Kraut and Crystals

From the mid-1800s to the 1920s, huge numbers of German immigrants settled in this part of the country and many of their descendants are still here.  About 800 of them showed up for the Burlington, Iowa, Lions Club Oktoberfest on Saturday.  They were dishing up boatloads of brats and sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, German potato salad and apple strudel.

 The “Happy Bavarian” was flirting with the help while showing off his cute knees in his lederhosen and couples were sharing the dance floor with little girls dancing with the total abandon that little girls do best!

Burlington’s “Snake Alley” was created as an experiment in street design in 1894 and battles with San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street for the “Crookedest Street in the World” title. I’ll bet it’s very interesting in snowy weather! 

I am blessed with a very strong, healthy body – AND this was day 40 of hoisting a heavy backpack of camera gear onto my back a gazillion times a day, having a heavy camera hanging from my neck for countless hours, sleeping in a different bed every two days and driving 3,500 miles (so far).  The body was begging for a little TLC. Amazingly, I made one phone call and found Tammy at Massage Cool La Vie and she was willing to come in on Sunday morning to work me over. Pure Heaven!!  If you ever find yourself in Burlington and anything aches, call Tammy!

From there I moved on to the home of Vickey and Harold Henson in Hamilton, Illinois, just across the river from Keokuk, Iowa. Jim and Pat Rossman, friends back upriver in Elk River, MN, had “passed me along” to Vickey and Harold and it took about five seconds to feel at home with them. Vickey is an awesome cook and I was coming off an especially long run of microwaved soups, vacuum-packed tuna and crackers, or as an alternative, peanut butter and crackers! It felt like visiting my Mom! I was fed and nurtured and fed some more – thank you Vickey and Harold!

As I was driving this morning, there were at least 6 different stories in mind that I could tell you about the Keokuk/Hamilton area. It’s loaded with fascinating history. Clearly, I can’t do them all justice here, but if you come this way, slow down, ask questions and listen. Everything you learn will simply pique more curiosity! I’ll pick one for today – the story of the geodes.

If you are a rock hound, you will likely know this story, but I had no idea! Most of us have seen geodes from various parts of the world. They are roundish lumpy rocks that when split open reveal sparkling crystals. Each one is unique in its shape, textures and colors. Most are surrounded by a volcanic exterior, but “Keokuk geodes” are encased in sedimentary rock, and are sought after by collectors around the world. No one knows for sure why geodes are concentrated here and there is apparently much difference of opinion as to what occurred during their formation. Nevertheless, they are found only right here – within a 35-mile radius of Keokuk.

Vickey and Harold took me to their “secret” gathering place – a shallow creek bed where geodes appear in abundance after every rain. The lighter weight ones are often hollow and more prized, although I did see some beautiful specimens that were filled solid. Harold cracked some open and we ooohed and aaahed at the surprises inside. Some we put into a backpack and took downtown to the Keokuk Convention and Tourism Bureau, because Kirk Brandenberg, the Executive Director had offered to split our treasures open for us. Kirk had a contraption designed just for this purpose, which wraps the geode with a heavy chain filled with round blades, then he pushes down on the long handle until it pops open. He hauled it outside and we worked right on the downtown sidewalk! Vickey would grab the two pieces and say, “You must be the first to see inside your geode – no one has seen this for 300 to 500 million years”.  Wow! They are beautiful, mysterious, ancient and each completely unique.

Last weekend was the annual Geode Fest, which brought more than 800 rock hounds from nearly every state and a half-dozen or so countries to hunt for the lumpy balls in creek beds and walls on private land opened just for that weekend. Hunters pay by the bucket and then usually pay to have them split on the spot and have great fun admiring each other’s finds.

Then we went in search of Woodie, aka Stephen Woodruff, one of the local experts on geodes. Woodie has a rock shop next door to his barber shop and he is also the Mayor! The shop was closed but Vickey knew where to find him.  When we drove into Woodie’s back yard from the alley, we found him sorting through a huge pile of geodes. He took time to show his impressive collection and the process he uses to cut and polish them for sale. He even sorted through our backpack of treasures and declared we had done very well!

So, as you might guess, my car is a bit heavier this morning! I have a backyard art project in mind and luckily Mike will be meeting me soon and can take them home for me! (:-) Thanks, honey! 

So, that brings me here – to this picnic pavilion on the river at Quincy, IL. It’s a bit nippy this morning, so I’ve had to be bundled up some, but it’s worth it to be here beside the river (besides it’s way too early to check into my next lodging).

There is a VERY EXCITING possibility brewing in the next few days. I can’t tell you yet, but stay tuned…if this works out it will be WAY COOL!!!

See you soon!                  Gayle

About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
This entry was posted in IA - Burlington, IA - Keokuk, IL - Hamilton, IL - Quincy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Kraut and Crystals

  1. Vickey Henson says:

    I was so excited to come home to see you had finally posted something on your blog and doubly excited to see we were included in it!!! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your visit. When you pulled away this morning I felt as though a very good friend was leaving me. Your presence had such a comforting, calming affect over me. I can’t quite explain it but there was something special about your presence. You are such a unique individual and have so much worldly experience and yet I, a little country bumpkin, felt completely comfortable with you. I will be thinking of you every day of your journey and will keep you in my prayers that you will be safe and… well fed. 🙂 Take care and safe travels.


    • Gayle Harper says:

      Hi Vickey! You are one very special person! You have a huge, warm heart and your own strong, independent nature. Thanks for shining your light my way! I’m sure we will meet again! Gayle

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