INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. - This was the frontier, until President Jefferson sent Lewis & Clark to forage a new frontier. I highly recommend Stephen Ambrose's account of that expedition, "Undaunted Courage." The hardships those men and one woman endured for more than two years makes me feel like a cream filled clair, and this is where it all started, St. Louis - Gateway to the West.Unable to discover a discarded section of log-raft floating down the Mississippi like Huck and Jim once did, I purchased a ticket on the sternwheeler Becky Thatcher for a 21st century reintroduction to the Big Brown God. The Mighty Mississippi does not look as mighty as she did when I was out here in 1993. She's 53 feet lower in this draught than she was during the big flood.The joy for me revolves around revisiting the headquarters of a cub pilot named Sam Clemens when he was piloting the John J. Roe (or was it Row) back in 1859-61, the nadir of steamboat life on the Mississippi. Sam would return to this haven some 20 years later and lament, "I saw a drowsy St. Louis levee with half a dozen sound asleep steamboats where I used to see a mile of wide awake ones."The people here have always been honest, hospitable, inviting, and generous. When St. Louis morphed from steamboating to railroading following the Civil War, her young men could no longer get their exercise loading cargo on the levee, so they turned their attentions to sport. And today they love their sport all the more. When their reigning World Champion Cardinals are on the road and the boys cannot attend the games, they read the box scores. Have you ever seen anybody but a bookie read a box score in Nevada? Neither have I.The magnificent Arch takes one's breath away with its austere beauty. And the way this national emblem of opportunity plays light symphonies with the rising sun is simply awe inspiring. Wandering beneath the Arch in the morning sun moves one to compose a love song or a poem or something - anything. But then taking a tram to the top of the Arch has an opposite effect. The tram cars are so small that the five people cramped in a circle have to lock knees and refrain from speaking for fear the person directly across will busy herself counting your gold fillings. Then once you reach the 600 foot summit and exit the tram to witness the vast void that hangs beneath you, you only want to crawl back inside the tram and shout, "Yoohoo-Yoohoo, can we go back down now?"One old chestnut has it that an extreme sportsman once parachuted from the heavens to the top of the Arch, an amazing feat when you consider the summit is only 17 feet wide and only about the same width looking right and left before you start down a great and mighty slide. And that's where this celebrated swashbuckler's triumph took a turn for the worse, for as he was preparing a second shoot to make his final descent, a gust of wind started him to sliding, and well, let's just say that slide became his last big adventure.If you relish our country's history, and I know you do, then St. Louis is a delicious place for you to savor the past. And if you're comfortable in a good sports bar, you cannot find any more satisfying repose than in St. Louis, Missouri.- Learn more about McAvoy Layne at ghostoftwain.org.
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