Friday, September 25, 2015

A Day in Forest Park

Pardon me if I take this opportunity to post another picture of our grandson.  Last week we had a wonderful time with Nathan and his mother, and being in a small motor home with a toddler is no problem at all!  He adjusted well, as long as we let him have the run of the place.  He certainly was not willing to let us have our space, how quickly he learned to hop on our bed when it came to bedtime reading!
My sister Gloria also came to town from Nebraska.  Last Tuesday we had a wonderful end-of-summer cool day to spend in Forest Park.  John and I had not seen the new East Building of the Saint Louis Art Museum, which had been built in 2013.  That part of the museum has the contemporary art exhibits.  We enjoyed that immensely- I am slowly beginning to appreciate modern art!  Of special interest to me were the paintings by German artists after WW11.  True, they are dark and foreboding, but they certainly express the mood of that country after the Third Reich had fallen.
The Museum now has an outdoor sculpture garden which showcases modern and contemporary sculpture.  Pictured above is Stone Sea done by Andy Goldsworth in 2012.  The 25 stone arches, each measuring 10 feet high, are made from Missouri limestone.  The artist employed ancient Roman dry stone engineering when building this inspiration taken from the geology history of St.Louis.
My sister Gloria  posed in front of another modern sculpture called "Phrygian Cap".   Alexander Calder is the pioneer of hanging kinetic sculptures known as mobiles.  He also made stationary works called "stabiles", which sit on the ground.  A Phrygian Cap sits atop the sculpture, it was a style of hat that was a symbol of liberty during the French Revolution of 1789.
After a wonderful lunch at the Boathouse Restaurant Forest Park, we headed over to the St.Louis Zoo.  The first place we stopped there was the Children's Zoo.  At the entrance to that section of the zoo we saw a beautiful plant with yellow flowers.  An employee of the zoo informed us that it is a Mexican popcorn plant, and encouraged us to rub the leaves.  We did and it smells just like buttered popcorn!   A first for us at the Children's Zoo was a tree kangaroo, pictured below.  It was getting to be late in the afternoon by the time we arrived at the zoo, consequently we had to call it a day.  All I can say is that both the art museum as well as the zoo continue to pleasantly surprise us- they are attractions which St.Louis can be proud of!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Calhoun County- 2015

It has been at least several years since we have made a fall trip to this part of Illinois.  Melissa, our daughter, wanted her son Nathan to experience apple picking so it was important to make the trip.  It was also fun for John and I now to visit the orchards with a grandson!  From where we are parked in St.Charles it is just a matter of driving a short distance and crossing the Mississippi River and Illinois River by ferry.
Just as we drove up to the Golden Eagle landing we saw a truck with large logs driving off the ferry.  That was a first for us, over the many years we have taken the ferry, we never saw a logging truck.  The ferries can certainly take a lot of weight.  The sign above lets us know that once we are on the ferry we are crossing into "scenic Calhoun County Illinois".
It was a bit of an overcast day with spot showers.  However, the picture above should give you an idea of the beauty of Calhoun County with its rolling river hills.  It is all farmland and pastures.
The best place for apple picking with a toddler is Eckert's orchards.  The place has certainly grown since we were there with our children.  Now there are kiddie rides as well as a petting zoo.  In the latter area is a miniature Zebu cow, the sacred cow of India.  Also called a Brahman cow, it is the only cow with a hump.   It differs from other non-hump cattle in that it has looser and tougher skin, as well as fine short hair.
It took a bit of convincing from us to stop Nathan from picking up rotten apple from the ground.  He soon realized that there were apples at his height to pick.  His mama was also at the ready to snap a picture of his first picking.  Our day ended at the Fin Inn restaurant in Grafton, Illinois.  It is a restaurant with four 2,000 gallon tank aquariums containing a variety of fish and turtles.  There is table-side viewing of the tanks. It is a bit disconcerting to be eating their kin while they are staring at you, but at least they entertained Nathan for a brief period of time.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Popeye Picnic Festival

We have not seen everything here in southern Illinois!  When we heard that there was to be a Popeye festival in Chester this past week-end, we knew we had to be there.  Our curiosity got the better of us- will the festival celebrate Popeye or spinach?  Maybe there will be some new culinary delight like fried spinach on a stick?
First, a little information on Chester.  It is a small river town, Mark Twain stopped here when he was a riverboat captain on the Mississippi.  John and I have driven through it occasionally on our way to St.Louis.  During the week it is a busy town with coal barges plying there way downriver, grain and delivery trucks passing through the main street of town.  The Gilster Mary Lee Corporation is pictured above.  It is a food manufacturing company of 8,000 different items under nearly 500 different private labels.  Daily they have fleets of trucks driving out of Chester to all parts of the nation.  Chester is also the birthplace of Elzie Crisler Segar (1868-1947).  He created the cartoon character Popeye.  We got to Chester about an hour before the Popeye Picnic Parade, so we had time to check out the Popeye Souvenir Store and Museum.
The cartoon strip started out under the name of Thimble Theater in 1929, it was later changed to Popeye.  Pictured above are some of the other characters which debuted at other times.  The rest are pictured below.
You may notice the can of spinach above, it was something which Popeye claimed gave him muscles.  During the 1930s there was an increased intake of spinach!  And by the way, the character of Popeye reportedly was likened to a citizen  of Chester who apparently was good with his fists.
As we walked around downtown Chester we saw a few statues of the characters of the Popeye cartoon.  Pictured above is Bluto, he and Popeye were often exchanging blows.
It was a good parade, as small town parades go.  All the local schools and their bands were represented, as well as the two political parties.  Speaking of the latter, one school float promoted Olive Oyl as First Lady.  Popeye is representing the Green Party.  He has promised a can of spinach in every cabinet.  Really, we can not do much worse than him, considering the candidates who are currently promoting themselves for president in 2016! 
Our grandson Nathan thoroughly enjoyed the parade, he was all eyes anxiously awaiting to see what would be coming down the street next.  And he made out like a bandit with a wide array of goodies tossed to him- besides candy he got stuffed animals and balls.  The other highlight for him was the petting zoo, where he met an alpaca for the first time.   If you are ever in southern Illinois about this time in September next year, do check out the Popeye Picnic Festival in Chester!  And no, I never did find any spinach delicacy at the picnic.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Stillwater, Minnesota

Yes, I have been a bit delinquent on writing, we were in Stillwater a week ago.  Now we are in Carbondale, and there has not been a free moment since we have arrived here.  Our grandson Nathan is 18 months old, very active and too cute to ignore for very long!
We visited Stillwater with our niece Kathy, husband Doug and their three children.  The town was settled in1843 at the site where the St.Croix River widens into Lake St.Croix.  We climbed a steep bluff which overlooks the town and river, and it was at the top of that hill where I took the above picture.   The town is in the Minneapolis-St.Paul vicinity, and just over the border from Wisconsin. 
Kathy and Doug's children are still at the age when they enjoy a good playground.  Teddy Bear Park is a delightful playground with several other teddy bear statues, also a sand lot and rock wall to climb.
We spent some time walking around the historic section of Stillwater and noticed, by reading historic markers on some of the older buildings, that the town was where a convention was held in 1848 to organize Minnesota as a  territory.  We passed on going to the Minnesota state fair for this trip to Stillwater, so decided that we were justified in indulging in some of the treats this town has to offer.  After a visit to an ice parlor, we visited a popcorn and candy store.  A statue of Linus was outside of the candy store, the words under him say "Life is like a Bowl of Chocolate".  Charles Schulz, cartoonist of Peanuts and the charactor Linus, was born in Minneapolis and grew up in St.Paul.   John and I had also seen another statue of Linus in the little town of Sleepy Eye, Minnesota the day before.   We will be in Carbondale for another week, then on to St.Louis.  Not sure when or where the next posting will be, just stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Pipestone Prairie

As usual, we did not fully know what we were going to see when visited Pipestone National Monument.  I thought it would be some memorial of a pile of rocks,  certainly not expecting to see 50 quarries of various sizes, and an absolutely beautiful prairie!  Two centuries ago Minnesota had 18 million acres tall grass prairie, today the remaining prairie is less than 1% of its original acreage.  Elk and buffalo provided meat, clothing and tools for the Plains Indians.  Plants of the prairie provided medicine and food.  The first botanist in 1838 found 100 different plant species, currently the number is 300.
What a stunning sea of red!  Fortunately the park has signs identifying many of the plants.  Smooth sumac plants give the prairie a hue of red during this time of the year.  Also in bloom now is the blue vervain, daisy  fleabane and stiff goldenrod.  The latter is pictured below.
The trail through the park took us along Pipestone Creek.  According to oral Indian tradition, it was along this stream where pipestone was first discovered.  Seasonal flooding of the creek may have exposed the rock, and/or it could have been the rutted trails created by buffalo drinking from the stream which revealed the red rock layer under the quartzite.  Speaking of that rock, the end of our trail took us to some very high cliffs made of that stone.  Pictured below is Old Stone face.
One last picture here is of Winnewissa Falls, I certainly did not expect to see such high falls out in the plains.  What a beautiful place this park is for Native Indians to have as their sacred ground to always return to, not just to quarry but to also worship the Great Spirit of their faith.

Pipestone National Monument

Over the week-end John and I took a bit of a side trip in our car to Lake Elmo, Minnesota where our niece Kathy, husband Doug and children live.  This time we did not move our rig, but used the car instead. On our way northeast to their home on Saturday we stopped at Pipestone park.   Artist George Catlin was the first white man to see this area in 1836, and in his art work recorded the Native American activity at the quarries.  For three centuries Indians viewed this ground as sacred and from this durable yet relatively soft red stone they carved their pipes.  The stone is pictured below, the other stone is quartzite, the layer of stone which lies above the pipestone.  Indians do not use machinery when they quarry here.
We saw the stone pictured above at the Visitor's Center.  At the center we also viewed a movie which gave us the story of this park.  Unfortunately after George Catlin drew attention to this place, the white man started visiting the quarry and removing the rock.  In 1849 a piece of it was sent to Washington D.C. to be put in the Washington Monument.  For awhile the land here was part of an Indian reservation, but settlers continued  to come in and build it.  Large amounts of the rock were also being quarried by the white man until the Indians ceded the land to the government so that it could be protected.  In 1937 it became a national park with only Native American tribes allowed to quarry the pipestone.  There are 50 quarries in this park.
To the American Indians of the Plains, the pipe has great cultural significance.  It is a primary communication between the spirit power and human beings.  American Indians believe that when a prayer is given with the smoking of the pipe, those prayers are carried to the Great Spirit with the smoke.  White man called it a "peace pipe" because it was smoked during treaty signings.  While at the center we watched a Native American carve a pipe.
Pictured below is the final product.  We saw a wide variety of pipes at the center's museum which have been carved over the years.
Outside we took the circle trail around the quarries.  The prairie around them is absolutely beautiful with a meandering creek and waterfalls.  Wildflowers are in bloom and large quartzite cliffs loom over the trail. . I will cover that part of our visit in the next posting.  Before I close I want to mention another piece of Native American culture which we saw along the trail.  We noticed strips of cloth hanging from trees.  A interpretive sign near them noted that the cloth and its color are significant to the wearer who placed them there, they are not to be removed.  The piece of cloth represents a prayer or offering.