MISSISSIPPI: THE GREAT RIVER ROAD

Words and photographs by John Brunton

river
The mighty Mississippi snakes its way through the United States for some 3,700 kilometres, flowing down from Minnesota and Wisconsin to its sprawling delta in New Orleans and  the Gulf of Mexico. The Great River Road follows the Mississippi from beginning to end, and for a snapshot of these unique wetlands and lakes, wildlife, fishing, boating and river life, these pictures document a 300 kilometre stretch through the state of Wisconsin.
Map provided by Wikipedia
The riverside journey stops off at tiny towns like Stockholm and Alma that still cling to their immigrant Swedish and Swiss roots, to the early French fur trapper posts of Pepin, La Crosse and Prairie du Chien. 
Gunshops are everywhere in America, a part of daily life, and the Mississippi is no exception.

Outdoor enthusiasts can go fishing on  a barge moored in the middle of the mighty river, venture out in kayaks and canoes, explore immense wetlands like the Wayalusing Sloughs, a maze of tiny streams and estuaries that are a wildlife paradise. There are even some vineyards clinging to the hills above the river where they grow  curious indigenous grapes like Frontenac, Marquette and St Croix, cloned to survive in cold climates. The best place to pair Wisconsin’s famous cheeses with wine is Nelson Cheese Factory, whose wine list is as good as any Parisan bistrot or Italian enoteca.

Several wineries have planted vines along the banks of the Mississippi including Villa Bellezza whose cantina is modeled on a Tuscan palazzo

For eating out, you cannot beat burgers and fries at local roadside bars like Red Ram, River Rats and the wonderful Wooden Nickel Saloon, while in the evening  stop-off at a traditional Supper Club, like the welcoming Anker Grill, for a classic Brandy Old-Fashioned cocktail followed by a juicy steak or the Friday Night special fish dinner.

There is cheap and cheerful camping everywhere,  chic bed&breakfasts like the romantic Blue Door Inn and Castle La Crosse, a lavish 19th century folly built by a Scottish lumber Baron, or the rustic but idyllic wooden cabins of Eagle’s Rest Roost that nestle right on the bank of the mighty Mississippi.
Camp sites lie all along the Great River Road, with barbecues cooking every evening
Summer weekends bring travelling flea markets where you can pick up kitsch Americana souvenirs, not all of them politically-correct
These T-shirts are already are on sale everywhere, so we should all be prepared for Donald Trump winning a second term.
And locals can be serious about protecting their property
Wisconsin is ‘America’s dairyland’ and the countryside is dotted with picturesque wooden farms
The Red Ram Saloon in waterside Alma is just what you would expect from an All-America bar, great Bloody Marys, ice-cold beer and juicy burgers
In The Tiffany Bottoms (http://www.wingsoveralma.org/nature-center), lush wetlands that border the banks of the Mississippi, an ancient train takes nature lovers on wildlife adventure tours
Fishing is strictly controlled for environment protection – none can be sold commercially – but fisherman can still buy a license and cook up their own catch
Here in the upper Mississippi the width of the mighty river can stretch to some 5 kilometres, filled with islands and virtual lakes
With rivers and streams running into the river, the wetlands can stretch for miles across the surrounding countryside
Wisconsin’s iconic black and white cow which miraculously produces every cheers from French Camembert, Dutch Edam, English Cheddar to Italian Gorgonzola
The confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers
Local farmers set up roads stalls each November selling organic pumpkin for halloween
Some gun shops can come as a shock though, like Starkeys in Prairie du Chien, which is also a liquor store
Pete is professional fisherman with the last wood smokehouse (https://www.facebook.com/ValleyFishCheese/) for river fish and the dangerous snapping turtle that bites your finger off quicker than a rattlesnake

A baby pony and carriage at the annual Horse Fair in an old trapper’s camp, Prairie du Chien
Mike Clements runs a family fishing barge, a pontoon moored in the middle of the river where enthusiasts range from Amish farmers to Russian emigres who come when the river’s sturgeon are full of precious caviar eggs
The great paddle steamers still weave their way along the Mississippi from the town of La Crosse, some converted into luxury cruises, others for fun sunset sails offering free pizza and beer
War memorials mark every town and village in America, ranging from a rusty Vietnam helicopter to a Gulf War tank.
Where the Mississippi flows the train line faithfully follows, hugging the river bank with engines pulling hundreds of wagons.
Dams were built to counter the rivers dangerous rapids and today make the Mississippi navigable for giant transport barges

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