July 13 – Iowa, What’s not to like?

The view from our campground on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. Lock and Dam #14 was a short walking distance from the campground by way of road. Iowa shoreline is on the other side.

Sidenote: You wouldn’t know it from the title but there is a lot to see here in this blog. There are many photos, including several slideshows of art work and Iowa’s state capitol building. At the end of this blog, you’ll find several links to previous ones. Take your time here and enjoy Iowa through mine and Vivian’s eyes.

It isn’t easy cramming three vowels with no two alike into a four-letter word, but the state of Iowa managed to do it. Because it is common for names of places in the United States to be derived from Native American words, it is no surprise that Iowa comes from the indigenous people known as Ioway who once occupied the area that is now a state. ‘Ioway’ is a wonderful word, and as someone who recently got addicted to Wordle, I can’t help but think that it would be a good starter for the daily puzzle, although doubtful it would appear in the English dictionary which the New York Times relies on to create its daily puzzle.

This scene that might be viewed along I-80 in Iowa was painted in 1940 by Kansas-born John Steuart Curry. Titled ‘Threshing’, the painting was displayed at Davenport’s Figge Museum.
What’s not to like in Iowa? Well, there is one thing – the weather, or more specifically, tornadoes and the infamous derecho storms. Artist Ellen Wagner’s “F5 Tornado” panoramic depicts the instantaneous change in weather that best characterizes Iowa’s prairies and farmlands.

At any rate, why Iowa? We’ve been here before, twice in fact (check out the blog links at the end of this one). And for some reason, we keep coming back. I write this blog while in Wisconsin and think of those places in Iowa we have yet to visit and would like to one day. Take Iowa City for instance, known as the ‘City of Literature’ because of its prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop that has churned out many well-known writers such as Flannery O’Conner and Kurt Vonnegut. I am sure that city has many coffee shops where creativity can be stimulated. And then there is Cedar Rapids, home to American Gothic artist Grant Wood’s studio, which can be toured. Or how about Capt James T Kirk’s future birthplace in Riverside or the National Farm Toy Museum in Dyersville? And what’s up with the small town named ‘What Cheer’? Almost makes you want to go see it. By the way, we have yet to see any of the above-mentioned places.

Cattle is not the largest agriculture industry in Iowa, but you can definitely find all kinds of cow art in Iowa. This is inside the Turkey River Mall in Elkader. The four story building was once a hotel and is now an antique store where each vendor has his or her own room to sell vintage items.

To most, Iowa is a fly over state or at best, a drive through state. Miles of corn and soybean fields along I-80 fail to draw people in (although Iowa does boast the words largest truck stop near Walcott). But that is one of Iowa’s appealing qualities to us, it is totally unassuming and far from being braggadocious, like say Texas. And on this trip, we had the pleasure of getting acquainted with two of Iowa’s unassuming cities, Davenport and Des Moines.

The two paintings on display at the Figge Museum, John C. Wolfe’s “A View of the City of Davenport, Iowa” circa 1857, and Hermon More’s “Davenport Factory, circa 1928 best represent my view (minus the smokestacks) of Davenport, circa 2022.

We begin on the Mississippi River which by the way, runs along the entire eastern border of Iowa. Parked on the river at an Army Corp of Engineers campground on the Illinois side, we could see Davenport across the river. On this trip, Davenport would be the third of three Mississippi River cities we visit (see our previous blogs about St Louis and Memphis). If these three cities were sisters, Davenport would be the one that stays home to read a book on a Friday evening while her two sisters go out on the town. But that bookish sister has an interesting past and once you get to know her a little, you want to spend more time with her.

Here’s one shot from Davenport, on the Freight House Market Place building where the weekly Farmers Market takes place along the river.

Here’s a fun little story relating to Davenport. The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was built from Rock Island, Illinois to Davenport in 1856. This was a great boom for the area as transportation and commerce with Chicago improved greatly. With other nearby railroads, Davenport became a significant commercial railroad hub. Naturally, steamboat companies saw railroads as a threat and weeks before the Rock Island bridge was completed, the captain of Effie Afton, one of those steamboats, crashed on purpose into the bridge. That did not end well for the captain and his steamboat company. The lead defense lawyer for the railroad companies, Abraham Lincoln took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court where the right to bridge navigable streams was upheld. The bridge remained, following some repairs of course.

Later on, Davenport like so many other medium-sized towns, struggled through hard times, including the Great Depression and the farm crisis of the 1980s. And as with many other cities, Davenport came back to life with a resurgence in the 1990s and has been enjoying a steady increase in population and a cost of living lower than the national average. With lots of walk and bike paths, parks and of course the river, we saw the quality of life that the Davenport area offers to attract young and energetic types. That and the relative ease of getting around the urban areas placed Davenport on our short list of cities in which we could spend lots of time.

Seen while facing downtown from the riverside park, the modern Figge Museum stands out.

One Saturday morning, we enjoyed the Freight House Farmers Market on the water’s edge in downtown Davenport, a weekly summer event. After a couple samples of cheeses and baked goods, a little wine tasting and purchasing a few veggies and a dozen fresh farm eggs, we walked a short distance to the Figge Museum where we spent a couple hours in what was surprisingly one of the best art museums visited during our travels (and we have visited many). And just to show you, I have a couple slideshow exhibits from the museum.

Free in the month of July, what’s not to like about that!

The following slideshow exhibit is Iowa-worthy – it’s all about corn. Michael Meilahn (farmer and glass blower) and Nick Nebel (video and sound artist) collaborated to create ‘Corn Zone‘ in 2007, a mixed media installation of glass, polyester rope with sound and video projections. I never thought corn could be so visually stimulating.

And yet another Iowa-related theme was water, as presented by artist Anne Lindberg and poet Ginny Threefoot. Lindberg expanded her 2-dimensional linear drawings to 3 dimensions for an immersive “drawings in space” experience. This installation is titled “think like a river”, also a title of one of Threefoot’s poems. “…you have come to row the body through this floating world…”

After a few days near Davenport, we drove west on I-80 past the world’s largest truck stop to our next stay, another Army Corp of Engineer campground on Lake Saylorville near Des Moines. We had a few reasons to visit the area, friends of ours live there and insisted we stay at Prairie Flower, their favorite campground, a cousin I have not seen in several decades lives in nearby Ames with her husband surrounded by children and grandchildren, and last, we wanted to see Iowa’s State Capitol and the High Trestle Bridge.

Our friends Pete and Jerilyn show us a good time in Des Moines, at the Zombie Burger Place of course.
They also showed us around the area of Des Moines. Wait, what’s that in the grasses? Didn’t think we would, but we got our west-of-the-Mississippi Bison fix.
And we saw Elk. Did I mention that it was insanely hot the entire time we spent in Des Moines? These guys were cooling off in the water.
Due to Covid, we didn’t get to see my cousin, but we did meet her daughter Ellyn and owner of the recently opened Dog Eared Books in downtown Ames.
Downtown Des Moines.

As with Davenport, Des Moines offered lots of art and has a casual, low key vibe to it. Along with the High Trestle Bridge, the highlight was our tour of the majestic state capitol building, which is far from low key. Enjoy the slideshow of the capitol. I could not get enough of it!

We topped off our Iowa tour by spending two days at one of our favorite places, Elkader, in the heart of Iowa’s driftless area. We’ve stayed there before and were absolutely charmed by the small town. It was only fitting to come back again as it was on our way to Wisconsin. Until then, enjoy the photographs of what we like about Iowa.

Much of Elkader’s charm comes from its historic Keystone Bridge that crosses Turkey River, seen here under repair. Our campground is 1/2 mile from downtown and our best memories from our previous visit was walking there every day across the bridge (the only way by foot). Not this time!
To get to downtown Elkader, we had to drive out of the way 1 1/2 miles. The commute was worth it as we wanted to visit Deb’s Brewtopia again.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been to Iowa before. Check out these previous blogs to see more photos.

See the charming side of Iowa as we explore Elkader and the driftless area in this blog from 2019.

In this blog, we visit the western side of Iowa and explore the Loess Hills, from 2020.

And last, from this current trip of 2022, check out our blogs on Memphis and St Louis.