During the few days we spent in Iowa, we stayed at the Newton/Des Moines KOA in the centrally located, small town of Newton.
This stop was about three hours from our previous campground in Minnesota. I've written about KOA campgrounds in previous posts; they are a national chain of RV parks that usually meet a certain level of quality and cleanliness. Most of the times they are more expensive than surrounding competitors, and the reason why they are the campground of last resorts for us.
While it looks nice from the above picture, we rated this campground as average. It met all our basic requirements but the park overall was rather dated with narrow dirt roads and dirt pads. And, for some reason, they placed us on a site that was at a low point of the campground. When it rained, water pooled around our site making it challenging to get into the RV without losing a shoe.
If you build it, they will come! We met some really nice folks around the campfire while we were here, people coming and going to and from the four corners of the nation.
Like many Midwestern towns, Newton, population 15,264, has fallen on hard times. Although founded as a coal mining town in the 1840's, it grew into a manufacturing hub when the Maytag Washing Machine Company opened its first manufacturing facility in 1893.
Maytag grew to employ over 3,000 people.
Sadly, things weren't always harmonious between the town and its largest employer. Newton entered the national spotlight in 1938 when martial law was declared during a strike at the company. The governor ordered out the National Guard to break up the strike with tanks and machine guns. With the backing of approximately 1,000 troops, Maytag beat the strike and forced workers to return to work with a 10% pay cut! ..Different times.
In the 1980's, Maytag moved its manufacturing centers to Mexico and the town slid into a devastating recession. One newscaster described Newton as "The most broken town in America". Only within the past decade has the town regained its footing and began a slow resurgence.
Here are a few pictures of the town:
There aren't many thriving businesses in the downtown area, but you can see that the community is doing whatever it can to polish its curb appeal.
So, how did we spend our four days in Iowa?
We kept really busy!
DAY ONE: Des Moines
I'm not sure why, but I always expect a state's capital to be a hive of activity with young, hip power-brokers walking briskly between important meetings. A place pulsating from the energy of negotiated deals, landmark legislation, and deeply meaningful political discourses..
..Yeah, well not much of that was going on here. Des Moines is a quiet place. Clean streets, relaxing coffee shops and quaint eateries. The city, one of the fastest growing in the Midwest, also has 63 miles of paved and 18 miles of soft trails. Very foot/bike-traffic friendly.
Being pre-covid, the capitol building was open for tours.
The Iowa State Capitol, commonly called the Iowa Statehouse, houses the Iowa Senate, Iowa House of Representatives, the Office of the Governor, and a chamber for the Iowa Supreme Court. The building was constructed between 1871 and 1886, and is the only five-domed capitol in the country!
Twenty-nine types of imported and domestic marble were used in the interior (I had no idea there were this many different types of marble!). Although smaller than most other capitol buildings we've visited, and a bit more ostentatious, we enjoyed our visit. Our tour guide was telling us that she had met almost every presidential hopeful since Bill Clinton.
For those interested, Des Moines is french for "The Monks". It is located on the Des Moines River, which most likely was adapted from the early French name, Rivière des Moines, meaning "River of the Monks".
DAY 2: AMES, IOWA
Our next stop was the town of Ames. Why, some may ask? To visit the world's largest concrete gnome, of course!!
Who wouldn't want one of these for their front yard!? Also while here, we visited the campus of Iowa State University. Looks like one commuter drove their tractor to a school on this day ..Only in Iowa.
While here, we stumbled upon the Reiman Gardens which had some really creative and beautiful wind sculptures.
If you're ever in this area, we would highly recommend visiting the gardens. It's a great place for a casual stroll with plenty of plants and a variety of art work to view.
After a full day of sightseeing, we turned the truck around and headed back to the RV.
BUT ON THE WAY HOME ...
[Que the ominous music]
The skies grew dark.. Lightning flashed.. Winds swirled.. Birds began to fall from the sky..
It looked as if the long awaited Apocalypse was upon us!
And then we saw the reason why..
We knew it was only a matter of time. Although, it probably would have been prudent to speed away in the opposite direction, who can resist a good Zombie outbreak? "Aim for their heads!" I instructed Lorraine as we loaded weapons and headed down the dusty, dirt road.
Our anticipation mounted as our odometer counted out the distance.
As we crested the hill, we heard multiple gunshots coming from a cornfield in the distance. A battle of survival was obviously being waged! We saw an old farm up ahead. Pulling into the driveway, did we find a roving mass of stumbling, staggering lifeless corpses? No. Sadly, we found a shooting range holding some sort of special event.
Disappointed, we turned and headed for home.
DAY 3: IOWA CITY:
We drove over to Iowa City home of the University of Iowa. It was also the state's original capital before being moved to the more centrally located city of Des Moines in 1857.
While here we visited Lover's Leap Swinging Bridge:
It was a little unnerving to be on a bridge that swayed as you walked across it.
And, Herbert Hoover's birthplace:
Most of you have probably never heard of this town, but you will if you are alive in about 200 years!
This unassuming little crossroad rose to prominence when Steve Miller, a Riverside councilman, read in Gene Roddenberry's book Making of Star Trek that James Tiberius Kirk was born in a small town in Iowa. After further research, he learned that a definitive town was never named. So he thought, "Why not our town?"
At the next council meeting (March 25, 1985) Miller proposed that Riverside declare itself the Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk. The motion passed unanimously and it was later adopted into Star Trek canon. You can read more details of this story at Roadsideamerica site.
Sitting behind this little salon is the memorial to the birthplace of Captain Kirk.
And, the town truly has embraced their place in history.
Here is the town's webpage:
And in the center of town you will find these memorials to Star Trek.
And each year the town invites the entire universe to a Trekfest!
Here are some pictures I found online from previous Trekfests:
Doesn't look quite like the bridge of the Enterprise..
Is there a Klingon word for Slushie?
A couple participants put very little thought into their costumes.
FUNNY RIVERSIDE STORY:
You have to love a town where the local government and its citizen's fully embrace their sobriquet. So if you ever visit here, make sure you stop by Murphy's Bar & Grill. (scroll down to find out why..)
Now, there is nothing newsworthy about a tavern that decorates its walls with Star Trek memorabilia. I'm sure there are dozens around the country that have done so.
But I have to doff my cap to the owner's of Murphy's, because underneath a pool table they placed this tongue-in-cheek plaque:
If you are familiar with the character of James Kirk, you'll understand why this is so funny. The plaque has been moved to a wall for safety sake. Worth checking out.
I'm going to close out our time in Iowa with visits we made to two small out of the way towns. One impressive, the other.. not so much.
The first was PELLA.
Founded by immigrants from the Netherlands, Pella is home to the tallest windmill in North America! The Vermeer Windmill.
The windmill, built in the Netherlands, was disassembled and shipped to America. It is an exact replica of an 1850 wind powered flour mill. The town in which it is located has a very unique Dutch flare.
We found out that every May the town celebrates its Dutch heritage by hosting an annual tulip festival.
It must be almost magical to be here during that celebration.
Another interesting fact we learned, western lawman and gambler Wyatt Earp, grew up here!
If you want to experience Northern Europe without leaving the Midwest, Pella is the place to go!
WHAT CHEER (?):
Sometimes Lorraine and I will visit a town just because its name intrigues us. That's what led us to this out of the way place. The only town we've ever visited whose "Population:" sign displayed a negative number.
Welcome to What Cheer. Another mining boom-town that fell and fell hard. Folklore says the town got its name when a Scottish miner exclaimed What cheer! on discovering a coal seam near town.
It turned out to be a sad little town, who's EKG blips are getting further and further apart. It really should be renamed NO CHEER! We just drove on through and continued on our way.
We enjoyed our drive through the state of Iowa. Its a relaxing place with none of the glitz or flash of other states. If the outdoors and a quiet life appeal to you, then a visit here might be just for you!