RAGBRAI 2019, day 7: Burlington to Keokuk

I began this LAST day of driving the RAGBRAI XLVII (yay!) getting good and lost as I tried to find my way out of Burlington. It was about noon, and I’d just finished the Day 6 route, which went through Geode State Park, Middleton, and West Burlington.

The first part of this last day’s route essentially retraces the previous day’s ride, and I wasn’t too keen on that. I decided I wanted to take the Great River Road to Denmark, the first NEW location on the route.

Finding the Mississippi River road was no easy feat, but I finally got on it with the help of my trusty Iowa Atlas and Gazetteer and a few well-placed U-turns.

As I started this last leg of the route, it occurred to me that it felt like the bicycle ride should be over. I was at the Mississippi, after all, and if I’m not mistaken, Burlington has been the last town on the route half a dozen times. So it seemed weird to have this back-tracky, unnecessarily southern route today.

I will admit I was a little grumpy, too, because I failed to find lunch in Burlington – I guess I didn’t try very hard – and it was really, really hot. And I was in a no-NPR zone.

But then I headed into super-cute little unincorporated Denmark, Iowa, and my mood improved. I was tempted to take a book from the little free library in the park, but since I don’t live in Denmark it sort of seemed like stealing.

Heading toward West Point, Iowa, on county roads X32, J48, and J40, I started seeing signs that said “RAGBRAI route – 15,000 bicyclists – plan ahead!” I thought at first that these were the work of the local RAGBRAI committee, but I continued to see them all the way into Keokuk, so they’re clearly the work of the main RAGBRAI organization. I hadn’t seen these in past years, though maybe they went up after I passed through. Doesn’t matter…it’s a great way to warn people to plan ahead.

I also saw some pretty farms and some curvy roads that could be fun for the riders.

I arrived in West Point (population 954), as patriotic-looking a town as you’ll ever see. The downtown has a lovely park surrounded by historic buildings (and another miniature Statue of Liberty).

The West Pointers also apparently know how to have a good time, with a tavern and biergarten flanking either side of the main business area.

Franklin, Iowa, also has an inviting tavern with outdoor patio space (below).

Just before I rolled into in Donnellson, I received an emergency text alert that all the power had gone out in Ames. Good to know! At this point, it was 95 degrees and I was beginning to melt.

Riders will be more than half-way finished with today’s route when they arrive Donnellson (population 885), the meeting town and home to Lee County fairgrounds:

From Donnellson, they’ll take U.S. Hwy. 218 to Montrose, another river town. When I arrived there, Montrose was in full-blown party mode. Everyone at the Montrose Sandbar seemed to either ride a motorcycle or drive a pickup, so I’m sure my bright orange Prius did not go unnoticed.

While in Montrose, I was hoping to cross the river to the town of Nauvoo, Ill., to check out the Mormon temple and other historic attractions. There’s a Joseph Smith (founder of the Latter Day Saints movement) historic site, a red brick store, Nauvoo House, Bringham Young Home, and more. I can’t say as I care much about Joseph Smith, but I thought the architecture and history would be fun to see.

I was encouraged to go over to Nauvoo by the woman working at Iowa Visitor Center in Bloomfield earlier on my drive. She gave me a brochure and everything. What she didn’t mention was that there is no bridge between Montrose and Nauvoo. I guess I should have looked at a map, huh? Anyway, it was already late and I just didn’t bother to figure it out. I took this picture from the Iowa side of the river and called it good.

RAGBRAI riders will follow the Great River Road, AKA county road X28, from Montrose to Keokuk, and they’re in for a very scenic ride.

I was eager to visit Keokuk (population 10,780). I’d never been here before, probably because it never seems to be on the way to anywhere I’m going, and because it seems to belong more to Missouri or Illinois than to Iowa. But I’ve always liked river towns, and I’d heard this one had some gorgeous old houses.

Coming into town, I quickly found my way to the downtown area and walked up and down the main street, sweating profusely.

When I got back to my car, I drove to the riverfront to see Lock & Dam No. 19 (above) and the bridge that takes you into Illinois.

In that area, I stumbled on the George M. Verity River Museum (below) and watched barges making their way up the river.

I also found the Keokuk Union Depot (above), built in 1891 and listed on National Register of Historic Places. The depot is a bit of a mess, but it’s currently undergoing a preservation project and the sign says it’s (going to be?) an event center.

I knew I wanted to go to Rand Park to see the Chief Keokuk statue, but I had no idea what a delightful place this park is. It’s definitely one of the nicest parks in all of Iowa. Besides the statue of Keokuk, a Sac Indian chief, Rand Park is situated on a bluff with a panoramic view of the Mississippi River. There are lovely flower gardens and a lot more – 57 acres total.

A bonus, as I drove toward Rand Park, was that I encountered the Grand Avenue/Park Place residential area – on the National Register of Historic Places and at the top of my list of things to see in Keokuk. Man, oh, man, these are some stately, drool-worthy old houses. Fifteen blocks worth of grand homes! I parked and got out of my car briefly, but mostly I just drove by as many as I could.

Oh, before I finish up, here are some fun facts about this town:

  • Keokuk has 20 entries in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The American Fur Company opened a trading post in Keokuk in 1828 that was known as “Rat Row.”
  • Keokuk was home to Younkers’ first store, which is now just kind of sad.
  • Famous people with Keokuk connections include Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt, Betsy Ross, and Krusty the Clown. (Wait…what???)

I love that last one.

On my drive back to Ames, the heat finally broke. I encountered a rather terrifying storm that nearly blew my little car right off the road around Oskaloosa. But I survived – and saw the temperature drop from 96 degrees to 69 degrees in less than an hour.

With that, another RAGBRAI route drive is in the history books. Thanks for sticking with me!

1 comment so far

  1. Cindy Duhrkopf on

    Thank you for “taking” us on RAGBRI. If you ever need a map reader I am up for the job.


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