Friday, July 9, 2010


We are at the Elks lodge in Louisiana (map). Not the state, but the small town of that name in Missouri, on the Mississippi river. Few had ever heard of this place before Tuesday. We're here because the lodge not only allows RV parking, but also has a pair of 30-amp receptacles for guests, and we've been using the power since we arrived to keep the air conditioning running.

Getting here was something of a challenge. As I wrote Wednesday, US-61 was closed at the Des Moines river. Crossing to Missouri from elsewhere in Iowa would involve a 20-mile detour, and so we instead crossed the Mississippi into Hamilton, Illinois, and then headed south on Illinois 96, which is the eastern Great River Road. Fortunately, so far no backtracking, and 96 was a straight shot to Quincy. We had to cross the river, though, at Quincy, even though the river road south of there is actually more interesting than US-61 on the Missouri side, and a shorter route to boot, because I had already labeled a large package from an eBay sale to depart from the UPS station at Palmyra, Missouri. So the short lateral segment across the river and back to US-61 was something of a backtrack, or at least some unnecessary mileage.

The real trouble started in Palmyra. I had very carefully looked up UPS locations on the company web site, and Palmyra was the most convenient to our route, or at least it was before we detoured through Illinois. The UPS web site conveniently provides locator maps and directions to their facilities, and I dutifully transferred the map coordinates to the GPS and verified the written directions followed the same route. When we arrived at that location, however, we found ourselves inside the Marion County Fairgrounds. The person who answered the 800 number gave us directions to the exact same spot, and they had to email the location to have a local employee call us back. After fifteen minutes at the fairgrounds someone called us back and directed us to a location a mile north of town, that we had driven right past on our way in. It was not the first time they had to direct someone from the fairgrounds.

After finally getting rid of our enormous UPS package, we headed back south on US-61 and past the same bridge construction for the third time in a row. Just before Palmyra the Great River Road diverts onto Missouri 168, and we followed this all the way in to Hannibal. Hannibal is actually a thriving river town, owing mostly to the tourism business. Hannibal was the boyhood home of Samuel Clemens, and I don't think there is a business in town that does not bear one of his names or the name of one of his characters. We would have stopped and sampled some of the dining or the kitschy riverfront if we could have stayed within walking distance of the town. The only options with power, though, were some distance away and pricey, and we did not have enough fuel to run the generator if we could even find a spot closer in. This sort of tourist trap is not really our bag, and we'll only stop when conditions are perfect.

South of Hannibal the Great River Road traverses Missouri 79. It would have been nice to know before we even left town that 79 is closed for two full years about 20 miles south, at Ashburn. As it was, we made it a full 10 miles before hitting a sign informing us of the closure, and we then had to make our way back to US-61 on some narrow county roads. 61 brought us past the closure, and we then needed to thread our way back to the river road on some more narrow county roads in order to make our way here to Louisiana, where we had previously confirmed that the power outlet would be available.

This is a sleepy little river town, with a pleasant main street and a nice river front park, and the Elks lodge is right downtown. About half of the buildings here appear to be vacant, and I wonder if that is in part due to the two year closure of the River Road north of here. Few travelers would have made the detour that we did, instead continuing on US-61 all the way to St. Louis. We did find $2.75 diesel on our way into town, at a cluster of stations right near the US-54 bridge to Illinois, and I put enough in to get the generator running should we need it in the next few days.

We had a social glass of wine inside the lodge after we got parked, a ritual in which we seldom partake but which seems de riguer when most of the lodge officers come out to chat while you're parking. Then we walked right across the street to Pikers restaurant, which I would characterize as typically Midwestern comfort food; we both enjoyed the "pot-roast style prime rib" special for $5.99 (plus another $3 for the salad bar). These sorts of restaurant prices are one of the endearing features of this part of the country.

After dinner we walked down to the riverfront, where the Mississippi is again spilling over the banks in spots. We then did a quick walk around downtown, where inevitably we ran into the pair of giant television satellite trucks still staking out the Maier house, where the abduction Tuesday of four year old Alisa made national headlines and put this little town on the map. It's a little disturbing to us that the media has such little respect for the privacy of this embattled family (I believe they are sequestered elsewhere); when we spotted the trucks a block away we switched directions to avoid walking past. The bittersweet postscript to this story is that the girl was found "safe" the next day, 70 miles away in St. Louis. The suspected abductor fatally shot himself as police approached his house.

On a more personal note, it is starting to disturb me a little bit that towns along our planned route seem to be having calamity just days or maybe hours before we arrive. This started in North Dakota when we narrowly avoided a tornado by less than an hour. Then we rolled into Wadena, Minnesota where a tornado devastated the city 2 days before and we ended up helping for a day with the Red Cross relief effort. More recently we rolled through Bellevue, Iowa just hours after horses in the July Fourth parade killed one and sent 23 to the hospital. Just as we were arriving in Keokuk, the road south into Missouri was flooding. Most of these events made national news, and all of these towns were on our planned route before those events occurred. I'm wondering if we should publish more details of our route plans so that emergency managers in our path have time to prepare.

Since we are well-parked and have ample power here, and this is a pleasant town with at least one other well-reviewed restaurant in walking distance, we've decided to spend another night. Enabling that decision is the fact that the National Hurricane Center's forecast map is clear at the moment, and the threat of flooding here along the northern Mississippi and its tributaries might even make our presence here fortuitous. As long as we're parked for the day, I'm getting some projects done, including listing more eBay items and rebuilding water pumps. I expect we will roll out of here tomorrow, continuing along the Great River Road all the way to St. Louis.


  1. Note to self: Still want Sean and Louise to visit, but make sure this string of unfortunate events departs from their path first...

  2. Hi Sean, Louise and Opal,
    I was thinking about how you keep ending up in these towns that keep have "situations" while reading. I sure hope the trend does not continue.
    Take care
    Kelly, Rocket and Mojo

  3. Hey travlers. Come on back to Canal Campground at entrance to land Between the LAKES area. since your last visit, we had record flooding on Lake Barkley with the Canal CG partially flooded. However, all is well, repaired and awaiting the arrival of the Bus. Good travels.


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