Upper Iowa River is a gem
—by Steve Lekwa
I was prepared to be at least somewhat disappointed. A group of guys I have traveled the back woods with for nearly 40 years had originally planned a long weekend trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in NE Minnesota. It was something we hoped to make an annual event after last fall’s trip up there. Schedules just wouldn’t allow for that much travel time, though. Instead, we opted to get a couple of days paddling in on the Upper Iowa River near Decorah, IA. Time together with that group of friends has always been pleasant, though, and this trip turned out to be anything but a disappointment.
The weather cooperated in providing two of the nicest early fall days you could want for our time on the water. Temperatures topped out in the 70s after cool nights spent around a camp fire. Winds were light. The skies were clear to partly cloudy. The river cooperated in providing a good flow rate for a time of year that often finds water levels a bit low. Instead of dragging bottom and having to wade at times, we sailed along at a fine pace and shot rapids that were steep enough to actually feel the fall. A few of those rapids actually required some strong paddling and maneuvering to keep from potential roll-overs. There were a couple of close calls, but we all stayed dry. The Upper Iowa River Valley, itself, provided scenery that was just as good, if not better than, anything we have enjoyed up North.
The Upper Iowa River is an Iowa gem of great value. Nowhere else in Iowa can you find majestic stands of old White Pine crowning high limestone palisades that tower more than 100 feet above the river. Forested bluffs more than 300 feet high offer views of occasional White Birch, Balsam Fir, and Spruce that might lead one to think they were hundreds of miles farther north. There are even Pacific Yews, a species that is hundreds of miles from its normal range. These are remnants of a time about 5000 years ago when our climate was much cooler and wetter than it is now. Sugar Maples were near the peak of their fall color, adding splashes of yellow and deep red-orange amid the still-green oaks and pines. An occasional White Ash added a dab of purple while Stag Horn Sumac and Virginia Creeper added brilliant reds to the landscape. We saw occasional Bald Eagles and Great Blue Herons along with Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, Kingfishers, and many migrating warblers.
The Upper Iowa is fed at regular intervals by cold springs. Some of those are quite spectacular and provide flows as large as small streams. Most flow from the bases of limestone outcrops right at the river’s edge, but one emerged higher on the slope and cascaded down moss-covered rocks to the river below. The constant feed of cold water supports populations of trout even in hot summer weather. Holes well in excess of six feet deep are frequent and hold good populations of Walleyes and Small Mouthed Bass. If I could find anything to complain about, it would relate to those fish and the fact that we couldn’t catch them while others did. A man fishing with worms had as beautiful a stringer of Walleyes as you could want even way up North, and he was catching them right at mid day. We tried the same hole he was fishing, but to no avail. We’ll have some worms along next time instead of just flies and other artificial lures.
Those who wish to get their hunter safety certification completed before shotgun deer and pheasant seasons have one more chance in Story County this fall. A class is being offered by Nevada Parks and Recreation at Gates Hall on the evenings of October 14, 16, 21, and 23 from 6:30 to 9:00 each evening. All sessions must be attended to be certified. Registration must be completed on the Iowa DNR’s web site on or before Oct. 12. Anyone born after January 1, 1972, must complete a certification program before they can buy their fist hunting license. A person must be at least 11 years old to enroll, but won’t receive their certification until their 12th birthday. The course will be taught by certified instructors and all materials are provided free by the State of Iowa.