By SANDY IRLE –
It’s always a great time to visit the river.
For our anniversary, my husband Mark and I have often travel a short section of the Great River Road. The GRR is more than 3,000 miles long and takes you through 10 states from New Orleans to Minnesota. This section was an easy 3½ hour drive from Warrensburg to our starting point – Louisiana, Mo. Traveling is more fun on the “road less traveled,” so we try different roads, restaurants and wineries each trip, and look for new things along the way.
Louisiana is a friendly place located on the banks of the Mississippi, 70 miles north of St. Louis on Route 79. We like to take our bicycles and ride the quiet streets, checking out the architecture and the 23 murals downtown. Always seeking out panoramic viewpoints, to our delight we found River View Park and spent some time there recovering from a steep uphill ride. All of this is near a choice place to stay in Louisiana – Eagle’s Nest Bed and Breakfast with a fantastic restaurant and winery plus a distinctive enclosed patio.
Next visit was Clarksville, a tiny riverfront town with a notable chili cook-off in early June, sanctioned by the International Chili Society. Part of the fun is talking to the chili masters and listening to the live music. Check out the intriguing art shops and visit the museum, which has, among other things, a pretty impressive display of art made from human hair.
Exploring the GRR a few years ago, we stumbled upon the largest state park in Illinois, Pere Marquette near Grafton, by taking the free Brussels ferry. Bike through the park and hit the bike path next to the highway and catch the ferry for a ride back and forth a few times just for fun. From the bluff tops, drink in the spectacular views of the Illinois River.
Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s the park lodge has a massive 700-ton stone fireplace, huge log beams and a giant on-the-floor chessboard. Savor a glass of their local wine on the lodge’s porch while watching the barges go by on the river. The CCC also built stone cabins, which are our favorite, although there are plenty of rooms in the lodge, camp sites and a couple of primitive camp cabins available.
Just five miles away, above the town of Grafton, you’ll find the Aeries winery – a cool place to eat, sip some wine, relax and marvel at the 5-star view of the convergence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers. They have a large deck and often feature live music to round out the experience, but we learned to get there early for a “best view” table. Visit the Grove Memorial Park on a Thursday evening in summer and you’ll be treated to a free concert within view of the Mississippi.
Traveling the GRR between Grafton and Alton is a drive noteworthy in itself. It’s so pretty, sandwiched between the dramatic bluffs of the Palisades and a mile-wide stretch of the Mississippi River. The bluffs are protected through the Palisades Preserve. The Preserve consists of 430 acres of old growth oak and hickory, and is in the largest flyway in North America for migrating birds. Native American burial grounds are also located here. This winding stretch of road is a favorite cruising road for motorcycles, hot rods and classic cars.
One last stop in Rocheport to visit the Les Bourgeois winery’s trendy Bluff Top Bistro for lunch, taking time to admire its view of the Missouri River valley before making our way home from a Great River Road experience.
Sandy Irle lives on a Century Farm near Warrensburg and has so far visited 23 countries and 45 U.S. states.