I have several places on my list that I wanted to write about this spring, but thanks to the recent Mother of All Rainstorms plus the Ice Storm From Hell, I don't know if these places are currently accessible -- or even above water.
So let's switch gears to something that is, by design, always above water: the locks and dams along the Mississippi River. The river from St. Louis northward is controlled by a series of locks and dams that keep the water level deep enough (at least nine feet) for barges to operate.
The most modern lock is located at Alton, Illinois, just upstream from the Mississippi's confluence with the Missouri River. Free public tours are given three times a day at the Alton dam, officially known as Melvin Price Locks and Dam.
During the tour, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guide takes the group up an elevator to the top of the structure...
...And then along a catwalk across the top...
...Before taking another elevator down into an observation room. From here, it's possible to watch the operations of the primary lock. Designed to handle commercial tows, the primary lock is 1,200 feet long and 110 feet wide.
A second auxilliary lock handles small recreational boats. This chamber is 600 feet long and 110 feet wide.
The tour guide was quick to point out that the Melvin Price is the "most technologically advanced structure ever built on the Mississippi River." Or something like that. Clearly, the Corps of Engineers is quite proud of this dollar-intensive project.
Next to the dam, the National Great Rivers Museum provides plenty of diversions while waiting for the tour to start. Several hands-on exhibits demonstrate how the locks and dam work. A pilot simulator lets you steer a fully-loaded tow down the Mississippi. Or maybe I should say try to steer. Controlling one of these things is surprisingly difficult... I kept crashing into the Eads Bridge.
Alton may not be at the top of your list for tourist destinations. But if you ever find yourself in the Alton area, the dam and museum are definitely worth the visit.
Take I-270 to the cloverleaf interchange with Illinois Highway 3 on the north side of St. Louis, just east of the Mississippi River. Follow Highway 3 north for seven miles through Wood River until reaching Highway 143. This is a crazy intersection: make a left exit onto Highway 143 toward Alton. Take Highway 143 for two more miles and turn left at the sign for the lock and dam.