portion of the missed route and get to my B&B in Cedar Rapids, IA.
First stop was a small National Wildlife preserve, I detoured off highway 61 and onto Missouri Road H following the signs to Cannon National Wildlife Refuge. I faced a flat expanse of land and a long dirt road leading to the main refuge office. Large drop belly gravel trucks were kicking up dust from the road ahead of me. I kept my distance for fear of a cracked windshield from a flying rock.
I pulled into the small refuge office and toured the small interior that has displays of what you can find within the refuge. Facts about the importance of the area to migration of birds mingled with National Refuge promotional materials. I was told of two trails that would be open to hike and warned of the construction that was taking place on the refuge. The earlier in the year flooding had caused major damage to the roads and drainage system within the refuge. Those large trucks I saw as I drove up were part of the reconstruction of several levies and water control measures.
When I reached the trails I found evidence of the flood everywhere. The trees still had high water lines on their bark and scars from passing material from the floods. Now dry, I was able to walk the trail that snaked through the marshland but I was never in view of the Big Muddy River.
I saw hundreds of butterflies that morning. Mostly small yellow and white butterflies.
After my hike I continued up what was labelled as the Great River Road highway and later it was called highway 79 towards Hannibal, MO. Close to Louisiana, Missouri I saw road construction to replace road that had been washed out earlier in the summer from the floods. I stopped and got some pictures at a local campground, seeing the Mississippi River for the first time that morning close up.
Not stopping in Hannibal (I know, anyone who has read Tom Sawyer should stop there, but I didn’t!), I crossed the De Monines River as it dumps into the Mississippi River at Alexandria, MO.
I then drove away from the Mississippi River and would not see it again until Minneapolis as I headed to my B&B in Cedar Rapids, IA.
I stayed at the Belmont Hill Victorian B&B right in Cedar Rapids. The location was on a street that dead ended and I almost missed the driveway for the B&B. Nestled on a hilltop behind a neighborhood it was like finding a secret hiding place from the world. I would recommend this location to anyone heading to central Iowa. It is a nice contrast to the farms and fields that surround Cedar Rapids. Shelly and Ken (the owners) were so kind in sharing all the history of the location along with local places to visit. It is a true gem in the heart of Cedar Rapids.
The next morning I needed to make several hundred miles before reaching Minneapolis where I would once again see the Mississippi River. The rain was coming down in bucket loads. On my way North I was shocked to see how much was underwater. I stopped outside of Winthrop to get some pictures of the flooding and the crops under water. A sad sight to see at harvest time.
I continued on the backroads straight North into Minnesota, mostly highway 150 then turning into highway 52 that took me across the border again into Minnesota country. I stopped briefly in Preston, MN to visit a fly fishing store. This part of the trip was starting to feel like the weather I had escaped from in The Netherlands, wet, grey, and dismal. A stark contrast of a few weeks prior when it was 90 degrees!
I made one last stop in Rochester to fuel the body and stretch the legs. When I finally crossed the Mississippi River in Minneapolis a couple of hours later I felt a sense of accomplishment, a dream realized. The Mississippi River South of the Twin Cities was no longer a mystery to me. My childhood dreams of what stories lurked just outside of my reach down river vanished. The views I imagined of the river were shattered, expanded and replaced by new images of this trip along the river road.
In the last days that remained before I travelled back to The Netherlands I visited the place where I had started my trip, Banning State Park. The rain storms had now flooded the banks of Kettle River turning it into a monster that hadn’t existed weeks before when I had started my trip. The leafs were now in full fall colors. I let my silent wishes for a healthy winter and a return in the Spring sail into the water current as I stood there letting them be violently carried towards the Mississippi River.
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who will be celebrating.
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