The Great River Road

Across the Mississippi River via an austere modern suspension bridge, Burlington was the frontier capital of Iowa, founded in 1808 and holding many Victorian homes and commercial buildings. In 1887 Burlington gave birth to the great American nature writer Aldo Leopold, then in 2004 the city was awarded “Great American Main Street” status from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Now it has a fun Class A baseball team (the Bees, a Los Angeles Angels farm team), a casino, a nice bridge over the Mississippi, a great All-Star Maid-Rite Diner (112 W. Division St., 319/758-7648), and some busy downtown rail yards—onetime home base of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad conglomerate.

If you have time to wander away from the river and downtown areas, head up to the 6th Street shopping district on Heritage Hill, following the twists and turns of “Snake Alley,” a section of Washington Street that Ripley’s Believe It or Not once called the “Crookedest Street in the World.”

At Niota, the ghost of a town that marks the next crossing south of Burlington, a nifty old 1920s double-decker swing bridge (trains below, cars on top) crosses the Mississippi, landing on the west bank in the historic town of Fort Madison, Iowa.