Photos by: Riverboat Twilight Mississippi Cruise & Captain Kevin
By: Mike Delaney
The Raccoon River waters flow into the Des Moines River in Des Moines which used to be called Raccoon Forks. The Des Moines River flows into the Mississippi River at Keokuk adding a great deal of nutrients and sediment. On October 8, my wife, Dell, Christine Curry, and Curtis Cokeley and I boarded the Twilight for a two--day cruise on the Mississippi River. We spent a night and a day in The Mill House BnB in LaClaire enjoying the famous Pickers antique shop, local music, and food on Saturday before the cruise.
As we approached the beautiful reproduction river boat its musician played the banjo creating the atmosphere of the 19th century river scene. Before boarding the boat we gave our luggage to the crew to be hauled to our destination in Dubuque, the beautiful Grand Harbor Hotel. It was great not having to mess with our overnight luggage on the river boat. We were lead to our permanent, private table for four at a window with a great view of the river scenery. We were surprised at the power and speed of the boat as we pulled away from the dock at LaClaire.
There is nothing like the Mississippi River watershed in the world. It drains that land from the Rockies to the Alleghanies. All of Iowa’s surface water runs into the Mississippi either directly or by way of the Missouri. And of course its history and ecology are unique.
We learned that “all” of the timber along our route to Dubuque had been cut and fed to the thousands of steam-powered river boats that provided transport of lumber, grain, provisions, and travelers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The trees have returned but not in the same composition as the original elms, walnuts, oaks, and maples. We saw River Willows, Silver Maples and Cottonwoods in the flood plain and lowlands. The Oaks were high on the ridges given us a bit of fall red and brown.
Eagles soared, Sea Gulls followed the boat, Great Egrets were more common than the Great Blue Herons. Anglers and duck hunters were out in the cool fall air dealing with a stiff wind much of the time. We bundled up in our rocking chairs on the deck. The hum of the engine and breeze did not keep us from dozing off during our very relaxing outing.
The food was excellent and plentiful: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, drink was the pattern on upstream and downstream cruise. The people were regular Midwesterners. There were no passengers from abroad that we noted. They may have been on the other two larger cruise boats we saw. Our passage was about $500 per person (including our hotel in Dubuque and food). The larger boats charge about $800 per day including a bedroom.
We all appreciated two additional features of the cruise. The narration by the owner/captain about the river, the towns along the way (LaClaire, Clinton, Sabula, Bellevieu, Savanna, and Dubuque), river boats and commerce, was excellent. The musician was folksy. He played songs appropriate to the ages of the passengers.
Of course, my interest is primarily in the health of the Mississippi River and its Iowa tributaries. The good news is that the Mississippi is the healthiest of Iowa large rivers. The water coming to Iowa’s eastern border and even along the stretch we cruised is pretty good. The bad news is that Iowa waters make it much less healthy. Iowa’s contribution of nitrogen and phosphorus especially by way of the Cedar, Des Moines, and Missouri to the Mississippi and the Gulf Dead Zone is embarrassing.