In the footsteps of Lewis and Clark

When we chose our stop near St. Louis, we had 3 goals, first to see Bill’s family, then to spent some time in St. Louis with Keith and Joanette, who had never been there before and finally, for John to begin his ride of the entire KATY trail, from Machens to Clinton.

On September 17th, I planned to ride, with Bill, from Eastern Terminus of the KATY Trail back to Chesterfield. That would require Keith and Joanette to drive us there. I knew that Keith really wanted to view the confluence of the Missouri and Misissippi Rivers, north of St. Charles. A little research revealed that the Edward “Ted” and Pat Jones Confluence State Park, on the north side of the Missouri River, had been badly damaged in last year’s flood and was still closed. But, the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, on ths south side of the River, was damaged but open, and that you get close enough by car to the confluence viewing platform to reach it by a damaged, put passable, walking trail.

So, we loaded all 4 bikes onto Bill’s truck and headed to Columbia Bottom. The plan was to park at the Visitors Center parking lot and to bike as far as we could and then set out on foot. Our first choice was the bike path, which led directly to the walking trail to the confluence platform. We had hardly started on the bike trail, before it was apparent that this was not going to work. Silt covering the trail and thick vegetation made it impassable, so we turned around and headed back to the parking lot to take the road. A nice paved road went directly to the same walking path as the bike path. But, we were soon to find out, it also suffered damage similar to the bike path and additionally had a bridge out. So we turned around, again, and this time headed back to a gravel road, that was, according to some locals we spoke with, open all the way to the previously mentioned walking path to the conflunce. Undeterred, we headed to the gravel road. Now gravel is not my favorite to ride on. It may be easier than sand, or mud, but, it is still not fun on hybrid bike tires, but we were determined to see the confluence and onward we rode.

Our ride in the Columbia Bottom Area

The two short rides (U Shape on map, leftside) were, on the left, the bike path and, on the right, the paved road. The long road along the bottom was the gravel road, including an overshoot, when we failed to turn left. But we finally made it to the point where the walking trail to the confluence began.. A quick reconnaissance revealed the trail was only passable on foot, so we parked the bikes and made our way forward. Again, we faced silt intruding onto the pathway, thick vegetation and the absence of signs, but a clear footpath forward reassured us that we were not lost.

The dirt path to the viewing platform

We passed a former parking lot that was now under a mountain of silt and dirt, a modern restroom, again, covered in silt and debris and a series of signs important to the confluence story. But, we kept going. I was in ths lead, Bill trailing behind me, and Keith and Joanette bringing up the rear. I had just reached the confluence viewing platform, when a loud sound of, probably, a tree crashing to the ground brought all three of the stragglers running to the clearing where I was. Everyone was excited by the noise and wondering exactly what it might have been. But quickly, we turned our attention to the platform. We had reached our destination and there before us was the magical point, the confluence of America’s two mightiest rivers, arguably one of our most important points in the westward expansion, the point, where in 1804, Lewis and Clark turned their eyes west and headed up the Missouri River.

The Missouri River in foreground and the Mississippi on the right. You can see the line in the waters off the point, where the two rivers meet

On our way back out, Keith decided he wanted to go through the dirt, debris and vegetation and try to read the Informational signs that were on the old path that led to the viewing platform. So, climbing over logs, through bushes and along, the now non existent pathway, we made it to the signs

Finally we made it back to the bikes, retraced our ride on the gravel road and reached the truck. Then we drove the 19 miles to Machens, the Eastern Terminus of the KATY Trail State Park. The KATY Trail uses the roadbed of, the now defunct Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway, which was a regional line in those three states, plus Oklahoma. I am not sure why Oklahoma was not included in the name.

A word about Machens: It doesn’t exist! Machens is extinct, last having a post office in 1956, no population, no buildings, just the point where the KATY Trail begins. Machens is mile 26.9 on the KATY Trail. One might wonder, why is Machens not mile zero. That is because the trail developers used the MKT Railroad mile markers and the railroad’s mile zero was in St. Louis. The MKT access to St. Louis was provided by a contract with the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad, one of several predecessors to today’s Burlington Northern.

So there we were, in Machens, ready begin my 6 day trip, which would end after 269 miles in Clinton, Mo. A trip, which for the first 4 days would be along the Missouri River, following the path begun by Lewis and Clark, some 216 years ago. At Boonville, the trail would cross the river and head southwest toward Clinton and, the former railroad onto Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

Day 1 of the KATY, I rode with Bill, days 2-4, I would ride alone and then Bill would rejoin me for Days 5 and 6. But, for Day 1, Bill and I rode from Machens, through St. Charles and onto Chesterfield, where we would cross the River, onto the Monarch Chesterfield Levee Trail to Chesterfield Outlet Mall, where Keith and Joanette would meet us and drive us back to Babler Park. The next day, I would be back on trail for Day 2.

So, our stay at Edmund Babler State Park and our St. Louis activities came to an end. On the 18th, while I rode Day 2 of the KATY Trail. Keith, Joanette, Mouse and Bill headed to Harry S. Truman Lake, Bucksaw Campground, where I would join them 5 days later

Here is the Strava Link to the ride: https://strava.app.link/UzwAq83odab

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