There are no locks and dams on the lower Mississippi River, but there are 29 of them operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers on the Upper Mississippi between St. Louis and St. Paul. The elevation drops 420 feet between these 2 cities. Some of the lock and dam facilities can be visited. Our favorite is at Illinois’ Rock Island Arsenal, an ongoing US Army operation on an almost thousand-acre island in the Mississippi. The Mississippi River Visitors Center is at Lock and Dam 15, providing a fine opportunity to observe a working lock and dam. This entire island is interesting, and the first bridge to span the Mississippi was built here in 1856. Unfortunately, it was rammed by a steamboat and destroyed. The bridge company that built it hired Abraham Lincoln to represent it in court and his national reputation grew.
The Great River Road is a series of interconnecting highways usually marked as scenic on maps. After visiting Galena, Il, I recommend crossing the Mississippi at Dubuque and having a look at this close to 60,000 people river community. The Mississippi this far north looks far less industrial and more like a natural river. Great River Road travelers have to make the difficult choice of driving along the river either in Iowa or Wisconsin. I tend to favor Iowa over Wisconsin but both are hilly and scenic. Wisconsin has the larger communities, Prairie du Chien and La Crosse, but Iowa has Effigy Mounds National Monument and a chance for a little side trip to an interesting little town called Spillville. Highway 76 to it is marked as scenic, and the town itself is enjoyable and little known. In 1893, composer Antonin Dvorak spent his summer here because Spillville had become a refuge for Czech citizens. The string quartet he composed as a result of his visit is subtitled “The American”. The unusual Bily Clock Museum in Spillville is worth seeing, and the town is widely known locally for its Fourth of July fireworks.
The Mississippi River Parkway Commission map I mentioned yesterday lists 13 things to do in Iowa and 6 in Wisconsin, including the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center in Prescott. From La Crosse to the Twin Cities is only about 100 miles if you stay on Federal Highway 61. St. Paul and Minneapolis are the 4th and 5th cities on the Mississippi, and both have a number of excellent tourist attractions like the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul and the Mall of America in Minneapolis.
Ruth and I still haven’t yet followed the Great River Road all the way to Lake Itasca State Park, the Mississippi River’s source. It’s about 200 miles further and, I hear, worth doing. Maybe in 2019. Itasca is Minnesota’s oldest state park and a land of 100 lakes where you can actually step across The Mighty Mississippi before its water travels 2,552 miles to reach the Gulf of Mexico. On the way to this park we will probably visit the Judy Garland Museum in Grand Rapids, MN. She was from this town.