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Just as I was packing up to leave camp and thinking people at the less populated campsites were friendlier, Pete popped over for a visit.  The VW pop-up top and Texas plates make me stick out like a sore thumb and peak people’s curiosity.  In reality, I think people just try to respect each other’s privacy in such an enclosed space, but Pete was bold enough to say hello, and I’m glad.  It’s nice to talk to people along the way.  He is an insurance agent located in St.  Louis  who specializes in small business health care.  He and his buddies came down to fish.  He ties flies as a hobby and successfully hooked trout with them…GO PETE!

As we headed out of the park, I took another picture of a mill.  I don’t know the history behind it except it is a gristmill that was constructed in 1896.  I was really just killing time while Petey was doing his business.  He was the most rambunctious dog around until he got his Addison’s Disease, but when it comes to the bathroom department, he is very shy.  The campground was too much for him.  We had to move to an area with less activity!  I should have spent some time geocaching here while I had the chance.  It was the only park in Missouri that I had AT&T cell service and could get to the internet to look up cache locations.  So Bart, you are in luck, I’m not much closer in count than previously.  I have now left Missouri without a cache find.  I come back at the end of my trip so I will have to find one then as I want a find in every state.

Fish Hatchery

My first attempted stop of the day was the Indian Trail Conservation Area.  I’ve learned National Forests and Conservation Areas aren’t always well marked, and this was no exception.  It was basically a forest with gravel roads everywhere.  Most intersections had a four foot wooden post with a number like 84751.  That was greek to me!  My goal was to hike along a portion of the Trail of Tears created in 1838 by the Cherokees on their forced march to Oklahoma.  The likelihood of me finding that trail was so slim I decided that this was supposed to be a vacation, not Survivorman. There was one sign to a lake and fish hatchery, so I stopped by, but a sign posted at the fish hatchery read, “KEEP OUT”, so I just headed on to my next destination, Dillard Mill

Reader’s Digest says Dillard Mill is a picturesque spot for a picnic.  They are not mistaken.  The mill sits on a hill overlooking hayfields and a pond that happened to be a resting place for a goose this morning.  What they forgot to mention was that it is 11 miles on yes, another winding, dirt road.  This book should be called Dirt Roads of America.  I’m glad VANilla is hanging in there.  She needs a few easy days soon.  This mill was built in 1900 and also operated with an underwater turbine instead of a water wheel.  On the quarter mile walk up to the mill, I found a geode.  It was small and not fancy like the ones in the store, but it was still a geode, and I was pretty excited about my sighting.  Close by the mill; however, the path was lined with giant ones…they’d be nice for Rootie’s rock garden.  The attendant at the mill also suggested that I keep an eye for arrowheads…better luck next time.  I met some motorcyclists here.  One lady, Joanne, found a buckeye and gave it to me for good luck on my journey.  What a nice gesture!

Scout resting on Petey

For my fellow safari travelers, not far from the mill was a sign that said Gibb’s Farm.  I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same family that owned the coffee plantation in Africa since they are an American couple from Missouri (I think).  That’s certainly coincidental.

Around lunch, I finally made it to a park with a mile long trail, Onondaga Cave State Park.  It is actually known for its caverns like the one I saw in Arkansas a few days ago.  While it was probably really cool, I opted to take the dogs for their mile long walk instead of the cave tour.  It’s best if I wear them out in the morning, and it doesn’t take much in their old age and with their illnesses.  Can you guess where we walked?  To another spring.  It lay next to the natural entrance of the cave which I wouldn’t have known without the park attendant telling me.  They have all been so friendly and helpful.  It’s worth stopping in the visitor’s center for a few minutes to find out the best parts of the parks.

The last park of the day before I started toward southern Illinois was Maramec Spring Park.  I’m not sure it was worth the $5 admittance fee.  Of course there was another spring, with a fish sanctuary, so if you had kids who wanted to feed these fish, this was the place to be.  The fish were everywhere, and some of them were huge.  I took the historic drive within the park, which turned out to be hilly, dirt roads again.  I’m not sure why I was so shocked except that the rest of the park was so commercialized.  I saw some wild turkey.  They got into the brush before I could get a shot (picture).  The park was once the site of a 19th century mining community, so the drive passed by a cemetery, the mine and locations where old houses used to stand.  The first successful ironworks west of the Mississippi, established here in 1826, operated for nearly 50 years.  All that remains is the furnace, an interesting sight.

I had a long way to go to get from mid-Missouri to the southwestern tip of Illinois so I hit the road.  I did stop off at Elephant Rocks State Park for about 5 minutes because it was on the way and the name sounded interesting.  There were a bunch of giant rocks.  It was pretty cool, but then again, if you can’t tell from my pictures and commentary, I kind of like rocks.  So, I have generally been pulling into camp by 5 or at least have my destination determined, but today I wasn’t sure where I would land.  From Elephant Rocks State Park to Cairo, Illinois, the map didn’t show much national forest or any state parks along the way.  It did show two campgrounds, but they were private, and being the novice camper, I didn’t know what that entailed.  Regardless, I didn’t even see them on the route, so as I crossed the river into Illinois around 6:30 I began wondering if I should press on or backtrack and stay in a Wal-Mart parking lot (I hear most the time they let you).

Shortly after crossing the border, I found a private camping sign in Thebes.  It is right on the Mississippi River.  It looked like it had 15 or so sites, and it was for temporary or long term guests.  When I jumped out of the car to ask a few questions, the guys were most helpful and directed me to Neal who owned the place and was frying fish.  “Park wherever you like,” he said.  “Do you like fish, try some.”  So here I am.  It is quite different from the sites I’ve been to so far.  Everyone was over helping

Neal, Missy, Jonathan

me plug in and moving my picnic table.  They were a perfect example of the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  Some of them looked like they could have been on America’s Most Wanted, yet they were the most generous and friendly folks I have yet to meet.  It turns out, they loved VANilla.  They wanted to see the top pop up.  Also apparently, within the 5 minutes of my arrival, they already had 2 bets on me (that I know of).  One bet was my age…Missy won.  The other was if just the

Ray aka Gino

front of VANilla’s roof popped up or if the back did too.  Ray or Gino won (I’m not sure what his name was because they were messing with me).  I snacked on a fish plate on the house: fried fish, cole slaw, fries, a tomato and a few banana peppers while I chatted with the group for a while.  Neal owned a trucking line and retired.  He bought this park from the town in March and is doing some upgrades.  Missy works for the water department and Jonathan is an inventory specialist at RGIS.  Both had extensive knowledge of the history around the area.  I met a handful of others, but didn’t get their story (and some I didn’t get their picture).  They all told me to visit the courthouse in the morning as Abraham Lincoln spoke there, so I will check it out before I hit the road.  They also told me to go to Pink Rocks – it’s in Missouri so maybe I can catch it on the way home.  I retired to VANilla early because I had a lot of blogging to do and because while Scout had a good day she was struggling terribly this evening.  Petey and Scout were hooked together on the leash.  Petey took off chasing a critter, and drug Scout across the grass as she laid on her side and never got up!  Missy Thebes Illinois, Mississippi Riverasked if she was dead!  It sort of looked like it, and scared me terribly.  I don’t know if I will even be able to sleep for fear she might die (and me too).  Despite how nice my new friends were, I couldn’t help but notice they really enjoyed their beer and pot, and I was only 50 feet from the Mississippi River.   Hopefully we will both see the light of day!  It’s after midnight…I’m signing off. ETB

Websites:  www.mostateparks.com/onondaga.htm, www.maramecspringpark.com, www.fs.fed.us/r9/forests/marktwain/, www.mostateparks.com/elephantrock.htm, www.mostateparks.com/meramec.htm

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