Category Archives: Iowa

Check out my story in Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s magazine: the Raccoon River Valley Trail

Here it is!  Click here! (This is the photo taken by my friend Denise…that was used below. And yes, that’s me riding….)


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Filed under bike trails, biking, Des Moines, Iowa

Iowa State Fair 2017 – gorgeous weather brings lots of people but doesn’t feel crowded

The weather was so perfect (sunny and almost cool, not hot or humid) last Saturday that I feared the fairgrounds would be uncomfortably crowded. There were tons of people but the fair didn’t feel any more crowded than usual for a Saturday. There was a long line at the Dairy Barn, which is to be expected, and it remains the one place where I always feel sweaty, even in relatively cool temps, because there’s no shade.

But there was hardly any wait to get an egg-on-a-stick from the Iowa Egg Council inthe Ag Building or to get a ticket for the Sky Glider. We sailed right into the Pork Producer’s tent for dinner – maybe because it was relatively late? (about 7 p.m.)

The Midway did look cleaner, brighter and less seedy – as promised with the rebranding as Thrill Park. And I did overhear someone actually ordering a cheesy fried enchilada funnel cake – one of the “new foods” at the fair. No thank you. Other than that, just enjoyed the usual highlights, with the added bonus of having two of our grown kids and their significant others with us!

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Filed under agritourism, Des Moines, Iowa

Iowa State Fair tips – in a travel story I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune


Here’s a travel story I wrote about the Iowa State Fair in this weekend’s Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Iowa State Fair has much in common with Minnesota’s

Iowa State Fair has much in common with Minnesota's
Iowa’s fair is a more “classic” counterpart to Minnesota’s get-together.


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Filed under Des Moines, Iowa

Riding from Perry to Jamaica (Iowa) on the Raccoon River Valley Trail

We explored a new section (for us) of the Raccoon River Valley Trail in central Iowa yesterday — about  a 20-mile ride round trip between Perry and the tiny town of Jamaica (via another small town, Dawson) and really enjoyed. If only the temperature hadn’t been hovering around 95 degrees. This is the newer section of the trail so very smooth and in great shape. The stretch is very flat, leading through classic Iowa farm country and often tree-lined so shady in parts (which we appreciated on a very hot sunny day). 

We stopped in Dawson at the beautifully restored depot, which has a recreated freight area, nice bathrooms, an indoor water faucet and old historical photos and a mural of an old train.

In the town of Jamaica (must find out how an Iowa town ended up with this name), we stumbled upon the bar Just One More, that had much-appreciated AC in its dark back room. A woman was grilling brats and burgers outside so we had a late lunch —  two brats, a Fat Tire and lemonade – plus free popcorn – for $8 total. After chatting with some guys in the bar (one told us he was fixing his “first ex-wife’s” old farm), we ate in the screened-in porch at a high top table overlooking a small town rural scene (fields, an old ballpark etc.). The place seemed to cater to both kinds of bikers (motorcycles and bicycles.)

In Perry, we dropped by the bike shop next to the Hotel Pattee, which was having a 40 percent off sale on bike clothes – and also at Stitches in Time, an antique/junk shop, where I found a very nice quilt for $40. We also stopped at the ice cream shop along the trail in Dallas County.


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Filed under bike trails, biking, Iowa

When in Marshalltown Iowa — dining at Zamora Fresh Market

Work brought me to Marshalltown, Iowa (about an hour north and a little east of Des Moines) yesterday and my nose for local Mexican food brought me to the back of Zamora Fresh Market  (on the town square across from the grand courthouse). Sure enough, behind all the shelves lined with Mexican staples  is a little cafe with good no-frills Mexican food that reminded me of the fare served in Dodge City, Kansas, another city that has become increasingly Hispanic (and a city where my husband grew up).

I had the tw0-taco special for $5.99 – one carnitas (pork), one asada (steak), rice and beans. Nothing fancy but moist, packed-with-flavor (or at least salt) meat. The roasted chicken I brought home for dinner – complete with roasted hot green chili peppers — was delicious.


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If you’re heading to Iowa, my latest travel story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune may come in handy

Midwest Traveler: Exploring the birthplace of John Wayne in Winterset, Iowa

Beyond the Bridges of Madison County, an Iowa town celebrates  favorite son John Wayne. Click here!

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Filed under Iowa

John Wayne Museum, 1st Avenue collective, Northside Cafe – Winterset (IA) continues to impress

1wintersetpixjohnwaynemuseumJust back from a catch-up trip to the pretty town of Winterset in Madison County, about 40 minutes south of Des Moines. This is the place I take our out-of-town visitors to see rural Iowa at its bucolic best – and even on a dreary November day, there was a certain beauty in the work-a-day rural life as seen from the two-lane highway that leads off of I-35 from Cumming southwest to Winterset,  winding past old farmsteads with fields of cut corn, baled hay and pastures with grazing horses, cows and lambs. I had to wonder how long the area will stay this way, given all the rural exurban developments that are also cropping up – big suburban-style houses on small acreages and the occasional “party barn.”

For years, I’ve pretty much added the John Wayne birthplace to my tour as a little footnote – it’s a small unassuming white house. But now there’s a big new building kitty-corner housing the John Wayne Museum so it’s harder to ignore (and I’m writing a travel story about it for a newspaper). The museum isn’t big – but it’s worth a stop (and, I guess, the $15 admission). There’s one big room full of memorabilia from the old western movie star – including his  1972 custom-made Pontiac Grand Safari station wagon – a long metallic green number across from an old “side car” (aka a horse-pulled buggy)   used in the 1952 western “The Quiet Man” directed by John Ford and co-starring one of Wayne’s favorite leading ladies,  Maureen O’Hara. There’s letters of appreciation from movie c0-stars (Bob Hope, James Stewart, Lucille Ball and Kirk Douglas – who noted he and the Duke “didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but shared a love of country.”) and presidents (Reagan, Bush), costumes from his many westerns and military movies (including a white western-style shirt smeared with fake blood – i.e. a “special effects blood stain” – from the movie The Shootist), family photos of wife 1, 2 and 3 and his many kids; an a signed Andy Warhol print of Wayne as the iconic cowboy.  I also enjoyed the short movie tribute inside a little mock theater with plush seats reportedly from L.A.’s Grauman Theater, showing clips of “The Duke’s” films and costars – including two surprising ones, Lauren Bacall and a young Ron Howard. A nice woman who grew up in London but has long lived in Winterset showed me around the humble middle class house where John – actually Marion Morrison – was born in 1907 and lived for three years before moving to nearby Earlham and then at around age 7 to California. A family photo, including the family pet “Duke,” offered an unexpected clue to how he got his nickname. The four-room place doesn’t have the original furniture but it is period and gives you a feel for John’s humble beginnings.1wintersetjohnwaynebirthplace

I also stopped at the 1st Avenue Collective, which has surprisingly good crafts including many by Central Iowa artists – and a very cool location, in the old county jail (used for that purpose from 1903-1992) , with several cells with painted metal bars and worn walls now displaying ceramics, linens and handmade dolls.

Jailhouse art gallery

Jailhouse art gallery

Best muffuletta and seafood bisque in, of all places, Winterset, Iowa.

Best muffuletta and seafood bisque in, of all places, Winterset, Iowa.

And of course no visit to Winterset is complete without a visit to the Northside Cafe, one of the best places in Iowa – let alone rural Iowa – to eat. I had the killer muffuletta sandwich and seafood bisque that was full of fresh shrimp and crab. It took considerable will power to save half the sandwich for my husband – and to NOT order some pie.

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Filed under Dining, Iowa