Our Western Loop comes to a close this week. It has been an amazing experience to see the National Parks of South Dakota, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado. We managed to put 3600+ miles on our rental car in less than 2 ½ weeks and saw some amazing sights but all good things come to an end.
We enjoy a lovely stop in Denver, visiting daughter, Annelise and sister, Mary. Annelise acts as a guide and we hike the Dinosaur and Red Rocks trails, logging about 7 miles over terrain that is only challenging because there is no oxygen at this elevation!
The scenery is gorgeous and we hear some great stories about Annelise’s experience hiking the Camino de Santiago between France and Spain earlier this year. She has some thoughtful insights and many helpful tips for us to consider as we contemplate walking “The Way” sometime in the not too distant future.
We explore the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and are very impressed with the quality and quantity of the exhibits. The artist commissioned for the wildlife scenarios, supposedly had a sense of humor and began hiding elves within his painted backdrops. We can’t find even one of them and wonder if this isn’t some kind of PR stunt to make you pay attention to the painted surfaces beyond the stuffed animals and their habitats.
Photo Credit: Annelise Sandberg
We explore a heat sensor exhibit that projects an image of your body according to the heat it projects. I put my hands up to is and it is evident why they are always chilly, the tips of my fingers read with little body heat but when Annelise does this, her finger tips show up completely black = NO HEAT AT ALL!!!
Poor baby, I hope we don’t hit a cold spell on the boat because we don’t have a heater. On cold mornings we put the stove on and the burners heat the cabin very quickly and very well, so we don’t really mind much.
That evening we celebrate Annelise and Maddy’s birthdays and dine at Linger, an outstanding restaurant situated in the former Olinger Mortuary where Buffalo Bill’s body lay for weeks while Colorado and Wyoming duked it out over where his final resting place would be (Colorado prevailed). The maître d’s stand is an old pew, the lights over the tables are housed in what looks like commercial ventilator vents and the atmosphere is high energy and fun. We order a potpourri of appetizers, sides and main courses and share them, ensuring that we each benefit from what the others in the group like. We are full to bursting but that doesn’t stop us from sharing a couple of treats along with the two desserts that arrive for our two birthday girls. Even those who declare that they are too full for dessert partake enthusiastically. It is a really nice family reunion and celebration and I want to kick myself the next morning when I realize that I didn’t get a photo to mark the event.
Bright and early the next morning, we depart in our rental in the pouring rain which lasts all day. We make Omaha, NE (another state I have never been in!). This is windmill country and we see many erected in the middle of farmland. We also see the tractor trailer trucks, each carrying one huge blade that will be assembled somewhere out here and still later we see others carrying sections of the upright portions. They are HUGE!
After 7 hours of passing landmarks like: the World’s Largest Covered Wagon, The Koolaid Man’s footprints and and the memorial to the Martin brothers who were riding together on a horse and were shot by Indians. The arrow went through one brother, into the back of the other and yet they survived, apparently receiving medical attention and living well into old age. No, you can’t make this stuff up!
The next day, we are up and out early and under thankfully clearer skies, we make it to Peoria without event. All along the way we see creeks that are now rivers, rivers that have overflowed their banks and flooded lowlands and we give thanks, thinking that our marina should be easier to exit than it was to access (we bumped the bottom all the way into the marina).
We unload all of our stuff then Annelise and I shop to provision the boat while Jerry sees to engine maintenance. After returning our rental car, we eat at Alexander’s Steak House which smells amazing from the outside and doesn’t disappoint once we get inside. There are two monster-sized open pit grills, which are fired up and char-broiling meat and fish. The salad bar is extensive and we eat till we can’t any more. We would definitely recommend this place!
The wind picks up during the night, making the lines creak and groan and I wonder if Annelise is getting any sleep. The front comes through, drops the temperatures and it is chilly when we depart the next morning. The water here doesn’t appear to be much higher than it was but we are able to exit the marina without too much drama and cheer when we come to the lock. The water is actually high enough that they have lowered the wickets on the dam and rather than wasting time dealing with a lock, we cruise right over the dam on even water. YAY! No locks today! The sun is out and we have a pretty easy cruise to Havana, noting whitecaps and one footers on the river due to the wind but the sun is out and we are warm enough in the flying bridge to be comfortable. It is fun when we pass the pusher named Anne Elise. We have seen before, higher up on the river system, prior to our Western Loop and I get a shot of our Annelise in front of her.
We dock at Tall Timbers Marina in Havana, Illinois and get out to explore the little town. We are late in the season now and most marinas up here are starting to wind down operations for the winter. Some of the little towns that we come through have seen better days, others are revitalizing and being gentrified. Havana is definitely one of the former but as we stroll through neighborhoods, under their spreading oak, maple and chestnut trees, we catch glimpses of how life might have looked here a hundred years ago.
We depart the next morning to a forecast of rain with a high of 51 degrees…..brrrrrr! Without the sun to heat the flying bridge, we are not chilly, we are downright cold! We have heating pads, which I use under my bottom sheet to heat my feet at night but they are now employed as seat heaters! Even with two blankets and a heating pad, Annelise can’t stay warm and retreats to the cabin where the engines create a bit of warmth.
The Illinois River is a mess. Because of recent rains, it has flooded its banks and the drift in the water is everywhere. It isn’t just branches, although they are plentiful. There are logs the size of telephone poles and stumps drifting along and the amount of debris tangled up behind the buoys is astounding.
If the Mississippi is worse than this, it justifies our choice to go down the Tennessee.
When we have enough service, we watch Hurricane Michael hit the shores of the panhandle and are heartbroken at the devastation it leaves in its wake. Millions of dollars’ worth of homes have been scraped from existence and the marine industry has been dealt a blow that will probably take years to recover from. Our hearts and prayers go out to the people of these areas and we are in no hurry to get that far south any time soon since we are receiving reports of severely limited services in that area. We have a few months to figure out a plan to either store the boat or heed the advice of the many boats ahead of us as to conditions and plan out route home.
This area of the river seems to have less commercial traffic and is beautiful, with miles of forested shores dotted with small industrial plants and as we descend lower, we are starting to get into hilly country where there are stilt homes here and there along the shore. The river is very swollen from the rains so the stilts are a blessing in some places.
The fall colors are just starting to show and this area will be even more gorgeous in a couple of weeks. We have the river pretty much to ourselves and are thrilled to watch multiple pairs of bald eagles soaring high and playing tag above us.
We anchor in a nice sheltered area between Buckhorn Island and the main channel because there are really no marinas for the 120 miles between Havana and Grafton and this is a little more than halfway which will make the run tomorrow shorter. I don’t think our anchor has ever set as fast or held so securely as it did when as we put it down here (and it came up clean the next morning!). We have linguine and clams for dinner, along with a salad, and get massacred by Annelise playing Rummy 500 after dinner (her grandmother would be proud of her acumen!).
The cabin is warmed by the generator-run stove burners, which are also heating water for coffee since we can’t run all of this and the microwave too, and we have candles lit for ambiance. Annelise claims that it is like living in the 1800’s only with an I-pad to draw on!
We tuck into bed and snuggle down hoping for some sun and warmer temperatures tomorrow as we begin week 41!