Just a short drive from our campsite at Trail of Tears State Park is the city of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Dan and I spent a day exploring the town while on our last camping trip of 2021.
Our first stop was the Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Center. Even without our usual senior discount, the price of admission to the Nature Center was very reasonable. It was free.
Inside the Nature Center are several exhibits about… Nature. Especially interesting to me was a collection of Native American Artifacts. These artifacts were donated to the Nature Center by Paul Corbin, a local collector and author. Considering the Mississippian period was AD 1100 – 1541, it is amazing to me these pieces were found and are on display in the Nature Center today.
The pottery in this collection was made by Native Americans during the Mississippian period. They were salvaged from farmland that was being developed in Bollinger and Stoddard counties.Missouri Department of Conservation Nature Center
Cape Girardeau, Missouri
Outside the Nature Center are two miles of hiking trails. Some of these trails are paved, and some are gravel. These trails do link up with the city’s Cape LaCroix Recreation Trail which is 6 miles long. We did not bring our ebikes along on this day, but we did hike to the point where the trails connect. Perhaps we will explore the city trail on a future trip.
After exploring the Nature Center and hiking the outside areas, we were ready for lunch. We asked the friendly staff person at the Nature Center for lunch spot recommendations. We had also asked the park ranger the same question back at Trail of Tears a few days earlier. The first thing out of both of their mouths was, “If you like Cajun….” Well, we don’t like Cajun, but if you do, it does sounds like there is a really good Cajun restaurant in the historic downtown area.
The second suggestion they both had for us was Port Cape, also in the historic downtown area.
Port Cape was an excellent suggestion. My grilled chicken flatbread sandwich was delicious. There is also an ice cream counter in the restaurant, along with an outside walk-up window for ordering. We wanted ice cream, but we were just too full. Maybe if we walk awhile, we’ll make room for it.
Apparently, the restaurant also hosts theater productions. They gave us a little flyer for an upcoming show called “Being Nice.” It is put on by the River City Players and is a comedy by Mark Niel. There are dinner and dessert buffets performances offered. This event is in November. It sounds like a fun night!
Across the street from Port Cape, is the city’s Riverfront Park Walkway. On the other side of the flood wall is a wide sidewalk which goes along the Mississippi River. We walked to our right (south) and had a view of the Emerson Memorial Bridge.
The Riverfront Park Walkway is 1.25 miles end to end. But once we got to the end of the walkway, it kind of fizzled out. Instead of turning around and walking back the way we came, we scooted around the end of the wall, walked over the train tracks, and continued walking just a bit to where the sidewalk started up again. We didn’t want to go back the same way. We wanted to walk back on the other side of the flood wall and look at the murals. Cape Girardeau, if you’re reading, here is an opportunity to improve the Riverfront Park Walkway experience.
Back on the street, before the murals began, we found two other attractions on our list to visit. The first one is called “The Red House.” The Red House (1793-1799) was the home and trading post of the city’s founder. And Grampa, guess who happened to stop by the Red House back in the day? Yep, you guessed it – Lewis and Clark! As you said before, those guys really got around! Today The Red House is an interpretive center. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we visited.
We also wanted to see the Old St. Vincent’s Church. The park ranger had suggested this church and had said it was beautiful inside. I wanted to see the inside and take a moment to say my prayers for all those on my list, but the door was locked. We did walk around the outside. I do hope to visit again, when the church is open, but don’t worry. I said those prayers later.
We continued our walk along the flood wall enjoying the many murals. We saw depictions of so many famous Missourians, some we knew were from Missouri, others not. We also learned more of Missouri’s history, including a time in 1918-1919 when the Mississippi River was frozen for weeks. Can you believe some walked across the frozen river? Others drove a team of horses and a wagon, and there was even an occasional automobile on the ice!
We also learned of President Taft’s visit to Cape Girardeau in 1909 when he floated down the river in a flotilla with other government officials promoting the creation of a nine foot channel along the entire length of the river.
Eventually, we ended up back at Port Cape. A block up is Main street with all the shops and establishments one would expect in an historic downtown area. One shop I wanted to visit was “Pastimes Antiques”, but we were beginning to feel like antiques ourselves. So, we passed it by, deciding to visit another time. We hope to go back because besides the places that were closed, there is even more we want to explore. But the next time, we’re gonna get that ice cream!