Wildcat Den | Our Anniversary Hike

by Melanie and Jim

July 8, 2014 was our 34th anniversary of the day we met. To celebrate the occasion, we went to Wildcat Den State Park near Muscatine, IA. It had been many years since our last visit with our young son. He is all grown up now learning to fly for the Air Force.

We drove the hour from home and entered the park from the north in this map view from Google. We parked the car at P and set out with our hiking poles. Light blue arrows show our route started out counter-clockwise around the big loop. Right off the bat we encountered some trouble. There was a giant tree across the path, downed by the heavy rain and softened soil from the week before. Fortunately it wasn’t a harbinger of things to come.


Past the tree, the trail (marked with a yellow and red line) began with an uphill slope. It crossed the main road through the park and continued upward, finally flattening as we headed west.

It was the perfect morning with mild summer temperatures and moderate humidity, great for working up a little sweat with the exertion. The hike was going to be over 4.4 miles. We continued along the north boundary and down the west edge of the park.

The trail turned back into the trees and shifted downward toward point A on the map. We came to an overlook platform and a choice of routes. We chose down, into the Devil’s Punchbowl.

We again crossed the central road, through a campground, and trekked along the edge of the bluff. The tree tops below were at our eye level, until we also moved downward.

At the bottom of the incline, at the river, the park features a one-room school house and an old mill. See point B. The school building was closed. Much to our surprise, the grain mill was open. In fact, a man waved us inside and informed us they were just about to start up the machinery. Flooding from heavy rain the week before had come into the building. Volunteers were on hand to clean up and perform maintenance. If the test went well, their job was done.

These three brief videos give a good sense of the motions and noises as the mill came to life.

We felt very privileged and lucky in our timing, to see the machinery running. After visiting with one of the volunteers about the history of the mill, we headed back.

On the map above you can see the lollipop stick, back and forth to the mill from the main loop. We returned uphill to the loop and toward the car. At point C, sandstone bluffs rose high over our heads. Tremendous boulders had broken off over time, decorating the trailside.

We hope you get a chance to visit Wildcat Den State Park, or another park in your area. Go outside! It’s a great way to celebrate any day.


22 thoughts on “Wildcat Den | Our Anniversary Hike

    1. Jim in IA Post author

      Yes, it was a great day.

      Melanie talked with someone at length about the belts. I didn’t hear that conversation. I will ask her to respond to your question.

    2. Melanie in IA

      Hi Jim. Yes, I asked the volunteer about them right off. They are woven textile, not leather. He was not sure what material but my guess is cotton and hemp. They’re pretty sturdy. They have splices, of course, to size them correctly. Thanks for taking a look.

      1. Jim Wheeler

        Woven textile! I would never have guessed. And hemp? I’ve heard of its versatility. It’s like G.W. Carver’s peanuts – a thousand uses. I had looked in the clips for splices but couldn’t see any. The nineteenth century just exploded with ingenuity!

  1. Steve Gingold

    Congratulations to you both for 34 years. Mary Beth and I have been married for 30, but our first meeting goes back much further with interruptions in the relationship, but obviously meant to be. This looks like a great hike with many different facets.

    1. Jim in IA Post author

      Iowa is a great place for many things. I hope you get to visit the state sometime. It has many diverse parts. We were both born and raised in IL. We feel like Iowans now.

      Thanks for the congrats. We’re working on the next 34. 🙂

  2. aFrankAngle

    Definitely dispels the notion that Iowa is flat. (Although I already knew its not) … Congratulations on the meeting anniversary and cheers to your longevity.

    1. Jim in IA Post author

      Thank you.

      Very little of IA is flat. There are wonderful rolling fields. The far NE corner is the most beautiful along the MS River.

  3. Thread crazy

    Thanks for taking us along on your anniversary hike. What a memorable event!! I love old mills; we have a working one just a few miles from here. Looks like the mill there is in great shape.

  4. shoreacres

    Slightly belated but enthusiastic best wishes for your anniversary. The photos are so fine — do you see the dog in the bottom left?

    I don’t see a mill without hearing a staple of 1950s Iowa Grange evenings in my mind. Remember this one? It’s not only about a mill stream, it’s a perfect anniversary song!

  5. Victoria Lehman

    As a Muscatine native, born, raised, and lived there until moving to Iowa City seven years ago, I can say that Wild Cat Den was an important destination for me always. My own children, like yours, raised and gone far away for their careers, love it, too. For a few years, I would often ride my bike out Highway 22 along the river, then up into the park and back home on the New Era blacktop, a nice 25 mile loop. Small state parks are treasures. Kent Park, a county park here in Johnson county, is also beautiful, much larger, with great campgrounds and facilities. Congratulations on your anniversary! I think you chose a great way to spend it together.

    1. Jim in IA Post author

      Hi Victoria

      It is nice to meet you. And you are almost a next door neighbor.

      That sounds like it would have been a good bike ride. We took New Era as we left the park and went to Muscatine. We entered the park from the north side near an old church on a hill.

      I agree about the state parks. They each offer some special treats to visitors. We have visited many, some several times.

      Thanks for the congrats. We try to celebrate often.


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