Driving through farm country in the United States can be almost painfully uneventful. My recent trip to northern Iowa is a good example. Interesting sights were few and far between, though not completely absent.
When driving in rural America, especially in areas dominated by agriculture, it’s hard not to notice which crops are growing. This early in the season, many fields are still sporting last year’s corn stubble. The newly plowed fields stand out, the rich, dark soil ready for a new crop of corn or soybeans. Then there are the freshly planted cornfields. The evenly spaced rows of just-sprouted corn, barely more than an inch high, follow the contours of the land like elevation lines on a backwoods hiker’s topographical map. It’s almost artistic. It’s fascinating the first time you see it, but as the miles and hours wear on and the only difference is whether a field is plowed, planted, or awaiting the tractor, the novelty soon wears off. Even the repeated sightings of red-winged blackbirds, those signpost sentinels of the rural roadways, becomes mundane. It seems there’s one atop every third or fourth fence post. Perfectly boring.
Courthouses in the Midwest tend to be monumental structures, many dating back to the early part of the twentieth century. Whether built of sandstone, limestone, or brick, the county courthouse is almost always the grandest building in the entire county. This one in Grundy County, Iowa is typical for the region. Note the small (8½ foot tall) Statue of Liberty in the foreground. There are a couple hundred similar statues on or near the courthouse grounds all over America, especially in the Midwest. I spotted a couple in Missouri back in March. You can read a little more about them in my blog post Iowa is 90% farmland – and that's no bull from a couple years back.
As perfectly boring as the driving was, I did find one curious roadside attraction. In the town of Blue Earth Minnesota, just off Interstate 90, is a 55½ tall statue of the Jolly Green Giant. Doubtless, many Insiders remember the television commercials of yesteryear with the trademark "Ho, ho, ho, Green Giant." The Giant has been a fixture in Blue Earth since 1978. He’s pretty easy to find once you get off the highway. Look for Green Giant Statue Park located on Green Giant Lane at the north end of town.
If you happen to be in town on July 14 this year, you can even take part in the annual Blue Earth Giant Day festival, complete with parade. Sounds like a bit too much excitement for me.
As with any trip, finding the local food specialties is a must. Both Iowa and Indiana claim to have the best pork tenderloin sandwiches. Based on my experience, I have to give Iowa a slight edge. It’s a little tricky to describe how the tenderloin is served. Essentially a pork tenderloin is pounded flat, breaded, deep fried, and served on a bun. Beware. These sandwiches are huge with the meat often twice the size of the bun. They are also surprisingly inexpensive, rarely more than $8. I found a great sandwich at a food truck in the town of Eldora. I ate about half of it for lunch and saved the rest for dinner (imagine a typical chicken sandwich from a place like Wendy's and double it. That's how big they are). seatexan encouraged me to post pictures of some of the food I describe during my travels, so with that in mind, here’s the food truck and the massive tenderloin sandwich. These folks claim their tenderloins are legendary. Who am I to argue?
As boring as the trip may have been, it did not end without a little drama. My flight home from MLI was delayed due to a late inbound aircraft which forced me to miss my connection in Chicago. Because the delay was related to a mechanical issue and my flight home was the last one of the day, UA provided accommodations for the night at the Hyatt Regency. Sounds fancy, right? Yeah, not so much. After making my way to the shuttle and eventually getting checked in, I found myself in the bottom half of a two floor suite. Great! Except not really. Here’s my room.
Yep, that roll away bed is where I slept. I had been informed of this by the front desk when I arrived, so it wasn’t a surprise. The hotel was completely sold out meaning this was the only space available. It beats sleeping in the airport and I since United was paying the bill, I had nothing to complain about. I was so tired anyway, after a quick shower, I went right to sleep. I had been given a couple of $10 food vouchers (dinner and breakfast, I guess). I used them for a decent breakfast at the airport (both just covered the total cost ) before flying home to CMH.
Over the course of the trip, I logged 2,097 miles and visited 36 county seats. One important stop was in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, right across the Mississippi River from Iowa. With a planned trip to northern Wisconsin in June, visiting this southern Wisconsin county will allow me to complete the state a few weeks hence.
Two of the three hotels I visited were fairly new having opened within the last 6-9 months. The newest was the Courtyard in Waterloo, IA, a really cool property located in an old John Deere tractor factory. It will be even cooler when the Irish pub and Mexican restaurant open at the opposite end of the building later this summer. Another new property was the Fairfield Inn in Decorah, IA. I can’t think of any particular features that stood out, except that it hadn’t been open long. It sort of fit in with the boring theme of the trip. The last stop on the trip was the Fairfield Inn in Ames, IA. It’s so Iowa, it almost hurts, right down the cornfield right behind the hotel. I mean walk out the back door and into the cornfield “right behind.” If I recall, this one had been plowed but not planted yet.
Up next is a trip to northern Minnesota and Wisconsin in mid-June. I expect to visit the last dozen or so counties in Wisconsin, the final two in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, plus another dozen in northeastern Minnesota. Nothing against Iowa, but this upcoming trip should be far more scenic. Just sayin’.