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Dubuque, Iowa: Hidden Gem on the Mississippi

We had originally planned on spending a full month traveling across Nebraska and Iowa. As it turns out, that's just as hard to do as it sounds. We crossed the two massive states in about 10 days and were forced to reexamine our strategy. We decided to curve up through Wisconsin before heading straight to Chicago and are really happy we did as we would have never stumbled across the wonderfully quaint and rustic town of Dubuque, Iowa.

Dubuque is an old Spanish mining town nestled right against the Mississippi River in north eastern Iowa. The town was originally settled in 1788 when Julien Dubuque began operations mining for lead and iron ore. Brick streets, old churches, abandoned industrial buildings and various French and Spanish architecture are found throughout the city, making it an absolute pleasure to explore.

Much of the town is situated on hillsides, inspiring us to drive around and explore as well. While driving, we accidentally stumbled across another little gem just outside of town - The Mines of Spain State Recreation Area. The road running through the park winds through dense trees and foliage and hiking trails can be found throughout.  We happened to notice a random set of stairs leading into the woods, so we decided to pull over to explore further. As it turns out, these stairs lead to some amazing views. We came across a stunning spot known as Horeshoe Bluff, which overlooks the Mississippi River as well as a ravine surrounded by 200 foot dolomite cliff lines and hanging ivy. We descended a few flights of wooden stairs into the ravine which eventually led us out to an isolated pond. We enjoyed some quiet reflection as the rain drops and pond conspired together to dazzle us with a hypnotizing performance.

After spending an enjoyable afternoon at The Mines of Spain, we headed back in to Dubuque with the intentions of getting some blog work done at the local library.  Our time at the library was short lived when Meisha stumbled across a random set of stairs leading up through a tunnel-like structure.  She coaxed me (Josh) out of the library to show me what she'd found.  We wandered up the old stairs to a stunning overlook of the city.  We learned that the tunnels used to house an elevator which is described at the world's steepest scenic railway at 296 feet in length.   The original cable car, which was built for Mr. J.K. Graves' (former state senator) private use, had a plain wood building, that housed a coal-fired steam engine boiler and winch. A wooden Swiss-style car was hauled up and down on two rails by a hemp rope.  Mr. Graves' cable car operated for the first time on July 25, 1882. After that, he had his gardener let him down in the morning, bring him up at noon, down after dinner and nap, and up again at the end of the work day. Before long, the neighbors began meeting him at the elevator asking for rides.  On July 19, 1884, the elevator burned when the fire that was banked in the stove for the night was blown alive. After Mr. Graves rebuilt the elevator, he remembered how his neighbors showed up when he used the cable car and he decided to open it to the public. He charged five cents a ride.  (Source for elevator info)  The elevator no longer exists, but the view of the city and the elevator's remaining structure are well worth the hike up the stairs.

In the long run, Dubuque has actually been our favorite spot in the Midwest so far. So if you happen to be passing through, we highly recommend stopping and giving it a visit. Happy travels

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