Thursday, March 15, 2012

D is for Dam

Please note the spelling--I'm not cursing here.  Last month (for my birthday) Schnickelfritz, his grandparents, and I went to Alton, IL for a day trip.  I've already posted about our stop at Lewis and Clark's Camp Dubois (look another D)  museum.  Now I'm going back to share about our morning at the Melvin Price Lock & Dam and the Great Rivers Museum.   I have to confess growing up near the river and I've often been near the dams for viewing eagles in the winter (the water is never iced over so they can fish), but I've never toured either before.  Boy, did I miss out on a real treasure.

The museum is divided into themes--the nature area has stuffed and live examples of the birds, fish, and other animals that make their home in the river habitat, the historical areas cover the river used as transportation from Native Americans through the steamboat age, and the technology areas deal with the lock and dams and navigating barges along the river.


One of Fritz's favorite exhibits was the wall with the composite satellite map.  At the bottom of this photo is the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. 


Here Fritz and his PaPa are attempting one of three possible challenges to virtually navigate a barge on the river.  The three monitors show the Eads Bridge (the oldest bridge crossing the Mississippi just north of the St. Louis Arch) approaching and they need to watch for strong currents trying to push them into the pilings.  (You'll note Fritz has already turned over duties to his grandpa who used to be in the Coast Guard and actually knew what he was doing).  The two other missions were to guide a barge through the locks and to steer around an oncoming barge headed downstream.  Those of you who are used to fast-paced video games may think the slow speeds of this simulation would be easy, but I assure you it's not!  You can't believe how long it takes a 1/2 mile long barge to respond to steering controls.  I caused millions of dollars worth of damage to the virtual lock in several attempts before I switched to the easier approaching barge scenario. 




There are 29 dams on the Mississippi river and believe it or not, they have nothing to do with flood control!  Their purpose is to create long pools if you will, with at least a 9 foot depth to allow for barge traffic.  According to the signage, without the dams portions of the upper Mississippi would only be 3-4 feet deep.    At this interactive display Schnickelfritz needed the water to be above the marked line in between each dam (the water actually flows under the raised portion, not over the dam).

All this information helped prepare us to tour the dam and locks that afternoon.  We had been shooting for the first tour of the day but arrived too late.  You know how you sometimes wonder why God doesn't let you keep your time schedule?  Well in our case it meant we made the afternoon tour when we actually got to see two 15 section barges lock through going downstream and one Coast Guard vessel putting out channel buoys go through the secondary lock headed upstream.  The morning tour saw nothing.  We took an elevator to the top level--90 feet above the water, and walked over the two locks to a viewing room.   This room had pictures of the locks being built, a cutaway view of a tugboat, and a working model of the locks.  Fritz could push the buttons to make the water level go up and down and open and close the gates at either end.


This particular tugboat seemed quite luxurious.  There was even a large stainless steel bar-b-que grill on the side and a little container garden on the deck.  Our tour guide informed us that most crews work 30 days on and 30 days off so this really is a home on the water.  The cook happened to step out and waved to us as she checked on the grill.

I have to day both young and old were impressed by the massive scale of everything and the precision.  After making a wreck with the virtual barge I had a great respect for the captain working with less than two feet of clearance on either side.  The tour is handicap accessible, but if anyone is afraid of heights or just doesn't want to go, there are also monitors in the museum where you can watch the traffic.  There are also two movies that they will show on demand--one about the lock and dam and one about eagles (which often winter in the area).  And it's all free!!

That tackles my D for Ben and Me's ABC Challenge.  Be sure and click here to see what others came up with.

7 comments:

Marcy Crabtree said...

what a cool field trip.

I'm gonna have to bookmark this for later!

Stefanie said...

How fun!!! Great trip!

Popping in from WWU

Erika said...

So much fun! Good thing you didn't have to pay for your "damages!" ;)

Jane Maritz said...

Very cool "D" word! I love all the hands-on type of stuff you got to do there...

Kym Thorpe said...

Very cool field trip!! My kids have been fascinated by the locks whenever we've had opportunity to see them, but that view and museum looks exceptional. I will add it to our list if we're ever in the area. ;-)

Jennifer aGlimpseOfOurLife said...

That looks like a fun fieldtrip.

Mary said...

Very cool field trip!

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