Lock and Dam museum- So Many Questions

Having passed through 7 locks with many more ahead of us, what a fitting visit- the Mel Price lock and dam museum! Here we are touring the lock that we plan to enter in a few days.  Our boat is at the marina by the bridge in the background.


The museum/ information center is  just a mile down river from Alton.    I’m sharing some of the information and statistics we saw in the museum:

Inquiring minds want to know:

The first day we arrived, a few boats had tried entering the lock, and somehow the current pulled them tight against the entrance wall.  They were so concerned about damage, they  turned around to return to the Alton Marina!

Q. -Why so much turbulence and undertow a the lock entrance?

A–  The water flows under the wall that divides the two chambers.  This causes an under tow.  Don’t pass too close to the center wall.

Q. -What do the barges carry?

A.- Barges move about 20% of the coal used for generating electricity in the USA. 22%off  all  domestic petroleum products moved in the US are transported by barge. More than 60% of all US grain exports are moved by barge.    These are photos taken from the top of the St Louis Arch.

Q. -Do different types of barges carry different cargo?

A.- A Hopper Barge carries dry products like grain, coal , gravel .   It can hold 1500 ton of wheat- enough to make 2 million loaves of bread

A Tank Barge carries liquids like gasoline, liquid fertilizers, orange juice.   It could be refrigerated or heated.   Capacity – 2500 tons.

A Deck Barge carries machines, construction equipment or vehicles.  Capacity could be 665 15 ton garbage trucks!

Q- Barges don’t have engines; how do they get around?

A.  Barges travel in groups calls tows which are pushed by a towboat. Tows can move huge amounts of cargo at a low cost.  Tows can be as large as a football field or even larger.

Q. – Does barge traffic go both ways on the river?

A.  Typically petroleum and chemicals are shipped up river while corn and soybeans most often move downriver.   (shippers move cargo from where it is produced to where it is needed)

Q. -we’ve seen a wide variety of birds, is this typical? 

A.  60% of birds in North America use the Mississippi River as a highway on their north south migrations.    Artist ,James Audubon, traveled the river seeking new varieties of birds to paint. Across the river is a 3700 acre bird sanctuary designated as an “important Bird Area” by  Audubon Society in 2006.   (we did not have time to visit on this trip)

9-23-alton-ill-lock-and-tour-68We saw this egret walking along the drift wood next to the lock and dam.    There are eagles, blue heron, white pelicans and more.


Q. -What is a river confluence?

A.  A confluence is a place where things come together- here in the middle of America  is a great confluence of three rivers – the Illinois river, the Missouri and Mississippi


Q. -What is the Chain of Rocks?

A.- It is a rocky reach of 17 miles on the Mississippi with exposed shallow ledges of rock.  The Chain of Rocks Canal was built so river traffic could bypass the area.  It opened in 1953, boaters will be directed off the main channel by a sign posted at the entrance.   DO NOT MISS THIS SIGN .

Q. -Why so much drift wood and rubbish?

A.   The high water picks ups trees and branches along the banks.  The confluence of rivers brings more branches.    This causes hazardous boating at various spots along the river.

Q.- Who is Samuel Clemens?

A.- Better known as Mark Twain- author of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.  He was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi before the civil war.  Born in Missouri along the Mississippi.   Of course we have his book on board:


Q. How long is the Mississippi?

A.  The river is the 3rd largest in the world.  3710 miles long.  (we will only travel 218 miles in the middle).  The Nile is 4180 miles, The Amazon River is 3912, and 4th place goes to the Yangtze river at 3602 miles.

This ends the lesson for today.  Next up -more fun as we head down the Mighty Mississippi river  for several nights at anchor due to the long distances between marinas.

So special thanks to the Corp of Engineers in charge of the river systems.  Makes our trip possible.



About mnsailors

Our blog will highlight our travels along America's Great Loop. We sold our sailboat on Lake Superior for a Trawler to do America's Great Loop in 2016.
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One Response to Lock and Dam museum- So Many Questions

  1. Darlene B says:

    Hi dear sailors❤️❤️👍👍👍I am enjoying your blog so much!!! I will need to get your autograph as you are Famous to me👏🏻❤️👍Have cousins from Sweden for 5 days with me! Very fun to show them our area! Thoughts and prayers as you contour on! Love Darlene B


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