Pike's Peak State Park, McGregor, Iowa

Nov 16, 2012  | 3 min  | Ep 206

t's been said that Pike's Peak State Park is one of the most photographed places in Iowa.  But there's much more to this park than just a great view of the Mississippi River.  The park is named after Lieutenant Zebulon Pike who in 1805 was sent to explore the Mississippi Valley and select locations suitable for military posts.  Pike recognized the bluff as an important location for a strategic fort.  And while everyone agreed they still put the fort on the other side of the river near Prairie du Chien.  And in case you're wondering, Lieutenant Pike also discovered Pike's Peak in Colorado.

Before Pike arrived, the area was inhabited by Native Americans of the woodland culture.  Within the park there are 60 mounds that were created over 800 years ago.  Most are conical or linear in shape but there are also effigy mounds in the shape of animals, like this one in the shape of a bear.

Along the 11.5 miles of trails within the park, hikers can find fossil evidence that proves that on more than one occasion Iowa was covered by a shallow inland sea.  A half-mile long boardwalk takes to you Bridal Veil Falls where a spring-fed creek tumbles over rocks of the Platteville formation.  Bridal Veil Falls takes its name from the icy veil that forms as a frozen cascade in the winter.

Just north of Pike's Peak State Park is the McGregor Office and Visitor's Center of the upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.  To make sure there was a safe haven for migratory birds on their journey, the upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge was established in 1924.  In total, the refuge covers just over 240,000 acres and is one of the largest blocks of flood plain habitat in the lower 48 states.  It is where nearly half of North America's bird species and about 40% of its water fowl spend at least part of their lives.

Matt Tschirgi: Behind us today we have nearly 100,000 canvas back ducks in the closed area and they are just passing through on their way south.  Tunder swans are beginning to show up and they will be passing through on their way to Chesapeake Bay so they have a different migratory route.

The refuge extends 261 miles from the Chippewa River in Wisconsin to near Rock Island, Illinois.  The nearly quarter of a million acres that it covers, however, are not contiguous and parts of the refuge lie in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa.  Besides offices at the headquarters, there is a visitor's center where more can be learned about the refuge in a hands on way.