River Taming

Humans have been tinkering with rivers since the dawn of civilization. Have we mastered the art?

Well — not exactly.

Rivers appear to cut their own way through geography and history. Flood? Yeah, we can do that. Cut a new channel? Sure, just give us a little time. Shrink? Give us a few drought years and light snowfall at our source and we can make your barges and boats scrape bottom.

Of course, size matters. Just like you talk about a stream, a creek, or a rivelet feeding into a river, the rivers come in all sizes and lengths. And don’t expect a straight line from point A to point B. We like to wander, find the low spots and the softer earth to yield to our power.

But humans continue to attempt to control these forces of nature.

Along the mighty Mississippi River, from Minneapolis to St. Louis, you will find a series of dams to control navigation. This one, Melvin Price Locks and Dams, replaced the previous structure of Dam #26 near Alton, Illinois. Built and maintained by the US Army Corps of Engineers, each of the 27 locks and dams do their part to ensure barge and other water traffic moves steady on this liquid highway.

Morning Tryst, a sweet, contemporary romance, includes scenes along the Mississippi River where it forms Missouri’s eastern border.

Kindle readers:


Three Bridges — One River

If you begin in St. Louis and intend to drive any great distance (or any moderate distance) you will find it necessary to cross at least one river. Depending on direction and distance, you may cross more than one — or the same river more than once.

Today we’re going to focus on driving southwest from the heart of the city. The first sizable (except during flood) river you will encounter is the Meramec. The first time you cross it on Interstate 44 or a state highway running roughly parallel, the river is flowing south — perhaps a few degrees to the southeast.

Less than ten miles later, Interstate 44 crosses the Meramec River again — where it flows north. Like most rivers, perhaps a little more than average, the river changes direction several times as it wanders from the source to the Mississippi River.

This is a crossing where a steel truss bridge with oak floor planks spanned the water in 1900. In 1932, a new bridge, to carry the traffic for the new US Highway 66 replaced the previous. When the Interstate was construction, a new bridge, a little south (upstream) was completed. The old (second) bridge continued to serve local traffic until 2009. At that time, the decking was removed in an effort to lighten the load on the steel trusses and wait for funds to restore the structure which now lies within a State Park.

A trace of Bridge #1 remains with the pair of footings visible at low water. Bridge #2 — deckless — is in the foreground while Bridge #3 carries the traffic from St. Louis to points southwest such as Rolla and Springfield in Missouri, Tulsa, OK and beyond.


River Street

River Street. Wharf Street. Water Street.

Small towns and large cities alike frequently have streets with one or more of the above names.

Yes, they often parallel a river — whether the river marks the city limits and cuts through the center of town. It’s a natural — rivers served as liquid highways (many still do) long before the network of roads in the United States was developed to support more than a man leading a pack horse.

Roads have improved — in number and quality. Often they served the many factories which were built along the rivers. Transportation has always been important to industry. A large number of the factories, many outdated, others closed for dozens of other reasons, no longer receive or ship goods on the rivers. Instead, fleets of trucks arrive with raw materials and depart with finished product.

Exceptions do exist.

A freighter passes through a draw bridge while using the Fox River as a liquid highway. From a riverside path (re-purposed railroad right-of-way) we followed along at a brisk walk as the ship headed toward the third and final drawbridge before entering Green Bay — leaving the city, entering the bay.

Can you imagine traveling this way from one city to the next in the Great Lakes?


No Exceptions!

All street traffic must stop! Did you see the flashing light? Hear the bell? Notice the red and white arm lower?

It does not matter if you are a bus, a truck, a sedan, an SUV, or a bicycle. ALL street traffic must stop!

But…but…but…I’m late for an appointment.

Explain the situation when you arrive. Locals will understand.

When the bridge tender raises the draw bridge…ALL street traffic needs to pause.

Best reaction? Stop your vehicle, draw a good breath, and watch the river traffic enjoy right-of-way.



The great inland waterways of the United States don’t get a lot of national press. Due to the area in which I grew up plus the region I have called home for several decades — I’ve always been aware of them. More exactly: the Mississippi River barge traffic.

Locks and dams enable the upper portion of the river to stay open by keeping the water level at or above nine (9) feet. Yes, it seems amazing that huge, heavy barges and the tows which push them require water only nine feet deep. I’m sure physics is involved. Understanding the fine points of buoyancy was not my best science topic.

The pilots on the tows need to be alert and capable. They also need to be trained. Have you ever thought about what sort of education is involved in some of the very specialized occupations?

I had one of those “of course” moments a few years ago on vacation in Paducah, KY. Located on the Ohio River near the junction with the Mississippi — it makes perfect sense for a river pilots to have a training facility.

Paducah celebrates modern river pilots on their flood wall mural.


Shoulder Travel

Aside from the dozen plus years I was responsible for children in school, I prefer to travel during the “shoulder” seasons.

Do you need a translation? According to travel guidebooks, the “shoulders are the six weeks or so before and after the peak tourist seasons. In the United States, the peak months are generally June, July, and August.

During my life, I’ve taken some wonderful September trips. Once or twice I traveled in October. (Depending on your destination — it’s best to bring a warm coat.) May is preferred to April for the same reason in reverse.

An early September road trip included a beautiful day in Delaware. I think I fell in love with the Brandywine River. 

Consider the positives: The weather is generally good. Again–think about your destination. It’s always good to have an inside attraction on your list for rainy days. Tourist attractions are not as crowded as during the peak season. Watch the open hours — the further you are from peak, the more likely days or hours will be limited. Traffic — like the attractions — will be a mix of locals, commercial, and the stay wanderer like yourself.

So in this year of limited opportunities and abundant cautions: Grab the map and your travel buddy. Plot out a trip for one of the “shoulders” of 2021.



A Super Highway

Coal. Grain. Scrap metal. Fuel.

Do you have tons and tons of heavy material to ship?

You’re in luck if your route is between Minnesota and the Gulf of Mexico. You can ship north or south by barge. The modern barge business on the Mississippi River is great for bulky, heavy manufactured or raw materials.

Thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Upper Mississippi is controlled and kept to a depth of nine feet or greater by a series of locks and dams. The locks are busy areas allowing barge tows as well as smaller commercial and private pleasure watercraft to transit from one level to another.

St. Louis, located at the southern end of the lock and dam system, sees lots of activity in the formation of the tows. Below you see a pair of barges being moved, it can go into a group of fifteen going north (upbound). Tows going south (downbound) in the lock and dam free portion of the river can be larger.

Ignore a school lesson for a moment. Barge tows are pushed.


Look Up!

When on a scenic drive — as passenger, not driver — be sure to glance UP at the scenery.

This particular bluff is located between two small river towns on the Upper Mississippi (in this case, upper equals north of the Ohio River) . It also happens to be named The Maiden Rock.

Yes, at one time (perhaps still) you can buy a printed copy of the “legend”. In this one the princess is named Winona and her father is Chief Red Wing. And like similar stories at other bluffs along the river, she gathered her dead lover — from the wrong tribe — into her arms and leaps off into the waters below.

Please to remember — the road and railroad were not carved into the foot of the bluff at this time.

True story? You can decide.

Beautiful bluff? You have my vote.


My Library Shelf — B

The Brandywine by Henry Seidel Canby.

Several years ago, on my first (and so far, only) visit to Delaware, I found this to be an enchanting small river. This historical study of the river makes a good read either before or after your introduction to the water rushing from Pennsylvania through Wilmington, Delaware to the larger Delaware River.

My only caution to the reader is to stay aware of the copyright date – 1941.

The shores of the river have been changed by man in these last decades. And while the river itself continues to wind through the land – the use of the land has changed from forest and scattered agriculture to sub-divisions and industry. (Not that industry is a new thing to the river. It’s water has powered many mills of many types through the years.)

History took place here. In the 18th and 19th centuries. And the 20th if you include the building boom which has taken place since publication. This book gave me a reminder that this nation is filled with moderate size rivers of great local importance.

Available at major on-line retailers and special order from your favorite bookshop.


On the River Bank

The water slides past in silence. Millions and billions of drops, collected into depressions and moved by gravity. The small units merge until they are measured not by pints or buckets or barrels, but by cubic feet per minute as they hurry on their way.

Downstream. Always seeking the lower elevation. They would go deep into the earth if a hole opened.

They don’t appear to rush as I stand high on the shore. And I let my thoughts drift. Where are they bound? Will they be diverted into the water system of a town or city? Or evaporate, defying gravity until they form a cloud? It’s pleasing to think of them having an adventure, passing new places, until they join the mighty waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the ocean beyond.

Mighty Mississippi — The Father of Waters