Cabin Fever is a serious malady during the winter months in Wisconsin. Easy road trips are lifesavers. After faithfully watching regional weather channels, I spotted an opening for a getaway. Dubuque, Iowa is an easy two hour drive and promised eagle watching along the Mississippi River.
Let’s Go Learn Things in Dubuque, Iowa…
Dubuque is carved into the limestone cliffs along the western shore of the Great Mississippi. It was settled by Julien Dubuque, a French-Canadian fur trader, in 1785. He continued his fur trading and established lead mining in the area. The city of Dubuque added logging, millwork, boat construction and meat processing to the thriving port industries.
However, like many 19th century industrial centers, it suffered degradation during the late 20th century. Main street boasts trendy coffee shops, eateries and boutique shopping. Their Millwork District is re-purposing warehouses into craft breweries and nightlife. The city is actively recreating itself and embracing its unique natural geography. Sitting in the corner of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, Dubuque is easily accessed from anywhere in the Midwest. It has developed a riverwalk and beautiful parks along the bluffs.
Bald eagles live along rivers and lakes, eating mostly fish and small mammals. During the winter months when inland lakes and most rivers freeze over, the eagles migrate to areas of open water. Many eagles live along the river year round, but the population grows significantly during the winter months. Along the Mississippi River the locks and dams present open and warm water for the birds to find fish. The Locks and Dams system of the Upper Mississippi was created to provide a consistent 9-foot deep channel for commercial boat traffic. These locks start at #1 in Minneapolis running to #27 in Granite City, IL, just outside of St. Louis.
Lock and Dam #11
We started on the west, Wisconsin side of Lock and Dam #11. As we walked up to the dam we could hear the eagles screeching in the trees overhead. Of course we had nothing set up for photos at that point but enjoyed watching 3 adult eagles glide across the river and up into the bluffs. We scoped out the area for droning the next morning and marveled at the brave( ?crazy?) ice fishermen.
The next morning dawned with a pearly pink glow and we headed back to our spot on the east side of the river. Capturing eagles, or any moving birds with a camera is a tall order. I keep practicing and even rented a telescopic lens for the trip, but missed those 3 big eagles again. The eagles are easily spooked and soar high out of range in mere seconds. However, Tom got some terrific drone footage.
Locke and Dam #12
After the drone flight we needed some warm-up. We headed into town for coffee and hot breakfast at the Sunshine Family Restaurant.
Reinvigorated, we headed south along the Iowa Scenic Byway/Great River Road, Hwy 52, to Bellevue, IA. My advice to you; take any road labeled “scenic”. This was a peaceful ride through rolling hills, farms sloping down to the river valley, bluffs and towering oaks. Bellevue is a sleepy little town right on the river. Its main street sits across from a meandering riverfront park that leads to Lock and Dam #12.
Here the eagles were swooping and riding small ice floes downriver. Dozens were perched across the river in the oak trees.
On our way back up the Scenic Byway we ran across a collection of eagles feeding on a carcass in the fields. The birds were honed in on feeding. My faithful driver swiveled us around and I captured my best shots of the weekend. This was perhaps cheating since the birds were quite stationary on their kill.
Warming Up with Craft Beer
No surprise here! After a day of cold eagle watching I needed to find a craft brewery. Iowa’s oldest brewery was founded in Dubuque in 1898. Craft beer has an amazing quality, it cools us off in the summer heat and warms us up in the winter cold. What did I find in Dubuque?
Jubek New World Brewing Company
We stopped in at the cozy Jubek New World Brewing first. Founders Jay Jubek and Dan Caraway value delicious beer and camaraderie above all else. Sitting at the bar we were served by Dan (who was the one that steered us to Bellevue for eagle watching) who loved to kibitz about his beer and his classic jazz vinyl collection. He told us that the beer list is typically loaded with non-traditionals. On this night it was heavy with IPAs, which suits Tom just fine. From Dan’s recommendation, I enjoyed a mix of the Creamy Vanilla Ale and Robust Porter. The Apricot IPA and X-1Ne were excellent. There is no food at Jubek’s but they will help you find take-out from the local eateries.
7 Hills Brewing
Only open since August of 2017, 7 Hills Brewing states its mission is to produce world class craft beer in the tradition that once permeated Dubuque’s landscape. They are located in the historic Millwork District and are very proud of their re-purposed space. I tasted the seasonals Juletide Spiced Brown Ale and Reflections in the Dark White IPA. The Juletide’s spices did not play nice together to my tastes. I really enjoyed the Reflections in the Dark with a fruity aroma and crisp saison finish. My companions loved the Muddy Tugger Brown Ale and 7 Headed Monster IPA.
Speaking of companions, we had the privilege to meet up with fellow blogger Kylie of Between England & Iowa, and her spouse. It was a great evening of comparing notes. This brewery does serve a nice selection of food. I had one of their Brisket Burgers that was fresh and juicy while the rest had the pretzel crusted pizza.
Street Art Enhances the Dubuque Fun
Voices Productions, an art organization that traditionally hosted cutting-edge art walks in the Millwork District, changed their routine in 2017. They organized a Mural Arts Project for downtown Dubuque walls in 2017. Artists from all over the country have created over 18 murals throughout town. I spotted a couple of them as we pulled in the first day. With a day of lovely January thaw at my disposal, I headed to the Travel Dubuque office in search of a map. Luckily they were literally fresh off the press. The art works are in alleys, along open streets and behind buildings. This may not be an activity you think of when visiting a city. But many urban areas are highlighting this burgeoning art form. Armed with the map and a camera this would be fun for all ages.
Just a couple of my favorites:
Gaia is an artist from New York. He appears on Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in Art and Style. In this installation Gaia showcases the Wild Rose, Iowa’s state flower. He seeks to celebrate the accomplishments of Ada Hayden a preservationist and botanist in the state of Iowa.
This piece “seeks to interrogate the mythology of labor in the United States and who has traditionally been allowed into the ranks of ‘the productive.’ How will our nation transition into the 21st century as our economy becomes increasingly more automated?” -Gaia
Werc was born in Ciudad Juarez, but grew up in El Paso, Texas, where he spent 20 years mastering his craft. Werc paints, collages, and designs based on inspirations that come from symbols, urbanization, letters, language, graffiti, border culture, and the nostalgic humor among immigrant cultures.
How about some Ice Fishing?
Ok, this is NOT my idea of Dubuque fun, or fun of any sort. . Although I can dive to the bottom of the ocean, I have to confess to a certain trepidation about frozen bodies of water. The frozen feet and unknown stability of the ice keep me on the shore shaking my head. But I know many Midwesterners who love this activity.
Dubuque Fun at Eagle Point Park
All the Dubuque residents raved about their Eagle Point Park. The park sits atop the bluff overlooking Lock and Dam #11. Eagle Point Park closes for the winter. However, the worst-kept secret in Dubuque is how to enter through the back gate. I am glad for all the “secret” tips because this was a special place, I can only imagine how spectacular it would be in the summer. The views up and down the river stretched to infinity. Those ice fisherman from above were mere specks. We were hoping to spot the eagles in the late afternoon light. But the locals at the vista point told us they come out only in the morning. Apparently, from the vantage point of the park you are almost eye-level with the soaring birds.