Through the miracle of the interweb, Christine of In The Coop and I have become friends. Good friends. Pick up the phone and call or text the other one at any time friends. We've been lucky enough to meet up two other times, but it's never been long enough (and honestly, it still hasn't been), but two weeks ago, during a text conversation, we went from talking about how much we wish we could hang out and visit to Christine asking if I could meet her in St. Louis (go ahead and sing it, I'll wait...) on the 12th. Miraculously enough, I could and she could and we did.
We (Christine did all the work, not going to lie) arranged to stay in St. Charles, a lovely historic town on the Missouri River very near its meet-up with the Mississippi (more on that later) and halfway between the two of us. We left our respective homes just about the same time, expecting to arrive around 7:00 pm on Friday evening, but after enduring torrential rains, thunder and lightning (me) and miles and miles and MILES of road construction on the freeway (Christine), we both rolled into the hotel parking lot WITHIN TEN MINUTES OF EACH OTHER and only an hour and a half later than we intended.
Deciding on where to stay was really the only plan we made, other than eating often and in great quantities, but one of the many things she and I have in common is that we both love a good confluence, so after stuffing ourselves silly at breakfast, we hit the road to find the Missouri/Mississippi confluence, which was about 20 minutes away. Christine drove, I rode shotgun and handled navigation, mostly courtesy of Siri.
Drive, drive, drive, over the river and through the woods (not really, there weren't any woods where we were), past wetlands and corn fields and we were getting more and more excited at the prospect of seeing the two rivers meet when we came to a gate:
|Christine with pouty face.|
Guess what? We're not that easily deterred.
After learning from the workers at the nearby Audubon Center that there was a viewing tower across the river (as in the Mississippi River), we were off. Welcome to Illinois!
Wait! There's a lock. With a museum. And TOURS.
|Lock on the Mississippi River at Alton, Illinois|
(or Altonill, as Siri calls it).
Bummer. A sign in the gift shop says the elevator's broken, so tours are limited to an auxiliary lock. Never mind.
Drive, drive, drive. There's the tower. Where's the turn? Oops, back there (slight navigation failure with a happy ending). Turn around up ahead and - hey! A museum! A Lewis and Clark museum!
|Christine and I sitting on the front porch of the|
replica of the cabin that Lewis and Clark might have
stayed in when they were preparing for their journey.
Back to the tower with a coupon courtesy of the nice volunteer in the museum. One dollar off for each of us for the $5 elevator ride (rather steep, no pun intended).
|Trouper that she is, Christine laid on her back|
on the sidewalk to get this shot. I would have
taken a picture of her doing it, but she
was using my phone for the pic.
Tower prices have gone up to six dollars.
|Yer lookin' at the gen-u-ine confluence of|
the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.
|Getting the most out of our $5 ride to the top.|
We passed this place when we went to the lock. Turn in and let's check it out. It's a little creepy (although not as creepy as things to come).
|It's the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center.|
I looked it up. Nothing nefarious, although those pipes on
the right made me wonder if it was a front for Soylent Green.
The picture in the middle IS THE ACTUAL BUILDING.
Back to Missouri. Siri is directing us into the Columbia Bottoms Conservation Area. Hey, what happened to the pavement? Why did this turn into gravel? Didn't that kid say it was paved all the way? WHAT IS HAPPENING? Oh, look, there's a map on the back of this brochure. Oops! Hey, look, Siri was wrong. Drive, drive, drive, and...
|We're getting closer....|
Walk, walk, walk.
|WE. FOUND. IT!|
Mission accomplished, and it only took us four hours! After a walk (and rather large ice cream cones) in the historic district of St. Charles, we headed back to the hotel for showers (confluence hunting is hot, hard work), naps (see previous comment) and dinner at a local Italian restaurant (yum!). Then we did this:
And we used my big $12 winnings (from my $4 investment) to eat pie.
As we were about to fall asleep (after a rather interesting trip from the casino back to our hotel which included zig zagging through a quiet and not well-lit neighborhood - Siri seemed to be having fun with us again), I scrolled through "Things To Do In St. Charles" and found us an absolute GEM to visit the next morning.
|It was raining.|
Guys, this is a nuclear waste site. AND WE WALKED ON TOP OF IT. It's a pretty sad story, really, as it started as the world's largest explosives plant, built in 1940 and it displaced the people from three towns and many farms in between. After the War ended, the plant closed and ten years later a uranium ore processing facility was put there, operating for about ten years, at which time it was abandoned. Hazardous materials and equipment were left scattered all over the property for more than 20 years. In 1985, the U.S. Department of Energy started the long, slow clean up process, and by 2001, 1.5 million cubic yards of hazardous waste was entombed in a mound 75 feet tall. The area around it has been transformed back into natural prairie, and it's lovely and horrifying all at the same time. Oh, and there's a museum!
|75 foot tall man-made mountain.|
|The path up.|
|On top. In the rain. And wind.|
|Christine venturing out onto the rock layer (there|
are many, many layers below that, thank GOD).
|Me not venturing very far, as I am|
wearing the always-sensible flip flops.
|A picture of a picture inside the museum that shows|
just some of the toxic waste left behind. The
pond in the background was where they dumped
processed uranium ore.
Okay, just when you think you've seen it all, the women who worked in the museum (by the way, the museum building was where they once screened workers for radiation exposure) told us there were about 100 bunkers scattered all over land just down the road that were built during World War II. They were once part of the explosives factory property and now in the August Busch Conservation Area. Guess where we went?
|How. Creepy. Is. This?|
|The door was ajar. I'm standing by the car,|
prepared to call 911 (or hide) if a hand reaches
out through that crack and snatches
|Contrary to how this looks, I was NOT running away|
like a baby; it had rained, it was muddy, and I was
hopping over mud puddles, trying not to get my
feet in it (flip flops, remember?).
|Yeah, we off-roaded in a minivan, where|
I learned Christine could drive in reverse
like a CHAMP.
|Off-roading gets you to bunkers.|
|It also gets you a great view of the back of a bunker.|
We headed back to St. Charles and had lunch at Lewis & Clark's (they're quite a thing around there) where we sat on an open porch on the third floor and where we could see the Missouri River. And then we ate cake.
And then we had to say goodbye.
In the meantime, we'll be working on our GENIUS idea of becoming tour guides.