Today, I took a friend with me to deliver my handmade jewelry to the gallery in Iowa that’s carried it for the last eight summers. It’s usually about a 72-mile drive that takes an hour and a half if you go down the Great River Road on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River, otherwise known as State Highway 35. But, it’s road construction season. The road, in all its greatness, does need repair. It has come time to get it done. So, instead of going the way I usually go – staying on the Great River Road through the City of La Crosse, through the tiny towns of Ferryville, Lynxville, Stoddard, DeSoto, and Genoa to Prairie du Chein, and across a bridge over the Mississippi River to the State of Iowa to the town of Mc Gregor, we went south on the Great River Road on the west side of the river, traveling through La Crescent and Brownsville, Minnesota, Harpers Ferry, Lansing, and finally through Marquette, Iowa to Mc Gregor. It’s slightly longer (my GPS gave 82 miles for the trip) for traveling this side of the river but just as pretty if not more so (sorry, Wisconsin). The road was definitely better and I’ll look forward to returning to the trip, next year (maybe this fall if we’re lucky) on the Wisconsin side of the river.
Certainly, having a friend go with me made the trip go a lot faster, as we chatted like sisters catching up on each other’s lives. And, a huge bonus was that the sun was out. Spring might FINALLY be here.
The sights that can be seen on this drive, at any time of year, are worth seeing. There are barges pushing loads up the river as houseboats and their residents look on from the side. The fields are starting to green up and the bluffs and goat prairies will soon be covered with grasses and native plants fighting to stake their claim against the invasive species we have such as buckthorn, autumn olive, and mustard garlic. Somewhere trillium, jack-in-the-pulpit, and pasque flowers are peeking their stems and blooms above the cold ground to reach the sun’s rays. At least they are on the Wisconsin side of the river! I’m sure some have reached the Minnesota and Iowa side on the western shore as well.
On this trip, we saw a flock of pelicans flying in a V and a few hawks flying overhead or perched in the roadside trees. There’s no foliage yet, so they are easy to spot. I didn’t note any Bald Eagles, which is sad because I usually see at least one or two when I make this drive. I’m sure they are there, busy fishing for lunch or taking a mid-morning nap after satiation.
The river was calm and serene today. It is never how I pictured it as a child and young adult before saw the river for myself. Huck Finn’s descriptions created a different picture in my mind, one that only partially does this great liquid byway justice. I can only imagine this river’s past, what it was used for and how important it was to our early settlers. I hope people still honor its importance today.
When I see huge barges moving supplies, I know we need this river. When I see the wildlife that congregates near the shore and overhead, notwithstanding the species within her waters, I know we need this river. When I see the fishermen in shacks bearing subzero temperatures to take their prize from a hole two feet deep, I know we need this river.
I have great respect for the water – any water. It is probably our greatest resource. And, I feel lucky as I trek my few (wo)man-made treasures through three states on the Great River Road, following the twisty shore, that I live in an area where I can appreciate a drive like this and be reminded of nature’s vast importance. It makes me feel small, yet grateful, at the same time.
If you’d like to reference where my travels took me and my friend today, you can click on any of the URLs I provided below. And, if you ever have the chance, a drive on the Great River Road is definitely worth it – for any reason – in any season!
From Minnesota State Line to Harpers Ferry (26 miles)
- Heading south from Minnesota’s Great River Road, cross over into Iowa and travel on IA 26 until you reach the city of Lansing.
- In Lansing, turn left onto IA 9, then an immediate right onto N Front St.
- Continue on N Front St, which becomes Co. Rd. X52, to Harpers Ferry.
- Turn left onto Winfield Rd. in Harpers Ferry, which becomes N 1st St.
- Turn right on Chestnut St., then left on IA 364.
From Harpers Ferry to Marquette
- From Harpers Ferry, travel on IA 364 through Yellow River State Forest until the road joins with IA 76 S.
- Take IA 76 S through Marquette.
Sources: US DOT Federal Highway Administration found at:
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