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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Down the Great River Road (aka the Blues Highway) - Quad Cities and Iowa

I loaded up the Volvo wagon with two teenagers, my lovely wife and the ratdog for an old-fashioned road trip vacation. We headed west from Chicago to the Quad Cities (Moline IL, Rock Island IL, Davenport IA and Bettendorf IA). These four towns hug both banks of the Mississippi. Our plan was to pick up Highway 61 in Iowa and head south. US 61 is called "The Great River Road" since it hugs the Mississippi for much of its length. It is also called "The Blues Highway" since it was the path out of the Mississippi Delta region travelled by the many blues musicians that headed north to Chicago after World War II. US 61 has been eclipsed by the major interstates nearby. The traffic levels on the historic road have dropped. It is a 2-lane highway in some stretches. It was perfect.

We spent our first night in Moline IL, home of Deere & Company (aka John Deere). Deere's profits doubled in the first quarter of 2011 (compared to the first quarter of 2010). Big Green made about $514MM (which is indeed Big Green). Lots of folks around the world want to buy a new Deere tractor, I guess. The farm economy is doing pretty well due to the spike in crop prices. Our pain is Deere's gain. Moline seems to be booming along with Deere & Co.; the tractor maker is the largest employer in the Quad Cities.

We stayed at the Stoney Creek Inn, located on the Illinois side of the mighty Mississippi. The hotel is owned by a regional chain that plays up the "Northwoods" motif - stone fireplaces, old wooden signs, moose heads, etc. The most remarkable part of the stay was the presence of the LPA Convention ("LPA" stands for "Little People's Association"). The hotel was full of dwarves and the people who love them. They were a fine group of folks, although dwarves like to party late into the evening, I learned. It was not a good place to sleep.

We also hit Davenport IA, a lovely town with a great art museum on the banks for the Mississippi (the Figge Art Museum, a sizable institution with a surprisingly large permanent collection of work by Mexican, Haitian and Midwestern artists). Unfortunately, the Figge is closed on Sunday so we could only admire the beautiful building, which was completed in August 2005. Davenport is also the home of the late, great Bix Beiderbecke. Along with Louis Armstrong, Bix transformed the role of the trumpet in popular/jazz music in the 1920's. Bix was a huge alcholic and died of the disease at the ripe old age of 28. The City of Davenport celebrates this native son every year with the Bix Biederbecke Memorial Jazz Festival.

We hit the local Quad City Botanical Center (where it was Pirate Day - I don't know why the pirates were being celebrated in a huge greenhouse next to the Mississippi River). After that odd experience, we headed south on US 61 to Burlington IA - home of the Lady Liberty facsimile pictured above. Burlington is also the home of Snake Alley, allegedly the "crookedest" street in the world (it looks like a smaller version of Lombard Street in San Francisco). There are some lovely old churches in Burlington (some are available for sale if you have a yearning to own a 19th century house of worship).

We continued down the Great River Road into Missouri.......I will tell that story tomorrow.

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