The Great River Road, Part 5: Prairie du Chien, WI to Chicago, IL

Sometimes luck is with you, and sometimes not, but the important thing is to take the dare. Those who climb mountains or raft rivers understand this. – David Brower

August 27, 2015 – Day 6 – Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin to Rochelle, Illinois

View from the Effigy Mounds
View from the Effigy Mounds

 We awoke in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, but soon crossed the Great River to spend the morning on the Iowa side. Although Lil Jan never expressed this, I could tell she was in the mood to learn something about the Late Woodland Period, 1400-750 B.C. To scratch that itch, I took her to the Effigy Mounds National Monument. The Effigy Mound builders built mounds around the Upper Mississippi River for burial purposes, and perhaps also for ceremonies and to mark boundaries. No one knows for sure. What set these mound builders apart from others is that their mounds were shaped like animals, especially bears and birds. So after a short but steep hike, we began trying to locate and identify some of the more than 200 mounds in this national park. We agreed on the little bear mound, perhaps aided by the sign that said “Little Bear Mound”. However, there was some disagreement and discussion on others, like whether a mound was a chipmunk or squirrel. (It was a chipmunk.) We enjoyed the incredible views of the Great River and pretty much having the park to ourselves.

We're thinking this is the bear-shaped mound
We’re thinking this is the bear-shaped mound
Mounds from the Air
Model of Mounds from the Air

Our next stop was nearby Pikes Peak State Park, one of the most photographed places in Iowa. From atop the Mississippi River’s highest bluff, we got a magnificent, 500-foot high view of the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers. Back down the bluff, it was time for some antique shopping in historic McGregor, founded in 1847 and hometown of the circus community’s Ringling brothers.

My BFF at Pike's Peak
My BFF at Pikes Peak

We headed back across the river to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin’s second oldest city. It was here where Canadian fur trader Louis Joliet and French Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette became the first white men to enter the upper Mississippi River in 1673. Had they celebrated by jumping out of their canoes into said river, they could have proven that white men can, in fact, jump…336 years before Blake Griffin did so. Next up was the location of the original Fort Crawford, which played a role in the War of 1812. It was also here where Sauk leader Black Hawk surrendered after the Black Hawk War of 1832. Jefferson Davis was stationed at the fort as a lieutenant and Zachary Taylor, our twelfth president, commanded it as a colonel. Our role at the fort was to drive by it.

Villa Louis Survives Flood
Villa Louis Survives Flood

Our next drive-by was of Villa Louis, the 1870 mansion of the prominent Dousman family that is now a National Historic Landmark. The estate sits on the mostly vacant St. Feriole Island. That got me wondering…why is a beautiful 240-acre island, prime real estate on the Mississippi River, mostly vacant? It turns out that the massive Flood of 1965 submerged the island. It had flooded many times before but never to this extent. After considering many alternatives, Congress ultimately authorized the government to acquire 121 homes and businesses and relocate the people, homes, and businesses to higher ground off the island. In their place, the city eventually built ball fields, gardens, and parks. The flood mostly spared Villa Louis because it was on elevated ground. St. Feriole Island became the second city or neighborhood we’ve encountered on our trip (along with Hibbing, Minnesota) to be completely relocated…this time due to Mother Nature.

This is Where We'll Meet
This is Where We’ll Meet

As we headed out of town, we drove past the Hungry House Café. I felt compelled to pull over for a picture. Then I looked over into Lil Jan’s eyes that looked like heaven. I got a funny feeling up and down my spine, which turned out just to be gas.  I said, “Tonight I’m gonna meet you, at this Hungry House Café…and I’m gonna give you all the love I can, yes I am.” And with her heart clearly on fire, she looked deep into my eyes and said, “Giddy up oom poppa omm poppa mow mow, Giddy up oom poppa omm poppa mow mow.”   It was a special bonding moment for us. With our credentials as biggest nerds in the world re-validated, I started up the RV and we heigh-ho silvered away.

Chicago-style Pizza!
Chicago-style Pizza + Lasagna!

Needing to get a little warranty work done on the RV near Chicago, it was time to make a detour off the Great River Road and head east. We arrived at the Rochelle, Illinois Wal-Mart to set up camp. While a more thoughtful guy would have taken his wife for dinner and a movie, we decided on dinner and laundry. Yes, it was laundry night and I was more than a little excited to experience my first public Laundromat and get clean socks.   Besides, what could be more romantic than watching a black and white TV stuck on the Home Shopping Network, sitting on plastic elementary school chairs, and listening to the hum of appliances? Actually, these places tend to attract a rather interesting, lower to middle-class slice of American people…people like us. One guy put a load of clothes in and then lay down next to the vending machine in the back for a nap. A mother and daughter leaned against the folding table by the driers discussing the daughter’s boyfriend and their plans for the weekend. A sweet, very short Hispanic couple came in with their young son. They laughed a lot and dad chased their son around the rows of washers and dryers while mom did most of the work. Meanwhile, Lil Jan and Big Steve fed enough quarters into the machines to do three loads, and then did our own share of laughing as Lil Jan videotaped me folding her purple panties. Next time, she can fold her own underwear and I’ll go take a nap by the vending machine.

August 28, 2015 – Day 7 – Chicago, Illinois

We dropped our RV off at the dealership west of Chicago and had about 7 hours to kill. Our options were to find a nearby mall and walk/shop all day, find a coffee house and rest/read all day, or head further east to take on Chicago. Chicago is too cool of a city to pass up, so we took the Fit to the nearest train station, and took a 1.5-hour train ride into downtown Chicago.

Millennium Park, Chicago

Click on following link for video clip…


Trying to do Chicago justice in just a few hours is really impossible, so we had to make some choices. We had toured the city years ago with our boys and visited the Navy Pier and shopped on Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile. So this time, our priorities were simple: (1) eat a Chicago-style pizza, and (2) hang out at Millennium Park. We headed to Giordano’s for lunch, where I feasted on pizza and Lil Jan had the lasagna. After glancing up at the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), the second tallest building in the United States, we walked to Millennium Park and did some people watching. The highlight for me was the giant video display of people’s faces, with water shooting out of their mouths onto little children. Unfortunately, we had a train to catch, and an RV to pick up, so we headed back to Union Station and said farewell to Chicago. Despite the high murder rate, Chicago is a beautiful and interesting city to explore. I kind of wish we had taken the time to visit one of their Laundromats.

Big Steve

Click on link for final video clip…


What you talkin bout Willis?

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