Saturday, May 21, 2022

Balancing Expectations in Dubuque, Iowa

 May 16-21, 2022
Dubuque, Iowa

After two days of no winds in Solon I'm again unpleasantly surprised to wake to their return on our Monday morning travel day. With just 75 miles, and heading north, it won't be that bad.


Instead it's exhausting, with the worst side winds I've driven. Otherwise it's a lovely drive with pretty views all the way. 

And then we arrive. At Dubuque County Fairgrounds. Where I'm expecting an RV park. Not a storage yard.

There are eight other rigs to the right, we're the only campers. Can't park beside the rig because they drive the mowers in and out of the garage beside us. Every day. 

Home for five days.

Kevin greets us, we're expected. The "site" has FHUs with 30 amp, and it's easy to get level. Hoping for no rain as the whole place is dirt. Apparently stock car practice is scheduled during our stay - the track is 100 yards from where we're parked :-)

I've been looking forward to this Dubuque stop, but it's not starting out how I pictured it!

Bedroom view at our last stop.

Bedroom view this stop.

Our first day I get caught up with laundry, a bit of cleaning, and a good dose of laziness. We venture out for dinner to Rhody's which has great reviews. Mediocre would be a compliment.

Back at home there's a car show in the front parking lot, and the expected stock cars are practicing on the track. The wind is back. It's all very loud.

We laugh. Every place isn't the Tetons, every day isn't October-in-New England lovely, and every meal isn't Santa Fe stuffed sopapillas.  

I routed us through Dubuque so we could visit the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, which sounds awesome. We've been to the headwaters in Minnesota, and seen her waters run into the gulf in Louisiana, so learning more about this important body of water seems like fun!

A surprisingly small museum with interesting information on the river's history, influential people connected to it, and our obsession with mapping all of the country's rivers.

There's always something new to learn about places you've already been.

The only river with stingrays is the Amazon, but they're fun to see here. So soft!!

Turtles are always cute.

A single pair of Wood Ducks with a handful of other water fowl.

Tessa fell in love with the otters at the aquarium in Corpus Cristi, but this very active pair doing flips under water send her in the opposite direction. They're really cute, but too fast for me to photograph!

The alligator is handsome and looks healthy, but his habitat is indoors and very small. Sad.

This large belt driven machine shop in the restored boat house is fascinating to watch.

Of course there's a paddle boat in the court yard.

The family business! Sand and......

It's worth a visit, but doesn't live up to my expectations. The animal habitats are small with no outdoor access. The river is nearby, but doesn't feel like it has any connection to the facility. Some of the exhibits are well done, while others are difficult to follow. 

One of the "things" I added late to the list are the downtown murals. There are a lot of them so I figure we can start out with a few on our way home!

"Pachamamma" (an Aztec Goddess) by Luis Valle

"Redemption" by Gaia. Really classes up the pawn shop!

Not downtown, but I love the simplicity.

By Martin Turner - honoring the city's founder.

Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa, and it feels very different than other places we've been in the state. Lots and lots of red brick. More diverse, little regentrification, a sense of deep history, a slower pace.

Like the capitol in Des Moines, the county courthouse is visible from everywhere in the city. Completed in 1891 to replace the original 1839 building. It's a beauty!

So much brick!

1887, looks new. Sadly, there's very little information on this beautiful building. 

Early dinner at Catfish Charlie's is good except Bill's red beans and rice has three (!) beans in the whole bowl. At least the rice and sausage are tasty. As are the gator bites! 

Back at home it's peace and quiet with no wind. 

Thunder storms expected for Friday so we get out on Thursday to see what we can see. 

Eagle Point Park began development in 1908 with beautiful stone and wood buildings being added in the early 1930's. It is a stunning natural space along the Mississippi River, just north of downtown Dubuque. 

164 wooded acres

Prairie School landscape and architecture throughout the park.

Standing in Iowa, looking at Illinois and Wisconsin.

Lock and Dam No. 11

Just outside the park is the Mathias Ham House - lovely exterior of limestone ashlar.

Mines of Spain is an historic district (one of five) of the Dubuque area. In 1796 the Governor of Spain granted 186 acres along the Mississippi to Julian Dubuque for his mining operation. Dubuque named the area in honor of the grant.

Julian Dubuque Monument

The monument surrounds Dubuque's grave. Buried here March 24, 1810.

Mississippi River to the south.

Downtown Dubuque to the north.

Nicely done interpretive center. 

Videos, exhibits, bird-watching lounge, and artifacts.

Even with all the rain we've had, these are the first wildflowers we've seen!

The small vertical elevator (Fenelon Place Elevator Company) is on my list, but I'm not feeling it when we get downtown. Next time. 

Instead we look for the remainder of the murals, and check out the incredible architecture in this oldest city in Iowa. 88 degrees and 40% humidity makes the air conditioned Jeep a nice option for another afternoon.

The 14 ton Tower Clock was moved here in 1971 from its original 1873 location atop a three story building on Main Street. 

Love this ornate window with the reflection of a vintage neighbor. 

I see a huge blank "canvas" perfect for a mural!

Wish they had painted this beautiful "Justice" there instead of the narrow alley where it's hard to see.

We can't find four of the murals listed in the Voices' Production information, but those we do are amazing. The size and quality are so much more than I expected. I learn later that some are rotating, and no longer here. Definitely the best collection I've seen in any city. 

There's a lot, but I want to remember them all. Might be more than you want to see if they're not your thing - I'll understand if you bail :-)

"I Am a Man" is a temporary installation painted last month on the side of a building scheduled for demolition. Part of a downtown discussion program sponsored by the art museum.

"Solidarity" designed by Shelby Fry, artist credit is given to The People of Dubuque, recognizing volunteers who painted the piece in 2020.

"Automate" with employees of the Dubuque Brewery and Malting Company. 

"Ada Hayden" by Gaia. Ada was the first woman to receive her PHD from Iowa State University. The family who commissioned the piece owned a florist shop.
"Bird Dog" by Werc and Gera

"Wisdom" - a much smaller piece - by Nate Dee.

"Young David" by Starfighter, an award-winning artist from Los Angeles.

"Rising Sun" is the largest, taking up a half block, by Chicago artist Zore.

Unidentified - full size and vibrant colors.

"Odd Fellow" was completed by artist Werc during the 2017 eclipse.

"Cut Flowers" by Amanda Valdes who has pieces throughout the world!

"Undercurrent" by Werc, with windows into the soul, and a nod to the nearby Crystal Cave.

"Wild Rose" by Israeli artist DiDi.

One of two "Portal" pieces by Hoxxoh. I'd thing twice before parking in front of it!

Probably my favorite since I couldn't find the bison. "America Needs a Hug" by Werc and Gera is on the side of a lovely Victorian building.

"Ascending" by Clarke University art department. 

On the back of the same building as "Ascending", it is unidentified. 

"The Fate of the Santa Clara" by Miles Turner depicts Christopher Columbus' ship the Santa Clara, also known as the Nina.

Another car show with live music joins us on Friday night. Trains with loud whistles pass by below us at different times of the day and night - we love trains but the 1:30 AM one is a little annoying. Mowers and heavy equipment are in and out of the garage next door starting at 8 AM. I don't start until 9 AM.

No other people join us in the adjacent rigs so when the fairgrounds shut down at 9 PM it is very quiet and dark - so silver linings :-)))

Friday's expected thunder storm doesn't materialize so we head out to see our pal Jim's recommendation. I didn't realize the Field of Dreams site was just south of us - an unexpected adventure! 

The location has a very sweet and exciting history since the 1989 (gasp!) Kevin Costner hit movie, including the MLB game played on the new adjacent field last August (7800 people attended). The dream continues on August 11 when the Cubs play the Mets here!

Even after all these years, it's easy to see the story playing out.

The lack of corn definitely changes the field. The new MLB field in the background.

Fun to see fans "pose" for photos on this iconic field.

I'd love to hear what the idea was ......

Our time in Iowa ends as we're on to Illinois on Saturday. The longer we were in Dubuque, the more we liked it. And the "iffy" site at the fairgrounds is probably a place we'd return to - inexpensive, safe, and one of those places we'll laugh about every time we think of it :-)

Beautiful Iowa


  1. It’s Gay…that was a busy few days. So much green, lots of creativity, and history all make for fun exploring. Love the old architecture. The clock is amazing! And who doesn’t love Field of Dreams? What a very cool place to see in person!

    1. I'm not a big baseball fan, but I've loved every baseball movie I've seen :-) Downtown Dubuque is pretty amazing.

  2. just WOW! So many great murals on the old buildings. I can see why it is worth a stop. But to be standing on the Field of Dreams would be one of my must to do options if we are in the area..

    1. Most incredible murals!! I'm so glad Jim told us the field was in the area - great fun.

  3. The ability to laugh at a situation (or campsite) one finds oneself in is one of the most important things to possess in the RV life! Thank goodness for those fantastic murals!

    1. Oh man, even pulling out we were still laughing at our little "corner of the storage lot"!

  4. You guys manage to put the "bright" on everything ugly--a parking spot in a dirt lot next to a race track! :) And you spent several nights there!! I enjoy your attitudes so much! Those mural are amazing!

    1. It really was about the ugliest spot we've ever stayed in :-)))) I don't know how they can call it an rv park, but it did have all the hookups we needed and we felt safe. Glad to be back in a pretty park with green trees and grass now though!

  5. Laurel ( 22, 2022 at 2:13 PM

    Well, you certainly found the best of Dubuque! Between the ugly campground with stock car races and Bill's three red beans and rice (LOL!!) I was thinking we would probably avoid Dubuque. But those murals!! And visiting the Field of Dreams—Eric would like to go there. Shoeless Joe Jackson is one of his favorite ball players. We made a special trip in Greenville, SC to visit Shoeless Joe's home that is now a very interesting museum. You guys would enjoy it if you're ever in Greenville.

    1. You just never know. Dubuque was the Iowa city I was most looking forward to and ended up being the most challenging to enjoy!

  6. When one is living on the road for a time, we take each spot as it is. Some better than expected, others a quick fading, some a fond memory. We laughed a lot many times as we thought we had a quiet location until the train we missed 25 yards away, hits the whistle or the Friday night race track behind the trees goes into full tilt. Glad you made the best of it. Those murals are amazing. I can only imagine how impressive they were standing near. I think my favorite is the real photographs on the "Automate." So clever to use the old photos. Thanks for sharing so many. Love them!

    1. Glad you enjoyed them too - the size and quality are wonderful. Yes, the use of the old employee photos turned out great. Gotta laugh or move on :-))

  7. So glad you were able to see the Field of Dreams! We did have the corn in the outfield when we visited back in the 90’s. Other than that other stadium, nothing seems to have changed!

    1. I'm so glad you mentioned it being there - it was such a wonderful visit!!

  8. I have never camped at a fair ground. Grew up boating on the Mississippi River and once went under the lifted gates at that dam with high water. Folks called Dubuque a dump in the 1970s. I always liked the brick and block architecture seen in the Midwest river towns.

    1. It's fun that you have such great history in this area. We've stayed at lots of fairgrounds now and they are all very different.