The Great River Road

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April 27th 2018
Published: April 27th 2018
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That’s the Mississippi River through the Trees and 500 feet down!
Pikes Peak State Park, MacGregor, IA

‘What?’, you say! Pikes Peak is in Colorado, not Iowa! So how can they be at Pikes Peak in Iowa?

Good question. But here we are. Turns out that the same dude, Zebulon Pike, the first European to describe the singular peak on Colorado’s front range, also discovered this spot on the Mississippi River. And it is called a ‘peak’ here because it is the tallest bluff on the Mississippi River, around 500 feet above the river surface. Maybe not quite as tall as the mountains in Colorado, but impressive anyway. We didn’t have time yesterday to get pictures from the top, but we are going to be here a little while, so we’ll post them later. It is a State Park and we are camping here for a few days as we take in the sites in Northeastern Iowa.

We arrived fairly late last night - more on that later - so haven’t had much time to explore yet. Did discover that, despite the advertising on their website when we booked the campsite, the water has been turned off. So there is no water supply, no toilets, and, importantly for me now on day seven of the trip, no showers. We are more than a little disappointed in that as we booked this site for several days expecting a full hookup. Without a water source, we have some logistical problems to solve - like fresh water for several days. We will be working on that today.

It was a long day yesterday, although the mileage wasn’t all that much. We drove about 270 miles north from Fort Madison to here taking a National Scenic Byway, the Great River Road (Iowa). (Apparently there is another route with the same name on the Illinois side.). It is an interesting and, at times, gorgeous view of the Mississippi River running basically through the western edge of the flood plain. The downside to this trip is that it is slow-driving because it runs through just about every little town along the way and so you are stopping at nearly a dozen different ‘Main Street’ stop lights. Each little town has its own character, though, and you definitely come to appreciate a ‘river’ life style.

We stopped for lunch at a brew pub in Davenport - probably the biggest city along the way. Although

Another view of the campground at Pikes Peak State Park
the food was generally mediocre, the fried pretzel with honey-mustard sauce was a terrific appetizer. What was most fun, though, was watching the barge traffic going down the river. Even this far north, the Mississippi is a key part of our trading system. You can see that clearly in the way all the transportation systems seem to converge on the river. There are railroad tracks everywhere along the river and big semi-trucks are hauling every kind of thing in and out of these cities and towns.

American economic might is clearly on display here. All along the river there were various mega-plants, many of which we could only guess at their industry. There were cement plants, limestone quarries, a big old Monsanto plant, and a half-mile long complex that was labeled ADM (Archer Daniels Midland). All I know is that is a big food conglomerate but what they were doing at this plant was a mystery. In between the towns and industrial plants were intensive farms. Sitting on the river flood plain, the soil was very dark in color, suggesting to us ignorant mountain folk, rich and fertile farmland. At least on the flood plain, there didn’t seem much

Sunrise through the trees.
of a need for irrigation.

Anyway, we drove through Burlington, Muscatine, Davenport, LeClaire, Bellevue, and Gutenberg before arriving here at the State Park. In each town the immigrant origins were very evident. German, Czech, Scotch - and other flavors were all evident in the street and business names as we moved through town. We got lost a couple of times, usually because part of the road got washed out or was in need of repair and we had to follow the detour. Driving a trailer through some of these towns can be a challenging experience. I did manage to clip a speed limit sign with the edge of the trailer once because the street was so narrow. No obvious damage to the trailer, although I don’t know what the sign looks like now.

One aspect of the drive that came as a complete surprise to me were the hills. I must admit I have a preconception of Iowa, and most of the midwest, as being very flat with maybe rolling short hills to break up the views. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the size the bluffs on the west side of the river. I presume they were carved by the river itself, over millions of years of course, but some of these cliffs are just plain huge. Several times during the drive, I had to shift down to third in order to navigate up and down 6% grades - that’s Rocky Mountain style driving

Can’t let this post go by without talking a bit about ecology. As we moved north out of Fort Madsen, we left the great prairie and entered once again, the Eastern Temperate Forest, which covers most of the eastern U.S. The obvious difference is that there are forests in this part of the world - and, as the pictures show, the campground is in a forest. You won’t see this kind of ecology just twenty miles or so west of here. It is an obvious change. It really isn’t clear to me how there could be such a difference in such a short distance. I have some more reading to do, but I’m sure I’ll talk a bit more about this later.

I have time, we will be here a few days.


29th April 2018

Interesting history lesson and good photos.

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