Tri-states means triple the fun!

wpid30207-2014-09-10-WI-1410232-.jpgOur slow southern migration continued to our next stop at Kieler, Wisconsin, which just happens to lie at the junction of three states – Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa.  We established our one-week home base at Rustic Barn Campground and RV Park (Steve’s review here).  The unsettled weather while here added some spice to our “activities planning”, but I used my “Daytripper Book of 101 Things To Do”, to choose the ones that piqued our curiosity and were within a reasonable driving distance.

Upon settling in, we wondered what the small building just across from Betsy was.  I went over to check it out and discovered it’s a very small chapel that seats 25 people, complete with stained glass windows and wooden pews.  Not something we see in campgrounds very often!  I learned that it’s not only a chapel available to campers, but is also used occasionally for weddings.

Rustic Barn Campground
An antiquated chapel right in front of Betsy

Each morning, with coffee in hand, we looked out over this dairy farm to watch the farmers and cows doing their thing:

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative
Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative

When the cows were out grazing, Steve would walk down and have a chat with them.  He decided not to join them in eating grass though – it doesn’t go well with coffee.

Rolling Hills Dairy Farm Cooperative
Honey, can we have steak for dinner?

While passing through Platteville, Wisconsin, a big “M” on a hill caught my attention for an obvious reason – it’s my first initial!  It was visible from many miles away, probably because it’s supposedly the world’s largest “M”, a claim made by the city’s Chamber of Commerce that remains unchallenged.  The letter is etched into a one-mile long by half-mile wide mound that rises 450 ft. above its surroundings.  At 241 ft. high, 214 ft. wide and with 25 ft. wide legs, it definitely stands out.  In 1937, some engineering students built this letter to represent the miners of Platteville.  It continues to be maintained today, as folks occasionally whitewash the stones and light it on homecoming days.

Just 5 miles from our campground was a series of grottos and shrine structures covered in shells, stones, tile pieces, wood, glass, gems and geodes collected from all over the world. Father Mathius Wernerus, who created it between 1925 and 1930, dedicated it to the unity of God and country.


From afar this looked like an ordinary grotto, but upon closer inspection we realized the enormity of the project, as we saw the thousands of pieces that had been imbedded into the cement.  The creativity and tediousness of it is quite amazing, and we actually stopped by twice to take in the detail and workmanship.  You never know where you’ll find something so cool and unusual – worth a stop if you’re in the area.


Galena, Illinois

We crossed the state border into Illinois about 20 miles from our campground to visit Galena, Illinois.  The word galena is the technical term for sulphide of lead, which existed in considerable quantities in northwestern Illinois.  The city of Galena was born in 1826 and became very prosperous.  In fact, there was a time during the mid-1800’s when it was larger than Chicago.  It provided a core transportation hub (steamship, railroad and highways) and was a rich base for lead mining.  When the mining ceased, Galena’s glory days were over and the city was almost forgotten.  But the buildings left behind represent a large variety of architectural styles, and 85% of them are listed on the National Historical Registry.

Galena River
Galena River
Galena, IL
A levee was constructed after a flash flood in 2011

Main Street in downtown Galena has a large number of specialty shops and restaurants, plus a winery and brewery.  It was a great place to shop and have lunch – we went back twice.

Galena, IL
Main street, Galena, IL

Galena, IL

After the first day of looking around at the buildings and window shopping, all I ended up with was a bag of delicious sweet caramel popcorn.  Steve was happy to find his hard-to-get Wingtime Garlic Wing Sauce.  If you like to make your own buffalo wings, try to find this sauce!  Or if you meet us for a “happy hour” down the road, ask Steve to bring some wings – he’ll be happy to oblige!

History buffs may know that the 18th President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, lived in Galena after the Civil War.  He was so esteemed by the residents of Galena that he was given a mansion in which to live.  While in town on a rainy day, we took a guided tour of the mansion.  Ninety percent of the furnishings are original, left by the Grant family.  Several other buildings on the property displayed interesting exhibits, including one consisting of painted stones with all of the Presidents and First Ladies represented.  We also saw White House china from 14 administrations, and displays of the pets of every U.S. President.

We came back on a rare clear and sunny day to get the only real exercise we would enjoy during our stay.  We followed the Galena River Trail, clocking 7 miles on the flat terrain.

Galena River Trail
Galena River Trail, looking east

I stopped at the Buehler Preserve, a wet prairie that is preferred by some of the area’s colorful flowers:

Galena is located on the banks of the Galena River, which flows out to the Mississippi.  It’s a very picturesque place, due to all of its rolling hills and exposed rock.  Our short time there gave us only a glimpse of what it has to offer.


Dubuque, Iowa

wpid30262-2014-09-10-WI-1410239-.jpgAcross another border was Iowa, and Dubuque was only seven miles from our campground. The city is the “birthplace of Iowa”, and its oldest city.  It rests upon scenic bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.  The Riverwalk along the Mississippi was our initial destination, and while strolling along we were able to admire the various river art sculptures on display for the summer. Downtown,  I was taken once again by the unique architecture of the historic buildings in the downtown area.

Town clock, Dubuque Iowa
Town clock in the middle of Main Street

This was the first time we had seen a water fountain just for doggies.   Cool!

Port of Dubuque, IA
Man’s best friend gets his own water fountain in this town!

We rode up the shortest, steepest cable car in the world, the Fenelon Place Elevator.  The original cable car was built in 1882 by banker J.K. Graves, who lived on top of the bluff and worked at the bottom.  Since the ride in his carriage took 30 minutes, he decided to decrease his commute time by laying tracks and having his gardener let the cable car down in the morning and pull it back up at noon for lunch.  After his meal and a nap, the gardener let him down again, then back up once more after work.  That gardener must have been in very good shape!  I’m sure he was thrilled when a motor was finally installed and he was able to go back to just gardening.

Fenelon Place Elebator
Fenelon Place Elevator on the bluff

Today’s cable cars are pretty nice, having replaced the previous ones destroyed by fire.

Fenelon Place Elevator Company
Elevator up!

The railway is 296 ft. long and elevates passengers 189 ft. from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.  At the top we enjoyed great views of the business district, Mississippi River and all three states.

Fenelon Place Elevator
Panoramic view from the top; straight across is Wisconsin, and over to the right is Illinois

Summer may be over, but this city keeps their Farmer’s Market going until October. We had fun walking through and buying some fresh veggies.

I realize this post is long, even though I tried to cram in just the highlights of our activities in the three states – not easy to do!






  1. A delightful post. Your pictures are a feast for the eyes and your words make me want to visit a place I’d never thought of before. These are hidden treasures everywhere.

  2. I sure didn’t think it was too long. I enjoyed the entire post. Did I miss your discussion of the Daytripper book? Seems like it helped you find some really interesting things in spite of the rain. Some really fine architecture. I really like to visit little towns that have not been “updated”. Love your campsite with the chapel in the front yard and what looks like a windmill in the side yard.

  3. Loved Galena….the US little Switzerland. Our youngest had her wedding there. WINGS….heck yes!!! Parked on Mississippi last year by Dubuque, was one of our favs. Right now…on nice patio looking at Arkansas River. So great to be in a COE park again! Enjoy IA!!

  4. My nephew attends college in Platteville. It’s part of the University of WI. We used to go camping along the Mississippi River just south of Galena. I’m ready for some wings 🙂

  5. This is exactly what we love about living on the road. So many people don’t stop to spend time in small town America. It is amazing how interesting it is. We love discovering these small towns. Each has something to offer. You two are having a wonderful time with all your new discoveries:) Thanks for sharing them with us!

  6. Your chapel reminds me of the tiny church we just saw in Wytheville. So cute.
    Among Steve’s many talents, he is now a cow whisperer?
    We have seen several grottos in Texas. The embedded objects add so much to the beauty of the place.
    I would love to take a tour of Grant’s home. I love anything and everything related to history.
    Now I think I could do that cable car. Short works for me.

  7. It’s so much fun to discover little known gems in our journeys! You two do such a great job of finding interesting things wherever you go. I’ve done a lot of mosaic work and would love to see those mosaic shrines. Loved the elevator story — that poor gardener!!

  8. I think you two win the award for discovering little gems no matter where you travel. After reading about the grotto I realized that I had been there probably 30 years ago.

  9. The grottos and shrines remind me of Watts Tower in LA. Both that one looks more extensive and with clear designs. Love the “Rolling Hills” and “Looking East” images. I always wondered about Illinois. Now I got some views of it. Thanks, M. 😀

  10. You are so right about this area being full of interesting things. We were just at the COE campground in Potosi which is right on the Mississippi. The fall color was just starting and it was gorgeous.

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