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.

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