America’s River Makes for a Great Picnic Spot

 America’s River Makes for a Great Picnic Spot

America's River Makes for a Great Picnic Spot 3

They call it America's River – the Mississippi – flowing 2,300 miles from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. It's big and busy, with barges and riverboats and pleasure craft. And along a great little bicycle path hard on the eastern banks of the Mississippi in Rock Island, Ill., we parked the Roadtrek, fired up the generator and microwave, warmed up some leftover pasta and had a great dinner on a wobbly picnic table with a million-dollar view.

Try doing that in a Type A motorhome.

But our 22-foot Roadtrek can go anywhere,

So we ended our first day on this Open Mike tour for the Family Motor Coach Association, 450 miles or so from our Michigan home on the Illinois-Iowa line. They call this the Quad Cities, a region of 380,000 or so made up of the towns of Rock Island and Moline, Ill. and, across the big river, the Iowa towns of Davenport and Bettendorf.

We're staying at the Rock Island KOA. There are about 150 spots in this campground, many right on two nice little fishing lakes. I've never stayed in a KOA before but they've graciously helped sponsor some of this trip and we will be camping at several of them over the next few weeks and after seeing this one, we couldn't be happier. The restrooms are the cleanest I've ever seen in a campground. Showers are roomy, private and have lots of hot water. Even the Wi-Fi works, despite the fact that this very popular campground is pretty much filled to capacity.

We took off for sightseeing after getting our spot Friday afternoon and headed to downtown Rock Island and the river. Actually, there are two rivers here. There's the Rock River, pretty impressive in and of itself and easily as wide as the Mississippi. It borders Interstate 80 as you approach the eastern border of the Quad Cities.

We were interested in the Mississippi, though, and made our way across a causeway to see the Rock Island Arsenal, a working military installation, and the Mississippi River Visitor's Center, built on one of the many step locks along the river to keep the barges moving. Traffic was pretty slow when we got there so we continued on, pulling over at 5 p.m. to do a phone interview with  KSOO, a Sioux Falls, S.D. radio station.

On the arsenal grounds is the Rock Island National Cemetery, which began in 1863 when an area was set aside to bury Union soldiers who died while serving as guards at the large Confederate prison camp established on Rock Island by the U.S. government.

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But there were many more deaths on the other side —  1,950 Confederate prisoners died on Rock Island during that horrible Civil War. You can only imagine the harshness of that prison. The first Confederate POWs, captured during the battles of Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge in Tennessee in November 1863, arrived in December. Throughout the war, Confederates were brought to Rock Island from battle areas throughout the South; eventually, more than 12,000 POWs were confined there. Prisoners died from a variety of causes, including exposure to the cold, harsh winters, malnutrition and diseases such as smallpox.

In the years since, the cemetery has become the final resting place of soldiers who served in the Civil War, as well as the Mexican War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and Iraq.

There are more than 29,000 graves there. Very somber.

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John Deere makes 'em big

The area is the world headquarters of the John Deere tractor people. A pavilion dominates downtown Rock Island with some displays of the huge tractors and combines the company makes nearby. There's also a sprawling John Deere clothing store.

We made our way back to the KOA at sundown.

Tomorrow, we'll be out early for a video project, and then on to the KOA at Sioux Falls.


I can sleep anywhere. Jennifer, however, not so much. And as we all know, if Momma's not happy….

So I'm looking for advice on where to get memory foam toppers for our bed.

We have tried the single bed configuration in our Roadtrek last night and are not really pleased with it. So we will go back to the king setup tonight. But I think we need that memory foam. Or gel foam. Or some sort of topper.

We're in the middle of a very long trip and I'm leaving Rock Island in a few hours, heading to the KOA in Sioux Falls, then Montana and down to Yellowstone. It would be nice to find the solution this trip.

Any suggestions?


Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.


  • Sounds like a good start for your trip. Hope the Erbellis leftovers were good. Looking forward to see pics of your next stop.

  • Mike, thanks for the post…. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be a Roadtrek owner or even if I’ll ever get back on the road again (been unemployed for almost two years now) but I can say reading your posts have truly been a great read. Looking forward to the next one!

    Motor easy!

  • Mike & Jennifer, Glad you are off to a good start with sunny weather. We have stayed at the Rock Island KOA a couple of times and thought it was great. Does the Mississippi look low due to the drought? Your next stop in Sioux Falls should be interesting also.

  • Congratulations on getting off on time and a successful first day. And thanks for the description of your side trips.

    I’m not sure you have your exact route laid out but our friends in Sheridan, Wyoming tell us the Beartooth Hwy that runs along the Montana/Wyoming line is a “must do” with elevations just over 10K feet. The western end leads into Yellowstone NP.

  • Glad you having an exciting trip. For some fall foliage be sure to come visit us in Northeast Connecticut this fall. We accommodate big rigs too

  • So glad to hear your first day went well, other than your sleeping arrangements. Looks like we’ll have to put the Quad Cities on our “to see” list. If you ever get the opportunity, be sure to check out the Natchez Trace Parkway. 440 miles of beautiful scenery, speed limit of 50 MPR, and not a stop sign or stop lights in site. Yep, those cushions can feel pretty hard when you are trying to sleep. Memory or Gel foam will help. Get at least 2 1/2″….3″ is better. Cut with an electric knife. Safe and happy travels.

  • We recently ordered a 2″ foam topper from for our very uncomfortable Belizean mattress. Couldn’t be happier. After 2 days the smell was gone, and it’s amazingly comfortable! Here’s what we got:

  • We ordered a two inch topper from, Worked out very well and it was delivered to whatever Walmart we wanted it to go to, We chose one on the way as we were traveling at the time and it was there waiting for us when we arrived at the store. Very convenient and also very conmfortable. We used it in our motorhome.

  • I hope you enjoyed your stay in the QC. I was born in Silvis and grew up in Rock Island until I moved to Detroit at 15. You should have visited Whitey’s Ice Cream for a shake or a malt. Best in the country, just ask Candius! Safe travels to you both.

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