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September 9, 2018
Ottawa, Illinois: Birds and a Barge

Time passes quickly, and every moment is precious. This feeling has been at the top of our minds as we reach the last port and day of our Mississippi River cruise. We are slowly checking off a sad list of “lasts” – our last sunrise, our last sunset, our last dining room meal, our last good-byes to new friends we have made.

This morning we enjoyed our last cruising time up the Illinois River toward our final port. We were both up and out on deck extra early to view the sunrise. We braved the unfamiliar cold weather to watch an incredible display of bird flocks. (After our one day of rain, we have had no rain ever since.) We saw an amazing parade of eagles, hawks, turkey vultures, geese, ducks, egrets and pelicans.

We really have been lucky on this cruise. We have heard that the same rising waters that re-routed our itinerary have stranded the company’s sister ship. The American Duchess is currently stuck at Dubuque, Iowa for days because it can’t travel upriver or downriver.

It was freezing cold out on deck before sunrise… but we didn’t want to miss our last morning of cruising!

Pelicans in the air

Pelican in the water



A white egret

Gail captured this great shot of a raptor and a seagull flying next to each other

Schools of fish would leap right out of the water in the wake of the steamboat. Frank the Watchman said one fish leaped right onto the deck and landed at his feet.

At Starved Rock Lock & Dam, there is a tradition of throwing Mardi Gras beads. Russell joined the fun, much to the delight of a little girl on the canal.

At noon, we finally arrived at the final port of our cruise: Ottawa, Illinois. “Ottawa” is a Native American term that means “to trade,” and the town earned its trading reputation as a port at the confluence of the Illinois and Fox Rivers.

We did not actually get to explore Ottawa, as we participated in a final premium excursion that took all afternoon. “The All American Historic Legacy” was a potpourri of activities offered by the nearby town of La Salle.

We began with an hour-long “I&M Canal Boat Ride.” The Illinois & Michigan Canal was once part of a chain that connected America’s inland waterways. Today it is the country’s first National Heritage Area. Our 76-foot long passenger boat was literally pulled a short way down the canal by “Larry” the mule at a speed of 4 miles per hour. (His companion mule is named “Moe.”) We were assured that it is not difficult for the single mule to pull this vehicle on the water.

(The canal dock was next to a bridge. When we docked, the boat hit the bridge… not once… not twice… but three times! Fortunately, and unlike the American Queen mishap, there was no damage.)

Our canal boat, the “Volunteer”

Larry the mule, who single-handedly pulled our canal boat

We had an unexpectedly sunny day. The turtles were out enjoying themselves along the riverbank.

Gail almost got her head taken off by a low-hanging tree on the riverbank

This was followed by a stop at the Lock 16 Café & Gift Shop, where we had afternoon high tea and a visit from an actress portraying Mrs. Lincoln.

High tea at Lock 16


A visit from Mrs. Lincoln

Our steamboat will not depart from Ottawa before our cruise ends tomorrow. Instead, we are docked here overnight. While we could still have gone ashore to explore the town, our afternoon and evening were spent packing our suitcases. We need to have all suitcases outside of our cabin by 11:00 tonight. We need to be up by 5:30 am tomorrow morning in order to leave our cabin for the last time.

It is with a great deal of sadness that we are ending this 23-day cruise. This is easily one of the top three cruises we have ever taken. Our world is a large place, with many destinations that we still hope to explore. But we would be very happy to come back here again.


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