Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I visited Iowa with two friends as part of a  week long, Midwest road trip from Texas to Minnesota a few years ago. From Nebraska, we crossed into Iowa and spent the night near the border in Council Bluffs.  The next day, I was surprised by how much I liked Iowa.  It was just really pretty.

Two travel tips for Iowa: 1) never drive a white vehicle in Iowa. The state has many dirt roads.  We flew into the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport in Texas and rented a white car.  When we returned the car to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport in Minnesota, I was so ashamed at how our nasty BROWN car looked. 
Our brown car in Iowa.
2) Pack an ice scrapper.  In early October, we woke up to snow and ice in Iowa and we had nothing but our sweatshirt sleeves to wipe it off with.  We did have a nice snow ball fight though.
Our drive in Iowa
The main thing we wanted to see in Iowa was the Madison County Covered Bridges Festival.  Madison County Covered Bridges were made famous in the romantic novel and movie titled, The Bridges of Madison County.  In downtown Winterset, you can hop on a school bus and take a guided tour of the covered bridges.  We thought it would be more fun to visit them on our own using a map similar to this one.  We drove to the six bridges and the school house. 
My friends and I at Hogback Bridge.
Cedar Bridge
Cutler-Donahoe Bridge
Roseman Bridge
Holiway Bridge
Imes Bridge
One of the bridges is located in the Winterset City Park which also has a cool tower. 
Winterset City Park Tower
From there it was on to the festival, also in Winterset.  They had music, food (mostly different kinds of meat), crafts, alpacas, and a few cowboys too, which was a really nice surprise.  If you’re into old cowboy movies, Winterset is also John Wayne’s birthplace.  We didn’t visit that though.  After touring the county all morning, it was time to head on to our next destination.

From Madison County, we drove to Des Moines, the state capital.  We visited the outside of the state capital building, but I would love to go inside next time. 
My friend in front of the Iowa State Capital Building
Near the state capital is the John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park.  This park was kind of cool.  It has 27 pieces of artwork contributed by John and Mary Pappajohn.  The park stretches from  13th to 15th streets between Locus Street and Grand Avenue in downtown Des Moines.  On the website, they now have a podcast tour of the pieces of artwork that you can download and listen to while you’re walking around the park.
My favorite sculpture at the sculpture park 
If I was to go back to Iowa, there are a few things I’d like to do.

President Herbert Hoover’s Presidential Library and Museum is in West Branch.  He was our 31st President of the United States, and took the oath of office just 10 months before the stock market crashed in 1929.  It had to have been an interesting time to live in.  My grandparents were just babies.  The grounds of this presidential library and museum include his birthplace cottage, a reconstructed blacksmith shop, a one-room school house, a tall grass prairie, his gravesite, and a visitor center.
President Hoover.  Picture found online.
My grandfather and dad taught me what good music is.  When it comes to Christmas music and some amazing dance music, I don’t think you can get better than Glenn Miller – a Big Band leader and popular musician of the Swing Era.  I’d love to attend the festival in his honor and visit his birthplace and museum in Clarinda.  I think I would have a swinging good time!
Glenn Miller. Picture found online.
One of Iowa’s most famous travel destinations is the Amana Colonies. 
Amana Colonies Welcome Sign.  Picture found online.
These seven authentic German villages were founded as a religious commune in the mid 1800s.  The religious group from Germany that built this commune is called the Community of True Inspiration.  They first immigrated to an area outside of Buffalo, New York but later expanded to the Amana colonies in Iowa in 1855.  They were virtually self-sustaining but by the 1920s, influence of improved communications and transportation and finally, the Great Depression made the isolated communal life socially and economically impossible.  In 1932, the members of the Amana Society voted to abandon the communal system.  Having never heard of this religious group before my research, and the fact that people have preserved this village for that long, I’d love to go see it in person.  For more information on the Amana Heritage Society, check out this website.  This culture reminds me of the Amish communities that I mentioned about in my post on Indiana.  I’m not exactly sure of the differences between the two orders other than the Amish are still going strong.  Iowa does have their own Amish communities in Kalona about 50 miles from the Amana Colonies.  Within Kalona, you’ll find shops selling quilts and furniture, and you’ll be able to view the Amish traditions just like in Indiana.

The Cordova Observation Tower is in the Cordova Park near Lake Red Rock in the town of Otley.  It is the tallest observation tower in a public park in the Midwest at 106-feet tall with 170 steps to the top.  It also has the longest continuous fiberglass staircase in the world.  The view from the top looks beautiful!

Near Otley is the town of Pella, which has a festival for one of my favorite flowers – tulips.  Their annual Tulip Time Festival is the 1st weekend in May every year.  It has brought Dutch traditions to life among the tulips in Iowa for more than 75 years.  They have six parades and two shows during their three-day festival that features Dutch dancing and singing, Dutch costumes, Dutch treats, a craft market, a tractor rodeo, a quilt show, cheese market demonstrations, and “street scrubbing.”  You can’t miss them scrubbing the street because supposedly the festival is famous for this event. 

Pella Tulip Time Festival.  Picture found online.
Also, Orange City has their own Dutch Tulip Festival downtown next to their windmill the 3rd weekend in May- .  If you have a Dutch background, then you should also check out the Danish Immigrant Museum in Elk Horn while you’re in Iowa.  It was founded in 1983 and opened in 1994 to preserve the history of Danish immigration to America.  The museum has over 35,000 artifacts ranging from needlework to lawn tools.  Many of the items have been passed down through the generations in Danish families who immigrated to Iowa.

If you have a German background, you should visit the town of Manning and visit the Manning Heritage Park and German Hausbarn.  The town was founded by immigrants from Schleswig-Holstein, Germany in the late 1800s.  The town of Manning spoke German in their schools, churches, and homes, and the town’s newspaper was written in German until 1918, when World War I was declared and a bill was passed in Iowa that no foreign language would be spoken in public gatherings in the state.  One of the interesting pieces in the park is the German Hausbarn, built in 1660 in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany and reconstructed in Manning in 1999.
German Hausbarn.  Picture found online.
Two more countries represented in Iowa are the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  The National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library is in Cedar Rapids.  The museum and library were severely damaged in a 2008 flood, and will reopen on July 14th, 2012.  They will have exhibits of children’s books, jewelry, textiles, paintings, as well as one on the flood and how that impacted the Czechs and Slovaks in the area.  It looks really interesting and very well done.

The scoop is that we should chill out in the Ice Cream Capital of the World, Le Mars, Iowa during their Ice Cream Days activities the 2nd weekend in June.  DAYS of ice cream sound good to me.  Le Mars got this title in 1994 from the state of Iowa because more ice cream is produced in this town by a single company, Wells, than in any other town in the world.  Wells is the home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream.  While in town, be sure to visit Wells’s Ice Cream Parlor and Museum.

Lastly, while in Iowa, I’d like to visit the Grotto of the Redemption in Westbend because it is an interesting composite of nine separate grottos portraying scenes from the life of Christ using stories and gems from around the world.  I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it and it makes me wonder what the story is behind the building of the grottos.
Grotto of the Redemption.  Picture found online.
These are just the places I’d like to go to in Iowa.  If you know of anywhere else in Iowa we should check out, please leave a comment below.  See you later this week, when we’ll explore what’s just round the corner in Kansas.

**Pictures were taken by my friends and I unless noted. **

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