by Jim and Melanie
After a large breakfast at Johnson’s in Elkader, we drove south toward Strawberry Point. Did you know they claim to have the world’s largest strawberry on display above city hall? We’ve seen it many times. By our judgment, at 15 feet tall, it is the largest.
A short distance from Strawberry Point is Backbone State Park. Established in 1919, it is Iowa’s first state park. We have visited several times in different seasons. This visit was quite chilly. We saw no other people and had the whole place to ourselves except for the birds, squirrels, and several bald eagles. At one point we counted seven eagles swinging through the sky, like skaters gliding on ice. One of the eagles came low over Melanie to check her out. As it turned to fly away, she could hear the rustling of its feathers in the quiet air.
The Maquoketa River meanders through Backbone on its way to the Mississippi. It carved some impressive cliffs through the bedrock. Our first hike was along a formation called the Devil’s Backbone. Here the river forms a loop around a high narrow ridge formation more than 80 feet above the water. The sheer cliffs provide beautiful views.
This Google Maps flyover gives some perspective. Vertical relief is exaggerated. There is a parking lot in the first scene. That is where we started our hike. We proceeded along a very narrow and high ridge with several vantage-points of the river 80 feet below. The trail continued to the left, taking us around the large lobe of land in a clockwise direction. The loop brought us back to the parking lot. From there we walked along the riverbank on the left side and returned the same way. As the video zooms out, you can see the surrounding farmlands. Most of those fields had been corn or soybeans.
This gallery gives a closer view of the trails and rocky terrain. During our visit we saw no other people in the park. It was nice to have the peace and quiet.
Near the west entrance was a museum dedicated to the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps CCC workers at Iowa parks. The handsome building was closed for the winter season. We looked around and admired the stonework. More about the Iowa CCC at this video link.
Though it was a short visit to the park, on the way from one place to another, we’ll return. Backbone is a favorite of ours, a historic and scenic gem in eastern Iowa.