Category Archives: Iowa

Iowa Part II: Elkader

We moved to the northeast part of Iowa for our second stop in the Hawkeye State. While Mike was investigating fishing opportunities in Iowa, he learned that the Iowa Department of Natural Resources operates the Big Spring Fish Hatchery which stocks the Turkey River and surrounding streams with trout three times per week between April and October. As soon as he learned that tidbit, our second Iowa stop was set in stone. He found The Deer Run Resort in the small town of Elkader and made us a reservation for one week.

The drive up from Des Moines was a routine trip. We rolled by endless scenes of flat farmland for about two-thirds of the trip until we got north of State Highway 20. That is when the landscape changed drastically. We were still in an agricultural environment, but the topography became very hilly and much more picturesque. We were in the Upper Mississippi River Valley and it was very beautiful. Farmland still dominated the scenery, but this time we were climbing and coasting along winding roads. Every time we would get to a high spot it seemed like we could see 50 miles into the distance. The crops etched out a patchwork of browns and greens depending on what portions of land had been plowed and/or planted. Farmhouses and red barns accentuated the view like details in a quilt produce a pattern that is uniquely creative.

Elkader was established in 1891 and is the County Seat of Clayton County. However, its population is less than 1,500. Despite its tiny size, the town had lots to offer. We walked wherever we wanted to go. The downtown was about three blocks in length and was surprisingly busy with retail shops, hair salons, a bakery, several banks, professional offices, a pharmacy, a hardware store, a grocery store and a handful of restaurants – all set along the backdrop of the swift moving Turkey River. The town boasts at least nine homes or commercial buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The residential streets were lined with sidewalks that passed in front of a classic inventory of homes built between the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Mike stayed busy fishing for trout and I  had so much fun enjoying this quintessential “Americana” – we only left once during the week we were there. That was to drive 30 minutes north to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and stock up on groceries and liquor at Walmart.

 

The Stemmer House is one of the many beautiful historic homes in Elkader. The original owner of this house was the local lumberman, which explains the elaborate woodwork on the front porch.

The Stemmer House is one of the many beautiful historic homes in Elkader. The original owner of this house was the local lumberman, which explains the elaborate woodwork on the front porch.

The Clayton County Courthouse is also listed on the National Register and sits high on a bluff above the Turkey River, so the ornate tower is visible from almost anywhere in town.

The Clayton County Courthouse is also listed on the National Register and sits high on a bluff above the Turkey River, so the ornate tower is visible from almost anywhere in town.

Our spot was #5 in the campground.

Our spot was #5 in the campground.

The Silo brought in trucks from across the county at all times of day and night. It buzzed and made a noise like the huge tank was filled with millions of bees.

The Silo brought in trucks from across the county at all times of day and night. It buzzed and made a noise like the huge tank was filled with millions of bees.

Mike caught three types of trout at this stop: rainbow, brown and speckled. These are a couple of brownies he brought home one afternoon.

Mike caught two types of trout at this stop: rainbow and brook. These are a couple of brookies he brought home one afternoon.

Piper investigating his human's daily catch.

Piper investigating his human’s daily catch.

Here is an example of the rolling landscape in Northeast Iowa.

Here is an example of the rolling landscape in Northeast Iowa.

The stocking of the river was pretty low tech: the process involved a human, a net, and a tank full of fish. He just dipped them out of the tank with his net and tossed them into the river.

The stocking of the river was pretty low tech: the process involved a human, a net, and a tank full of fish. He just dipped them out of the tank with his net and tossed them into the river.

The shortest way into downtown was through the town's cemetery.

The shortest way into downtown was through the town’s cemetery.

There was one bridge in Elkader that connected both sides of town separated by the Turkey River.

There was one bridge in Elkader that connected both sides of town separated by the Turkey River.

We went to church with the Catholics on this stop. There was no Methodist church in town. St. Joseph's was built between 1898 and 1900. The Priest traveled between this church and two other parishes to say mass each weekend.

We went to church with the Catholics on this stop. There was no Methodist church in town. St. Joseph’s was built between 1898 and 1900. The Priest traveled between this church and two other parishes to say mass each weekend.

Inside St. Joseph's. The lady that owned the bakery sat in front of us that Sunday... I knew this because I was a regular customer after we had been there almost one week!

Inside St. Joseph’s. The lady that owned the bakery sat in front of us that Sunday… I knew this because I was a regular customer after we had been there almost one week!

I should sit down and count the number of times we have crossed the Mississippi River since the Lower 48 in 48 Tour began. This time you are looking at Iowa on the left side of the photo and Wisconsin on the right.

I should sit down and count the number of times we have crossed the Mississippi River since the Lower 48 in 48 Tour began. This time you are looking at Iowa on the left side of the photo and Wisconsin on the right.

Looking at our campground from the cemetery at the top of the hill.

Looking at our campground from the cemetery at the top of the hill.

Mike was lucky enough to watch a couple of eagles flying over the Turkey River during one of his fishing expeditions.

Mike was lucky enough to watch a couple of eagles flying over the Turkey River during one of his fishing expeditions.

Mike's fishing spot on the Turkey River near the Fish Hatchery. It was about a 15 minute drive from our campground.

Mike’s fishing spot on the Turkey River near the Fish Hatchery. It was about a 15 minute drive from our campground.

Iowa Part I: Des Moines

Our first stop in Iowa was at a campground in the middle of a farm in a suburb on the northwest side of Des Moines called Altoona. The campground was very nice and quiet. The quiet part of our new surroundings was extra appreciated after leaving our spot beside the highway in Topeka. When we left Kansas we made our way around Kansas City, up through the northern part of Missouri, and then up to the middle of Iowa. I didn’t know John Wayne was born in Iowa until we passed across the boundaries into the Hawkeye State. I had also forgotten that the book and movie “The Bridges of Madison County” were based in Iowa.

Des Moines was a nice city. We were there for two weeks. We explored downtown on our first day and found the area to be very pedestrian friendly. The state capitol building was very ornate and majestic on the outside. We heard it was also impressive on the inside, but we did not have a chance to see the interior. I made a couple of solo shopping trips during our stop here. I went to West End Salvage (a huge antique/architectural remnants warehouse with its own show on DIY Network), and also browsed through a cute little historic district in West Des Moines called Valley Junction.

We went to church twice with the Catholics at the Basilica of St. John near Drake University. We also visited two Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives restaurants during our stay. One Sunday after church we had lunch at an Ecuadorian place called Mi Patria. The food was delicious and FRESH. On another Saturday night we enjoyed a feast of smoked ribs, brisket, chicken and andouille sausage at The Flying Mango. This restaurant just might be our favorite DDD stop to date – it is at least in the running for top 3!

We took a couple of road trips during this stop also. One day we drove about 2 hours to the southeast until we reached Eldon, Iowa. Eldon is a tiny, one-stop-sign town that happens to have the white farmhouse that inspired the famous American painting by Grant Wood called American Gothic. There is a visitor’s center and museum adjacent to the actual house. We went all out and borrowed clothes to take our own recreated version of the most widely recognized American painting of all time. Mike was a trooper and went along with my goofy quest… for which I am immensely grateful. On the way to Eldon we stopped in Ottumwa (where Radar O’Reilly on M*A*S*H was from), and had loose meat sandwiches and chocolate milkshakes at The Canteen – possibly the smallest eating establishment I have ever entered. On the way home from Eldon, we stopped in the most adorable town of Pella which was settled by immigrants from The Netherlands. Every sidewalk in town was literally lined with bright beautiful blooming tulips. I bought a box of sweet treats from the famous Jaarsma Bakery and some dried roast beef and summer sausage from another cute deli across the town square.

The second road trip we took was to Ames. One of my friends from Conroe, Texas has a daughter in her second year at Iowa State University. We drove over to treat her to lunch and then she gave us a delightful tour of the college campus.

The rest of our time was spent hanging out at our camp when the weather was good. Mike rigged up our grilled into a makeshift smoker and smoked one of the trout he had caught in Kansas. It turned out perfectly. We snacked on most of it, and then I used the rest to make a yummy smoked trout dip. When the weather was bad, it was mostly because of horrendous wind. On those days we hunkered down inside our Monaco which rocked back and forth as if we were in a squall on the high seas.

All in all, it was a good stop. There was enough to do in Des Moines that we weren’t bored, and our park was pleasant enough that sitting outside was actually enjoyable again.

The Campanile at Iowa State University has carillon bells that ring daily. It is one of the centerpieces of the pretty campus.

The Campanile at Iowa State University has carillon bells that ring daily. It is one of the centerpieces of the pretty campus.

One of my tennis buddies has a daughter in her second year at Iowa State. We had the pleasure of treating Paige to lunch on a Sunday afternoon. After our nice visit I was able to report to her mom that Paige is alive and thriving.

One of my tennis buddies has a daughter in her second year at Iowa State. We had the pleasure of treating Paige to lunch on a Sunday afternoon. After our nice visit I was able to report to her mom that Paige is alive and thriving.

I spent an afternoon strolling through the shops along Historic Valley Junction in West Des Moines. I bought a couple of scarves, some hand-made soap and a Christmas ornament before I decided it was time to get back in the car and protect my wallet.

I spent an afternoon strolling through the shops along Historic Valley Junction in West Des Moines. I bought a couple of scarves, some hand-made soap and a Christmas ornament before I decided it was time to get back in the car and protect my wallet.

We spent a full day driving a round trip to Eldon, IA. This is what the entire road trip looked like.

We spent a full day driving a round trip to Eldon, IA. This is what the entire road trip looked like.

We visited Pella, Iowa on the day of our long road trip. The town was settled by immigrants from Holland. Every sidewalk in the entire town is lined with tulips... which happened to be in full bloom at the time we were there. Cessna also thought they were spectacular.

We visited Pella, Iowa on the day of our long road trip. The town was settled by immigrants from Holland. Every sidewalk in the entire town is lined with tulips… which happened to be in full bloom at the time we were there. Cessna also thought they were spectacular.

A block in the quaint town of Pella, headquarters of the famous window company.

A block in the quaint town of Pella, headquarters of the famous window company.

The Vermeer Windmill. The design is a replica of an 1850's city mill built above the town's buildings to catch the wind. It is the tallest working mill in the U.S. and is used for grinding wheat. It is right in the middle of downtown Pella and although the picture did not catch it, the blades were turning!

The Vermeer Windmill. The design is a replica of an 1850’s city mill built above the town’s buildings to catch the wind. It is the tallest working mill in the U.S. and is used for grinding wheat. It is right in the middle of downtown Pella and although the picture did not catch it, the blades were turning!

The reason we made the long road trip to Eldon, IA was to see the house that inspired the famous painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic.

The reason we made the long road trip to Eldon, IA was to see the house that inspired the famous painting by Grant Wood, American Gothic.

We stopped in Ottumwa, IA to have lunch at The Canteen, this TINY restaurant has been in an alley for so long that a parking structure has been built around it. There MIGHT be a total of 20 seats along a horseshoe-shaped counter. No tables. About eight servers were behind the counter. We both ordered a Canteeen (loose hamburger meat between 2 buns with ketchup, mustard, pickles, processed cheese spread and onions) and chocolate milkshakes. Our food was served to us about 18 seconds after we ordered. The milkshake cost more than the sandwich.

We stopped in Ottumwa, IA to have lunch at The Canteen, this TINY restaurant has been in an alley for so long that a parking structure has been built around it. There MIGHT be a total of 20 seats along a horseshoe-shaped counter. No tables. About eight servers were behind the counter. We both ordered a Canteeen (loose hamburger meat between 2 buns with ketchup, mustard, pickles, processed cheese spread and onions) and chocolate milkshakes. Our food was served to us about 18 seconds after we ordered. The milkshake cost more than the sandwich.

We attended formal Sunday mass at The Basilica of St. John on the two Sundays we were in Des Moines. It was a magnificent church.

We attended formal Sunday mass at The Basilica of St. John on the two Sundays we were in Des Moines. It was a magnificent church.

I recently discovered a show on DIY Network about this place in downtown Des Moines. I spent the better part of one morning wandering through all four floors of their warehouse. It is a good thing we do not have a home, or I would have gone broke buying tables, lights, mirrors and other décor for the inside and outside.

I recently discovered a show on DIY Network about this place in downtown Des Moines. I spent the better part of one morning wandering through all four floors of their warehouse. It is a good thing we do not have a home, or I would have gone broke buying tables, lights, mirrors and other décor for the inside and outside.

The Iowa state capitol building.

The Iowa state capitol building.

Our spot at Griff's Valley View RV Park in Altoona.

Our spot at Griff’s Valley View RV Park in Altoona.