three days by the river

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before Memorial Day Weekend:

1. We traveled south to Trempealeau Wildlife Refuge.

While DNR associates counted bugs and birds and whatever else they were gathering along the swamps, Dennis and I walked the dike looking for whatever we could find.  I found wild lupines blooming in the meadow, orange moths in the grass, frogs along the swamps and spiderwort just starting to bloom at the water’s edge.

On our way out of the refuge I saw a heron standing on a downed log in a small pond.  It was a big heron, and it was standing exactly where I saw a heron standing last fall.  I didn’t take a picture, since it seems I will find it in the same place next time we visit the refuge. For future reference the pond will be known as “the heron pond”.

2.  Travel to Goose Island County Campground, south of La Crosse.  We had lunch at the boat landing.  Goose Island is more than a campground, with boat landings and a designated canoe trail through the bottoms and around the islands in the Mississippi.  We decided it was a place to visit during the week- when there weren’t so many campers.   I nearly stepped on a snake as I was walking through the long grass along the shore.  It was a little black snake, or so I kept telling myself.  I scared away another off the path a little further on and decided to turn back.

3. Found a hotel room at Prairie Du Chien.  Several new hotel chains in town, and we decided to stay at the one next to Cabella’s store and distribution facility.  Not very scenic, but quiet, reasonably priced, and generic. All we wanted was a place to sleep.  Made a brief evening tour of St. Feriole Island river front.  We made a brief stop in Cabellas- Dennis is looking for waders to use on soggier photo shoots.  Cabellas has too many killing things for me.  Really, does anyone need that much gear and tackle to catch a fish?  There were guns and knives and cross bows and arrows and hunting videos and most importantly stuffed dead animals.  I saw a moose close up- probably as close as I will ever get to a moose.  Or a polar bear.  But dead.  Stuffed.  Very un lifelike.

4. Pike’s Peak State Park, MacGregor Iowa was our next stop.  Yes, Zebulon did stop there.  He suggested the bluff top as the site for the fort, which was later built at Prairie du Chien. It seems no one took old Zeb seriously. He was thinking security and defense, the government was thinking easy access to the river.  Prairie du Chien was the result- named for a friendly local chief and not for small burrow building rodents.

From the lookouts at the Park you can see the confluence of the Wisconin and Mississippi Rivers.  The main channel of the Mississippi is on the Iowa side of the river. The sandbars/ islands are lush, green, and very tempting- if only we had a canoe.

Something to note- Iowa  does not charge for access to state parks.  You only pay to camp.  Pike’s Peak was neat, tidy, well maintained, and some volunteer had planted flowers in all the flower boxes by the visitor center.

We returned to the park early in the morning to photograph. I decided this was my favorite place in Iowa.  We also saw Bridal Veil Falls, a short walk along the edge of the bluff into some deep ravines.  The designation of driftless area made sense looking down those slopes.  The falls were small that day, but had the potential to be very dramatic after a rain.

5.  Day two, after breakfast, we traveled down river to Wyalusing State Park.  More bluffs, boat landings, turkey vultures, and the Passenger Pigeon Monument.  The monument, a plaque set in stone, was strangely moving.  Knowing Aldo Leopold had attended the ceremony placing the monument on the bluff overlooking the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers seemed important.  I started thinking of all the monuments there might be out there to creatures made extinct through human indulgence.  Where would we put them all, and who would attend the ceremonies?

Another view of the confluence of Mississippi River and Wisconsin River.  This view is from Wyalusing State Park, Wisconsin on a foggy morning.

While at Wyalusing I climbed up to the Secret Treasure Cave, a hollow in the bluff.  The ladder was old and loose, the view was terrific, and the cave too scary to explore.  I give myself credit for climbing up there. It seems I have developed a vertigo problem.  Yet I still feel the urge to climb.

6.  We had lunch at Nelson Dewey State Park, at the overlook and picnic grounds.  From the bluff we could see the Mississippi River, and the Dewey Farm.  By this time the river and bluffs are starting to look the same.  Even the vultures seem to be following us.

7.  Third morning and we are back at Wyalusing State Park.  We photograph from the bluffs and then go down to the boat landing for more close ups of the river.  It is quiet, still, and even the fisherpersons aren’t out on the river yet.

This is where I would have liked a canoe, spending the day exploring the river islands.  Wyalusing also has a designated canoe trail through the islands.

Instead of canoeing I spent some time watching the water bugs skating around on the water.

It looked like they were having lots of fun.

I took many pictures of the bugs and the ripples they left in the water.

8. Effigy Mounds National Monument, and Yellow River State Forest, Iowa.  We decided to travel home on the Iowa side of the river, at least until we got to Lansing.  We stopped at Effigy Mounds, and walked up the board walk to the bridge over the Yellow River.  Blue Flag Irises were blooming in the bottoms.  We didn’t walk the trails to the mounds- all up hill and hot.  We had seen mounds at Pike’s Peak and Wyalusing State Parks.  There are also mounds at Perrot State Park, although they are not marked.  Also there are mounds visible from the bike trail between Trempealeau and Onalaska.

Effigy Mounds has a new visitors center and there is ongoing work on making trails more accessible.  Interestingly they are trying to encourage visitors to use their legs to travel to the mounds, rather than cars.  From the parking lot at the Visitor Center the nearest mounds are at least a mile hike away.  The Parking Lot Friday morning was empty when we got there.  There were two cars in it when we left.

9. Winona, Minnesota.  We stopped at the Acoustic Cafe for lunch.  Then made a trip to the bookstore on main street- the best collection of periodicals I have ever seen.  And they always have interesting, if slightly obscure, books.  I don’t know the name of the bookstore- but we always stop when in Winona.

10. Alma, Wisconsin.  We stopped this time because Dennis’ photos are on display (through June 15th) at Wings Over Alma Gallery.  The art exhibit- all member works- was impressive.  We also said hello to Nadine at the Mississippi Pearl Jewelry Store.  Someday I will take my pearl rings back to her for resizing.  Someday.  Our final stop before home was the new White Oak Gallery next to Nadine’s store.  Lots of interesting and unique items in there.  I got a new purse- big enough for a book, notebook, and all sorts of sundries, and still small enough to be inconspicuous.

72 hours of traveling and I don’t think we were ever more than a few miles from the river, a river, any river.

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