Category Archives: Iowa

Lucky, lucky me

I am just one lucky traveling gal.
A couple of days ago when I was traveling from West Bend to Charles City, Iowa I ran into a farmer, figuratively speaking. I just caught a glimpse of corn

Filling truck with corn

being loaded into a big truck, something I had never seen before; after all, I am a city girl. I had to turn around. I pulled up next to the grain silos where the farmer was standing. I asked if he would mind if I take some photos of the process, not at all. He told me the corn was for ethanol production and we got talking. During the thirty minutes it took for the truck to fill-up we talked about the misconception of ethanol production, hog farming, corn harvest, the difference between sweet corn (for human consumption) and feed corn (for livestock feed and ethanol production) the floods and travel. He pretty much

Ethanol plant - unloading corn

echoed what I had heard during a conversation I had with the nice owners of the Wolverine Wash back in West Bend. Big Oil vs. ethanol. I had always heard that one needs ¾ of a gallon fuel to produce one gallon of ethanol. What I had not heard, and you might not have either, is that ethanol production creates a byproduct called Dried Distiller Grains (DDG) which is used for livestock feed. It fattens up livestock faster than corn itself. So, one bushel of corn (56 lbs) produces 2.8 gallons of ethanol and roughly 17 pounds of nutrient dense livestock feed. The industry has also become more efficient in the last couple of

fermentation tanks

years. At the end of my conversation with the farmer (sorry, we never exchanged names) he asked if I would like to come to the ethanol plant with him. Too bad, he was going north and I was headed east. Iowa is one of five ethanol producing states (Nebraska, Illinois, Minnesota and South Dakota are the others) and this conversation made me curious and I figured there had to be more plants around and maybe I could just visit one on my own. I was in luck; there is a plant in Charles City, the town I was staying in. Unfortunately, I was not so lucky when I asked if I could take a peak inside. The answer was simply Nope, no can do. No explanation, just no, too bad.

Fermentation tanks

By now you must be asking yourself: “Why is she calling herself lucky?” Well, on the next leg of my trip I saw some trucks loaded with corn pulling off the highway into what looked like an ethanol plant, yup Homeland Energy Solutions (HES). Let’s give it another shot. I pulled right in behind some trucks and headed for the office. When I stepped out of my truck I was greeted by this sweet smell of yeast (used in the corn fermentation process). Did I stand in front of a bakery or an ethanol plant? I don’t think you ask yourself that question when you stand in front of an oil refinery.

Ethanol bins

Once inside, the reception was different as well. “Sure, not a problem. We’ll be happy to give you a tour.” Kevin, the plant manager at HES, first answered some of my questions and then gave me an hour long tour from start to finish of the process. I even was allowed to take photos! Starting with the unloading

Loading dried distiller grains

of the trucks, what takes thirty minutes to load only takes three minutes to unload. The corn gets ground into fine grains, fermented, the byproduct gets dried resulting in DDG, ethanol – shipping out to oil refineries via train to be added to the gasoline, DDG shipped out by train or truck. This is the CliffsNotes version of the tour. The whole thing was very impressive and the numbers were staggering. I didn’t take notes, but if you are interested in more detailed information go to the HES website and watch the video. Buffering takes a little bit be patient.
Thank you Kevin for taking the time and thank you for the education!
My hopes for the day had been to make it to McGregor at the Mississippi River. However, I only made it to McGregor Street, really, in Clermont, Iowa. Due to the unexpected ethanol tour it had gotten late in the day and I knew I wouldn’t make it to my planned campsite. When I drove through Clermont my first

Clermont - old public school

reaction was, I want to stay here and take a closer look. I turned into a side street and asked a mother and daughter duo walking down the street if there are any overnight parking places. Yes, there is a campground just outside of town. I had kind of seen the place, but didn’t feel like spending money for the night. After a little debating I just pulled into a parking spot down the street. The duo was kind enough to talk with the lady who lived in the house I parked in front of. Not a problem. Turns out that Arlene is also the town historian and she told me about the town’s brick making history and the State governor Larrabee who built the school in town back in 1912. The next morning Arlene gave me a tour of the school. Built entirely out of brick with three foot walls, no flammable materials were used on the inside, just metal, tile and brick. If that wasn’t enough, Arlene gave me some yummy Amish friendship bread. When you bake it you are supposed to give away a loaf or two. Usually, I only get to drive through a town and have to make up my own story about its history, this was a real treat to hear the actual story behind a town. Thank you Arlene.

Downtown McGregor

I was headed to the Yellow River campground in the woods near McGregor. I was ready for some dry camping. The campground is located several miles outside of town and I figured I might as well check out the town before I continue to the campground. The “turn here” sign appeared too quickly and I couldn’t make the turn, darn. I continued down the road looking for a good place to turn. I saw a recreational area sign and turned. Look at that, there is a campground here. It was a county campground right outside of town. Same amenities or lack there of as the campground I was headed for, just much closer.
Saturday was another of my laundry days, you see I still have to take care of the same chores everyone else has. Unfortunately, the laundromat in McGregor was a dump. On the bright side I met James, who lives in the apartment behind the laundromat. We chatted for a while; he was wondering what on earth I

Traveling the backroads

was doing in McGregor. He was not anywhere as interested in nature and her beauty as I was. He disappeared back into his apartment just to come out a few minutes later with a little ceramic lighthouse. You know those souvenirs you buy when you are in a coastal town. He gave it to me, just like that. He collects lighthouses he told me. He wanted to give me also a large wooden lighthouse, but I told him it was too big for my little space. I thought it was really sweet of him.

Now you know why I consider myself lucky.

A little Iowa trivia. Did you know that Iowa has ski resorts? The temperatures during the winter drop well below 0 F (-16 C) ranging between -10 and -20 F (-20 to -30C) with lots of snow. Who knew?

Mississippi River and Blackhawk Bridge, Iowa & Wisconsin

The western part of the state is pretty much all agriculture with gently and sometimes steep rolling hills. The east, however, has forests and beautiful bluffs along the Mississippi River.

Regretting not being in New York City

Heritage of Pride March - rainbow ballons

Today is the first time in over fifteen months that I regret not being in New York. I woke up to the wonderful news that just before mid-night Friday the NYS senate had passed the Marriage Equality bill, legalizing same-sex marriage. I wish I could be celebrating with my fellow New Yorkers, especially during tomorrow’s Pride March down Fifth Avenue.

Happy Pride!

Photos are copyright protected

Please note that ALL photos on this site are copyright protected. They cannot be used for any purpose without PRIOR written consent.
If you would like to purchase a photo you can click on the link to my photo collection on the right.
Today, I found one of my photos on the news website The Real Timer. The photo was used without my knowledge or permission. The site had the nerve to put (c) in the upper corner of the photo, making it look like the usage was legit. Shame on you, you STOLE my photo. You rather use low a resolution photo than to pay for a high quality version. There are plenty of people out there who want to give away their photos for free; I am not one of them!
Real Timer, pay me or take my photo of your website!

Words I don’t want to hear anymore

Nimrod Dam - Arkansas

Severe thunderstorm, tornado watch, thunderstorm warning, tornado warning. I would much rather hear: sunny with temperatures between 70 and 80 F, light winds, low humidity and chance of precipitation less than 10%.

Picnic table under water at the Beaver Lake

Last night the county I slept in was under a tornado watch until 4 am. I wish I hadn’t turned on the radio. A watch is not really that bad; it means that the conditions exist for a tornado to form. By 10 PM thunders were rolling and lightning was flashing. The wind sounded like a freight train barreling down the

"Little Golden Gate Bridge" no more

road. My camper was on my truck and we were just swaying a little. I am not made for these kinds of weather conditions, especially not when I live in a box. I saw some of the damage on my way east, downed trees and in one case a roof had blown off a barn.

Flood waters from the Missouri River flooding crop fields.

Rainfall in the Midwest has been much higher than normal this year. The Missouri River is overflowing on all corners. I had planned on driving close to the

Crossing the Missouri River

South Dakota border from Nebraska, but decided against it because of flooding and closed roads. I was fortunate to cross the Missouri River in Decatur, Nebraska. On the Iowa side the river had already come within 20’ of the road.

The road used to reach the house. The river is 1/2 mile away

Whole towns are under flood threat or have already flooded and farmers are loosing their crops. The floodwaters are supposed to be around for several months! Can’t we ship some of this water off to the Southwest?

Iowa = agriculture

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.

Farm country

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.

Grain elevator and wind turbines in cornfield

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.

Hog farm

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.

Iowa grain elevators

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.

Grotto of the Redemption

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

Grotto of the Redemption

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.