After spending a couple hours exploring Calhoun County, all that was left for me to do on this trip was to drive back to St. Louis. The fastest way to get there from the Joe Page Bridge at Hardin, Illinois, was to follow Illinois Route 100 — the Great River Road. Along this portion of the Mississippi, the road is great.
South of Hardin, the GRR passes through farmland next to the Illinois River. The Illinois eventually runs into the Mississippi near the point where IL 100 turns east. The road also passes through Illinois’ largest state park, Pere Marquette, in this area.
Beyond the park, IL 100 draws closer to the edge of the Mississippi River.
You’ll pass through a few small towns, such as Grafton, which has a new, small lighthouse at the edge of the water.
Enjoy the view of the river from the road, as you zip by.
Legend of the Piasa
Just before the town of Alton, there are several huge cave entrances in the bluff at the side of the road, that are sure to catch your attention. You’ll also notice a bizarre-looking creature painted on the side of the cliff. This creature is a modern-day recreation of a Piasa.
The Piasa painting was first seen by Father Marquette as he explored the Mississippi River in 1673. In his notes, he recorded a description of a cliffside painting, depicting a creature with scales, horns, a long, winding tail, a face similar to a man’s, and red eyes.
The legend was retold in 1836, by author John Russell. His newspaper article described the Piasa as a bird that devoured men, swooping down on villagers, picking them up, and taking them back to a cliffside cave for dinner. The painting which now exists on the bluffs near Alton was based largely on that account.
The original location of the Piasa paintings seen by Marquette is gone–destroyed in the 1800’s by developers or miners. The new Piasa is several miles from that original location.
In addition to its Piasa history, the roadside stop also offers restrooms, and if you don’t mind dodging a fence, you can also climb into the dangerous caverns left behind by mining operations.
At Afton, IL 100 makes a sudden turn away from the river, into an industrial area. There’s a 4-way stop here that I almost missed… pay attention.
Clark Bridge: US 67 Across The Mississippi
I took my last picture of the day, and the trip, at the south end of the Clark Bridge. The bridge is sometimes called the “Super Bridge”, because its construction in the early 1990’s was featured on a NOVA documentary of the same name. The cable-stayed bridge was completed in 1994, and is paired with the less spectacular “Lewis” bridge, just a few miles down US 67. “Clark” crosses the Mississippi, “Lewis” crosses the Missouri.
Make a left at the first chance after crossing the Clark Bridge, and a side road takes you down to the Mississippi River, for a nice view of the bridge.
Note: This trip was first published in 2008.