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.