February 2022: Color the Wind

On Feb. 19, we braved bitterly cold temperatures to attend Clear Lake’s Color the Wind kite festival. This annual festival has been going on for 20 years, but this was our first time to attend the event.

Heading north on I-35, we could see the kites as soon as we took the Clear Lake exit. We drove in the direction of the lake and found a place to park about six blocks away. I’m so glad I had on ice cleats and lots of layers of warm clothing – it was cold and slippery. You can actually walk out on the lake! Man, it was cold out there. Like, a whole lot colder than walking on the sidewalk. But it was sunny, and it was such fun to see the bright, oversized kites, and the kids being pulled on sleds, and just to have that experience. We stayed until our fingers were too frozen to take pictures.

December 2021: Reiman Gardens Winter Wonderscape

After the incredible holiday light display we experienced in Chicago, I wondered if Reiman Gardens’ light show in Ames would be a disappointment. But we’d purchased tickets, and the lights looked pretty great from the road. So one night just before Christmas, we walked through our own local version of twinkling holiday magic.

2021 was just the second year that the 17-acre botanical center was decorated for a holiday walk. In past years, the gardens always featured some lighted trees, but they were intended to be viewed from a distance. Now it was a full-blown immersive extravaganza, with paid admission to walk through lighted tunnels, sparkly diamond-encrusted trees, disco balls, stars, whimsical figures, snowflakes, and a giant fountain of lights.

We loved it!  The air was chilly, so we walked quickly through the displays, but it was really eye-popping. Like the Chicago version, this is one of those events that’s truly perfect for the whole family. Kids will love the lights, and adults will appreciate the artistry and technical expertise involved.

Afterwards, inside the (heated) Hughes Conservatory, kids and adults will also enjoy a holiday train display and tropical plants.

Last year, Winter Wonderscape was open Thursday through Saturday evenings in December, plus Jan. 1. I haven’t seen any dates for this year, but I assume it will be a similar schedule. Go and enjoy! Just remember to bundle up.

December 2021: Chicago’s holiday lights

Okay, so by December of 2021, it had been a full two years since Dave and I had really gone anywhere together that wasn’t to visit friends or family. Chicago is in the Midwest, sure, but it’s a big city and we stayed in a big-city hotel and ate all our meals in great restaurants. It was going to be such a treat!

We originally scheduled the trip for the first weekend in December to coincide with the pre-Broadway run of the musical “Paradise Square.” We love seeing these shows with the original casts before they ever open on Broadway. (A few years ago, we saw “Tootsie” in Chicago; other years we caught “Frozen” in Denver and “The Scottsboro Boys” in Minneapolis.)

Once we chose Saturday, Dec. 4 as the date of the show, we started to build the trip. I desperately wanted to see the holiday light display at the Chicago Botanic Garden, but I didn’t know much about the logistics. When I started doing research, it seemed unlikely that we could fit both activities in one weekend. The garden is considerably north of the city – a daunting drive and too far to Uber. And we waited too late to get tickets for that weekend anyway, so the distance was a moot point.

I whined around a bit but started thinking about seeing lights along Michigan Avenue and in Millennium Park, visiting the Christkindlmarket, and shopping. We could make this work! But still…I was sad about not getting tickets to the Chicago Botanic Garden Lightscape.

But then we had a brilliant idea: Drive to Chicago on Thursday instead of Friday (tickets were available that night!), spend Thursday night in Glencoe, Ill., near the garden, and then head into the city on Friday morning. With our theatre tickets set for Saturday, that would give us plenty of time to explore.

A scary setback, but there was literally light at the end of the tunnel

I was super excited about this trip. And then, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I tested positive for Covid. That scuttled our Thanksgiving plans, and had I not been double-vaccinated and boosted, the virus probably would have destroyed our Chicago plans as well. But by Dec. 2 I’d been isolating for 10 days and I felt well enough to travel, so off we went, with our fingers crossed that I didn’t have a relapse.

The drive from Ames to Glencoe, located about 25 miles north of downtown Chicago, was marvelously uneventful. We checked into our hotel and did a little shopping at a suburban Crate & Barrel before bundling up and heading to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We arrived just before sunset, and our timed tickets allowed us to enter the gardens under a beautiful, dusky-blue sky (above).

I’d seen photos of this Lightscape event (it started in 2019) in some tourism publications – there’s the famous one of the cathedral of white lights you can walk through (see our selfie above) – but beyond that, I will admit I didn’t know what to expect. Well, the whole thing absolutely knocked our socks off! The evening was cold enough to feel like Christmas, but not too cold.

We walked through one display after another, each one unique and artistically designed. From the mile-long lighted walkway… to soaring floral displays… to choreographed lights with music… to a reimagined Japanese garden of light…the whole thing was just spectacular. We could not have been happier.

After our walk, we were hungry. I hadn’t had much of an appetite the previous couple of weeks, and I hadn’t had a single beer or glass of wine, so I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt when we got a warm, cozy table for two at a happy, crowded, old-school Italian restaurant just down the street from our hotel. I drank wine and ate bread and pasta, and we chatted up the table next to ours (starting with an honest-to-god “I’ll have what she’s having” moment when their food came out).

What a glorious day! The rest of the weekend was great, but I’d have to say that first taste of travel freedom was probably the best…even though we wore masks everywhere we went (along with everyone else in Illinois).

In Chicago, we stayed at a downtown Hilton Garden Inn just south of the river, and it was close to pretty much everything we wanted to do. Our first goal was to stroll through the Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza, hoping it would spark memories of the markets we visited during the 2019 holidays on our wonderful Rhine cruise. But this may have been the biggest disappointment of the weekend. Yes, we enjoyed the warm, spiced glühwein, and we brought home the souvenir mugs (above) to add to our collection. But food? Meh. And shopping? Not great. And atmosphere? Well, the market is in a too-small space, surrounded by city streets and tall buildings. And too many people, even on a Friday afternoon. Not exactly the ambience we experienced in Heidelberg.

No biggie. We shopped at Macy’s on State, strolling past the holiday window displays.

We walked the length of the Magnificent Mile, stopping to be overwhelmed by the variety of dolls and accessories in the American Girl store (I still adore that store, even though my own girls are all grown up). As the sky grew darker, all the lights along Michigan Avenue came on, illuminating trees and buildings – total holiday magic.

We watched the ice skaters in Millennium Park, ate good food, and pooped out way too early that night, tired but happy.

On Saturday, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago. When an art museum is this good, it doesn’t matter how many times you visit – and we have been here a LOT. You’ll always see new things, and it’s always comforting to visit your favorite art. I was mesmerized by Barbara Kruger’s larger-than-life, career-spanning exhibition titled “THINKING OF YOU. I MEAN ME. I MEAN YOU.” And, of course, the wonderful collection of Impressionist and American art.

Then, later that night, we went to “Paradise Square,” a powerful musical with incredible choreography and fine original-cast performances all around. (The musical, now on Broadway, was nominated for 10 Tony awards, including best musical. Its star, Joaquina Kalukango, won for best performance by an actress in a leading role, and gave a standing-ovation-inducing performance at the Tony Award show last weekend.)

All in all, it was a terrific long weekend and got us in the holiday spirit for the rest of the month. Here’s one last parting shot:

October 2021: State parks and pumpkins

One Saturday morning last October, Dave and I got up early and hit the road. Our goal was to hike in some state parks in eastern Iowa and see some fall color.

First stop: Palisades-Kepler State Park near Cedar Rapids. We did a little hiking there (below). The trails were pretty, but as for fall color, not so much. I guess I should have expected that; it was really too early.

After a short hike, we headed to Mount Vernon, one of my favorite small Iowa towns. We spent waaayy too much time there. Got ourselves some lunch (bagels w/cream cheese and a latte for me) at Fuel Art & Espresso coffee shop. I love that place!

After eating lunch outdoors, we walked to Cornell College and walked around the campus. It was their homecoming, so lots of students and alumni were milling around. It was a very warm day – more like summer than fall. We walked back downtown and went to Polly Ann’s (below), one of my favorite antiques stores in Iowa. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been there, but it’s always such a treat. I bought a few little dishes that go with absolutely nothing I own, but they made me happy.

From there, we detoured to Sutliff to see the historic truss bridge (above). I’ve been here before, but Dave never has. We drank a beer at Baxa’s Sutliff Tavern, then went to Sutliff Farm and Cider House, which was really awesome. I’ve driven by but never stopped there before. We ended up buying a huge, beautiful mum for $12 (a steal), a big, round pumpkin for $7, and a mixed six-pack of hard cider drinks. It was tempting to just sit and drink outside on the sunny patio, but we needed to get back on the road.

Our next destination was Maquoketa Caves State Park. We arrived there in a very round-about way, thanks to Google Maps, and found a place to park. We headed out for a hike; the park has about six miles of hiking trails. Also, there are a lot of stairs in that park.

We hiked up and down the stairs, back and forth through the very open and airy Dancehall Cave (below), and looked into the mouth of some other caves. It’s a very pretty park. Many people go here to explore the caves (there are a total of 14 caves), wearing head lamps and crawling on their bellies through the mud. Not us; most caves totally creep me out.

Leaving the state park, we drove up to Delaware County and drove the Delaware Crossing scenic loop drive.

This is one of 11 scenic byways in Iowa, not counting two national scenic byways – Great River Road and Loess Hills. I’ve done many of these drives, but never Delaware Crossing.

It’s easy to follow, but honestly doesn’t seem much different from the other roads in that area. Highlights were the historic Lenox College campus in Hopkinton (below), which is now a museum complex (closed for the season), and Lake Delhi.

It was starting to get late, and we were starving by this time. We tried to find something to eat in Manchester but failed. We held out for Cedar Falls, because we knew there would be good food there. We ate at Montage, an upscale downtown restaurant at which we were extremely under-dressed. But they were nice and served us food even though we probably looked and smelled like we’d been hiking all day.

Getting caught up AGAIN

I feel like a stranger in a strange land. I haven’t regularly posted about my travels for so long that I couldn’t even remember how to log in. (My last post was fall 2020…a lifetime ago.) I am looking forward to getting back in the groove, with at least a few back-posts about places I’ve visited in the past year. And then, who knows? I’m hoping to start doing more serious travel in the coming months.

My life, along with everyone’s, changed suddenly in March 2020. That month coincides with buying a new house. The entire next year was just strange…coworkers working from home, making a magazine without ever leaving my desk to do an interview, photo shoots with masks. Routines shattered.

In June 2021 I left my job at the Iowa State University Alumni Association, a communications position I’d had since April 1997. Now it’s been a year at my new gig, as director of marketing and communications for the Ames Convention & Visitors Bureau, now known as Discover Ames. We launched a rebrand in May. It’s been quite year!

The year has included SOME travel, though I still haven’t been on a plane since December 2020.

My plan is to post a few quick travelogues – through Iowa and elsewhere in the Midwest – within the next couple of weeks, and then start fresh with new adventures. Wish me luck!

Glorious fall

After sleeping every night in my own bed in Ames, Iowa, since last December, I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt to drive eight hours north last weekend to the north shore of Lake Superior. Pandemic be damned, I spent two nights at Cascade Lodge in my favorite cabin, hiked a bit of the Superior Hiking Trail, wore a mask, properly social distanced, did take-out food… and loved every minute of it.

Here are a few of my favorite images from a hiking trail north of Grand Marais, Tettegouche State Park, the town of Grand Marais itself, Cascade Lodge, and sunrise over Lake Superior.

Holiday Markets cruise

It’s not unusual for me to fall in love with a place all over again once my memory starts to fade and my recollections get reignited through the photos I took during a trip. Especially now, with the global pandemic. Traveling internationally seems like a dream right now, and flying to Europe last December seems like a lifetime ago.

But it’s true: Last December, we’d barely gotten the Thanksgiving leftovers eaten and the Christmas decorations put up when my husband, Dave, and I left the country to host an ISU Alumni Association Christmas Markets cruise along the Rhine River.

Looking back at these photos, it was such a lovely experience. Our river boat, the MS Amadeus Silver III, was just the right size. It was a small ship, free of the unnecessary frills of so many of the huge, ocean-going cruise ships, but with a personable crew and great food.

Our itinerary was equally ideal. Much of our time was planned out for us, with city tours and other excursions built into the price. But we also had ample time for discoveries and adventures on our own. We took advantage of the flexible schedule to enjoy most of our lunches in local restaurants or from food vendors, seek out views from the top of cathedral towers, drink beer in local pubs…and, of course, shop the Christmas markets.

We started our trip by flying Swiss Air into Zurich. Once we landed and met up with some of our fellow travelers, we were transported to Basel, Switzerland, where we boarded our river boat – our floating hotel for the week (below).

We spent our first full day of touring in Basel (above). After a guided tour of the old town (in the rain), Dave and I visited the holiday market stalls and discovered that glühwein (a warm, mulled wine) tastes mighty fine on a cold, damp day. Basel is such a charming city, and it was beautifully decorated for the holidays.

We climbed many steps to the top of the Basel cathedral, where we were rewarded with stunning views of the charming old city and holiday markets below. This may have been the highlight of the day. I love these views!

We also ate pretzels, drank beer, and acted like a couple of little kids with play money when we got Swiss Francs out of the ATM.

The next day, we visited Breisach, Germany (a university town with a bustling farmers’ market in addition to its holiday market, above). It rained again, but we made the best of it. The glühwein helped.

Breisach’s holiday markets were adorable and not terribly crowded. It was in this town that I learned that vendors along the Rhine cruise would be selling Polish pottery. I LOVE Polish pottery. I knew I couldn’t buy a lot of it, because it would be too hard to transport home, not to mention too expensive, but it was such fun to see it. I bought a small bowl from this vendor:

Later that day, we had the option of going to one of the famous holiday markets nearby or go on an excursion to Riquewihr, France, for a wine tasting. We figured we’d have our fill of shopping by the end of the cruise, so we went to Riquewihr, and I’m so glad we did.

The brochure described the outing in Riquewihr (pronounced something like “Rick-vere”) this way: “Riquewihr is an enchanting Alsatian village that looks much as it did in the 16th century. Its architecture, including half-timbered houses and medieval fortifications, add to its storybook quality. Selected as one of the most beautiful villages of France, Riquewihr charms all who visit. Stroll through the town, known for its fabulous wines and romantic charm, on a walking tour and stop to enjoy a wine tasting.”

Well, it was all that and more, except for the strolling part, which was impossible due to the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. The wine itself was really delicious, and the more I sipped, the happier I got. After our wine-tasting we had lots of time before we had to be back to our bus, so we threw ourselves into the Epcot-like crowds along the town’s main street, which was lined with Christmas stalls, food vendors, and winemongers.

We learned pretty quickly that if you get off those main streets, you have the super-charming side streets all to yourself, so that’s what we did:

Although I’d never heard of it before, Riquewihr was one of my favorite places on this trip. It truly was like walking through a storybook. I could not stop smiling and taking pictures the whole time we were there.

Another highlight was Strasbourg, France, which we visited the next day:

Strasbourg is a gorgeous city made even more beautiful by its extensive holiday decorations and markets. It was another chilly, rainy day. We escaped the weather with a long lunch in a cute café and by visiting an odd little museum that, it turned out, held some of the original Medieval statues from the huge Notre Dame Cathedral that stands in the city’s main square. We found this strangely wonderful for some reason.

Also, from the upper-floor windows of the museum, we found fantastic views of the cathedral and a small holiday market.

Strasbourg had several Christmas markets. We loved this one in one of the city’s beautiful old squares. If I lived in Strasbourg, I’d definitely buy my tree at this market.

Later, we waited for the sun to set and the holiday lights to come on and took a gazillion photos:

Then it was on to a full day in Heidelberg, Germany, where we started with a tour of the castle that sits way up on the hill.

That’s our group on the castle grounds (above). That castle was cool, but even cooler was the VIEW of the town below:

Heidelberg is a fabulous place. We visited the holiday markets, attended a classical opera performance, drank great German beer (and more glühwein), and walked through streets decorated with the most beautiful lights.

Heidelberg is also the town where I found the MOST delicious lebkuchen cookies. This day was another fairytale experience, start to finish.

The next day, we started in the small town of Rüdesheim:

Our walking tour began, unfortunately, with a herky-jerky little train ride that, not unlike the spinning teacups at Disney World, caused me to have motion sickness for the next two hours. After bailing on a music museum tour because the room was spinning, I walked back to the ship for a little while until I felt better.

So, I don’t have great memories of Rüdesheim except to say that the vineyards were pretty (above) and that  the famous Rüdesheimer Kaffee, a flaming, brandy-spiked coffee drink, was delicious (and thankfully it stayed down!)

The rest of that (sunny!) day was spent sailing the phenomenal Upper Middle Rhine River, lined with castles and storybook towns:

We spent our last full day in Cologne, Germany. That is a great city, where I took one of my very favorite photos of the whole trip:

Cologne has this gargantuan, famous twin-spired gothic cathedral:

After a city tour by the best tour guide of the whole trip, Dave and I climbed the 500+ steps to the top of the cathedral for views and bragging rights. The views were so cool!

We spent our afternoon at the Cologne Christmas markets, which featured an ice-skating rink and by far the best food vendors of the trip.

Before we headed back to the ship, Dave and I went to a pub for one last German beer, and who should stumble in but a very drunk Santa?

This might have been our best day … but all the days were so great, it’s hard to choose.

We came back with a suitcase filled with way too many glühwein mugs, not nearly enough Polish pottery, a bunch of Christmas ornaments… and chocolate. It was awesome.

If you go on one of these holiday markets cruises, my advice is this: Dress in warm, waterproof layers; bring very warm, waterproof boots that are comfortable to walk in all day; take a small backpack along on day trips; and leave enough room in your suitcase for all the goodies you’ll want to bring back.





A look back

Over the past couple of years, I will admit that I’ve become less and less enthusiastic about blogging my travel experiences. But it still shocked me to see that I hadn’t posted anything for an entire year. Really? What the hell?

But all this sheltering in place the last few months has left me longing to travel. I am heartbroken that the Covid-19 pandemic caused RAGBRAI to be canceled this year; driving that route and blogging about it has become one of my favorite Iowa activities every summer.

Given that there’s nowhere to go and nothing to do, I decided to take a look back at some of the un-blogged travel experiences I’ve had in the last 12 months. Looking at these photos and remembering the places I went, the food I ate, and the people I met was almost as much fun as the travel itself.

I’ll start with this trip to Washington, D.C.:

Washington, D.C.

I took a quick trip to Washington, D.C. in early September for a VISIONS magazine feature. I stayed in Georgetown at a little Airbnb row house (on a hill so steep I once had to chase my roller-bag down the sidewalk and into the street), so I kind of felt like a local.

I walked something like 12-16 miles every day, met with 10 Iowa State alumni, visited the incredibly moving National Museum of African American History and Culture…

… hung out on the national mall and with the monuments and statues…

… speed-walked through the revamped National Museum of Natural History…

… and the always-wonderful National Portrait Gallery between appointments (hello, Barack and Michelle!)…

… and ate some great food. I mean, like really great food. Here I am with my combination vegetarian sampler at Das Ethiopian restaurant, served on a spongy bed of injera:

I also sat next to the kitchen and watched pizza dudes create mini-masterpieces at Pizzaria Paradiso, ate crazy little late-night tacos at Chaia, lingered over a fabulous patio dinner at Kafe Leopold, stood in line for coffee and pastries at Baked & Wired, discovered equally good coffee and pastries just around the corner at Grace Street Coffee, and found the MOST drool-worthy pastries at Boulangerie Christophe just before heading to the airport. I should have taken more pictures of my food.

My alumni connections got me some cool insider’s tours of the U.S. Capitol, two Senate buildings, Ford’s Theatre, and the Air and Space Museum. I also interviewed an alum at the Washington Nationals ballpark. (The story got better a month later, when the Nationals won the World Series.) Here I am with some awesome ISU alumni:

Northern Minnesota

My youngest daughter, Lauren, moved back to Iowa in September after living for nearly three years  in Colorado. She and I drove up to a cabin in northern Minnesota in early October. It’s one of my favorite and most-visited places, but it was her first time up there. We probably ate too much pie at Betty’s Pies (below) and hiked too little, but it was a lot of fun.

I always love to stop at the Split Rock overlook:

Lauren and I took a walk to Palisade Head, overlooking Lake Superior in Tettegouche State Park…

… and followed the boardwalk to Grand Portage falls, all the way up to the Canadian border:

I took a wonderful morning hike on one of my favorite Superior Hiking Trail sections, to Alfred’s Pond. Here are some images that make me long to go back:

RAGBRAI 2019, day 7: Burlington to Keokuk

I began this LAST day of driving the RAGBRAI XLVII (yay!) getting good and lost as I tried to find my way out of Burlington. It was about noon, and I’d just finished the Day 6 route, which went through Geode State Park, Middleton, and West Burlington.

The first part of this last day’s route essentially retraces the previous day’s ride, and I wasn’t too keen on that. I decided I wanted to take the Great River Road to Denmark, the first NEW location on the route.

Finding the Mississippi River road was no easy feat, but I finally got on it with the help of my trusty Iowa Atlas and Gazetteer and a few well-placed U-turns.

As I started this last leg of the route, it occurred to me that it felt like the bicycle ride should be over. I was at the Mississippi, after all, and if I’m not mistaken, Burlington has been the last town on the route half a dozen times. So it seemed weird to have this back-tracky, unnecessarily southern route today.

I will admit I was a little grumpy, too, because I failed to find lunch in Burlington – I guess I didn’t try very hard – and it was really, really hot. And I was in a no-NPR zone.

But then I headed into super-cute little unincorporated Denmark, Iowa, and my mood improved. I was tempted to take a book from the little free library in the park, but since I don’t live in Denmark it sort of seemed like stealing.

Heading toward West Point, Iowa, on county roads X32, J48, and J40, I started seeing signs that said “RAGBRAI route – 15,000 bicyclists – plan ahead!” I thought at first that these were the work of the local RAGBRAI committee, but I continued to see them all the way into Keokuk, so they’re clearly the work of the main RAGBRAI organization. I hadn’t seen these in past years, though maybe they went up after I passed through. Doesn’t matter…it’s a great way to warn people to plan ahead.

I also saw some pretty farms and some curvy roads that could be fun for the riders.

I arrived in West Point (population 954), as patriotic-looking a town as you’ll ever see. The downtown has a lovely park surrounded by historic buildings (and another miniature Statue of Liberty).

The West Pointers also apparently know how to have a good time, with a tavern and biergarten flanking either side of the main business area.

Franklin, Iowa, also has an inviting tavern with outdoor patio space (below).

Just before I rolled into in Donnellson, I received an emergency text alert that all the power had gone out in Ames. Good to know! At this point, it was 95 degrees and I was beginning to melt.

Riders will be more than half-way finished with today’s route when they arrive Donnellson (population 885), the meeting town and home to Lee County fairgrounds:

From Donnellson, they’ll take U.S. Hwy. 218 to Montrose, another river town. When I arrived there, Montrose was in full-blown party mode. Everyone at the Montrose Sandbar seemed to either ride a motorcycle or drive a pickup, so I’m sure my bright orange Prius did not go unnoticed.

While in Montrose, I was hoping to cross the river to the town of Nauvoo, Ill., to check out the Mormon temple and other historic attractions. There’s a Joseph Smith (founder of the Latter Day Saints movement) historic site, a red brick store, Nauvoo House, Bringham Young Home, and more. I can’t say as I care much about Joseph Smith, but I thought the architecture and history would be fun to see.

I was encouraged to go over to Nauvoo by the woman working at Iowa Visitor Center in Bloomfield earlier on my drive. She gave me a brochure and everything. What she didn’t mention was that there is no bridge between Montrose and Nauvoo. I guess I should have looked at a map, huh? Anyway, it was already late and I just didn’t bother to figure it out. I took this picture from the Iowa side of the river and called it good.

RAGBRAI riders will follow the Great River Road, AKA county road X28, from Montrose to Keokuk, and they’re in for a very scenic ride.

I was eager to visit Keokuk (population 10,780). I’d never been here before, probably because it never seems to be on the way to anywhere I’m going, and because it seems to belong more to Missouri or Illinois than to Iowa. But I’ve always liked river towns, and I’d heard this one had some gorgeous old houses.

Coming into town, I quickly found my way to the downtown area and walked up and down the main street, sweating profusely.

When I got back to my car, I drove to the riverfront to see Lock & Dam No. 19 (above) and the bridge that takes you into Illinois.

In that area, I stumbled on the George M. Verity River Museum (below) and watched barges making their way up the river.

I also found the Keokuk Union Depot (above), built in 1891 and listed on National Register of Historic Places. The depot is a bit of a mess, but it’s currently undergoing a preservation project and the sign says it’s (going to be?) an event center.

I knew I wanted to go to Rand Park to see the Chief Keokuk statue, but I had no idea what a delightful place this park is. It’s definitely one of the nicest parks in all of Iowa. Besides the statue of Keokuk, a Sac Indian chief, Rand Park is situated on a bluff with a panoramic view of the Mississippi River. There are lovely flower gardens and a lot more – 57 acres total.

A bonus, as I drove toward Rand Park, was that I encountered the Grand Avenue/Park Place residential area – on the National Register of Historic Places and at the top of my list of things to see in Keokuk. Man, oh, man, these are some stately, drool-worthy old houses. Fifteen blocks worth of grand homes! I parked and got out of my car briefly, but mostly I just drove by as many as I could.

Oh, before I finish up, here are some fun facts about this town:

  • Keokuk has 20 entries in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • The American Fur Company opened a trading post in Keokuk in 1828 that was known as “Rat Row.”
  • Keokuk was home to Younkers’ first store, which is now just kind of sad.
  • Famous people with Keokuk connections include Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, Theodore Roosevelt, Betsy Ross, and Krusty the Clown. (Wait…what???)

I love that last one.

On my drive back to Ames, the heat finally broke. I encountered a rather terrifying storm that nearly blew my little car right off the road around Oskaloosa. But I survived – and saw the temperature drop from 96 degrees to 69 degrees in less than an hour.

With that, another RAGBRAI route drive is in the history books. Thanks for sticking with me!

RAGBRAI 2019, day 6: Fairfield to Burlington

I survived my night at The Rakmapura Park Hotel in Vedic City, just north of Fairfield. My over-active imagination had me on edge, but I was worried for nothing. In fact, I had a very pleasant night and slept much later than I expected.

After I checked out of the hotel (still nobody at the front reception desk), I grabbed a latte and a currant scone (warm from the oven!) at the inviting coffee shop Café Paradiso in downtown Fairfield (top and below).

Before I say goodbye to Fairfield, have I convinced you to visit this town in southeast Iowa? Besides the First Friday Art Walks, you can take in FAIRfest (Labor Day weekend), municipal band concerts (Tuesday nights in July and August), a Live on the Square Summer Concert Series, Farmers Market (Saturday mornings May through October), Oktoberfest (first Friday in October), and a holiday tree lighting (the Friday after Thanksgiving). Or just go for dinner and a stroll any time!

Once I figured out how to get out of Fairfield on county road H46, I drove toward Stockport, with its bright red depot and Stockport Freedom Rock, featuring the oldest courthouse in Iowa.

Back on the road, I enjoyed seeing the healthy-looking farm fields of southeast Iowa. I didn’t see much farming activity going on, but occasionally I got stuck behind a slow-moving farm implement. I sort of enjoyed those times because I could just drive really slowly and listen to NPR on Iowa Public Radio.

I’m pretty geeky when it comes to NPR. All day Friday I listened to about a million different reports and memories and behind-the-scenes stories about the 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I will admit I’d heard enough of that, so I was really excited when “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” came on the radio Saturday morning. Not only is this one of my favorite shows (for those who are not familiar, it’s a news quiz, and it’s hilarious) but this morning was especially entertaining because the “Bluff the Listener” game featured the story of Iowa’s own Jerry Foxhoven, the recently ousted director of the Iowa Department of Human Services. These two-lies-and-a-truth stories are generally based on quirky national or international news, so to have an Iowa story featured was pretty awesome. And then Mo Rocca started rapping Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” and I could just not stop laughing. (The “true” story featured Foxhoven’s love of Tupac Shakur; he did not, in fact, hate corn.) And then Piper Kerman, author of “Orange is the New Black,” talked about how to make prison cheesecake. I was over the moon. Thank you, NPR. I heart you so much.

By the time I got to Salem, Iowa, at 9:50 a.m. it was so hot and humid that I started using my long lens exclusively, just so I didn’t have to move around as much.

I did stop and walk around the Lewelling Quaker Museum, which seemed really nice.

At Houghton, I encountered a big-ass grain elevator and a baseball game.

And then I saw a group of cyclists! Were they following the RAGBRAI route, as I was? Or just out for a morning ride? They were moving very fast, headed toward Geode State Park. I photographed them from behind, passed them, and then photographed them coming toward me. I’m sure they wondered who the hell I was.

I didn’t see any namesake geodes in Geode State Park, but I drove as far as the lake.

This lake was created in 1950 and is known for its bluegill, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. The park is popular for swimmers and hikers as well.

I was amused by this sign. It’s the little things, really.

I wasn’t aware that there was an Army ammunition plant in Middleton, but there it was, surrounded by razor wire, right across the road from a peaceful welcome sign featuring butterflies.

The town of West Burlington (population 2945) is, of course, located just west of Burlington, the next overnight town.

I’ve visited Burlington (population 25,663) a few times, so I pretty much knew what I wanted to see and do there. I started at the community field, home to the Class A baseball team, the Burlington Bees.

From there, I headed toward the Mississippi River to a scenic overlook:

According to Burlington’s website, “Ripley’s Believe It or Not has designated Snake Alley as ‘Unbelievably Crooked’ and the #1 Odd Spot in Ripley’s Guide to the Curious Corners of America.” It continues, “Perhaps Burlington’s most famous landmark, Snake Alley … consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves.”


It doesn’t look like much in two dimensions, does it? You really need a drone to do this street justice.

I was hoping to find lunch in Burlington, but the hills and the traffic patterns deterred me. I moved on toward my final “day” of driving.