Thursday was a really early start, so we prepared the night before for a quick exit. We headed south to Savanna to cross the Mississippi River, where we again saw flocks of white pelicans. Then it was west on IA-64. The landscape was varied from rolling to flat and back. Near Anamosa, Iowa we began to see the first signs of the recent storm called a derecho (wide, straight-line wind storm associated with a fast-moving group of severe thunderstorms. Their long-lived hurricane/tornado force winds cause lots of damage), which they referred to as an “inland hurricane” on the news.
SQUIRREL: I got my first motorcycle at 6 years old. It was a little Honda Mini-Trail, and I LOVED it! I can’t even remember how many times I jumped something and crashed or broke something off, pushed it home, and Dad put it back together again. (He did grouse a bit, but he really wanted boys, so I think he was secretly happy.) It was great! When I turned 18, I bought my only street bike, a beautiful blue Kawasaki. It wasn’t a big one, but I loved it, too. It turned an otherwise geeky girl a little cooler for my last 6 months of high school. (Guys seem to notice when a girl walks through the halls holding a full-face helmet.) I ended up not riding it as much after graduation. The fun was in riding the curvy roads around Lake Allatoona, and I was busy getting my life on track. Plus, those 80’s hairdos took an hour, and I wasn’t squishing all of that down! LOL When I eventually decided to sell the bike, I had to get it and my car across town for the deal. Mom was so excited that I was getting rid of it, that she jumped at the request for help. MW drove her Lincoln, Mom drove my Mustang (stick), and I rode the bike…through Atlanta…in rush hour traffic. She was visibly shaking after more than an hour of that and very relieved. I’ve often thought of getting another one (no more big hair), but first kids, then later antique cars, and now traveling all the time have filled that place. If I did, though, it would be this one:
I tell you all of that to roll you into our first stop of the day at Anamosa, Iowa…the National Motorcycle Museum. What an awesome place! They had bikes dating from the very beginning (basically bicycles with little motors) to now. There was an amazing Evel Knievel display, an “Easy Rider” display, and Steve McQueen’s Indian. Racing bikes are there, too, and so much more. If you have even a passing interest in cycles, you will like this place. We spent quite a bit of time checking it all out.
Back on the road, we continued through downtown Anamosa, passing by the prettiest prison I’ve ever seen! We actually took a little detour around the block to see it all.
Then we headed southwest to check out more of the storm damage, particularly the crops we read so much about. We skirted the southeast side of Cedar Rapids, where the first larger signs appeared near Martelle.
We passed by Sugar Bottom Campground on Lake Coralville, where we stayed on our last visit to Iowa, then turned west at North Liberty, and hit the scenic drive at Homestead.
The further west we went, the worse it got. The soybeans seemed to be mostly intact, although wind-blown. The corn, however, either looked totally stripped of leaves, whipped around like long hair after a day in a convertible, or just simply laid down flat.
At Belle Plaine we took a break to grab lunch at the Lincoln Cafe. It has been operated in the same place since 1928, and I think everyone within 50 miles was inside. Seriously, it was full the entire time we were there. Your basic, small-town diner, they served breakfast all day, sandwiches, roaster chicken, meat and three, and daily specials. We both had basic sandwiches, which were good, and the service was pretty quick. I overheard a farmer talking to the guy behind us, so when he walked by, I asked about the crop damage. He said they are working on harvesting the corn that is laying down, but the equipment is not designed to pick it up off of the ground. He said they are losing about half of the crop. Wow! That’s a LOT of corn gone! We also saw a Red Cross Disaster Action Team worker come in, so that tells you a little about how bad the area was hit. After lunch we checked out the damage in town.
Heading further west, it continued to get worse.
Then we entered Tama, Iowa. We knew they were hit hard when we saw trucks hauling huge tree debris backed up at a makeshift dump site. This town was hit HARD. Down every side street were limbs and entire tree sections drug to the curb for pickup. Many of the buildings and houses were missing siding and parts of roofs. Entire buildings were collapsed.
As we turned north on US-63 and passed through Toledo, there was more. Although we did not see it, I understand that the Meskwaki tribal land in this area was also hit very hard.
In Gladbrook, Iowa there was also more. I believe that four people died in that storm, and frankly, I’m amazed it wasn’t more. As we drove through Tama, the storm sirens started going off. It was just a test, but it did scare the poop out of me for a second, even on a beautiful day. I guess people really listen and get a move on when those things go off. Lord knows, I would!
That brings us to our second stop for the day, Matchstick Marvels in Gladbrook. Patrick Acton builds things out of…you guessed it…matchsticks. He started in 1977 as a hobby, and today several of his works are displayed in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not locations around the world, including a model of the International Space Station that was once displayed at NASA in Houston. Now retired from his regular gig as a Career Counselor, he continues to build his huge models of everything from historic buildings and ships to rockets and airplanes. They charge $5 per person to enter this showcase, and we thought it was absolutely worth it. The amount of detail and sheer size were impressive, and the creativity, amazing. The pics do not do them justice. Be sure to zoom in to see the detail.
After ogling for a bit, we zigzagged northwest towards our final destination for the day. While there was still a bit of crop damage, it was evident that we were leaving the track of the derecho. The landscape continued to be flat to rolling with a lot of big sky and long, straight, dirt roads disappearing over the horizon. We arrived at Beeds Lake State Park near Hampton, Iowa, around 5 PM. We first took on water, trying to follow the Grand Design instruction by turning it off as soon as the light switches to full inside (instead of waiting for it to come out of the overflow). Well, it went to full pretty quickly, so I turned it off. Well, turns out the light is a BIG FAT LIAR! (We only had 1/3 tank, so since the spigot was too far to reach, MW loaded some more in later using our collapsible, 5-gallon jug. I really recommend having one of those onboard.) This campground had a strange setup with a large number of sites set up like parallel parking spaces. The row we were on was empty when we arrived, so we were able to pull straight in, but we aren’t sure how we would have done it if rigs had been on either side as the spaces are tight. We pulled off of the road far enough to get our slide out of the way, but before we could set up, the camp host came over and said our wheels needed to stay on the pavement. Huh? We made the adjustment, but that put our slide about 2′ out into the road! I was uncomfortable with it the entire time we were there. I could just see a vehicle coming through at night clipping it or a kid riding past on a bike and whacking his head. When the folks directly across from us arrived, they pulled theirs totally off. Had they not, the road would have been pretty darned narrow between us. After everything was set up, we were ready to relax and put our feet up.
The next day we mostly just hung out and enjoyed the weather. For the first time on this trip we were actually able to get the chairs out and sit outside in the daytime without sweating. We took a nice walk around the park and just soaked it all in.
On Saturday we took another long walk, this time down to the other section of the park and later made a grocery run. That’s pretty much it. Well, except for doing a bit of work, writing a little, and enjoying the weather.
Beeds Lake State Park is fairly small as state parks go, but is beautiful. The main attraction is the lake, which is available for fishing from the shore, the jetty, or small boats (no wake). There are a couple of walking trails, one that circumnavigates the lake. There is a lodge available for rental, as well as a couple of other shelters. The picnic area is huge and shady spread out among a grove of tall trees. The campground has 141 sites (99 50-amp electric only, 42 primitive). Twenty of the electric and 12 primitive are first come, first serve. Most of the electric sites are in the parallel-parking configuration I talked about earlier. We didn’t enjoy it as individual campers. It provided no privacy at all and the vehicles were passing by 2′ outside of your window. However, it was a great setup in the middle sections for groups. You could have four rigs (two on each side) with the doors facing each other. There were several groups enjoying that with a large ring of chairs in the middle. The facilities were clean and nice, too. Nearby Hampton, Iowa has gas, groceries, pharmacies, and a couple of restaurants. It also has a beautiful courthouse!
Sunday we were still enjoying the beautiful weather, and I did MW’s favorite thing…cooked. (Ya’ll need to clean up some of those thoughts. Just sayin’.) He loves my breakfast bowls, which include scrambled eggs, yellow grits, cheese, and the most important ingredient, Neese’s Hot Sausage. Haven’t heard of it? Well, Neese’s is a Greensboro, North Carolina thing. It is a family-owned business that has been cranking out sausage and a variety of other products (liver mush, souse, scrapple, bacon) for more than 100 years. Honestly, they do make the BEST sausage in several flavors. I have been known to go astray and use other kinds, but ONLY if forced.
SQUIRREL: A couple of years ago MW was off hiking, and I took the kids and Boogers to a Grasshopper’s baseball game. At every game they give away 10 pounds of Neese’s sausage, and I was SO excited when Spaz picked me. I really thought it would be a coupon or something. Nope. It was a box with 10 pounds of sausage and a pound of bacon thrown in for good measure. The car was parked a good ways away, so I was happy my son Ryan was there to carry the darned thing. (Yes, I did give him some sausage for his efforts.) When MW got home he was pretty darned excited about several pounds of pork. Ryan got lucky later when, as we were traveling, the power went out at the house and was projected to be out for quite a while. (Duke power has this nice texting feature that came in handy when we lived there.) He quickly went over and cleaned out the fridge and freezer, getting the last of my Neese’s sausage, a roast, and a lot of other stuff in return for his efforts.
After cooking and cleaning up, we enjoyed the weather and watched all of the weekenders vacate the campground. After the mass exodus, there were only a handful of us left. We took another walk in the afternoon and settled in for a gloriously quiet night.
Next up…animals and outlaws. See you on the road!
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