I remember driving through Iowa on interstate 80 some fourteen years ago, the trip from LA to Chicago. I was not particularly fond of the state. The roads were bad and the scenery was boring. If I remember correctly, I called a friend to keep me from getting bored out of my mind.
Some things don’t change; the roads are still pretty bad, very bumpy. But I haven’t gotten bored yet and I have been driving through fields of corn, soybeans and alfalfa for a couple of hundred miles. Sprinkled in with the fields are wind turbines and hog farms. The buildings for the hogs look just like the chicken houses back in Arkansas, but the smell is distinctly pig. It is really amazing to see nothing but cultivated fields as far as the eye can see. No forests or even larger groupings of trees.
Overall Iowa is flat, not as flat as I would like, but Kansas and Nebraska were hillier. I entered the state by crossing the Missouri River at Decatur, Nebraska. I was lucky to still make it across the bridge given the current flood stage of the Missouri. I followed highway 175 from Onawa to Mapleton. Not expecting to see any larger hills I was surprised when I saw this large uplift in front of me, the Loess Hills. They are 200 feet high and span from Sioux City all the way down to the Missouri state border, some 200 miles.
The area in the west is somewhat hilly and fields are planted on terraces just like the rice paddies in China. Having seen several agriculture states I find the differences in barn construction and grain silos from state to state interesting. Red barns versus white barns, single silo versus attached silo rows. Come on, there is nothing else to see, might as well find something interesting.
I spent two nights at the Black Hawk Lake State Park in Lake View. The lake is one of very few natural lakes in the state and not the result of dam building. Note to self: Do not stay at state parks during the summer on weekends if you want peace and quiet!
Since I didn’t know anything about Iowa, I asked the rangers at the park where to go and what to see and I consulted my Road Trip USA book. Between the two I came up with a route through Iowa and some interesting places to see.
The first stop would be West Bend, in northwest or central Iowa, depending on whom you ask. I had read about this grotto a German catholic priest, Paul Dobberstein, had build between 1912 and 1954 when he died. Once again, I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away when I drove past and mind-boggled once I started to walk around the Grotto. This man had traveled around the country to collect rocks, petrified wood, precious / semi precious stones and quartz in various colors to build this absolutely amazing structure. Millions of rocks. If you like rocks or are into geology, you have to see this place. I don’t have the words to explain it and photos don’t do it justice. The Grotto covers an area the size of a small city
block; it is the largest grotto in the world. I have traveled around this country a lot and I have seen many beautiful and incredible landscapes and still I found this man-made Grotto to be among one of the most amazing things I have see. Dobberstein’s imagination, craftsmanship (he was German) and his use of nature’s creation just made for one spectacular structure. You have to see it with your own eyes to get the full grasp of it.
Let’s see what other surprises Iowa has in store for me.