No, this isn’t about the state. It’s about the river.
On my way home from Bouchercon, the world mystery conference, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earlier this month, I took a diverting drive along the Mississippi River. I started, obviously enough, in Minnesota on state Highway 26, south from La Crescent, a beautiful little bluffy town across from LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
That led me into Iowa, and the little town of Lansing with its steel bridge across the river. You can see from Iowa to Wisconsin on the bridge that sits high across the river, its metal frame ringing under tires warned to go a mere 25 miles an hour while crossing. More about that in a minute.
I saw the bridge initially late in the afternoon on my way to a little motel in Ferryville, Wisconsin. I’d never heard of the town or the motel, but I asked family for suggestions for places to stay on my trip. Turns out the mother of the wife of one my cousins lives in the area and, from her, I learned about the Grandview Motel. (The owners are about ready to retire, in case you want a second career,) It’s the only place I’ve ever stayed where the room instructions include the rules for using the game cleaning station. The place was immaculate, so even if you aren’t hunting ducks or fishing, you might enjoy a sojourn in a place where the vista is 20 miles up and down the Mississippi.
I arrived in time to appreciate sunset and outdoor seating, to meet my hostess, Donna, and settle in for a quiet, relaxing evening. Be warned, the steps in and out of the rooms are a bit steep, so this place might not work for people with limited mobility. But I loved my stay and plan to go back for a mini-writing retreat.
Though you can’t see it in the photo, the motel sits up on a little bluff with the highway and railroad tracks lying between the parking lot and the Mississippi. Only the occasional rumbling of a train on the tracks below broke the silence of the night. But I grew up in a town with two rail lines crossing it, so it was a comforting sound.
I’d planned ahead and packed breakfast foods for the morning. — this is also one of the rare motels that doesn’t include a buffet. But, hey, hunters. — I cleaned up and headed back across the river to Lansing, Iowa, where I’d discovered the Allamakee County Conservation Board’s Driftless Area Education and Visitor Center. There, I found another spectacular view of the Mississippi on its front porches — there are two levels. And I learned about the history of settlement in the area from the first Native Americans through more recent history. There were also some wonderful exhibits — including some snakes and frogs — about wildlife in the area. Look for hands-on learning options you — or kids — will enjoy.
And there were several exhibits about industry after European settlement, including logging, fishing and button making. A wire basket of “button holes” held the remains of mollusk shells after workers — mostly women — had punched shiny buttons from them. Did you know the buttons were called “mother of pearl” because the shell linings are made of nacre, the same thing that coats the outer layer of pearls? That little museum is another place I plan to revisit.
In the meantime, my list of places to go keeps growing.