Day 231 – Great River Road, August 4, 2011
Since Hastings was only about twenty miles from
Minneapolis/St. Paul, I took a detour for a simple drive by as I had never been
there. I had Gina, my GPS, take me to the
city hall of each town, that way I would at least get a glimpse of
downtown. I crossed over a few bridges,
passed by several office buildings connected by skywalks, and even spotted a
few historic churches in the mix before I ended at Mall of the America’s. While I can’t think of anything I like about
shopping, I figured I had to at least see the largest mall in America.
After our detour, we returned south and made a handful of
stops in Red Wing, our first at Memorial Park which provides a superb view of
the Mississippi and the city below.
During the ice ages, with four major cycles of glaciers melting, floods
of meltwater eroded the Mississippi 200 feet deeper than the present
channel. Because the tributary streams
carried less water than the main river, they were unable to cut down the
terrain as rapidly, resulting in steeper slopes. As the meltwater diminished, the velocity of
the main river was reduced and it was no longer able to remove the sediment
deposited from the tributaries. Thus,
the valley today was filled to its present level and exhibits a series of
meanders, oxbow lakes, side channels, sloughs, swamps, and tillable land.
From the park, we curved back down the steep, winding road
and visited Barn Bluff. This was a
really neat place. I felt like I was in
Missouri again, walking beneath a canopy of trees and past walls of rock and
quarries to catch a few peaks of the Mississippi in the rare open spaces. Before even climbing the stairs, each inscribed
with a benefactor’s name in block letters, to reach the path that ascends atop
the bluff we took a short walk to an old kiln.
The G.A. Carlson Lime Kiln, built in 1882, was once one of
thirty such kilns operated between 1870 and 1908 in the Red Wing area. The kiln was used for the transformation of
Barn Bluff’s raw material into commercial lime, quick lime, or unslaked lime
for the use in mortar and plaster. The
wood fired kiln was heated to temperatures of 2,000 degrees to burn the
limestone. One ton of limestone produced
1,000 pounds of quick lime. The kiln
ceased operation after forty years of quarrying when the limestone industry
After visiting the kiln, which was also an earth cache, we
meandered along the bluff, also an earth cache.
The bluff towers 343 feet above the City of Red Wing and is one of the
best known natural features along the Mississippi. It was climbed by many of Minnesota’s early
tourists including Henry David Thoreau.
We continued south, paralleling the Mississippi River as
well as the Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a network of
wetlands, islands, forest and prairie that extends 260 miles through four
states. We stopped at a roadside rest
area for a tranquil view of clouds reflecting in the glassy Mississippi waters.
As we continued along the river past towns such as Winona
and La Crescent, we crossed into Iowa where we attempted to visit Effigy Mounds
National Monument. The park is home to
over 200 Indian burial pits topped with low, rounded earthen mounds. We got there at 6:15, fifteen minutes too
Given the time, we carried on through a few more towns where
houses on stilts lined the edge of the river and claimed a campsite at Pike
Peak State Park. Yes, the park is named
for General Zebulon Pike, the explorer who sited a bluff in Iowa a year before
reaching the more famous Pike’s Peak in Colorado.
After snagging a camping spot for only eleven dollars and
getting a free shower out of it, I drove back to McGregor, a quaint old town
with a handful of restaurants and B&B’s.
I tried going to one bar type place, but as soon as I arrived at the
intersection, a train stopped, blocking my way.
I almost opted for homemade pizza, when I decided it would be nicer if
Petey could join me instead of being left in VANilla on this muggy day, so with
much trepidation I chose a Mexican food restaurant that had a patio.
I ordered safely, a fajita chicken salad. While the chips seemed slightly affected by
the humidity, the restaurant carried Dos Equis Amber (my favorite) and served
up a tasty salad, though not all toppings listed on the menu were included (a
pet peeve of mine). Regardless, I was
pleasantly surprised, not only by dinner but by the brilliant sunset! ETB