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…


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.


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!


We visit Steve’s mom’s hometown – Yankton, SD

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Yankton, South Dakota

We had two weeks to kill before the WIT (Winnebago International Travelers) Club Grand National Rally in Iowa, so we made a slight detour and pointed Betsy toward Yankton, South Dakota.  This stop had several areas of significance for us: (1)Yankton is Steve’s mom’s hometown (2)South Dakota is the 43rd state we’ve visited and (3) Betsy had finally parked in our state of residency!

Yankton, South Dakota

Steve’s parents were from South Dakota.  His dad was from Sioux Falls and his mom from Yankton.  Some of his grandparents and great-grandparents had settled in Yankton, coming from Denmark in the early 1900’s.  Great-grandma Larsen lived to 102 years old, and her daughter, Steve’s grandma McElwain, made it to 99 – passing away in 2008.  Although he hadn’t been here since then, Yankton has grown significantly.  Incredibly, both of their homes still stand:

We were also able to re-connect with Steve’s second cousin Jim, who has lived in Yankton all his life with his wife Lynn and some of their family.  Our dinner at Jim and Lynn’s beautiful log home was spent reminiscing about the family’s past.  We were excited to look through Lynn’s excellent scrapbook full of family photos and stories.  Thank you for your hospitality, Jim and Lynn!

Jim invited us to the annual Tractor Drive Parade that happened during our stay.  He drove his beautifully-restored John Deere tractor, and 200 other folks also went through downtown on their antique tractors from the participating states of Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota.


That’s Jim on his brand-new-looking John Deere. These folks are serious about their tractors!

We had “front row” seats, and Steve obviously enjoyed the show – as he does anything displaying mechanical things.  The oldest tractor we saw was a McCormick Farmall built in 1946 (and still running).  We had a great time!


This would be a good town for Betsy to get stuck in the mud!

Tractor Ride, Yankton SD

Jim and Lynn dropped by for a visit at our campground, and we shared our stories of life on the road.  They had traveled extensively for years on a motorcycle, so we had lots to talk about.

On another day we drove out to the nearby city of Vermillion, where the University of South Dakota is located.  We walked around the beautiful campus and admired the building architecture.  A couple of tidbits – Tom Brokaw and the famous Noble-prize winning physicist E.O. Lawrence both graduated from this university, and Steve’s grandma once danced with Lawrence Welk when he worked in the Yankton area!

University of South Dakota

Campus grounds of South Dakota

University of South Dakota

Old Main was built in 1883, burned down in 1889, and was ultimately restored in 1997

University of South Dakota

Steve retraces his mom’s and other famous folks’ steps on the campus

Within the university campus is a hidden gem of South Dakota, the National Music Museum. We’d heard this was a wonderful museum, so we had to check it out.  My goodness, it took us half the day to peruse the amazing array of instruments on display in this collection!  This museum is worth a significant drive if you are interested in musical instruments at all.


The museum is renowned for its collection, which includes more than 15,000 American, European, and non-Western instruments from all cultures and historical periods.  They include many of the earliest, best preserved, and historically most important instruments known to exist.  The quality and scope of the NMM has earned it international recognition.  Here is just a sampling of what we enjoyed learning about:

Harpsichord by Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp, 1643

Harpsichord by Andreas Ruckers, Antwerp, 1643

Classic Guitars

Rare guitars made by Stradivari, D’Angelico, Martin, Gibson and Fender

Ceremony Drum from Alaska

Ceremonial drum with a three-pronged Caribou antler as a handle

The self-guided tour included free use of an iPod, which allowed us to hear the sounds made by many of the instruments, as well as to learn more about them.  Awesome tour!

Beede Gallery

The Beede Gallery showcases non-Western music that includes 240 exotic instruments from diverse cultures around the world

Conch Shell Trumpet

Conch Shell Trumpet – Tibet.  Can’t say we’ve seen this before!

All in all it was an amazing museum and really worth a stop!

We really enjoyed our visit with relatives, experiencing the charm of this part of the country, and seeing things we would have missed if we hadn’t detoured here.  A great pause before our trek into Iowa!

Next up:  Back on the road to Iowa!