Three rivers and more than Mark Twain.

30 May

We are moving fairly swiftly at present and in the last week have completed almost 600 miles. Our target is Michigan for early June our route determined in part by campground or the lack of decent ones not on the interstate. We eventually found Lake of the Ozarks State Park and stayed for two nights in a pleasant spot beside the water. We attempted a trail but had to turn back after a short distance as the recent storms had left the pathway flooded. We walked along the campground roads around the campsites trying to satisfy our desire for exercise.

Sunday night found us at Lazy Days Campground near Danville north of the Missouri which we crossed at Herman. Note the road on the mid right of the picture and how it disappears into the river! I am not sure how much above normal the water level was but we believe it was not inconsiderable.P1130361

On arriving at Lazy Days our host informed us there was to be an ice cream social at 7pm, a great chance for us to meet some fellow travellers. Tucking into ice ream and various additions (home made strawberry sauce, chocolate etc) we chatted with a couple on vacation in a rental RV who were heading home to Indiana from Colorado not having enjoyed the experience. A couple from Florida, previously they had owned a catfish farm not too far distant from the campground, now full timing and loving it and a man travelling alone in a fifth wheel, visiting family along the way and trying to decide where to set down new permanent roots. Adding our story into the mix gave quite a diverse gathering and interesting conversation.

Since finding a quote* attributed to Mark Twain early on in our travels I had become more and more interested in him, his writings and stories, so knowing we were not farP1130369 from his birthplace and boyhood home it was a must to incorporate it in our route. The cabin in which he was born is preserved within a State Park Building, 3 miles from its original position in Florida MO, and alongside a lake named in his honour. We were able to watch a short film about his life and view an exhibition with information about his family, his life and his work.

Born in 1835 Sam Clemens childhood experiences around the Mississippi and his later passages along it, the Missouri and Illinois as a steamboat pilot along with his travels abroad provided him with the background for his stories, a dry wit and lots of wise quotes.

His pen name of Mark Twain (two fathoms) he took from a term used for measuring depth of water. As an apprentice steamboat pilot learning the ever changing river intimately, the depth gauges called by the leadsmen were extremely important to safe passage and had to be accurately remembered along with other minute detail of each voyage and how it differed from the previous one.

For a man who is noted for his wit and humour he had a very sad background. He lost his father when he was 11, an older brother died whilst very young. He blamed himself for the death of a younger brother killed in a Mississippi steam boat accident then three of his children died early in life. Finally the loss of his wife in her early sixties prompted the beginning of sombre dark moods and a change to his writing.

Possibly Mark Twain’s most famous stories are Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, these were based on his boyhood home of Hannibal beside the Mississippi River where the family moved when he was quite small. P1130377

The town makes much of its history and has preserved properties associated with Mark Twain and his stories turning them into a museum.

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I feel I had a misspent youth, not having read either books, something I intend to remedy now I have purchased them. Presently I am reading and thoroughly enjoying ‘Life on the Mississippi’ in which Mark Twain relates his experiences as a river boat pilot when the era of steamboats was in its hey day.

Our journey from Mark Twain Shrine to Hannibal took us via New London, partly because I had found information about an Alpaca Ranch in the vicinity and I have been eager to learn more about the animals and the wool they provide.

Following the directions received after a quick phone call to the ranch, we turned into a gravel road, bumped our way towards a group of farm buildings, all neat and pretty, but not an Alpaca in sight. Having parked up we were greeted warmly by the lady of the business who explained the animals were all indoors as it was too warm for them outside in the daytime at present. She guided us towards a barn where in five or six pens around 60 Alpaca were happily waiting to greet new visitors.

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I was delighted to be able to go into the pen with some of the adult females and young, to hand feed the creatures. They were very gentle, scooping the pellets from my palm with their upper lip. We learned they only have teeth on their lower jaw, a fact I found very strange. In the second pen were Mums and new babies none more than eight weeks old and very cute and woolly. Our guide managed to catch one baby and bring him over for me to feel how deep and soft his coat was. The recently born youngsters had primarily been male, female are preferable as they are sold for breeding.

I enquired about when and how the Alpaca were shorn, to be told that in April an Australian sheep shearer visits on a tour of farms he shears for. It sounded like a great social occasion with other Alpaca owners bringing their livestock to Starlight Ranch.P1130371 Everyone joins in to get all the animals shorn and then share a meal in the evening to celebrate. Our lady guide (I do wish I had enquired her name, she is in the top right corner of the picture) informed us it was good fun the first time…it now seems like hard work!

After purchasing some yarn from the Ranch store and winding up a long conversation we left the Alpacas behind, I was not allowed one as a pet despite my argument we could keep campground grass short as we travelled around.

From Hannibal we took a road which gave us a birds eye view of the Mississippi at this point and found a roadside picnic area for a picturesque coffee break.

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Before crossing the  Mississippi into Illinois we stopped a while at Louisiana and strolled P1130398the quiet town centre. Some of the old buildings have been renovated as the town, according to its tourist brochure, tries to reinvent itself. Many would need a lot of money to be spent on them before they were usable again but at least the town is trying to use its resources and emulate its neighbours in drawing in the visitors.

P1130399It could maybe make more of its unusual railroad bridge. This has a span which swings out of the way for boats to pass below. We had parked up on the river side  because my eagle eyed engineer of a husband had spotted information in the Louisiana tourist info brochure. To his delight before we drove off the bridge was operated for a barge working its way up river.

Not far into Illinois we entered the town of Griggsville and had one of those “what in the world…” moments P1130424 when we spotted the structure pictured, in the middle of the road! This we had to stop for….

Griggsville loves the Purple Martins to the point of erecting this tower of over 40 bird houses,each with six entrances, plus many single ones elsewhere, to attract more of the birds to visit and make it their home. The reason it seems is the huge appetite for insects particularly mosquito these birds have. The painting on the wall indicates they can consume 2000 mosquito a day. It being far to hot for mathematics, my musings on how many insects could be consumed by the potential residents of the tower and their offspring did not result in a final figure other than the thought it would be a BIG number!

We continued, working our way towards and alongside the Illinois River, we passed lots of water logged fields, over flowing creeks and rivers, the banks in some parts not at all obvious. Thankfully the forecast is for no more rain immediately giving the levels time to drop. This week end is Memorial Day Holiday in the States which marks the beginning of summer vacation season, we had campgrounds booked and the first of these was beside the Illinois River at East Peoria where our thoughts on the high water were confirmed by the owner who informed us at that point it was eleven feet above normal!

* Mark Twain quote – I find this so appropriate to what we have done/are doing

“Twenty years from now you will be more dissapointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover”

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