Monday, November 10, 2014

A Walk on the Mighty Mississippi

Earlier this year, after doing some American supermarket research, we spent some time visiting family in Cory's hometown of Dubuque. People always ask us where we come from in the States. For the curious...

We always say, "Iowa- right in the middle." Interestingly, we've found that "near Chicago" isn't as useful as we'd thought. Irish people tend to be very well-traveled and many have been to the States, but most have been to Boston, New York, and a few of the western states- Chicago seems to be much less popular.

Iowa is bordered by two of North America's biggest rivers: the Missouri to the west and the Mississippi to the east. Cory's hometown is on the Mighty Miss- right on the borders of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin, so his love of water should come as no surprise. 

Obligatory Cory-Looking-at-the-Water Shot

Our visit was in mid-July, on the very tail end of Dubuque's annual mayfly (called fishflies locally) invasion. These insects spend a year as aquatic larvae before hatching en masse to breed and lay eggs for next year's hatch. Mayflies aren't unique to Dubuque, the Mississippi, or even North America, but when conditions are right, Dubuque has hatches of staggering size. Thick tree boughs bend and break from the sheer weight of these small insects landing on the tree and on each other, forming a thick black blanket. The city occasionally has to bring the snowplows out of storage to push inches of slick dead insect bodies off of the streets and bridges.

Only a few stragglers remained for our visit, so I got the benefit of a nostalgia blast without the actual problems caused by billions of bugs.

Dubuque Mayfly
Dubuque Mayfly

From the riverside in Dubuque, sovereign land of three states is visible, Iowa at your feet, Wisconsin to the left (north) and Illinois to the right. All this across the river that spawned so many stories and legends. Mark Twain would have just been a man named Sam without the inspiration of this blue-brown beauty.

Across the Mississippi
Across the Mississippi

Since I've left Dubuque, they have developed and restored much of the riverfront. The old Dubuque Star Brewery is sadly no longer producing its famous classic beer, but it is now home to the tasting room of a local winery.

Star Brewery and Shot Tower

Behind the brewery is the old Civil War shot tower, used to make round lead ball bullets for military issue. The tower in Dubuque is one of very few still-standing gravity-powered shot towers. Lead was melted and dropped from the top floor of the tower through a series of mesh filters. As the liquid lead fell, friction from the air and the decreasing-diameter mesh shaped it into perfectly round spheres.

Dubuque was the perfect choice for a lead bullet plant, as the bluffs around the city are jam-packed with rich lead deposits. It was for these lead mines that the city was first established- by a Frenchman, before the Germans and Irish took over.

Shot Tower
Shot Tower

After such a nice walk in the sunshine on my favorite river, we were all ready for some classic American (and Dubuque-specific) food and drink...

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