Back on the road to Iowa

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Dailsy Fleabane

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.

Missouri River, Yankton, SD

A segment of the free-flowing Missouri River

Old Meridian Highway Bridge

Yankton’s old double-decker Meridian Highway Bridge, now replaced and converted into a great pedestrian walkway

Missouri River

Along the Lewis and Clark Trail

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.

Mulberry Bend Outlook

Betsy takes a rest at the Mulberry Bend Overlook

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.

Mulberry Bend

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.

Mulberry Bend, Missouri River

An untouched segment of the Missouri 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.

Cornfields in Iowa

Betsy takes a morning cruise through the Iowa cornfields

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…

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Worlds largest popcorn

A building erected just to display a 5,000 lb. popcorn ball?  I couldn’t get a good picture due to the glare and reflection

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.

Grotto of the Redemption

Grotto of the Redemption, quite an amazing place

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!

Grotto of the Redemption

Station of the Cross

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.

Grotto of the Redemption

Rose Quartz in the walls

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.

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Grotto of the Redemption

Judas sneaking out of the Garden of Gethsemane

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.

Trumpeter Swan

No food?  No picture!

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.

The Park Inn Hotel

Three functions in one building – on the left is the City National Bank, in the middle is the Law Offices and on the far right is the Park Inn Hotel

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 Park Inn Hotel, Frank Lloyd Wright

Original art glass windows

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.

Stockman House

South side of the house showing an expanded entrance, cantilevered roof, and second floor balcony

Mason City

Here’s another house we saw during a walk that’s ready to be moved

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.

Lime Creek Nature Park

These wildflowers are taller than me!

Lime Creek Nature Park

Prairie Coneflowers

Lime Creek Nature Park

A sea of Daisy Fleabane

Dailsy Fleabane

Up in a tree was this curious Barred Owl, observing us for a minute before flying away when we got too close.

Barred Owl

Who wouldn’t love that face?

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.

 

Next up:  Time to party at the Grand National Rally in Forest City!



 

Outdoor fun before the storm – Gulf State Park, AL

Comments 37 Standard
Hugh S Banyon Backcountry Trail

Bugs BunnyWe have been dilly-dallying near the Alabama coast before continuing our trek north, wanting to make sure that Spring has sprung and temperatures are on the rise before we continue our adventure.  So here we are, hanging out at Gulf Shores for the next three weeks.  There’s lots to do here, but because this is our second trip into the Gulf Shores area, we’re trying to do a little more relaxing this time around.

While staying at Gulf State Park, we have finally found what we consider a perfect “10” campground.  Hearing a lot of good things about this huge 496-site park in the past, we tried to make reservations for our stay last year but discovered they were fully booked through March.  This is the only state park we are aware of that allows monthly stays from November through March, and a 14-day maximum all other times.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park as seen from Gulf Oak Ridge Trail

What’s to like about this park?  First, it met all of our personal criteria; park location, site levelness and spacing, and not too much road or “people” noise.  It was just a great atmosphere to hang out in.  Easy access to several hiking/biking trails and many other amenities were icing on the cake.  If we were really going to be picky, we might complain about the lack of hills or mountains to scale or look at.  But that’s not the park’s fault, and besides, the white sand beaches of the Gulf Coast are only a mile away!  To see more things to do while at this park, click here.  We strongly recommend it to anyone coming to this area.

Live Oak Road, Gulf State Park,

We’re at site #37, Live Oak Road

Middle Lake, Gulf State Park

Middle Lake as seen through our dinette window

After birding with Laurel and Eric on our first two days here, we began to explore the park and hit the trails before the forecasted storm, wind and rain arrived.  Just walking through the campground can be a workout – it’s 2 miles end-to-end, not including any of the side roads or walking trails.  But to make it even better, it also has easy access to the Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail.  Traveling between Gulf State Park and Orange Beach, this complex of 6 attached paved paths covers 12 miles.  It’s believed that the area is historic, as it was once used by indigenous people and early settlers.  It took us 2 rides, one at 19 miles and another at 15 miles to cover all of the paths and get back to the park.  The Hugh S. Branyon Back Country Trail traverses a wide diversity of habitats, running along marshes, secondary sand dunes, swamps and over several creeks.

Hugh S Branyon Backcountry Trail

Trailhead of Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail from within the park

We took our rides early in the day and observed that the paths got busy later on. Leaving early also allowed us to encounter some wildlife along the way.

Lefty, the alligator

This mother alligator was seen along Rosemary Dunes Trail with her five babies on board

Gulf Oak Ridge Trail, Hugh S Branyon Trails

We liked Gulf Oak Ridge Trail, as it was shaded with a few mild elevation changes to keep our hearts pumping

Catman Road Trail, Hugh S Branyon Backcountry Trail

Looking at yet another water snake along Catman Road Trail

Rattlesnake Ridge Trail, Backcountry Trail

Steve with “helmet hair” at Rattlesnake Ridge Trailhead

Great Blue Heron on top of tree

Can you find the Great Blue Heron?

On other days, we walked all 9 of the unpaved connecting trails within the park.  It was flat, but we got fairly good workouts nevertheless.

Alligator  Marsh Trail, Gulf State Park

No, we did not see any alligators on this trail

Gulf State Park

Along Campground Road

Bear Creek Trail, Gulf State Park

Bear Creek Trail

On these walks I practiced capturing some wildflowers up close and low to the ground using my Point and Shoot Panasonic DMZ-ZS19.  It got some pretty decent shots.

We took the one-mile walk to the beach and then added several miles while walking along the shore.  There are over 3.5 miles of white sand beaches available in both Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama.  Best of all, it’s free!

Gulf State Park Beach

Gulf State Park Beach

Brown Pelicans

Brown Pelicans in a feeding frenzy were fun to watch

Common Terns

Unlike the Common Terns in Florida, these guys were skittish and wouldn’t let us get too close

Lowes RV Adventures

Yes, we are enjoying our last few days at the beach before moving on!

All of these activities were done within the confines of the sprawling Gulf State Park, with no driving required.  The park also offers birding, golfing, boating, fishing, kayaking and canoeing.  After four days of active fun the storm hit, and it was a doozy just like the forecasters predicted.

 

Next up:  What do you do when cooped up for three days?