Tag Archives: travel

The Ozarks

The Ozarks is another often overlooked, but interesting, part of America. Located mostly in Missouri and Arkansas, Ozarks is a physiographic as well as cultural region with boundaries quite difficult to define. Most Europeans (and some Americans too), have probably never even heard about it. Which is a shame as it is a fascinating place.

I started my Ozarks exploration in the capitol city of Arkansas, Little Rock. The capitol building was an obvious place to start. You might have realised by now that as a bit of geek I never skip capitol building if I’m close to one. The Arkansas capitol is so similar to the national one in Washington DC that it was apparently used as a substitute by film crews on a few occasions. The interior offers the usual mix of frescoes which sometimes makes you feel more like you’re in an ancient Roman temple or renaissance church than in government building. It is fun nonetheless.

But the biggest attraction of Little Rock is the William J Clinton Presidential Library, one of 13 currently administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries. Located right next to the Arkansas River, on 30 acres of a former run-down warehouse district, it is a great example of urban renewal. Exhibits are of course quite biased (no mention of Monica here) as the place was founded by donations from Bill supporters. You can see the presidential limo and the full size replica of the oval office among the more serious documents. The building itself is quite an attractive, cantilevered, steel and glass structure reaching into the river. The whole complex is located in a nicely landscaped park just a short walk away from the River Market district, in itself an attractive part of Little Rock.

Next I headed west to Hot Springs which is a historic spa town as well as a national park. In fact it is the oldest federal reserve which makes it the oldest part of the National Park System, even older than the famous Yellowstone or Yosemite. There are 47 hot springs protected in the historic downtown district of the city. The most interesting part of the town, and a great place for an afternoon stroll, is the Bathhouse Row. It consists of eight historic buildings from the beginning of the 20th century and is managed by the National Park Service. Two buildings (Buckstaff and Quapaw) still operate as a spas, another one (Fordyce) was converted into a museum and visitor centre. The bathhouses are all quite eclectic buildings in neoclassical, renaissance-revival, Spanish and Italianate styles aligned in a linear pattern with formal entrances, outdoor fountains, promenades and other landscape-architectural features.

Hot Springs was for many years an illegal gambling mecca and among its many guests was Al Capone, whose favourite retreat was the impressive Arlington Hotel which still dominates the town’s skyline. A great way of getting orientated is a visit to the viewing tower on top of the Hot Springs Mountain offering fantastic panorama of the whole town. Alternatively, (if you don’t want to pay the tower admission for example) there are good viewpoints on the West Mountain Drive.

North of the Hot Springs I entered deep into the Ouachita Mountains. These low but rugged mountains are technically hills, but let’s not be too precise and allow for some justified exaggeration. Ouachitas are not geologically part of the Ozarks Plateau but they are often included in the wider, cultural meaning of the Ozarks. And the scenery is definitely mountainous and even more scenic than further north. I chose state Hwy 7, officially designated as an Arkansas Scenic Byway and it was an excellent choice. The road twists and turns deep into the lush forested countryside and every moment offers new great views. Traffic was sparse, surface smooth and nicely profiled curves made it an absolutely fantastic drive. Not to enjoy it you must either hate driving or suffer severe motion sickness. By the way, if you have any of the aforementioned problems you shouldn’t visit rural America in the first place.

After two hours of fun I arrived to the Magazine Mountain State Park. With an elevation of 839 m it is the highest point in the state of Arkansas. Fortunately for all the lazy folks you can drive almost to the top of it and from the parking lot it is just short walk to the highest spot itself. Unfortunately, Magazine Mountain is a flat topped plateau and the highest point is in the middle of the forest so there is no view whatsoever. But don’t be worry, there are good vista points along the road encircling the mountain and some of them offer truly spectacular panorama of the surrounding landscape.

Still heading north I crossed the Arkansas River and entered the Ozarks proper. This time I chose the state Hwy 23. It is another Arkansas scenic byway, imaginatively called Pig Trail Scenic Byway due to its steep hills and hairpin turns, especially in the middle section. Later the land gets a bit less forested, more of the farmland, and less mountainous. Traffic was as sparse as on Hwy 7 before, so it was another splendid drive. Good empty road and country music made a perfect combination. I was really enjoying every minute of it.

Route 23 led me straight into an absolute gem of the Ozarks. The town of Eureka Springs. I have to admit that before planning this trip I had never really heard about it. I guess most people in Europe, and many in the US as well, are in exactly the same situation. I find it a real shame as this small town (population just over 2000) is absolutely fantastic. The area always had a reputation as a healing place and when Europeans arrived they quickly established a spa town. By the middle of the 19th century it was a flourishing tourist destination. The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a unique Victorian resort village. Its steep, winding streets are filled with well preserved Victorian villas and mansions, many with lush gardens. Due to the hilly topography some buildings have street level entrances on more than one floor. For example the Catholic Church has a street-level entrance to its bell tower. Many of the old houses were converted to small, independently run, B&Bs and hotels while buildings in the historic downtown offer some interesting shopping.

The best way of exploring Eureka Springs is simply to wander aimlessly for hours. Getting lost greatly enhances the experience. Just remember to take an extra memory card and batteries because the place is so photogenic, you won’t be able to stop snapping picture after picture. The inhabitants are a friendly, diverse crowd, with a sizeable artistic and retired community. It’s a bit out of place in the conservative and homogeneous Ozarks.

But the traditional south is never far away. Just outside of town there is a big (seven-storey high to be precise), concrete statue of Jesus, known as Christ of the Ozarks. It is a rather kitschy structure, part of the religious entertainment complex. You can actually see it above the trees looking south from Eureka Springs.

One religious attraction you definitely shouldn’t miss is the Thorncrown Chapel. Built in 1980, it is one of the most stunning buildings I have ever seen. The structure, constructed largely of local wood and other materials, gives the impression of being open-air but is in fact glass-enclosed. And because it is located in the dense forest when you enter inside you still somehow feel outside and connected to the nature. It’s an absolutely amazing piece of art, architecture and human ingenuity. It is located a few miles west of Eureka Springs, just off the US Hwy 62.

I place Eureka Springs high on the list of my favourite American destinations, but the most popular destination in the Ozarks is actually the town of Branson, located just across the state border in Missouri.

Sometimes called the Live Music Show Capital of the World it is a family friendly place whose biggest attractions are various live shows. According to some statistics it has actually more theatre seats than NYC’s Broadway. Some less enthusiastic folks call it Las Vegas for the hillbillies and seniors, which might be a bit harsh judgement, but it’s definitely not my sort of thing. So after a really tasty barbecue I continued moving north heading towards Kansas City, which I describe in different article. As I already mentioned the Ozarks boundaries are hard to define but somewhere between Springfield and KC you will see the landscape getting definitely less exciting.

The Ozarks have much more to offer than I described here; wild rivers, lakes, rugged topography, great barbecue joints hidden in small towns and much, much more. I simply didn’t have enough time to explore it all. I especially wish I had spent more time in the Missouri part of the Ozarks. Well, maybe next time. All I can say after my short visit, it is definitely an underrated region and well worth visiting.

Wild Wild West

Kansas is one of the states I always wanted to visit. Maybe it’s not a place full of well-known world-class attractions but its name and image evokes classic pictures of America. The idea of going there was chasing me for the last few years, so planning my US trip for 2011 I decided to include it in my itinerary.

My tour of the southern plains started in Kansas City (KC) which, confusingly, is located in Missouri. Well, to make things even more complicated there are actually two Kansas Cities neighbouring each other, one in Missouri and one in Kansas. The one in Missouri is the proper city, with the classic American downtown, while the KC in Kansas is rather just a suburb. KC was traditionally seen as the gateway to the west. Cattle driven from Texas and other places by cowboys were slaughtered here or loaded into trains heading east, and migrants going west changed from trains to horse wagons.

Two main attractions of Kansas City are located next to each other, just south of downtown. The Union Station, a classic American train station representing the golden age of railways was one of the most important and busiest stations in the USA, and the Beaux-Arts building was the second-largest station in the nation when it opened in 1914. Nowadays it is nicely renovated and home to a family-friendly science museum (including 3D cinema and planetarium), Irish Museum, shops, restaurants and café. What is the most impressive is the size and architecture of the building itself. It indicates how busy a station had to be during its heyday. Ironically, it is now serving only four trains and around 400 passengers a day. Right next to the station is the Liberty Memorial. Opened in 1926, it is a monument commemorating soldiers fallen during World War I. Built in Egyptian Revival style, it is an impressive structure indeed, topped by tall tower. Surrounded by a nice park and located on a hill overlooking downtown KC, the monument grounds are a great place for a stroll or a picnic.

From KC I drove west, entering the real Kansas. First stop, Lawrence, which is a small town, home of University of Kansas, and located about 60km from KC. It offers a relaxed atmosphere, some good food, coffee and shopping. Among the shops is Kansas Sampler, offering all things Kansas, like clothing (especially connected to various Kansas sport teams), magnets, cards, food etc; a great place to fill your suitcase with gifts. Another shop, which seriously puzzled me, was called “Brits”. Selling all sorts of British goods, it wouldn’t be out of place in touristy part of London. But in the middle of Kansas? Weird.

Next stop Topeka, capital of Kansas. Apart from the state capitol, it is not a particularly interesting place. Of course I did visit the Kansas State Capitol, but unfortunately it was undergoing reconstruction work, so tours were severely limited. It is a classic capitol building, two wings dominated by a massive dome, and it’s one of the tallest among all the capitols.

West of Topeka, settlements become smaller and distances between them get longer. This is Kansas how I have always imagined it. And I was absolutely loving it. After leaving the major freeway (I-70 to be precise) at Manhattan (yes there is a Manhattan in Kansas), I took Kansas Hwy 177 south. Called Flint Hills Scenic Byway, it is a really great drive. The road is winding between and on top of the gently rolling hills covered with natural pastures. Due to cherty soil, the land is better suited to ranching than farming. Because of this, the Flint Hills is still largely native prairie grassland, one of the last great preserves of tall-grass prairie in the country. Lack of trees allows for some amazing uninterrupted vistas which for me are an important part of the American experience. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near the Strong City shouldn’t be missed. Offering self-guided walking trails, which let you get close to this amazing environment, as well as historic 1881 ranch, it is run by the National park Service and a charity called Nature Conservancy. From there, a scenic stretch of Hwy 177 continues to the outskirts of Wichita, which being the largest city in Kansas was convenient place for an overnight stop.

Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita was probably the best unexpected attraction during my trip. I would have missed it if I didn’t stop overnight in Wichita as I found a leaflet about it in the motel I was staying in. Initially I thought it was simply a collection of old buildings but it is actually much more than that. It is a living history museum with actors in period clothes creating an authentic Old West atmosphere. It is absolutely brilliant. There is a saloon where you can buy the old-taste lemonade, blacksmith shop where you can watch a blacksmith at work, newspaper office with presentations of old printing methods, plus many other buildings like the sheriff’s office, dry goods store, train station, hotel, drugstore or bank, which you can enter and explore yourself. You can also join the horse wagon rides and watch occasional shoot-out on the main street. Most of the buildings are authentic and brought to the museum to save them from destruction at their original locations. I was there for a few hours, which passed surprisingly fast while I had a lot of fun. After few minutes in the museum it is really possible to forget we have 21st century already. For anyone anywhere close to Wichita this place is a must-see destination.

Leaving Wichita I turned west again. Density of population went down quite dramatically and I could feel I was entering what was once called the Wild West. I chose US Hwy 160 which in this part of Kansas is called Gypsum Hills Scenic Byway. It was another great drive but landscape was quite different from that of the Flint Hills. Hills here were less round but rather more dramatic buttes with steep colourful slopes and flat tops. Ranching dominates here as well but vegetation was drier than that in the Flint Hills. The road was straight but going up and down, without end.

Moving further west and north, going towards the famous Dodge City, I entered the classic wheat-growing regions of Kansas. With roads stretching indefinitely towards the distant horizon and endless fields on the both sides of the highway you could feel like crossing some sort of wheat ocean. Only the telegraph poles and some distant wind farms provided vertical attractions in this mostly horizontal landscape. With the sun setting and country music playing, there is no better way of travelling. Forget luxury cruises or flying first class, forget nice restaurants or posh hotels. Cheap motels full of truck drivers and fast food joints, where a small size drink comes in a one gallon cup, is the way to go in these parts of the country.

Dodge City, with a population of 27,000 souls, feels like a real metropolis in this empty bit of the great plains. It was once the wildest of the frontier towns with characters like Wyatt Earp, James Earp, Ed Masterson and Doc Holliday serving as law enforcement. Nowadays Dodge is a sleepy western town where pick-up trucks dominate streetscape in the same way as yellow cabs do in the Manhattan. You can explore its colourful past in the Boot Hill Museum, whose name comes from Boot Hill Cemetery where cowboys were once buried with their boots on. It is another living history museum but much smaller than the one in Wichita. The big difference is also the fact that buildings here are reconstructions rather than original ones.

Crossing from Kansas to Colorado is surprisingly anti-climatic. Most people thinking of Colorado think of spectacular mountains. In reality the eastern third of the state is effectively an extension of Kansas with a flat landscape dominated by farming and ranching. But there are interesting things to see, too. One of them is Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site near La Junta. It features a reconstructed 1840’s adobe fur trading post on the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail where traders, trappers, travellers, and Plains Indian tribes came together for trade. Kit Carson was employed there as a hunter, and the explorer John C Frémont used it as a staging area. Today, living historians recreate the sights, sounds, and smells of the past with guided tours and demonstrations. It is all really well done and the fort is nicely located on the banks of the Arkansas River.

Moving further south, there is the Texas panhandle, one vast expanse of bleak, flat land. Driving the Interstate 40, one can think there is nothing really to see but there are some hidden gems. And I don’t mean the largest cross in the western hemisphere (located in Groom and not really hidden, as you can see it for miles from the freeway), or the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo. Cadillac Ranch is a quirky and interesting public art installation, and a great photo stop, but the real treasure of the panhandle is the Palo Duro State Park, sometimes called the Great Canyon of Texas. Well, it’s not really the Grand Canyon, but with depths of up to 300m, an average width of 10km and a length of almost 200km, it is an impressive geological feature. The park offers walking, biking and horse-riding trails among colourful rocky outcrops in the form of hoodoos, buttes, steep-walled mesas and other crazy shapes. As Georgia O’Keeffe once wrote, “It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and colour.” The best time to visit is late afternoon when the temperature is lower and the light is good for photography. If you have only a bit of time, it is still worth stopping by and admiring this amazing landscape from the few viewpoints along the access road. If time allows, it is a great place for camping too.

For those interested in route 66 experiences, I recommend a stop in Shamrock, where a renovated art deco gas station, the “U-Drop-Inn Cafe”, serves as tourist information.

The next state on my journey was Oklahoma, which is also the 40th state I have visited (yeah, just 10 more to go). I crossed from Texas to Oklahoma in the town of Texola. It is located only 28 seconds from the 100th meridian which forms a border between the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma. During the early times its inhabitants lived in both of the states without ever moving, as the town was surveyed eight times. It was also aptly named Texokla and Texoma. To be honest I would never have stopped there if I wasn’t in search of historic Route 66. It is possible to drive some surviving bits of it, just west of town, but it was actually just a disappointing stretch of old two-lane concrete highway. Nothing special. I have to admit I never understood all the fuss about Route 66 but had to check if I was right in my scepticism. I was. There are more scenic roads in America, there are longer roads, and there are more impressive roads. Roads which actually still exist as opposed to Route 66. I blame clever marketing for all this madness.

Texola itself was surprisingly interesting. With only 36 inhabitants (according to 2010 census) it is practically a ghost town. Many buildings (including gas station which was once serving Route 66 – for those into these things) are falling apart or are completely overgrown; usually both. A great photo opportunity, but I seriously wonder where these 36 people live.

Oklahoma is greener than Texas and less flat. I recommend going off the main freeway and enjoy driving its peaceful state highways. For example Oklahoma Hwy 152 is a great alternative to busy interstate 40. Probably the most unexpected attraction in the state is Wichita Mountains. With a maximum of 750m elevation, they are not true mountains but the granite peaks are still rather unexpected and dominant in the gently rolling state. A big part of the region is protected by the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge which, covered by the remnants of mixed grass prairie, is host to herds of bison and longhorn cattle as well as a colony of super-cute prairie dogs. Kids will love them. One place not to miss is definitely Mount Scott. From its rocky 751m peak you will get probably one of the best views in the Great Plains. Absolutely spectacular, especially just before the sunset. You can drive all the way to the top and the mountain road drive is fun in itself.

Bordering the wildlife refuge is Fort Sill. An active military installation, it is also a National Historic Landmark. You can visit it, but you will be asked for ID at the checkpoint. Fort Sill was built by General Sheridan in 1860s during the, so called, Indian Wars and it is one of the best preserved military outposts from that period. Many of the original stone buildings (most of which are still standing) were constructed by the famous 10th Cavalry, a group of black “buffalo soldiers”. Among the scouts stationed in the fort were Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok. Geronimo was prisoner here and is buried at the fort; his grave is accessible to visitors. In short, Fort Sill has a fascinating history which is impossible to condense here.

I finished my Wild West experience in Oklahoma City where, as per tradition, I couldn’t skip the state capitol. It was a strange experience as it was Sunday, and apart from the guard at the gate, I was probably the only person in this vast building. It is actually the last capitol finished in the United States as its dome was only added in 2002. It is also the only capitol with its own active oil well.

Oklahoma City become unfortunately well known in 1995 when its federal building was bombed. Today, the well-designed Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorates 168 victims of that event. Located in the downtown, right in the place where the building was standing, it is a nice place to stroll or for a moment of reflection. On the neighbouring building, now hosting a museum, you can still see a damaged fire-escape staircase. To cheer things up during my visit, the whole city was in the heat of NBA playoffs because its team, Oklahoma City Thunder, was doing very well.

The Wild West is difficult to really define. Is it a place? Is it period of time? All I can say is that my trip across Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Texas and Colorado had something which made me feel I’m a bit closer to understanding what the Wild West really is.

And I want to go back!

Mississippi River

Mississippi is difficult word. Especially for non native English speaker, like me, all those double consonants were impossible to memorize. Only after some years I learnt how to spell it. It is also one of those names which start imagination. When I was young I was looking at maps of USA and this great river was always catching my attention. Then there were books, (anyone remembers Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer) and movies which placed Mississippi deep in my head. Finally, last summer, I decided to visit central USA, including the Mississippi river valley.

I started my trip in rather unusual place which was Davenport, Iowa. Now, it is not where most people start travelling alongside the Mississippi River. Iowa in general is not a state where tourists are going in droves. In my case I had to cross it on my way from the great plains of Dakotas and Nebraska to the Great River itself. Davenport didn’t really look like city worth stopping, (apart from the night in a cheap motel), so I immediately crossed to Moline, Illinois, which I would probably pass as well but I got lost. But let’s start from the beginning. I got off the highway to stop at the Illinois welcome center. Most states in the US operate tourist information centers alongside the major interstates. They are usually real mines of useful, as well as useless, information, brochures and glossy magazines. After getting all I needed I was trying to go back to the interstate 80 but somehow ended up in Moline. Driving up and down, trying to get back to the freeway, I found place called the John Deere pavilion. John Deere is one of the American icons. In the Midwest John Deere baseball cap is as important part of the local clothing as Stetson hat is in the American west. Pavilion itself, apart from great gift shop full of toy machines and branded clothing, offered a chance of getting into some seriously big machines. Where else could you try how it feels to sit in the driver’s seat of a combine harvester or the 8345RT tractor with caterpillars instead of wheels? If you have even a bit of child left in you, don’t skip this place!

From Moline I used main roads away from the river to get to Hannibal, Missouri where the real trip along the Mississippi started. Hannibal is small, quintessentially American, town famous as a place where Mark Twain grew up. The town became inspiration for fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Nowadays the biggest attractions in town are those connected to the great writer himself like his boyhood home, museum or J.M. Clemens Justice of the peace office (Mark’s father office). But the best way of experiencing the town is to wonder aimlessly around its few streets enjoying lazy atmosphere. South of town there is a vista point on top of the high bluff which offers great view of the Mississippi valley and the town of Hannibal itself. Similarly good view you can find north of downtown from the lighthouse. Yes, there is a lighthouse in Hannibal, thousands of kilometers from the nearest ocean.

The best way of following Mississippi is to drive the Great River Road, a well marked scenic byway, running almost the entire length of the river. It uses local, county and state highways on both banks of the river as close to the water as possible. Navigation is made easy by signs featuring steering wheel but it helps to have some detailed map as this road can be a bit more complicated than you might expect from a popular tourist route. I decided to follow eastern branch of it which offered a taste of the real rural Illinois. Fields, farms, small towns, lush greenery and heat.

After passing towns Quincy and Warsaw I arrived to Nauvoo. It is small town, with population just above one thousand, but historically quite important. In 1839 group of Mormons settled there, among them Joseph Smith founder of the religion and Brigham Young, leader who after death of Smith led Mormons west to Utah territory. Because of that it is a place where you can probably see more Utah license plates than anywhere outside the Utah itself. Today Nauvoo is a very well preserved town with number of historic houses and local businesses (like black smith shop, bakery, post office or gunsmith shop) looking almost exactly as they did 160 years ago. There is also replica of the historic temple. Build in 2002 but looks identical as the original one.

North of Nauvoo I continued along the Great River Road. It wasn’t the most spectacular part of it. Land was flat and I couldn’t see river from the road as it was hidden behind the tall levees. Finally, I spend a night on some god forgotten campground where mosquitoes wanted to eat me alive.
In northern Illinois things got much more interesting. High bluffs appeared on the both sides of the river with road squeezed between them and the Mississippi itself. One of the best places to explore this varied topography is Mississippi Palisades State Park. Short hiking trails lead from parking lots to scenic overlooks from where you can see the river valley stretching for miles north and south. Apart from a spectacular topography, the northern Illinois (and Iowa on the western bank of Mississippi) offer interesting small towns like Fulton, Clinton, Savanna or Sabula, the last one located on the island in the middle of the river.

The most famous of them is actually few miles of the Mississippi. Galena at its peak in the mid-19th century was booming mining community with population of 14,000. Now, with only 3,500 inhabitants, it is much more quiet place. Its downtown is almost completely preserved and is full of historic houses and churches located on a hilly terrain. One of the main attractions is home of general Ulysses S. Grant, the civil war hero. The whole town is a perfect place for lazy stroll, doing some shopping, or having a nice meal. It is also very photogenic but the best time to take pictures is in the earlier part of the day as it is located mostly on the north-western slopes and in the afternoon you will have sun facing you. After Galena I left Mississippi river valley for a while and moved inland to southern Wisconsin. My destination was town of New Glarus. As the name suggests it was established as a Swiss community and even now in the countryside surrounding the highway leading there you can spot farms proudly displaying Swiss flags next to the American ones. The town itself offers quite bizarre experience with some pseudo-alpine buildings. In some moments you can get really confused. Are we still in USA? But all this unashamed commercialization hide community with really interesting history. You can explore it in Swiss Historical Village which preserve some original wooden buildings from the early pioneer times. At the end you can have pizza in pizzeria Ticino, which looks exactly like moved from the Alps.

After continuing my detour to Madison, where I visited Wisconsin State Capitol, it was time to get back to the river. In Wisconsin the Great River Road follows state highway 35 and it is a truly spectacular drive. One place which you shouldn’t miss is the Wyalusing State Park at the confluence of Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers, just south of the Prairie Du Chien. It offers spectacular views from the 150m tall bluffs, on top of which you can find prehistoric Indian mounds. Campground in the park has some of the best tent sites I have seen in my life. They are located right on the bluffs edge so you can see spectacular views practically from your tent. Unfortunately they have to be reserved in advance, so I couldn’t stay there. That caused other problems. There was some convention or gathering going on the weekend I was there so all the hotels in Prairie Du Chien, and also in town of McGregor on the Iowa side of river, were full. I ended up driving over 20 miles west, inland into rural Iowa, to the town of Postville where I stayed in the worst motel in my life. Doggy, dirty, creepy, with bad service and not as cheap as you could imagine.

Anyway, the following morning weather was great and I got back to the river in a good mood indeed. North of Prarie Du Chien lays probably the most spectacular part of the Mississippi Valley. Almost all the way to the outskirts of St. Paul (about 200 miles away) you encounter one amazing vista after another one. The valley is also dotted with small towns like Ferryville, Genoa, Stockholm, De Soto or Alma. They usually contain few houses, a bar or two, local shop, sometimes a gas station, all which makes them very tranquil. It is also fun to cross the river on some narrow and steep steel bridges linking Wisconsin with northern Iowa and southern Minnesota. It is big attraction especially for road and bridge geeks like me. One of the best spots to enjoy the great view of the Mississippi valley is Garvin Heights City Park in Winona, Minnesota. Located just off the US Hwy 61, this view point offers an amazing vista of Winona, which is located in the middle of the valley, and the surrounding countryside. Equally good view you can find from Wabasha Overlook at the outskirts of the town of Wabasha, also in Minnesota just few miles up the river. The difference is that if you can drive to the viewpoint in Winona you have to climb to the one in Waabasha. The landscape is really impressive all the way to suburbs of the Twin Cities.

It was my dream for many years to follow the Mississippi river. I red books about it, explored maps, watched movies etc. And I have to say I wasn’t disappointed seeing it in reality.