Monday, May 16, 2022

I Was Lovin' Iowa Even Before I Found a Trader Joe's - and a Couple of High School Friends!

 May 12 - 16, 2022
Solon, Iowa

Not forecast as "high winds", but the 17-22 mph side-winds and gusts, with the gazillion big trucks, on I-80 make for another exhausting drive on Thursday. Fortunately at 115 miles, it's not a long one. 

We're a day late for our reservation so a 2:00 arrival for a 4:00 check-in isn't an issue. The snarky ranger is an unpleasant introduction to Sugar Bottom COE Campground, but the park itself is beautiful. Hardwoods in their snazzy spring green with lush lawn throughout. Sites are close to each other for a public park, but there only three other campers in our 14-space loop so it feels very spacious. A couple more arrive over the weekend, but we still don't feel crowded. 50 amp and water on mostly level dirt pads. Rickety old picnic tables, and nice heavy fire rings. Our satellite connects in space 57 although our water view is blocked almost completely blocked with trees. 

Our front yard view with the river just beyond the trees.

It's a million degrees when we arrive, but the humidity is coming down so no one dies. We explore the nearby town of North Liberty and grab an early pasta dinner at Mirabito's. A simple little place in a strip-mall, with very good food.

Friday we head for Devonian Fossil Gorge, but find three school buses of little-graders starting their visit so we agree another day will be better for us. Good for them getting out to learn about this treasure close to their homes!

We check out the river where at least three dozen pelicans are hanging out, probably irritating the fishermen. I've never seen so many on fresh water, and they're beautiful.

There are 16 just in this photo!

They're almost all sporting their weird mating bump. Apparently more attractive to pelicans than humans. 

High clouds and a light breeze make for a lovely day to explore the countryside. We're in search of the Schwab Round Barns, now owned by the Iowa State Conservancy. They have a wonderful history, and are on my list of things I want to see while here. 

The Celebration Barn is stunning from the outside,

and OMG amazing on the inside.

The timber slat ceiling is made from dead trees found on the property.

The only thing on the walls is this interesting relief panel.

Many weddings and other events happen under the rock arch, said to be held there by gravity alone.

Three other round stone barns on the other side of the pond.

And this little round building tucked in between them.

This oblong, wooden barn needs some TLC as do the grounds in this area. 

I'm bummed not to find the referenced labyrinth and there are no staff to be found on site - although there are several vehicles. I highly recommend the short trip to see these beauties if you're in the area!

We often come across the "biggest, longest, tallest, etc" in our travels, usually by accident. I actually have the "Largest Wooden Buffalo Nickel" on my list. When we route to see it we find we passed it earlier and didn't know it was there :-)

Wouldn't have wanted to miss this! You're welcome.

Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, and after we're already in downtown (where the campus is), we learn this weekend is graduation :-)) Clearly a lot of people already know this. 

I want to see the Literary Walk - plates in the sidewalk on Iowa Avenue depicting quotes and scenes from 49 books selected by a local committee. Nothing online gives us an intersection or address to start, but a friendly officer (while giving tickets to the cars on either side of us) tells us we're in the right area. We find a pick-up only parking spot, and I make a quick dash to see the plates!

"The midwestern land has a soft, undulating quality like concentric circles spreading from a rock tossed into a farm pond" Chris Offut - The Same River Twice

"The small towns of the strange middle of our lives remain small  Streets wintry even in summer." Robert Dana - Summer in a Very Small Town

All are worn, and I'm the only person taking any notice of them. Unique in style, each one is a lovely piece of art. Something I'd love to see in more places!

Murals, both bold and subtle, add another layer of art to the busy downtown. We escape back to the suburbs and enjoy late lunch at Tin Roost - trendy interior with a nice variety. The Tuna Poke and Jambalaya are both excellent. 

Saturday morning - blue skies, no wind, lower humidity, lower temps! It's like a glorious gift :-)))

And a perfect day to check out the Amana Colonies. The utopian communal society began in 1714 in Germany. The community immigrated to America in the 1800's seeking religious and cultural freedom, but gave up its communal living in 1932 due to the depression, and an increased desire for individuality. A profit-sharing corporation was established to manage the mills, agriculture and businesses. It is a fascinating story. 

Barns and freshly mowed fields are the theme on our drive.

Built in 1856, the Ackerman residence was one of the first built in the new colony and served as the community kitchen until others were completed. Many of the structures have information plaques.

Many brick colonials throughout the seven communities.

The main street of Armana is lined with wonderful shops, galleries, bakeries, eateries and museums. 

Glimpses of German culture shared throughout.

I'm always going to love a place where Maypoles line the street!

This stunning Gray catches my eye.

Then we catch hers and she comes over to say hello.

Few sweets are worth the carbs to me - but a German almond crisp is definitely an exception! Thin and flaky, and so divine.

So I'm already loving this beautiful state when I see there's a Trader Joe's nearby!! I'm stupidly happy about this discovery, and we make a quick stop on our way home.

Bill had gotten a message a few days ago from an old friend from high school who we learn lives in nearby Cedar Rapids. She and her husband graduated a year before me, we saw them five years ago at a reunion, and of course we're hoping we can get together while we're here. He has a softball tournament and they aren't sure when they might be free.

Our last day we head back to see the fossils! In 1993 the spillway topped at the Colville Dam and flooded much of the surrounding area. The rushing waters dislocated several layers of hardened sediment exposing fossils hidden for 400 million years. A park was built to highlight the discovery, and thousands of people came to see them. In 2008 another flood damaged much of the park and sent several of the fossil plates down river. Nature giveth and nature taketh away! 

Many fossils remain, repairs and restoration to the park have been completed, and we enjoy exploring the unique gorge. 

A late afternoon shower chases us into El Sol in the little town of Solon, but the skies have cleared when we return home. Just before dark we hear from Janet, and she and Steve stop by to visit for a couple hours. It's wonderful to get caught up and see how happy they are in their retirement! 

Janet, Steve and Bill - friends for 55 years!

Sugar Bottom Campground is the first COE we've stayed at, although everyone raves about them. In the past I've found the reservation process difficult and the check-in times so late for our normal scheduling. This is such a lovely park, and it was easy to come in a day late with just a phone call. I'll look at more of them for sure! 

Monday morning we head for one more Iowa stop.


  1. Hey, I have that Rattlesnake Museum tshirt!

  2. I just asked John how we managed to miss the Round Barns!! We were there for two weeks and didn't see them. Darn! Thanks for sharing them. We found Sugar Bottom an interesting park. We lucked out when our original site was to unlevel and totally lucked out getting the primo first come FHU site. It was so nice we continued to reserve it again every day til our 14 days were up. During the week the place was empty but come Friday night, every site was full and the campground just hummed with voices and smoke. Come Sunday, empty again. We loved the fossils. So very cool!!

    1. Our experience was similar with the weekend packed with tenters and campfire smoke - loved having the weekdays practically to ourselves. I can't remember where I read about the barns, but they were on the list for the area. So glad we got to see them!

  3. Great post as always Jodee and made me smile with your pelican comment so thanks. Really glad it cooled off for you and I'm surprised to hear that Iowa is so hot in May. Does it get worse when summer actually comes? I suppose. What great finds. You are the Queen of research, a giant wooden nickel no less. Love the beautiful round barns and I've always wanted to see the Amana colonies. We visited Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Kentucky. Don't miss it if you can. Was the literary walk all of Iowa writers? What a great idea. I wonder if the fossils will end up downstream and someone may find them. I'm really sorry you didn't get to see them all. I wonder what they could have done to protect them from being washed away?? I also wonder what time of year is best to visit Iowa if May is so hot. I know we were there and had to have stopped but I don't recall anything as interesting as you've shown in this post.

    1. It's already cooled off to the low 70's which is apparently the norm. We just brought a short heat wave with us :-( The Amana Colonies are an interesting mix of developed for tourists and showing signs of age, some small and others much larger. I think we had a wonderful dinner at Shaker Village with friends in Kentucky, but everything else was closed. We'll have to go back! They've moved a lot of the fossils to the VC that was closed for renovations, but I guess the nature of the layered rock makes it vulnerable to washing away now that the top layer is gone.

  4. As Sherry said, you are the queen of research! Those round buildings are way cool, the fossils, the book plates--you are amazing at ferreting out all this cool stuff!

    1. Credit to my pal Maggie who finds fun places while she's planning the route who gave the idea to be more thorough! And the more unique the better for us :-))

  5. Awesome round barns! I just figured they were all rectangles. and fossils!
    But most interesting is how the kids from Desert Center have spread out and still manage to stay in touch.

    1. With these two we've now seen 104 high school folks around the country! The round barns are so beautiful.

  6. It’s Gay…what a fun spot to call home for a few days! Love the round barns and the fossil walk is way cool! I have always thought those little towns offer so many photo opportunities…great captures Jodee! The almond crisp looks yummy!

    1. It really was a fun stop! One must definitely enjoy an almond crisp when available :-)

  7. More cool places! Often they are more fun to explore than the "big" ones are! I love the round barns, of course.....

    1. It's such a beautiful area with a variety of fun things to see! Those barns are a treat.

  8. Laurel ( 19, 2022 at 5:04 AM

    Iowa. Who knew?? Those beautiful round barns are enough to make me want to go there. And the Trader Joe's, LOL. I enjoy your commentary of the places you visit and the effort you make to search out the interesting sights wherever you go. And even when you're not deliberately searching for something, you always notice the quirky and interesting things along the way. That's what I love most about traveling, too. So glad your weather has cooled off and the humidity has dropped! :-) Laurel

    1. Being fulltime gives us such an opportunity for finding those fun and funny places. I don't think weekenders and even those who take longer "trips" have that freedom. For sure this season we'd have missed a lot if we didn't push through the weather!

  9. Had a friend in Iowa and spent 15 years going back and forth, saw many things, she was in Iowa City for the 1st 2 years then Davenport, grew a great attachment to Mississippi river. Many things to see there!

    1. Iowa has been such a great surprise! The river is its own world everywhere it flows.

  10. You visit some of the most whimsical places, round barns and largest wooden nickel made me chuckle. Guess flooding will change the fossil exposures again. Cool stuff.

    1. We're thinking now they're exposed the fossils will continue to be impacted. Finding those unique things to see add to each stop :-)