Saturday, October 27, 2012

Life on the Mississippi - At Least a Long Weekend

Sculpture garden, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Last weekend we revisited some favorite places, but in a different way from usual.  We took a short cruise on the upper Mississippi River on the refurbished steam boat, the American Queen.  Actually we had traveled on the American Queen before, on other parts of the Mississippi and on the Ohio River.  But the company that ran the boat before went out of business, and she was stored a few years before being bought, spiffed up, and back into service this past spring.  When we saw that she was once again plying her way on the Big River, we knew we had to book a trip.

This time we invited my husband's sisters to join us, so we had the enjoyment of having people along who had never experienced the pleasures of a steam driven river boat, moving at a leisurely seven miles and hour past towns and power plants, under bridges, and through locks - never had the silly joy of seeing people line the river bank to wave, cars pull over to stare, and folks snapping pictures as if a real queen was passing by.

We went a day early to stay over night in Minneapolis, though the boat departed from St. Paul.  It had been years since we visited there, and the sky line seemed different, filled with more tall buildings than I remembered.  We visited the Walker Art Center, and had a good morning strolling thorugh the sculpture garden and the contemporary art inside.

 The American Queen, moored in Wabasha, Minnesota

When the booked the trip last spring, we imagined that the colors would be close to their peak in mid October, and had no idea that the summer drought would speed up nature's calendar so much.  Most of the leaves along the way had already fallen, though there was still some color, as you can see in this photo.  It was cool, but not cold, pleasant enough to stand or sit in a rocking chair outside and look at the scenery.  

The first stop was at Wabasha, Minnesota.  When we were first married we stayed at an old hotel there, the Anderson House.  Back then there was a good restaurant, and the hotel rooms featured not only antique furniture, but also a cat, if you wanted.  The building is still there, was closed for a while, but has reopened as a bed and breakfast.  We visited the National Eagle Center near the river, a very nicely organized museum staffed with enthusiastic volunteers. 

 The red paddle wheel on this boat actually helps propel the boat, and is not simply for decoration.

The second stop was at Red Wing, Minnesota.  We have visited here many times, sometimes staying at the fine old St. James Hotel.  In the past we have visited the old Red Wing Pottery buildings, climbed up Barn Bluff, and ridden our bicycles on the Cannon River Trail.  This particular day was pretty relaxed, we just wandered up and down the streets downtown, had a beer in a local place, and enjoyed the sunshine.

Grain elevators, the railroad, and Barn Bluff at Red Wing.

I managed to read quite a lot in the comfortable chair on the deck.

The trip was fine - nice people, friendly staff, excellent food.  My only wish was that we had spent more time actually traveling the Mississippi.  The boat moved mostly after dark, and spent more time than I wanted in each town. I realize that I am familiar with the area, and perhaps other people wanted lots of time to explore. Still, the big charm of steam boating is drifting past the scenery, in my opinion.  Both days we left the town at 5:00 p.m.,  which only left a couple hours to watch other boaters, and try to spy eagles.  

The eagle in this tree is small, but if you click on the photo you can see it better.

Another pleasure on the upper Mississippi, is going through the locks and dams.  The last evening it was still light enough to see all the mechanical workings of Lock and Dam #3.

So, our annual fall journey up and down the Mississippi River was not a car trip this year.  It was, instead, a leisurely journey the old fashioned way, from the middle.

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