Weekend getaway to Dubuque, Iowa

By Michael Carignan

Dawn and I took our annual anniversary trip to Dubuque, Iowa again this year, however we were a little later than most years. This year we waited until mid May to go because the dog races didn’t start for the year until then and that’s one of our favorite activities in Dubuque.

Dubuque is a couple hour drive from home, longer if you make any stops or take back roads along the way. We both took back roads and made a few stops so it was twice that long.

We headed south out of North Freedom on Co. PF then west on Co. W to Hwy. 23 south through Plain to Spring Green. Our arrival in Spring Green put us in the Lower Wisconsin River Valley and we followed the river west on Hwy. 60 to Gotham and Muscoda. We took our first leg-stretcher at a boat landing about two miles upriver from Muscoda. The water was high and moving right along as it too was headed for the Mississippi River.

The Wisconsin River from the boat landing two miles east of Muscoda.
The Wisconsin River from the boat landing two miles east of Muscoda.

Back on the road we drove into Muscoda where the community was getting ready for its annual Morel Mushroom Festival. The two-day festival started the following day so we planned to catch the tail end of it on our return trip home.

We missed the turnoff for our intended route out of Muscoda so it was time to get out the Gazetteer and find a different route. We decided on Co. G to Co. Q and then into Fennimore. The county roads wound through some prime example of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region, the area the last glaciers totally missed. The landscape rose and fell regularly like the tides as farmhouses dotted the rolling hills and deep cut valleys bursting with the prime of springtime foliage and wildflowers.

We made our second leg stretcher in Fennimore with a stop at a small bakery on the east side of town and then for a sandwich at a tavern downtown. The cheesecake from the bakery was excellent and the sandwiches were pretty tasty as well.

Back on the road, we proceeded south on Hwy. 61 to Lancaster where we headed southwest on Hwy. 81 to Beetown in search of a cheese factory we never found. After a short search we continued on to Cassville to ride Wisconsin’s oldest ferry.

Aboard the Cassville Car Ferry.
Aboard the Cassville Car Ferry.

Dating back to 1833, the Cassville Car Ferry, now named “The Pride of Cassville,” is Wisconsin’s oldest ferry service. For $15, a car and its passengers can cross the Mississippi River and travel from Wisconsin to Iowa or vice versa on a short but scenic maybe a half mile cruise. The two-man crew was friendly and knowledgeable about the ferry itself and the scenic river frontage.

A barge running the "Big Muddy."
A barge running the “Big Muddy.”
Cassville from the ferry.
Cassville from the ferry.

Once in Iowa we continued south on the Great River Road for the final 30 miles of our trip to Dubuque. The Great River Road travels along the river and then up along the ridge overlooking the Mississippi River Valley.

The view of the Mississippi River Valley from a turn-out on the Great River Road north of Dubuque.
The view of the Mississippi River Valley from a turn-out on the Great River Road north of Dubuque.

We checked in to our motel and after settling in decided to head for Diamond Joe’s Casino for a little fun on the slots and then splurging with the buffet. With bellies full and a few extra bucks in my pocket we called it a day.

The following morning we made our way downtown to the farmers’ market. Dubuque’s farmers’ market is located around City Hall covering about a four-block area on side streets and in parking lots. With being early in the year there wasn’t a lot of produce but many venders had plants, both vegetable and flowers, ready for planting. As always there was a wide variety of excellent foods ready to eat as well as cheeses, meats, beverages, crafts and more.

We wandered around the farmers’ market for an hour or so and then headed back to the motel for a brief rest until it was time to head to the dog track. It was opening day for the dogs, but it was also the day of the running of the horses in the Preakness at Pimlico. I did alright with the dogs and also made out pretty well on the slots. We finished out the day with supper at the buffet at Mystique Casino.

First thing the next morning I hit the swimming pool and hot tub to get the blood moving and enjoy a little me time while Dawn hit the exercise room. Our plan for the morning was to visit the Mississippi River Museum before heading back home. To get there we had to go through downtown Dubuque and so we decided to find a nice family restaurant for breakfast. We discovered a place, which I won’t name. The food was very good. The service, however, left a little to be desired.

After breakfast we headed for the museum.

The main entrance to National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.
The main entrance to National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium.

The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium is the property of the Dubuque Historical Society and has been an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute since 2002. A large part of Dubuque’s history, like so many other communities, has played out along the river. River industries built the city, made it prosper and thrive. The museum spells out a good deal of that history from pre-settlement to modern day. Through the eyes of man and through the eyes natural world around him, the story is told complete.

A turtle in one of the aquariums.
A turtle in one of the aquariums.
An octopus clings to the walls of one of the aquariums.
An octopus clings to the walls of one of the aquariums.

Over a dozen aquariums feature wildlife representative of that found along the river, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico. There are outdoor exhibits, featuring river otters, a marsh, and other artifacts such as a variety of boats, steam boilers, a blacksmith shop, and even a raptor aviary complete with bald eagles. There’s even a miniature replica of the typical paddleboat author Mark Twain traveled on and so dearly loved.

Artifact of daily life along the river.
Artifact of daily life along the river.
One of the many riverboats belonging to the museum and open to the public.
One of the many riverboats belonging to the museum and open to the public.
Author Mark Twain whispers the meaning of a passage from his book into Dawn's ear. Dawn seems a little shocked.
Author Mark Twain whispers the meaning of a passage from his book into Dawn’s ear. Dawn seems a little shocked.

We were a week too early to catch the traveling exhibit of the Titanic, which is at the museum from May 23 to September 7, 2015, but that’s okay because we had already seen that exhibit elsewhere. We did spend a great deal of time at the museum and enjoyed every minute of it.

Finally it was time to head home. We took Hwy. 151 east to Hwy. 61 and then turned north through Dickeyville, home of the famous Dickeyville Grotto, and all the way to Boscobel, making a stop at Carr Valley Cheese in Fennimore. At Boscobel we got on Hwy. 131 east and traveled along the Wisconsin River again, this time along the south shore.

We arrived in Muscada around 4 p.m. and most of the Morel Festival was over with but we did manage to score a pound of the delicacies at a very reasonable price. Umm, they were good.

We finished out the trip by going to Richland Center, through Ithaca and on to Loganville, Rock Springs and home.

Something learned, something enjoyed, once again.

 

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