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The stuff that legends (and dreams) are made of.

People are always fascinated by true stories of animals, as we can see from varous books and movies on the feats of animals. On our travels we’ve come across a few of these kinds of stories. Two that stood out were about the Hoover Dam dog, in Nevada USA, and Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh, Scotland.

First, here’s the story of the Hoover Dam dog.

100_0353Hoover Dam, built 1931-1936, about 30 miles SW of Las Vegas, is still an engineering wonder. It is one of the largest dams in the world—726 feet high, 1244 feet long on the crest—and Lake Mead is the largest man-made reservoir in the USA. Building this dam was a long and daunting task.

When we visited the dam, we saw a plaque with a dog on it in the canyon wall, just across from the escalator leading to the Visitor Center at the dam site.  We wondered about the plaque, so I did a bit of checking to find out more.

Well…Take one little dog.

Add a bunch of hardened construction workers. Mix in long, tough working hours in a hot river gorge, with the dog running around every day, and the scene is set.

The story has persisted and over the years has added to the mystique of Hoover Dam. Man is fascinated by the awesome achievement of this dam, and the story of the dog adds a human element.

The story goes like this…A dog of unknown origins was born, with black fur and big paws. A construction worker found him, when hardly weaned, and put him in his transport truck, which took workers from Boulder City to the dam site and back each day. After that, he became the dam’s dog. Everyday he rode the transports with the men, and scampered around the site at will. As the construction got higher, he also rode the skips,  sort-of open-air elevators to get to higher levels. In addition, he learned to race very happily and easily on catwalks swinging 700 feet above the river. The men were amazed as most animals cannot learn to do this.

The dog ran all over the site, and belonged to all the men. If he missed the regular

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Indeed an engineering marvel

transports for a ride back to Boulder City after a hard day at the dam site, he never hitched a ride on a truck that wasn’t associated with the dam construction. Nobody could quite work out how he knew which trucks to flag (bark) down!

Everyone wanted to feed him, and of course, being a dog, he accepted. But then he got sick, and the workers were very worried. They made a plan with the commissary for the dam construction at Boulder City; that the commissary would pack a lunch for the dog too, and they put up signs that no-one was to feed the dog in between meals. So, every day the commissary also packed a lunch sack for the dog, which he carried in his mouth when he boarded the transports in the morning. At the construction site, he put his sack with the workers’ lunch pails. When the lunch whistle blew, he raced to eat with the workers, waiting patiently for one of the men to open his sack.

P7300147.JPGMost of the workers gave a few dollars to the commissary, to help pay for the dog’s food. The money also helped pay for his license and collars. There’s a story that once a man, who wasn’t a construction worker, kicked the dog. The workers attacked the man so badly that the dam police had to be called. Supposedly, when the police chief arrived on the scene he stopped the attack because it was his duty, but he said that he wished he could finish the job!

One extremely hot day the dog lay down under a transport for some shade. The driver didn’t know, and later just drove off. News of the dog’s death had a very sobering effect on all the men, and many wept openly, especially as they carved out his grave in the solid rock.

Life on that dam construction site was very difficult, and the dog had probably given the men something more light-hearted to think about.

Quite a story!

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Missouri River from Blufftop Bistro

Les Bourgeois Vineyards

About 15 miles west of Columbia MO on I-70 west is a small town, Rocheport (exit 115). It might be small but it has a lot going for it.

This could be done as a long day trip from St Louis but, if you’re going to try the wines at the Vineyards, it’s probably best to stay the night somewhere close, either in Rocheport or in Columbia. We were visiting our grandson at Mizzou in Columbia and did a day trip from there.

We like wine and have done many wine tastings in many countries (and even in Missouri long ago, close to St Louis) but, I have to be honest, we were a bit skeptical about somewhere in central Missouri producing decent wines. Anyway, it sounded like a fun new adventure that our grandson had planned so off we went.

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View from Bistro patio. Down there, by the wine barrels, outdoor weddings are often held

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Walking down to the Bistro

There were two parts to this trip: lunch at Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro and tasting wine at Les Bourgeois Vineyards Tasting Room, two separate places (and two separate posts).

Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro

Just to the right as you come off the highway is the winery and tasting room, but about a mile further down the road is the turnoff for the bistro. Our grandson had made a reservation for lunch (absolutely essential) so we headed for the bistro first. Drive in past some vineyards and park and then you have to walk on a looping path down the hill to the restaurant, the Missouri River ahead of you. On the way down, we passed a lovely sculpture of an eagle in flight. In the restaurant later, we found another sculpted eagle soaring near the ceiling rafters—eagles are probably seen along the river here in the colder months.

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Lovely eagle sculpture

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An eagle even soaring inside the Bistro

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On the patio

roomThe bistro building is on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, so the setting is superb. We were there in October so it was too cool to sit outside, but in the warmer weather I can imagine that the outside patio would be wonderful. However, even inside you get a great view of the river, as the restaurant has huge picture windows.

 

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Portabellas stuffed with sweet potato

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Enormous servings for Bahn Mi

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Enough left over for doggie bags!

Les Bourgeois Vineyards Blufftop Bistro is both a restaurant and a venue for special events and that Saturday they were preparing for a wedding. The events room is downstairs and the restaurant is a large, open room on the entrance level. It’s obviously very popular as it was very full and very busy, and we can see why: the service was friendly and excellent, the setting and ambience great, and the food really good. There were four of us and we shared a cheese and charcuterie plate; then two had a Bahn Mi sandwich each (which was enormous, and had enough for a very large doggy bag); one had a stuffed grilled portabella; and one winehad the shrimp salad. We shared a bottle of their in-house dry rose wine, which was fine, if not great.

Next, we went to the Tasting Room (see next post).

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Liberty, a rescue bald eagle, on show at Alton Visitor Center

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The Illinois River was mostly frozen over in early January 2018

WINTERING BALD EAGLES ON THE MISSISSIPPI and ILLINOIS RIVERS

A privilege and a thrill to watch the US national bird

Don’t forget your binoculars!

Eager to see an eagle? Well, you can watch our national bird, the Bald Eagle, soaring on six-foot wings, diving down at 100 mph to snatch a fish from the water’s surface, or perching on a tree branch. And Midwest residents don’t have to travel to Alaska (or Florida) to do that. Bald eagle sightings have increased along the Mississippi River this winter, on locks and dams in Iowa, Illinois and Missouri.

Just one hour north of St Louis is a great spot to see large numbers of these magnificent birds in winter, which we recently did in spite of the extreme cold.

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P2040054.JPGAround Alton and Grafton, Illinois, is an area bounded by two rivers, the Illinois River and the Mississippi, with a third, the Missouri River, a few miles south. (In the native language of the then-local Illini tribe, ‘grafton’ means “gathering of waters’). State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, Federal lands, and Nature Conservancy areas along these rivers recognize the importance of this area. Cliffs, bluffs, woods, wetlands, bottomlands and prairies provide a paradise for a wide variety of flora and fauna. This area is on the N-S bird migratory flyway, so it’s frequented by many migrating birds at different times of the year.

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P2050074.JPGFor most people, the most famous visitor is the bald eagle, which is attracted here by large bodies of water with adequate food supplies and large land areas with minimal human disturbance. This is the second largest wintering ground for eagles flying from their nesting places in the Great Lakes States and Canada (the largest is in N. California and S. Oregon) and the chances of seeing eagles improve as the number of bald eagles continues to increase as a result of improving numbers. As our guide joked, “This is the eagles’ Florida”.

The bald eagle was on the Endangered Species List: Their numbers were down to as few as 417 nesting pairs in the 1960s, because of loss of habitat and widespread use of harmful pesticides, especially DDT. Banning DDT and increased habitat protection under federal law have led to a significant increase in the number of nesting bald eagles, so in 1995 the eagle’s status was downgraded from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’.

It is thought that this area supports an estimated winter population of 2500-3000 eagles, and the birds are spotted daily. The wintering eagles use large trees on the river banks for daytime perches, as food is readily available in the open water, especially near dams (they enjoy the fish that are confused/thrown up by the locks and ferries), but they prefer large trees in the nearby sheltered valleys and ravines for night roosts.

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Woodlands in Pere Marquette State Park

mapThe 15-mile scenic Great River Road between Alton and Pere Marquette State Park is very accessible to eagle-watching enthusiasts. Here the road runs along the base of limestone bluffs that rise almost 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Early French explorers (such as Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet) called these ramparts “broken castles” and the scenery alone makes the drive worthwhile.

In winter, many Eagle Events are planned (such as Bald Eagle Days from Pere Marquette State Park Visitors Center: reservations required) or you can plan eagle-viewing yourself with the aid of a pamphlet, “The Eagle Watchers Guide”, which you can pick up at the Alton Visitors Center, Pere Marquette Visitor Center, or the National Great Rivers Museum. Or more information at www.visitalton.com 

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Like wolves and lions, eagles have captured people’s imaginations over the centuries. The Native American Indians revered the eagle as a messenger of the gods and, as your eye is drawn ever upward to admire its graceful soaring, you can understand why, and realize that actually legend is not a match for the reality (eagles have been tracked flying as high as 30,000 feet and because they fly so high is why the Indians thought they were delivering messages to the gods). Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey as the national bird, but the eagle was chosen in 1782 because it’s a true American species (the only other endemic eagle in North America is the golden eagle) As we watch this magnificent bird, we’re very glad the turkey wasn’t chosen!

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Pere Marquette Visitor Center

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Liberty, a rescue eagle is 26 years old and very comfortable with crowds of people

Start at the Visitors’ Center in Pere Marquette State Park, a few miles beyond Grafton on Highway 100, the Great River Road (You can also begin at the Alton Visitor Center, which doesn’t have as many displays but did have a live rescue eagle on display this January). They have good displays on the flora and fauna and natural history of this area and lots of information on eagles, including an informative movie. (See Fun Facts about Bald Eagles in the next article). The Center offers its own Bald Eagle Days program on some days in the season, which you need to sign up for when there, or call 618-786-3323. We took part in this one Sunday, and it was excellent. A State Park interpreter leads the program, driving some people around in a van while others follow in their own vehicles.

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We also saw trumpeter swans

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Our guide, Scott, sets up a ‘scope and points out eagles and their nests

frozenriver3But, to do a viewing trip yourself, drive north from Pere Marquette about 8 miles on 100 to Fuller Lake Wildlife Management Area. Stop and look around at the trees along both sides of the river, and you may see eagles resting on the branches. Turn and retrace your steps past the park, keeping your eagle eyes open! You may see other cars stopped, which probably means they’ve spotted something, and if there’s a place to pull off the road, you can do the same. Just before Grafton is the free Brussels ferry over the Illinois River. It’s fun to drive your car onto the ferry and cross over to the Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge, where you may see bald eagles, pelicans, white geese or trumpeter swans. Cross back (the ferry runs 24/7, every 10-15 minutes so long as the river is not ice-bound) and drive along the Mississippi, watching out for the birds, past Alton to the National Great Rivers Museum at the site of Melvin Price Locks and Dam. You can often see eagles in flight and feeding around this massive structure, or resting in the trees along the river. This January, for the first time in our experience, we saw that the Illinois River was mostly frozen over. Quite amazing to see that!

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So much ice!

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Casey, a red-shouldered hawk

On the opposite side of the river (drive over the big bridge at Alton and turn left) is the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary (aka the Audubon Center), one of the best locations for eagle viewing. They (in conjunction with the Alton Visitor Center) were hosting the Alton-Audubon Eagle Ice Festival the day were were there, with fun activities for kids and a live red-shouldered hawk on display. It was also fascinating to see an artist carving an ice sculpture of an eagle from a huge block of ice at the Alton Visitor Center and to see some other finished ice sculptures there and at the Audubon Center. The weather was so cold that the sculptures didn’t melt even a little bit out in the weak sunshine!

 

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SStrmmarketPere Marquette Lodge in Pere Marquette State Park has rooms in the Lodge or cabins in the grounds. For reservations call 618-786-2331or visit www.PMLodge.net . I’ll write more about Pere Marquette, the PM State Park and PM Lodge in a later post.

Other lodging options are listed at www.VisitAlton.com . Many restaurants in Grafton and Alton provide tasty lunch breaks. We really liked State Street Market in Alton.

NOTE: An alternative site in Illinois for eagle viewing is Starved Rock State Park on the upper Illinois River, much closer to Chicago.

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Viv M and Heather D

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If you look really hard you can see two people in canoes

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At this point the river is divided by an island

The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England. It is 410 miles long, the source at the Fourth Connecticut Lake near Chartierville, Quebec, and the mouth at Long Island Sound.

It is named after the Pequot word “quinetucket”, which means long tidal river. It runs through 4 states: New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut. It forms the eastern border of Vermont and the western border of New Hampshire but technically only flows in NH, which has legal claim to the riverbed all the way to the Vermont side. Interesting factoid!

It is wide and mostly slow-flowing due to many dams, so it is very popular with paddlers and canoes etc.

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The former railway bridge is part of the trail

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Our family group on the bridge

Near Northampton in Mass, where we were staying for a few days to visit family, we got to walk over the river as we walked a bit of the Norwottuck Branch of the Mass Central Rail Trail. It’s an 11-mile paved path that links Northampton, Hadley, Amherst and Bechertown along the former Central Massachusetts Railroad Company right-of-way. Passenger service on the railroad ended in 1932 and freight service in 1979.

The Rail Trail was opened in 1994, and our family in Northampton says it is very popular, for walking, jogging, inline skating and cycling. It is also wheelchair accessible.

We started at the Elwell Recreation Area on the edge of bridgeNorthampton and really enjoyed walking along the former railway bridge over the Connecticut River, wide at this point with an island in the middle. It’s a magnificent 1,492-foot iron bridge that parallels Calvin Coolidge Bridge nearby (for vehicles), named for the mayor of Northampton who would become the 30th president of the USA. Woods on both sides here make for a leafy peaceful haven.

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Trail directions

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