Here’s my route:
I left Iowa City, headed east on I-80. It was an extremely boring drive. I realized that it’s not so much the pretty landscape that you miss when you’re on the interstate (and I know it can be pretty as well,) but you miss the opportunity to see what life is like in that part of the country. For the most part, no one who lives there eats at the Subway at the truck stop, right? Also, it keeps me awake to pay attention to the ever-changing speed limit on rural roads. So, after stopping to eat the best Mexican food in Galesburg, I veered off course and back-tracked a little. I decided that I would follow the Mississippi River south through Illinois. I didn’t know such a thing existed, but I was headed for the Great River Road!
It really was great. For the most part, I didn’t have enough time to stop to see the historical sites, but there’s a big sign on the side of the road that describes all of the towns you’re about to travel through and what was interesting about them. So, even though I couldn’t stop, it was cool knowing the history of the region. One place I had to stop, though was Nauvoo. I had never heard of Nauvoo, but when I entered downtown, it was obvious that SOMETHING was going on. Granted, it was the 4th of July weekend, but there were a ton of people walking up and down the street. I pulled into a park that had public bathrooms and noticed that about half of the cars were from Utah and thought, “that’s odd.” Then, as I continued driving, I saw a sign for the Joseph Smith National Historic Site. Holy sh*%t, I thought, I’ve just stumbled onto Mormontown! So, I drove over to the little district where they’ve renovated all of the historic sites.
I went to Joseph Smith’s grave site, drove past the courthouse jail in which he was assassinated, drove past the house where he lived. Of course, I wanted to take pictures of all of these sites, but as soon as I stepped out of my car, I felt like the daughter of Satan, come to ooh and aah over the cute little Mormon town. I kept saying to myself, “OK, act Mormon, try to look like a Mormon, like you belong here.” I kept thinking some old-timer was going to come running out of his house shouting, “Heathen!” and then all of the apparently pleasant families milling about would turn, glare at me, and then charge. I don’t know much about Mormonism, but I did keep reminding myself that Mormons are probably not the lynch-mob types. (That was before I read about Joseph Smith’s assassination, by the way.) So, I tried to make eye-contact and smile wide. I guess my strategy worked – most people smiled back.
I thought, well, they don’t “look” like Mormons anyway, so I probably don’t look like a non-Mormon. That’s when I saw the Mormon family picnic. It was about 96 degrees and very humid. I couldn’t believe these guys were in slacks and ties! I was thinking, “hey, you’re in Mormontown, loosen your ties, take off your pants.” (I know it’s hard to see, but I felt like it was really obvious that I found them curious, so I didn’t take to much time with the photo.)
Anyway, the Mississippi River right here is stunning. Having spent four years at the University of New Orleans, my prior experience of the river was less than appealing. There, it is wide, muddy, smelly, with industrial shores. Here, it was lush and vibrant and stunning. I’ll put more pictures on the map. Nauvoo is a very cute little town, with several fancy-schmancy B&Bs, a beautiful park, a winery (no Drosophila, though) and a lot of interesting history.
The stretch from Nauvoo to Warsaw was one of the absolute best drives ever (outside of Northern California, I have to add.) It was amazing. I don’t have many pictures from here because I had to concentrate on driving (two lane, winding road.) But, really, if you have the chance, you should go there. The only bad part for campers like me is that it was really buggy and humid. I would not have been comfortable camping there, although there were lots of camping options.
Along the ensuing stretch of the Great River Road, there were a surprising number of wineries and I spent countless hours making my way towards them only to find no Drosophila there. It was close to sunset, and I’d learned (from Bryant) that these flies are active in the evening as well as in the morning, so I thought I might have some luck. However, the grapes are still growing on the vine, and these places often don’t have tasting rooms, so there’s not a lot of wine in the garbage. Lesson learned. In the past, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit wineries (for collecting, of course) just after harvest, when they’re crushing grapes and the fruit flies are going nuts all day long.
So, I realized that I was not going to make it to Kentucky to camp, so I decided to head east for as long as could before stopping. First, I stopped at Pere Marquette State Park. I really needed to dissect the flies that Bryant and I had caught the night before if I wanted to have consistency between samples. I tried to do this in my car, in the parking lot, but it was too cramped, so even though I wasn’t planning to camp, I pitched my tent. I briefly thought that I might just do it at a picnic table, but then I had these visions of all sorts of insects catapulting themselves into the LED light on my dissection scope!
I got to the St. Louis area at around 11pm. I accidentally crossed this bridge into West Alton. I got gas, then pulled away from the gas pumps to escape the insects while I looked over my map to figure out where I was. While I was sitting in my parked car, a guy walked towards me, one hand out, and appeared to be asking me if I wanted something. I must have given him a look of abject horror, because he threw up his hands, shook his head no, shrugged his shoulders, and walked away. Two minutes later, a truck pulled up next to me in my darkened area of the parking lot, and that guy walked up to the truck, the driver got out, they chatted for a second, and something exchanged hands. I decided to leave in the middle of their transaction. I remembered these scenes from movies in which the undercover detective guys are buying drugs on street corners, and I always think, MAN, that’s a crazy-bad part of town! I think I must have been in one of those and didn’t even know it. It was just a weird experience for some reason I can’t entirely put my finger on.
I arrived at Harmonie State Park at about 2:30am. I was surprised to find two women hanging out on the road just in front of the information booth. So, I stopped and asked the nearest one if the worked there (yes) and told her that I just wanted to pitch my tent and sleep for a couple of hours before I hit the road again. She said, “sure, you can do that, it’ll cost you $37.” What?!?!? $37? I raised my eyebrows, and she asked if that was more than I was looking to pay (yes) and then told me that I could camp in town, in New Harmony, at Murphy Park. Now, I’ve
never seen anything like this. It’s small park in a tiny town with a playground and some picnic tables and a little road looping through it, and you can camp there. There were two other trailers there, no tents. I pitched my tent, put out some fly bait (this is mashed bananas mixed with active yeast, by the way.) I slept for about 3 hours and then hit the road again. (No flies at my bait in the morning, even though it was quite warm.) I must add, that it’s only because it was so early and I had so far to go that I didn’t stop to check out the labyrinth. What a strange town. Of course, now that I’m searching online for a picture of this labyrinth, it makes more sense that this town would have a labyrinth.
OK, it’s 6am, I’m starving, and I hit the road. I still have the flies that Bryant collected in his backyard yesterday morning, and if I’d known what was in store for me, I certainly would have dissected them then. But, it was so miserable doing that in the tent, that I decided that, during the daylight, I could stop at a rest stop, ignore the stares, and do the dissections at a proper table of some sorts.