Saturday, August 1, 2009

Lewis & Clark Trail #1

The weather last Sunday (July 26) was perfect for exploring. Merry, Joli and I headed out of St. Louis on I-44 with no fixed destination. After driving southwest for about an hour we turned west on Route 100, passed the strip malls of Washington, MO and entered Missouri's “Rhineland.”

This stretch of the Missouri River from Washington to Hermann on the south bank and Augusta on the north bank was settled in the early 19th century by Germans from the Rhine river valley. Here the mighty, muddy Missouri River winds through a wide bottomland. A little further back steep forested hills give the area an enclosed, comfortable feeling.

In the little town of New Haven I spotted a sign for the town's historic river front. We wound through the modest town, then down a very steep street to the lower town. The historic town consists of one long block of brick storefronts and a few houses. The area is protected by a levee. We parked in front of the little town museum.

Across the street the levee has been made into a little park with a paved walk on top with benches and historical signs. The signs informed us that New Haven was founded in 1836 as a riverboat stop called "Miller's Landing." Founder Phillip Miller operated a wood yard on the river to fuel the steamboat trade. The arrival of the Union Pacific railroad in the 1850s brought more commerce and activity to the area. In 1856 the town changed its name to New Haven. As with the other little towns of Missouri's rhineland, New Haven was settled by Germans, many of them from Borgholzhausen.

The levee park also has a small log cabin style pavilion dedicated the the memory of John Colter (c.1774 – May 7, 1812 or November 22, 1813). We learned that Colter served as a private in the Corps of Discovery. On the return trip in 1806 the expedition reached the Mandan villages in present-day North Dakota. There they encountered Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson, two frontiersmen who were headed into the upper Missouri River country in search of furs. On August 13, 1806, Lewis and Clark permitted Colter to be honorably discharged almost two months early so that he could lead the two trappers back to the wilderness. During the winter of 1807–1808 Colter became the first known person of European descent to enter the region now known as Yellowstone National Park. He explored the Jackson Hole area and the Grand Tetons Mountain Range.

In the next few years Colter had many adventures, some of mythic proportions. Around 1810 he returned to St. Louis to recount his further explorations to William Clark who was serving as principal Indian agent of the vast area they had explored. Clark drew a map from Colter's descriptions that remained in use for the next 75 years. Colter married and returned to what is now called the New Haven area to settle at nearby Boeuf Creek only to die a few years later.

We drove the old Water Street looking for a place for lunch. Most of the storefronts are restored but abandoned. No lunch here. We continued to Hermann, the next town. We stopped at the downtown deli and custard stand for cheeseburgers. Hermann has successfully capitalized on its German heritage and on its location at one of the few highway bridges across the Missouri. We ate our lunch on sidewalk benches outside the deli feeding tasty scraps to Joli and watching the bikers who gather here in significant numbers wander the streets before roaring out of town.

We crossed the river and continued west. Here we followed the Katy Trail for a bit. The Katy Trail is a very successful “rails to trails” conversion that runs along the Missouri River. After passing the little town of Rhineland we came to an area where 300 foot bluffs line the road. At Bluffton, no more than a couple of houses, we turned down a dirt road to the parking area of Grand Bluffs Conservation Area. A mile hike up, the steep trail ends at a platform on top of one of the bluffs. The view of the Missouri River valley is spectacular. Check out Merry's post from last Sunday for a look at the view.

At the viewing platform is a historic marker that shows Lewis & Clark standing at a similar spot to survey the same scene in 1804.

By the time we returned to the car it was getting late. We were hot and tired. Using the internet I had located what I thought would be a nice restaurant in St. Albans, a town we would pass on our return. As we left the secondary road, we entered a space warp. A few seconds earlier we were driving past small farms and dense woods. Suddenly we were surrounded by acre on acre of lawn and McMansions. Side streets were labeled “The Meadows,” “The Heathers,” “The Grove,” etc. Real estate signs informed us the houses were priced from “the low 700s” or in another area in “the 900s.” We passed what might have been a downtown at one time and what might have been a train station in another life. A man-made lake had a few swimmers, but the golf course was busy. We wandered around and finally found the restaurant. It was closed.

We fled back to the messy comfort of our neighborhood in St. Louis where we headed for Vin de Set, a good rooftop restaurant. As we ate we saw a guy approach our car, look at our Obama '12 bumper sticker and stop. Then he slipped something under our windshield wiper and drove away.

We were worried. The midwest is not always Obama friendly.

After dinner I pulled a business card from under the wiper blade. The mystery man is the founder of Oklahoma for Obama.

1 comment:

  1. I got married in St. Albans, and that restaurant catered the food. The food was really good, but I've never seen the restaurant open!