Northward Along The Mississippi
Sights To See Traveling Up Ol’ Man River
BY RAY SPECKMAN
When spring arrives, warm winds and green grass will beckon me to travel northward once again and continue my exploration of the upper Mississippi River.
One place I look forward to revisiting is the historic Mormon town of Nauvoo, Ill., where the road meanders alongside the Mississippi River and provides occasional glimpses of barges and leisure boats.
From Nauvoo, it’s less than an hour north to Burlington, Iowa, a town of woolen mills dominated by the steeple of St. John’s Catholic Church. Burlington is home to Big Muddy’s Bar and Grill, situated below a bridge in a historic railroad freight house. The river is close, very close — during spring rains, high water sometimes laps at the restaurant’s front door.
The food at Big Muddy’s is varied, excellent and well-priced, and the views of river activity are spellbinding. The traffic sometimes waits for hours to be locked through the Mississippi River Lock and Dam No. 18.
That lock and dam is one of 27 between St. Louis and Minneapolis. In essence, the Corps of Engineers has built a water stairway to allow consistent river levels for navigation on the Mississippi. In the approximately 650 river miles between St. Louis and Minneapolis, the river’s elevation drops from about 670 feet above sea level in Minnesota to 395 feet at Missouri’s largest city.
One other must see in Burlington is the Steamboat Stop Country Store, located on Main Street. It houses a quality gift shop in a former tenement home that dates to 1841.
Moving back across the river, it’s a northward drive to the village of Keithsburg, Ill. Finding the village can be a chore. Expect some confusing road markers, but keep going. The food, drink and view at the Lighthouse Tap & Restaurant are worth the trouble. Located atop one of the many levees that girdle the river, the 80-foot bar in the lounge area offers a view of the barges coming into sight. These barges turn in the water as they float by, and special drink prices are given each time a barge passes.
The restaurant is a place for watching the rolling, moving and constantly changing river but also a place for fine vittles as people of all ages clamor to get a seat and enjoy the fine, reasonably priced food.
A short drive northward leads to the Quad Cities of Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa. A multitude of experiences await in these cities. For sure, a drive around Arsenal Island on the Illinois side is interesting. Stately homes of high-ranking military officers are surrounded by emerald-green, riverside fairways. The pleasure craft and paddle-wheeling hotels seem to float above ground level — and, in fact, do. Levees along the river hold back the mighty river.
Just south of Arsenal Island is the best place to view the boats locking through a lock and dam on the Mississippi. You can stand on the viewing area provided by the Corps of Engineers and talk with the crewmen as they maneuver the barges through the locks, as well as with the tourists as they float through, enjoying the recreational highway of the Mississippi.
In Davenport, a trip north presents some of the finest vistas along the river and estates and homes on a slight rise to the west.
On both sides of the river north of the Quad Cities, the scenery is beautiful. On the Iowa side, there are spectacular high-ridge vistas, and on the Illinois, quaint places and curving roads. The same choice continues north of Clinton, Iowa. Having traveled both sides, I’ve concluded each has its own special lure, and I cannot choose a favorite.
Eventually the river roads lead to Savanna, Ill., or Sabula, Iowa. Whatever the route, Sabula is a town that must be visited. It is a town actually located on an island in the Mississippi River, connected to land by causeways and bridges. It must be explored and will be as past travels are remembered and planned again.
Ray Speckman can be found looking at maps or at firstname.lastname@example.org.