Garden.True.North is about gardening in Zone 4,
sharing thoughts, ideas and tips for all northern gardeners.
sharing thoughts, ideas and tips for all northern gardeners.
Elevation 1313 Feet. I live at the confluence of the east and west forks that start the Chippewa River. It flows 180 miles to join the Mississippi River at Lake Pepin that is the widest naturally occurring part of the Mississippi River, located about 60 miles south of Saint Paul and on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Melanie and I started our trip further south just east of Dubuque, Iowa. The Great River Road is a National Scenic Byway marked by green and white Pilot’s Wheel signs. It follows the Mississippi for 3,000 miles on both the west and east sides of the river from Minnesota to Louisiana and uses mostly local two-lane highways. We took the River Road south with a few detours (1,500 miles) and going home the Interstate north (1,000 miles).
Elevation 591 Feet. Our first stop was the Quad Cities. The next day we toured Hannibal Missouri where everything is about Mark Twain. The river in this area was nearing flood stage after heavy rains in the upper states started to swell the river. There is something disquieting about seeing the muddy river moving quickly and closely to the levees that are built along its shores. We had reason to be cautious, later in the day on our way to St. Louis we experienced road closures. The river was lapping next to the road and in some cases over the road. After the second such detour, we abandoned the Great River Road and went west to catch a highway away from the water and to St. Louis.
Elevation 466 Feet. I had been to St. Louis before but never took the time to go to the Arch. Along with riding a pod to the top of the Arch there is a wonderful museum underneath telling the story of the westward expansion and of the river. Then we took a tour of the Anheuser Bush Brewery. There were warnings for flooding in St. Louis so we diverted to a larger road and on to Cape Girardeau.
Elevation 121 Feet. Our next stop was the B.B.King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi. The museum is wrapped around an old cotton gin and the story of B.B. King starts with his working in the fields around the area. The museum pulled the music, the place and the people together giving me a deeper appreciation of the Blues. This is the heart of the Mississippi Delta. As we traveled our playlist included much of B.B. King and his fellow Blues musicians. We went through cotton fields and some of the flattest land I have ever seen, flatter even than Illinois cornfields. I’ve read that this is some of the richest soil in the world consisting of eons of deposits of upper Midwest top soil averaging 132 feet deep. It was harvest time and it took us Wisconsin gals a bit of time to realize that the little puffs of white littered along the road was escaped cotton blown from the fields.
Elevation 131 Feet. Our stop for the night was in Greenville, Mississippi. We were delighted to find that the Hot Tamale Festival was next door to the hotel we had selected. What a day! We had left Cape Girardeau in a cold, wet fog and finished here with warmth, sunshine, blues and tamales. Greenville at one time was the center of the Delta as evidenced by the many empty buildings in their downtown. This town takes center stage in a history book on the great flood of 1927 titled Rising Tide by John M. Barry. I highly recommend the book if you are interested in the history of the river and how we have tried to tame it. Mr. Barry describes the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta as “begin(s) just below Memphis, widens to nearly 70 miles near the head of the Yazoo River (which means ‘river of death’) at Greenville, MS and extends south 220 miles to Vicksburg where the Yazoo empties into the Mississippi.”
Elevation 56 Feet. Our next destination is Baton Rouge. We traveled through the Delta and stopped in St. Francisville for lunch and a tour of Rosedown Plantation. It is our first close-up look of Live Oaks that form an allée to the mansion, a common feature for plantation homes. The grounds include a formal English styled garden and a leisure garden (a wilder area with walking paths styled after Italian Bosco or woodland gardens). I was informed that the Spanish moss hanging from the trees is not a moss but a bromeliad.
Elevation -8 Feet. On our way to New Orleans we stop at Houmas House Plantation that has lovely gardens. There is a Live Oak that is over 500 years old, and the requisite allée of oaks that lead between the levee and the mansion. The gardens are full of Caladiums, Elephant Ears, Cyperus Papyrus grass, and other tender tropical plants. After 5 days of driving we reach our destination of Bienville House on Decatur Street. We laugh because the Great River Road is signed on this street running next to the river. We had both been to New Orleans before so we had our list of things to do. Two days in the city included: mornings at the Café du Monde for coffee and beignets, an evening concert at Preservation Hall, a rainy day of shopping therapy at the French Market and Royal Street shops, an afternoon wine with cheese at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, beer, gumbo, seafood, jazz, and local art. We had delightful conversations with a local photographer selling her work at the Dutch Alley Artist’s Coop, an artist in Jackson Square, and others standing in lines for food or music.
The trip home only took 2 days of Interstate driving. It was harvest time for soybeans in Missouri and corn in Illinois.
My impressions were disappointment with Hannibal (it was a tired looking town), very impressed with the B.B. King Museum and the Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville along with driving through the Delta, the plantations were okay but I don’t need to see another one, and loved New Orleans and the Bienville House. The Great River Road National Scenic Byway was an adventure to experience in almost its full length and to share with a good friend. My two bits of advice; pay attention to flood warnings before you go and not try to experience the whole river in one trip unless you have more than a month to devote to your travels.
I’ll leave this travelogue with a quote from John M. Barry, “There is no sight like the rising Mississippi. One cannot look at it without awe, or watch it rise and press against the levees without fear.”
*Gardening with Shrubs, March 5, 1:00 pm Weiss Community Library, Hayward