Tuesday, September 20, 2005

On the Mississippi in Caruthersville, Missouri

We are once again at a casino, this time in Caruthersville, Missouri (map). This is another riverboat casino, Casino Aztar, which is in an actual navigable vessel that, nevertheless, does not ever leave the dock.

After leaving the Corps of Engineers campground yesterday, we made our way across the White River through the White River National Wildlife Refuge, which has an excellent visitor center just off route 1. We then made our way over to the great river road via US 79 and Arkansas 218.

The great river road is not a single road at all, but a scenic byway designation for a collection of state and US highways, and even some local roads, that generally follows the Mississippi, at times coming close enough to afford a glimpse of the river.

Our route plan had called for the day to end around West Memphis, AR, but I really wanted to stay someplace where we could actually see the river. Louise pored over the guide books, which revealed not only no river-front parks, but no RV camping whatsoever along our route well into Missouri. We did note, though, that there were Wal-Marts in Osceola, AR and Caruthersville, MO, both cities being right on the river, and we thought we might get lucky.

Crossing into Missouri on US 61, we were close enough to I-55 to spot a billboard promoting this casino and its brand new RV park. Sure enough, our casino guide said "RV park coming soon."

I got my wish -- not only is the casino property right on the river (as it needs to be, since the casino operates with a riverboat gaming license), but the RV park is actually on the river side of the ten foot high levee/flood wall system. Access to the park is through a gate in the flood wall. (No danger yet -- the river is at least thirty feet below us as I type this.)

We suspended our usual disdain for commercial parks since this place is (1) almost empty, (2) right on the river and we have a riverside site, and (3) has 50 amp power and we still need to run our A/C around the clock. It also has free wi-fi, a fact we learned only after deploying our dish.

The place is pricey by our standards, at $20 per night, but showing our Good Sam card got us $2 off, and signing up for their player's club got us another $2 discount. Our one-night stay also included two free cocktails in the bar, so overall it was not a bad deal.

The casino itself is a crummy little place. Our curiosity about the name Aztar got the better of us, and I looked it up. Turns out Aztar is a spin-off from Ramada Inns of their casino business, and the holding company operates two riverboats under the Aztar name, the Tropicana properties in Atlantic City and Las Vegas (this latter one also being a rather distressed property, based on my last two stays there), and the Ramada Express in Laughlin.

Nevertheless, we had a pleasant and quiet stay here, and I very much enjoyed sitting by the river and watching the towboats go by last night.

Today we will continue along the river, crossing into Cairo, Illinois, where we hope to stay at Fort Defiance State Park, right at the tip of Illinois and the confluence of the mighty Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

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