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.