A river runs through it

What you can expect from a trip to the Quad Cities

Yes, we’re in the dull stretch of winter.

Sometimes a little warm, mostly cold and then some snow (actually very little this winter), while waiting for spring to show up.

Want to get away, but not too far? Try the Quad Cities (actually 5 towns now make up the Quads: Davenport and Bettendorf, IA, Rock Island, Moline and East Moline, IL). A short 21/2 hour drive by interstate and you’re on the Mississippi. We were there recently and took in the activities.

The Quad City (QC) area is the winter home to a large number of bald eagles. Some days there are over a 100 birds on the river. We weren’t that lucky, but did see a few, with a couple sitting about 40 feet above us in the trees overlooking the river. Lock and Dam 14 between Bettendorf and Le Clair offers an excellent viewing spot as its just below the roller dam – a roller dam??? Yes, instead of totally blocking all the water like a typical dam, the roller dam partially blocks the water to maintain a water level above the dam and is used during the shipping and recreational months to maintain the water level needed for the locks. The “rollers” move up and down as needed to back up the water and by doing so create turbulence downstream and this is exactly why the eagles are there. If the river is frozen, as it is most winters, the turbulence keeps a section of the river clear and any fish that pass under the rollers are pushed close to the surface. Easy prey for the hungry birds. With the warm weather we are experiencing, the river was fairly clear of ice, thus minimizing the number of eagles around. They prefer it cold and frozen! We encounter half a dozen photographers with high-tech cameras and long range lens setup to capture the bird’s antics. They preferred that site as there are generally a large number of birds around.

(Photos provided)

(Photos provided)

If you want to stay inside and enjoy a warmer climate, there are a number of casinos in the area. Originally, all of them were on the water as true river boats and would provide short cruises up and down the river as far as the locks would let them, but now they are permanently moored or are totally land based. Some are Las Vegas style with attached hotels and restaurants. Play poker, blackjack, slot machine or other games to your heart’s content or as long as your wallet allows. If Lady Luck is on your side, you could walk away with some real cash!

The Quad City is also home to John Deere Co.farm implements. The John Deere museum offers a hands-on experience with everything from the smallest to the largest farm equipment. You’ll see everything from a lawn tractor to the largest farm machine. Sit in the cab of a corn or wheat combine and marvel at all the changes now available. GPS controls and air conditioning are but a few. I guess the next step will be for robotic, driver-less combines and tractors with farmers working joysticks in front of wide-screen monitors from the comforts of their living room.

Want to get a little closer to the action? Tours are also available at the manufacturing facilities in Moline where you can watch as the farm monsters are assembled. Tours are limited so reservations are recommended.

I know we are talking about a winter get away, but the QC also offers a number of activities in the warmer months. When barge traffic starts, watching tug boats maneuver barges up and down the river is an interesting experience. Watch as they disassemble the barges to shuffle them through the locks and then re-assemble them to continue their trip. If it’s a busy day, other barges will plow into the banks of the river to dock while they wait for their turn.

Interesting fact: the QC is one of the few areas where the Mississippi runs east/west!

Late summer brings the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival and the QC marathon. Bix was a jazz musician and composer from Davenport. The festival honors his contribution to the music he loved with the four-day festival one of the largest jazz festivals in the US.

The marathon portion of the weekend is actually a 7 mile road course through the riverfront neighborhoods. What, only 7 miles, yes, but the majority of it is up the steep slopes beside the Mississippi. And, what goes up must come down. Most runners complain that the downhill portion is actually the hardest. The race ends as the jazz fest begins. Groups from all over the US play all weekend at various clubs and halls across the city.

Another specialty of the area is the grilled pork sandwich. Since Iowa is a major corn producer, they also raise a large number of hogs in the area so what better way to put them to good use than to cook them up in a great sandwich.

So with wildlife, entertainment, a large dose of Mississippi River history and the birthplace of modern farming implements, take a little time and see what’s just around the bend in the Quad Cities.

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