Sunday, May 19, 2013

Friday May 17th - Galena to Mississippi River Palisades State Park

Woke up this morning around 6 and got caught up with writing.  Took my leisurely time packing and headed to drop my key off at the office around 11 am.  The Inn’s hostess was kind enough to give me a 5 minute history lesson of Galena after I asked her why the extremely hilly town was settled.  She mentioned two reasons, one was the Galena River acted as a paddle boat port for boats cruising up and down the Mississippi River located further downstream from Galena.  Second were the lead mines that existed in the area.  With the unset of the Civil War, there was a huge demand for lead for bullets to shoot the southerners, so there was much war profiting invested in developing the town.  She also mentioned that with the onset of farming in the watershed, the river eventually silted in due to poor erosion control practices, so the river eventually was no longer navigable to the large boats.  Now only canoes and kayaks navigate the dirty old stream. 

On my way out, I took a detour up Main Street through town as the hostess had pointed out this as the hotspot on the map she gave me the night before.  I had to pass through the flood gates installed to provide access to the historical tourist portion of town that was protected by a levee system constructed adjacent to the river.  The street is store after store of clothing, purses, jewelry, and other goods catering to those who already have large purses.  Since I already had way too much stuff and no room for more, I passed up the opportunity to shop.  I did stop at a coffee/tea shop to have a spot of tea and a blueberry muffin, and used their WIFI to update my blog.  Figured out I had turned off my wireless network on my computer last night and after fiddling around finally got it turned back on – that might have explained why I was not able to log on at the inn. 

Leaving Main Street, I headed back along the road that paralleled the flood dike.  An old lead smelting factory appears to still be operating only a block off main street – let’s hope their not still making bullets.  Passing back out through the flood gates I headed back onto the shoulder less Highway 20.  I wanted to stop and take some pictures of the Galena River, but with the lack of shoulder and busy traffic I waited until I crossed the bridge.  I noticed that the water quality in the river still did not looking too good – it had that typical gray-green soup appearance that seems common in heavily farm land, which is likely the result of poor farming practices that are still occurring today. 

Heading south out of Galena, I debated whether I should continue on Highway 20 and then head down Highway 84, or take the back roads that veered closer to the river.  I didn’t have a very good map of the back roads, except for one I had ripped from a tour guide brochure I found in my room last night.  The map didn’t indicate if the roads were paved or gravel, and it was difficult to tell the names.  But after already battling traffic and not even a mile down the road, when I saw a sign to the Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort that existed via the back roads I decided to take it, hoping I would not get lost or wore out from gravel and hills.  I didn’t know any ski hills existed in Illinois and thought it might be a memorable site to see the one that did.  When I was greeted by a sign that said “Be Alert, Winding Road Next 14 Miles”, I wondered what I would get myself into.

The road started out pretty good, it was paved, there were some hills, and plenty of curves – giving the day a roller coaster ride type of experience.  In the lower sections of the road, I passed a number of older farmsteads, and when the road came close to the base of some the limestone hills, old lead mine entrances could be seen.  As got into climbing one of the many hills I would come to on that day, a black SUV pulled up beside me and stopped.  The passenger between puffs of his cigarette asked me where I was heading.  I told him I hoped to make it to the State Park located to the south and on the Mississippi River.  The driver who was also smoking away, mentioned that it was a nice park and that I would like it.  They also warned me about another hill that was coming up, and that I would know the one when I got to it.  As they pulled away, they wished me luck, and I replied that I might need to bum a cigarette from them if I made it.  One them replied a beer might help as well.  Unfortunately the smell of the cigarette smoke lingered up the hill as I continued my effort to climb the hill, making even more difficult to breath. 

I took a detour up a long and hilly gravel path to the Casper Bluff Land and Water Preserve to find out what it was.  It was a reserve of land set aside with some trails that wound around the property that also contained some Indian mounds.  I took a quick lunch break, and watched a female Oriel trying to remove some strips of cloth that had been tied to some branches so she could weave them into her nest.  I would have liked to walk the trails, but figured I better keep moving.  Before I left I untied the cloth from the branch, and ripped it into smaller more manageable pieces to ease the nest builders workload.

The road eventually wound its way back down to the river bottoms and followed the railroad tracks.  There were a couple of interesting vacation cabins build down along the river, and then I came to the ski resort.  It looked like it would be a fun hill to ski, but the runs were quite short, with fences provided at the bottom of the hills to keep skiers from running across the road and onto the railroad tracks at the base.  There were still a few piles of snow located at the base of one of the runs.   

As I passed the hill, the road turned to gravel, and then began to become narrower and more path like.  I was beginning to wonder if this was the correct road, but on the map I had it looked like the road continued.  I was enjoying pedaling along the remote trail, but was disappointed when I saw a guard rail strung out across the path, indicating I had come to a dead end.  The guard rail had been spray painted with declarations of love among other things by some youth back in the 1990’s according to dates of their declarations.  There was also an old kitchen stove dumped there. 

So I headed back, a little worried about how far out of the way I had gone, but after backtracking and enjoying the ride and noticing a mine entrance I missed on my way through, I found a road climbing back up the hill, not too far to the North of the Ski hill.  The road took me passed a large horse farm and then at the top of the hill was a large resort, The Golmore Inn – “Galina’s Finest Country Inn” per the sign, overlooking the river and the horse farm below.  The farm below was for sale, and I wondered how much it would cost to buy a horse farm in Northeastern Illinois. 

There were smaller old farmsteads along the higher road, and eventually as usual the road went back down into the river valley.  I had seen signs advertising the Blanding Resort and campground, and as I reached the bottom of the hill was greeted by a large black dog that came out of the resort to greet me with some angry barking.  I used my most calming soothing voice to convince the monster that I meant no harm, and he let me pass.  I took his warning as a sign to keep going and not stay at the resort or its campground.    

Moving on down the road along the river, much larger farms began to appear.   I also began to smell a strong odor from what was coming from what appeared to be a large feed lot or dairy operation set way back off the road.  The entrance to the farm was marked with a sign warning of bio-hazards and no entry without an appointment, so I kept to the road that ran through the huge corn fields that must have fed the cattle I could see confined in the distance.  It is pretty amazing how much land it takes to produce the feed to raise meat or milk to keep us eating our hamburgers and drinking our milk shakes.  I wondered how much land we could avoid plowing up, fertilizing, and herbiciding, if we ate more fruit and vegetables directly ourselves, instead of feeding it to cattle first to produce our meat and dairy.   It seems like I read somewhere that it takes 10 pounds of crops to produce 1 pound of meat.  After the large farm fields, there were several abandoned old farm buildings that were in various states of disrepair and I wondered if the large industrial farming practices are what eventually drove the old places out of business. 

Moving on down the road, the road continued to be gravel, and moved up and down some more hills, and then lowered down into the river valley again.  I noticed some strange looking long buildings strung out for miles between the Burlington Northern tracks and the Mississippi River further to the West.  I was trying to figure out what they were for.  I thought I recalled seeing somewhere about some kind of Military base being in the area, and also assumed that no one but the military could afford to create such a large complex.  Later on when I got to the campground I stayed at, I asked the park attendant what the facility was and he just mentioned that it was some kind of military operation.  I didn’t push him for more details, as he seemed reluctant to talk about it anymore.

Eventually, I noticed a large cut in the side of a hill and the distance, and assumed it must be for Highway 84 I was hoping to connect with.  And it was, so I got back on the shoulder less road and put my energies into reaching the Mississippi River Palisades State Park without being creamed by a passing car or truck.  The headwinds began to pick up and the sky started to get darker, making me peddle faster to avoid the threat of a storm.  I passed a motel on the side of the road and debated stopping to avoid the traffic and possible storm, but as I approached, two folks sitting in the front yelled out an encouragement to “pickup the pace”, and I replied “I am too tired to”, but kept pedaling all the same, hoping the State Park would not be far.  And it wasn’t.  I pulled in around 6:30, and was relived to find out that the campground had over 200 sites and most were available.
I drove around to find the perfect spot, but after a long day of hill climbing and back roads, I picked a spot near a shelter, so I could escape the rains if they came.  I asked the campground attendant if it would be ok if I set up in the shelter, since there was no one else camping in the loop I was in, but he told me no, I needed to stay on my site.  Later as I was setting up, a different attendant drove by me and encouraged me to use the shelter if it rained.  I quick ate some nuts, carrots, fruit, and left over mix John had given me in La Cross, walked back to pay for my site, set up my tent, took a shower, did some writing, and after battling mosquitoes while trying to update my writing, decided to crawl into the tent for the day as was typical by that time I was feeling exhausted.  I thought about crossing the river the next day and then heading back up river to get off Illinois unpaved shoulder roads, but would wait to see what the sunrise brought before I decided.

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