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).
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.
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
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.
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
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 BikeIowaCity.com, 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
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
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.
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 jinglecross.com.
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.”
We almost never stay at a hip hotel but decided to bunk at The Hotel Vetro, a sleek high rise overlooking Iowa city’s ped mall (a mixed bag, we discovered) during a February trip here to see/hear Rosanne Cash at University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium. (Nice to hear a female singer whose voice has held up as she’s gotten older.)
Although we decided to stay overnight because I was concerned about possible snow or ice-slicked roads common in February, the weather was actually fine. So we could have barreled home on Interstate 80 after the concert. But it was nice not to have to. I looked for our usual cheap Airbnb or old school bed & breakfast but the Hotel Vetro room ($144) was fairly comparable price wise so we went for it. It was fun to be right in the middle of the action downtown — except late at night when loud kids left the many bars. I could hear women’s piercing laughter and yelling in particular, especially near closing time at 2 a.m. (I developed a sudden intense cold so didn’t sleep most of the night, even without the drunk kids.)
We went to a few favorite shops – Textiles, Design Ranch, Active Endeavors,Iowa artisans…and made obligatory book purchases at Prairie Lights. Dinner at Pullman’s was excellent – crunchy slightly spicy fried chicken with soft biscuits and fresh honey, a burger sandwich with crispy fries and who knew they have homemade grapefruit for this sneezing customer?
Hancher is always a great. We love the new Caesar Pelli building, much more than the previous one destroyed by a flood. I’ve gotten to the age where I appreciate watching a band (in this case folk/Americana with five excellent musicians) from the comfort of a plush seat. It felt very relaxing, civilized. Okay, I’m getting old (although I did sit in a patch of dirt on a hillside last summer for the Hinterland festival outside Des Moines, listening to live music by Brandi Carlisle, Maggie Rogers, etc.)
Brunch was at the fabulous Rapid City Cidery, in an airy building made of old barn wood overlooking an apple orchard (Wilson’s) in the countryside just north of Iowa City. Operated by the James Beard Foundation-nominated former chef/owner of the now-closed Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon, Iowa, the cidery’s food did not disappoint. My omelette had perfectly cooked fresh fancy mushrooms, olives and feta. Dirck’s more standard fare was all about fresh ingredients prepared well – two bright yellow fried eggs, long pieces of crunchy bacon, roasted potatoes, a biscuit served with homemade apple butter. We need to get back there some day for dinner.
I wouldn’t normally go to the Iowa State Fair on a Saturday — too busy. But I wanted to catch Elizabeth Warren’s brief stint on the Des Moines Register’s famous political soapbox, so we went. It was hot, although not as hot as it could have been, and very very crowded but we did get to see Liz, who performed well and apparently had the largest crowd of all the 2019 Democratic political candidates, to date. (I couldn’t tell – -we were in the thick of the crowd, standing next to a young documentary filmmaker from L.A. who was shooting footage for a film about the Iowa State Fair’s role in presidential politics, or some such.)
We also happened to hear former Colorado Governor Hickenlooper, who seems like a good guy — and although we skipped the Cory Booker soapbox appearance, we passed him and a large entourage, reportedly in search of vegen-worthy fair food. Speaking of non-vegan-worthy food, I fell hard for the maple syrup cured-pork belly on a stick sold at the Iowa Pork Producers tent.
While Dirck had a proper pork chop, I went full stick — with what looked like a thick piece of well-cooked bacon, with a brown chewy gooey sweet glaze, twisted around a stick. Delicious. We double dipped in the ice cream department — getting a cone from the Iowa Dairy Producers early on and as we were leaving, a Bauder’s peppermint-hot fudge bar that we split.
The fair always makes for exceptional people watching but even more so this year because of the political campaign workers/reporters (telltale signs: a Princeton T-shirt, the DC regulation gear – blue button down shirt and khaki combo, etc), the unnerving folks wearing NRA T-shirts, camouflage gear and/or Trump 2020 shirts (Dirck had to restrain me from shooting them dirty looks. Probably best to ignore them.) Also, the hard metal band Slipknot (internationally-known, Iowa-born) was playing its first ever state fair concert to a sell-out crowd so there were some 20,000 maggots (slipknot speak for “fans”) — many wearing menacing black Slipknot t-shirts or other weirdo Slipknot gear (bright orange jumpsuits, creepy face masks like the band members). Many waited in a long line outside a trailer dubbed the “Slipknot Museum” that was parked in the middle of the Grand Concourse (fair speak for the fair’s main drag). It all added a little je ne sais quoi to the fair…
We somehow managed to drive from Des Moines to Chicago last night without directly encountering any of the storms that were popping up all around us. Outside Iowa City on I-80, we saw scary looking white clouds (which may or may not have produced the tornado we learned touched down about 25 minutes before we passed through) and in Illinois, lightning lit up the dark night just south of us and north of us off and on. Needless to say, we were very happy when we got to Chicago around midnight.
Today, the weather was much more pleasant than anticipated in Chicago, sunny and warm instead of rainy. We spent two hours at the scoula on the second floor of eataly, taking a very fun cheese and wine tasting class that emma and rocket got me for my birthday. Great gift idea and we sampled 6 cheeses, and 3 “natural” wines and learned everything we ever wanted to know about to cheese from the cheesemonger.
Cheeses we tried and enjoyed (all of those served): casa Madaio, Canestrato, Campania; Jasper hill, Bayley Haven Blue, Vermont; Agriform,, Parmigiano; Arrigoni, quartirolo Lombardo; ca de’ambros, Nocetto di capra (goat cheese) Guffanti, sola…wine: micro Marriott I, Bianco dell’emilia
Dinner was very good at a place with the unappetizing name:Income Tax in Edgewater. Mediterranean fare.
A high school classmate I haven’t seen since high school (i.e. 41 years ago) who lives in Iowa City introduced me to a restaurant there – Crepes DeLuxe. It’s a charming little hole in the wall just east of the PedMall (and the public library). I recommend the salmon crepe. I also did a little shopping, finding a very warm hat/scarf at White Rabbit and some great clothes (Simpli brand!) on sale (albeit still pricey) at Textiles.
I also toured the U of Iowa Women’s Archives, on the third floor of the main library, which has a remarkable collection of papers, journals and memorabilia from Iowa women dating back to the 1800’s. Wandering through library shelves with archival boxes, glancing at the neat labels, I found everything from prominent politicians and philanthropists to rural/farm women, African-American women, Jewish women and Latinas in Iowa. Proud to say that someday, it will also include my journals, 73 and counting, which I’ve kept daily since I was 13. I really enjoyed looking at a farm woman’s journal from the 1880’s – with yellowed pages and faded ink. Her family wisely took it upon themselves to transcribe the journal for posterity onto crisp typed sheets. (Although I won’t be asking my family to follow suit…)
Opened in 1992 by Des Moines philanthropist/activist/feminist/art collector Louise Noun and Mary Chase Smith (an Iowan who chaired the Republican National Committee in the 1970s), the Women’s Archives is one of only a few in the country, I gather. Noun, a major art collector, sold one of her Frida Kahlo paintings for $1.65 million to endow the archive.
More from Wikipedia:
The idea was conceived by Noun in the 1960s while researching Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa. To fund the archives, Noun sold Frida Kahlo‘s 1947 painting “Self-Portrait with Loose Hair” at Christie’s New York for 1.65 million dollars. The sale set a record for the most expensive work by a Latin American artist ever sold at auction. The painting was originally purchased by Noun for $85,000 in 1983. The University of Iowa Foundation undertook fundraising to contribute half a million dollars for the archives, which opened in 1992. The Louise Noun-Mary Louise Smith Iowa Women’s Archives is open to the public and currently contains over 1100 manuscript collections of personal papers and records which record women’s history in Iowa and other communities.
I’ve lately become obsessed with the music of young singer-songwriter Julien Baker, so I was delighted to see she’ll be in Iowa City during the six-day Mission Creek Festival in April (she’s playing at Gabe’s on April 7, from what I can tell.) Also see S. Carey is part of the festival too…which has me thinking I need to look into the festival itself! Here’s more information: http://missioncreekfestival.com/
What a treat to see the NYC Ballet for the first time in ages – and the first time in Iowa. Apparently, this was the company’s first visit to Iowa City, so I’m guessing it’s the first visit to Iowa since Iowa City hosts the state’s best dance performances (although Des Moines is improving!). The company was superb, as always, and it was a particular treat to see Iowa City native Miriam Miller dance – including in a sensational, sensual duet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (who choreographed The Joffrey’s new nutcracker, which we saw last year during our first visit to the new Hancher.) Speaking of which, the new Hancher is stunning — I like it better than the old one. It feels smaller, more intimate, more vertical than horizontal, more peaceful with calming colors (seafoam green, grey, tan wood) and plush upholstered seats. Having sat in the balcony and on the floor, close to the stage, I’m not sure there is a seat with a bad view. (Our floor seats were way off to the side but we saw the vast majority of the stage.).
Dinner was a Takanami– for sushi and tempura, which was a nice change from all the heavy food we ate in the Deep South. We couldn’t deal with more burgers, ribs or fried chicken. We were tempted to try the new (or new to us) Szechuan Chinese restaurant, Bashu, that opened where the Linn Street Cafe used to be but it looked a little too authentic for a before-theater/meal. Didn’t want to get an upset stomach. Locals seem to be loyal to Szechuan House.