Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Iowa's Loess Hills

Most people would consider a road trip through western Iowa as a pretty boring prospect.  However, the Loess Hills of Iowa possess natural features rarely duplicated elsewhere in the world.  Only western Iowa and the Yellow River valley of China have towering dunes of loess soil more than 200 feet deep.  Welcome to the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, Iowa's first scenic system of signed roads through western Iowa.  Flanking Iowa's western border, the Byway passes through a unique land formation that is up to 15 miles wide and 200 miles long from near Sioux City, Iowa to St.Joseph, Missouri.  We covered about 130 miles of that roadway today, and had a very wonderful time.  The scenery was awesome; we saw a steep,sharp beautiful landscape with irregular peaks, saddles and terraces- the product of years of soil deposition and erosion.  Crops of corn are starting to poke through the farmland which lie between the terraces.  Cows, hogs, horses, and, yes, we even saw deer grazing on the hillsides.  We also chanced to see a coyote running through the fields. 
The byway links scenic area with historic and recreational sites.  In the town of Tabor we saw the 1853 parsonage that was an Underground Railroad stop.  A mural on one of the town's buildings tells the story.
We also stopped at Salem Lutheran church, where, in 1880, the Western District of the Iowa Synod of the American Lutheran church was organized.  It is the "Mother Church" of 100 churches.  The original hand hewn pews, chandelier and crucifix are still in place.  Along the right wall is an old pot-belly stove.
After several hours in the car we were ready to stretch our legs, so we stopped and did some hiking in Waubonsie State Park.  There we climbed to an overlook where we had a great view of the surrounding hills.  Driving outside of the park we saw a "pick you own strawberries sign".  I was happy to relieve the farmer of some of his berries while John took a nap.   Our final stop on the byway was at  at Glenwood Lake Park where there is a replica of an Indian earth lodge- more than 130 lodge houses have been completely or partially excavated in the region since 1881 by amateur and professional archeologists.  I will finish this posting with one more picture of the Loess Hiils.  We certainly had a full day, and now I have some strawberries to clean and cut-up!

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