Archive for August, 2011|Monthly archive page

The year in review

Today’s the first anniversary of my first blog post on Iowa Girl on the Go: Aug. 29, 2010. It’s been a fun year. When I started out, I had no idea how easy or difficult it would be to find something to write about each week, or even if I would stick with it. To tell the truth, it was never really that hard. Well, maybe a couple of weeks in the winter.

To date, I’ve written a total of 75 blog posts and had 4,797 all-time views. My busiest day was Dec. 6, 2010, after a piece I posted about Nada Silent Night was mentioned (and linked) on the Nadas’ Facebook page. I got 110 hits. Thanks, Jason! Most days I get more like 30 views.

On an average month I’ve posted 5 stories. My slowest months were November and December (3 posts each) because of all the family activities surrounding the holidays. This year I’ll try harder to post something every week, even during the crazy days.

My most prolific month was by far April 2011, with 15 posts. But that was a little different, because I was in Italy for almost three weeks and I tried to post something at least every couple of days so friends back home could follow my travels.

For the most part, people don’t leave many comments on my blog. I’ve received only have 26 approved comments in a whole year (that number doesn’t include all the spam). Sometimes people comment on the blog on my Facebook page.

I’ve been to every quadrant of the state this year: From Okoboji to Lansing, Villisca to Burlington. I haven’t had any trouble finding fun things to write about. I think I’ve hit a lot of Iowa highlights this year (Iowa State Fair, RAGBRAI, Des Moines Farmers Market, the Des Moines Arts Festival, Okoboji, Mississippi River towns) but I have so much left to do! I’ve by no means run out of ideas. I still haven’t written about the bridges of Madison County, the Amana Colonies, Loess Hills, or Field of Dreams, all iconic Iowa locations. I haven’t had to do too many restaurant reviews or talk too much about shopping – both lazy topics I’m inclined to fall back on when I’m busy or it’s snowing.

Two of my favorite Iowa posts were an early one about the axe murder house in Villisca and my fall tour of northeast Iowa in October. Two of my least favorite blogging adventures were the god-awful Wild Rose film festival and Jolly Holiday Lights.

I got out of Iowa a lot this year. I wrote about Minnesota several times, Chicago, Seattle, Florida, Kansas City, Italy, and New York.

January and February were by far the most difficult months to find something to write about. I didn’t want to drive anywhere, so I ended up doing a lot of things in Des Moines and got into a bit of a rut.

In recent months I’ve had blog posts reprinted on the Travel Iowa blog (Kalona, Mt. Vernon, the God Bless America sculpture) and hope to do more for them in the coming year.

I’ve had such a good time with this blog – it’s gotten me out of the house when I would have probably been lazy, and it’s allowed me to see and do so much in Iowa – that when I decided to try to switch to a vegan diet this month, I decided to do a daily blog about that, too:

Here’s to another great year!


Fun at the zoo

Today is my daughter Katie’s birthday, and she wanted to go to the zoo. So she and I and a couple of her friends went to the Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines.

Billed as “Iowa’s Wildest Adventure,” the Blank Park Zoo is  the only accredited zoo in the state of Iowa. The zoo manages 49 acres of land, 22 acres of which have been developed into animal exhibits or facilities. There are currently  104 different animal species and 1,484 total animal specimens at the zoo.

The first thing you notice when you get there is all the construction. A new park, entrance and animal exhibit are being constructed north of the main parking lot. The entrance will include a new road, sidewalks, bike path, pond, and landscaping. This is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. The park area, which will include a picnic shelter and playground, will be finished in 2012, and the animal exhibit will be constructed in 2013.

Inside, the sea lion pool is being reconstructed, so there are no sea lions currently on display.

The zoo expansion will be a nice improvement, because if there is anything I can criticize about Blank Park Zoo is that it’s a little small. Not that I mind, because I think it’s OK to be able to see a zoo in a couple of hours, but I’d enjoy spending more time there if there were new or improved exhibits.

I do enjoy this zoo, though. It’s set up in sections that include the Discovery Center, big cats and primates, Australia, Africa, and (usually) sea lions and other marine animals.

The Discovery Center reminds me somewhat of the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, which is really a world-class zoo just beyond the western border of Iowa. That’s a zoo in which you can spend a full day and walk yourself silly. The Discovery Center combines some of the things in Henry Doorly: an aquarium and rainforest, plus some other exhibits.

Once we walked through that area, we visited the flamingoes and then made a bee-line for the giraffes. You can feed giraffes at special times of the day (today it was 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.), and although my daughter is 25, she still loves to feed the animals. So we did that, along with a bunch of other families with preschoolers.

Feeding giraffes is hard work, so we took a break at the snack bar and watched some extremely entertaining monkeys for awhile. Apparently they were performing some sort of mating ritual.

Then it was back to the front of the zoo, where we could take our time visiting the chattering Japanese Macaques, sleepy African lions, and the gorgeous Amur tiger. We walked through the Australia section, and I tried to take pictures of a wallaby without much luck.

Happily, there was a cardboard cut-out for me to photograph. That’s Katie as the little joey.

We went to the petting zoo and fed the goats and a really adorable llama. Inside that exhibit I overheard one very young boy tell his father, “But I don’t know HOW to ‘spend wisely,'” and another father asking his toddler daughter, with goat chow in her fist, “Did you just put those in your mouth?” Ha! I don’t miss those days.

A special dinosaur exhibit, which  opened May 27 and runs through Sept. 5, is on display at the ZooPlex. The dinosaur replicas range from full scale to half scale and are up to 32 feet long. Several of the replicas are animatronic. The little kids seemed to love them.

The Grant Wood Tour of Iowa: Part I

I started my Grant Wood tour on Thursday with two main goals: Visit the God Bless America sculpture inspired by Wood’s famous American Gothic painting at the Dubuque Museum of Art and tour the Grant Wood Studio at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art. I also wanted to view the Grant Wood collections at both museums.

What I learned was A) there is way more Grant Wood art and history in Iowa than I ever knew about, B) there is too much Grant Wood art and history in Iowa to do in just one day, and C) the Grant Wood Studio isn’t open on Thursdays.

I also found that it was hard to stick to the task at hand, what with all the distractions along the way.

My first distraction occurred while I was driving along Hwy. 20. As I neared Waterloo, I saw a sign for La Porte City. My stomach rumbled. La Porte City, according to a friend who lives there, is home to a shop that creates donuts of unrivaled deliciousness. I hadn’t eaten breakfast. Why not? I drove south nine miles to the small town and hoped I could find the donut shop.

It wasn’t difficult. I turned down the town’s main street and, sure enough, there was the La Porte City Bakery. I parked out front, went in, and ordered two donuts (one for breakfast and one just in case I got hungry later). The total for a yeasty sugar donut and a huge cinnamon twist? $1.35. Such a bargain. And the cinnamon twist was perhaps the most delicious thing I ever ate in my whole life.

Back on Hwy. 20, I managed to stay on task all the way to Dubuque, although I briefly considered veering off at Dyersville to visit the famous Field of Dreams.

Dubuque is a Mississippi River town that has so many charming characteristics and things to do that it was hard for me to drive straight to the art museum. There’s the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and the Cable Car Square with its Fenelon Elevator (all of which I’ve done in the past), plus the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, which sounds very exotic. I stayed focused, however, and drove straight to the Museum of Art (7th and Locust).

Standing next to the museum is Seward Johnson’s God Bless America, a 25-foot sculpture that’s been on display in Chicago and Mesa, Ariz., among other places. I saw it in Chicago but was eager to see it again in Iowa, where it belongs. It seemed very out of place on Michigan Avenue.

The sculpture of the iconic American Gothic painting does seem quite at home in Dubuque, but if you want to see it there, go soon. Its exhibition ends Sept. 1. Unlike many of the parodies of the famous painting, God Bless America does not attempt to satirize Wood’s art but rather enlarges and adds dimension to it. The sculpture shows the famous couple full-length with a large suitcase at their feet. I think it’s wonderful.

Inside the museum (admission: free) there’s a small but quite nice collection of Grant Wood paintings, some created in Europe prior to the adoption of his well-known American Regionalist style. The museum is small but has a few other holdings, including current exhibits by Edward S. Curtis (images of North American Indian children), Jiawei Gong (“Celestial Writings”), and 9/11 quilts.

After touring the museum, I couldn’t help but walk around the downtown area with its great old river-town architecture. It’s really delightful.

Back in the car, I headed on Hwy. 151 toward Cedar Rapids. Along the way, I couldn’t help but stop in Anamosa and take a look at the spectacular architecture of the state penitentiary there. Known as the “White Palace of the West,” construction of the structure began in 1873 with the dolomite stone quarried at nearby Stone City. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s a real beauty.

I attempted to take a further detour and tour the Penitentiary Museum, but it wasn’t open. Wouldn’t that have been fun? I grabbed a brochure that touted the museum’s features: a replica cell, contraband created by prisoners, a detailed model of the prison carved by an inmate, and information about infamous residents of the penitentiary. Hours are noon to 4 p.m., Friday through Sunday. I put this on my list of things to do another day.

But Anamosa also turns out to be hard-core Grant Wood country, so it’s a good thing I stopped, right? I spent about half an hour in the Grant Wood “Art Gallery,” which is stuffed with weird Grant Wood memorabilia, photos, prints, knickknacks, postcards, and a gazillion framed (and unframed) American Gothic parodies. I talked to the nicest old guy in the gallery, who was very eager to help me with my quest to find more Grant Wood history in Iowa.

He sent me to Stone City (the same Stone City where the penitentiary rock was quarried). The “city” used to be home to nearly 1,000 inhabitants back in the late 1800s, many of whom worked in the rock quarries. Later, Stone City became the inspiration of many of Grant Wood’s famous paintings, and he chose the site for his art colony in 1932. The area still features a large stone church, general store building, and several other stone structures located along the picturesque Wapsipinicon River. If you go there, be aware that the road to Stone City directly from Anamosa is currently closed due to construction, but I took County Road 34 and the signs led me in a round-about way to Stone City (about 8 miles).

I should mention that this whole area looks just like a Grant Wood painting, so it was a fun drive.

But enough of the side trips. On to Cedar Rapids.

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art houses the largest collection of Grant Wood’s work, although not all of it is on display. The museum is not large, but it’s quite nice. Some of the Grant Wood paintings and drawings are in a small Grant Wood room; the rest are mixed within a very good “American Century” exhibit. Rounding out the current exhibits are “Shout Freedom!” (black-and-white American photography), “Like Mother, Like Son” (photographs of Joan Liffring-Zug Bourret and David B. Huesinkveld), Mauricio Lasansky (prints), and Treasures from the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, which was shut down following the floods of 2008. The Czech and Slovak exhibit was especially nice. The museum has free admission through the end of the month.

As I mentioned, I was most looking forward to seeing the Grant Wood Studio that, I learned too late, is only open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. (until Dec. 31, when it closes for the winter). Well, live and learn. The studio will be on my itinerary for Part II of the Grant Wood tour, along with the American Gothic House in Eldon and perhaps the Grant Wood exhibit at the Tipton Public Library…and whatever else I find along the way.

Adel Sweet Corn Festival

The Adel Sweet Corn Festival is pure joy.

The whole town gathers to celebrate, with corn shucking on Friday, a parade on Saturday, free sweet corn, vendors around the town square, and stage entertainment Saturday afternoon and evening.

I love this festival because it’s so home-grown, no pun intended. The parade features little kids, high schoolers, scouts, high school reunion oldsters, farmers, churches, and only a few politicians.

Even better than the parade is the huge sweet corn feed. The line seems huge when you get in it, but it just flies by. These people really know how to cook and serve corn on the cob. Dozens of ears are cooked all at once in milk crates submerged in boiling water. The crates are then dumped out on a stainless-steel serving tray and served by an army of volunteers armed with with tongs.

How many free ears of corn can one person take? As many as you can fit on a paper plate. I saw people with six ears. I ate two ears, and they were fantastic. Afterwards, my face was coated with butter, salt, and pepper. In fact, the whole town probably had to be power-washed after the festival ended, what with all that butter.

Who can resist a little kid eating corn on the cob? I loved taking their pictures. Everyone was happy.

My day at the fair

I have to be honest right up front: I have never been a big fan of the Iowa State Fair. But I figure if I’m going to blog about things to do in Iowa, I can’t ignore THE biggest thing that happens in the state aside from the caucuses.

I spent the day at the fair Friday, and I have to say that although I found some things to like about the event I’m still not a big fan. I guess I’m more of an observer than a participant.

Here’s my day:

  • 10 a.m. Arrive at the fair. Buy a Dutch letter from the vendor from Pella. Dutch letter does not taste like it came from Pella. $3.00.
  • Visit the Agriculture Building. Get in a long line that appears to be for the butter cow but is, in reality, a line for free food.
  • Eat a hard-boiled egg on a stick, courtesy of the Iowa Egg Council.
  • Find the actual butter cow line, which is also hellaciously long. Chat with a woman about my age about all things state fair. View the butter cow and sculpture of Norma “Duffy” Lyon at age 10, sculpted by current butter cow creator Sarah Pratt. In my opinion, Duffy’s sculptures were far superior. The butter cow turned 100 this year, so the fair’s thematic graphics were devoted to the cow’s buttery likeness. (I enjoy this.)
  • Watch kids sign a 100th birthday card for the butter cow.
  • Watch the judging of the giant pumpkins.
  • Visit the Cultural Center and very much enjoy the photography, drawing, and painting competition. Some of this stuff is as good as you’d see in a gallery or museum, but without the fancy displays. It’s honest and approachable.
  • Hike all the way to the far northeast edge of the fairgrounds to visit the poultry and rabbit barn only to discover that the vast majority of the poultry and rabbit people have not yet checked in. There are no rabbits at all, and there are only a few chickens. But I like them. They are very cool.
  • 12:05: Ready for something to eat. I don’t get into the whole deep-fat-fried-crap-on–a-stick style of food they serve at the fair. But I do like ice cream. So I opt for a peppermint bar from Bauder’s. I like that Bauder’s is a local business. I like that the peppermint bar is made by hand and wrapped in red-and-white-checkered paper. I LOVE how the peppermint bar tastes. I will inadvertently wear chocolate on my face for the next two hours. $5.00.
  • It’s starting to get crowded now, and it’s sunny. The weather forecast said we’d have thunderstorms. I’m glad it was wrong.
  • 1:15. I’m thirsty so I buy a fresh lemonade with real lemons. At $3.50, it seems awfully small, but it tastes great.
  • Listen to a trio of Iowa 10-year-olds sing show tunes at the Bill Riley stage.
  • Walk into the shopping area inside the Grandstand. It’s filled with “as seen on TV” items like miracle mops. I leave after about 30 seconds.
  • Lured into the Iowa Craft Beer tent. Tickets for 3 small or 1 large beer are $7.00. This seems like money well spent. The beer tent offers selections from a number of Iowa breweries including Peace Tree, Olde Main, and Mill Stream.
  • Stroll through Walnut Center Crafts building. Lasted more than 30 seconds, but not a lot.
  • Walk through the Midway. It’s ok, as Midways go.
  • Try to ignore the yapping politicians and the media drooling all over them, but it’s not easy. There’s Jared Blankenship, a farmer and former teacher from Texas, who I’ve never heard of. Then there’s Debbie Wasseman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. And then Newt Gingrich, former U.S. House Speaker. All are on the Des Moines Register’s State Fair Soapbox. Which is actually more like a hay bale.
  • Buy some saltwater taffy. Eight pieces for $2.00.
  • Walk briefly through the horse barn. Consider visiting cattle barn and swine barn, but then I come to my senses.
  • Watch kids (and adults) slide down the Giant Slide.
  • Enjoy the vintage car display.
  • Work in the Iowa State Fair booth, rolling football posters for fans and others eager to pick up anything free in the Varied Industries Building. It’s a cool booth, and it’s air-conditioned.
  • Take a break for dinner. Here are a few of my choices: red velvet funnel cake with cream-cheese frosting, pb&j on a stick, fried butter on a stick, chocolate-covered fried ice cream, pork chop on a stick, hot beef sundae, cotton candy, chicken strips, deep fried Twinkie on a stick, walking taco, gyro, giant half-pound tenderloin, Philly steak sandwich, jumbo burger, pulled pork Bar-B-Q, tater ribbon fries, corn dog. I briefly consider eating a caramel apple but opt for cheese curds. This is a mistake. They are deep-fried and very greasy. I should have had a strawberry smoothie and called it dinner. Cheese curds: $5.50. Enormous lemonade to wash them down: $5.00.
  • 9 p.m. Shift ends. I consider going to The Nadas’ free concert. It’s too late for the Youth Spelling Bee, the Fiddler’s contest, and the Household Pet Cat show. It appears that the entire east side of Des Moines is on the Grand Concourse.
  • I fight my way to my car and go home, still not convinced that the state fair is the place for me.

I have to say that the Iowa State Fair is very well-organized. The marketing and communications are very well done, and I love this year’s theme. The fairgrounds are clean, with lots of restroom facilities and plenty of places to sit and people-watch. There is also a fair amount of shade, information resources, first aid stations, and the like. My hat is off to the organizers, because this is a huge undertaking and it seems to go off without a hitch.


A tallgrass prairie near Prairie City

It’s hard to imagine, but 200 years ago a vast prairie ecosystem stretched across the Midwest and into Canada. The tallgrass prairie encompassed parts of 14 states, including nearly all of Iowa.

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge and Prairie Learning Center allows us to return to that bygone era. The Refuge was created by an act of Congress in 1990 to re-create 8,000 acres of tallgrass prairie and oak savanna, the native plant and animal communities existing in central Iowa prior to European settlement.

The Refuge is located near Prairie City on Highway 163 in Jasper County and is a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the federal government. Amazingly, it’s the largest reconstruction of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem in the entire U.S. It includes more than 200 types of native prairie flowers and grasses.

There are five miles of walking trails at the Refuge, upon which you can theoretically see pheasants, badgers, buffalo, elk, white-tailed deer, monarch butterflies, and a wide variety of native prairie flowers. I took the tallgrass trail Sunday evening, a two-mile blacktop trail with benches every third mile. I did see lots of prairie flowers, butterflies, birds, and an abundance of dragonflies and other insects. I’m not so sure I wanted to see a badger.

Other trails include the half-mile gravel Savanna Trail and a handicapped-accessible prairie overlook interpretive trail.

The Prairie Learning Center was closed when I was there (hours are 9-4 Monday through Saturday and noon-5 on Sunday), but it includes a visitor center with bookstore, theater, classrooms, and exhibit area.

An 800-acre drive-through bison enclosure is open dawn to dusk, seven days a week. The night I was there, I saw a few lone bison and a sizable herd – but they were fairly far away from the road.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the Refuge staff and volunteers are “working with conservation officers, schools, scientists, and prairie enthusiasts to preserve a piece of Iowa’s natural heritage. Rare prairie and savanna seeds are being collected, studied, sown, and tended. Small savanna and prairie remnants within Refuge boundaries are being protected. Mowing, brush cutting, and prescribed burns are being used to manage both planting and remnant sites. Ongoing research is guiding the restoration processes.”

I just say it’s a lovely place to walk on a summer evening.

Sisters’ weekend

My two sisters came to visit me this weekend. They live in Kansas City, and I almost always go there to see them (and the rest of my family), so it was fun to entertain them on my own turf.

We met at the Des Moines Downtown Farmers Market on Saturday morning. This is definitely not the best first impression of Des Moines, because between the traffic and the construction and the closed and one-way streets, it’s not easy to GET THERE and even more difficult to park. They were impressed by the sheer volume of the event because, as they pointed out, it seems like an annual thing — not a weekly thing. We couldn’t buy much because we had no way to keep it cool, so we bought pastries and ate them for breakfast.

From the market, we headed to the East Village, which made a very positive impression on my sisters and my niece, who came along for the ride. We went to Found Things, the awesome vintage store on Grand; Porchlight Antiques, which recently moved from its former location in Valley Junction; and Sticks. Sticks wowed them with its wonderful, functional artwork and home decor. Too bad none of us can afford anything in the store.

Both of my sisters love Valley Junction, so that was the next destination on the list. We got our pictures taken in front of the Sisters store (that’s me on the left, Donna in the center, and Judy on the right) and started browsing. Sisters is actually one of my favorite stores there. We also went into several antiques shops, a couple of art galleries, Wicker and the Works, Paris Flea Market, the theatrical shop, and the Atomic Garage. We were hot, tired, and ravenously hungry by this time. And, unfortunately, it was after 2 p.m. so many of the places I would have suggested for lunch were closed.

My car was still in the parking garage at Third and Court, so we went back to Court Avenue and lucky for us Court Avenue Brewing Company was partially open. (At that time of day, the restaurant is closed, but the bar and sidewalk seating are open.) We enjoyed the air conditioning as well as the food, starting out with the pretzel appetizer (I can eat those dips with a spoon). I had a spinach salad with almonds, strawberries, and poppyseed dressing — so nice on a hot day. The others ordered, respectively, a burger, a reuben, and chicken pesto pasta. We ate so much for our late lunch that we never did eat dinner.

All the shopping and the heat wore us out, so we headed to our hotel to get settled in…and we never really left. I had made a reservation at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. I had never stayed there before, but I chose that hotel based on location (close to Raccoon River, Centro, Django, and the Pappajohn Sculpture Park) and for its reasonable $89 per night room rate.

Our room was comfortable, if not terribly spacious nor luxurious. It was surprisingly quiet (surprisingly, that is, given that there was at least one wedding party staying there, and wedding parties are notorious late-night partiers). The four of us gossiped and laughed and caught up on the latest, and it wasn’t until about 8 p.m. that I suddenly felt the need to get out of there and see the outside world. We talked about going to Centro but ultimately decided on Django, the French bistro that’s part of the hotel. I had a glass of pinot noir and a cheese plate; the others opted for dessert. It’s a little bit fancy and a little bit pricey, so I felt somewhat underdressed. But that food and wine really hit the spot.

This morning, we wandered down to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park, and while we all agree that modern art can be confounding, we liked Nomad and a few of the other pieces. My oldest sister, Judy, was disappointed that she couldn’t climb on them.


10 reasons to go to Burlington, Iowa

I traveled to Burlington today on business, and after my work was finished I was pleasantly surprised at all there was to do in this southeast Iowa river town. So here’s a list of why you should go there, too.

  1. Snake Alley. Snake Alley is one of Burlington’s landmark attractions. Located between Washington and Columbia on Sixth, this street was built in 1894 as a shortcut from Heritage Hill to the business area. Bricks were laid at an angle to assist horses as they went down the hill. It drops 58 feet, contains five half-turns and two quarter-curves, and runs for only 275 feet. Ripley’s Believe It or Not calls it the crookedest street in the world.
  2. Big Muddy’s. No, not the Mississippi River – that comes later. Big Muddy’s is a restaurant located near the river and near downtown Burlington. The menu features, among other things, frog legs. Personally, I had a salad. Whatever you order, the view of the river is great through the floor-to-ceiling windows. And there’s a nice patio for outdoor dining.
  3. Burlington Bees. This minor-league baseball team (a Class A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals) plays on their home field from April to September.
  4. The view from Mosquito Park. Views of the Mississippi abound, but none is more spectacular than from Mosquito Park, overlooking the mighty river. Located at Franklin and North Third.
  5. Historic homes. While you’re trying to find Mosquito Park, be sure to ooh and aah at the spectacular historic homes in this neighborhood.
  6. The Great River Bridge. I’m a sucker for a cool bridge, and this is one of the coolest to cross the Mississippi River.
  7. Historic river-city architecture. In addition to being a sucker for bridges, I also sort of have a thing for river-city architecture, and Burlington’s is awesome. Old mills, hospitals, and churches built more than 100 years ago from brick and local stone line the bluffs along the riverfront. Ten are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
  8. Potato chips. Yep, potato chips. Sterzing’s chips are made in Burlington. I’m told that you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em, but one bite of the light, crispy chip put me in the “love ‘em” group for sure. According to the company’s website, their main product, The Economy Pak, is sold in retail stores that proudly carry their chips. Sterzing’s chips are made fresh every day. Yum.
  9. FunCity. OK, I admit that I can’t vouch for these last two items first-hand because I didn’t go to either one. FunCity is a family entertainment facility featuring an indoor-outdoor water park, bowling, go-karts, laser tag…need I go on? This is definitely not my cup o tea, but I’m sure it would be fun for someone.
  10. Starr’s Cave. This nature center, park, and preserve does appeal to me, but I didn’t have time to visit it. The 2011 Iowa Travel Guide says that “great scenic views abound in this 200-acre area of forest communities and massive limestone bluffs rising above the creek.” Sounds pretty, and I hear there are bats in the caves. What more could you want?

Bonus activity: Tassel Ridge Winery

On the way home I stopped at Tassel Ridge Winery, located in Leighton, Iowa, between Oskaloosa and Pella. Tassel Ridge has surprisingly good wine and a large showroom/tasting area in which you can purchase Iowa products in addition to about 30 different kinds of wine.

I tasted four dry wines: two whites and two reds. The American Dry Riesling was a light, fruity wine that would be especially good to drink on a hot day. The Candleglow White was a good basic Chardonnay. I was not a big fan of the American Syrah and gave it a not-smiley face on my tasting form. The other red, called “Pizzeria & Pasta Too!” tasted a whole lot better than its name.

I bought a bottle of the Candleglow and helped myself to a copy of the new Iowa Wine and Beer Guide. This should be a handy reference when I follow one of the Iowa wine trails, something I hope to have time to do this fall.