Road Trip: Mosey Along The Mississippi River
Hooray, it’s spring. The weather is warmer, the trees are budding and the grass is starting to turn green. By now, your family is ready to break the winter doldrums by taking to the open road.
By Margaret Malsam
The Mighty Miss
Why not head out on the picturesque Great River Road along the Mississippi River between the Quad Cities and Dubuque, Iowa? Your journey will take you through an ever changing tapestry of beautiful lakes and fascinating riverfront towns.
This historic scenic byway allows you to discover the spirit of America’s heartland. Mark Twain once said the Mississippi River has a new story to tell every day. It’s true. With each passing mile, my husband and I became more enamored with the Mississippi River. We saw something new around every bend and “learned” the river, as Huck Finn would say.
Quad Cities, which are located on a 20+ mile section of the river that actually runs east to west. Weird, huh. This may cause confusion for visitors who think they are still heading north or south while following the river. We found our GPS to be our best friend as it navigated us smoothly along this river road.
Highlights for us during our two-day visit were the:
• John Deere Pavilion in Moline and the Family Museum in Bettendorf have recently been renovated. Both places have super exhibits and expanded children’s areas with hands-on learning activities.
• German American Heritage Center in Davenport contains three floors of exhibit/meeting space with interactive, audio-visual exhibits explaining immigrant life in the 1800s.
• Rock Island Arsenal in Rock Island has an outstanding museum featuring exhibits and artifacts from the Civil War to Vietnam War. It was founded in 1862 as the government’s largest manufacturing arsenal, in Rock Island
The friendly staff at the Mississippi Valley Center in LeClaire gave us a detailed river road map and great travel tips. This birthplace town of Buffalo Bill Cody has a new claim to fame: being the home base for the popular American Pickers TV show on the History Channel.
Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, owners of Antique Archaeology, search America’s back roads for unique old items in amazing places. It was a little a tricky finding their garage (115 ½ Davenport) in the alley-like street behind a BP gas station, but it was well worth it. We walked into the shop where some of the Pickers’ finds are displayed, and we talked to two shop girls. During the first weekend of June, hundreds come to LeClaire for the Pickers Weekend.
LeClaire is hosting a Girls Getaway Weekend for moms, daughters, sisters and friends on April 27-28. For one price, you receive food, entertainment and a goody bag with lodging discounts. The town’s Buffalo Bill Museum packs a lot of information about this great hunter/entertainer along with Old West history into a building it shares with the Lone Star, an 1868 stern wheeler.
A new LeClaire attraction is the Mississippi River Distilling Company where they make hard liquor from local grains and provide free drink samples in the tasting room. For lunch, we enjoyed a beer while dining on great German food on the riverfront patio of Bier Stube restaurant. It was so relaxing to watch the flow of the rolling river as barges and boats passed by.
If you’re traveling with a dog, you’ll want to stop at the Prairie’s Pastures Dog Park (4101 No 3rd St, ) in Clinton. Dog Fancy magazine has named it the nation’s eighth best dog park. Located on eight acres inside Eagle Point Park, it’s has a wonderful play area for dogs of all sizes, plus natural grasses, trails and doggie swim areas. You must purchase a day pass to use it .
Clinton was known as the “Lumber Capital of the World” in the late 1800s. Clinton’s sawmills helped supply lumber for the expansion of the West. Learn more about this industry by visiting Clinton’s new Sawmill Museum.
If you want to stay overnight and gamble, you can book a room at the Wild Rose Casino & Resort. It has 60 hotel rooms ($89 on weekends and $69 during the week) plus two dining options. For wine tasting and a great picnic place on bluffs above the Mississippi, stop at the Wide Creek Winery. Another beautiful place is the Bickelhaup Arboretum,, an outdoor museum containing 14 acres of select trees, shrubs and flowers.
If you’re traveling this road the first weekend in May, you’ll want to take in Dutch Days upstream in nearby Fulton. The town celebrates its Dutch heritage with a parade and dancing in the street. Locals wear wooden shoes with authentic costumes. You can buy fresh Dutch pastries and food, plus browse the arts and crafts show.
This 1800s town of Galena is known for its outstanding architecture and celebrations. Early in the last century, it was one of the largest port towns on the Mississippi and is packed with history. Almost all its downtown area is a National Historic District. Its most notable mansion is the 1860 home of Ulysses Grant, a Civil War general and our 18th US president. When Grant returned from the Civil War, Galena’s citizens presented this house to him. It contains many of his possessions and original furnishings.
For moderate-priced dinners, the long-time Log Cabin Greek Steakhouse has great steaks and seafood dishes. For fine dining within rustic stone walls and oak archways, try the Fried Green Tomatoes restaurant.
A grand finale of the trip can be staying a few days in Dubuque at the riverfront Grand Harbor Resort, located in the Port at Dubuque. The resort has a 25,000 square foot indoor water park, game room and a Tony Roma’s restaurant. Rooms start at $99. Children can return to their rooms wrapped in giant towels after using the water park. It’s conveniently located near the multi-sensory National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the bustling Diamond Jo Casino. Nearby Mom ‘n Pop restaurants offer reasonably priced meals. For tasty seafood served in a fun, nautical atmosphere, I heartily recommend driving a few miles upstream to Catfish Charlie’s on the Mississippi River.