Dunning’s Spring Park/Ice Cave/Trout Run Trail-Decorah

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As I was selecting possible destinations for Iowa Travel Advisor’s version 9.0, a startling statistic caught my eye.The 2015 Iowa Travel Guide listed a 200 foot waterfall in Decorah, Iowa.Now to an Iowan who is familiar with landscapes that are interrupted by silhouettes of water towers and grain elevators of varying shapes and sizes,the stark contrast is readily apparent. I immediately conjured up visions of Niagara and Yosemite though I knew the unlikeliness that such an attraction could have achieved anonymity in my lifetime!Nevertheless a May expedition to NE Iowa was organized last week.

035Upon arriving in Decorah,I  did not expect the populace to be able to keep this attraction a secret,Niagara Falls certainly doesn’t!!However following the GPS directions to turn by turn  precisely, did not prepare me for a knee high arrow sign pointing to Dunning’s Springs City Park and I drove past and had to turn around.Sure enough this lane ran along a stream that led t038o the “falls”.Apparently a 200 foot falls is one that you can pace off for 200  linear feet.Try pacing off 200 feet at Yosemite!!

Don’t get me wrong; a 200 foot waterfall of any kind is a big deal in Iowa , I am just trying to temper your expectations.If you need further stimulation on your Decorah visit right up the road about a quarter of a mile is another unique geologic feature… Ice Cave (also a part of the Decorah city park system)A hole in the side of the hill allows ice to form in the summer months.Agility and small stature are important if you want to fully experience the cave or you can do as I did ..stand at the entrance,peer in , feel the cold air and wonder where the ice is!

Just a yearly glacier’s movement away is another feature in Decorah ….their paved bicycle/running/hiking trail.This excellent “state of the art” pathway  encircles the city and is known as Trout Run Trail, though the entire time I was there nary a trout trotted by!Timing,timing timing!The trail is full of sight seeing opportunities as well as fitness benefits. Decorah can be proud!052EARCORN(3)

Warren Cultural Center(Opera House)-Greenfield

IMG_1355   When you have traveled as many miles of Iowa’s highways as I have in the past few years it is a challenge to fight off the deja’ vu  reflex as you start down a familiar road. Such was the case as I made my annual pilgrimage to Bubba Sorenson’s  artistic Freedom Rock murals. Now this same road leads to the Adair county seat town of Greenfield, a place that I have visited many times on my way to somewhere else.However this time I was actually visiting Greenfield to see a landmark on the town square,the Warren Cultural Center,better known as the grand lady of the square “The Opera House”   Click here 

It had been many years since “Madame Butterfly” and other productions  graced the stage of this striking piece of architecture,but through the efforts of Main Street Greenfield and Warren Opera House Association  the historic luster has returned.I discovered through a tour conducted by Ken Sidey executive director of the attraction that not only is the center once again a performance arenaIMG_1368 ,but it  also serves as a multi-use facility,hosting meetings ,receptions and hosting overnight guests.In addition there is a lobby area featuring local artists and photographers and a retail store “Ed and Eva’s”that features unique  items produced by Iowa artists.   Needless to say  surprise was the operative word as my tour concluded, for I was soon to discover an antique car museum,  the restored Greenfield Hotel and an attached restaurant, the “Olive Branch” (try the Greek cuisine)restaurant. Oh by the way the restaurant is operated by Bubba’s in-laws!!.Throw in the fact that the movie “Cold Turkey” was filmed on the square in the early 70’s and you have a worthwhile Iowa destination!! Continue reading

Iowa Veteran’s Cemetery-Van Meter

Iowa Veteran's Cemetery

If you have driven west of Des Moines on I-80 you may have noticed a new development high on a hill near the Van Meter exit.It is the new Iowa Veteran’s Cemetery which opened in 2008.As the name implies,this is a cemetery that provides a final resting place for members of our armed forces who have died in active duty or have met years of service requirements.Several years ago i visited the National cemetery in Keokuk,previously the only military cemetery in Iowa with origins that date back to the Civil War,a tragic period of our history that populated many new and old cemeteries.This tradition carries forward to this day of course as the need to fight for freedom seems to be perpetual!

IMG_1106The reasons for our country’s wars have varied over the years and fill many history books,but the need to recognize the sacrifices of our veterans has never changed.That tradition seems to have been immortalized by Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg  eulogy, and now Iowa has a fitting memorial in that patriotic custom.

Presently there are over 1500 interments at the cemetery as I inquired at the Visitor Center with  room for 80,000 maximum.There is a computerized grave locator at the center, a necessity for a cemetery of this size.Also the various veterans organization’s have their monuments on display here,adding to a proper sense of honor.So if you have the time to stop and it doesn’t take much,spend it remembering our veterans in Van Meter.IMG_1111EARCORN(4) IMG_1091

Pilot Knob State Park-Forest City

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After a 5 year hiatus,I decided that it was time to experience another Iowa alpine adventure.Some of  you avid blog readers may recall my description of a dash to the top of Iowa’s highest point located in a farmyard in NW Iowa near Sibley. Flushed with that success, the second highest point in Iowa,Pilot Knob beckoned me. I was not familiar with the topography near Forest City,so my imagination naturally conjured up visions of craggy rock and icy doom.IMG_0654

   Since this elevation was lower than Sibley,I made up my mind to try for the summit sans O2 canisters,just a small effort on my part to keep Iowa beautiful.As I neared the top of my ascent,imagine my surprise to see in the distance  an observation tower  that earlier explorers had erected.So my climb was not over at 1450 feet,but was extended another 40 feet up a spiraling stairwell,where I was treated to a fine view of the countryside of Iowa and neighboring Minnesota(see photos).Success!!!

 Now lest you think that I am prone to hyperbole in describing a large bump on the Iowa prairie,this geographic location actually was used as a navigation point for early Iowa settlers as they moved west in their covered wagons.It is therefore commemorated with the name”pilot knob”

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Herbert Hoover Historical Site/Presidential Library-West Branch

    My 2012 travel schedule has been slow to develop because I finally made the decision to have hip surgery in March. As a result, the need to let new artificial joint heal and the limited ability to travel from point A to point B  led to the logical conclusion.Why not travel approx. 1 mile and visit the Herbert Hoover Historical Site and Presidential Library!! It might seem incredulous that I had not visited the Library/Museum and Park and the truth is I had many times.However it is quite a different perspective when this traveller tried to apply objective judgment criteria to the park area, something I see and use as a scenic walking venue everyday.The Library/Museum also offered some challenges for me because living  close by,local stories often cloud opinions and create a misnomer regarding the historical facts of Hoover’s life.

As is true of so many of Iowa attractions, the proximity of an interstate ,in this case I-80,offers ease of access to the park and library  and the historic business district of West Branch,although it is equally easy to note the Hoover Birthplace at exit 255 and keep on going.Don’t do it!! 

 The Presidential Library/Museum is a definite “must see”, especially if you need to expand your historical understanding of Hoover. No, he didn’t invent the vacuum cleaner! The permanent displays feature the complete life of a young boy,mining engineer, humanitarian, statesman and presidency of Hoover and  all are quite successfully portrayed throughout the museum.The Library/Museum also rotates various historical displays depending on the season.Currently featured in 2012 were areas commemorating, the 50th anniversary of the Library, various Presidential plates and dinner customs of the White House and an analytical historical comparison of the guiding philosophies of Hoover with Abraham Lincoln. Of course during the winter holidays the Library features” Christmas trees of the world…Quite spectacular!

Certainly  your trip to West Branch would not be complete if you did not take the free walking tour of the historical park which preserves the buildings of Hoover’s boyhood West Branch.Other highlights of the tour include a modern visitor center,81 acre tall grass prairie and my favorite the scenic peaceful gravesite of Herbert and his wife Lou Henry that overlooks the entire park.