You never know what you’ll find traveling the highways and byways of America. On a recent trip to Iowa, I happened across two of the “World’s Largest” items. The first was the world’s largest truck stop on I-80 near the town of Walcott.
The other is the world’s largest bull in Audubon, IA.
Albert stands in a park on the south side of town alongside US 71. You can read more about him here Albert the Bull, Audubon, Iowa. Of course, these are not the things that draw me to explore the small towns of the U.S. They’re just a couple of the fun things to discover along the way. No, my travels are part of a long-term goal to visit every county in the country. More specifically, to mail a postcard to myself from every county seat, the location of the county courthouse. Despite being 90% farmland, Iowa has some truly impressive county courthouses. Here a just a few of the ones I saw.
Page County (top left), Decatur County (top right), Dallas County (bottom left), and Davis County (bottom right)
Note the Statue of Liberty replica in front of the Decatur County courthouse. Between 1949 and 1952, the Boy Scouts of America donated approximately 200 such statues (each about 8½ feet tall) which were placed around the country. Many have been destroyed, but perhaps 100 still exist. In fact, I noticed one in Las Animas County, Colorado a week earlier. Other than noting its existence, I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I saw at least 4 as traveled around Iowa.
While in Des Moines, I walked the mile or so from the downtown Marriott to the Iowa State Capitol. Being on a hill, It didn’t look all that far away. What looked like a few blocks turned out to be closer to 15. Still, I keep going and was able to get a decent picture not long before sunset.
In the plaza out front, is a granite map of the state with all the counties labeled.
Not only that, but along the street leading up to the Capitol, there are markers set into the sidewalk for each county, complete with the year the county was founded and the name of the county seat (someone must have known I would visit some day ).
Overall the trip was less interesting than some I’ve taken. In a state that’s 90% farmland, it’s not too hard to imagine why. I did visit 4 nice full service Marriott locations. My favorite was in Cedar Rapids. The 7-storey atrium with glass-backed elevators reminded me of the lobby of the Renaissance in Oklahoma City. The property in Omaha marked my first Marriott stay in Nebraska. The hotel was good, just nothing special. The downtown Des Moines Marriott is interesting if for no other reason than the access to the skywalk, 4 miles of climate-controlled walkways connecting much of downtown. The fourth location I visited was in Normal, IL as I was driving towards home. It’s on the edge of Illinois State University and across from the Amtrak station (where you’ll see a big sign that says “Welcome to Normal” ).
I realized it has been almost 5 years since I last visited Iowa. In September 2011, I visited 15 counties in the eastern portion of the state. This trip added 38 more, plus 3 in Nebraska (the first collected in the state), and 2 in the far northeast corner of Missouri (Lewis County and Clark County ). I made it to Madison County, IA but did not detour along the gravel roads to see any of its covered bridges made famous in the book and movie “The Bridges of Madison County.” Winterset, the Madison County seat is also the birthplace of John Wayne. I also visited the hometowns of former First Lady, Mamie Eisenhower (Boone, IA) and big band leader, Glenn Miller (Clarinda, IA)
This trip reminded me of the need to be flexible when traveling. A road closure prevented me from taking my planned route between Mt. Ayr and Creston, but by being able to adapt, I was able to visit two additional counties, though two others I had intended to visit got dropped. I’ll have to get back to Iowa before long, if for nothing else than to fill in the six-county “notch” in south-central Iowa. Take a look at the before and after maps to see what I mean.
My next trip is another weekend jaunt, this time to western Kansas in mid-June. I don’t imagine there will be all that much to see, but one never knows. Albert the Bull was a surprise, so it will be fun to keep my eye out for something equally fascinating.