Much like the rest of our trip along the Great River Road (read Part 1 here and Part 2 here), we were very open to where we stopped and when on the way to our last destination in Dubuque, Iowa. We did have one stop planned along the way during the final leg – Potosi Brewing Company – but this stretch of our drive ended up, very unexpectedly, being our absolute favorite.
Not far outside of Lansing, we began to see signs for “Historic Monument: Effigy Mounds.” Each sign featured what appeared to be the shape of a bear attached to it. We thought perhaps it was a place worth stopping – a quick photo-op, if you will – and pulled in once we saw the entrance.
Little did we know, the “monument” contained acres and acres of wooded forest, and the mounds were actually Native American burial sites. It’s a national park that invites visitors to explore and hike and learn about the mounds – which are made in the shapes of animals (some of them bears.)
We didn’t have any other plans, so after spending some time learning more about the site and looking at some found artifacts in the small museum on-site, we decided to take the “short trail” and see what the mounds were all about.
You guys. We ended up climbing a mountain.
I will say, it was totally worth it. Spending a few hours in a beautifully preserved and sacred forest is exactly what my soul needed.
The mounds were scarce at first, but became quite abundant once we reached the top. Read more about these amazing burial grounds here!
Following the trail, we reached an overlook and caught one of the most breathtaking views of the Mississippi.
Up until this point, we’d been exploring by ourselves, but we caught up to the tail end of guided tour, and learned a little more about the mounds and the area.
The tour guide suggested that those who had the time should stop by Pike’s Peak, and since it was on our way, we decided (after descending the mountain, of course) that we’d go there before continuing on.
I’m so glad we did! Check out this view.
We couldn’t stop ooh-ing and ahh-ing and spent nearly an hour just taking it all in.
After Pike’s Peak, we agreed that we needed to head for Potosi Brewing Company if we wanted to get to Dubuque with a bit of evening to spare.
The ride to Potosi took us away from the river and reminded us of the country roads at home. I have to admit, I dozed off for a little while and woke up just as we were entering the “town” of Potosi. If you haven’t heard about it before, the story behind this town and its brewery is really quite moving. You can read about it here.
We had hands-down the best food and drinks of the entire trip at Potosi Brewing, and afterward, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tour the National Brewery Museum built into it. There were thousands of bottles and signs, antique brewing equipment, old beer commercials and radio ads playing, and more to see. Really, that could have been an afternoon in itself! Jeremy was in heaven and I practically had to drag him away.
Back on the road, our intention was to drive straight through to our inn at Dubuque. But as we passed through the tiny village of Dickeytown, just a few miles outside of Dubuque, we came to a screeching halt. There were plenty of things I’d seen during our drive that had caused me to say, “We should stop and see that!” “We should check that out!” But we usually passed on by. This time, we were in the middle of a conversation and I pretty much screamed, “DID YOU SEE THAT? WE NEED TO TURN AROUND RIGHT NOW.”
Jeremy looked at me to determine whether I was joking and I said, “No. There was a building. I think it was a building. It was built of rocks or something. I can’t explain it, but it was amazing. We have to find out what it was. Turn around, now!” And so he did.
And this is what we found.
The Grotto. A grand work – built with no blueprint, out of millions of teensy bits of stone, by a pastor in the 1930s – is meant to represent the relationship between God and Country. You can read more about its history here.
We were in such awe, inspecting every inch of this masterpiece, and so moved. It’s a place we bring up on a regular basis, even long after our visit. Chills.
Much of the ride following The Grotto was silent, with a, “Wow” and, “Can you believe that just happened?” breaking it up every now and then.
Between the mounds, Pike’s Peak, and The Grotto, we were sure we’d had our fill of out-of-this-world beauty for the day, but then we arrived in Dubuque.
We slowly drove up the bluffs, up and up… and up and up a little more, and then we realized we’d driven up just a little too far, so we drove back down a bit, and that’s when we realized the view we’d be taking during our stay at The Hancock House.
Yeah. This may have been the most magical day I’ve ever experienced.
We were greeted by the sweetest innkeeper (a husband and wife duo run the place) who showed us around the beautiful and wonderfully preserved Victorian home.
We stayed in Florence’s room – named after the little girl who grew up there and, who we later learned, was actually born in this room!
Once she saw us to our room and handed us the keys, we took a few minutes to sit and let everything we’d experienced up to this point soak in.
To continue on with the theme of us not really having a plan of action, we caught a bit of the sunset as we walked outside to the car and then drove down, down, down the bluffs into the city.
We drove around a few of the main streets and decided that, following our stop at Potosi, we weren’t hungry enough for dinner, but could do a dessert and drink. So, we pulled into the first place that really stuck out to us – The Shot Tower Inn.
We didn’t have to think twice when we saw churros on the menu, and ordered a plate of them to share along with a drink each. We were so excited to be in town, but as a result of the long day, were struggling to find the energy to do much exploring.
We made our way to one more bar – Eronel – where we had a great time talking to the bartender, who actually wrote us a long list of recommendations should we ever pass through Dubuque again.
Tired, inspired, and ready to relax, we found ourselves back at our inn, on the gorgeous front porch. It was still and quiet, and the city lights looked a million miles away. We spent a long, long time discussing our trip, our need for us to experience new places more often, and some of our personal goals, too.
In the morning, we were treated to a most delicious breakfast, and spent a good deal of time talking to the (husband) innkeeper.
He was full of stories – about the city, the house, his childhood and family, and even had a lot to offer about both the industries that Jeremy and I work in. We could have easily spent an entire day chatting with him!
With the desire to get back home at a reasonable time, we limited ourselves to just an hour in the city before hitting the road.
We stopped into a couple of antique shops, and picked out some souvenirs for our families, then grabbed coffee for the road at Monks.
We had to pass back through Wisconsin a bit en route to Indiana, and we couldn’t leave the state without stocking up on cheese curds. And we may have tweaked our route just a bit to include one last visit to The Grotto.
With cheese curds and a lifetime of memories in tow, we made our way back home.