Category Archives: DESTINATIONS – Iowa

Fall in Madison and Adair County (Iowa) – historic barn tour, Howell tree farm, fall crawl, flower cutting at PepperHarrow

Such a gorgeous fall Sunday in Central Iowa. We went down to Winterset in Madison County to cut flowers at the lovely PepperHarow Farm and realized midway that the annual Iowa Barn Tour was happening across Iowa so we drove west to two lovely old barns along gravel roads the first in Madison County, the second in neighboring Adair County.

if I’d know it was happening we would have visited more barns. I also found out, too late, that Madison County was having a “fall crawl” today, featuring 12 stops (farms, ag-venues, shops, state park) welcoming visitors to wander around (PepperHarrow was one of them, which explains why so many more people were there than during our first visit in July.) Even though we missed it I was glad to see this fall crawl happening since the farm crawl we enjoyed several times pre-Covid in Warren County south of Des Moines is no more. (So many things Covid has ended, livelihoods and pastimes as well as far too many lives).

the Iowa barn Tour in Madison County

We also stopped briefly at Howell Tree Farm en route to Winterset which was packed with families with children doing all kinds of fun pumpkin patch things. Our Two-year-old grandson would love it, including the merry go round where kids ride ponies.

Note to self: Return to the town of Earlham in mid-October when the cool upscale vintage store RJ Homes on the well preserved main drag are open. They are open one three-day weekend a month.

Inside the drying barn at Howell Farm near Winterset

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Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, Iowa City, Uncategorized

PepperHarrow for flowers, Middlebrook “agrihood”, Secret Admirer for Pimm’s Cup Winterset/Cumming/Des Moines

We have discovered some new delights in the Des Moines area. PepperHarrow Farm is a lovely private farm at the southern edge of Winterset, the charming town famous for its covered bridges. The farms sells beautiful albeit pricey bouquets at the Des Moines farmers market. But for the same price ($25) you can book a visit to the farm to cut your own, which we did, using a gift certificate D gave me back in the dead of winter. On a muggy August afternoon, we happily spent an hour or so in wandering through fields of dahlias, lisianthus , delphiniums, zinnias, and many other flowers I don’t know the names of. I came home with four arrangements worth, so happy.

En route we stopped briefly at Middlebrook, an aspiring “agrihood”/new development in Cumming, Iowa. There isn’t much there yet besides a pretty old farmhouse and a shed with some vegetables for sale (honor system.) Friday night festivities feature live music and food trucks, which sounds fun. The agrihood concept is intriguing- apparently it involves buying a lot and building and having space to grow things, with some community support.

Today, toward the end of a 26-mile bike ride to Easter Lake and back in DSM, we dropped in at a new cheerful bar downtown in an old (1900, if the date on the old tiled floor is accurate) brick building near the Polk County courthouse that used to be a bail bonds office. Now it’s Secret Admirer, a cute bar with a great back patio, serving beer, wine and specialty drinks, including Pimm’s Cup, one of the few drinks I love because it reminds me of my pals in England.

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Welcome to the neighborhood (DSM) Black Cat Ice Cream

Great to see a line out the door onto Cottage Grove at Black Cat, the ice cream shop relocated from a window at a downtown bar to a funky old building in the Drake neighborhood. The ice cream is pricey ($5 for a dish) and not quite as good as our local favorites (Bauders on Ingersoll Ave in DSM and Outside Scoop in Ankeny and Indianola) but can’t beat the location (a healthy walk for us from our house) and great for th neighborhood. I enjoyed trying out the comfy new swing in a pocket park down the street.

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Delta Airlines: Your wait time is 8 hours and 52 minutes….really?

We have not flown since March of 2020 and I have been reluctant to fly anytime soon, even post-vaccine, unless absolutely necessary. Now I see this was wise, after receiving schedule changes from Delta today for two necessary trips in October that we are looking forward to — a wedding in Ithaca and a bar mitzvah in New York City. Both schedule changes were not great. I tried calling Delta for help with rescheduling and got a recording that my wait time was…8 hours and 52 minutes.

I thought the “basic fare” meant I could make changes to my ticket with out a fee but apparently not — even though the airline made the change, not us. (This still doesn’t seem right and I’ve looked back at the language from Delta when I bought the ticket and it’s NOT right. We bought our basic economy tix on March 23 — so they should be refundable and changeable, with no fee:

FROM DELTA: Updated as of March 3, 2021

Yes, you can. We understand that your plans may change, to continue simplifying travel, we have eliminated change and cancel fees for tickets originating in North America (excluding Basic Economy tickets purchased after March 30, 2021, which are non-refundable and non-changeable).

By eliminating change fees, you have the flexibility to change the date, time or location of your trip without a fee. Sometimes, your new flight may cost more than your original flight. In this case you would need to pay the difference in price.

MEANWHILE….The website said my only option was to cancel and get a full refund. I decided to keep the Ithaca flight – even though we now have a 3-hour layover in Detroit (maybe I can meet up with my dad at the airport?) – because there were no better options. Meanwhile the flight cost us $358 when booked a few months ago. If bought today, it would cost $908. So I guess we were wise to book ahead. I also had to rebook my car rental to adjust the pickup and drop off times – maybe I was lucky the price for the rental only went up $12?

With the NYC flight, Delta appears to have gotten rid of one of its two direct flights (the early afternoon one) from Des Moines to LaGuardia. Instead of rescheduling me on the other direct flight (at 6 a.m.) Delta rescheduled me for a flight at 10 a.m.-ish with, again, a long layover in Detroit. This time I opted to cancel my rescheduled flights and rebook (for the same price) with the 6 a.m. direct flight, which is not my favorite hour to travel but I’m thinking direct flight is better than ever right now, given the high likelihood of cancelations. Friends who recently flew to see their son in Alaska from Des Moines – had problems with every leg of their trip (three flights each way).

Meanwhile I’m braced for future scheduling changes….

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Filed under Des Moines, New York

Fun Finds in Des Moines’ Highland Park Neighborhood

Why have I never explored this northeast Des Moines neighborhood at the intersection of Euclid and 6th Avenues in the 30 years I’ve lived here? I’ve driven past it and admired the oddly elegant façade of French Way Cleaners and Dryers (cq) — a 1916 light-brown brick two-story building with concrete trumpeters perched high atop brick columns ushering people into what was originally a dry cleaners (now-closed; what’s in there now? photos here; more details below) — and the Jetsons-style retro sign arching over the main drag (not sure if/where Oak Park and Highland Park diverge).

swan chair and Saarinen table at Tesoro

Yesterday, I was finally lured there after hearing about Des Moines Mercantile, a lovely, carefully-curated gift shop with an emphasis on Iowa made products – creamy beeswax candles shaped like morel mushrooms, woolen blankets from the Amana Colonies, all manner of Des Moines-made cards, hand towels, t-shirts, flags. There are also items from beyond item including a small children’s book selection that had the exact book that has been on my list for my grandson (so why not buy it here?!).

I dropped in at Hiland Bakery, which has been around since the 1940s, famed for its doughnuts. My first visit. It is a nice mix of old school bakery, with donuts, some with pastel-colored frosting, displayed in a glass case, and contemporary coffee shop, which I gather is newer, with local art hanging on exposed brick walls. There’s a hipster-looking coffee cafe next door too.

Stepping into the oddly named Tesoro Casegoods and Oddities was like walking into my parents living room in Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s. (Casegoods, I learned, refers to furniture made of hard materials, such as wood, metal, glass or plastic including chests, dressers, bookshelves, and cabinets.) The place is full of mid-century modern furniture – very expensive, sadly – by the likes of Knoll and Saarinen. Very fun to tour. Jenny’s Attic, a flea shop nearby, was more in my price range. I bought two vintage table cloths for a total of $8. Quite the contrast to the roomy display at Testones, Jenny’s Attic is a rabbit warren of cluttered shelves and smells like the smoke from the proprietor’s pipe, which he was puffing on as he rang up – or more accurately, typed in – my big purchase.

Here’s what The Society of Architectural Historians says about the French Way building: This exotic Prairie-school building has all the appearance of a bank building rather than a dry-cleaning establishment. Two brick piers break up the front, and they rise to form bases for a pair of stone figures of enthroned horn players. Balanced above and to the side of each player are large globe lights. To the sides and between the players are stone light standards in forms that almost look like fishes. The sculptural figures and light standards were produced by the local stone firm of Rowot.

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

See some of the world’s best skateboarders in, where else, Des Moines!

Biking through downtown Des Moines today, we encountered many young people riding or carrying skateboards and speaking all kinds of language. “Where are you from?” I asked one smiling handsome young guy. “Argentina!” he said with a big smile, reminding me of the fun-loving Argentinians I worked with on a kibbutz 40-some years ago.

Des Moines’s new world-class Lauridson Skatepark (reportedly the nation’s largest), overlooking the river downtown, is hosting a world-class skateboard competition, the Dew Tour, (as in Mountain Dew), that starts this Thursday May 20 and runs through May 23. Word has it the tour is the only U.S.-based Olympic skateboard qualifying event in 2021. (Skateboarding will debut as an Olympic event this summer in Tokyo, if the games happen.)

Tickets sold out in a flash but you can see the pros – and wannabes and amateurs – doing crazy stunts now, from a comfortable perch atop 2nd Street near I-235. (We rode our bikes there.) I was the one exclaiming “Oh my God!” as young men zipped up and down a pro-level course designed for world-class and amateur events. We overlooked what looked like a deep unfilled swimming pool, watching young fearless men flipping in mid-air, zipping down and back up, riding the rim of the pool and any other rim of any other structure nearby. When they got separated from their board, they’d often catch it and land like acrobats on the side wall of the pool and run down and back up. They seemed to be having the time of their lives – and I’m glad they were wearing helmets.

The skateboarders have discovered Zombie Burger in the East Village. Quite the scene, with an unlikely mix of long-haired often foul-mouthed but otherwise pleasant young skateboarders (“I met this f-king Finnish dude, f-king rad,” the skinny scraggly-haired skateboarder said to his pal at the table next to us), bikers in black leather jackets (the “Nomads” appear to be amassing), Little League families and us. Love it!

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Dancing into spring and normalcy- Des Moines

What a joy to watch live dance on a lovely spring evening WITH OTHER PEOPLE! Thank you Ballet Iowa, Hancher Auditorium and others for a great free performance and return to near-normalcy. The show moves to Iowa City tomorrow and muscatine Sunday

At waterworks park In Des Moines

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City

Big Grove Taproom – Iowa City

This sprawling taproom/restaurant with a huge outdoor patio dotted with fire pits south of the U of Iowa turned out to be a perfect place to have a beer (very good beer) after watching Northwestern play baseball against Maryland (yes, Maryland, not U of Iowa…it’s a Covid thing) on a strange weather day that began with grey skies and hail/sleet and ended with breezy sunshine. Fun afternoon with my sister Jill and her husband Scott. Only wish their son Hank, Northwestern pitcher extraordinaire could have joined us.

P.s.Sandwiches and salads for lunch at The Bread Garden also fit the bill, easy in and out before the big game.

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Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City

Riverview Playground/Amphitheater – Des Moines

I’m on the lookout for fun playgrounds for our 18-month-old grandson Linus, when he comes to visit Des Moines from Chicago, and I don’t have to look far. We rode our bikes on a gorgeous Easter Sunday along the Neal Smith trail to the new Riverview Playground and Riviera Amphitheater on the northeast side, just north of North High School.

Full of kids having a great time music-playing, climbing, swinging and jumping in an imaginative playground fashioned to resemble an old amusement park — which I believe this long-abandoned area once was. There’s also a very cool new amphitheater with a retro vibe overlooking the river and some ponds where a few people were fishing. Can’t wait to take Linus there!

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Filed under Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Where to bike in Iowa City

We have never had much luck finding a good bike trail in Iowa City — especially compared to the many well-laid out trails in Des Moines. But maybe this story will help. (I’m not a huge fan of “sponsored content” stories in the Register but this one may be worth a read.)
Iowa City offers a wide variety of urban and rural bike adventures
Michelle Martin, for Think Iowa City
Cyclists of all skill levels can find their perfect two-wheeled adventure in Iowa City this spring.

Biking has grown in popularity over the past year, and that’s expected to continue as the weather warms up this spring. But finding the right cycling route — whether it’s a leisurely countryside trek or a thrilling gravel ride –– can be challenging. Iowa City, however, is a cyclist’s paradise.

Whether it’s in the city or country, on paved or bumpy roads, or along flat or hilly paths, Iowa City has excursions for every biking enthusiast. At, riders can find maps, points of interest and special alerts for their biking adventures. Cyclists can even easily locate brewery and winery stops along the way of their planned ride!

“The Iowa City area is the perfect destination for cyclists of all styles,” said Jennifer Horn-Frasier, Iowa City resident and cycling enthusiast. “The community is designated as Bike Friendly, and that’s reflected in the hotel and restaurant amenities. Iowa City and Coralville have so much diversity in the biking options available. From mountain biking along the river to cyclocross in the woods to gravel grinding across the country roads to paved routes with conveniently placed taverns, this area really is the hidden gem for cycling destinations.”

In addition to customized excursions, the city will host the granGABLE powered by Scheels cycling event on May 1 in honor of legendary wrestler and coach Dan Gable. Cyclists can choose from the 60-mile gravel grinder, 60-mile road ride, or challenge themselves in the honor of Gable and ride the full 100-mile fondo.

Looking to ride your own adventure in Iowa City? Here are some biking excursions for people of every experience level.

Road Ride and Paved Trail Adventures

Cyclists enjoy gently rolling hills and advanced climbs on Iowa City’s paved roads and trails.

Whether it’s a short 10-mile ride along city streets or a 66-mile excursion through Amish communities, Bike Iowa City has identified road and paved trail adventures for beginner, immediate and advanced riders.

The 10-mile Lake and Fields excursion takes beginner bicyclists on streets and paved trails to ride around the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area and a soccer park –– and even makes a recommendation for a taproom stop on the way back. Meanwhile, the Peaceful Roll, also geared toward beginners, is an easy 14-mile spin over gently rolling hills and includes a recommended stop at one of the eateries in downtown Solon.

Intermediate riders will enjoy the 23-mile To the Bridge excursion, which takes them over the historic Sutliff Bridge and provides picturesque views of the Cedar River. Buggy Traffic Jam, also for intermediate riders, offers a 30-mile trek through the local Amish community.

And while Bike Iowa City’s 27-mile The Wall might not sound too taxing for advanced riders, it has 1,305 feet of climbing. For an even higher climb — and to boldly go where no man has gone before — the Everything from Buggies to Starships, a 66-mile, 1,921-foot climb, goes through the Amish communities and past the Star Trek Museum in Riverside.

Gravel Bike Adventures

A pack of cyclists pedal through the grit on a rewarding gravel bike ride.

The 25-mile beginner excursion Pancakes, Anyone? is named for its flat-like-a-pancake roads –– but it also offers three miles of minimally maintained dirt roads that are a lot of fun in good weather (use caution when riding in wet, muddy conditions). Another great beginner gravel excursion is the Octagonal Barn Loop, 25 miles of riding through farm communities –– including riding past the 1883 Secrest Octagonal Barn, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. About 18 miles into the ride, you’ll come to a 1-mile stretch of gravel road.

Intermediate riders will enjoy Westward Ho!, 53 miles and 2,506 feet of climbing through western Johnson County and along the edge of Kent State Park. And Let’s Go to the River, a 47-mile and 2,060-foot climb that begins and ends in downtown Solon, offers plenty of options for after-biking refreshments.

For advanced riders, the Gritty –– 105 miles and 2,430 feet of climbing –– takes riders from the Johnson County Fairgrounds into Riverside, the future home of Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk. It continues through Amish farms and into the town of Tiffin before ending with a relaxing descent home. And although October is when gravel riders test themselves with the Iowa City Gravel Event, advanced riders can do it any time along the Iowa City Gravel Imperial Century excursion. The ride goes from River Junction across the Sutliff Bridge, past the Secrest Octagonal Barn and past a few small, but highly recommended, watering holes.

Off-road Adventures

For the ultimate challenge, cyclists go off-road in Iowa City!

A short six miles, the Woodpecker Single Track is ideal for beginners and intermediate riders. It starts at the Tom Harken Trailhead and travels through a wooded area along Clear Creek in Coralville. (It’s also popular with beginner and intermediate fat tire bike riders.) There are a lot of wooden bridges, sandy soil and families of deer along the way –– and in winter, local riders often enjoy a stop to go snowshoeing.

Another great off-road excursion is Sugar Bottom, appropriate for all experience levels. The Sugar Bottom Recreation Area offers 12 miles and 1,400 feet of climbing along hand-built trails. Camping is also available in the recreation area.

Cyclocross and Fat Bike Adventures

Cyclocross riders of all levels will enjoy Coralville Creekside Cross, a 2.6-mile single track course in the featuring scenic views, wooden bridges and flow features. The path is open July 1 through winter, and again when the spring thaw begins.

And for cyclocross enthusiasts, the Jingle Cross Cyclocross Festival –– scheduled Oct. 15-17, 2021 –– is a must-experience event as it is once again a stop on the UCI World Cup circuit, bringing the best in the world to the Midwest. More information is available at

Those who are new to fat bike riding will enjoy visiting the Terry Trueblood Recreation Area at the site of the annual I AM FAT Fat Bike Enduro. The recreation area offers three miles of trails and 12 feet of climbing.

“When visiting cyclists leave Iowa City, they are already planning their next trip back to see what else they can try,” said Nick Pfeiffer, vice president of marketing at Think Iowa City, the local visitors information center. “That’s the beauty of the area. It constantly reinvents itself.”

Ready to start planning your next biking adventure in Iowa City? Visit and

Members of the editorial and news staff of the USA TODAY Network were not involved in the creation of this content.


Filed under DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Iowa City