Greg Koelker


Today is the Ides of March — a good day to stay home if your an emperor or named Caesar, but otherwise it is just the middle of March — can April be far behind?

A week ago last Sunday morning, after setting up our “kid in a gorilla suit” in his heated kennel with a bowl of chow, some squeak toys, fresh water and rub behind his ears, Ellen and I filled our Yeti coffee mugs and set out southward from Stoddard along Hwy. 35 to Cassville and lunch with my mom at J and J’s Sandbar.

I have spent much of my life gawking at this stretch of The Great River Road. The Mississippi Valley holds so many memories of driving home for the holidays, driving to play in the band, occasional hitchhikers, nasty snowstorms and car accidents, train art, carpooling to De Soto, fall colors and an occasional landslide. (Those “Watch for Falling Rocks” signs ain’t just for show ya know.) For many years I had the most beautiful drive to work in the world. The carpool — between conversations about football and the news — never tired of counting eagles, and roadkill, the changes of the seasons or noting what fishermen were doing or what was going on with the railroad workers (there but for the grace of God was a phrase that came to mind often when we saw those track workers out there sweltering in the sun or freezing in mid-winter.)

If you haven’t been along this route, the vast panorama of sky, bluffs and water is worth the day trip from La Crosse (or start up by Prescott for the all-day version) to Prairie du Chien for sure. The bluffs to the east start at this threshold and rise hundreds of feet, in some places almost straight up. There are escape routes like County O south of Stoddard, County K at Genoa, Mundsack Road, Hwy. UU at Victory, Rush Creek Road north of Ferryville, Hobbs Hollow, Kettle Hollow, and more that wind up and away from the river and up coulees (coulee is fancy for hollow) that I haven’t driven mostly to the tops of all those bluffs.

There are some good places to eat along the Mississippi; Rockies, Big River Inn, Great River Roadhouse, Bright Spot, The Wooden Nickel, Spring Lake Tavern, and lots more in Prairie. Most recently El and I met her sisters at Ft. Mulligans in downtown Prairie du Chien for a great lunch.

I have a few favorite places to stop when I have a mind to shop or just catch up with Jennifer and Karen at The Captain’s Bait Shop, or Jack and Ramona at J and R’s Surplus. Of course, my favorite big boy toy store is Cabela’s, especially when I have a gift certificate or extra cash burning a hole in my pocket.

The Burlington Northern railroad tracks are to the west of much of 35. Yeah, you can cross them but not legally in most places, but that is for another column. Mark your calendar for April 8 and plan to attend your local Wisconsin Conservation Congress hearing — more on the agenda later, too.

The river stretches wide and the view rarely the same from day to day. There are a hundred places to get great photos or just take in the fresh air and vastness of the river valley. Well worth the trip, even now when Ol’ Miss is frozen from shore to shore. Incredible photo possibilities when the weather geeks tell us the sun is going to be shining at dawn or dusk.

Until next time, get out — we got a bulb garden at Bittersweet a couple weeks ago. It is gorgeous but fading. Ellen always got me one for my classroom back in the day. The students loved it. I love it because it reminds of times soon (I hope) to come. On the downside, now we have some gnats flying around the kitchen, another reminder of times to come. Speaking of pests and being on your guard; you still might be able to catch a leprechaun by Sunday and get your three wishes on St. Patrick’s Day. Enjoy.

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Greg and his wife Ellen Koelker are retired and live on Grouse Hollow Farm near Stoddard. He is chairman of the Vernon County Chapter of Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

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