A Trip to the Eagles

7_Bald Eagle

A bald eagle as seen from Highway 150 near Rowley, Iowa

It is Sunday, about five days after Dad passed away.  The last few days have been very busy, arranging for the funeral service, handling financial details, and talking to family and friends.  It’s been draining.  I’d contemplated a trip somewhere but had dismissed it, unable to justify leaving when there is so much more that needs to be done.

This morning I woke up thinking about Dad.  While half asleep / half daydreaming about things to do, these words just sort of entered my mind — “Take my car.”  There wasn’t any real decision; it just felt like I was supposed to leave.

With no destination in mind, I headed north with the fishing tackle and bait, a Rice Krispies bar, and a jug of iced tea in search of something to take my mind off all the stuff at home.  Though recently posting about the “final fall fishing trip” for the year, it seemed the rules had changed.  Nothing cures the blues like a good drive and some fresh air… and a few fish.

7_Eagles disturbAlong the way, I spotted a bald eagle in a tree 6_Eagles nextalong Highway 150 near the town of Rowley, 40 miles N-NW of Cedar Rapids.
Bald eagles were made famous in recent years when a camera was placed high in a tree in Decorah, Iowa to watch a family of the birds.  The Decorah Eagle Cam had received millions of hits as people all over the world tuned in.  Eventually, the new baby eagles grew and departed.  The nest went dormant but it is back in use once again.  You can Google and look for the webcam but I did not put a link to it here.  It’s the golden rule thing…

8_Trout Run TrailThe site is located about a city block from where I was fishing today – just on the north side of Trout Run Road, across from the Decorah Trout Hatchery.

After arriving in Decorah, the first priority was to do some fishing.  At this time of the year, the trout stocking is over.  A person has to walk a ways to catch anything.  I’m not fond of December fishing because it’s usually hit or miss.

1_Big DaddyThe first fish caught was a decent size.  I had just cast and was reeling in the bait in some shallow water when there came a huge surprise.  Unknown to me, the water ran under the bank and this lunker was hiding in the pocket.  He bit aggressively.  Once I saw him, it was apparent he was a whopper.

Trout tire easily.  I worked him to the bank, hooked a finger into the gills, and flung the fish to a safe distance from the water.  Thank goodness the camera was in my pocket!

“Big Daddy” came in at slightly over 19 inches from mouth to tail…  This was the largest trout I’ve caught in close to 40 years of fishing Iowa streams.  (starting back in the days when Mom washed my mouth out with a bar of soap for using words learned from Grandpa during those fishing trips)  Nobody will ever convince me that this fish wasn’t a gift from God during a very difficult period in my life when something this significant was needed.

After the fish were cleaned (I caught four in total), the temperature began to drop quickly.  While driving through Decorah and seeing the sights, a sign said “Phelps Park”.  I’d not explored that part of town and figured “Why not?”

4_Upper Iowa from Phelps Park

The Upper Iowa River as seen from Phelps Park

Phelps Park sits high on the hillside, with a great view of the downtown area.  The other part of the park overlooks the Upper Iowa River.  The orange colored land you see to the right is the Decorah Community Prairie.  A walking trail along the bluff follows the river.  It’s a “must visit” next spring.

5_Shulz Kiln

Near Phelps Park is the Schulze Kiln.  In the late 1870s, this and several other brick kilns were in operation in the area, eventually being shut down around 1920.  What you see above is a downdraft kiln.  It was stoked from the sides (in 10 places) and the heat was drawn down through the floor, traveled along a tunnel, and then escaped up through an external chimney.  I read that the downdraft kilns were more efficient for brick making.  There remain numerous dwellings and commercial buildings made from these locally produced bricks.

The kiln and Phelps Park are just two more cool things about this amazing community.  When time allows in the spring, there are more places to see and things to do.  (Note – this post didn’t mention Decorah food for once… Now that’s a first!)

After the sun went down, I went to Pulpit Rock Campground on the north side of town.  The grounds were configured for a Christmas LED light show with various businesses sponsoring each display.  It was amazing!  I took quite a few spectacular photos and will share them very soon.

3_Train Station

The old train station…now a chiropractic office

Thanks for taking the time to ride along and enjoy a little Sunday drive. Take care.

Bradford, the “Van Trekker”

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

12 Responses to A Trip to the Eagles

  1. Meg says:

    I’m glad you had a chance to take a break, Brad. Even short ones make a difference when you’re in a stressful situation. And with that large catch, I think it was meant to happen. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the pictures, especially of the (former) train station. I’m a real train lover and those old stations are so cool.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Knowing that, I’ll post some more pics of the old train stations. There is one I think you would really like in Independence, Iowa. It was restored and now is a cool little museum. Hmmm… It’s on the way to Decorah. There will be pics some day! 😀

  2. Carla says:

    Hi, Brad. I’ve read your blog over the past few months — preparing for my own vandwelling adventure soon. I don’t usually comment, but I wanted to express my sympathy for your loss. I think you are a person of deep spirit. Thank you for sharing your adventures and enthusiasm with your readers.

  3. tinycamper says:

    Brad, I think the fish was a gift, too.

    Glad you were able to get away for such a nice break from necessary stuff. 🙂

  4. Monu Teena says:

    OMG the Eagle.. I am just getting too much afraid of this Eagle 😀

  5. Pleinguy says:

    Glad to hear you were able to get away for awhile. Man you sure know how to find those trout. That’s an amazing catch! Hope it is a sign of good things to come. Take care.

    • VanTrekker says:

      Thanks. This one came from an undercut in the bank. It is true that the ones you get are the ones that you don’t see. He was tasty. It took the kitty and I two days to devour the fish. Like you, I think this might be a sign of good things to happen.

  6. Jerry says:


    Can you do a little experiment for me PLEASE !!
    Take 2 or 3 x 5 gallon Home Depot buckets & fill them with 125- 140 deg hot water, on a night that is 40 deg to 32 deg low , put them inside your van – with the lid securely attached, don’t knock them over while your sleeping in the van of course and tell me how the temp curve goes ? I would bet it stays around 68 deg all night long. Start hot water test no latter then 5 or 6 pm.

    tip: maybe use garden hose to fill buckets from the house laundry hose bib if needed ?

    Thanks Jerry

    send me e mail on how this works –
    you might have best night sleep ever

    • VanTrekker says:

      Sounds like a great experiment except that it will be a while before it’s that warm again… 🙁

      Tonight’s low: -2
      Wednesday’s low -11

      The low temperatures for the next seven days will not exceed 13… Heck, the high temps will never get above 26 all week! It’s going to be a cold one!

  7. Jerry says:

    Well I guess in that case you could try to see how much less electric or propane you would use if its that cold. I really surprised your heater can keep you warm inside the van at those temps ?
    Or are you able to sleep at 40 deg maybe ? Have you ever calculated how many Btu’s your using at those temps ? would be interesting to know. If you you how many oz propane per day I can figure it out.

    Will pray for warm fishing weather for you


    • VanTrekker says:

      Hi Jerry. I’ve been a puss lately. With the onset of frigid weather (and a 6 to 7 inch snow pack), I’ve been sleeping in the house the last couple of days. But tonight the bottom will fall out and it will hit -10 or more. I’m running a heater that draws about 1200 watts.

      The van is very cold right now and I’m going to run both electric and propane to get up to temp. Once it’s hit 70, I’ll turn off the propane and just run on electric heat. I prepaid the electric bill a ways. Running that heater will pull about 10 KW/H in 8 hours. Then again, that’s probably only a buck and I’ll have the van hotter than inside the house. 🙂