June 11, 2016


“About the time we think we can make ends meet, somebody moves the ends.”  Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States

Carol writes:  It didn’t take us long to discover that Iowans are passionate about biking.  In fact, Iowa is called the “World Capital of Trails.”  We were looking forward to some great biking just outside our campground at the Saylorville Dam.  It was up to me to come to grips with camping at the base of a massive earthen dam holding back 54-mile-long Saylorville Lake, which was created in the late 1970s to aid in flood control along the Des Moines River and, in turn, along the mighty Mississippi River.

But first, let me back up just a moment and say how special it was to meet up with our good friend Corrie as we pulled into our awesome campsite along the shore of the spillway at the foot of the dam!  Corrie knew that we would be heading across Iowa about the same time she was traveling along I-80 on the way back to Colorado Springs after attending her high school reunion in Indiana.  So happy we could share lunch together!

Back to those beautiful bike trails…

The Neil Smith Trail along the Des Moines River was peaceful and beautiful through a shady tree canopy.

This scary critter on the edge of the trail got our attention toward the end of the ride! 

With just a brief glance, it had features similar to a rattlesnake, but closer inspection found no rattle at the end.  For the sake of my own peace of mind, I questioned a park ranger I met a short way down the trail.  He assured me that this part of Iowa does not have rattlesnakes.  Near as I could figure out from a google search later… it was probably a western fox snake.

The good news about this trail was: 

  • we had a very enjoyable ride…
  • we didn’t run over the fox snake…
  • and Al’s flat tire at the end of our ride happened only a short distance from the car. 
Time to head into town to find a bike shop… 

In talking with the owner of Kyle’s Bikes in nearby Ankeny, he told us about another local trail that he highly recommended… and that was the High Trestle Trail, a paved trail along the course of an old railroad bed.  The next day we started at the old rail station and rode from Woodward to Madrid.

The panoramic view as we rode over the ½-mile bridge over the Des Moines River was wonderful!


State capitol buildings always have something to pique the casual visitor’s interest.  Iowa’s state capitol building in Des Moines consistently has ranked among the top 10 state capitols in terms of beauty, both inside and out.  Our eyes were immediately drawn to its spectacular central gold dome graced by smaller domes in each corner.  This dome wasn’t painted with gold paint; it was actually gilded with sheets of paper-thin gold leaf.

Beauty and stately elegance extended to the inside from floor to ceiling.

In every office open to us, we found very friendly officials, like the woman in the office of the Secretary of State who offered to take our picture in front of the Iowa Constitution.

The law library was quite reminiscent of stunning ancient libraries we have seen in Europe, not at all the style of architecture we expected to see in a Midwestern state capitol building.  The spiral staircases and multiple tiers of legal books were jaw-droppingly beautiful…

We felt fortunate that we had free access to Governor Brandstad’s office

and both legislative houses.

Iowans have every reason for being very proud of their state capitol.


One of the most interesting and long-lived experiments in communal living occurred in rural central Iowa’s Amana Colonies.  In the mid-1800s a small religious group of so-called Inspirationists fled Germany for a better life in America because of religious and economic persecution.  In 1855 these German immigrants eventually arrived in Amana, Iowa, where they proceeded to live a communal way of life in what would eventually grow to become 7 small villages known collectively as the Amana Colonies.  The land and climate of Iowa were ideally suited to their subsistence way of community living, a way of life that thrived for nearly 90 years until 1932 when the communal aspect was abandoned and the Amana Society was established to manage the community.  In addition to the Amana appliance factory, (now owned by Whirlpool), the tourist trade is Amana’s predominant source of income, and touristy it was with several dozen shops offering a variety of Amana-produced crafts, furniture, quilts and woolen goods,

along with excellent German food and craft beers.

The Amana Heritage Museum, housed in historic Amana buildings, provided a great introduction to the history of the Amana Colonies. 

In its heyday, whether your assigned task for the day was in the community laundry

or in one of the communal kitchens,
life was generally good.

Without a doubt the immigrants who lived at Amana Colonies cherished their freedom to worship as they wished—reading inspired testimony in their native German language, in their spartan, unadorned churches.

All the members of the community certainly would have been well fed, and education was provided for all up through 8th grade.

At every turn we admired the pristine yards, iconic barns, and wooden and sandstone buildings that were so representative of Amana Colonies. 


There are 13 Presidential Libraries administered by the Office of Presidential Libraries, one for each president starting with the presidency of Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States. 

Over the years, we have visited 10 of the 13 presidential libraries and have always found ourselves engrossed in museum displays that remind us of the historical events that played out during each president’s term in office.  Presidential libraries are interesting to us because they house the mementos, personal artifacts, gifts, videos, letters and notes that were an intimate part of each president’s life, with a heavy emphasis on their term in office.  Usually, presidents are buried alongside their wives at their chosen presidential library location, and this gives us an opportunity to pay our respects to these paramount individuals in American history.

Starting with President Dwight Eisenhower, all of these key American figures have served our nation during our lifetime.  Thus, the history we rediscover at each library is fascinating because we remember much of it!

Since we had the luxury to direct our travels through Iowa, we jumped on the opportunity to visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in tiny West Branch, Iowa.

The tiny 2-room cabin where President Hoover was born sits on the historic site.

His humble beginnings are evident in this modest cabin with a small kitchen in the rear.

The boyhood property also included the Quaker Meetinghouse where his family worshipped,

and the schoolhouse that served West Branch when Hoover was a boy.

The Presidential Library did not disappoint.  The President’s early life as a geologist and mining engineer, followed by his world travels with his beloved wife, Lou Henry, were excellently displayed.

President Hoover once quipped, “I’m the only person of distinction who has ever had a depression named for him.” What is less well remembered is that prior to his presidency, and also in his later years, Hoover conducted his life as a much-admired humanitarian at home and abroad.  It must have been the great disappointment of his life that he was not effective when his country needed desperate help from its president as the Great Depression dawned less than a year into his presidency.

And finally, a visit to the gravesite of President Herbert Hoover and his wife, Lou Henry Hoover…

Totally in harmony with the Quaker simplicity he admired…


As I have mentioned previously, we like to tour old houses, especially those that offer a great local story.  In the heart of Cedar Rapids the country estate called Brucemore had quite a story to tell.  Between 1884 and 1981 three families called the magnificent Queen Anne-style mansion home—the Sinclair Family, the Douglas Family, and the Hall Family—each contributing in a different way to the fascinating tale of the early history of Cedar Rapids. 

The mansion was built by Caroline Sinclair, mother of six children and widow of a pioneer industrialist.  The Douglas Family was of Quaker Oats fame.  The Halls lived a life of privilege, mingled with the highest levels of society and had many famous guests, including Presidents Hoover and Truman. 

No pictures were permitted inside, and the Internet was sort of stingy with any good pictures.  However, the gardens and grounds were a photographer’s dream.


The Iowa heartland sure had some interesting history to reveal—

  • the chronicle of Iowa statehood at the Iowa State Capitol building, 
  • the story of German immigrants who escaped religious persecution and experimented with a communal way of life on the Iowa prairie, 
  • the history of the boyhood roots of an American president,
  • and the narrative of a mansion where three families lived that were business and community leaders in the early days of Cedar Rapids.

“Until you know that life is interesting—and find it so—you haven’t found your soul.”  Geoffrey Fisher, 99th Archbishop of Canterbury

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