on the road

the gadlfy in...


gadfly homepage on the road home notes on places last contact: 4/2010 first contact: 12/1991

IA Trip Stats (6/10):


Counties visited: 29

Best county: Jackson Co.

Last visited: 1/2008

Town visited most: Dubuque

Places slept in: Keokuk at a motel in the Wal-mart parking lot

Most impressive town: Fort Madison

Least impressive town: Spirit Lake

Biggest town: Des Moines

Most scenic area: Great River Road area between Clinton & Lansing

Most scenic spot: Pikes Peak near Marquette

Three words: foggy, cold, bluffs

Best Food: Faeth's Apple Orchard west of Fort Madison has some good cider in the fall. Of the two restaurants I've been to in Iowa I like the Kalmes in St. Donatus better than the hawkeye in Keokuk. Kalmes has excellent food in a family atmosphere at real prices.


Road Trips: Annual Eagle Spotting Pilgrimages (2003-2007), Upper Mississippi (1/04), Keokuk Apples (10/06), High Plains (8/08), Omarock (8/09), Zoo Loop (4/10)


Neighboring States: IL, WI, MN, SD, NE, MO


Generalities: I have visited Iowa only in short little trips and have never stayed long. Many Iowans I have met seem to be "nice" people. I would not go so far as snobby Bill Bryson (an Iowan himself) to say that the people are hypnotized and sleep-walking, but I do understand what he means. Iowa is classic Midwest and the least pretentious place in the country. What you see is what you get and often it is a shoeful of manure....


Geography: Iowa is not as flat as people think. I am from Illinois. Illinois is flat... Iowa is only flat to Californians, I think. It has its valleys and hills and wonderful bluffs, especially along the Mississippi from the Quad Cities northward. A sight to see in fall colors.


Mississippi crossed: coming


Major passes: In 1992 I passed through Iowa as a passenger, approaching from I-35 and Kansas City where we attended a family reunion. We were forced by the Great Flood that detroyed many communities along the Mississippi. The bridge to Illinois in St. Louis was closed and we were lucky that the Quad City bridges were open. In 2003 visited for the first of a now annual Eagle Spotting day trip. In 2004, on the way to drop Micah off at Carleton College took an opportunity to thoroughly explore the Upper Mississippi north of Dubuque and do some eagle spotting. It was quite impressive so I don't participate in Illinoisan jokes about Iowa being Illinois Jr. In fall of 2006 traversed most of the riverside from Keokuk to Galena, IL. 


Future Plans: I hope to see the Iowa Cubs play one day, but am in no hurry to visit Des Moines.


First Contact: I first stepped foot in Iowa December of 1991 (or so) at Dubuque while on a trip with my parents and extended family (planend by Aunt Peg) to the Chestnut Mountain Ski Resort, south of Galena, Illinois. The purpose of the Iowa trip was to drop family members off at the casino in Dubuque. The drive back proved quite frightening. The hills and valleys around the Upper Mississippi can provoke thick fog in the winter. The drive back seemed like hours, although it surely wasn't. My mother carefully followed the white line on the road to stay away from the steep shoulders. We were quite lucky to get back alive. The experience has left me with a healthy fear of Iowa fog. 

Dubuque Co. (1991)

Dubuque. A small city I have visited several times and always at the height of winter. Each time I visit I appreciate it more. It, at first, seems like another dirty little Midwestern city. The downtown area sits beneath bluffs and beside the Mississippi. It is a mainstay on the Annual Eagle Spotting Pilgrimages I make each winter since Dam #11 (north of the city just past the Wendy's and the toxic smells) seems to be a great eagle hideout. A large bluff overlooks the dam area upon which sits a park where onlookers can use telescopes to peer down at the eagles resting on the ice and in the trees. Many bayous along the roads also seem to be eagle hangouts. The hilly area to the south is dominated by the Mines of Spain, which I want to visit in the summer. Recently I was influenced by my sister to visit "Iowa's #1 tourist attraction," according to the signage: the well-designed Mississippi River Museum. It is a great place to spend the day. The exhibits full of huge cats, otters, and one angry gator are worth a stop. Luxemburg. Visited once in the middle of a thick night fog to stop my car and collect my mind. Durango, Rickardsville. Holy Cross. 

Decatur Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Clarke Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Warren Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Polk Co. (1992)

Des Moines. Saw the capital city, but not the building, while passing through. I really want to see the AAA Cubs play here.

Jasper Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Poweshiek Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Iowa Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Johnson Co. (1992)

Passed through in the night as part of a detour around the flooded Mississippi River on the way home from a K.C. family reunion.

Cedar Co. (1992)

West Branch. At four in the morning my father was passing through on a trip back from Kansas City when we drove by the Herbert Hoover  birthplace. It was an unremarkable as the small farming town and the president.

Scott Co. (1992)

Home of the Quad Cities. Davenport. A well-planned city and the only skyline of note in Iowa. It's riverside parks and downtown area are classic Midwestern. Bettendorf. Davenport's sister is also nice in its way, but not nearly as useful and pleasant. Passed several ports and Mississippi docks on the way through town. Pleasant Valley. LeClair. A suburb of the Quad Cities that was a handsome place. Princeton. This excellent suburb is the birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody. A homestead stands further north along the bluffs. 

Jackson Co. (2003)

St. Donatus. If you blink you will miss it. This town was a settlement point for immigrating Luxemburgers in the 19th century. The area around the town looks very much like photos I have seen of Luxembourg. When I first came through, I saw nothing to denote its importance to my heritage, but now I find something new with each pass. A friend from Luxembourg visited the town that summer and explained to me how to get to the Outdoor Stations of the Cross, which proved a most beautiful and spiritually refreshing place to rest. Kalmes in town has good eats, although the entire place stopped what they were doing when Sam and I walked through the door. Bellevue. This impressive little town, like Dubuque sits between the bluffs and the river. Dominating the riverfront is Dam #12, an iced up place I will never forget as a gathering place for about a dozen wintering eagles during my passes in 2003 and 2007. When we first arrived in town we looked for the birds high atop the city on the huge bluff in Bellevue S.P. I never expected them to be sitting on the ice. I have since visited Bellevue four more times and agree with the name of the city. Sabula. This town sits amongst numerous bayous and contains a winding snake of a bridge that dead ends in Illinois at the Pallisades. The swamps, bluffs, and widening river make this an excellent place to see birds who use the river like a highway every fall.

Clinton Co. (2003)

Clinton. A small city suitable for filling up your gas tank and grabbing some chow.I have been refreshed here on 2 times now. It is a more substantial place than it first seems on the map. To the north are miles of farms and bluffs.  Follets. Camanche.

Clayton Co. (2004)

Much of this county is covered in Upper Miss Roadtrip. Millville. Entered in a thick night fog. Roads were trecherous. Guttenberg. A town that seems proud of its German heritage, but I couldn't stay for more than a sub sandwich and a quick rest. Here the people have a peculiar accent. Clayton. McGregor. This town has a very narrow main drag that proves quite picturesque. Pikes Peak SP. Peak along the river bluffs named by Zebulon Pike on a trip to find the source of the Mississippi. This peak overlooks the Point of Discovery, where Joliet & Marquette first entered the Mississippi. There is an effigy mound here. Marquette. There is a large pink elephant to greet you here. The town sits along a bluff that is capped off by a casino.

Allamakee Co. (2004)

Effigy Mounds NM. One of many Amerind mound-builder sites along the Mississippi, but these mounds are shaped like animals. When I visited this historical curiosity it was extremely cold and I couldn't savor it. Harpers Ferry. A worn down town in the middle of a forested region. I got very close to an eagle at the riverfront near Dam #9 here. Lansing.

Des Moines Co. (10/2006)

Burlington. A well-kept, grain processing city along the river. Stop at the visitor center, an old ferry station, for some nice views of the river. Kingston. Barely on the map, farm town. West Burlington.

Lee Co. (10/2006)

Fort Madison. A tidy and pretty city nestled between a steep hillside and the Mississippi. A leafy canopy covers the handsome side streets and make you want to pull into a driveway, kick off your shoes, and eat some pie or something. West of town is Faeth's Apple Orchard, which has been been family run for years. When I arrived in fall of 2006, the family was happy to fill my special request. They had some baby animals outside for petting and an old man inside happily played hymns on his accordian for visitors. The toll bridge in town is an aerial lift and can be quite a site when raised for the barges that roll by town. Summitville. Keokuk. Not much to Keokuk. It is a useful place to stop, I suppose, but is poor and run-down a bit like Thudner Bay, Ontario. The Victorian facades of the main drag seems that they once saw happier times. Argyle. Charleston. New Boston. Donnellson. Wever.

Louisa Co. (10/2006)

Oakville. Toolesboro. This is where I spent several miles on the Great River Road tracking through dirt and gravel roads. Lonely silos seem to be standing guard at the edge of civilization. A great horseshoe lake nearby is the Port Louisa NWR, home to cranes and herons.

Muscatine Co. (10/2006)

Muscatine. A small city on the river. Like Burlington, it seems to be a grain-processing and shipping port. I passed through several impressive industrial areas. Pleasant Prarie. Blue Grass. A blah suburb more or less.

Dallas Co. (8/2009)

Coming. Soon.

Madison Co. (8/2009)

Coming. Soon.

Adair Co. (8/2009)

Coming. Soon.

Cass Co. (8/2009)

Coming. Soon.

Pottawatomie Co. (8/2009)

Council Bluffs. Coming Soon.

Madison Co. (4/2010)

Coming. Soon.

Mills Co. (4/2010)

Coming. Soon.

Fremont Co. (4/2010)

Coming. Soon.



A rare summer scene in Iowa caught as the sun was setting near Malcom in 2007.

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I am walking toward the Outdoor Stations in St. Donatus. (2004)

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Marquette's Point of Discovery near McGregor from atop the old Pike's Peak. This is where the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers meet and where the French found the great river. (2004)

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Micah and I scan for eagles during the winter of 2004 amidst the thick winter fog near Dam #12 in Bellevue.

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The graveyard behind this church in St. Donatus is the final resting place of many of the town's original Luxemburger settlers. (2004)

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The Mississippi bends through swamps and bluffs near Sabula. (2006)

Sam shows off her Snow-Eagle sculpture atop a bluff in celebration of the eagle gathering at Lock & Dam #12 in Bellevue in the winter of 2007.

A gathering of eagles at Lock & Dam #11 in winter of 2007. This was the best year for eagle hunting yet with almost one hundred spotted between Dubuque and Sabula..