Friday, August 19, 2011

Serenading St. Louis

We got back from St. Louis to lovely late sunshine over the Twin Cities. The neighborhood was deep in restful shade by the time we pulled into our yard.

It was the end of a good road trip. We even managed to stay off interstates most of the time which is quite a feat considering the desire to get to places directly.

For this vacation we deliberately chose a slower pace. We opted for winding roads with colorful byway signage. We passed through towns held together by nothing more than quirky names. It made us speculate on how places come to be called.

There are towns we found a route to simply because, looking at the map, one of us liked the sound of the name. Blooming Prairie, Rose Creek, Coralville, Muscatine and Nauvoo are among the tracked down locations. This doesn’t get to Missouri where pert and peculiar names go with the wide-skied prairies and Ozark scenery. If there’s music in the name, and poetry in the image of the name, this is enough for us to seek off the main highway.

Vacationing in St. Louis felt both new and old. We visited several years ago. The present trip was an undertaking to properly finish what was missed the first time.

Specifically we wanted to visit historic St. Charles. American explorers Lewis and Clark began the arduous expedition to the West from this rivertown settlement in May 1804.

The St. Charles historic district has handsome brick buildings which house shops and restaurants. It's a reasonable comparison to call St. Charles the Williamsburg of the West.

Another idea prompting the trip was appetite for some serious St. Louis dining. We wanted to dine at more of the excellent restaurants we came upon the first time.

It also was a chance to revisit Forest Park and do it thoroughly.The 1904 World’s Fair site offers a host of recreational and cultural choices after the obligatory stop at the Jefferson Arch and St. Louis Riverfront.

The city and surrounding area have many other places of interest. Hotels have brochures and maps if your planning is as spontaneous as ours can be.

Numerous attractions make St. Louis quite removed from the Gateway to the West it was in early days. In the fur trade era, and succeeding decades of westward expansion, it was a starting point. Today it’s a magnet drawing people in. We come, many of us, over road systems which lie atop or approximate the routes of the original pioneer trails that once led out from St. Louis to the Missouri and Platte Rivers and beyond.

We packed expecting St. Louis to be hot. Missouri can sizzle in the summer. August can be the steamiest month of all.

As it turned out a cool front rode into town with us. A dew point of 60 is considered fall-like there. The weather was pleasant throughout our stay if not exactly autumnal by our standards.

Two outdoor evening concerts along the way were bonuses. This is so often how it is. What you don’t plan for, but stumble serendipitously into, emerge as favorites among things done and enjoyed.

The concerts, one night apart, coincided with full moon. The rising full moon made the settings – historic Nauvoo on the Mississippi River in Illinois, the second concert along the Missouri River in Missouri - quite remarkable. The rivers, each with their own lore and mystique, rippled nearby, with strong currents to them, in the silvery moonlight.

At Nauvoo we were entertained by Synthesis, a jazz ensemble from Brigham Young University. The energy of the young musicians is amazing. Electric is the best way to describe the performance. It was the vitality of students wrapping up their summer with perhaps the best presentation of the season. They were off for home at 6:30 the next morning.

We came home through Missouri wine country. The fruitful hills, on the Missouri River as you head west from St. Louis, support a series of vineyards and destination towns.

Defiance, Augusta, Washington, Marthasville and Hermann all have their charms as well as providing services for bikers and hikers on the adjacent Katy Trail. The trail, known as Katy Trail State Park, is the longest developed rail-to-trail corridor in the United States.

Along with signs for wine tasting, and Katy Trail trailheads, Highway 94 is lined with Lewis and Clark markers. The road keeps close to the course of the river traveled by the explorers setting out to investigate the great uncharted territory which lay to the West.

One roadside sign indicates how much the Missouri River has changed since Lewis and Clark embarked on these waters. Proximity of bluffs to the present channel, the presence of wooded islets, even the very width of the river, is profoundly different from when the exploring party navigated the river.

Missouri crickets definitely have a Southern voice. Their booming choruses were the synthesis as well as personal backdrop to the enjoyment of our St. Louis getaway.

Ro Giencke - August 19, 2011

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