Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Along the Mississippi and Beyond

Getting absolutely bored of Batavia, I decided to do some travelling around. If I was in Florida, it is not a problem - you can always grab some people and land up in a nearby beach, I remember doing that in the middle of the night too. However it is a completely different story here - miles and miles of cornfields with nothing remotely exciting to do. I like Chicago as a city - but after a while you run of ideas to do things in downtown. So I started the trip by driving north-eastward to Indiana border. In the blinding rain I crossed over to Indiana and soon I was near the Indiana Dunes. However looking for the largest dune there, Mt.Baldy I ended up going too far east and crossed over to Michigan border (one more state for me!I would be in Detroit in a couple of weeks though). After retracing my way back, finally found the way to it and climbed up the hundred something feet up to get a majestic view of the lake Michigan.

Photos: Looking up Mt.Baldy on an rainy day and view from the other side.

It was an overcast day - but could not resist the temptation of driving by the lake for a nice little stretch, making little stops on the way trying to take photos - eventually all of them came up almost similar.

Photos: Driving towards and by the lake!

It was down to West Lafayette from there - meeting an old friend and making a few new ones at Purdue. Stayed there for a couple of days - generally being lazy and trying out restaurants. By now I am sure all the campus towns look unfailingly similar - mostly red brick buildings, a tall tower commemorating something and a small downtown with coffee shops and pubs.

Photos: River Wabash beside Purdue and the tower and the fountain in the campus.

On the way to Urbana-Champaign, I passed through Indianapolis, did not feel a huge urge to head to downtown, rather went to the Indianapolis Speedway. Its funny how rest of the world
follows Formula One while that is relegated to the background here. Nascar and Indy 500 grab all the headlines and that was pretty evident in the Hall of Fame Museum. I did a track tour in the bus and was told that the Formula One race race actually goes in the opposite direction with respect to all other. But going down the empty race track in a slow bus is not really fun ...

Photo: The Speedway and the track.

Next morning we started out on our grand Mississippi road trip. We did not plan much, rather wanted to explore the small town USA a bit. Almost running out of gas, heading westward to Iowa border, we stopped at a small town called Knoxville. Without any expectation whatsoever, ordered friedrice in a little roadside restaurant claiming to serve American-Chinese Food. And ended up probably having the best friedrice in USA. It was just like our own Chinese food, where fried rices are tasty enough to be eaten by itself. So after the unexpectedly satisfying lunch, we crossed over to Iowa and found ourselves in a little town called Burlington just by the Mississippi. It claimed to have the world's crookedest street, but to find that we realized this can almost be called poor man's San Francisco! The streets go up and down pretty steeply without any warning and then that little stretch of alley connecting two bigger streets is really winding.

Photo: The little streetside restaurant and the crookedest street.

Just outside Burlington, travelling up north we passed by Toolseboro Indian Mounds. Sounds kind of historical, may be they are, but they look just like, well - just mounds!

Photo: Indian Mounds.

We were trying to follow the "Great River Road", which is an official scenic byway after that point - and we had to wade through a stretch of unpaved road leaving a trail of white dust behind. It was a while we could actually see the river, but the view was indeed gorgeous at some points.

Photo: Grand view of Mississippi.

We stopped at at place called Davenport, which seemed to be popular for casinos on the river and then at a much smaller but cuter city named LeClaire, which apparently was the hometown of "Buffalo Bill". While all these small towns are critically dependent upon the river for everything and have the streets lined up with antique shops, they are not too touristy. The coffee shops still don't accept credit cards and the people around would still be pleasantly surprised to see people from India.

Then we passed through another of those towns named Clinton and which literally stank. And then we were immensely surprised to find that Iowa (unlike the neighboring Illinois) is not just flat land. To reach Dubuque, which was supposed to be our final stop for the night, we had to drive by narrow winding roads through jungles on either side, going up and down the hills. Finally we reached Dubuque, which is apparently the number one tourist destination in Iowa! It looked confusing and appeared a big city at first, but getting hopelessly lost and coming back to the same major intersection every time without any help made us realize its just not that big, just the roads are uselessly confusing and complicated. The major attraction was the Fenelon place elevator, which is basically a cable car going up a hill. It looks very primitive, and unstable. Long back it was actually used by people for their daily commute, now its more of a tourist attraction. After riding that next morning, we went to the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. It was fun seeing all the turtles and fishes and the giant size lazy alligator. Upstairs they had a special "Catfish Planet",which has led me to believe that any fish, no matter how it looks can be eventually classified as a catfish! Looking for places to eat, some local people hanging out in the streets directed us to the "Brickyard". It was a restaurant cum a brewery and we were tempted enough to taste their beer sampler. I am a generally strong beer hater - but even I loved the way how they served it in miniature mugs and actually liked some of them. A variety called the "Laughing Ass" was pretty good and my friends ended up getting half a gallon for their home. And did I mention the food was good too?

Photo: The elevator!

We planned to travel straight up to Mcgregor after that, but ended up crossing over to Wisconsin and losing our way. Finally found the scenic route on that side, but instead of the river, it passed through green valleys and more small towns. Stopping for gas in one of those nondescript towns, we learned we can cross the Mississippi with with our car in a ferry. We were so excited about the novel experience we can have, but sadly realized that we are short of cash. So kept driving, till we passed this in Mcgregor.

Photo: The pink elephant!

The last attraction we wanted to visit was the Spook Cave there. It is an underground half an hour boat ride in this cave. The formations are nothing spectacular compared to the other caves I have seen, but the ride is a lot of fun. At some points you have to duck really hard to avoid getting hit in the head by low ceiling or push the boat off from hitting narrow walls in the dark cave.

Photo: Inside the dark cave.

And then it was time to get back. Before getting on to the highways, we passed through local Wisconsin highway, stopping to buy some fresh local cheese at one time and to pass slow moving horse drawn carriages carrying weirdly dressed Amish county people a few other times. And once we hit the freeway in Illinois border - it was just one long drive back home in late night.

A great trip through small towns and local attractions - a refreshing change from the big cities which we visit all too often. My next trip would be just like that.

P.S - This is the first time I am trying to post some photos inside the travelogue, rather than linking it to webshots. I am not sure if I like the idea though, primarily because I can only upload a small number of them.

Birthday wishes for Saswati (17th July), Sayantani (19th July) and of course for my mother (2nd July).


Woodsmoke said...

Quickly flipped through your post and the pictures...lovely to say the least. Happened to notice the last line in greater detail. Thank you so much...honored indeed.

dipthought said...

Thanks for being a rare regular and active visitor here!