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MONDAY - This morning when we left Starved Rock State Park it was under a 3 county-wide flood warning along the Illinois River.

We were in no danger in the campground, which is located high up on a bluff over the Illinois River, but we spoke to the campground host and he said the huge parking lot down by the Visitor Center (where we were yesterday) was currently under a few inches of water.

Thirty minutes later we passed over the Illinois River on Interstate 39 North and saw the water did look a little bit high, but we didn't see any widespread flooding like the local news websites were touting.

What we did see from the Interstate 80 West was a lot of farm and ranch land, nothing new I suppose when traveling in the midwestern United States.

In two or three months there should be corn in those fields.

We saw a few ranch properties from the Interstate too.

Did you ever wonder where all those outdated DirecTV satellite dishes end up? Well if you live in western Illinois you send them to this rancher to recycle. He paints them up in some pretty wild colors and hangs them from his fence posts along the north side of Interstate 80 West.

He had enough dishes to stretch 2-miles along his fence.

A short time later we were crossing back over the Mississippi River on Interstate 74 (into Iowa this time) at the city of Moline, IL.

Moline is famous for being the global headquarters for Deere & Company since 1848, you know the company who make all that bright green colored farm equipment. John Deere even served as mayor of Moline for two years (1873-1875).

Once we turned off the Interstate and headed north on US61 we saw more farm and ranch land, only this time it was the Iowa version. I can't tell the difference, can you?

A half an hour later we were pulling through the front gate of Maquoketa Caves State Park and getting set up in our new campsite. There are only 28-campsites here and 5 of those are walk-in tent sites.

TUESDAY - Today after lunch we got out on the trails to explore what exactly constitutes a cave in this park.

We've now seen a total of 66 caves around the United States, but each one of those caves cost us $20-$30 each to be safely guided through the cave. There are 13 separate "caves" here at Maquoketa Caves State Park and they're all free and self-guided. They range from large enough to "walk" through, while others you'll have to get down and dirty to slither your way through like a snake.

Today our goal is to visit the largest of the 13 caves, called Dancehall Cave, and to also explore the 50' tall natural bridge over Raccoon Creek and the 17-ton balanced rock that can be found along the 6-miles of trails in the park. We'll only have to hike about 1-mile of the trail today to observe our three main objectives though.



During the first few yards of the trail you'll descend down several flights of stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs if you look to your left you'll find the 50' tall natural bridge.

If you look to your right you'll descend more stairs to the entrance of Dancehall Cave.

Once inside the cave you'll need to bend at the waist to move further into the cave.

Even Tricia at 5'1" had to duck under some of the lower ceilings.

There was this one long, low and dark corridor you'll need to pass through.

At the end it looks like sunlight and the exit, but it's not!

It's just a light bulb mounted up and high out of sight.

You'll zig zag through this taller section of the cave.

If you look closely you'll see a few small, maybe 200-year old formations on the ceiling.

There is some even older dripstone formations on the side walls of this section.

At this point of the trail you can either exit the cave by climbing all of these stairs...

...or you can continue down a side corridor and see some more cave.

We went down the side channel of course, there's still more to see.

This was the largest and flattest part of the cave, maybe it was the dance floor?

Outside the cave we found a sign telling us "Balanced Rock" ⬆.

From the bottom of the stairs it didn't look like much of a balanced rock.

But as you got closer and behind the rock you could tell it wasn't connected to anything.

From the backside you can see just how precariously balanced it is.

One long climb on this footpath will return you to the parking lot.

If you think you might someday visit this park STOP reading now, if not then continue!

When we arrived at the trailhead we backed ROVER into a parking space on the opposite side of the road from the trailhead. Before we started down the trail I looked back and clicked the key fob to lock the doors and saw the headlights blink to confirm the doors did indeed lock.

When we crested the top of the hill at the end of the trail the first thing I saw were ROVER's tail lights? My mind struggled for a full minute to understand exactly how that was possible.

Then it came to me! The whole time we were walking through the cave we were actually crossing under the road. When you're inside of a twisting and turning cave you lose all sense of direction, something I'm usually pretty good at when I'm driving a car somewhere.

It was very unsettling during that full minute of not understanding what I was seeing.

The fact that the only trail map available wasn't very useful for navigating didn't help.

WEDNESDAY - We have several very special things planned for today. The first is to find the very best restaurant in all of Dubuque, IA that's known for their lunch menu. That honor fell to Catfish Charlie's, located right on the Mississippi River in downtown Dubuque.

The special thing about lunch was it was Tricia's Birthday Lunch. She is now an Official Senior Citizen, just like me, but I still couldn't coax her into selecting something from the $9.99 Senior Special Menu for lunch today.

That's OK, because I didn't either. Tricia ordered a Spinach Dip Bread Bowl for an appetizer, we both selected a cup of New England Clam Chowder for one of our two sides choices, and Tricia ordered the Fish and Chips with mashed potatoes instead of fries. I too had mashed potatoes, but mine came with Blackened Catfish, we are in Catfish Charlies's afterall.

As I suspected would happen our cup of soups arrived on the table first and they were quickly relocated into our bellies. Next to arrive was Tricia's Spinach Dip Bread Bowl, which she knew in advance I was not going to help her eat. By the time our mashed potatoes and entrees arrived Tricia was leaning back in her chair and waving off any additional food.

I, on the other hand, having not eaten any of the spinach dip, was fully capable of finishing my meal. The way I look at it, Tricia was the smart one. After we arrive at our new campsite tomorrow afternoon she still has a delicious, fully prepared, Fish and Chips meal for dinner and I will more than likely be having Beanie Weenies once again.

After lunch we set out to explore two Atlas Obscura destinations here in Dubuque, the first is the Dubuque Shot Tower.

This 120-foot structure that stretches to the sky is one of the country’s last remaining shot towers. However it never fully got the chance to do its job.

Built in 1856 in Dubuque, Iowa as a shot tower to provide lead shot for the military, it allowed for the efficient and reliable manufacturing of nearly perfectly spherical lead to use in muskets. When in full operation, it could produce up to 8 tons of lead balls daily.

The square-cut masonry structure tapers as it moves upwards to the top of the 120-foot tower, the bottom part of which is made from Galena Dolomite stone, and the top half of which is made from red brick.

Shot towers were the de facto method of ammunition production from the late 18th century until the 1960s. They used simple physics to make the ideal shot ball: from the very top of the tower workers would pour molten lead through a sieve. While free falling through the empty tower, the lead would cool and form into perfectly round balls. These would land in a basin of water to be cooled further.

The Dubuque shot tower was intended to produce shot for the military, but after the Great Panic of 1857 it experienced economic hardship. It was purchased during the Civil War by a St. Louis company called Chadbourne & Co. but not used again until after the war when the Standard Lumber Company used it as a fire watchtower.

Ironically, a series of fires in 1911, suspected to be the result of arson, damaged the wooden structures within the tower, which had to be abandoned. The shot tower was restored in 1976 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places as Asset #9a37b9fd-f65f-48f9-84ae-bc48ae9068ca. It started undergoing renovations in 2004, and remains a Dubuque landmark.
- copied from the Atlas Obscura website

We found the next Atlas Obscura destination a whole lot more interesting and fun. It is called a funicular and we thoughly enjoyed our time on it.

Are you hanging out in Dubuque, IA and find yourself too exhausted to scale the hill near Fenelon Place? Thanks to the Fenelon Place Elevator, self-described as the world’s shortest, steepest railroad, you need not exert yourself.

Unsurprisingly, the short little railway was originally built by wealthy businessman J.K Graves in 1882. His home was located on top of the hill, while the bank where he worked was at the bottom of the hill. He found the commute simply intolerable, as it got in the way of his preferred dinner and napping routine.

So he built the so-called elevator (it’s actually a funicular) for his own private use. The original version of the inclined railroad used a wooden car that was brought up and down the hill via a steam-powered winch, but this version of the elevator burned down just two years after it was built.

Graves rebuilt the elevator, and, noticing the local interest in the ride, opened it to the public for five cents a trip. The short trip chugs just 296 feet up the hill.

After another fire in 1893 once again destroyed the cars, a small group of locals formed the Fenelon Place Elevator Company and began serving as the stewards of the train with Graves’ blessing. The site expanded over the years, seeing additions to the operator’s house that included a small apartment on top of it where the locals would come to play cards.

Miraculously, the price for a ride did not go up until the 1960s, when it was doubled to a whopping 10 cents per ride. This may also explain why the funicular was not fully modernized until the 1970s.

The Fenelon Place Elevator is still in operation each year from April to November and is protected as a National Historic Landmark. Regrettably, the price has been increased to $4 for a round trip. While it’s hard to confirm if this is the shortest or steepest railway in the world, it may be the quickest way to feel like you are a rich person in the 1800s.

- copied from the Atlas Obscura website



The funicular can be seen from several blocks away when looking down 4th Street.

We're at the bottom looking towards the top just 296' away.

Once at the top you can see the entire downtown area of Dubuque.

You can see the clock tower and the golden dome of the County Courthouse.

Thanks to the addition of the Diamond Jo Casino the downtown waterfront is being revitalized.

The 5760' long Julien Dubuque Bridge that crosses the Mississippi River over into Illinois.

The white building in between the two brown ones is the bank that the funicular owner owned.

One car goes down when the other one comes up, they pass in the middle where the rail splits.

The 8-seater car awaits us to reboard for the trip down...

...but first we have to pass through the turnstile that was salvaged from the 1893 Worlds Fair.

In we go and then down we go!

See ROVER waiting patiently down at the bottom?

All throughout the downtown area we saw murals painted on the sides of buildings. Some were mere advertisements and some were just plain beautiful.

Here are a few of our favorites!

This one is in reverse because Tricia used ROVER's side view mirror to take the shot.

OK! We've been fed, we've had some fun sightseeing, now it's time to take care of a few of those pesky chores.

We found the nearest laundromat and I helped carry in the baskets and made sure Tricia was all set and comfortable before I left to take care of my chores.

First I purchased 20-gallons of gas at the least expensive station in Dubuque ($3.24) before I went in search of a 6" Carvel Ice Cream Cake. Tricia has been dropping some "not so subtle hints" about what she'd like for her birthday every time we've been inside of a grocery store for the last two weeks.

I checked every store (4 in total) on Google within 10-miles of the laundromat when I searched "groceries nearby" and was directed to what amounted to a fancy convenience store. Then I switched my search to "supermarket" and found a real market.

They of course didn't have ice cream cake, so I purchased what I thought was the next best thing and got her a single serving Cookies and Cream Chocolate Parfait at the Eagle Market in town, with a promise to pick up a Carvel Cake next time we see one.

With the chores all done it was time to head home. We took a slightly different route home than we did when we came into town this morning, just to see something different.

We were surprised when we left town on US Highway 61 and the very next town we passed through was Key West. That's right, all the way up here in Iowa is another Key West!

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