Railway up, chair lift down


Man, can we shove ten tons worth of touristing stuff into one little day, or what? This day would prove to be maybe our busiest day yet.

It started with brunch at Chestnut Mountain Resort near Galena, a snow ski place that in summertime reverts to… well, something other than a ski resort. Restaurant, hotel, mini-golf, zip line, etc.

As we’re eating brunch and admiring a stunning view of the Mississippi River valley from inside the restaurant, I notice that the ski chair lift is operating, for the sole purpose of taking visitors up and down the mountain. A light bulb goes on above my head and I say to my lovely wife, half-jokingly, “Let’s take the chair lift ride down the hill.” And she replies – remarkably, amazingly, stunningly – “Sure”. Didn’t see that one coming.

So we rode the chair lift. I took pictures along the way, while Deanna repeated the mantra, “Don’t look down! Don’t look down! Don’t look down!” It was a great ride, seeing the treetops below us and getting a great view of the mighty river. I’m proud of Deanna. It was a bit of a white-knuckle experience for her, but I’m sure she had fun. Pretty sure. Maybe.

From there it was on to Dubuque, Iowa, about a 15-minute drive away, for a day of sightseeing and shopping. Dubuque is an old and historic community, founded in the late 1700s by the French-Canadian trapper and lead miner Julien Dubuque. It was once a mining, shipping and manufacturing center and, in the 1860s, one of the 100 largest cities in the country. Today, tourism is an important part of the area’s economy.

After a quick stop at a Dubuque welcome center, where by chance the clerk behind the counter happened to be someone I used to work with at the (no longer existent) TV station, we challenged Deanna’s courage one more time with a ride up the Fenelon Place elevator, a very short and extremely steep incline railway (officially known as a “funicular” railway – thanks, Google).

The elevator dates back to 1882, when a wealthy businessman built it to get from his home on the top of the bluff to his bank at the bottom. The ride is slow, a little jerky and charmingly quaint.

You climb in the tiny rail car and pull a cord that rings a bell, signaling the folks running the elevator at the top of the hill that you’re ready to go up.

Once you reach the top of the hill, you get some great views of the city and three states – Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Deanna handled this well and we enjoyed the view.

Then it was on to Eagle Point Park, a city park on another high bluff overlooking the muddy Mississippi. There, we saw more spectacular views of the valley, and the barges and sailboats negotiating the lock and dam system on the river below.

Next, always a major highlight of our day: ice cream cones (I got cookies and cream; Deanna, peanut butter fudge).

She still needed to find gifts for co-workers back home, so we headed back to Galena for some more antique shopping. Funny how things work out: the very first store we stepped into had just what we had been looking for in countless other stores in Bardstown, Shipshewana, etc. - an antique women’s brush and hand mirror set. We did a little more shopping (did I mention Galena has approximately 52 gazillion gift and antique shops?) and eventually landed at a gourmet food store to pick up a few specialty items to help us celebrate the end of a busy day.

But it was not over yet. We had a little wine and cheese party in the motor home, then headed up to Monroe, Wisconsin, about a half-hour’s drive from Galena, to take in a drive-in movie.

There are certain things we seek out on every trip: covered bridges, historic sites (especially having to do with presidents), live theater productions (even if, as on this trip, they’re not exactly Broadway-worthy), ghost tours (as long as they’re riding and not walking) and drive-in movie theaters (though they’re getting harder to find all the time).

Tonight, the Sky-Vu Drive-in in Monroe featured The Secret Life of Pets, an animated movie that was sweet and funny, though probably not the sort of thing either one of us would have been terribly interested in seeing if it had been shown in a conventional theater. But you know, it’s that whole kitschy munching-greasy-food-and-watching-a-movie-from-your-car thing that we’re mostly going for. Hey, if you’re into serious, in-depth analysis of Welles’ Citizen Cane or an Ingmar Bergman film festival, chances are you’re not going to find it at the Sky-Vu in Monroe.

It was a long, fun day. Tomorrow, we hit the road to Waterloo, Iowa, to spend a few days with my mother, who lives in nearby Waverly.

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