Great Midwestern River Cities: Dubuque, Iowa

If this blog entry is ever adapted as a movie I see the town of Galena cast by somebody pretty and popular.  Maybe it would be Scarlett Johansson as the cheerleader and girlfriend to the star quarterback.  And Galena’s sister city, Dubuque, IA?  That role would have to go to the gritty and talented Lucinda Williams who would play the quarterback’s best friend with the secret crush.  The audience would cheer on Lucinda, but in real life (not reel life), the quarterback stays with the cheerleader. 

So it goes with Galena, a town of a few thousand resident and a few more thousand tourists.  And I can see why; 85% of the city is considered a National Historic Landmark.  It also was the former home of President Grant and at one time was a crucial stop on the Mississippi River between the two Midwestern saints (Louis and Paul). 

Dubuque has over 50,000 residents and a lot of seniors frequenting the casino.  They also have a world-class Mississippi River Museum that spans two buildings.  One building, our favorite, was low-key and showed off various fish and amphibians native to the river.  The other building felt a little ecologically preachy to be interesting (although for us it was preaching to the choir).  Dubuque does have National Historic Landmarks and accessible history, but unlike Galena you have to work a bit to get to it.  The downtown area was full of interesting sculptures, pristine, and completely devoid of people after 9. 

So, Spielberg, Tarantino, M Knight Shyamalan, what do you think? Give me a call and we can talk numbers.

Northeast Iowa

When I am not road tripping I am planning future road trips.  And when I am not doing that, I like to reminisce a little about past road trips.  Over the next month or two I plan on focusing on places a day or two away from my hometown of Chicago.  First up, Iowa.

Methinks Iowa gets a bad rap.  People think of Iowa as flat, boring, and full of corn.  Yes on the last one but no on the first two.  And the north-east corner of Iowa is absolutely stunning.  There is Pikes Peak State Park (discovered by the same Pike who named Pikes Peak in Colorado), the Effigy Mounds, and a beautiful, rolling river drive that takes you past stunning views of the river, deep valleys where hawks and bald eagles soar, and some pretty lousy, but picturesque wineries.  The one winery we went to was actually in the kitchen/ dining area of a small ranch house and was run by its two elder owners.  The old man was shirtless when we rang the bell, but put a shirt on for the tastings.  You have to expect a certain touch of class at these things.  Pikes Peak State Park has a few short trails and several dramatic overlooks.  Effigy Mounds covers a very large area where one can hike past dozens of mounds in the shape of bears, eagles, and other animals.  A lot of mystery here in that no one knows exactly what the mounds were used for, but they did often house the dead.  To get there drive to Madison, WI and then take 18 east.  It took us about 6 hours.  We also got the last available campsite, so you might want to plan ahead.  Closest town is McGreggor which I think was the birth place of John Wayne. 

After taking in the mounds and the views, it is an easy drive south to Dubuque which is across the river from Galena.  Galena is a much more happening town, but Dubuque has a cool aquarium focusing on the river, a casino (did not enter but I am sure it is nice), and a very clean, built up downtown that was curiously empty when we were there.  Galena is a short drive away and offers a very historic, shop and resteraunt filled town.  I believe that most of the city is a historic landmark and one can really get lost in the beautifully restored blocks that sometimes seem to climb straight up into the hills.  The drive west on 20 is also very pretty and offers a scenic alternative close to Galena that is worth the drive.