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Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Great River Road


Road trip Day One--October 19, 2015

We left shortly before noon driving on Interstates most of the way—80, 294, and 88—traveling around Chicago and then heading north and west.    It was all pretty flat and boring until we got past Rockford when the terrain became hilly and there were panoramic views of the farms and forests.

Julia Dent Grant and home
We arrived in Galena around 4 and checked into the Aldrich Bed and Breakfast where we were greeted by the innkeepers, Robert and Douglas Mahan, and given an opportunity to choose from four open rooms.  We did not choose the one Lincoln had supposedly slept in but instead one that was a bit more spacious.  We walked to the Ulysses S. Grant home and appreciated the statues of both Julia Dent Grant at the home and  Grant himself on the bluff of the Galena River.   

After wine and snacks with the innkeepers who had been experienced Chicago hotel employees, we made a brief trip down Black Jack Road to get a glimpse of the Mississippi from Casper Bluffs.  We drove to town and had dinner at One Eleven Main Street. 
Day Two--October 20, 2015
I enjoyed a 35 minute walk to town before breakfast, crossing the Galena River and climbing to Bench Street up the hill from Main Street.  There was one historic house after another—mostly red brick and all located right on the sidewalk.  A sign said you could sit in the pew that Grant sat in in the old Presbyterian Church.
Breakfast with another traveling couple was a first course of a fruit plate and then quiche, potatoes, and sausages.
We left around 10:30 and drove to Mississippi Palisades Park where we had several great views of the big river from the bluffs.  The road followed the river  for several miles.  Our first bridge was the one near Sabula—the first of five for the day.
Other highlights were seeing the imposing Mormon temple in Nauvoo and then driving south again right along the river until we crossed it for the fifth and last time today.  

 We stopped for the day in Keokuk, Iowa where we stayed at the Grand Anne Inn; our spacious Tower suite had a great view of the river.   We ate at the innkeeper's recommended Hawkeye Restaurant with its soft rolls, paper napkins wrapped around silverware, an ample pour of wine, large portions of pretty boring veggies and, lest this sound too snobby, for me, a great Iowa pork chop and draft beer.  Back to the inn and a quiet evening of reading and listening to the thunder and rain outside.
Day Three--October 21, 2015
After a better night of sleep, we had another more than ample breakfast-- a soufflé, yogurt, fruit and muffin—and bacon!  We could not finish it all.  The innkeeper introduced herself as the manager and was efficient and pleasant but not as eager to talk about the inn and the setting as the Aldrich innkeepers.
My attempt at whitewashing the fence
The sunrise over the Mississippi was spectacular. After a second cup of coffee and some reading, we left for Hannibal.  Following the Great River Road, we drove through giant farms in the flood plain with very few farm houses.  Hannibal exists for tourists.  We enjoyed seeing Mark Twain’s house but did not sign up for any tours.  
South of Hannibal along 79 was the some of the most spectacular scenery with rolling hills, panoramic vistas, and trees in full color.   However, when we stopped at a scenic point and got out of the car, we were completely bombed with lady bugs.  I literally had to shake off dozens and then we couldn’t help but bring some along on our journey. 
 We decided that there would be no more stopping at scenic points! 
The bluffs along the Mississippi
We planned to cross into Illinois at the town of Louisiana but the bridge at 54 was closed and wouldn’t be open until late afternoon.  Our alternate plan meant driving on main highways to the St. Louis area and then crossing  the Mississippi River at Alton. It was not a scenic route but the bridge  was fantastic and so was the short ride from Alton to Elsah where we are spending the night at Green Tree Inn.
The innkeeper gave us coupons for free wine at the Grafton Winery and Restaurant so that made a dinner decision easy.  We sat outside overlooking the river and a beautiful setting sun—and enjoyed grouper with a tomato basil sauce and our complimentary glasses of wine.  Lest we be too cheap, we bought a bottle to bring back with us.


So we saw the sun rise and the sun set over the river! 

Day Four--October 22, 2015
1857 Schoolhouse--note 1993 flood line

Part of the fun is chatting with the inn-keepers.  Connie is a trustee of the village of Elsah and knows all the news.  She referred to the other inn-keeper in town as so rich that she could "burn a wet horse with her money."   The former inn-keepers did not have flood insurance, suffered quite a loss, divorced, and now the gentleman has remarried and lives in Elsah and the wife is dating the mayor.  So that's only a bit of the Elsah news I heard!  

After a quiet, beautiful early morning walk for which I was filled with gratitude, I saw the labyrinth in the garden of the inn.  I followed it and this very appropriate message greeted me at the center. 

Bidden or not bidden God is present
  It has been a very nice road trip.  In one important way, it was more successful than last year's Mississippi River road trip--in that we actually saw the Mississippi a lot more.  Several times the Great River Road would go along the river for miles.  Other times the towns were right on the river.  In Keokuk, we could see the river from our window.  And here in Elsah, it is just a short walk to get another glimpse. 

We will take one last drive along the river and then it's five hours of interstate roads to South Bend. 

From home--October 23, 2015

Yesterday was more like six hours of travel through very flat Illinois farm country with historic Route 66 running parallel to I-55  The traffic around Chicago was congested and unpleasant as always.  But the ride along I-80 in northern Indiana had us gasping at the beautiful color--as beautiful as we had seen any where else--especially with the sun low in the sky lighting it up.

I write a blog like this primarily for our own memories.  But thanks to anyone else who is reading it!  I had so much fun planning the trip and the memories will be great.



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