The River Runs through It

Monday, October 17, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Day 4:  St. Charles, MO to Quincy, IL.   Like its colossal drainage basin, the Mississippi River (pictured above) has an overarching influence on life in the heartland, even for visitors.  This was our experience with the river today.
Part 1:  Finding Treasures
Our day began in St. Charles with a search for a few letterboxes, one in a downtown park.  Find three quick boxes and head on up the road, we had planned.  But fate has a way of intervening and the river injects its influence as well.
As we were walking along the riverside trail, we spied a wallet in the middle of the path.  Not our first experience stumbling upon a lost wallet while letterboxing, we picked it up expecting it to be empty of anything valuable.  We were wrong.  This one was fully intact, complete with driver's license, credit cards, cash, and other typical contents.  Knowing that it wouldn't survive long, we rescued this poor billfold and took it away, after locating the letterbox and stamping in.
Returning to the car, we examined the contents to determine how to restore the wallet to its rightful owner.  His driver's license indicated he was 18 years old, and there was even a high school ID card.  Perfect!  We'd deliver the treasure to the local high school office and they could ensure its return.  But, no.  He was a member of the class of 2011, graduated last spring.
Finding no "in case of emergency" card with phone numbers, we decided to take the wallet to the house at the address on the driver's license, though we had little hope of finding the boy or his parents at home on a Monday morning at 9:30.  Sure enough, no one answered our knocks and calling at the door.  Nor could we raise any of the neighbors.
What does a pair of letterboxers do when they have a treasure they want someone else to find?  Hide it and provide clues to its whereabouts, of course.  The sky was overcast, and rain had been threatening, so we knew our treasure, like a stamp and logbook, needed protection from the elements.  And we just happened to have a plastic letterbox container with us.
Hidden treasure
So we secured the wallet in the waterproof container and hid it under some mulch in the front yard of the house.  Then we left a note on the front door letting the owner we had found his wallet and hidden it, asking him to call us and we'd tell him where.
Sure enough, some ten hours and 150 miles later, the young man called.  We gave him the "clues" and he found the box while we were on the phone with him.  He was overjoyed to have his wallet returned fully intact and gushed about how we had restored his faith in humankind.  Interestingly, he never asked about the brown camo painted container we just happened to have to hide it in.
Part 2:  The Eagles Have Landed
Leaving St. Charles an hour later than expected, we drove north on MO-79, a designated scenic route, that meanders up the state near the Mississippi River.  In the small riverside town of Clarksville (pop. 490), we learned that the town is the Middle Mississippi River Valley's notable winter haven for bald eagles due to its proximity to Dam #24, which keeps the water free of ice, enabling the eagles to find fish during the cold weather. 
Mississippi River Lock and Dam #24
Each winter the eagles leave their northern breeding grounds and migrate south along the Mississippi River.  Searching for open water and a plentiful food source, many call Clarksville home during the winter months, giving true meaning to the popular Florida term "snow bird."
Limestone bluffs near the river bank
Beautiful limestone bluffs near the river offer the eagles a hospitable high point away from the human traffic near the dam.  The town holds an annual Eagle Days festival in late January, but bird watchers can spot our national bird around Clarksville from December to mid-March.
Part 3:  Life on the Mississippi
With Ken's keen interest in Mark Twain, we couldn't leave Missouri without a visit to Hannibal, Twain's boyhood home.  Although there are certainly those who try to capitalize on the appeal of the author's name, an excellent museum depicts the life of Hannibal's famous native son.
Huck Finn house
In addition to the childhood home of Mark Twain, one can visit his father's law office, the home of Becky Thatcher, and Huck Finn's house.  If you're wondering, as we did, how fictional characters could have historic homes, these were actually the residences of Hannibal townsfolk on whom Twain based these characters.
Riverview Park, with an impressive statue of the author overlooking the river from a high cliff, was beautiful in its autumn colors as we rushed down a tree-lined trail searching for a couple of letterboxes before the drizzle turned into a downpour.
Hannibal's famous native son
And no one's life is more famously intertwined with the Mississippi River than that of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  It even gave him his famous pen name.
  • Started in: St. Charles, MO
  • Ended in:  Quincy, IL
  • Miles driven:  170
  • States:  2 (MO, IL)
  • Letterboxes:  6 found, 3 attempted
  • Drivers ignoring stop signs:  71
  • Wallets found:  1
  • Leaf color:  38%
  • Businesses in Hannibal named for Mark Twain:  34
Last (?) train to Clarksville
Tom and Huck statue, Hannibal
Some of the many Mark Twain businesses, Hannibal
Cloudy skies in Louisiana, Missouri
Louisiana, Missouri
Riverview Park, Hannibal
Clarksville, MO
Historic home of Red Delicious apple developers, Louisiana, MO