The earliest known inhabitants of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area during historical times were the Mesquakie Indians. Their village was located just south of where the Julien Dubuque Monument now stands, at the mouth of Catfish Creek. From this site, the Indians carried on a fur trade with French voyagers. They also worked the lead mines for many decades dating back to before the Revolutionary War. There is evidence of prehistoric Indian cultures, some dating back as much as 8000 years. Mounds, village sites, rock shelters, trading post sites, and campsites dot the landscape.
Dubuque is credited as being the first European to settle on what is now Iowa soil in 1788. In 1796, Dubuque received a land grant from the Governor of Spain who resided in New Orleans at the time. The grant gave permission for Julien Dubuque to work the land which was owned by Spain, and specified the 189-square mile area to be names as "Mines of Spain". Dubuque eventually married Potosa, daughter of the Mesquakie Indian Chief, Peosta. Dubuque died March 24, 1810.
Lead mining was a major part of this area's history, first by the Indians, and in later years (late 1830s through the 1850s) by European miners and farmers. The Civil War caused renewed lead mining activity which waned after the war but continued until 1914.
The Julien Dubuque Monument, built in 1897, sits high above the Mississippi River and provides the "landmark" for the Mines of Spain Area. Julien Dubuque is buried on this site which provides a scenic vista of the 1380-acre Mines of Spain, the city of Dubuque, the Mississippi River Valley and of Illinois. When Dubuque died, the Mesquakie buried him with tribal honors beneath a log mausoleum at the site where the current monument now stands.
The Mines of Spain offers fine settings for a family or company picnic. Visitors can enjoy the outdoors, experience the E.B. Lyons Nature Center, hike the many trails and enjoy the natural vistas at the park. Picnicking facilities are available at the center, at the Julien Dubuque Monument, at the Horseshoe Bluff Area, at the canoe launch area, and at the south parking area.
The E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center serves as a visitor information center and park office. Displays and exhibits provide information about the history and features of the park. The Betty Hauptli Bird and Butterfly Garden, native prairies, woodland flower gardens, hiking trails, and historic Junkerman farm site are just some of the many attractions at the Center. The E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center is open year-round. Programs are offered at the Center on Sunday mornings during the summer season; and special programs can be scheduled with the park ranger at other times.
The geological history of the Dubuque vicinity is laid bare in this area. A thick layer of Ordovician dolomite rock has been exposed in the horseshoe-shaped quarry. In addition a 15-acre wetland with two floating trails gives access to a wildlife observation blind. Interpretive signs provide interesting insights into the geology, history and resources of the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area.
Hiking and cross-country ski trails are available at the Mines of Spain. Four miles of ski trails are maintained, and 18 miles of hiking trails. There are 11 individual nature walks within the park, including those at the E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center and another at the Horseshoe Bluff Site. Other trails provide a wide range of opportunities for visitors to view Mines of Spain on old winding logging roads, to view limestone bluffs, scenic vistas, and to enjoy a hike through forests and prairie. Some of the trails are steep and challenging.
The Mines of Spain is a wildlife management area that allows trapping and archery hunting for all seasons. Limited firearm hunting for deer (regular gun season in early December) and spring turkey hunting (first season in mid April) is allowed south of Catfish Creek. Call the park ranger for details.
The Mines of Spain State Recreation Area was dedicated in 1981. It was acquired with the assistance of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. The acquisition helped assure the protection of an important piece of Iowa's historical and natural heritage. In 1993, the area was designated as a National Historical Landmark.
The 1439 acres which make up the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area include a variety of interesting land forms, plant species and communities, animals and water types. Much of the area is rugged, wooded Mississippi River Bluffland. While much of the original timber along the Mississippi River was logged off during the steamboat era (1865-1880), portions of the Mines of Spain Area were left untouched, leaving us with burr oak trees today that are over 250 years old.
The Mines of Spain Area was designated as one of Iowa's "Watchable Wildlife Areas", and with good cause. Rare species, including the bobcat, red-shouldered hawk, flying squirrel and bald eagle have all been seen on the area. In addition the area is home to a large variety of songbirds, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and numerous small mammals. With wetlands, creeks forest, prairies, cropland, meadows and the Mississippi River, the Mines of Spain offers a wide variety of Iowa's natural world for those who take the time to look and listen.
The 1439-acres are located along the south edge of the City of Dubuque. The eastern boundary is formed by the Mississippi River. Access to the Mines of Spain and E.B. Lyons is off Hwy. 52 South, which intersects with Hwy. 61/151 on the south side of Dubuque.
The site is open year-round with standard park hours of 4 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. The nature center is also open year round, with a winter schedule of October 16 to April 30, Monday through Friday, and a summer schedule from May 1 to October 15, seven days a week. The nature center building hours are generally 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday in the summer.
Mines of Spain is a National Historic Landmark, a National Wildlife Federation Nature Area, a Watchable Wildlife Area in Iowa and also contains the 600-acre Catfish Creek Preserve. Rich in history, with abundant wildlife and unique plant communities, the Mines of Spain has something for everyone.
Visit the Friends of the Mines of Spain