Dense forest surrounded the thin road. The sound of rustling leaves and chirping crickets filled the air. The sun struggled to break through the impenetrable foliage, casting the world in a shadow that seemed inescapable. Every so often, another car would drive by; a reminder of the busy world that existed close by. I was again searching for a place to meditate, and had discovered this state park located on the banks of the Mississippi. Little did I know upon arrival, I would soon be lost within myself, within my mind, and within the Mines of Spain.
Originally inhabited by the Mesquakie, where they traded furs with French voyagers and mined lead from the canyon walls, the mines have a long history of being an integral part of whatever community resided near them. Located right on the banks of the Mississippi, this area provided lush soil and wild game to sustain not just the direct communities, but also for its inhabitants to commence trade with villages further away. This allowed the growth of both indigenous tribes and new settlers.
Often today, we find ourselves telling a narrative of genocide and colonization when recounting the origin stories of American towns. The Mines of Spain tell a different tale. One of community and prosper.
It starts with Julien Dubuque in 1788, the first European to settle on Iowa soil. Although it was owned by Spain, it was still inhabited by the Mesquakie, who almost lived as if the Spanish didn’t exist. They hadn’t set up any colonies and mostly only found the river useful, leaving the tribe to fend for themselves and live their lives however they saw fit. In 1796 when Julien received permission from Spain to make the settlement of Dubuque, he married the Mesquakie chiefs daughter, forging a relationship between the settlers and local that was equally fruitful. Recognizing the vast potential of the lead mining the tribes were already doing, Dubuque specified the 189-square mile area to be named as “Mines of Spain.” This allowed trade to commence with tribes and settlers throughout the entire frontier bringing prosperity to the tribe and the area.
Today, the park is a premier destination for kayakers that want to take on the Mississippi. Catfish creek (there the tribes village was located) is the perfect spot to jump into the water and commence a day long voyage of paddling and soaking up sun rays. It was here that I started my adventure, equipped with my yoga matt and searching for a secluded place to find serenity.
Knowing that one way down the path in front of me lead straight to the water, I headed the other direction into the forest. This overgrown trail led me up a hill to a small castle like monument. Inside was the final resting place of Julien Dubuque, making sure his soul would never stray far from the land he was a part of. Beyond the tower, was an awe inspiring view of the river, bringing a feeling of humility to my being, reminding me how small I am as a single human.
Still searching for tranquility, I continued to Horseshoe Bluff where the trail took me up into the top layers of the mines. Looking down and seeing the sheer cliffs along with the layers of rock exposed from years of erosion made the earth seem so powerful. I was humbled as I pushed deeper into the trees, transported into a world more like that of the past. More like one the original tribes would have inhabited. It’s rare moments like this that I can really get lost in. It’s rare moments like this that I truly feel connected with the past.
I sat down in a clearing and closed my eyes.
I am at peace as I escape into my mind. My body is at once a part of the park around me, feeding off of the energy it is providing. I am thankful that I have this serene playground to help my aura.
Before I know it, I am back with myself and I open my eyes. Five feet away from me is a deer and her fawn, seemingly unaware that I was there. Or maybe they were drawn to my by the energy I had been expelling. I reached for my camera and they notice me, running off quickly but stopping to look back before they fully make their retreat.
It’s time to head on.
I am thankful for this park.
Closest Supercharger Dubuque IA 3 mi
400 S Locust St, Dubuque, IA 52003
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Spanish Mines State Park
8991 Bellevue Heights Rd, Dubuque, IA 52003
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