Last weekend a few friends, Sabra and I rode our bicycles on the Iowa Heritage Trail, which runs between Dyersville and Dubuque,.
It was a beautiful ride.
The trail is built atop the old rail bed put down in 1885 to connect Chicago to St. Paul, Minn., by train. Running between Dyersville and Dubuque, the 26-mile passage threads through a 450-foot deep valley and past old mining and mill towns closely following the Little Maquoketa River. It passes through a landscape of deep rugged woodlands, sheer limestone bluffs, and old lead mines.
We chose to start in Farley instead of Dyersville to lop off five miles and keep the total distance covered in one day to about 30. It didn’t hurt that Farley is also the top of the trail as it descends to the Mississippi river at an almost imperceptible yet unrelenting one percent grade. This slight drop is so insignificant that it’s hardly noticeable until you turn your bike around and go the other way. But either way the crushed gravel surface is well maintained and compacted so pedaling is relatively easy.
At the risk of making me sound like an alcoholic who can’t pass up a bar we stopped at every bar along the way, and some that weren’t as well. The first watering hole of the day was Durango Depot Bar and Grill. What this establishment lacked in longevity (it had reopened under new ownership only a couple of weeks earlier) it made up for in hospitality. The owner went out of his way to let us know bicycle riders were welcome.
From there we continued along to the Heritage trailhead on the north side of Dubuque, and then traveled a short mile on highway to get to connector trails that took us deeper into Dubuque via Eagle Point Park. The idea for Eagle Point Park was conceived in 1907 when a noted eastern park specialist visited Dubuque. After touring scenic locations, he made this comment to his hosts: “I have never seen a place where the Almighty has done more and mankind less, than Dubuque.” Most of his listeners were hurt by the remark, but it spurred others to action and the park was born. By 1912 the park was a reality and a streetcar served it from the city, it’s route eventually turning into the bike path we rode upon.
Today, the same sort of people would join the Tea Party and say screw doing something for the public good.
Between the park and the river at 5 Eagle Pt. we came across The Yardarm, a bonus stop as it wasn’t on our original list. A sprawling complex of decks overlooking the river and marina, where patrons with a little imagination might dream they are in Key West listening to the Jimmy live.
Next, we stopped at the Dubuque Star Restaurant and enjoyed a quaff from its outdoor deck with one of the best views of the river available. The business is a five story brick building originally erected in 1898 to house the Dubuque Star Brewery. Over the years, it was flooded and abandoned several times but it has been restored to its former beauty and is a gem along the shoreline.
After a quick stop at Lot One, an upscale sports bar, we headed to Paul’s Tavern, 176 Locust St. Opened in 1948, the original owner was a big game hunter and dozens of his trophies are carefully encased in custom glass cabinets over the bar, along the back wall and even over the bar, where the pelt and head of a polar bear are displayed. The place is under new ownership but the old ways remain, including a burger on the menu that is cooked on an ancient contraption called a “Norge Broilator.” You can have anything you want on your burger as long as it’s pickle and onions. If you want tomato, go someplace else.
Our next to last stop of the day was The Lounge at 481 Locsut St., one of city’s best-kept secrets. Including the man looking at the front window, this establishment seems to be frozen in the ‘50s. The lights are dim, the upholstered stools and booths soft and the drinks cold.
We finished up at the Days Inn with a dunk in the pool and a nightcap in the lounge.