Tower Rock Quarry Exposed

When this aerial photo of Tower Rock was taken April 17, 2011, the river gauge in Cape was at about 43 feet and heading higher. The half-moon bay downstream and to the right of The Rock was a big circular corn field until the Flood of 1993, Gerard Fiehler of the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum said. The flood created a huge scour basin that’s a good 25 or 30 feet deep and several football fields across. Trees that grew along the basin are probably in the Gulf of Mexico today.

Click on any photo to make it larger.

We climbed Tower Rock in 2003

Brother Mark and I climbed to the top of Tower Rock in 2003. When the river stage in Cape is about six or seven feet, it’s possible to walk across to the rocky island. (It’s about 14 feet and falling on Nov. 7, 2011)

BE CAREFUL.  If the water’s more than a few inches deep, it can sweep your feet right our from under you. Missionary Father Marquette, who explored the area by canoe in 1673, said the “savages” believed Tower Rock to be “the demon that devours travelers.”

This view to the south shows the remnants of a quarry that was worked off and on for 135 years until almost all of the rock was exhausted in 1972. At normal river levels, only a little rock, if any sticks out of the water.

Low water uncovers artifacts

Despite the tremendous volume of water that sweeps over the area even in normal times, traces of track and tipple car wheels survive. These wheels could date to the late 1800s, Tower Rock, a book distributed by the Perry County Historical Society, says. The author thinks they may have been buried until the 500-year floor of 1993 uncovered them.

Acme Stone Crusher survives

Tower Rock identifies this rusting metal object as a steam-powered Acme rock crusher. A similar or the same crusher was used across the river in Grand Tower in the mid 1870s.

Steamboat tieup

Not far from the crusher is this dual-ring steamboat tieup. There are several different styles on the jetty, the  oldest dating to the 1830s to 1850s. The quarry was most active from the Civil War through the Great Depression.

Now’s the time to see Tower Rock Quarry

If you’re going to go, go while the weather is nice and the river is low. This opportunity doesn’t come often.

Tower Rock isn’t some place you stop on the way to somewhere else. You have to REALLY want to go there. You start by passing through Altenburg on Missouri Hwy A. (It’s worth stopping at the excellent Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum. In fact, I printed a couple dozen scenic photo books for their gift shop to sell to gauge if there’s a demand for them. They’re going for $14, a steal.)

Might be longest suspension pipeline in world

After going up and down some steep hills, just before you get to what’s left of the German pioneer village Wittenberg (Population: two buildings and three people), you’ll see a small sign off to the right pointing to Perry County 460, a steep and washboarded gravel road. As you drive along that road, you’ll spot what may still be the longest suspension pipeline in the world, that carries gas from Texas to Chicago. Not far from there, the road narrows and you pass through an area of fallen trees. I’ve spotted a momma deer and her two fawns twice on this stretch.

Stop, Look and Listen

Now things get interesting if this is your first trip. You’ll make a sharp 90-degree bend to the left and cross over the BNSF railroad tracks and make an immediate right-hand 90-degree turn paralleling the river. After not seeing any trains at the crossing for years, two have passed on my last two visits: Stop, Look and Listen.

The stretch along the river is narrow and there’s a steep drop-off to the water, but you seldom meet a car. Eventually, you’ll come upon a parking area at the Tower Rock Natural Area, donated by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bussen to the Missouri Conservation Department.

If there are any persimmons left, give them a try. You won’t find any anywhere else that are sweeter.

Shameless Plug: Buy My Book

{Shameless Plug: don’t forget to stop in at the Altenburg Museum to pick up a copy of my Tower Rock book. The museum folks are nice and they’re going to be setting up their Christmas Tree exhibit in the next week or so. It’s worth seeing.]




Pipeline and Perry County Photos

I played hooky last night. Son Matt and I were out late working on a couple of prototype books for me to bring back to Cape next week when we celebrate Mother’s Birthday Season. We printed up about 25 copies of Tower Rock: “A Demon that Devours Travelers” to see if there’s any market for a small, inexpensive photo book about Tower Rock in Perry County. We’ve been working with the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum on a bigger project, so we’re going to see if they think there is a market in the gift shop for this.

Longest Suspenstion Pipeline

On the way to photograph Tower Rock, I have to pass what has been called the longest suspension pipeline in the world, carrying natural gas from Texas to Chicago. Over the years, I’ve shot it from the air, from a ferry underneath it and from the Missouri and Illinois sides. It’s an interesting structure that looks different under every lighting condition. I haven’t done the layout and copy for it yet, so it may get folded into the Grand Tower book if my critics tell me that it needs more “weight.”

If things don’t change, I expect to be northbound toward Cape Tuesday. That means you may have to go back to reading some of the older pages for your morning fix if I don’t shoot something on the road. A good place to start is to go to the bottom of the page where it says “Sitemap” in tiny, tiny type. Click on that and it’ll take you to a listing of everything that’s been published.

Not Cowed By the Heat

I was back up in Perry County today to photograph Viola “Mietz” Theiss, former Postmaster of the Wittenberg Post Office. Because I have pictures of the town before it washed away in the 1973 and 1993 floods, I’m working on a project with the Altenburg Lutheran Heritage Center and Museum to shoot current photos to match up with the ones I shot in the late 60s. At the very least, there will be an exhibit of the photos at the museum, and I’ve been invited to speak about how to do regional photography at a conference next year. We’re working hard to see if I can turn the images into a book, too.

Mietz, and her daughter, Kathy Schoenherr, were a lot of fun. We drove out to Tower Rock, Wittenberg, her old homestead and the site of the train depot where she had to have northbound and southbound mail ready to meet the trains in the morning and the afternoon. We also spent some time at the old Post Office, one of only two buildings still standing in the village.

Fawns along the road

One of the high points of the day was when we rounded a curve and spotted two fawns, not much bigger than large dogs on the side of the road. I stopped the car immediately to keep from spooking them. They were more curious than afraid. They slowly approached us with their ears high in the air. I didn’t want to roll down the window, so I shot this through the windshield. They were a little far off to get a good shot. After about a minute, their mother came walking across the road. She was a little more cautious than the fawns, but she took plenty of time herding her charges off into the bushes. I rolled the car forward a few feet and the crunching gravel caused them to bolt away.

David Holley hopes to beat the odds

The other high point was when David Holley came walking by. He owns the Post Office and lives in the only other building in Wittenberg. He’s the fellow featured in my video about the last train robbery in Missouri. Interestingly enough, Mietz said her husband told stories about seeing the aftermath of the shootout that ended the caper.

Townsfolk told me that David had been having a tough time lately, so I was really happy to see him. “I’m on my third round of chemo,” he said. “I’m hoping I’m in the 60% that makes it, but I haven’t had a whole lot of luck in my life,” he added, matter of factly.”

Same old story-teller

He’s lost a lot of weight and his hair has turned greyer, but he’s still the same old story-teller with the same old twinkle in his eye. When I asked him how high the water had gotten in his house, he said that it reached about three feet in the basement during one stretch: high enough that they were cut off from the main road and had to use a canoe to get home.

Then, he launched into a typical David story about the Flood of 1993 and having to put his toddler daughter in the canoe in the middle of the night to pick up his wife when she got off work. The water was high enough to to just about reach the ceiling in the post office, he said, putting the canoe into the treetops. “I’d give my daughter a lantern to light my way through the trees, and we’d start out fine. Then, about halfway there, she’d think she was a coon hunter or something and start shining the light up into the trees, into the air and everywhere but where we were supposed to be going. She thought it was great fun to have me run into a tree.”

It’s hot. How hot is it?

It’s hot enough that I thought about joining these cows in an algae-covered pond on our way out of Wittenberg. This picture posed some interesting technical challenges. The cows – no fools – were in deep shade. The bulk of the pond was in bright sunlight. I like cows better than algae, so I cheated the exposure toward the cows, which caused me to lose the bright green algae in the foreground.

The head index has been in the 105-108 degree range. I come home from shooting with my shirt so wet you can wring water out of it.

I went over to Wife Lila’s brother’s house the other night for dinner with him, Dee and Wyatt. John offered me an ice-cold beer and I had to turn him down. “I’m so thirsty that you’d have to get me a designated driver to get me home. If I stick to ice tea, the worst thing that could happen is that I’d get arrested for indecent exposure if I have to stop on the side of the road.”

It was a good choice. I emptied three giant glasses of tea and sloshed all the way home.

Corn, Sunset and Pipeline

I was rocketing along a levee road trying to get a good angle to shoot the suspension pipeline over the Mississippi River between Grand Tower, Ill., and Wittenberg, Mo., when I saw the sun light up the tassels on on a corn field. It was worth stopping for 45 or 50 seconds. Click on the photos to make them larger.

Longest suspension pipeline in the world

When it was built, this pipeline was said to be the longest in the world. Someone saw some of the photos I’ve taken of it over the years and suggested it would be a nice souvenir photo book to go along with a couple others I’m working on.

I have shot it from below while working on a story about a ferry that crossed under it; I’ve shot it from the north, west, south and the air. This was the first time I’ve shot it from the Illinois side.

Must be getting old

I had been there about an hour earlier and got some nice pictures, but after heading north along the river and not finding a good angle, I decided to race the sun back to here. I made it with about five minutes to spare. When I blasted over the top of the levee and screeched to a halt, Mother yelled, “Whoa!”

She never yells. “Whoa!”

She yells “Gun it!”

She must be getting old.