Back on the road to Iowa
After Steve’s trip down memory lane we actually managed to walk two trails before leaving Yankton, SD. The Auld-Brokaw and the Lewis and Clark trails both meandered along the Missouri River. The town of Yankton is located on one of the last free-flowing, natural stretches of the Missouri, the longest river in the U.S.
On our way out of town we crossed a bridge into Nebraska and stopped at Mulberry Bend, a high overlook where we got a good view of part of the 59-mile segment of the free-flowing Missouri River.
This stop not only had exceptional views, but was also steeped in historical legacy. The first known inhabitants here were American Indians who settled some 6,000 years ago. Lewis and Clark visited the area in 1804. However, the river we saw was very different from the one they traveled, partly due to the great flood of 1881. That year, massive blocks of ice in the rain-thawed river created a new channel which re-routed it five miles to the south, destroying the town of Vermillion. The entire town was subsequently re-built on higher ground several miles away.
Although the Missouri River is the longest in the country, only one third of it is still a real river; dams and channelization have interrupted its natural process. Two segments of the waterway’s 2,341 miles between Montana and the mouth of the Missouri that remain unchanged are located on the border of Nebraska and South Dakota. They have been designated by the U.S. National Park Service as the Missouri National Recreational River.
I enjoyed this quick stop, for my feathered friends flew around and presented themselves as we arrived. After spending a few minutes enjoying the picturesque view we continued on our journey into Iowa.
Since we try not to drive more than 200 miles in a stretch, we made three stops in Iowa before finally arriving at the Grand National Rally in Forest City. And you know you’re in Iowa when you see cornfields all the way to the horizon.
The first stop was at Sac City, where one thing we saw was the world’s largest popcorn ball, on display since 2009. Perhaps a fitting monument to all of the corn they grow here? Or maybe the locals just have too much time on their hands…
At West Bend, we stopped to check out what is believed to be the world’s largest man-made grotto, composed of nine separate “mini-grottos”, and with each portraying a scene in the life of Christ. The mini-grottos within the Grotto of Redemption illustrate the Story of Creation, the Fall of Man, the Resurrection and the Redemption.
When you get up close you can’t help but think this is a collection of souvenirs on steroids! We saw a similar grotto in Wisconsin last year, but it was nothing compared to this massive and ornate structure!
Father Paul Dobberstein (1872-1954) hand-built this structure, and it took him and one helper 42 years to complete. The sheer bulk of the achievement is startling when considering that two men did most of the manual labor, and Father Dobberstein did practically all of the artistic work himself. The details are exquisite, and one has to walk through it to appreciate the effort and tenacity it took to complete it.
It’s mind-blowing to see the precious stones, gems, petrified wood, jasper, quartz and so much more in this collection! The total value of the rocks and minerals used in the Grotto is said to amount to over $4.3 million in today’s dollar.
Just outside the grotto was a pond with two resident Trumpeter Swans. I think it was only the substantial fence that prevented them from taking a chunk out of me! We played for a little bit before I jumped back in the RV to continue our trip.
Our third Iowa stop was at Mason City. We learned that it has a rich architectural heritage, including a history deep in Prairie School architecture designed mainly by Frank Lloyd Wright and many of his associates. The highlight of our stay was joining a tour of the only remaining building that Frank Lloyd Wright created in the city. We’d never been to any of his buildings and had only heard his name. But our curiosity was piqued when we learned that the downtown Park Inn Hotel is the last standing hotel of the six he had designed. It was completed 101 years ago and had recently been restored to its original appearance for a cool $20 million.
We learned from the docent that Mr. Wright is recognized as the greatest architect of the twentieth century, known for his credo “form follows function.” That credo is demonstrated in this building. The hotel is not a museum, but rather a working business. The bank space has been converted into a ballroom, after several alterations by other owners.
The only Wright-designed Prairie School house in Iowa was one built in 1908 for Dr. G.C. Stockman. It was originally located roughly two blocks east and two blocks north of its present location, then moved to avoid demolition. Imagine the effort to move this whole house! I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, but I learned about Wright’s primary elements of design from the docent, such as the concept of “organic” architecture.
Those tours were perfect on a rainy day, but when the sun appeared we snuck out to get our legs warmed up on a hike/walk at the open fields of Lime Creek Nature Center. The trails wind through open fields and wooded areas along the Winnebago River. We had a decent 5.2 mile walk among blooming wildflowers and sections of wooded areas that provided shade to hide us from the scorching sun.
Up in a tree was this curious Barred Owl, observing us for a minute before flying away when we got too close.
That wraps up our stops in Iowa prior to the 2015 Winnebago Grand National Rally in Forest City, Iowa, that we signed up for months ago. Steve will take over the writing duties for that next part of our adventure.