While I’m at it, here’s a travel story I wrote about the Loess Hills many years ago for the DMRegister.
Loess Hills, Iowa (Sylvan Runkel Preserve)
A new observation area offers a glorious panoramic view of the short, soft hills.
By BETSY RUBINER
Moorhead, Ia. – Talk about a deck with a view.
If you’re looking for a new way to take in a beautiful expanse of Iowa’s Loess Hills, check out the huge observation deck recently built near Preparation Canyon State Park, off Highway 183 between the small towns of Pisgah and Moorhead.
Several times the size of your average suburban back-yard number, this simple wooden deck sits on a hilltop overlook long known to locals as “The Spot.”
For good reason.
The spot offers a glorious panoramic view of the short, soft hills that are considered a geographical wonder. A narrow band of mini-mountains stretching from just north of Sioux City south to the Missouri border, the Loess Hills were fashioned from silt deposits or “loess” blown in from the Missouri River floodplain more than 14,000 years ago.
To find another area like it, you’d have to make a much longer trek – to China’s Yellow River.
Before the observation deck was built this spring, locals “used to just crawl up on top of the hill and sit there,” says 41-year Moorhead resident Pat Severson.
For good reason.
The spot marks the convergence of five different ridges. On high, the land seems to stretch forever, free of the stain of civilization. Sure, to the west, farms dot the Missouri Valley flatlands. But it’s still easy to pretend you’re all alone with the birds.
The deck extends outward, offering the kind of aerial view you get flying in a plane over Iowa. Looking down, you see a bumpy quilt, with alternating patches of lush green woods and grassy fields.
Getting to “The Spot” is half the fun. Driving south from Moorhead on Highway 183, you turn right on a road still described by locals as “the second right” even though it now sports a sign designating it as 314th Street (for the edification of the emergency medical service).
At the top of the hill, you jog to the right. (If you go left, you’re in the 344-acre Preparation Canyon State Park, the site of an 19th century Mormon settlement that’s now popular for hiking and picnics.) Soon after, you take another right onto a gravel road marked as Oak Avenue.
This puts you pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
But what ho! It’s a really big deck!
If you’re lucky – and chances are you will be – you’ll be the only one there. It’s so quiet you can hear the wind.
The deck is also wheelchair accessible, thanks to a long wide ramp winding up to it. There are also several benches on the deck from which to contemplate the view.
This spot really isn’t that hard to find but it’s wise to have more than a few gallons of gas in your tank when touring the Loess Hills. You may want to call the visitor’s center in Moorhead, in advance, to get a map of the area or drop by for one.
The map plots out several scenic loops through the Loess Hills; offers tips on highways most suitable for bicycles and cars; and marks Loess Hill attractions, large and small, from the De Soto National Wildlife Refuge to an abandoned country school.
Diligently detailed, the map also comes in handy for the adventurous traveler who likes to get lost. Plenty of remote roads winding through and around the Loess Hills will give you that impression. But just when you think you’re lost, you’ll come to an intersection – complete with street signs – and discover you’re not lost at all.
What ho! You’re at the corner of Olive Avenue and 235th Street. And there it is on the map.