Thursday, September 29, 2016

Driving to Wichita, Day 6, Part 2

Day 6, Part 2

A most exciting adventure

I fill the gas tank at a nearby station. I finally remembered to bring something to tie the seatbelt away from my throat (the shoulder strap rides up and threatens to strangle me; I’m constantly having to pull it down), and I’m on I-70 before 9 a.m. It’s already 86 degrees. I begin the exit countdown from 45 to three. I’m glad I have directions from the internet because there are no signs for the Chain of Rocks Bridge. I take the Exit 3 ramp and turn south onto Route 3. Chain of Rocks Road catches me off guard as it is closer to the highway than I expected. 

The road quickly narrows after some small businesses and I pass through an open gate and Chouteau (Shoo-TOH) Island sign wondering if I’m going the right way and if it’s really open to the public. There are no other vehicles around. The road rises and I see a blue bridge. Am I allowed to cross? Earlier reading told me there are hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails on both sides of the river. The right-hand lane is closed and looks to be a pedestrian/bicycle path delineated by yellow stakes making the bridge one-way with a set of lights. I continue up and over.

Over to Chouteau Island
Chouteau Island

Chouteau Island, one mile south of the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and eight miles north of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo., is one of three islands in the Chain of Rocks area, and along with Gaberet and Mosenthein encompass over 5,500 acres. The three islands were considered one island (Chouteau) when the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (CoE) constructed Chain of Rocks Canal (websites differ with their brief descriptions). 

The floods of 1993 drove out about 40 homeowners living on the island at which time programs were instituted creating recreational areas and trails on the island. Chouteau Island is now a key component in the 200-square-mile system of trails, parks, and conservation areas called the Confluence Greenway in Illinois and Missouri along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. 

(While I knew there was an island, I didn’t realize at the time that this bridge was over a canal. I didn’t even know there was a canal on the Mississippi River! I looked at multiple websites trying to put all the information together and many facts differed between the sites. I’ve gone back and forth so many times between the sites that my head is spinning.)

Building the Canal and Dam (see disclaimer in Day 6, Part 1)

The CoE began constructing the 8.4 mile Chain of Rocks Canal in Madison/Granite City, Ill., in the late 1940s and it opened in 1953. The project was the first addition to the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1930 which ensured nine-foot navigational channels. (Projects such as this had been halted during WWII.) 

The canal was built on the other side Chouteau Island from the river with Lock No. 27 built on the southern end. This was the last canal and locks needed on the Mississippi River to allow complete passage from St. Paul, Minn., to New Orleans and would bypass the “chain of rocks” which made navigation past St. Louis, Mo., extremely dangerous and impassable during times of low water. 

The CoE constructed the below-the-surface, non-moveable, low-level Chain of Rocks Dam (also known as Dam No. 27 and considered to be in St. Louis) just south of the Chain of Rocks Bridge to supply additional water for the canal. Tons of rocks were dumped into the river to form the first permanent rock-fill dam across a major river in the United States. Its 3,240-foot-width created a 13,000 acre pool upstream providing the necessary water depth for the canal. The dam was completed in 1964. (And what’s unusual about the Chain of Rocks canal and dam is that Lock No. 27 and Dam No. 27 are not in the same location as all other locks and dams.)

Photo of a storyboard map. I wanted to show the expanse
between the parking lot (  I parked near the P) and the
5-span  length of the bridge from the  number 1 to the river.
On the other side of the bridge are dirt side roads and trail-crossings veering off into fields. I pass a good-sized parking area, but this feels too far away from the bridge, plus the road continues. I figure this must be parking to access trails. The website had shown two parking areas for the bridge. One is at the start of the bridge and the other from a fishing area which showed a shorter hiking trail to the bridge. I keep driving straight passing a dirt road to the left with a sign stating U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (CoE) which must be to the fishing area. (I find out later that the Chouteau Island Nature Trail shown on Google Maps from the fishing area actually passes far under bridge and doesn’t access it at that point. Good thing I didn’t choose this way. Hikers have to find another trail around to get to the bridge’s beginning.)

I pass a road closed sign, too, and reach a large paved parking lot. Oh, my, God, there it is! The Chain of Rocks Bridge straight ahead! I don’t know what I expected. Pictures and readings on websites did not prepare me for the real thing. Excitement wars with fear.

The marked parking spaces are in the middle of the paved area leaving a large open expanse to the bridge. Websites said that 400 elm trees once lined the approach to the bridge. I wonder what happened to them and try to imagine how that looked. I pull into a space closest to the bridge, not marked handicapped. My heart is pounding. There isn’t anyone else around. It feels so… abandoned.

Reading stressed not to leave valuables in the car, but I have no choice. St. Louis is a city and just across the river, and cities have crime, and my mind conjures gangs. Yes, I’m a little nervous about being out here all alone. The feeling of aloneness weighs on me. Stop! It doesn’t matter. I am going to do this and I am going to be safe!

I get out of the car. The stifling humidity slaps me in the face! A loud insect-buzzing sound permeates the air. What’s that? It’s so loud the noise muffles the distant sound of I-270 traffic. There is no shade. I put two bottles of water in my back pack which also holds my spare camera lens and swing the heavy pack onto my back. I sling the camera strap over my head and take a moment to position the strap on my upper right arm so the weight of the camera is not on my neck. I grab my walking stick and trudge slowly across the hot, sunny pavement to the bridge’s beginning. At the moment, I am lost for words. I don’t know what I’m feeling. 

This is it! My heart is pounding. Can I walk the mile across?
The first part of the bridge is painted green and the rest is rust. (I like the color of rust.) An old small sign on the top says Route 66 and a bigger one below says Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. Green foliage wraps close to both outer sides and threatens to take over if not trimmed back. The blue, cloudless sky above is empty. A bright blue plastic-like barrier runs horizontally below the railing stretching down the length of the bridge as far as I can see; a long, rusted tunnel with no sign of water which, with the outer closed-in foliage, gives it all a tunnel inside a tunnel effect. The bridge feels too narrow for vehicles. I can’t imagine driving this with traffic in both directions. A tall black iron, double-door gate has one side swung open.

I photograph the nearby storyboards to read later. The angle of the bright sun is not conducive to good photos. I’m hesitant, fearful, and I don’t know why. Once I cross this line, there’s no turning back, no escape, or so it feels. What an odd feeling. It’s almost like I’m going to cross into another dimension. 

I take a deep breath and take my first steps onto the bridge. My senses are assailed. Immediately, I feel a huge sense of history. A lot has happened here (including a murder). There are no words, just a thousand jumbled up feelings. A few steps farther and I pass the iron gate with a sign stating closed and locked at dusk. I stop just beyond it. 

Past the iron gate, I pause. This is spooky. There's a presence here.
This is spooky! It’s like the millions of emotions accumulated over the years are hanging in the air like a haunting. I’m not sure I want to move. The non-verbal flood of emotions holds me paralyzed reaching through time and washing over the bridge and anyone on it. And that droning, buzzing insect sound goes on and on never stopping, never changing in pitch.

Looking up
I move forward slowly, one foot in front of the other, and once moving, it’s easier to keep going. I weave from one side of the bridge to the other looking over the rails. Yes, I know I could do one side on the way and the other side on the return, but I want to see both sides now. My pace quickens a little and I’m feeling better. There isn’t much to see over the sides, but green vegetation. 

I don’t get it. Why was the bridge built over so much land? Why is it so high at this point? I’m in the branches of some trees, the canopy of others, while others and the ground is far, far below. (I wish I had a sense of depth to be able to say how far below.) Occasionally I see trails meandering through the thick underbrush and vines. Questions bounce in my head about the area, the bridge; whys and hows and whats.

A woman slowly makes her way towards me, and like me, she is going from side to side. Eventually we meet and stop to chat. She comes here often. Today she is looking for birds saying she saw an oriole earlier. Right now we can hear twittering, but can’t see any feathered fliers. She tells me the insects are cicadas. She says, too, the bridge is sometimes quite busy with pedestrians and bicyclists. Today it’s very quiet. I actually prefer it like this. 

The constant, loud, insect-buzzing drone goes on and on
adding to the eeriness. Is this what makes the noise?
When I mention stopping at the Missouri Visitor Center off I-270, she said it’s nothing and advises me not to get on I-270 when I leave here, but to stay in Illinois on Route 3 North to Route 143 and onto Route 100. These routes follow along the river and there are places to visit. She suggests going to the Pere Marquette Park. I’ll see how I feel later, not sure if I should take her advice. I’m usually only good for one adventure a day and this, especially with the heat and humidity, should do me in.

We go our separate ways. I am amazed that I can feel the history burnt into this bridge. It comes up through my feet and hovers in the air. I can’t decipher it, but I feel it; it’s almost like a presence. I take my time photographing the sides of the bridge, broken lights, holes in the pavement and even a big dead bug. Is this a cicada; one of those making that constant drone?

Against self-doubts, I made it to the river!
I look up. Oh, my, gosh, I’ve reached the river! This is the Mississippi and I’m walking high above it. Wow, wow, WOW! Look at it! And then, I really look at it. It’s the color of coffee with too much milk in it, but thicker (I’ve always heard it was muddy) and it does look like soupy mud. 

New Chain of Rocks Bridge from Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

I look up and out. To the north I-270 is heavy with traffic and it’s a much lower-to-the-water bridge. 

(Later reading explains that with the building of the canal to allow safer river navigation around this dangerous section of the Mississippi, there wasn’t the need for a tall bridge when the New Chain of Rocks Bridge (I-270) was built.) 

Add caption

To the immediate south are two castle-looking edifices in the middle of the river. What are those? I am intrigued. These are adorable and “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair” runs through my mind. The bottom half of both structures are solid blocks. The upper levels have many windows and tall doors and there is a turret-type area on both, one round, one rectangular. The bigger one is concrete-colored with a teal area under the roof eaves. The smaller one has a terra cotta-colored bottom, with a white building and teal-colored conical roof. Both towers have a metal railing along the walkway of the main floor and look like doll-house castles.

Water Intake Towers
These two mid-river water intake towers are built out of cut stone for the Chain of Rocks Water Treatment Plant in St. Louis. Their intricate stonework and oval shapes make these buildings unique. Intake towers draw water from the river and feed it to the treatment plant for distribution throughout the city.

Tower 2
The older of the intake houses, Tower #1, built in the early 1890s like the plant itself, was constructed in Romanesque style and has a conical roof. At one time there was a dike allowing access, but since the building of Dam No. 27, it is submerged. 

The newer, bigger intake Tower #2, designed in the Roman Renaissance style, was built in 1915 to supply the greater demand of the city. It had living quarters in the tower for the crew who had to keep ice away from the intake port during the winter. This structure is now a back-up to the newer shore intake tower which was built about 1930. 

I look farther down river where it splits around an island which, from this angle, looks tree-covered. The city of St. Louis spreads out beyond. I can just barely make out the famous St. Louis Arch through the haze. Too bad it has to be hazy, hot, and humid. This photo isn’t going to be the greatest.

Looking down river. 
These rapids are formed by the Chain of Rocks Dam, Dam No. 27, 
which is just below the surface.
First view of the bend looking to the Missouri side.
I turn my attention back to the bridge and realize I’m approaching the bend. Suddenly my right knee snaps out. Ow, drat! I stop to let the pain subside. I don’t care. I’m going to make it a couple more yards so I can look around the corner. I limp forward and by the time I reach the bend, my entire upper leg is aching. I am so hot, the sweat is running into my eyes and it burns. But still, I’ve made it a lot farther than I thought I would and I’m going to make it farther.

Getting closer... and my knee goes out. Ow!
This bend is fascinating. Cars must have had to crawl around this corner and considering the bridge is only 24 feet wide... I can’t imagine today’s vehicles accomplishing that on a two-way road. I can’t really fathom any vehicle getting around that corner comfortably. I wouldn’t want to do it in a car, let alone be driving anything bigger. However, what fun on a bicycle!

Readings had said the bend was in the middle of the river, but to me, the Missouri riverbank doesn’t look as far as the distance I’d come already. 

The bend looking back towards Illinois
I push myself to walk a few yards more to get a picture of the bend looking towards the Illinois side. 

On to the Missouri end

Then I force myself to keep going to the end. I use taking pictures as an excuse to continue. I want to take that angle. I want to catch that view. 

Route 66 reminders

There’s a bench and a couple of old Route 66 relics just before the gate leading off the bridge. I collapse onto the bench after taking pictures. Both legs ache horribly by now. I rest a few minutes, write down a few notes, and guzzle some water. 

Wow, I made it across! I can’t believe it. I really walked across the Mississippi River! And now I have to walk back.

I take pictures before beginning the journey across to Illinois. It’s so hot and I try not to think about the mile back. The sun is now in my face and much higher in the sky. I limp along trying to stay in the narrow strip of shade from the overhead girders. Thankfully there’s a little breeze, but still the sweat pours down. 

View of St. Louis and the arch through the hazy humidty.
I take my time. Instead of thinking about how I ache, I focus on the interesting features of the bridge: the holes in the pavement, the stone patterns in the tar, textures, color, and whatever. My legs cramp even more when I reach the last five spans of the bridge which are over the island. I start counting my steps to keep my mind occupied and off the hurt. It works.

I look out over the sweltering pavement at the end of the bridge. I can see heat waves rising. Oh, my, gosh, it looks a long way to the car. One step in front of the other, I shuffle forward. I can’t wait to turn on the engine and hit the air conditioner button! 

I’m here! I did it! Oh, my, God, I did it! I walked the entire bridge and back. Success and happiness raises my spirits and I no longer feel exhausted. Wow, I can’t believe I really did it. Could this have really been a mile and back? I’ve only been gone an hour. Is it possible? 

I’m so happy at this point I decide to take a little detour down to the CoE fishing area. Part of me doesn’t want to get back out into that blistering sun, but pictures from this angle will be a nice touch to the experience. 

Shore area of the Chain of Rocks Dam, Illinois side
There are a few people here; some sitting in cars and a couple fishing. There are two huge round pilings in the ground at the edge of the river (part of the dam). I get photos and hurry back to the coolness of the air conditioning. 

Tower 2 and bend in bridge from the CoE dam/fishing area

Showing angle of dam shoring, the break in the water over the
dam, Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, and in the distance,
the New Chain of Rocks Bridge
This has been such a success I’m ready for my next adventure. Maybe I’ll take that woman’s advice and continue north on Route 3.

I did it! I did it! I did it! My mind is practically jumping around in my head.

(If you want to know more about the bridge, canal, and dam, type in Chain of Rocks Bridge on the web. I still have so many unanswered questions.)  

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