On Monday we got up and out really early in order to beat the crowd to the dump station. A lot of the campers cleared out on Sunday, but there were still quite a few who appeared to be packing it in today. SIDE NOTE: This is the first trip that we’ve had to schedule all of our stays in advance. Previously, with the exception of places near big attractions (which we mostly avoid anyway), we have booked around holidays a few weeks ahead and kept an eye on the weekends when schools are out, but otherwise just showed up. That isn’t working now, and we both hope it is because Covid has everyone doing unusual things. One of our tricks is that we typically travel on Mondays and Thursdays. That way we beat the weekenders in and leave after they are gone. In the summer it gives us at least some times when the campgrounds aren’t packed, but in the winter it is glorious! We are occasionally the ONLY people in the park, and it feels like they built the place just for us!
We meandered mostly north up to Luray, with the plan to check out Victory Park on the Big Muddy at Keokuk, Iowa. The landscape in northeastern Missouri changed again to rolling and was quite beautiful. Once at Keokuk, we had to maneuver around a little bit to make it down to the waterfront, as several roads had weight limits. The park is home to the George M. Verity paddle boat, which is now permanently docked. It was closed, but we were able to walk around the outside. The parking lot was clearly the site of a LOT of fireworks this past weekend, and the debris was everywhere. We checked out the monument to Samuel Ryan Curtis , who was a West Point graduate (we won’t hold that against him), served in the Mexican War, and was once Mayor of Keokuk. The park also had a Great River Road Interpretive Center, which gives information about how the river affects the areas it flows through. Of course, the park residents…a large flock of Canada geese…believe the park is just there for them. LOL. They are so beautiful, but man, do they make a mess! After looking around there, we headed to find the observation bridge for Lock and Dam Number 19. It was a bit tight and took some maneuvering on MW’s (Mr. Wonderful’s) part but we were able to get to the northern end of the lock and watch a HUGE barge finish entering and be lowered. It is a pretty amazing process, made more so by the tight fit. The lock is gravity fed, so there are no pumps moving water around. There was a woman on the deck with her two small children who said her son insisted that they come down there several times a week to watch the boats go through. He waves at the crew and just loves it. I’m thinking that is a tug captain in the making. A few years ago we went through the Kiel Canal in Germany on a cruise ship. It was amazing to watch all of the maneuvering through the locks. They sent a pilot out to the ship to actually take it through. I guess threading that needle isn’t for everyone. I wonder if they do the same on the Mississippi? On the way back to the truck, we noticed quite a bit of cracking on the outside of the lock. That looked like trouble brewing. Before leaving Keokuk, we checked out Rand Park and the statue of Chief Keokuk of the Sauk tribe for whom the town and county are named. (In his time, he was one of the most recognized of the Native American chiefs.)
We headed north on The Great River Road enjoying the occasional river views. Despite its name, the drive often takes you miles from the actual river. The land flattened out a bit, and farms were again the norm. We recognized the Mormon Temple in Nauvoo on the opposite bank, another place we passed through on the Planes, Trains, Automobiles, RVs, and Cruise Ships trip. We decided to eat at Fort Madison, and as soon as we came into the outskirts saw Buffalo 61, home of the “Bigass” everything. Usually we check out TripAdvisor or Yelp and figure out something local with good ratings. This time the deciding factor was “they have a big parking lot that we can get into easily”, and I didn’t even check for comments. Some days are just like that and practicality wins out. We did not suffer for it, though! My goodness! Basically a sports bar layout, one look at the menu told me what I would be eating…Barbecue Nachos! I LOVE Barbecue Nachos when they are done right, and these definitely were. (Sometimes they only have a spoonful of barbecue meat and the rest is salad and cheese.) There was an actual 1/2 pound of pulled pork on these babies! Yum!!! I truly thought my meal would be the winner for today, but it ended up being a tie. MW had the Bigass Homemade Tenderloin sandwich, and it was the bomb. Wow. I’ve never seen that much meat on a sandwich. He ended up cutting off the excess and eating it as a side. Honestly, I have to say that we would drive out of our way to eat here again. Alas, there are only three locations and all are in that area. (We actually ended up passing one of them later as we were headed on up the road. Yes, it was tempting, but we were still stuffed.) After lunch we continued on the Great River Road to Muscatine, then zig-zagged northwest to Sugar Bottom Campground on Coralville Lake in North Liberty, Iowa. We set everything up and then headed over to North Liberty to pick up a few things at Target and Lowe’s, and buy some groceries at Hy-Vee (wow, what a great store). It was a long day, and we were both ready to put our feet up and relax when we got back. In fact, I was feeling a little sick to my stomach, which I attributed to barbecue nachos and my system being finicky. My Mom keeps promising it is going to happen. We settled in to watch a western or two on MW’s favorite station…Grit (only because we don’t get the SciFi network), and then turned in.
On Tuesday I woke up still feeling a bit off. (I guess it wasn’t the nachos after all.) We didn’t have any specific plans for the day, so I just stayed in my pajamas and rested. MW walked around the campground and then spent time mapping out our route for next month and making reservations. (That is a process! Please, please let things get back to normal soon!) I managed to get a little work done in the afternoon, and later (when my stomach agreed) MW went into town to pick up dinner from Wig and Pen Pizza. It was very good with a thin crust (although they have other options) and interesting toppings, but they cut a round pizza into little squares. Who does that unless you are feeding a table of 5-year-olds? I mostly stuck with the Twickenham which was basically a salad pizza with feta. MW’s choice was the spicy North Sider with lots of meat. By bedtime I was feeling much better, but still worn out.
Wednesday I finally felt normal, thank goodness. I headed back to Coralville to Laundromania to take care of chores. This was a really clean place with good seating, including some tables. It also had washers and dryers that took credit cards, which I have only seen once before. I was alone for most of the time, and spent it working. Near the end a couple came in and started talking. She was a nurse at a local hospital, so of course Covid came up. She said that, even with all of the stuff she has read and been told at work, she is totally confused. Her hospital in Iowa City dedicated four departments to handle incoming cases, and they never filled one. She watches the news and what they are reporting is totally different from the reality she’s living at work. If the actual people on the front lines are confused, no wonder the rest of us are all scratching our heads! After I finished up there, I ran to Kohl’s for a quick return, then Costco for supplies, which was interesting. As I approached Costco, it looked like a huge distribution center. I was just about ready to turn around and go back, when I saw a driveway going into the building with enter and exit arrows. The entire parking lot was indoors! Not a parking garage…just a huge, enclosed, metal building! It was also HOT in there! (The outside temp was in the low 90s.) I’m not sure that’s a good setup for them, because I’d limit what I bought to avoid loading in the parking sauna! Chores complete, I headed for the hills. Back at Petunia, I fixed the peanut butter dessert I promised MW. It was a recipe from Facebook and turned out pretty good, although VERY rich. Later, I worked on a little writing while MW headed over to browse at Barnes and Noble.
Thursday we were up early and on the road. We headed basically north, passing east of Cedar Rapids, and were quickly out in the flat lands again with a little occasional rolling. The views were beautiful, despite the grey day. Someone recently asked if we get bored driving through all of the farmland, but we don’t. In the flats, you can hit the slightest hill and get a terrific view. You’ll see farmhouses that are a couple of miles away as the crow flies, but would take you 15 minutes to drive to. Just seeing thousands of acres of corn or soybeans is beautiful, and watching the farmers working makes us appreciate the food on our tables. We stopped in Strawberry Point for fuel and a pic of the giant strawberry. It is fascinating how quickly the landscape can change. Near Elkader, Iowa, we saw signs for an overlook for what had become very rolling terrain. (It took a gravel road and a very narrow dirt road to get there, but was worth it.) The terrain there, called the Driftless Area (which stretches into parts of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois) is much more steep and rolling. The surrounding flat areas were created when glaciers drifted across the land in the last ice age. The Driftless Area is just that…an area where the glaciers didn’t drift.
After enjoying the breeze and stretching our legs a bit, we were back in the truck and turning slightly northeast. We crossed the Mississippi at Marquette, and entered Wisconsin at Prairie du Chien. Lunch had now become the focus, and we found Fort Mulligan’s Grill Pub in town. Having just entered Wisconsin, we HAD to go for the cheese curds. (Honestly, who wouldn’t?! Little fried bits of Wisconsin cheese goodness!!) MW also had the Chicken Bacon Ranch Wrap, while I had the Greek Salmon Salad. Mine was delicious. I’m sure MW’s was, too, but his lunch was overshadowed by an issue…a small one really…but major, too. He broke a tooth! No, there was nothing hard in the wrap. His tooth just gave way. I immediately started trying to find a local dentist between bites of salad, expanding the search area as I ran out of options. (Thankfully, the restaurant was fairly empty, so I wasn’t disturbing fellow diners.) Actually, the first one I called said that their policy is to work in emergencies, but alas, her dentist was on vacation until Monday. While MW wasn’t in pain now, we weren’t sure how long that would last. Finally, after a dozen or so calls, we found Kramer Family Dental south of us in Dubuque, Iowa. They said they could fit him in at 2:30 PM, which meant we had to scramble since it was already 12:15ish. We hit the road for Grant River Recreation Area near Potosi, Wisconsin. It was just a little drizzly when we arrived, but we basically just dropped Petunia on the site and left, doing nothing but plugging her in and turning on the air conditioner. We did get to see the amazing view of Big Muddy on our way in and out…this campground is right on the Mississippi. Our destination was about 30 minutes away, and after all of our scurrying, we made it with 15 minutes to spare. Whew! Due to Covid, I was not able to sit in the waiting room, so I dropped MW off and set out to explore a bit.
The sounds of certain words sometimes conjure up images. For me, Dubuque says industry…factories, mills, and lots of river workers (like Pittsburg). It does not give images of elegant, historic neighborhoods, beautifully maintained parks, and gorgeous architecture. I was amazed. I drove through parts of the Jackson Park and W. 11th Street historic districts and was blown away by the architecture and how well-maintained these very old areas are. The downtown area was also pretty amazing with great churches and old buildings. It was the middle of the afternoon on a Thursday, and people were out walking everywhere. Since I was driving, I only have one pic, so you’ll just have to go take a look for yourself. Don’t discount industry, though. It is big there, too.
I drove around for about 45 minutes, then went back to the dental office area and parked on the street. (MW actually had the other cell phone in his pocket to call me when he was done. That doesn’t happen often. Not calling me…carrying an actual phone! LOL) All told he was there about an hour. It turned out that the broken part was smaller than he thought, and Dr. Berryhill was able to pull out the old filling, and refill with a larger one to take care of the issue. Nice! He said the entire office was very nice and helpful. They were also very interested in his nomad lifestyle. When he was done, I took him on a little tour of the areas I had found, then we headed back to Petunia to finish setting up, then relax for the evening.
On Friday, we got a little bit of a slow start after not getting much sleep. (I’ll explain that later.) By late morning we headed out to see some sites. First stop…Potosi, Wisconsin, for lunch at the Potosi Brew Pub. The Rock House Reuben and the Pulled Pork Sandwich were both very good. Afterwards we took a walk through the National Brewery Museum located in the same historic building. It was pretty cool and had a lot of old memorabilia. We spent quite a while taking it all in, then hit the road again headed for Cassville, Wisconsin, to check out a ferry. The first ferry at Cassville across the Mississippi River began in 1833 and was a 40′ rowboat. In 1858 it was powered by two horses walking on a treadmill, then in 1913 it received a gasoline engine. The original wooden ferry was eventually changed out for a steel-hulled version, and soon they were carrying cars across the river. In 1940, when the locks and dams were built on the Mississippi, the ferry ceased operation. It wasn’t until 1988, after unsuccessful attempts to get a bridge built there, that Cassville cranked up operations again. We had to wait 20 minutes or so for the boat, but it was a nice day with a beautiful view.
Back in Iowa, we headed for a very special place. A place of dreams, you might say. “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.” In the late 1980s, some folks from Hollywood were trying to find a location for a baseball movie with a twist named Field of Dreams. They scouted around a bit, talked to some folks in Dubuque, and ended up at the century-old Lansing farm near Dyersville, Iowa. The house didn’t quite fit their vision, so they added a porch (with the owner’s permission, of course), then set about filming. In my book, there are no bad baseball movies, but I love this one. We walked around the field, and yes, I went into the corn to see if anyone was there. (I was a little concerned that it may have been taken back over by the children, so it was a little creepy.) Before we left, we checked out the gift shop. There was a great sign on the wall: “How can you not love a game that gives statistical credit for saving and sacrificing?” Absolutely!
On the way back to the campground we made another stop in Dickeyville, Wisconsin at the Grotto. Similar to the Ave Maria Grotto we toured in Cullman, Alabama (check it out here). Father Matthias Wernerus was a Catholic priest and pastor of the Parish in the early 1900s. Built from 1925 to 1930 without any plans, he dedicated his beautiful work, made of mostly stone, mortar, and bright colored objects from all over the world, to love of God and love of country. It is quite a sight to behold. After walking around for a bit, it was time to head back to Petunia.
Let’s talk about the campground at Grant River Recreation Area. First, the good. It is really beautiful and sits right on the Mississippi. The level sites were paved or gravel, and the grounds-keeper working every day keeping the place tip-top. The bathhouse and vault toilets were very clean, too. There were benches, a playground (closed for Covid), a pier, and picnic tables all along the river, some shaded by large trees. Our site was on the opposite side of the campground from the river, but we still had a nice view. Now for the bad. Well, I’ll just let the pictures explain.
Saturday was scheduled to be rainy, so we made it a lazy day hanging out and watching a couple of movies on DVD. At some point before it started raining, I took a little walk. As I was heading back in, the sky up river was seriously black and very mean looking. About five minutes later, our movie was interrupted by something hitting the window behind us. I jumped up and brought in the awning (previously forgotten). Then we watched as the trees were tossing back and forth and Petunia was being buffeted. Lots of people were scrambling around, especially the tent campers down by the water. The guy across the street had just won the fight to manually roll in his awning. Several people just jumped in their cars and drove off. It seemed to only be getting worse, so we decided to bring in the slide so the weight was centered over the wheels. The entire blow lasted only about 25 minutes, and had almost no rain but a LOT of wind. After it passed, the weather returned to occasional, light rain for several hours. We walked around later to survey the damage. Lots of small limbs down and leaves everywhere. Almost everyone escaped unscathed. Even the pickup camper in the pic below was still standing, although his fire was just gone. However, one guy up front did not get off so easy. The cleanup crews were on it, though. There were chainsaws going before it even quit raining!
Sunday we headed over to Platteville, Wisconsin, to find some lunch and a post office. It’s a nice little college town (the University of Wisconsin Platteville) with a pretty main drag. Just off of that was a beautiful area called City Hall Park where there were statues representing soldiers from all of the major wars, as well as one for first responders featuring a fireman. The park had lots of shade and picnic tables that were actually being used. It was very nice. After checking out the monuments, we found Steve’s Pizza Palace on Main Street, a typical, college pizza joint. I can’t remember our waiter’s name, but he was a young, college-aged kid and very enthusiastic. When we told him we didn’t need straws, he said “Yay, saving those turtles!” He was also very excited about the roasted red pepper tortilla.) We both had wraps (MW’s was the Gyro and mine, the Chicken Bacon Ranch) and shared the Pretzel Bites, which was a big winner. After lunch, we popped by the post office, then went to Piggly Wiggly for provisions. Back at Petunia, we grilled steaks for dinner and prepared to hit the road in the morning.
Up next…Illinois and Indiana. See you on the road!
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