Welcome to the Great State of Iowa! Corn-fed and rosy-cheeked Iowa stands sentinel in the very heart of these United States. The home of the nation’s first political caucus, Iowa takes center stage every four years as a place with an outsized influence on the political scene when compared to its fairly small size.
What’s that? Oh yes, it’s New Hampshire saying, “Welcome.”
In 1846, Iowa achieved Statehood as a result of multiple petitions by the settlers there. President Polk signed the Bill and, almost completely without incident, a new state was born.
Iowa is bordered on the western edge by the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers. The flowing Mississippi River and Wisconsin and Illinois on the other side equally provide the border on the east. South Dakota provides the northwest border. Minnesota is up north and Kansas is to the south.
Regular virtual participants of The Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken will not be surprised to learn that Iowa is considered “rural.” They may be surprised to know that almost isn’t the case. Iowa is nearly midpoint in size, ranking 26th, and it has the 30th most people. Like in Nebraska and the Dakotas, the population centers tend to be toward the east. The mighty Mississippi provided much of the state’s early commerce. The population always followed the money.
The capital of Iowa is found in Des Moines, which is also the state’s largest city. It is joined on the shortlist of Iowa cities exceeding 100,000 in population by Sioux Falls and Davenport.
The highest point in Iowa is atop Hawkeye Point. At 1,671 feet, one can see north to the South Dakota border from there. The state’s lowest point is at the confluence of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers, 480 feet above sea level. The geographic center of Iowa is located in Story County, 5 miles northeast of Ames.
Iowa is in the Central Time Zone. It recognizes Daylight Savings Time.
Ssshhh… Some Iowans wouldn’t want me to tell you this. Iowa is an inexpensive state in which to live. The average American dollar, according to the Tax Foundation, is worth $1.10 in Iowa.
Major Airports in Iowa:
Dubuque Regional serves about 35,000 people each year. The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids serves about a half million passengers a year. Des Moines International is the flyaway point for about a million passengers annually. Chicago is the common destination for all three.
Top Movies Filmed in Iowa:
Star Trek (2009)
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
The Crazies (2010)
Field of Dreams (1989)
President Herbert Hoover and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower.
Military/Politics: Henry Wallace and William Leahy
Actors: William Frawley, Ashton Kutcher, John Wayne, Cloris Leachman, Donna Reed, Elijah Wood, Hill Harper, Billy Aaron Brown, Riley Smith, Harriet Nelson, Patricia Barry, Brandon Routh, Robin Lord Taylor, Laura Leighton, Adam DeVine, and Danai Gurira.
Entertainers: Bix Beiderbecke, Ian Grey, Mick Thomson, Joey Jordison, Sid Wilson, Andy Williams, Lillian Russell, Shawn Crahan, Simon Estes, Jinxx, Julia Michaels, Tionne Watkins, Corey Taylor, Johnny Carson, Nate Ruess, Glenn Miller, Maesi Caes, Alexa Moffett, and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Athletes: Seth Rollins, Harrison Barnes, Lolo Jones, Kurt Warner, Darren Sproles, and Shawn Johnson.
Writers: Susan Glaspell, Elsa Maxwell, David Rabe, Wallace Stegner, Ann Landers, Lincoln Peirce, and Abigail Van Buren.
Weird and Wonderful Facts about Iowa:
Iowans believe Snake Alley in Burlington is the world’s most crooked street. They have Ripley’s Believe it Or Not to back up its claim against San Francisco’s Lombard St.
In front of the city hall building in Strawberry Point stands the world’s largest sculpture of the berry that gave the town its identity.
Iowa’s smallest city park is situated in the middle of the road in Hiteman.
The Fenelon Place Elevator in Dubuque is the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway. Just 296 feet in length, it elevates riders 189 feet from 4th St. to Fenelon Place.
Kalona is the largest Amish community west of the Mississippi River.
A gardener’s delight, Wright County has the highest percentage of Grade-A topsoil in the nation.
Quaker Oats’ home office is in Cedar Rapids.
The National Balloon Museum in Indianola chronicles more than 200 years of ballooning history.
Let’s take a Trip Through Iowa:
Let’s go to Iowa! It’s where the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye on the 4th of July…or something like that. On our trip, we will celebrate Americana, architectural kitsch, baseball, and a flavor. Does that sound good? Get dressed!
Our trip across Iowa will cover 426 miles and will take just three days or so. It will be three days of wonder, contemplation, and a surprising amount of history.
When we say “trip across Iowa” we mean that as we have rarely meant it. This trip is all about west to east. We will travel from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River.
Let’s start in Ida Grove. If you were to see Ida Grove on a map, you would wonder why we are stopping there. That’s because you didn’t know about, well, you’ll see.
Let me introduce you to Byron LeRoy Godbersen. An industrialist, Mr. Godberson was born about 25 miles from what is now Ida Grove. He made a great deal of money and knew exactly what he wanted to do with his cash. Mr. Godberson was crazy for castles!
So it began. The town’s shopping center is shaped like a castle. Its newspaper office looks like a castle. The roller skating rink? Yup! A castle! Matching pairs of chain-mailed knights guard the rink’s turrets. On the golf course, a footbridge over the tiniest creek imaginable is a medieval suspension bridge…with an imposing portcullis on either end.
Sadly, in 2002 Byron LeRoy Godberson passed to the great castle in the sky. There won’t be any more castles built, but we are so glad they were here for the Greatest Road Trip Ever Taken!
A little less than three hours from the last castle we arrive in the town of Clear Lake. This is where the music died.
On Feb. 3, 1959, shortly after takeoff from Clear Lake’s airstrip, the plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson crashed. All three musicians and pilot Roger Peterson were killed.
The town of Clear Lake has maintained the Surf Ballroom, where the three performed their final notes, to look the same as it did that night. The Surf Ballroom and Museum is a must-visit destination for any music lover or history buff! The Surf Ballroom continues to celebrate music. Sellout concerts play here several times a year. For many of us, it is a walk back in time, to an era that can never be repeated, and will never be forgotten.
A little more than 150 miles away, we find Dyersville. We’ll stay at the Dyersville Comfort Inn for $95 a night. Tomorrow we’re going back in time.
Anyone who has ever played catch with a son or daughter, or enjoyed a baseball game with Dad or Mom, should visit the original Field of Dreams. “If you build it, he will come.” We came.
The 1989 movie starred Kevin Costner as a baseball fan who was, coincidentally, a farmer. Compelled by a disembodied voice to devote part of a cornfield to a baseball field, Costner found closure and redemption through the grand old game.
This is one of the few parts of our trip that requires props. “Our gloves are in the trunk. So is a ball.” There is no charge to visit The Field of Dreams, but the memories are priceless.
Just 69 miles south by southwest of Dyersville, we arrive in Cedar Rapids. One of the coolest towns in Iowa, Cedar Rapids is home to some of the midwest’s finest culture. Fine art and performance art live downtown side-by-side. We are going to experience a show at the Paramount Theatre.
The acoustic quality at The Paramount is out-of-this-world. It almost doesn’t matter who is playing, because the sheer sound quality is so masterfully tuned. The theater itself has been restored to the luster of its hey-day, which is as much now as at any other time in the building’s impressive history.
After the show, we’ll get a good night’s sleep at the Hampton Inn Cedar Rapids for just $80 a night. We told you, a good life is eminently affordable in this state! Tomorrow, we have just one final stop, but it will be a sweet one!
Davenport, Iowa is where the prairie meets Old Man River, as the mighty Mississippi flows by the town. It’s where Iowa meets Illinois. It’s where we have a date with some chocolate!
Chocolate Manor, to be precise. Bob and Rose Mohr welcome us as we enter the store. Here we will find candy and confections, but mostly, we will be immersed in the essence of fine chocolate. Mmmmm, oh, baby.
This is a place in which one must take time. A fast selection will only result in being sad you didn’t wait just a little longer for the next thing.
We make our final selection and walk a few blocks to the Village of East Davenport. We walk the streets and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells that make this one of Iowa’s favorite haunts for young and old. The Village is packed with restaurants, bars, views, theater, and retail stores. Such a great destination. It’s connected to Illinois by the Channel Cat River Taxi. Give it a try.
Though it’s time to say goodbye to Iowa, we leave with some great memories of the state. For now, we are going to climb aboard the River Cat and take a trip across the river.