Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Trip to Atypical Iowa

Think of 42N country's Iowa and visions of rolling corn fields come to mind. Part of the state's northeast landscape lies in the so-called, driftless zone where glaciation (roughly 8,000 to 12,000 years ago) did not flatten everything in sight. Between the towns of Peosta and Balltown is this small valley which is rimmed by dolomite cliffs, which is typical geology for the region.  

Balltown, Iowa sits atop a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River valley. Artist Irma "Amy" Potter painted this vista a year ago last August at age 83. Compare the painting to the real view from this afternoon (below.) 


Tractors near the center of the photo harvest corn with a two or four head picker. Look at the other fields, they appear green. Perhaps the farmer needs the grain for cattle feed instead of waiting for kernal dry down.

The next stop of non-typical Iowa came about 10 miles southeast of Balltown along the Mississippi River. Mud Lake offers a camp ground, marina, boat sales and a great bar and grill. There you can watch small boats launch out of a protective harbor into the Mississippi. Sit there long enough to enjoy an adult beverage or two, and you may also spot trains running along the river on the Wisconsin side (this photo is looking from Iowa towards the Cassville, WI direction.)


Continue watching long enough and you may see tow barges hard at work - even on a holiday. This tow pushed two empties (not beer cans) upriver. But that does bring to mind that Wisconsin enjoys beer with higher alcohol content while Iowa is still a 3.2 percent regulated state (aside from specialty beers.)

A few miles further southeast from Mud Lake is an Iowa state preserve that features Indian mounds. This particular area is close to Iowa's Effigy Mounds known for bear and bird shaped mounds. Here the Little Maquoketa River Mounds contain rounded mounds atop a steep hill overlooking the so named river. A journey to the past begins with a stepped trail going up several thousand feet I am sure. 


At the top of your Mount Everest trek is this fenced area which protects the round and elongated mounds. If you can still derive oxygen from the hilltop atmosphere you will be rewarded by a relatively quick descent accompanied with seasonal mosquito attacks.

Finally today, leaving the driftless area and traveling west on Highway 52 brings you to the small town of Luxemberg, Iowa (42.60 N, 91.07 W). A few weeks ago the area experienced violent thunderstorms. Lightning struck and destroyed this church's steeple. Members of the church say the lower portions of the building only sustained some water damage. The congregation does not plan to replace the steeple.

All in all a very diverse Iowa terrain travel day - and all within the famous 42N latitude. Know that.


  1. Oh - - - I THINK I get it!!! Is it 42 DEGREES North - - - your latitude?????

    And, this part of Iowa that you are highlighting in this post looks VERY Wisconsin-ish. That's a compliment in case you wondered - - -

    Also, how did you find my blog??? I always think it is so fun to find out how people find little ole me.

  2. "If you can still derive oxygen from the hilltop atmosphere you will be rewarded by a relatively quick descent accompanied with seasonal mosquito attacks." I love it.

    I knew very little about those effigy mounds--Very interesting!

    I, too, thought that first shot looked very much like Wisconsin. I waved--Did you see me?!

  3. I've only driven through Iowa but it felt much like "home" to me. I don't get to travel anymore, since leaving my Indiana home, so I truly appreciated this tour and the memories. The Mississippi river looks much the same from Iowa as it does from Illinois. I loved your shot of the steps up to the mounds. It would make a great postcard!

    Your writing brought the journey to life for me. Thank you. (visiting from Saturday Sampling)