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Did You Know…?
- Iowa is the nation’s top producer of corn and pork.
- The red Delicious apple was created in Iowa (1880s); the original tree still produces.
- Britt has hosted the National Hobo Convention every year since 1900.
- Dubuque has America’s shortest (296 feet) and steepest railroad (60-degree incline).
- Indians left more than 10,000 burial mounds in the state.
Land between two rivers
Iowa, bound by the Mississippi and the Missouri, is best known for its farm products although only 10% of the population lives on farms. However, with its rolling hills and broad fields of grain ripening in late summer, Iowa looks like a farm state. It also spawned one of the most-recognized — and most-caricatured — farm images on canvas, “American Gothic,” painted by native son Grant Wood.
But, for tourists, there are outdoor activities in four distinct seasons; festivals and events recalling a pioneering past, and urban entertainments in the capital, its smaller cities and the college towns.
The Hawkeye State produces one-fifth of the corn grown in the U.S. and about a fourth of the country’s hogs raised for market.
It enters the national consciousness every four years, during the Iowa caucuses when the state’s notoriously independent voters play their part, early in the nomination process, in selecting presidential candidates — or definitively knocking candidates out of the running.
Movies occasionally raise awareness, too. Remember “The Bridges of Madison County”? The story, all fiction, was set among real covered bridges.
People from hectic urban areas can come to the Hawkeye State for quiet and relaxation. They enjoy outdoor recreation such as canoe trips on the rivers or water sports at the lake resorts in the northern part of the state.
They also come for terrain that seems made for two-wheeled transport, whether the motorcycle or the manually powered bike. The annual RAGBRAI, a weeklong bike ride lengthwise across the state, becomes a traveling county fair for the communities that play host to its riders.
The state was settled by a number of northern European groups, which becomes apparent in some smaller communities with traditional festivals that recall a homeland most have never seen. The best-known ethnic settlement is called the Amana Colonies, seven villages founded by German immigrants in the 19th century in an attempt at communal, utopian living.
Interstate 80 crosses the state, and drivers of necessity stop by. But Iowa is not a place for nightlife or much beach life; it’s for real life, to quote an ex-Iowan.
Things to do for Venturers
- Participate in RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa), the weeklong summertime ride across the state.
- Visit the Dan Gable International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Waterloo to learn more about the sport. If you want to learn more in a hands-on way, sign on for a clinic or seminar on wrestling techniques and strategies at the site’s Dan Gable Teaching Center.
- Enter the fray at one of the two paintball fields at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone. The facility also offers camping, canoeing, mountain biking plus skiing and snowboarding.
- Apply to participate in the Trans Iowa mountain bike run, which covers at least 300 miles in about 35 hours. One hundred riders are selected in a lottery drawing from among those who apply. Or, go for the less-strenuous (24 hours) Seven Oaks Mountain Bike Race.
- Gather with other motorcycle enthusiasts at the Fort Madison Rodeo Park for the annual Big River Rally, in mid-June.
- Drop in on the annual (August) National Hobo Convention in Britt characterized by markets, mulligan stew and lots of storytelling. You don’t have to be a hobo to attend. (Did you know Supreme Court Justice William Douglas and actor Burl Ives rode the rails for a time in their lives?)
Things to do for Centrics
- Book a seat at one of two types of traditional dinners offered at Living History Farms west of Des Moines. The meals are served in an 1875 Victorian home and a 1900 farmhouse.
- Go canoeing on the spring-fed Upper Iowa River. Or, paddle Story County’s Upper Skunk River Canoe Trail.
- Plan your personalized bike trip. There are numerous trails to choose from.
- Attend the Meskwaki Pow Wow in Tama.
- Have dinner on the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad on a 22-mile roundtrip out of Boone, getting a taste of old-time rail travel.
- Attend the Davis County Civil War Days and Living History Encampment at Bloomfield. The autumn event remembers an 1864 Confederate guerrilla border raid in Davis County.
Things to do for Authentics
- Attend the autumn Covered Bridges Festival in Madison County, just when fall colors are out. Drop in at John Wayne’s Winterset birthplace, too.
- Tour the Wells’ Dairy in Le Mars to see Blue Bunny ice cream in the making, then have a nice helping of the “udderly delightful” product at an old-fashioned ice cream parlor. The dairy makes more ice cream yearly than any other single plant in the world.
- Have dinner in the Amana Colonies, noted for their hearty German and American meals served family style as in the days of the colonies’ communal kitchens.
- Attend a rodeo in Sidney or Fort Madison.
- For the odd and impressive, see Gladbrook’s Matchstick Marvels museum, which houses works by Iowa artist Patrick Acton who converts millions of matchsticks into scaled models of real buildings and other objects.
- See something of the state’s Dutch heritage at tulip festivals in Orange City and Pella.
For more information, consult Travel Iowa at www.traveliowa.com