Getting Our Kicks – Old Chain of Rocks Bridge #135

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IMG_2639After a brief hiatus, Miles James was back in action as my cake hunting companion. For the run of cakes we saw together on this day, we started with the cake at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The Bridge has a pretty incredible history, so allow me to take you on a brief journey into its history…or bridge-story if you will.

Bridge construction began in 1927 with building taking place in both Missouri and Illinois simultaneously and meeting in the middle for a Bridge unveiling in 1929.

IMG_2638The Bridge gained real notoriety in 1936, however, when historic Route 66 was rerouted to include passage over the Bridge. Remnants of this era are still visible today at various points along the Bridge.

One fact that I found particularly interesting was that during World War II, certain sections of the Bridge that were painted red were repainted green to make the Bridge less visible from the air. Fascinating!

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                                                                     Cake #135 at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

When the new Chain of Rocks Bridge opened in 1967, traffic moved from the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge, but in the 1980s and 90s, there was a massive effort to clean up and restore the Bridge which culminated in the hiking and biking trail it’s most noted for today.

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                                                                                          Cake #135 at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

And, as with any good historical location, the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, cementing its place in St. Louis history.

IMG_2642One other quick fun fact about the location was that the name ‘Chain of Rocks’ comes from a 17 mile stretch of rocky rapids on the Mississippi just north of St. Louis where the river is very difficult to navigate. While there is a dam covering this part of the river now, when the Bridge was built, this part of the river would have been easily identifiable.

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                                                                         Cake #135 at the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge

For his part, Miles was a champ – easing back into cake hunting with some new smells and areas to investigate. We even walked about halfway down the Bridge to get a good sense of its glory before moving on to the next cake location.

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Finally We Find Ourselves at a Fort – Fort Belle Fontaine #124

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                                                                      Cake #124 at Fort Belle Fontaine

Finally, after a long day of rain, Illinois adventures and more rain, Miles and I headed back over the bridge into a familiar state, sunshine and St. Louis!

As we were making our way home, it occurred to me that we just might have enough time to visit one more cake, and so with that thought, the decision was made, and we were off to Fort Belle Fontaine.

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                                                                      Cake #124 at Fort Belle Fontaine

Interesting fact that I did not know before cake hunting: Fort Belle Fontaine, and other Forts, I’m assuming, have a curfew that is strictly enforced! Miles and I discovered this as we pulled up to the entrance to the Fort and were greeted by a nice gentleman with a clipboard who asked us what business we had going into the Fort. I was about to tell him about my cake-ventures when Miles bounded up onto my lap from the passenger seat and stuck his head out the window towards the man. And with a few licks from Miles, the man’s professionalism dissolved and he leaned over to pet him and tell us to have a good time exploring. Score one point for having a cute pup along for the ride!

 

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                                                                                      Cake #124 at Fort Belle Fontaine

Fort Belle Fontaine was established in 1805 and is the first US military installation west of the Mississippi. It has had some pretty famous visitors in its history including Lewis and Clark, who stayed at the Fort on the last night of their expedition. Over time, the Fort became a refuge for those exploring the Louisiana Territory and a gathering place for those who provided the Fort with supplies. In 1986 it was officially labeled a St. Louis County Park.

 

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                                                                                           Cake #124 at Fort Belle Fontaine

Thankfully Miles and I didn’t have to go far to find the cake at this location, which was nice since we were already waterlogged enough from our travels. We did happen to come across the Fort at the right time of day, however, because as we looked out across the barrier onto the lower levels of the Fort, the sun was just setting, and Miles and I took a deep breath and gave each other high-fives as we realized we had accomplished quite an impressive cake hunting day indeed.

 

Not All Who Wander Find Great Inspiration – National Great Rivers Museum #123

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For our final Illinois cake of the day, Miles and I set out from Lincoln Douglas Square to find the National Great Rivers Museum, which should have been close by as both claim to be located in Alton, IL. However, a possible wrong turn here and a loop around there found my GPS leading us down a gravel road to a parking lot that had a sweet overlook of the river but that in no way resembled a museum.

IMG_2538The rain having mostly cleared at this point, though, Miles and I decided to make the most of our current situation, and so we climbed out of the car to look around and take in the scenery. The little parking lot actually led straight down to the river, so of course Miles and I walked as far out on the rock pathway as we dared to look down on the water rushing on either side of us.

IMG_2539From this vantage point, I could see a building that look museum-ish across the way, and the feeling that I sometimes got while cake hunting (but tried to ignore) – that I was never going to find the cake I was searching for – instantly lifted.

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Check out the 7 Word Story for this photo at sevenwordstorytelling.wordpress.com

On our way back to the car, I stopped to check out some graffiti on a pillar by the water, and snapped pictures of the more meaningful pieces of wisdom left there. And as we drove to the museum, a little idea started to form in my mind for another blog, one where I would write short stories that were only 7 words long, inspired by a picture that either myself or someone I knew had taken. As I pulled my car into the museum parking lot just across the way from the little park, the Seven Word Stories blog was born, and Cake #123 was in front of us. (PS That was a seemingly sneaky/not so sneaky way to suggest you check out my Seven Word Stories blog if you haven’t already!)

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Cake #123 at the National Great Rivers Museum 

The National Great Rivers Museum was built in 2003 to give visitors a better understanding of the importance of the Mississippi River. The museum includes several large scale models of different aspects of the river and other interactive exhibits that show the impact the river has had not only on the wild and plant life that rely on it, but the way it impacts humanity as well. The museum offers free tours 3 times a day but self-guided tours are encouraged as well.

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Cake #123 at the National Great Rivers Museum 

On the day of our cake hunt, Miles and I did not make an attempt to gain entry into the museum, but even just seeing the fountain outside the museum near the cake was enough to make the trek worthwhile. Miles particularly liked how shallow the fountain was so he could walk along the length of it if he wanted, and he most certainly did.

Have You Ever Seen the Rain – Lincoln Douglas Square #122

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img_2530.jpgSo there we were again, back in the car waiting for the rainstorm to pass. At this point, both Miles and I had succumbed to the fact that neither our hair nor our fur would ever have enough time to fully dry out on this trip, and we had embraced the hot messes that we had become. So, empowered by the knowledge that the rain was not to be feared but to be enjoyed, we ventured out in the just barely less than pouring rain to check out Cake #122 at Lincoln Douglas Square.

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Cake #122 at Lincoln Douglas Square 

In addition to feeling more alive as each raindrop pushed down my already soaked attempt at a cute hair day, I discovered that the rain was also somehow tempering my fear of mannequins! Because this cake location didn’t just feature one terrifying mannequin, but in fact two mannequins, with the cake directly in the center of their debate. And surprisingly enough, for the duration of my time spent with this cake, I only felt my heart jump in my throat once as I stared into the eyes of Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas.

IMG_2531We were in the land of Lincoln, after all, as several signs around town reminded us, and I was eager to learn more about the location of this cake.

In 1858 Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen A. Douglas to a series of seven debates as they both campaigned for a seat on the US Senate. Each of these debates lasted three hours and was held across the congressional districts. Interestingly enough at the time of the first debate, Lincoln was relatively unknown in the political world, but by the time of the seventh and final debate in Alton, IL, the debates had garnered so much attention that it was attended by about 5,000 people including members of the press and other political figures.

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                     Cake #122 at                                      Lincoln Douglas Square

 

The final debate took place on October 15 in front of Alton City Hall where the memorial now stands. And although Lincoln did not win the seat in the Senate, in 1860 he beat out Douglas for the presidency, so I suppose you could say things turned out for the best.

Despite the rain and the mannequins, I’m a pretty big fan of this cake location and think on it fondly. For me, this cake location brought history a little closer to home. It may just be me, but when I think of many major historical events, I tend to think of them as having happened in a time and place very far away from my own. But this memorial was a great reminder that amazing historical things were happening just across the river, even if they were many, many years before I was born, and that’s a pretty excellent realization.

I was also pretty stoked on this spot because not only was the cake easily viewed from a far enough distance that I didn’t have to risk getting too close to the mannequins to snap a quick photo, but I also have photographic evidence that Miles shares my same hesitancy for all things mannequin:

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Cake #122 at Lincoln Douglas Square 

Note the small pup by Mr. Lincoln’s right foot, tentatively sniffing with his neck outstretched in case he has to make a quick getaway.

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Cake #122 at Lincoln Douglas Square

And so with some dramatic weather related fanfare, our time in Illinois was coming to a close. With some renewed vigor for the final few cakes of the day, we hopped back in the car without even bothering to shake off the rain and headed to our last IL cake and second to last cake of the day.

Legends of the Bird – Piasa Bird #121

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Cake #121 at the Piasa Bird

Oh man, was I stoked for this one! Although Miles and I would eventually see a record 10 cakes in total during our rainy tromp through Illinois, when I began planning this trip a few days prior, the one cake I was beyond excited to see was the one at the Piasa Bird!

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                                                   Cake #121 at the Piasa Bird

The origins of the Piasa (pronounced Pie-a-saw, which let’s be real, I had no idea this was the way you said it until I saw the pronunciation written down) Bird date back to 1673 when our good old Illinois friend Father Jacques Marquette was traveling down the Mississippi River with Louis Joliet and made note in his diary of a “birdlike monster” painted on the bluffs that are now known as Alton, IL.

In his diary, Marquette wrote that the Piasa Bird “was as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger’s, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs” (source). And if you take a look at the pictures I took during our cake hunting trip, you can see what he was talking about.

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                                                   Cake #121 at the Piasa Bird

The Piasa Bird itself supposedly got its name from the Illini tribe of Native Americans who named it after a bird that devours men…lovely!

Despite how cool the history of this painting is, prior to our trip, I had never heard it before and was mainly intrigued about the location because 1.) I love sketchy cave paintings 2.) The Piasa Bird is located off the Great River Road, which if you’ve never been, I highly recommend! It’s a two lane road through Illinois that has beautiful caves and green bluffs on one side and a beautiful scenic view of the river on the other. This trip marked one of the first, but certainly not the last time I would get to take the Great River Road during my cake hunting adventures, and it never disappointed!

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                                                   You know there’s sketchy stuff in there!

Plus as luck would have it, the rain held out long enough for us to really take in the area of the cake and the painting, and even get as close to the cave openings behind the painting as the cop parked at the site would allow us to…which was not very close, sadly.

img_2526I think Miles enjoyed this cake stop too as there were many interesting things for him to smell and he even got to look super majestic atop the sign for the site, which is something he never tires of getting to do.

So after spending quite a bit of time at this location admiring the cake and the Piasa Bird and reading all the signs we could, Miles and I felt satisfied that we had learned all that we could from this location and said our goodbyes until the next time our travels took us to this part of Illinois.

Sunshine in My Pocket – Alton Visitor Center #120

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Cake #120 at the Alton Visitor Center 

And just like that, the clouds parted, the rain lifted and for a few quick cake sightings, we were engulfed in glorious, glorious sunshine.

Miles and I were determined not to miss this opportunity to bask in the break in precipitation, and so we scurried over to Cake #120 at the Alton Visitor Center and took turns admiring its majesty.

Pretty much like all other visitor centers in pretty much all the other places you’ve ever visited, this one boasts pamphlets and brochures galore about all the unique and wonderful things there are to do in Alton, which were mostly locations that had cakes, so I didn’t have to worry about missing anything.

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Cake #120 at the Alton Visitor Center

I will say that due to my many cake-ventures that took me over the river, I was a pretty frequent visitor to Alton in 2014, and it is really something to see. It was the first place I drove past every time I made my way into Illinois, and there was just something breathtaking about driving over the architecturally incredible bridge and then arriving in a place I was starting to get to know pretty well.

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Cake #120 at the Alton Visitor Center

Alton is also home to the Great River Road which has been named the Best Fall Drive in the Midwest and let me tell you, even on a rainy day in June, it is still pretty spectacular! But I think the part I enjoyed most about Alton was the way it felt like such a nice small town so close to home. And with how many times I traversed it in my travels, it was always a welcome sight because I knew that no matter how far into the wilds of Illinois I went, as soon as that bridge was in view, I was on my way home.

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Cake #120 at the Alton Visitor Center

 

Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head – Robert Wadlow Statue #119

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Robert Wadlow 

Besides being an applicable title for this blog post about rainy day cake hunting and just some great lyrics to hum along to whenever it’s stormy out, this song has the perfect couple of lines for Cake #119: And just like the guy whose feet / Are too big for his bed / Nothing seems to fit…well you know how the rest goes. But the reason those lyrics are so significant for this cake is because it is in honor of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in the world!

Robert only lived to the age of 22 but when he died he was 8 feet 11.1 inches tall! He was born in Alton, IL in 1918 and by the time he was 9 years old he was already over 6 feet.

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Cake #119 at the Robert Wadlow Statue 

His impressive stature was due to a pituitary anomaly that caused his body to continually make the growth hormone, so if he had not died so young of a foot infection, there is no telling how tall he may have grown to be.

Robert had planned to become an attorney but because of his size and brittle bones, attending classes was difficult for him, and so he joined the circus at age 19 before taking to the road at age 20 with his father as a spokesperson for the International Shoe Company.

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A Replica of Robert Wadlow’s Chair

When Robert died in 1940 most businesses in Alton shut down for the day so that the whole town could honor their favorite giant. Then in 1985 a bronze statue of Robert was erected and placed across from the SIUE Dental School.

While all of this history is incredibly fascinating, I do have to say that dragging a waterlogged pup through a space that is mostly occupied by a literally giant mannequin is not an ideal situation to admire a cake! However seeing the statue/mannequin was admittedly pretty amazing and by this point we were already as drenched as we were going to get, so we carried on even amidst strange looks from passersby with umbrellas who pretty much just shook their heads as they watched us frolic, and I can’t say I blame them.