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Crystal Lake Cave of Dubuque, Iowa

The Crystal Lake Cave of Dubuque, Iowa: obviously I didn’t know what to expect. I arrived imagining a lonely venture deep into the cave. I came to find one ticket would purchase a 45-minute guided group tour. Thinking I was prepared for spelunking in my polyester running shorts and tank top, I realized quickly the entirety of the tour would take place in the depths of a balmy, 52-degree cave. That’s the first fact-o-cave: despite a possible tundra-like scene above ground in late January or a humid settled air roasting under a high sun in mid-July, Crystal Lake Cave is constantly 52 degrees.

The cave was discovered in 1868 by lead miners. In the 1930’s a business-savvy Bernard Markus dug tunnels through the cave and paved walkways in order to charge for guided tours.

The cave is a spectacle of many different cave-hallmarks. First we were introduced to perhaps the most commonly known cave features: stalagmites and stalactites. Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember: stalagmite has a “g” for ground up, while stalactite has a “c” for ceiling down. Eventually, many stalagmites and stalactites will touch and form a column – and by eventually, I mean millions and millions of years.

A stalagmite reaches up to a stalactite.

A stalagmite reaches up to a stalactite.

The tour includes a peek at different cave formations named for items they vaguely resemble, like the chandelier, the pipe organ, and the Titanic. My personal favorite formation was “Lot’s Wife Turned Into A Pillar Of Salt,” otherwise known as a very great exercise of creative freedom in naming a large stalagmite.

Standing under the chandelier.

Standing under the chandelier.


The Titanic.

The Titanic.

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

One formation, “Coral Avenue,” featured a formation only found in three caves in the U.S., yet another impressive Iowa feat.
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If you do make your way to Crystal Lake Cave I highly suggest some full-coverage shoes. As the cave is still 80% active, running water causes very damp floors (It also makes it the longest living cavern in Iowa). Also, I’d advise against tank tops, unless you’re blessed with that thick Minnesota skin.

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Until next time, my Iowa miners of adventure!

Until next time, my Iowa miners of adventure!


Boone Scenic Railway Tour

Hey folks; have I got a blog for you. Two weekends ago I spent my Saturday and Sunday taking an abridged tour of Iowa. Let’s start at the beginning: The Boone Scenic Railway Tour. Months ago – in advanced bucketlist preparedness – I purchased  Groupon tickets for two. Lewis and I started at the railroad museum; tickets to the museum are included with a train ride purchase. The museum consists of one large room with a handful of cases displaying historic railroad articles like building machinery, tools, and uniforms. The museum included giant informational sheets.

I was surprised to learn even in the 1950’s travelers’ trains could speed along at 90-miles per hour, getting a passenger from Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Los Angeles, California in just two days.

My favorite part of the museum was the small area devoted to Kate Shelley, an Iowa heroine. In 1881, from her home overlooking Honey Creek, she heard a pusher engine fall into the flooded creek. With a lantern in hand she crawled across the bridge to warn the coming train and save the two survivors of the accident who were clinging to a log in the creek.

When we sat down in the (unconditioned) train, a woman began directing the cab in a chorus of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.” The 1880’s Folk Song is a tune I was familiar with as a southern classic; it dustily emerged from my childhood memory as the harmonious voices rang out.

The train left late, and unfortunately we sat in the heat listening to indiscernible crackling over the intercom for about 30 minutes. After a bathetic start we edged along the track. First we passed Boone’s “Red Mountain”: A giant hill of dirt gathered after some construction. Don’t worry, that was the “low” point of the trip. We passed along old railway carts. We crossed the tallest bridge in Iowa while I credulously held my brand new iPhone 5 outside the window to film  the lofty 5-mph chug-along as Lewis looked nervously upon me.

After 45 minutes the train stopped and waited for an engine to come along, hook onto our train, and pull us back to the station. We waited outside in the cool air, sitting in a cart with no walls or ceilings, but railings along the edges. We were shooed inside when the train began its return. Apparently patrons pay more for an outdoor ride. This is something I would not recommend, as within the first 15 seconds of the ride Lew and I became dusty with soot from the billowing black clouds being churned from the hard-working engine. If you do pay more – and decide to go in mid-July – I’d suggest moving your rears to the air-conditioned car. While the overall ride was a little long, the experience was fun and, as advertised, scenic.

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The (Not) High Trestle Trail

I was unbelievably excited to travel the High Trestle Trail. It’s a 25-mile bike trail through five small Iowa towns and four counties. What I was most feverish for was the 13-story high bridge running over the Des Moines River Valley. For you Iowa skeptics, it’s actually one of the largest trail-bridges in the world with 41 steal frames standing over the bridge.

I followed directions from As instructed I pursued East First Street, with a sharp lookout for Southwest Maple Street. My elation slowly wavered as I approached a dead end street (with no Southwest Maple in sight). I traveled down the deadend cautiously until I saw a sign for a bike trail. I parked, assuming I was about to head down the High Trestle Trail. As the Ankeny entrance to the trail is in the middle of the path, I wasn’t sure which direction to head out. I made a brave decision and started on my way. After biking through a lot of campsites (not quite picturesque) I entered a nice woodland trail which wound around Saylorville Lake. In the first 10 minutes I biked past an excess of wildlife including a snapping turtle and a family of deer.

May I interject on my own blogging to point out that deer have the strangest selective senses. If a butterfly lands on a marsh 60 miles away from a deer, the mammal will shoot off at 100-miles per hour as if it’s in the path of a world-renown assassin. But if my car is heading towards the deer at 80-miles per hour, it sits unfaltering as if waiting in line for the last pair of tickets to a Lady Gaga concert. The reason I rant is because as the deer frantically pranced through the woods, it scared me so badly I almost fell of my bike.

After biking for more than an hour I realized I most likely was not on the High Trestle Trail (because there were no signs and also a total lack of a 13-story high bridge). I turned around with my bloody and blistered heels and began the disappointing ride back to my car. Towards the end of my endeavor as I exhaustedly pedaled at a grueling pace on the paved trail, a vulture began to hover high above my head. Fearing I was the slowest moving prey on the entire trail I kept a watchful eye on my hunter. When he disappeared I legitimately feared for my life until he came into view again.

On the drive out I did happen to see a sign for the High Trestle Trail pointing forward but never saw any more signage. The High Trestle Trail: a haunting Iowa illusion. Until my next disorienting adventure … some video of the beautiful (Not) High Trestle Trail.

Go (I)Cubs!

The Iowa Cubs play at a beautiful stadium. Built in 1947 as Pioneer Park. In 1959 changed to Sec Taylor Stadium after a Des Moines Register and Tribune sports editor. Taylor isn’t the only baseball editorial prodigy by the way. According to a book I’ve read by Des Moines native, Bill Bryson, his father was once proclaimed as “possibly the greatest baseball writer there ever was.” I couldn’t find the excerpt Bryson Jr. refers to, but I highly suggest picking up a copy of The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Best part about watching ICubs? The delicious pairing of an Iowa Craft Beer.

Best part about watching ICubs? The delicious pairing of an Iowa Craft Beer.

Anywhoo, the old stadium was demolished 72 days after my birthday on September 10th (no relationship to my birthday, just thought you should know it’s coming up). Today the field is named after the Principal Financial Group, as is 90% of everything else in Des Moines. The website boasts the field features the same grass as Wrigley Field in Chicago, which makes it one of the best playing fields in the minor leagues.

The ICubs are the triple-A affiliate team of the Chicago Cubs. Triple-A teams are often also called “farm teams.” And really, where better a place for a farm-team than Iowa?

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The inaugural season of professional baseball in Des Moines saw teams from the Northwestern League with horribly culturally and geographically accurate names like Minneapolis Millers and the Duluth Freezers. The Iowa Hawkeyes had their own hilariously factual name: The Colts and Prohibitionists of the Western Association (rolls off the tongue, right?). Curious if there are more great triple-A affiliate team names? I was. I researched some comically spot-on names, and my favorite: The Montgomery Biscuits (because nothing is more intimidating than a delicious brunch item, especially when a single serving has major heart-attack potential). They’re a Double-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

While I may be un-American when it comes to watching full games of baseball, I do have to say the fireworks at the end of every Friday night cubs game are a treat.


Happy Summer 2013!

All right folks, it’s a new year and a new summer. Last year I completed 34 of my goals. Last year I claimed it was possibly my last summer in Iowa. This time it’s real. I’ve officially been accepted to graduate school in Minnesota starting in the fall. So let’s set the bar a little higher because the stakes are elevated too. I’m still planning on blogging once a week (maybe more if I’m feeling particularly ambitious). But let’s go for eliminating 50 Iowa adventures. In honor of my new lofty goals, and the beginning of summer, I’ve compiled some new ideas. And of course, I’m always open for suggestions. All right, let the summer begin.

  1. Zoo brew
  2. Kate Shelley railroad museum
  3. Fort des moines museum
  4. 515
  5. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
  6. Effigy Mounds
  7. Orpheum Theater in Sioux City
  8. American Gothic House
  9. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
  10. National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library
  11. Anamosa State Penitentiary
  12. Snake Alley in Burlington Iowa
  13. Grout Museum in Waterloo Iowa
  14. Fenelon Place Elevator Company
  15. Mines of Spain Recreation Area
  16. Crystal Lake Cave
  17. Sundown Mountain
  18. Mathias Ham House
  19. Brucemore Mansion
  20. Ushers Ferry Historic Village
  21. B.J. and Mabel Palmer Mansion
  22. Davenport Skybridge
  23. Lewis and Clark Monument and Scenic Overlook
  24. Pottawattamie County Squirrel Cage Jail and Museum
  25. Trinity Heights in Sioux City
  26. The Mid America Museum of Aviation and Transportation
  27. Toppling Goliath Brewing Company
  28. Ice Cave in Decorah
  29. Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum
  30. Iowa 80 Truckstop
  31. Iowa Great River Road
  32. Matchstick Marvels
  33. Sky Tours in Dubuque

The Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel

First of all let me say, welcome back to the long-missed Iowa Bucket List. No need to fret about another hiatus. I’m back for the summer, and taking suggestions for new Iowa adventures.

But here’s a dilly of a vacation I’ve long-waited to post about: my trip to the Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel in Mason City, Iowa. I met up with my mom back in February to check out the famous location and have been saving all my witty comments while I crawled through my final semester of my undergraduate degree.

I wasn’t quite familiar with Wright’s architecture and so I managed to drive around the block it was located on about eight times before I figured out which building I was actually going to. To be fair, it’s connected to a bank. So as I circled the block, passing the signage and staring at each building for a giant sign proclaiming, “RIGHT HERE! FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT DESIGNED THIS ONE HERE,” I kept thinking, “Well, that building looks oldish but it’s a bank! Not a hotel!”

The building is pretty incredible, with a consistent and striking geometric design incorporated into the foundation, décor, and pretty much anywhere you lay your eyes.

According to the website the hotel was built by some hot-shot lawyers and “replaced the eye-sores on the corner of State Street and Federal Avenue.” I feel a sense of remorse for whoever designed those eye-sores because they never stood a chance. But without this hotel I’ll sheepishly admit I would never have had reason to visit Mason City, Iowa.

Speaking of which, despite hundreds of assurances from Iowa-born friends I would have literally zero fun to speak of in Mason City, mom and I really enjoyed ourselves.

We settled into our rooms to check them out. Frank Lloyd Wright was a very modern architect.


See? Like super modern, right?

But seriously, the recently-renovated hotel preserved rooms originally built that you would never see in hotels today, including realistic time-period furniture and décor. Apparently, after serving as low-grade apartments the hotel was completely abandoned. Wright was a pretty big name in the designing world by this point, but his recognition for hotels didn’t seem to stick. According to the hotel’s website the “few hotels he’d designed had all disappeared, except for the Park Inn.” So almost as brilliantly as the design of the building itself, a local group made the decision to save the hotel. (Think of Park’s and Rec’s Leslie Knope tying herself to that gate to prevent the destruction of that historic gazebo … but more successful.)

A little research reveals Wright was kind of a skeeze (who knew, besides whoever authored the site’s info page …).

He started work on the hotel in 1908 and then like many contemporary celebrity scandals we love to gossip about Wright soiled his reputation when he ran off to Europe with some chick named Mamah who was the wife of a former client (did I mention Wright was married, with six kids?).

He spent two years in Europe. He came home in 1911 and started to work on a home for himself and Mamah (by the way, is this a creepy name or what? Some Freudian jokes are at work in my head). Wright still had a somewhat disgraced reputation.

Sadly, a crazy servant set the house on fire and proceeded to murder seven people with an axe. Mamah and her two children from her previous marriage were among the dead. The servant attempted to kill himself but failed. He was taken to jail and, despite medical attention, died seven weeks later of starvation.

Wright just kept on building after this. Then he briefly married Mariam Noel, brief here meaning three years. After that he met a Russian Dancer named Oligivanna who he married and spent the rest of his life with.

Wright designed more than 500 buildings (homes, museums, office buildings, hotels, churches, etc.).

The restoration of the hotel we stayed in, finished in 2011, cost $18 million.

Enough with the boring stuff, I’ll give you a little sneak peak of the hotel. And after this may I recommend Googling some of his other works. They’re all pretty awesome. When I marry rich I might considering buying up some of that Usonian works of Iowa brilliance. Disclaimer: FLW isn’t actually from Iowa. But since he voluntarily graced us with his presence I think they often just claim him.


Grotto Of The Redemption

The Grotto – another bucket list item inspired by Courtney Haag. It’s located in West Bend, Iowa, which is about an hour drive from Courtney’s (my roommate) hometown, Ledyard, Iowa. After our visit to Ledyard this past weekend we stopped at The Grotto on the way back to Des Moines.

If you don’t know what a grotto is, keep reading. Don’t worry, I got your back. I’d never heard of a grotto, so assumed it was just the name of the place. Courtney described it as a really pretty rock sculpture thing. I was surprised when she offered to drive an hour out of the way just for the bucket list. When we got there I instantly understood.

Even after seeing it I have trouble explaining it, so I’m thankful for pictures. But first, I did look up the definition in my computer’s dictionary and here’s what I was given: “a small picturesque cave, an artificial one in a park or garden.”

I also found this clearly descriptive example: “Seven pounds of cocaine was found stashed in a remote grotto.” Well, from what I saw this wasn’t that type of grotto.

It’s actually a series of 9 grottos, each depicting an important scene from the Bible. The combination of caves and colomns encircle a courtyard. Together they create the largest Grotto in the world. Yet another claim to fame for Iowa!

Father Paul  Dobberstein of Germany started the construction in 1912. He used thousands of rocks and precious stones he had collected for years from around the world. For 42 years he devoted his life to building and designing these intricate structures. After his death Father Greving and Matt Szerensce continued his work until it was completed. I find it incredible that this massive piece of art was erected by 3 men.

Not only does it showcase beautiful, colorful rocks and agates, but also rocks you’ve never seen before. Turquoise, shells with swirls of pastels, and rose rocks. Things you’d never find in Iowa, until now. Yes, Iowa will surprise you from time to time.

We stopped by the Museum and Rock studio to see displays of some of the rocks used. They come from nearby places like the Black Hills of South Dakota, as well as farther ones like Mexico, Oklahoma, and Italy. I’ve loved looking at rocks since I was little. It’s amazing how the history of the earth is found molded in these naturally created stones that awe and inspire even the most creative of imaginations. But this impressive display doesn’t end when you walk out the door. The outside of the building is covered with polished agates from all over the world. It took 16 years just to cut and polish these stones.

I won’t even tell you to check this place out (because I’m sure I’ve convinced you with my powers of description and persuasion). Just look at these pictures. I’m sure they’ll do the trick, though a camera can’t do this masterpiece justice.

Bridges Of Madison County

Well I’ll admit, this post is long overdue. I wanted to play around on photoshop with some of the pictures, which required the time to play around on photoshop. This was made all the more difficult because I don’t actually have photoshop. But here is the long-awaited Bridges Of Madison County Post including edited pictures, normal pictures, facts, and stories. Hey, I wanted to make it up to you if you felt at all neglected.

I was nervous about wandering the country looking for these bridges. I’d been told they weren’t marked very well. There were signs pointing us in the general direction, but we had to be on the lookout. Every time we passed one I’d scream and turn the car around, terrifying my mother. But that’s okay, she’s always terrified by something.

This first one is the Imes Bridge. It is the oldest of the bridges and has been moved twice. I’m sure its seen a lot in its day.

We had that bridge to ourselves after a couple from Texas packed up and moved on to the next. But then another car pulled in as we were leaving. An elderly man stepped out and greeted us, saying he lived in Winterset. He said whenever he saw people at the bridge he’d stop to welcome them. He was the self-appointed, unofficial greeter, with his qualification being his chattiness, sweet demeanor, and an entire life spent in Winterset, Iowa. Well, until he left to fight in the Korean war.  I somehow lost the connection from his conversation about the bridges to telling us about footage he shot in Korea. By this point my parents and I were slowly trying to nudge ourselves over to the car.  It was weird, but sweet I guess.

Momma B admiring the handiwork of the Imes Bridge.

Momma B admiring the scenic location of the Imes Bridge. She does a lot of admiring. She’s got a great eye for beauty.

The next winding dirt road brought us to the Holliwell Bridge. It’s the longest of the six bridges (ooh, aah), and was featured in the movie (oooh, aaah).

Though there are six bridges remaining of the original 19, we made it to 3. The final one we saw sits in a park in Winterset.

All of the bridges are listed in the national register of historic places. The covers, if you were wondering, protect the timber floors.

The bridges were normally named for people who lived the closest to them. In rural Iowa all you need to do to be prominent enough to have a structure named after you is exist.

Here’s some info about the other bridges we didn’t get to see.

The Roseman Bridge is the bridge that Robert Kincaid is searching for when he stops and asks directions from Francesca Johnson. If you haven’t read or seen the movie inspired by the bridges, check it out. It’s directed by Clint Eastwood (spoiler alert: It’s nothing like Gran Torino or Flags of Our Fathers). The book is one of the best selling books of the 20th Century. Go Iowa!

Francesca and Robert actually met on the Cedar Bridge, which was burned down in the early 2000s. Unfortunately it isn’t the only victim of arson. Francesca’s house was burned almost a year after the Cedar Bridge was destroyed.

The farmhouse used in the film had been abadoned for more than thirty years (according to my roommate, Courtney, abandoned barns make for great party locations). It was completely restored for the movie.

I wanted to see this movie immediately once I found out Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood were in it. These are 2 of my favorite and most admired actors. The studio tried to cast a younger actress but when they couldn’t find anyone Eastwood’s mother suggested Streep.

It was cool to visit these bridges I’d read about and seen Holly wood films of. I’m one of those small-town girls who is easily excited to be on the same ground that Oscar-winning actors were once on. And it looks like another famous person stopped by too.

The graffiti was an unfortunate eye sore for the bridges. But I guess it’s better than having them burn down. After a while my parents and I just started to laugh at some of the philosophical gems etched in the wood – one step up from bathroom wall scribbles.

… And speaking of love.

Well, we can’t end on that note now can we?


Between the confusion of dehydration and possible heat stroke, 80/35 was a daze of musical art. I’m honoring the musical festival with a post consisting of 2 lists. First, my 2012 80/35 playlist featuring favorite songs by my favorite artists from the set list this year:

Atmosphere – Trying To Find A Balance

Bright Giant – Forget-Me-Nots

Christopher the Conquered & His Black Gold Brass Band – Ants Of Polk County

Dead Larry – Wake Up And Rage

Death Cab For Cutie – We Looked Like Giants

Delta Rae – Bottom Of The River

Dinosaur Jr. – Freak Scene

Freddie Gibbs – The Ghetto

Greensky Bluegrass – Radio Blues

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit – Alabama Eyes

Jesse Jamz – Kids At The Bar Your Body On Me Remix

Ladysoal – Sunshine

Leftover Salmon – Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes

Leslie And The Lys – Tight Pants/Body Rolls

Little Ruckus – Slowly Destroy (If I Told You)

Maxilla Blue – Easyflowgoodflowbadflowinthewater

Now, Now – Wolf

Pieta Brown – Mercury

Tajh – Year Of The Lover

The Avett Brothers – January Wedding

Useful Jenkins – Home Sweet Home

Secondly, here are the bands I would recruit to make the ultimate Des Moines outdoor concert experience. Not all of these are my favorite bands, I just feel like I would enjoy seeing them with a PBR in my hand while desperately trying to find shade that would provide me with no relief from the more than 100 degree weather. There’s fifty to choose from. So if you’d like to forward this to those higher up in the world who are in charge of recruiting for the 2013 80/35 festival, be my guest. They’ll have plenty to choose from.

  1. The Airborne Toxic Event
  2. Angus And Julia Stone
  3. Anna Ternheim
  4. Baby Bash
  5. Bishop Allen
  6. Bluprint
  7. Bo Burnam
  8. Brother Ali
  9. Cage The Elephant
  10. Cake
  11. Citizen Cope
  12. Silversun Pickups
  13. Cloud Cult
  14. Cults
  15. Damien Rice
  16. The Damnwells
  17. Dispatch
  18. The Feeling
  19. Flight Of The Concords
  20. The Fratellis
  21. G. Love
  22. Grieves
  23. Grouplove
  24. Hello Saferide
  25. Hey Ocean!
  26. Hot Hot Heat
  27. Ida Maria
  28. The Jayhawks
  29. Jaymay
  30. Jesse Thomas
  31. Joshua Radin
  32. Julia Nunes
  33. Less Than Jake
  34. M.I.A.
  35. Marching Band
  36. The Matches
  37. Mates Of State
  38. Metric
  39. Meiko
  40. Mickey Avalon
  41.  Motion City Soundtrack
  42. Noah And The Whale
  43. Parlours
  44. Rilo Kiley
  45. Scissor Sisters
  46. Traveling Wilburys
  47. Two Door Cinema Club
  48. V. V. Brown
  49. Young And The Giant
  50. The 88


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