First off, we’ve had some really good news. I was notified via email from the Federal Reserve Bank in New York that my “long overdue grant contract payment” of $15 MILLION DOLLARS is FINALLY ready. Apparently some “corrupt hoodlums” AND “corrupt government officials” were trying to divert MY funds! I’ve decided that this windfall deserves something special, so as soon as I receive the funds, I will pay off all mortgage and car loans for anyone who follows this blog. You’ve got until the funds arrive to click that little “follow” button! Now back to our regularly scheduled program.
Monday morning we were up early and on the road by 7:30 AM. Our route would take us back through Dixon and down to Rock Falls before turning due west. As we went over the river in Dixon, I saw a flock of what I thought were swans on the Rock River. Later, as we passed the river again at Rock Falls, I got a closer look and realized that they were white pelicans. Then I remembered seeing huge flocks of them on the Mississippi River on the western border of Illinois when we traveled the Great River Road a couple of years ago on the Planes, Trains, Automobiles, RVs and Cruise Ships tour. (If you want to read about that trip, start here.) They are interesting, but I always have a hard time picturing pelicans inland. In my mind they just go with salt water. With the exception of areas near rivers, the drive was mostly through flat farmland with LOTS of corn and very few cows. We crossed the Big Muddy at Clinton, Iowa, and once we were back in the open, the wind picked up significantly. (It is not nearly as noticeable with the fifth wheel as it was with the travel trailer.) We went due west for the most part on US 30 until just before Clarence, Iowa. Then we turned south and began zig-zagging west, south, west, south, making our way diagonally across the state. (In the middle of the country, you find most of the roads running north-south or east-west. In Iowa almost all of the counties are square, which is something you don’t see in the Southeast at all.) We stopped for gas in Tipton, Iowa, then got out of the truck again in West Liberty to have lunch at JB’s Grub and Pub. Options are slim in some of the small towns we go through, but often the little local places are very good. That was the case with JB’s, although we just had sandwich fare. Our route took us through Washington, Iowa, where we noted the small, but lovely, downtown area. One of the best things about traveling off of the beaten path, aside from avoiding crazy interstate traffic, is going through small towns and seeing restored buildings and vibrant downtowns. Often they have a similar formula with a downtown area or square and the original residential streets spoking off of that. Most of the time there are a handful of beautiful old houses that have been taken care of or restored, and a lot that have been allowed to decay. I always find it a little sad to see an old Victorian with a sagging porch or shingles missing. Those old houses have so much character that it feels a bit like you’re driving by a corpse on display. Every once in a while, though, you will drive through a town where the entire area has been maintained and even painted in original era colors. Keeping it up must take the work of everyone in town, but it is pretty spectacular to see.
When planning the route, I made sure to take us through Maharishi Vedic City, Iowa, because, well, who wouldn’t?! This is a relatively new town, incorporated in 2001 and named for Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The city and building designs are based on an ancient Indian system of architecture called Maharishi Sthapatya Vedi, which dictates that all structures be built to precise Vedic proportions (for DS9 fans, this is not about Bajorans), the movement of the sun should be taken into account for room placement, and that entrances must face due east. Oh, and structures have a central silent space. It sounds a little like Feng Shui from an Indian perspective. While having an entire system to promote the health, happiness, and good fortune of its residents sounds nice, it wouldn’t work for me. I need to have morning sun on my back porch, and anyone who knows me is well aware that a silent space is probably fruitless. More power to those who love it, though.
We continued south and crossed the Des Moines River at Keosauqua, Iowa, then turned west. Passing through Bloomfield we saw one of the most spectacular courthouses ever! We finally pulled in at Lake Wapello State Park about 3 PM. After getting set up we relaxed for a bit, then had pimento cheese sandwiches (I made it with a mix of Asiago and Cheddar) for dinner. We were able to pick up a little TV, but the signal disappeared before bedtime, so we decided to take an evening walk around the park before turning in. When we stepped outside, we saw something we have NEVER seen before…a MURDER! We stood there for a few minutes just trying to figure out what was going on. Birds were EVERYWHERE. At first we thought they were buzzards and that something really BIG was dead nearby. I ruled that out when I didn’t smell death, and I can pick that odor up from a long ways off. So maybe they were circling the campground with some psychic knowledge of a foreboding future, wanting to get a jump on the dinner search. Upon closer inspection, though, they appeared to be crows, and we assumed they were just enjoying the updraft off of the water.
Lake Wapello State Park has quite a bit to offer. There are trails for hiking, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing, as well as cabins, lots of picnic areas, playground, beach, snack bar, and rental of paddle boards, paddle boats, kayaks, canoes, and motor boats. Fishing is big, too. The campground appears to be fairly new with nice, clean shower facilities. Sites include 23 primitive, 15 full-hookup, and 34 50-amp electric only. They are close together, but tiered up the hill from the lake so the view is pretty from most of them. My pick for the best site would be #58 as it faces the woods with the lake behind it, is pretty shaded, and would be more private. (We were not happy that the person who reserved it didn’t show up, either! It sat empty until the day before we left!) Several docks on the water give easy access to your boat, too. One thing that is missing, except in a few sites, is shade, but they have planted a lot of trees around to grow up and help with that down the road. This would be a great place for a family to camp. The one negative is minimal, intermittent cell service for those of us who have a little work to do.
On Tuesday we were up early, and I attempted to get some work done. Nope! Not happening! The internet signal was just too slow. So we headed out to Pella, Iowa, which is on the list of 50 best towns in the U.S. Not too far up the road we came upon two vehicles and three people on the side of the road. Upon closer inspection, there was also a dead cow in the ditch. Poor Bessie! First thought was that one of them hit said cow, but that did not appear to be the case. Whatever happened, some farmer lost a chunk of change, and whoever did hit it did not have a good day! We continued through Moravia and Albia up to our destination. OMGosh! Pella is totally worth a trip to Iowa! As we were coming into town, I asked MW (Mr. Wonderful) if Pella (the window company) is spelled the same way. A moment later, we came up to the huge Pella plant, which has been a part of this town since 1926. (Vermeer, builder of farm equipment, also has a huge factory in town.) Our first stop was Culver’s for lunch and so that I could get a bit of work done on their wifi. (Remember to NEVER use public wifi without a VPN, folks. That’s how lives are ruined by hackers.) Having driven through the square to get there, we headed right back that way and parked to walk around. This town is beautiful! The square is built around a large park with a sundial in the middle. Not just one or a few, but ALL of the buildings are built with decorative facades. It’s just lovely. As you drive down the side streets, most of the houses adjacent to the square are beautifully restored. The town is known for the Tulip Festival, which happens the first weekend in May each year (although Covid caused a cancellation this year), and gardens all over town that are filled with other flowers now are fully engulfed in tulips in the spring. It would be a sight to see, I’m sure. We walked around the square and checked out a couple of shops. An archway off of the square led to painted tile walls and a meandering water feature among more shops. This place was Helen, Georgia on steroids!
A little comparison…
The Pella Historical Village was open, so we took the tour. It houses quite a few interesting buildings, chief among them is the Vermeer Windmill (named for a local family) which was built in the Netherlands, disassembled, shipped to Iowa, and reassembled. It is the tallest working windmill in North America and is Pella’s nod to its agricultural history. Within the windmill is a miniature Dutch village which has its origins in 1938. (We toured another windmill in Fulton, Illinois, on the “Planes, Trains, Automobiles, RVs, and Cruise Ships” trip.) Highlights of the other structures on site included: an authentic sod house like those built by the Pella Dutch settlers in 1847, including period artifacts and furnishings; a grist mill relocated from the Skunk River north of Pella that actually mills corn; a 19th century farmhouse; a store built in 1849; and a woodworker’s shop displaying antique wooden shoemaking equipment. The surprise building, though, was the Earp House. Yes, that Earp! The boyhood home of Wyatt Earp sits on its original site with the rest of the village built around it. How cool is that?!
After finishing up our tour and walking back through the other half of the square, we headed back to Petunia by way of Ottumwa, Iowa. Anyone know what Ottumwa is known for? Well, M*A*S*H fans may recognize it as the hometown of Radar O’Reilly. We needed to drive through to scope out laundromats for the upcoming laundry day. Well, after spending time in Pella, let’s just say that Ottumwa didn’t hold up. The roads were terrible, and it was grimy, at least the parts of town that we drove through. We did find a laundromat that would suffice though, and stopped so I could scope it out. I couldn’t find anything saying how much the machines were, so I asked a nice gentleman who sounded like he was from the Caribbean. After he showed me that, I asked him if he knew what time the laundromat opened. He walked me to the front window, pointed to the neon “open” sign and said with a heavy accent “Sign on…open. Sign off…no open.” Okay, that cleared it all up. I had to suppress a giggle while thanking him for his help. We headed out of town and let Thor (our sporadic GPS) guide us back to the park. That crazy Australian ended up putting us on a gravel road for MILES. MW thought I did it on purpose, but it was a total fluke! Funny thing…on country roads, whether gravel or paved, we often see little critters running across to get out of our way. There are always lots of mice, chipmunks, rabbits, and squirrels. Today we saw a first. There was a snake, maybe 18 inches long, that was 3/4 of the way across the gravel when we both spotted him. I have never seen a snake move that fast! If it had been paved, there might have been little scorch marks. LOL. Back at the park, we checked out the other areas before heading back to Petunia. MW worked on lubing the wheel bearings and leaf spring bushings (Petunia’s…mind out of the gutter), and I did a little blogging. Then we settled in for the evening.
Wednesday we awoke to a very grey day. I gathered up everything for laundry day and headed back to Ottumwa. I decided to check out the third laundromat option (that we didn’t see the day before), and it ended up being the clear winner. It took me a couple of hours to get everything taken care of, then I headed over to the opposite side of town for a nail appointment (it was absolutely necessary, believe me). I popped in to Jimmy John’s for a quick bite on the way. I saw the sign below on the wall there. Talk about things that make you go huh?!?!
One of the hard things about being on the road all the time is not having regular hair and nail people. It is especially hard to find someone now that Covid means appointments are required, and you never know whether they are any good until you see the finished product. In this case, the nail tech was very sweet, but terrible. Thankfully, I’m not too high maintenance, though…pedicures during sandal season only and the occasional manicure with clear polish. I’m not sure how she did it, but she managed to get dimples in gel polish. (I know you guys won’t understand that at all, but it’s like a chemistry experiment gone bad.) The hair is much worse. MW won’t cut my hair, despite the fact that I’ve been his personal stylist for the last 27 years. That means I resort to whatever I can find and live with the consequences. Sometimes, it’s not pretty!
Chores complete, I headed back to Petunia. I should say, though, that after driving through more of Ottumwa, I did find some nicer areas than we saw previously. There were also several beautiful churches. Back at the ranch, we relaxed for a bit. It was just too hot to get out and do anything! In the afternoons when the sun was shining on the back side of Petunia, it was scorching. So much so that MW took his jacket and put it over the windows as extra insulation. I think I’m going to explore changing out the shades, adding some type of curtain that can be drawn over the shades, or putting additional film on those back windows that surround our seating area. If you’ve done something like that, let me know how it went.
Thursday we were up and out quick, hitting the road by 7 AM. The coming weekend was the 4th, we wanted to get to the campground early and beat the crowds. We headed south through Centerville and zig-zagged into Missouri. The landscape crossing the border was more rolling than flat and reminded me of areas in Southern Virginia that I love. Our first objective was Laclede, Missouri, to check out the boyhood home of one of the greats…General John Joseph Pershing. (Some of you may know that my Dad died suddenly last year. The night before he gave MW and me a 45-minute oration on Pershing’s movements in WWI. I can still hear him in my head, so I enjoyed this stop for him.) Pershing and his family moved into this house when he was 6-years-old. As a young man prior to being accepted to West Point, he taught at Prairie Mound School in the area. The school building was moved to the site near his home and contains a nice museum. The house was open to walk through, self-guided. A couple of bits I found interesting: 1) His final rank was General of the Armies of the United States. I had no idea there was a rank above a 5-star General. He is only the second person to hold that rank. The first was George Washington. 2) There were quite a few young men in competition for his slot at West Point. They narrowed it down to two before finally selecting him. That would probably count as a touchstone point…a single decision that could change the world. 3) Pershing rode with Theodore Roosevelt at San Juan Hill in Cuba. He also had some tense moments against the Dakota Sioux and Geronimo’s Apaches in the Southwest. What stories he must have had!
After checking it all out we continued south to Brunswick where we turned east. At Moberly, we stopped at the Funny Pages Cafe for a bite. As you can imagine from the name, the interior was decorated with all kinds of cartoon characters. The menu offered run-of-the-mill diner fare, which was not bad. The final leg of the drive was east to Mark Twain State Park near Stoutsville, Illinois. We arrived mid-afternoon and were immediately approached by our neighbors across the street. Apparently they had a bunch of people in a bunch of campsites, and they wanted ours. The campground was full for the 4th, and they asked us to move. MW checked out the other site option and declined. It was too short for our rig and faced the road. They would get their revenge later. The weather was still VERY hot, and some type of little bug was swarming right outside our door, so enjoying the outdoors was not possible.
Once again the cell signal was crap, so Friday it was necessary to go find someplace to work. We went in to Mexico, Missouri, to see what we could find. Our first choice from our internet search was the Dugout Bar & Grill, just off of the square. We walked in the door, were hit with the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke, and turned and walked out. Yuck! Down the street was Aussie Outback & Down Under, a pub of sorts. We had a nice lunch…chicken sandwich for me and the special, covered in meat, for MW. After we were done, I asked the bartender if she minded me sitting there to work for a while. She said I could stay all day if I wanted. MW headed out to find the hardware store to get a piece of screening to repair our stove vent. He came back long before I was ready to quit, so he headed back out to Orscheln Farm and Home (which is a smaller version of Rural King, one of MW’s favorite places) to wander around. When he came back, I was almost done. He ordered a dessert to go…some kind of date, banana thing. (Not my cup of tea!) Then we headed back to Petunia and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. Being Friday night of the 4th weekend and a full park, we expected all kinds of noise and fireworks (despite the park having rules against them…trees and fire don’t mix. We were not wrong, but it really wasn’t too bad. Well, I thought it wasn’t, because I drifted off pretty quick and wasn’t disturbed. As I’ve said before, I’m the quiet police in this relationship…typically. Just after midnight, I am awakened by MW harumphing and muttering as he pulls on his pants. It seems that the women in the group across the street were still up, outside, maybe drinking, and talking LOUDLY. It must have been really bad for it to wake him up, seriously. I often joke that if someone broke in on us between the hours of 9:30 PM and 3 AM, they could hack me to death in the bed beside him while he snores. Well, not this night. He went out the door and across the street. I heard him say “Excuse me.” a couple of times. Then he told them that quiet hours ended a couple of hours ago, and they needed to keep it down. Their response…”okay”. I guess they weren’t sorry. That is the payback for us not changing sites!
Saturday we took our time getting going, then rode over to nearby Florida, Missouri, to check out the monument for the birthplace of Samuel Clemmons. Is there anyone who doesn’t know who that is? The home has been moved to a museum at Mark Twain State Park, which sadly, was closed. We also checked out the location of the museum and watched the boats go by from an overlook at Mark Twain Lake.
Where there is a lake, there is (almost always) a dam. Where there is a dam, MW will need to check it out. We headed up to see the Clarence Cannon Dam, which had some cool overlooks and a great visitor’s center (closed but the grounds were open). After looking around for a bit, we were headed back to our car when we spotted a four-legged visitor at the center, too. (That is twice in just a few days that we’ve seen a raccoon in the daytime.) We have noted that they aren’t very smart here, because like the armadillo’s in the south, the place you see them the most, night or day, is on the pavement. So sad, because they are just adorable. Years ago I had a boyfriend who had a pet raccoon. The mom was killed and several babies were found under the barn. Only one survived, and his name was Ernie. When we went horseback riding, we’d put the dog (can’t remember his name) in one saddle bag and Ernie in the other, their heads poking out to watch where we were going. He was very sweet.
When we’d had our fill of exploring, we headed back to Petunia to get out of the blasted heat. MW had dinner reservations at a local joint that got really good reviews, so we headed up to the Rustic Oak Cabin Steakhouse later. This was a cool place and the steaks were good, but I know many people who would get the heebie jeebies eating in that dining room. There were LOTS of animals staring from the walls and rafters…deer, raccoons, bears, elk, foxes, caribou. The list goes on. It reminded me of a cabin I stayed at in Montana one time that had a huge Moose head on the wall opposite of the bed. That thing just stared at you all night! It took a little getting used to. After dinner we headed home to relax. (You notice we have a system…play a little, relax, play a little, relax.)
Mark Twain State Park is very nice. The lake is huge, so boating and fishing enthusiasts have plenty to explore. There is also a beach, plenty of picnic areas and shelters, lots of overlooks, and more than 6 miles of trails. In addition to the campground, there are group camps and cabins available. The campground is very large and divided into several loops. We stayed on the Puma Loop, which offers 50-amp electric sites. There are modern bathhouses and laundry facilities during the season. Water, dump stations, a boat ramp, and fish-cleaning stations are also available, as well as a playground. Our site was fairly level side-to-side, but required a bit of a kneel to get it done front-to-back. We noticed several others were similar. The roads and facilities were all very well maintained. I apparently lost my mind somewhere temporarily, because I don’t have one pic of the campground!
Sunday I REALLY needed to get some more work done, so I headed over to the Monroe Family Diner in…you guessed it…Monroe, Missouri. They sat me in the back and said I could stay for hours if needed, which was nice since they had really fast wifi. I had a breakfast of waffles, eggs, and bacon (all delicious) then got to work. I didn’t get back to Petunia until early afternoon. MW had enjoyed a peaceful morning relaxing and walking around the park, and even got a nap in. For dinner I cooked butterflied pork chops on my new (only used a couple of times so far) 22″ Blackstone. I LOVE it! MW bought it for me before we left Tennessee. I’ve not used it as much because of the heat, but we have cooked hotdogs for the Boogers before we left, breakfast a couple of times, and now pork chops. I think I’m getting the hang of it. It makes my little outdoor kitchen area complete. The only tough thing is that, if we are on a site where I have to kneel Petunia to get her level (bringing the back up), I have to get on a step ladder to be able to cook. It works, though.
Next up…more Iowa and Wisconsin. Yay….cheese!
See you on the road!
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