Exploring the Mississippi River Bluffs & Pike’s Peak


Mississippi River
With lunch at Iowa’s oldest restaurant.
Total drive time 5.6 hours – 270 miles.
Morning drive 2.6 hours – 128 miles.

Afternoon drive 3 hours – 142 miles.


Highway 64 is a “ridge road” and it takes very little imagination to appreciate how Grant Wood found his inspiration for such artwork as “American Gothic”, “Stone City” and “Young Corn” and his other regionalism paintings.

The Mississippi is one of the greatest rivers in the world. Drainage of this river and its tributaries embraces nearly one-third of the land surface of the United States. It is more than 4,000 miles in length from the headwaters of the Missouri River tributary to its confluence with the Gulf of Mexico.

The river was discovered by DeSoto in 1541. Marquette and Joliet were the second white men to see the Mississippi when they reached the mouth of the Wisconsin River in 1673. These voyagers were warned by the Indians before going onto the river that it was inhabited by demons and giant fish that would most certainly destroy them. The Mississippi River borders Iowa for more than 300 miles, entering the state between swift bluffs that rise four to six hundred feet above the river level. Bluffs diminish in size and spectacular appearance from Bellevue southward.

Initial engineering on the Mississippi River occurred in 1824 when Congress authorized improvement for navigation by the removal of snags and other channel obstructions. In 1907, an act of Congress authorized provisions of a six-foot channel for navigation from the Missouri River to Minneapolis by “construction works, dredging, diking, canals and locks.”

In 1935, additional legislation was approved which authorized a nine-foot channel over the same river reach by means of locks and dams supplemented by dredging. The present dams now controlling the river resulted from this act. Engineering and environmental studies are currently being conducted to ascertain the feasibility of a twelve-foot navigation channel with year-long navigation.


St. Donatus

Like a tiny little slice of Europe, St. Donatus (Dough-na-tus) is known as a Luxembourger village. This sleepy little town of 135, was settled by Luxembourgers over 150 years ago, and it is named after Saint Donatus of Muenstereifel, the patron saint of protection against lightning.

The village is chock full of beautiful old architecture, dating back to the 1850s. One of the crown jewels of the village is the St. Donatus Catholic Church, originally built in 1858. After a fire destroyed the interior of the church in 1907, a new church was constructed, using the preserved exterior stone walls that survived the fire. The nearby St. Donatus Cemetery contains some amazing, elaborate old tombstones that are worth a visit.


Iowa’s Oldest Bar & Restaurant

Iowa’s oldest food and drinking establishment was opened in 1852 by federal permit issued from President Millard Fillmore. Jacob Breitbach, great-great grandfather of the present owner worked for the original owner and purchased the tavern in 1862. Since that time, the Breitbach family has been in continuous ownership of the historical establishment which is now in its sixth generation.

The original structure, which was destroyed by fire in December 2007 had been nominated to the Register of Historic Buildings. Many visitors have visited Breitbach’s Country Dining over the years including a visit by gangster Jesse James, George Wendt (Norm) from Cheers, Brook Shields, and many politicians including Governor Branstad.


Pikes Peak

In 1673, the first white men to see what is now Iowa, explorer Louis Joliet and Father James Marquette, reached the mouth of the Wisconsin River and beheld the great, unknown river now known as the Mississippi.

After the Louisiana Purchase, the government sent Zebulon Pike in 1805 to explore the Mississippi valley and select locations suitable for military posts. Pike recognized the park site as an important, strategic point, and an excellent location for a fort. The government agreed on the vicinity but selected the prairie around Prairie du Chien (now Wisconsin) for the fort. Several years later, Pike was again sent westward by the government and named Pikes Peak in Colorado.

In 1837, Alexander McGregor established a ferry across the Mississippi River. McGregor’s Landing was established at the site of the town that now bears his name. When Mrs. Munn, the grand-niece of McGregor, died, her will provided that Pikes Peak be given to the federal government as a gift. The land had been inherited from McGregor. It was later conveyed by Congress to the State of Iowa and became Pikes Peak and Point Ann State Parks in 1935. Mrs. Munn had never allowed settlers on the land and as a result, the landscape at Pikes Peak today probably does not vary much from the way it was hundreds of years ago.