The magnificence, power and drama of the Mississippi River is within just a few hours drive of the Fort Dodge area, with some fantastic opportunities for quality vacation time along the Great River Road Scenic Byway. The history of the area and the significance of the Mississippi to the development of Iowa is showcased in the city of Dubuque, while the culture of the native Iowans has left its mark as seen at Effigy Mounds National Monument up the River Road near McGregor.
Dubuque has an Iowa Welcome Center located right in the historic downtown district, a great place to start your visit. They will help you find your way around and provide tips on what to see and where to find what interests you the most. They can give you a schedule of the free trolley system that makes loops around the most popular areas of the city that visitors want to see or provide you with information on sites throughout the area. The center is located at the corner of W. 3rd Street and Main Street, or can be reached by calling 800-798-8844. It is located at the chamber office and more information can be found at www.dubuquechamber.com.
Once downtown, you will find that most of the things you will want to see are conveniently located and easily found by walking, car or the trolley system. There are several sites located in the Port of Dubuque adjacent to the downtown area.
View from the Effigy Mounds hiking trail.
A must-see for the area is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. Located at the Port, visitors are given insight into the natural forces at work in the Mississippi River watershed, the historical development of the area and flora & fauna that can be found in the Mississippi from the headwaters at Lake Itasca in Minnesota all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The aquarium gives visitors a chance to see up-close some of the fish, reptiles and amphibians found both in the Mississippi, as well as other bodies of water around the world. Be sure to check out the large alligator as it hangs nearly motionless in the water, fooling many into believing that it's not real. It may take some patience, watching very closely, to finally see the gator make a subtle move. The aquarium setting gives visitors the chance to see what is happening with the large animal both above the waterline and below.
The development of the Dubuque area, from the Native Americans to the riverboat traffic, to today's importance as a shipping port are all chronicled at the museum. Computer simulations allow tourists to see how difficult it is to pilot a barge on the river with all of its obstacles. Detailed dioramas of riverboats show what travel was like during the hay-day of days when passengers were as important a part of the traffic on the river as cargo was.
The museum also features traveling and changing exhibits, like the "Lizards on the Loose!" exhibit, featuring lizards of all types, colors (some changing colors) and sizes. Visitors can see various lizards and understand how they have adapted to their environments through the use of camouflage and unique defense mechanisms. One of the fun challenges of going through the displays is finding the lizard in its case. Some blend in so well, even changing colors to match its background that it can take quite a while to find the little creatures. Others are so large that they don't care that they are seen, using their intimidating looks and scaly armor as their means of self-defense.
The aquarium is located at 350 E. 3rd St., offers free parking, and is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily until Memorial Day, closed Thanksgiving Day, at 2pm Christmas Eve and all day Christmas. Adult admission is $10.50, $9.50 for over 65, $8 for 7-17, and $4.50 for 3-6 yrs. For more information, call 800-226-3369 or visit their website at www.mississippirivermuseum.com
Also located in the port area, the historic shot tower can be seen next to the Star Brewery Building (which now houses a restaurant and winery). The tower was built in 1856 and was used to turn locally mined lead into shot. The tower is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is undergoing a major renovation.
To get a view of the city of Dubuque and the Mississippi from above, consider a trip up the Fenelon Place Elevator. The incline railway is advertised as the shortest, steepest scenic railway in the world, elevating passengers 186 feet in just 296 feet of track. It was built to save a local banker an hour of travel time round trip from his bank to his home on the bluff. The reward is not just the journey, but the view from the top of the 127 year old railway. For just $2 round trip for adults, $1 round trip for kids 5-12, and free for kids under 5, the top provides vistas of the city after a memorable trip.
Dubuque offers many other things for visitors to do in a day or over a long weekend. Depending on the season, there are lots of outdoor activities. River cruises are available to get a water-level view of the Mississippi River Valley, and bicycles are available for rent for visitors to see the city and get exercise at the same time. However long you stay and whatever you decide to see, you will be sure to make some great memories in the City of Dubuque.
Traveling north along the Great River Road Byway, visitors will be treated to beautiful views and sites in and around the small towns that popped up along the river over the years. One such city, Guttenberg, boasts a German heritage, and a unique museum piece. The library houses a replica of the Guttenberg Bible. Printed in 1913 using modern printing techniques, the book is still considered a rare book. For library hours, call 563-252-3108 or visit their website at www.guttenberg.lib.ia.us
Farther up the scenic byway is evidence of the reverence Native Americans showed for their dead. North of Marquette is the Effigy Mounds National Monument. High on the hills overlooking the Mississippi, 206 burial mounds, many arranged in shapes, can be seen by hiking the trails of the federally protected park. The mounds were believed to have been made to house the remains buried over 1000 years ago, and they are considered sacred by the 16 American Indian tribes associated with the monument. The mounds are clearly visible, and their shapes evident.
There are three small mounds close to the visitor's center, but the others require quite a hike. The path is well groomed but not handicap accessible. Allow at least 45 minutes to an hour to make a loop that takes visitors past the closest distinctive mound. Even during this short loop, visitors will be treated to fantastic views of the valley and the river below, and it will be easy to understand why natives to the area chose the bluffs to bury their dead.
Remember that the ground is sacred and protected. Gathering of souvenirs or artifacts are prohibited by law, and visitors are not to walk on or over the mounds. The visitor's center is open weekdays 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., weekends 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. The park itself is open for hiking of its 14 miles of trails from sunrise to sunset 365 days per year. Find the park by going north of Marquette 3 miles on Highway 76 and following the signs. The fee is $3 for those over 15, but is waived between Nov. 1 and March 31 each year. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/efmo/index.htm
History, beauty and adventure await those who make the trek to the fantastic areas of Dubuque, the Great River Road and the Effigy Mounds. Head east and explore, you might be better for the trip!
While nearly everyone knows about the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville, there is another tourism treasure found just off the freeway in the small city just west of Dubuque. The National Farm Toy Museum is a farm boy's dream. For anyone who spent time as a young kid pushing tractors around the back yard sandbox, dreaming of plowing and planting a field of their own, this is the museum for them. Hundreds of tractor makes and models are represented, some from the earliest days of the tractor itself. The history of farm toys, which directly parallels the development of farm technology itself, is documented in the large number of displays. Visitors will learn how farm toys evolved and, like the implements they represent, became more sophisticated as time went on.
The museum can be found by taking the Highway 136 exit off of US Highway 20. Go north, then take the first right north of the intersection. The museum is located down the street on the right in a building with several other businesses. The museum is open 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. daily, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Easter. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for 65+, $3 for 6-17 years, 5 and under are free. For more information, visit www.nationalfarmtoymuseum.com