Thursday, October 1, 2009

Iowa Has So Many Interesting Places

Stop # 14 At the Watson's outside Sac City Iowa. And, Stop #15 - Stanton Iowa

What enthusiasm Ann and Ross have for their new life here. Two very informal and laid-back folks, who are totally into their new home and property. As they say, it is a park and rivals some beautiful places one could camp at. There is a creek that runs through the property, the house sits on a hill overlooking a beautiful forest that will be gorgeous in color soon. And, Bizzy their dog is so full of energy and those enduring looks that makes it hard to resist loving her. She had parvovirus when a puppy and not expected to live; but, with the help of two good vets and the Watson’s strong love for her, she’s doing good and is almost 8 years old now.

I’ve had two relaxing evenings with the folks so far. Beautiful nights, coyotes nearby singing to us, had some rain first night. I left Algona under the threat of rain so hurried getting hooked up and dumping the tanks. I then like to get a quick shower in before moving on, but decided not to - the Watson’s would just have to take me as I was.

Drove down US-169 to Fort Dodge (not too bad), then followed some very simple directions from Ann using mostly county roads. They were really nice compared to those Federal and State highways. Oh boy, were they nice. Come to find out from Ross, it’s pretty much like that all over the State. County roads get the money to improve and rebuild their roads, so natch, that’s were the public travels - on county roads. He said that the State claims there isn’t enough traffic on the Federal and State roads to get much transportation money - dah, wonder why there isn’t enough traffic on those highways. But, you know there really is a lot of traffic on those bad roads, wonder when they do their traffic counts?

So if you are going to travel around in Iowa, get an Iowa State map and plan your trip getting to and from using the “gray” road lines. Unfortunately, most of “tourists” don’t know that, and based on experiences in other states we use a lot of Federal and State highways to get from point A to point B. (Ain’t talking about interstates here). I plan on sending the governor a letter of complaint. This State has a lot of interesting parts to it and worth visiting too. And, a lot of contrast in cultures.

Friday was the beginning of Barn Quilt tours. I did go to Storm Lake to get some meds filled at the Walmart pharmacy and then headed southward. I managed to get 14 barn quilt stops done. It’s a bit uncomfortable driving in someone’s drive way to view the block pattern, but apparently that is part of the agreement is to put up with people approaching your house. I met one gentleman as he was working around his barns. He told me his farmstead had been there before statehood, but not in his family. The old barn (the recipient barns must be at least 50 years old), his quilt block was located on, was an old dairy barn and had just ‘bout seen it’s last day. He said when the next storm comes along and does roof damage, down the barn is coming, probably. I met Marge out scraping paint off a fence attached to a barn. Her quilt was on an old corn crib. She said the August hail storm did a lot of damage to their buildings and she was scraping paint off the fence and the side of the barn in preparation for painting. I believe she said she is in her 80’s.

I got so after awhile, if there was no one behind me, I just stopped on the roadway and took a picture. If I couldn’t stop I would either turn in the driveway or continue on. Some of the quilts are on fairly busy highways, so had to make some quick decisions as to what to do. I did miss some.

My favorite town name is Odebolt. The Swedes live on the west side, the Germans settled the south side and the English and Irish settled on the east side. There are some interesting cribs and I learned from Marge those are “popcorn” barns. The tractors would drive down the center way and the bins on either side would be filled with the “popcorn” corn. The area use to be known as the Popcorn Capitol of the the World. The worlds largest popcorn ball weighs 5,000 pds.

There are numerous wind farms too and das Germans here must not mind the wind turbines in their backyard - ‘cause they are!

Saturday was the first of a two-day Sac County Quilt -A-Fair held at the County Fairgrounds. Ann, my hostess, is involved with the local quilt organization that puts the Show on and so she spent a lot of time over the weekend there. There were over 400 exhibits at the show - many old family heirloom quilts, to table top quilts, to fairly recently made ones. Many traditional patterns along with many contemporary patterns. Some are hand done with most being machine stitched. There were some really awesome quilts. I got pictures of a lot of my favorites. , (Am kicking myself now because I kept forgetting to ask Ann to see her quilts she had at home. Pissing me off if I don’t act on a thought right away, it’s gone in the next second and often doesn’t come back.

Sat evening we attended the BBQ cookoff and meal. Ate a small meal inside the huge Chautauqua building (one of only two left in Iowa, note painted murals on shade screens around outer edge) and then went outside to sample the various entries. We like the prime rib THE very best. It was done by a local banker. There were unusual entries like “Candy Rabbit”, Ice Tea Chicken. In the evenings we would sit around the patio fire pit at their house and talk and yak until it was time to go inside. When traveling, I am usually to bed at dark and up at dawn. Haven’t been doing that lately. There would be a walk down to the creek on their property or one way down the gravel road that goes by their house. I didn’t walk with them Sat or Sun.

Sunday, Ann was off to the Quilt show, Ross stayed around the house to get some things done. In their early 50’s, they are retired - either permanently or temporarily - depending on how life goes for them; and, Ross told me that one of the reasons the property was so attractive is that there are lots of projects to do to keep them busy. They didn’t want to be “sitting around in their retirement”.

I took off and visited another 20 or so Barn Quilts in a different direction than Friday; then went to the Fair Grounds to help with the taking down of the quilts. It ended up being a short night for us, no fire as the winds had blown just awful all day and dust was in the air as well as pollens, etc. I was miserable and every time I drove by a hog farm I was really gasping for air - I wouldn’t get my windows closed fast enough or the inside air circulation fan on soon enough.

Monday was travel day. I have just so thoroughly enjoyed my stay with the Watson's. Their life experiences are so interesting to listen to, they have such a beautiful area to live in and they have been such super hosts it is hard to leave. But, I have over extended my original stay time (it was their fault for finding so much for me to see and do). Thank you ever so much Ann and Ross - and Bizzy.

And, it’s time to head for my next stop of Stanton, Iowa - a little Swedish community - near Red Oak.

Stop #15 - Oh my, the Danes are here too! And, another German Community.

You know when one drives through and around these towns and small communities, you know and feel you are in a community with a cultural heritage. You see the architecture, see the country flags, even hear a bit of an accent in the spoken word. You find literature to promote the cultural heritage, eat wonderful pastries, see restaurants with cultural names (and language) and serving that nation’s favorite foods, see homes in the residential area promoting their heritage. But, don’t expect to see that in very many places in Ellis County KS, the German Capitol of Kansas. You may see it in some family names. Sorry my German heritage friends back home, but after seeing these communities, well what can I think . . . . .

After dumping my holding tanks at the Riverside Campground in Sac City (a very nice looking municipal campground by the way), I headed down M68 (a county road) toward Arcadia, Manning (a German community and one with a nice municipal campground just east of town with electricity), then headed down M66 to Kimballton and Elk Horn.

Kimballton and Elk Horn are areas settle by the Danes. In the little town of Kimballton,
the residents have established Mermaid Park with a replica of “The Little Mermaid” statue in Copenhagen Harbor. There are flags of Denmark flying around town too. Even the street signs have The Little Mermaid on them.

In Elk Horn you will see an authentic Danish windmill, originally built in Denmark in 1848. The windmill was purchased by enterprising residents of the area around Elk Horn, a Danish settlement, in 1976. It was dismantled carefully with each piece getting a number for rebuilding, shipped via ocean, and then carefully rebuilt using the numbered pieces. As I remember from the video about the project, it was one year to the start building day, the blades started turning. I enjoyed my climb up into the near top and imagining how how the gears worked that would eventually grind the wheat and rye. At the current time, some repair work needs to be done before the blades can turn again (they were awaiting the arrival of a special carpenter to fix the problem); but the winds of today (over 20 mph) would have the blades turning. I asked if the wind speed was too high, could they still grind and they can control the turning speed of the blades with the slats position on each blade set at various angles. On my way, out of town I stopped at a local cafe and bakery and walked out with some pastries and cookies.

The highways to this point were pretty good traveling with a trailer, except for a few miles on the north side of Kimballton. The terrain south of Sac City becomes very, very rolling and I mean rolling hills - up and down and up and down. The views on tops of the hills were so gorgeous with the groves of trees turning color and mixed with the fields of drying corn and soybean fields. Some of those fields on those hills were beautiful the way they had contoured the rows to flow with the hills. You would get this waving affect as you drove by the rows and not from the wind either.

At Elk Horn, the highway number changes to IA-173 and I followed that south to IA-83 into Atlantic, located south of I-80. In Atlantic I took US 6 (ugh road) to just west of Lewis, where the Hitchcock House is located. i wish I had stopped and seen it now. It is a National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Historic Landmark and is one of the few remaining “Underground Railroad” stations left in Iowa. According to local legend, the infamous (at least to Kansans) John Brown preached at this home.

Just west of Lewis I then took IA-48. Just before Elliott, I headed east on H14 and WAS going to head south on M63 (another county road) to Stanton; but, it caught me off guard and a truck was behind me so I kept going eastward on H14 until I came to US 71 (that horrible road I had been on further north). From that point at Grant on US-71 south to US-34 was a beauuuuuuutiful highway. The only thing I am trying to get use to are these left turns to go west off one highway to another in an overchange - not just a stop sign and then turn. Had a guy in a semi really cram on his brakes when I discovered the “left turn” thingy. If there hadn’t been a car coming at me, who decided at last minute to indicate he was making a right turn, I would have just slid over to the other lane and let him go by. He made it and I made it - He probably said a few unkind words to me. US-34 is not by any means a nice road; but the Viking Lake State Park makes up for it.

The Park is located on a small lake. There are two tiers of campsites and I am located on the upper one - the other is at lake level. I’ll get the morning sun and I can see the changing colors on the trees from up here (and can see the lake; plus, sort of protected from those northerly winds that blew all day - again.

In season, the campsite with electricity is $16 and that includes available heated showers! In the off-season (which starts 10/1), the site is $13 and I still get a heated shower. There are full-hook ups for $3 more. It’s a beautiful park - after Labor Day, if you don’t want crowds. I love their fire pits - old washing machine tubs sitting on top of old truck tire rims.

For supper I used a couple of tomatoes cut up, along with a couple of sliced leeks, sprinkled with chopped cilantro, shredded cheese and salad dressing along with sweet ‘n sour chicken. I cheated on the chicken and bought it already made.

Tuesday morning. It’s 8 a.m. and the sun is just hitting the trailer, but it’s still darkish down at the lake. Slept in, time to make coffee, hit the “heated shower” and wander into Stanton to tour the sights. My friend Sarah, said to go to Red Oak and especially see the big, old, beautiful homes there. So am getting coffee started.

Went in to Stanton to the Tvattomat (suppose to have two little dots over the V) to do laundry this morning. The bank a couple doors down had Wifi so checked emails from family. After lunch - had a BLT with a tomato from the Watson’s neighbor’s garden and fixed some guacamole for supper tonight along with a taco (some more tomatoes and leeks to be used) -

drove around Stanton and took pictures of their famous water towers - one is a Swedish teapot and the newest water tower is a cup and saucer. Drove over to Red Oak and drove around the downtown square twice looking at the buildings - the fountain in the Square park was a bit out of the era of the buildings.

Sarah, my friend in Dodge City, said to drive up on the hill and see the big houses. OMG, they are big AND beautiful. I wouldn’t expect to find that many that stately in a small town.
Did manage to see several stately “painted ladies” - houses with more than 5 or 7 colors as I remember. And, natch when I wanted to get a picture someone would come up behind me.

Got a few groceries. I haven’t seen a meat counter you could go up to and ask for a certain amount or type of “whatever cut of meat” you wanted. I hate buying prepackaged meats when am traveling as they are usually so big and more than I’ll use before they spoil. Tonight is work on the blog and pictures. Tomorrow I head towards Winterset to see The Bridges of Madison County and John Wayne’s birthplace.

Will get my pictures to Flickr in the next few days, after I tour all the things to see in Madison County.

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