As the cooler temperatures and vibrant colors of fall approach, now is a great time to get outdoors and explore Iowa’s many natural areas.

One place worth a visit is the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, located on the southern edge of Dubuque along the Mississippi River. This 1,432-acre park has all the trails, scenic overlooks and wooded areas one would expect from a place that includes Mississippi blufflands. Upon closer inspection, though, the story be­­hind the Mines of Spain makes it truly unique among Iowa’s many parks, so a quick history lesson is in order.

Long before Iowa became a state in 1846, there were many people who recognized the abundant resources the land offered. This is especially the case when exploring Iowa’s history in relation to the Mississippi River, which served as an important avenue of discovery for the first European explorers.

Native American cultures, like the Mesquakie, have long inhabited...