The main state park I have been to in Iowa was Pikes Peak State Park. This beautiful park is located where the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers meet and where in 1673 the first white men crossed the Upper Mississippi and stepped foot on what would become Iowa. There is access to the river near the park; and hiking trails beautiful views, picnic areas, volleyball nets and other activities inside the park. Mountain bikes are allowed on some trails and 77 camp sites are available. I believe the park is open year round but many facilities close for the winter.
I am not sure exactly what this site is "officially". I swear I saw a sign stating it is a state historic site but it doesn't show on the Internet. I did see a sign though that it is part of the Silos and Smokestacks National Heritage Area. This is the place where Mamie Doud was born in 1896. She would grow up to marry Dwight D. Eisenhower (the famous general and 34th president) in 1916. She was one of the best loved of all "first ladies" and exemplified dignity and grace in that position. The site has the home where she grew up with much of the original furniture. There are displays in the basement about Mamie's life and that of the president after their marriage. The staff here are very knowledgeable about the subject and clearly great admirers of both of them. Hours are 10 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday and closed on Sunday. Admission was $5 as of August 2013 ($4 for retired military).
Conical Mounds appeared across the eastern United States long, long ago. The mounds at Effigy Mounds National Monument, however, are more recent and maybe a bit more interesting to see. These mounds were made in the Late Woodland Period about 1400 years ago (or about 400 A.D.) until about 850 years ago. In addition to the much more common round or conical mounds are linear and compound (combining the conical and the linear) which only occur in the Efiigt Mounds Region (Souther Wisconsin, Northeast Iowa, Southeast Minnesota and extreme Northern Illinois). In addition there are animal shaped mounds here including the Great Bear Mound that is 137 feet long and 70 feet wide at the shoulders. There are also several bird mounds and a total of over 20 animal shaped mounds. The park is divided into a South Unit and a North Unit. The visitors center is in the North Unit near the dividing line between the two units. There is a trail leading from the visitors center past various mound sites and scenic overlooks of the Mississippi River. You can hike as little as 2 miles to see the Little Bear Mound Group (the Big Bear Mound Group is just a short hike further) and a couple of overlooks or 7 miles to the Hanging Rock Viewpoint.
Herbert Hoover National Historic Site preserve the birthplace of the 31st President of the United States Herbert Hooveralong with several buildings that reveal his childhood and the influences that shaped the man. Hoover was raised in a community dominated by the "Religious Society of Friends" also known as Quakers. This upbrining strongly influenced Hoover the rest of his life and caused him to adopt the principles of hard work, honesty, simplicity and genorosity. Other displays include gifts to Hoover from other countries, his gravesite, an 81 acre tallgrass prairie and the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
The enduring character actor John Wayne remains a vivid memory for Winterset, Madison County, and Iowa, even though the actor left with his family for Los Angeles when he was about age 3. The modest original home is well preserved to it's early 20th century style, with well kept landscaping, and a nice little gift shop nearby. Winterset hosts a John Wayne festival every July.
For those wanting to see John Wayne's home or visit the remaining six Bridges of Madison County, Winterset is a good place to start. The town is very small, with only several blocks on either side of the town square where the impressive domed county building and court house stands. The brick commercial buildings are mostly late 19th century construction of moderate ornamentation, but very well preserved by the tenant antique shops and restaurants that reside there. The Chamber of Commerce provides personal help and free maps, and has a small gift shop. A festival devoted to the memory of John Wayne is sponsored by Winterset every July.
Completed in 1886 and built of limestone, granite, and sandstone, the Iowa State Capitol Building is one of the largest statehouses in the nation. It was built on the site of an earlier small brick building that housed the state legislature. Front and back porticos are supported by six Corinthian columns each. The central dome rises to a height of 275 feet (84 meters) and is covered with 23-karat gold. The four corner wings of the building are capped by small domes, so the Iowa state capitol building is the only one in the United States with five domes.
The capitol building houses Iowa's Legislature, Supreme Court, Law Library, and the offices of the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, and auditor. Among the many historical items on display in the building are the Iowa Constitution, a scale model of the battleship U.S.S. Iowa, original battle flags carried by Iowa regiments, and a collection of dolls depicting Iowa's first ladies in replicas of their inaugural gowns.
The Des Moines Botanical Center opened in 1979, although a city-owned greenhouse occupied the site since 1939. The grounds of the 14-acre (six-hectare) botanical garden contain trails which wind among beds of native and other temperate-climate plants; conifers and deciduous trees; rose gardens; herb gardens; water gardens; and a cascade.
Indoor exhibits include seasonal displays of plants; flowers; a pond stocked with goldfish, catfish, and turtles; and free-flying birds under one of the largest geodesic domes in the nation, at 150 feet (46 meters) in circumference. There are over 15,000 tropical, subtropical, and desert plants on display under the dome.
Its collection of Japanese bonsai trees is one of the ten best in the nation, and its outdoor display of cactus is the largest cactus and succulent garden in the Midwest.
Founded in 1970, the 600-acre (243-hectare) Living History Farms is an open-air museum which tells the story of Midwestern agriculture during four different time periods, including the Ioway Indian Village (1700), the Pioneer Farm (1850), the Town of Walnut Hill (1875), and the Horse-Powered Farm (1900). The displays are concentrated around two sites: one featuring farms, and the other featuring towns. Tractor-drawn carts transport visitors between the five different farms, although all the exhibits are within easy walking distance of each other.
On each farm, the buildings, planting methods, and livestock are authenic to their respective time periods. The displays are explained by interpreters in period costumes, who also reinact such daily routines of early Iowans as cooking, caring for the animals, blacksmithing, and gardening. Visitors are also invited to try their hand at such activities as wool carding and apple-butter making.
In the Town of Walnut Hill, visitors can relax and enjoy an ice cream at the town's cafe, or buy candy at the general store.
It's the site of the movie!When we were there (several years ago), they told us that half is owned by one family and half by another family. So they have competing souvenir shops and will only let you play on their part if you are using their equipment. It's really funny:)
Okoboji is a city in Dickinson County, Iowa, and has the deepest natural lake in the state, it is crystal clear and one of only a handful of lakes in the world that is classified as a true blue water lake.
A visit to the Amana Colonies can easily fill an entire day. There is much to see and do (and eat) but it's all done at a relaxing pace.
The Amanas were founded about 150 years ago by a group of German people seeking religious asylum in America. They originally lived in a communal setting but in the 1930s abandoned that for more individuality. However, you can still hear some of the older people speaking about working in the communal kitchen or things like that. There is a museum about the history of the community located in Main Amana.
Main Amana is the largest of the colonies and has the most businesses and sights for tourists. It is also the busiest area though. The visitor's center is here as well as the RV Park and a motel. Also at Main Amana: an ice cream shop, quilt shop, chocolate shop, winery, candle shop, most of the restaurants, lace shop, Christmas shops, bakery, basket shop, brewing company, woolen mill, furniture shop and factory, & meat shop. The most important thing to remember about the Amanas is that these shops are all locally owned and operated, almost all with handcrafted items. So, that's hand-woven baskets, hand-dipped candles, hand-made lace, hand-carved Christmas ornaments. The quality of items is outstanding. You can find some amazing souvenirs and gifts for the people back home.
The other villages are quieter, have more historic buildings and, as such, less shopping. West Amana has a basket shop. South Amana is the site of some robberies by Jesse James & his gang in 1877 as well as a furniture shop, quilt & gift shop and some bed & breakfasts. Middle Amana has an amazing bakery, a museum, a walking trail, the lily lake, a golf course and Maytag Factory. High Amana has the historic general store and the arts guild center. Homestead has a cafe, a restaurant, a country store, and a nature trail, as well as a museum, a meat shop and some more bed & breakfasts.
Although passing the Amanas on your way down Hwy 151 from Interstate 80 to Cedar Rapids, you might be tempted to stop and look around, it really is some place that is better suited to at least one full day of exploring.
Following the death of the founding prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., in 1844, the vast majority of the Mormon population of Nauvoo, Illinois responded to the leadership of Brigham Young and set out to establish a new Zion in the parched lands of the Great Basin around what is today Salt Lake City. The actual trek began in early 1846. A trail was established across the southern reaches of the Iowa Territory (Iowa didn't become a State until December 1846) by advance parties. These advance parties were not to reach Utah until the summer of 1847 and it would not be until 1850 when the bulk of the 12000 pioneers would reach their new home. The Iowa section of what became the Mormon Trail only makes up about a quarter of the total length but in many ways it comprised some of the most trying times the pioneers were to face due to inexperience, lack of roads/trail and poor weather conditions. Literally hundreds died along the way. It has been estimated that there were about 400000 emigrants who went West between the years of 1840 to 1860 with over 250000 of those heading to California. The original Mormon party consisted of about 3000 people of whom one in ten would die along the road. Two large recuperation camps were established at Garden Grove and Mt Pisgah. A huge outfitting camp was also set up at Kanesville - near Council Bluffs - from which pioneers could spend the winter in anticipation of the next year's push across Nebraska and Wyoming to Utah.
Many of the sites along the Mormon Trail were commemorated in 1996 in honor of the 150th anniversary of the trek and Iowa has done itself proud in establishing a modern-day Mormon Trail route on which you can retrace the old trek from. Several communities along with the State have established memorials to one of the more extraordinary migrations in human history. One of the most famous Mormon hymns, "Come, Come Ye Saints" - sung to the old English folk tune "All Is Well" - comes from William Clayton's crossing of Iowa in 1846:
"Come, come ye Saints,
no toil nor Labor fear;
but with joy
wind your way.
Though hard to you
this journey may appear,
Grace shall be
as your day.
'Tis better far for
as to strive
Our useless cares
from us to drive;
Do this and joy your
hearts will swell --
All is well! All is well!"
When I had to visit Iowa for the first time, none of my friends could help me! and i looked up old issues of National Geographic to find some information. Like the other poster said: it is a long drive out to visit nearby places. On my first visit to Iowa, to visit a group of Native people living near Des Moines, I used to just drive around, and come across quaint towns and antique stores and rolling hills.
I would rate the towns and cities i have visited in Iowa as:
Ames university town, worth while, cosmopolitan in a way
Des Moines the capital city, things to see, eating is okay, cattle show during summer (sorry cant remember the official name for it)
( please read the humouristic description of Des Moines in Bill Bryson's: Fat girls of Des Moines)
Sioux City: boring, uninteresting people and town
There is a area on the eastern part of Iowa where there is a group of fundamental christians ( like Amish and Mennonites ) live, and it was interesting to visit their villages and buy home made jams and cheese. Amana Colonies
During August, there is the Pow Wow of the Meskwakia Indians near Des Moines. They are a traditional tribe of Indians and it is worthwhile going to their Pow Wow. They do not welcome your visit at other times,unless you have friends there, and dont ask too many questions, they told me.
Another dull town is:marshalltown, good to pass through.
Driving on the northern side of the state, the scenery is pleasing.
in the southwest, sharing the border with the state of Nebraska is the Loess Hills, an unusual formation of "mountains of sand", to my knowledge only one other place in China has this formation , ( and perhaps in Moroccan south). good to drive around, hike.
Omaha is a fair sized city on the southwestern border of Iowa, over the dull casino town of Council Bluffs
Then there is the Missouri River, delineating the border with nebraska.
Vermillion in South Dakota is a small university town worth a visit. there is that joy of being at a small university town.
Once again, recommend Bill Brysons article and book.
The presidential selection process begins in Iowa.
Presidential hopefuls descend upon the state and begin campaigning heavily in December before the Iowa caucuses are held in January. On December 27, 2007, I heard Bill Clinton speak on behalf of his wife Hillary.
This is an amazing time of year to hear the next president of the United States speak in my own Iowa backyard.
We do have a rather odd election process in the United States, and sometimes it feels as if the presidential campaigning drags on for much too long, but it is quite the event in Iowa.
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