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OUR AUGUST 2007 TRIP TO EASTERN IOWA
Copyright 2007 by Bob Soetebier
My wife, Dawn, and I departed the St. Louis area early on a Saturday morning heading northward via U.S. Hwy. 61. We crossed the Des Moines River and the Missouri/Iowa border on Hwy. 27. After 5 hours, and a short distance eastward on I-80 to the Hwy. 1 / N. Dodge St. exit, we arrived (our ‘Travel Buddy’ www.interstatetravelbuddy.com motel-discount coupon in hand) at an Iowa City Travelodge Motel, with its conveniently adjacent “Bob’s Your Uncle” pizza cafe ( http://www.bobsyourunclepizzacafe.com ). After securing our room, and wanting to get out and about before it got too much hotter, we wasted no time and headed to downtown Iowa City ( http://tinyurl.com/2mdby5 ) and the University of Iowa campus area ( http://tinyurl.com/meyf3 ).
Parking at a downtown facility at Gilbert Street and Iowa Avenue, we walked westward on Iowa Avenue along the “Literary Walk” ( http://www.icgov.org/default/?id=1585 ) with its in-sidewalk, artistic bronze plaques, and by some interesting colorful wall murals. Iowa Avenue deadheads at Clinton Street and provides a beautiful approach view of the Old State Capitol building ( http://tinyurl.com/236ymk ) and U of I campus. The Old State Capitol ( http://www.uiowa.edu/~oldcap ) is a must-see with its beautiful, and uncommon, reverse-spiral staircase; along with the adjacent campus buildings, particularly Macbride Hall (which houses the Museum of Natural History http://tinyurl.com/28dw2t ) with its interesting architectural adornments.
While braving the uncommonly high heat and humidity, our next stop in Iowa City was at Plum Grove ( http://www.uiowa.edu/~plumgrov ). It was the historic 1844 home of Iowa’s first territorial governor, Robert Lucas. Lucas was also a former governor of Ohio. Apparently Lucas was not a very congenial fellow, as the official university web site notes: Robert Lucas was well known for his temper, as governor of the state of Ohio he once came close to bringing Ohio to war with Michigan over boundaries, and as territorial governor of Iowa he almost brought Iowa to war with Missouri during the "Honey War" ( http://tinyurl.com/2sd74w ) AND ( http://tinyurl.com/2qvqfz ), again over boundaries.
Sunday morning we drove 35 miles north from I-80 on Hwy. 1 to our first stop at 200 E. Main Street in Anamosa, Iowa to tour the National Motorcycle Museum ( http://www.nationalmcmuseum.org/ ). We spent well over an hour in this fascinating museum. On display are over 250 motorcycles and memorabilia. Among the displays is famous actor Steve McQueen’s 1947 Indian Chief Chopper, and Peter Fonda’s authenticated “Captain America” chopper* from the movie, “Easy Rider” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easy_Rider ).
Only a few blocks west and north from the NMM took us to the Anamosa State Penitentiary ( http://www.asphistory.com ); for a relatively short tourist visit…(not an extended stay!) Built in 1880, it was known as “The White Palace of the West” for its magnificent stone castle-like architecture. It’s very informative museum ( http://tinyurl.com/ywa8pa ) is in an adjacent white stone building which housed a former cheese factory. Among the museum’s displays was one about the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy who had also served time (1968-1970) at the Anamosa State Pen.
We then took advantage of the tree-shaded confines of Anamosa’s Wapsipinicon State Park ( http://tinyurl.com/ypjudu ) AND ( http://tinyurl.com/2esfwf ), along the banks of its namesake river. After walking across-and-back on the now pedestrian-only bridge above the old dam, we hiked another stream-side trail to Indian Horse Thief Cave. It got its name from the fact that Indians used to steal horses in the area and then swim them across the river to hide them in the elevated cave.
Leaving Anamosa, we drove another 35 miles eastward on scenic Hwy. 64 to Maquoketa, Iowa ( http://tinyurl.com/3437mf ). We had planned to also do some hiking in nearby Maquoketa Caves State Park ( http://tinyurl.com/ysa97v ), but we were warned off by folks who said that the trails would be too muddy, if not impassable, because of a couple of recent bouts of 6-inch gully-washer rains in the area. We then headed north on U.S. 61 for the last 35 miles to Dubuque, Iowa’s first permanent settlement which was officially chartered in 1833 ( http://tinyurl.com/22ewnd ) AND ( http://tinyurl.com/29ulyn ). We were rewarded with a wonderful downhill-curving, sweeping-approach view of Dubuque’s downtown and the Hwy. 20 Julien Dubuque Mississippi River Bridge. We checked into the Best Western Motel along Hwy. 20, where we were pleasantly surprised to find a number of docile brown bats asleep just under the motel’s entrance eaves.
On Monday, we began our two and one-half day layover in Dubuque with a trip to The National Mississippi Museum & Aquarium ( http://www.mississippirivermuseum.com/ ), located at the Mississippi river’s Port of Dubuque. While we did find much of interest in the museum, particularly that which pertained to the history of the area and the river, it seemed to be mostly geared toward entertaining children. Fortunately, the price of admission also included the Ice Harbor boatyard and the interesting National Landmark steamboat William M. Black dredge boat. This vessel, which is “nearly the size of a football field,” spent its years working the Missouri River. Also now part of the museum is the 1891 Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Train Depot which has been converted into a café.
Dubuque’s beautiful, paved Mississippi River Walk ( http://tinyurl.com/yr3fkk ) extends from Ice Harbor upstream to the National Register of Historic Places old Shot Tower ( http://tinyurl.com/2ab5ga ) and the 1868 wrought iron railroad swing bridge across the Mississippi. The entire pleasant walk is about a mile roundtrip to/from the museum.
After returning from the river walk, we headed a few blocks west on 4th St. to its terminus at Bluff St. and the Fenelon Place Elevator ( http://www.dbq.com/fenplco ). It was first built in 1882 by “Mr. J. K. Graves, a former mayor, former State Senator.” It is claimed to be the “world's shortest, steepest scenic railway, 296 feet in length.” However, I would suspect that the folks out at Colorado’s Royal Gorge incline railway ( http://mcaf.ee/wai5s ) might challenge that “steepest” claim! Regardless, the view from the top ( http://tinyurl.com/3cu83u ) of Fenelon Place is worth the short ride up ( http://tinyurl.com/2muk84 ).
After lingering atop Fenelon Place to absorb the sweeping view of the town and river valley, we rode the elevator back down to the base of the bluff and walked around the historic downtown. On the southwest corner we came across the fifteen-room, appropriately named, 1894 Redstone Inn B&B ( http://www.theredstoneinn.com/redstone.htm ) on the southwest corner of 5th and Bluff Sts. It was just one of many historically unique buildings in Dubuque.
On Tuesday we drove to the north bluffs of Dubuque and took the guided tour of the 1856 Mathias Ham House ( http://mcaf.ee/1lqs4 ) historic mansion. It was designed by John F. Rague, who was also the architect for Dubuque’s Old Jail and the Old State Capitol buildings in both Iowa City and Springfield, Illinois. The tour began with a 10-minute orientation film, “Lead Rush.” It was “narrated by internationally renowned actor and Dubuque native Kate Mulgrew” (best known for her role as “Captain Janeway” in the “Star Trek: Voyager” television series http://tinyurl.com/2js5o8 ). Ham made, and lost, his fortune in lead mining. (Usurpation of Native Americans’ already established efforts in this area precipitated the Black Hawk War of 1832. http://tinyurl.com/2xzhhw ) Also on site is “Iowa's oldest building”, an 1833 “dog-trot” log cabin ( http://tinyurl.com/2kcbnz ).
We hung on to our paid-for admission tickets to the Ham House as they also provided free entrance admission to Dubuque’s wonderful Eagle Point Park ( http://tinyurl.com/39axs4 ) AND ( http://tinyurl.com/39ok9l ). The park is just a block or so north of the Ham House. It sits atop the Mississippi River bluffs and affords a spectacular expansive tri-state view of Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa; along with a bird’s-eye view of Lock & Dam No. 11 far below. We watched a tow boat maneuver a barge (with an extremely tall attached crane, which had to be at least 150 feet in height!) through the lock and do a deft, tight U-turn around the end of the lock to dock aside the dam. In addition, the park has a nice rock garden pond with a waterfall, and some architecturally interesting depression-era (WPA) buildings; both built with shelf-rock and patterned in the horizontal limestone “Taliesin” ( http://www.taliesinpreservation.org ) style utilized by noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright ( http://tinyurl.com/2slbvp ).
After a well-spent hour in the park, we drove a few miles south, via U.S. 61 and U.S. 52, to the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area ( http://tinyurl.com/2cuwnj ). We first stopped at the site’s visitor’s center, then drove to the access area overlooking the Mississippi River at the Julien Dubuque Monument ( http://tinyurl.com/23hw3t ), which commemorates Dubuque’s namesake. We had hoped to do more hiking there, but recent rains left the trails a bit muddy.
To round out the day, and to seek a bit of respite from the heat and humidity, we drove a couple more miles south on U.S. 52 to take the guided tour of Crystal Lake Cave ( http://crystallakecave.com ). This commercial cave is one of only three caves known to have a ceiling deposit of rare anthodities “cave flowers” ( http://tinyurl.com/yw7br8 ).
Before leaving on Wednesday, we went back downtown and saw the historic Town Clock ( http://tinyurl.com/23rks6 ) which was erected in 1873. We then parked across from the 1890 Grand Opera House for the short walk to the beautiful National Register of Historic Places 1891 Dubuque County Courthouse ( http://mcaf.ee/cw3dl ) to visit its adjacent Old Jail Museum ( http://mcaf.ee/jyml2 ). The museum is a combo of the three-tiered jail’s history and artifacts, along with a good dose of Dubuque history, too. You start your museum visit with a slightly hokey 20-minute “sight & sound” presentation in the old jail; this is partly understandable as we were told that the museum regularly has visits from grade-school groups. (Fortunately though, we had the museum all to ourselves; with maybe for the exception of “…the ghost of Patrick O'Connor. O'Connor was condemned at the jail and hanged for murder in 1834 just 20 yards from the jail.”) If you’re pressed on time, just skip audio-visual presentation and start to browse the jail and museum on your own.
From Dubuque, we drove U.S. 61, and then U.S. 52, 25 miles south to Bellevue, Iowa ( http://www.bellevueia.com ), and Bellevue State Park ( http://tinyurl.com/2m9sp4 ) for another bluff-top scenic view of the Mississippi River and Bellevue’s Lock & Dam No. 12 ( http://tinyurl.com/2ze7zr ). We also hiked the Indian Mounds trail which gave us a good view of a well-occupied vulture roost in the treetops along the river far below. Before leaving the park, we walked the trail from the South Bluff Nature Center to the colorfully flowered "Garden Sanctuary for Butterflies.” There we enjoyed the serene quiet, along with a lone Monarch butterfly, a rabbit and few frogs in the garden’s pond.
Continuing south on U.S. 52, and then U.S. 67, along the Mississippi for another very scenic 35 miles, we stopped to gawk at the 1897 Clinton County Courthouse ( http://mcaf.ee/67d14 ) AND ( http://tinyurl.com/2puavk ) AND ( http://tinyurl.com/2j6rdj ) right along the highway in Clinton, Iowa ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton,_Iowa ). We parked and walked around this impressively massive building with its pink, red and gray-green stone architecture. As we entered the building, I briefly struck up a conversation with a county judge who was on his way out. Upon learning we were tourists, he insisted that we tour the recently renovated building and see his courtroom, too. It was 4:25 p.m. and his clerk was closing up shop but kept the courtroom open just for us, which gave us the opportunity to admire the fine woodwork and the multi-colored Trials of Justice mural above and behind the judge’s platform. From the courthouse we drove a couple of blocks east to Clinton’s well-done riverfront parkway and lingered longer with a walk by colorful paddlewheel steamboats and tall white and blue stone simulated “lighthouses”.
About 25 miles farther south on U.S. 67, just north of I-80 and Davenport, Iowa ( http://tinyurl.com/2fp6x6 ), our next stop was at the Mississippi riverfront at LeClaire, Iowa ( http://www.leclaireiowa.gov ). LeClaire was the birthplace of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and is the site of the Buffalo Bill Museum ( http://www.buffalobillmuseumleclaire.com ). Due to the late-afternoon time the museum was already closed for the day; as was also the case for the Buffalo Bill Cody Homestead ( http://tinyurl.com/2yv3c5 ) a few miles back north and west from U.S. 67. We weren’t too disappointed, though, as this just gives us an excuse to revisit the Davenport “Quad Cities” ( http://www.visitquadcities.com ) area in the future. For the night, we checked into the Quality Inn motel on E. Iowa St., just a few miles north of I-80 via U.S. 61.
The next morning, we departed the Davenport area by traveling west on I-80, and then south on I-280, to Hwy. 22 for a 20-mile drive south along “The Great River Road” ( http://tinyurl.com/3b9sel ) to Muscatine, Iowa ( http://tinyurl.com/2kaoka ). We stopped at the Hwy. 92 Mississippi bridge Mark Twain Overlook where a sign quotes Twain as admiring the sunset views. From our perch above the downtown we watched a large tow barge travel upstream and also espied the Muscatine County Courthouse ( http://mcaf.ee/asbvu ). After heading down to the river, we drove a couple of blocks back westward and parked at the courthouse for a brief walk around to admire its magnificent white stone architecture.
Continuing southward 40 miles from Muscatine via U.S. 61, we left the river until we arrived for a pit stop at the Port of Burlington Welcome Center ( http://www.visit.burlington.ia.us ) just south of the U.S. 34 Mississippi bridge. A must-see in Burlington ( http://tinyurl.com/2cexrv ) is Snake Alley ( http://www.snakealley.com ) "The Crookedest Street in the World." It entails five half-curves and two quarter-curves in only 275 downhill feet of narrow, red-brick pavement. Its entrance is located ( http://tinyurl.com/ywcdsx ) on North 6th Street atop Heritage Hill, adjacent to the historic 1851 Phelps House Museum at 512 Columbia Street ( http://tinyurl.com/2eyc3m ). Unfortunately, the museum is only open for tours on Sat. and Sun., 1:30 - 4:30 p.m., May thru Oct.
Leaving Burlington in a light rain, we rejoined U.S. 61 from U.S. 34 and drove an additional 40 riverless miles south to Fort Madison, Iowa ( http://mcaf.ee/y1rin ). We stopped at Riverview Park on the banks of the Mississippi, but because of the rain we were not able to take the outdoor guided tour of historic (1808-1813) Old Fort Madison ( http://mcaf.ee/4t8yz ). We had to settle for forlorn viewing from its adjacent parking lot. (Another reason for us to plan a return trip!) However, we did get to take the indoor guided tour of the park’s architecturally interesting 1909 Old Santa Fe Depot Museum ( http://tinyurl.com/2frrhu ). In addition to immersion in local railroad history, we got to climb up the inside ladder of Santa Fe Caboose #235 for the view from its comfortable catbird seat. The museum also had an exhibit of Sheaffer fountain pens, which were originally invented and manufactured in Madison. Before leaving, we were also able see the park’s restored 1943 Santa Fe #2913 Baldwin 4-8-4 Steam Locomotive, which was capable of 120 miles per hour in its heyday.
Tired and hungry, we checked into the Comfort Inn motel just a couple of miles farther along U.S. 61. After eating at a nearby restaurant, the rain had finally stopped and the sun was shining. On the walk back to the motel we took a slight side-trip excursion by an undisturbed field which was literally alive with thousands upon thousands of small yellow, white and orange butterflies. The last time we experienced anything like this was when we were hiking in Collinsville, Illinois, on the long loop trail at Cahokia Mounds ( http://cahokiamounds.org/ ) across the road from Woodhenge ( http://mcaf.ee/vndjc ) through a large field occupied by hundreds of thousands of migrating Monarch butterflies.
On our last day of the trip we began a 20-mile leg driving southward on U.S. 61, and then southeast on U.S. 218 / Main Street into Keokuk, Iowa ( http://mcaf.ee/zt8ad ). Our first stop here was in the north part of town atop the Mississippi River bluffs at Rand Park ( http://mcaf.ee/pfz2h ). We walked through the park’s Flower Garden (established in 1884) and saw the city’s historic namesake statue of Chief Keokuk ( http://tinyurl.com/3xr8xg ). After stretching our legs and taking in the panoramic view of the river, we took an out-and-back side trip northward from Rand Park on River Rd. along the shore of the Mississippi River. We were rewarded with sightings of white herons and egrets ( http://tinyurl.com/2feht9 ) wading in the shallow water among the green, aquatic arrowheads ( http://tinyurl.com/24xvnq ) .
Back at Rand Park, we slowly headed south on Grand Drive to Park Place. These streets were aptly named as they are the locations of numerous magnificent historic homes. Much of the bluff-top (the equivalent of 125 plots) Grand Drive was originally part of the John Carl Hubbinger Estate. He made, and later lost, his fortune in the manufacture of corn-based laundry starch. Some of the homes of particular note are the former 1918 home Corydon Rich (on the site of the original Hubbinger “Palace” ) at 1229 Grand with its large elk entrance statues; the rough-hewn horizontal limestone constructed 1910 home with its dramatic stone-arch portico entrance at 1001 Grand; the National Register of Historic Places, 22-room, 1897 Queen Anne Revival Grand Anne B&B at 816 Grand ( http://www.bbonline.com/ia/grandanne ); and the two stone, wooden-columned homes next door to each other at the corner of North 5th and Park Place. From this location there is a good overlooking view of the internationally-famous 1913 Mississippi River hydroelectric Keokuk Power Plant ( http://mcaf.ee/yw2d4 ).
At the Keokuk Tourism Office ( http://www.keokukiowatourism.org ), which is housed in the Holiday Inn Express at Third and Main Sts., there is a good display of rock crystal geodes ( http://tinyurl.com/3chlje ) for which the area is famous. While in this vicinity, also not to be missed is the long, horizontal mural which colorfully depicts some of Keokuk’s prominent history. The mural is high up on the side of a building bordering a small gazebo park on the northeast corner of Fifth and Main Sts.
At the Keokuk Mississippi riverfront we walked out on the old bridge’s thankfully breezy Observation Deck ( http://tinyurl.com/347zg6 ). It truly “provides a wonderful view of the Mississippi River, Lock & Dam #19 ( http://tinyurl.com/34l7ro ), the George M. Verity Museum ( http://tinyurl.com/38rrh4 ) and Victory Park.” Also prominent in this view are both the Keokuk Waterworks and the Keokuk Power Plant.
We then walked down to the riverfront along the downstream exit of the river locks to Victory Park and the George M. Verity Museum. This U.S. Government paddlewheel Miss. R. tow boat was originally built in 1927 in Dubuque. It has been a dry-docked museum since 1961. It was well worth an hour of our time to see all its original workings and its many photos of other historic steam river boats.
Just before leaving Keokuk, we also took the guided tour of the 1859 Samuel F. Miller House Museum ( http://tinyurl.com/ytc9w3 ) at 318 North Fifth Street. As noted in its tourist brochure: “Miller was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, and served until his death in 1890.” In addition to many displays of local history and artifacts, the home contains one of Mark Twain’s original writing desks. (Mark Twain, at the behest of his brother Orion, lived in Keokuk for a couple of years. He also bought his mother Jane a nearby house at 626 High St.) Right next door to (the left of) the Miller House is the home in which Howard Hughes ( http://tinyurl.com/393unz ) invented his drilling bit on the kitchen table. (Hughes smartly never sold the patented drilling bit, but rather only leased the rights to its use, and retained lucrative royalties to what was produced with its use, which made him rich!) This house is now in the process of being restored.
Leaving Keokuk that afternoon, we headed east a few miles on U.S. 136 over the Mississippi to Hamilton, Illinois. We then drove about 30 miles south on Hwy. 96 to just north of Quincy, Illinois, where we headed east on U.S. 24 for 3 miles to I-172. Less than 30 miles later we took U.S. 36 a few miles west back over the Mississippi at Hannibal, Missouri. Since we have visited Hannibal many times, we continued on our way south for another very hilly, but scenic, 30 miles on Hwy. 79.
Unfortunately, we arrived in Louisiana, Missouri ( http://www.greatriverroad.com/hannibal/louisiana.htm ), which was established in 1818, too late to visit the local history museum. (An additional incentive for us to make a return trip up the Great River Road.) After assuaging our hunger at a local eatery, we drove down Georgia St. and saw the beautiful National Register of Historic Places 1891 home of former Missouri Governor Lloyd C. Stark ( http://tinyurl.com/yps7ru ). Not wanting to end the trip just yet, we stopped at the town’s riverfront park for a postprandial walk and to admire the many fossils in the stone wall along the river’s shore line. After a relaxing half-hour excursion, and viewing some the “Mural City” ( http://tinyurl.com/2zp27x ) colorful wall paintings, we reluctantly returned to the car and drove out of town south on Hwy. 79, passing through Clarksville and Elsberry, for the final 50-plus miles back to the St. Louis area.
[*: Update...According to this Sept. 17, 2014, BBC article ( http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-29235391 ) Peter Fonda's "Captain America" chopper motorcycle -- from the film, Easy Rider -- was to be sold...auctioned off to the highest bidder. So, apparently, it is no longer on display at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa.]