Backbone | Our Private State Park

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.

As seen in October 2013…

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.


18 thoughts on “Backbone | Our Private State Park

    1. Jim R Post author

      I wish we could have gone inside. We will on another trip. Yes, the eagles are quite common around here all year long. I enjoy seeing them.

  1. Mrs. P

    Beautiful park, so lush and green. Seeing all those eagles must have been a real treat. I never tire of natureโ€™s creatures and eagles are so majestic. Iโ€™m glad they are thriving in your park.

    1. Melanie McNeil

      Eagles are pretty common around here, especially in spring and fall. We lives near the Iowa River, and there are places with dozens at a time. It isn’t very surprising to see one floating over our neighborhood.

        1. Jim R Post author

          If it is very cold up north and the rivers freeze, more eagles show up down here in the Iowa-Illinois rivers. We have a lot who stay through the summer.

  2. shoreacres

    Despite growing up in Iowa, I’ve never been to Backbone. It looks like a wonderful place. I especially like the museum building. The CCC did some wonderful rock work here in Texas, too. At Garner State Park, in the hill country, there is a dance pavilion built by the CCC — and weekly dances still are held there in the summer.

    Love the strawberry. In Sequin, Texas, there’s a very, very large pecan, and of course there’s that peach in South Carolina. We do love us some big fruits — I wonder if there are large veggies somewhere?

    1. Jim R Post author

      CCC did some beautiful works and provided food, shelter, and work for many.

      I bet there are internet sites dedicated to big fruits and veggies. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. hollyhejlik

    I love Backbone! Only been there once, but I am hoping to get there again in the next couple of weeks. ๐Ÿ™‚


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