Drifting through “The Driftless”

First, thank you to everyone who sent good, healthy wishes! I know that it helped and I definitely feel better!

Just across the border from Wisconsin, is Galena, Illinois, a town of about 3500 residents that hosts a million or so tourists each year. They come to shop, eat and tour some of the blocks and blocks of magnificent historic structures. Many of the residential streets above Main Street are so crooked and steep, it’s hard to imagine building anything there. Sometimes the back door of a home is 3 or 4 stories lower than the front door! I found the history of Galena fascinating, but too complex to share with you here – that will have to wait for the book!

I was up and out hoping for a sunrise this morning. There was the briefest bit of lightness, then it clouded up and rained again all day! You may have heard on the news that there is flooding in some places in Minnesota and Wisconsin. In Prairie du Chien where I was a few days ago, they are preparing for possible sandbagging.

I thought I was heading south from Galena, but after a few miles found myself turning around and heading back up toward Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. I couldn’t say why, but I don’t question such things!  I knew there was a group of Dominican Catholic Sisters that lived on a hill overlooking the tiny town, but nothing more. It was still early when I arrived and I found I was in a quiet mood, not really interested in going inside, asking questions or introducing myself. So, I just quietly explored the campus and came upon a labyrinth, with a sign explaining its ancient history and its purpose as a tool for walking while praying or meditating. I’ve walked a labyrinth before and found it healing, centering and powerful – so I didn’t hesitate.  Afterward, I was both soothed and rejuvenated and felt my visit was complete.

I still hadn’t seen another person anywhere, but as I headed back to my car Sister Janette appeared and asked me to help her pick up a bench that had blown over in the wind. As we stood in the cool morning breeze, she looked up at me with bright, happy eyes and told me a bit about her life in the Dominican community and her job as the Librarian. When I told her of my project and gave her a postcard, she told me today is her birthday and our meeting and the postcard a gift. When I asked to take her photograph, she wanted to be shown holding the postcard.

I left, smiling at the wisdom of Serendipity that brought me here.

I spent several hours in the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque, Iowa. If you are not already in awe of this great river (and you probably are or you wouldn’t bother reading this), you will be after spending time there. It’s a part of the network of Smithsonian Museums and has all the quality and depth you would expect from that affiliation. The more I learn about the Mississippi, the more clear it is that in a lifetime one could only scratch the surface of what there is to know.

I landed in Clinton, Iowa, in the still pouring rain, but tomorrow holds promise of sunshine!

That was yesterday – and indeed today dawned bright and shiny – a world washed sparkly clean by all that rain. Although there is no noticeable change yet, there is much speculation about how much the river may rise as the water from up north makes its way downriver.

I’m nearing the southern end of the area known as “The Driftless”.  Three times over the millennia, great glaciers pushed their way south over the continent, leveling hills and leaving enormous deposits of rock and silt, know as drift. Due to some geologic stroke of fortune, each time the glaciers split and left a 16,000 square mile area around the Mississippi River valley untouched. As a result, the land formations are ancient and dramatic. The river meanders around islands and marshes in a deep valley bounded by huge bluffs and rock formations. It’s stunning and a terrain which doesn’t exist outside of this area where the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa meet.

From Lookout Point in Palisades State Park on the Illinois side, I caught a train following the curve of the river and a Turkey Vulture soaring on the wind currents.

And, I loved the solitude of this little island in the late afternoon light.

To top off the day, I wandered some ridge tops, looking for a vantage point to catch the full moon. I couldn’t find anyone to ask, but I’m a firm believer in the philosophy that it’s usually easier to get forgiveness than permission, so I followed a pasture road up a big hill. Eventually there was an iron gate into another pasture and if I had even a moment’s thought of walking beyond that to the crest of the hill, the big bull on the other side nixed that idea! The bull, his cows and I waited for the moon together quietly, each on our own side of the gate. What I love about this shot is that the village lights in the valley were a complete surprise – before darkness nothing was visible but trees.

Time to move on…see you soon!                       


About Gayle Harper

Travel Photographer and Writer
This entry was posted in IA - Clinton, IA - Dubuque, IL - Galena, WI - Sinsinawa and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Drifting through “The Driftless”

  1. Now that’s the life! How blessed you are to have the freedom and ability to travel the way you do. And thank you for these beautiful photos too! I hope Clinton, Iowa has treated you well.

    • Gayle Harper says:

      Yep, believe me I do not take it for granted that this is one huge blessing! And yes, Clinton treated me well. I did see the Candlelight Restaurant and could tell what a great view it has, but never made it to eat there – next trip! Gayle

  2. Joan Francois says:

    thanks again for sharing your days- and early evenings!

  3. Marie Bintliff says:

    I am with you girlfriend! I love this! The history, the people, the scenery, what more could you want? Maybe a little more sunshine? lol. Can’t wait to see what else is around the corner!!! Love, Marie

  4. Jan Woessner says:

    We are certainly enjoying the path the raindrop is taking you! This area is near the small farming town of Milledgevile where Neal and I grew up. My remembrance of Clinton, IA as a youngster is shopping there for new school clothes just before school started each fall. What a thrilling trip that was for me — not only the new clothes for school, but also the fascination of crossing that long bridge and watching the river flowing beneath it! I believe we paid 15 cents at that time to cross the bridge.
    Jan Woessner

  5. Don’t know which picture I liked the most…it was a tie between that peaceful little island and that beautiful Harvest moon….especially since I was gazing at that same moon though notin a pasture. Also great story, as usual.

  6. Reblogged this on traveldubuque and commented:
    Planning your trip to Dubuque soon? Spend a few extra days with us and enjoy the entire Tri-state region. Read about Gayle Harper’s experience in her blog post “Drifting through ‘The Driftless.'”

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