The Great River Road

Old Man River, Father of Waters, “body of a nation,” Big Muddy—by any name the mighty Mississippi cuts a mythic figure across the American landscape.

Hwy-35: Main Street USA

At Maiden Rock, about 50 miles southeast of St. Paul, Hwy-35 enters the heart of the Driftless Region, picking its way between steep bluffs and the wide Mississippi. Small towns, populations numbering only in the hundreds, cling to the margin, competing for the distinction of having the longest Main Street in the nation, if not the world; for some of these long hamlets the GRR is nearly the only street. These towns wear their age well, too busy with fishing or loading up barges to make themselves pretty for tourists, or to tear down every old building that no longer seems useful. Most of these towns have at least a gas station, open late, and a roadhouse with Old Style or Pabst neon in the windows, open even later. Along with the riverside scenery, most also have a single tourist attraction: Amish crafts in Stockholm, a cheese factory in Nelson—and Alma has an observation platform and small café over Lock and Dam No. 4, where you can watch river traffic “lock through.” In Pepin, midway between Maiden Rock and Alma (and roughly midway between Minneapolis and La Crosse), there’s a replica of the log cabin where Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867. Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was set here, though it’s hard now to imagine that this was still the wild northwestern frontier back then (but it was)

 

Maiden Rock

Stockholm

Nelson

Alma

Pepin