Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Where the Ohio meets the Mississippi

We are at Fort Defiance State Park, at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers (map).

This is a dead park in a dying town. We are literally the only souls here in the campground, which is somewhat in disrepair. Signage in the park dates variously from 2000 to 2002. We did see someone trimming around the trees earlier, and there is evidence that the trash barrels are emptied periodically. And the power is on. We found two or three sites with 50 amp service, but chose one with a more favorable view that had only 30 amps. The power outlets are mounted eight feet above the ground, and I believe that even that is not enough to keep them above water when the rivers flood. I needed to stand on a chair to plug in. (I'm fairly certain that violates some NEC provision, but I'm guessing the city of Cairo is not going to cite itself.)

Even though there is no evidence the iron rangers are ever opened, we dutifully made out a check and stuffed it in the slot (the envelopes have long since been emptied from the dispenser, which contained traces of river mud). A sign says to pay at the Toll House, a structure associated with the Ohio river bridge to Kentucky (which has been toll-free since 1948) and now the park office, such as it is, but it was closed, with no evidence that it is ever open at any time.

The whole deserted nature of the place is exacerbated by the fact that the US-60/62 bridge over the Mississippi from Missouri is closed for repairs. It apparently closed yesterday and will remain so for at least 45 days. Too bad for us, since we had planned to arrive here that way. Instead, we had to detour up I-57 and backtrack down US-51 through the slowly dying city of Cairo, Illinois. The entrance to the park is just before the bridge portal, and to even get here required passing a giant "Road Closed in 500 Feet" sign. Perhaps the park gets more traffic when the bridge is open.

In any case, it is delightful to have this wonderful location all to ourselves. We walked up to the toll house (which, like the bridge approaches, is on the levee system) and read the various historical markers and plaques. We also set up the roof-top deck, and sat up there watching the towboats exchange barges on the Ohio. We can't really see the Mississippi directly from our site, but the Ohio is right out our front window. Tomorrow, we will walk down to the confluence and the 60's era Boatmen's Memorial structure there.

Even though the park is named Fort Defiance State Park, there are no fortress remnants here. For that matter, even the State Park part is something of a misnomer, as the state more or less abandoned the place years ago, and the city of Cairo stepped in to build the RV park, and continues the park's upkeep. In researching the place on the net, I came across a proposal to build a replica fort and generally improve the park's historic value as some kind of national memorial park named the Confluence of Freedom. However, there is no evidence that anything will be done with that proposal. US Grant built a fort here during the Civil War, and Lewis and Clark camped here en route to the Missouri.

In fact, it was only through some serious digging on the internet (including looking at satellite imagery) that I even knew there would be RV parking here. It is not listed in any of our guidebooks, which might also account for the utter desolation.

Today's drive up the Great River Road (mostly US-61) was uneventful and fairly short. We did stop for fuel, topping off at $2.499, the cheapest we have found anywhere in the last thousand miles or so. We also stopped for lunch at Lambert's Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri, home of the Throwed Rolls (really). The food was good, and so was the kitsch, even though the tourist-trap factor was high and that normally deters us. (Sure sign of tourist trap: bus parking, with four tour coaches already parked when we arrived sometime after 2. Odyssey fit right in.) The only problem was that we did not bring a big enough appetite to do justice to the place. The food just keeps coming.

It was just after Lambert's that we encountered the "Road Closed 12 miles Ahead" sign on US-60 and had to divert up I-57 to cross the river.

Tomorrow we will head up US-51 to De Soto, where our mail should be waiting, then jog over to Rend Lake for our pre-rally.

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