To find out more about the Wisconsin Great River Road please check out the website www.WiGRR.com.
Find out more about Dean at deanklinkenberg.com.
Bob: [He’s] the author of a couple really cool books – actually, a handful of really cool books – dealing with the upper Mississippi River and the Wisconsin Great River Road, as well as the entire Great River Road. Dean Klinkenberg [is] my guest this month on the Wisconsin Great River Road Podcast. Dean, I appreciate you spending some time with us to talk about the beauty that is the Wisconsin Great River Road.
Dean: Thanks for having me on. I love talking about the river.
Bob: Dean, you currently live on the Mississippi, in St. Louis, but you spent some time up in La Crosse, Wisconsin. What was the start of the love for Dean Klinkenberg and the mighty Mississippi River?
Dean: I blame it on La Crosse, mostly. I went to college there; I moved there in 1982 to start college. Being that close to the Mississippi, I took pretty good advantage of the opportunities to get outside and experience the river when I lived there. I had a couple favorite activities that I did often. I loved hiking around in the bluffs and going to places around Grandad Bluff that I wasn’t supposed to go to – of course, don’t do that [because] you’re not supposed to do that – and riding my bike down to the river to the favorite spots for me to sit and brood. I just loved going down to the river and watching it swirl and watching the animals and the birds. The first time I canoed on the Mississippi was also from La Crosse. For some reason, my friend and I started off by paddling upriver. We weren’t the brightest at that age, but we made some progress and got up to some old beach, then we stopped and swam and had a little lunch before we paddled back. It just left a big impression on me from those years in La Crosse.
Bob: It is a beautiful area. I moved here in 1992 thinking I’d be here a year or two, and here it is 27 years later and I’m still enjoying La Crosse, for sure. One of the books you wrote is called, “Small Town Pleasures,” and I’m assuming there’s probably some small-town pleasures here in Wisconsin.
Dean: There are a lot. It’s one of the things that I think sets the Wisconsin Great River Road apart from other areas. It’s mostly small communities. You have places like Fountain City and Alma. [They are] these small, little river towns that have done a great job of maintaining their river identities and staying really connected to the river. Because you have so many small communities, you have a lot of small-town businesses. You have a lot of businesses that are owned locally. I like patronizing those small, local businesses as much as I can because the money I spend tends to stay in those communities. And you’re not sacrificing the least bit of quality. These are all great places, so it’s fantastic. People are generally nice and making sure you have a good experience. It’s just great all around.
Bob: You’ve had the opportunity to travel the entire Great River Road multiple times, I’m assuming.
Dean: Multiple times. I was just thinking about that today. There may be 50 to 100 miles of pavement I haven’t driven yet. I’m kind of losing track of how many miles I’ve driven just along the Great River Road since I started doing it, but I know it’s over 125,000 miles.
Bob: You’re driving that much and spending that much time on the Mississippi. Do you have a favorite spot in Wisconsin on the Great River Road?
Dean: Where I am at the moment. Just wherever I am at that moment. It’s hard to pick a favorite spot. I will say that that stretch of the Great River Road from Prescott down to Sandy Hook is among my favorite drives anywhere. Picking a couple of favorite spots along there, it’s really hard because there are so many that I enjoy.
Bob: The other book that you wrote, “Road Tripping Along The Great River Road,” talk a little bit about that and some of the cool road trips that there are here on the Wisconsin Great River Road.
Dean: One of the reasons I started writing these books is I was discouraged to see people who had heard so much about the Mississippi and went out of their way to drive to the banks of the river, took a look at it, and then drove on somewhere else. I wanted to give people more of a context for what they’re seeing and help them understand why they needed to spend more time along the Mississippi. All my books spend a fair amount of time describing local history for each of the communities along the river, and then giving people different ideas of things that they can see and do while they’re there. I know people like to take day trips when they drive along the Great River Road and then they zip back up to the Twin Cities or Madison or wherever. You need some time to really get to know it well. The Mississippi begs you to slow down. To really get to know it well, you need to take your time and explore it slowly, spend some time in the communities, spend a couple nights here [and] a couple nights there. You can do weekend trips over portions of the Wisconsin Great River Road, particularly around Lake Pepin. The Wisconsin communities along Lake Pepin would be great for a weekend. I know people tend to rush through those. I’d like people to set aside two or three days to do that. Traveling and being along the Mississippi is what was making me happy.
Bob: It’s awesome when you can find something you love to do and make some money at it at the same time. You’ve written a bunch of books, which is really cool. You’ve written nonfiction as well as some fiction books. Tell me about how we can find out more information about you, Dean.
Dean: There are two websites that I maintain. Mississippitraveler.com is the site where I have travel information about places along the Mississippi. I also write fiction. I write mysteries that are set in places along the Mississippi. Two of them are in print: Rock Island Lines and Double Dealing in Dubuque. The third book, which should be out next year, is tentatively called “Letting Go in La Crosse.” That will be topical, sort of the Wisconsin Great River Road. Those you can find out more about at deanklinkenberg.com.