Thursday, September 30, 2010


a victim of the floods
Heading west through the back roads of Indiana and Illinois the view becomes a blur of russet- toned rolling fields punctuated by disintegrating barns and out-buildings. Every 15 miles or so you run a parade of diminishing speed limit signs.... 45, 35, 30 as you enter very quiet, time-worn small farming towns that have rows of once handsome but now vacant, dusty commercial buildings and some still glorious court houses, churches and other public structures. The damage to trees and buildings from the many floods of the past decade became quite evident as we dropped down into the Mississippi River basin. Then, there it was.... the wide and mighty Mississippi.

The sky darkened and showers began as we crossed the "Great River" into Hannibal, Missouri where they want to make sure that you know you are in Mark Twain country with an  endless barrage of statues, billboards, street signs, restaurants and murals spreading the word that Tom, Huck and all the sites of their adventures were just around the corner for you to enjoy.  I went to a theater presentation by an actor who has been playing Mark Twain for many years. It was a very enjoyable and skillfull performance well appreciated by a full house of tourists on a cold, wet night.

Main Street of Bonaparte, Iowa
The weather was bright and beautiful as I followed a circuitous path of narrow country roads crisscrossing the fast flowing Des Moines River in the hilly, forested Southeast quadrant of Iowa.
I stopped in a tiny town to visit a history museum in a small abandoned church. A very enthusiastic woman greeted me and had me sign a sparsley used guest book, then gave me a rambling narrated tour of what looked like a repository of old photos, used furniture and yard sale remnants scattered about the pews and altar.  I got a kick out of the totally unpretentious performance and wished her well on preserving the history of "wherever" Iowa.
Bonaparte and Bentonsport on the river and Pella, up closer to Des Moines were among the towns well worth seeing.

An old mill building in Bonaparte has been carefully restored and is now functioning as a restaurant, bar and antique shop. The grounds are especially pleasant with a not too fussy picnic area and a playground along the riverfront. Hidden away in another small town is the home that Grant Wood used as the backdrop for his iconic "American Gothic" painting. There is a very well designed small new museum on the grounds and the eager volunteers welcomed Bungee inside as their first canine visitor.

After the wonderful circuitous back-road trip from Hannibal we arrived at my friend Nan Hagen's place in Des Moines just in time for a super stuffed pork chop dinner. It was great to see Nan settled into her art deco apartment in a such a fun building on Grand Ave. which was built in the '20s.
Bungee makes himself at home in Nan's new apartment
Nan had worried that her big tomcat, "Fat Boy" would be freaked out by Bungee and almost packed him off to a friend's. Not necessary as the two furry ones were fast friends with nary an incident as they busily checked out each other's food dishes for remnants. Nan took me on several great sightseeing tours of Des Moines and I was pleasantly surprised at how many positive things have been done to liven the place up since my last visit about twelve years ago.

Downtown Des Moines from the Chinese Garden across the river and new foot-bridge across the Des Moines River

The spectacular fall weather graced us for three days as we explored the town, visited with venerable Aunt Tootie who is in her 90's and still often beats Nan at very competitive Scrabble games. When I first met her over ten years ago she treated me to one of her specialties that I'll never forget..... "Fudgie Toast", homemade chocolate walnut fudge spread on buttered hot toast. A real zinger!
Nan and Tootie
Enjoying lunch in the recently revitalized East
Side between the State House and downtown core.

The imposing Iowa State House sits on a hill east of the downtown facing the city and the setting sun.

We visited the shops in near-by Valley Junction which is an old five-block neighborhood shopping street that is now loaded with upscale unique boutiques and restaurants.

Close to Nan's apartment is pastoral and very well used Gray's Lake Park where we ran the Bunge.

On Wednesday morning I hit the road across Iowa and Nebraska after a really good visit with Nan.

1 comment:

  1. oh, boy... forwarding this to my life long friend. we have plans to travel the US together and we will need this so we don't miss anything!! hope to see you when you get out west. oxoxoxxok