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It’s personal at the National Mississippi River Museum

Courtesy National Mississippi River Museum

I had never guessed that under the calm Mississippi River swam creatures with the mouth of an alligator and body of a fish until I visited the National Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque. The museum revealed these alligator gars and many more mysteries of the Mighty Mississippi.

Albino alligators, 100-pound catfish and curious otters live in the large aquariums at the museum. I loved discovering the Mississippi River’s complex ecosystem, which was located right outside the museum, instead of somewhere across the globe as is typically the case for many aquariums.

The importance of the river became clear to me after seeing an enlarged map of the Mississippi’s watershed, which reaches across 31 states. I also engaged in the exhibits by watching the siltation process and by piloting an on-screen river barge, with some success.

Outside are riverboats you can explore, such as the W.M. Black steamer ship. I strolled the decks of the national landmark vessel and also toured the engine room and the pilothouse.

In 2010, the museum finished the $40 million National River Center. Inside, four saltwater aquariums hold sharks, rays and schooling fish found at the mouth of the Mississippi. Guests can also watch 3-D and 4-D movies where special effects engage your senses with dramatic sound, wind, mist, seat movement and smells for a realistic experience.

After my visit, I no longer looked at the Mississippi River as just another river; instead, I imagined what incredible creatures might lurk beneath its muddy waters.