Category Archives: RECREATION

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, Iowa City, Uncategorized

Great new biking option in DSM – Des Moines River Trail/Carl Voss trail to Easter Lake

We’ve cycled along the Des Moines River Trail from downtown at Mullets southeast to the Cownie Soccer fields but yesterday we discovered the trail has recently been extended about six more miles to Easter Lake and it’s a glorious ride that is surprisingly rural in parts (for a city trail). (Turns out this leg of the trail is named after an old friend and now city councilman Carl Voss!)

We passed a lush soybean field and rode through the woods along the river to Easter Park, which we’ve also spent little time at. The Park has a wonderful six-mile trail looping around it and through it with nice playgrounds, cool bridges (including a red covered bridge — shades of the Bridges of Madison County). We found a perfect picnic spot on one bring crossing the late — a stylish high-top circular table with two high-top metal seats, where we ate as a few canoeists paddle below us and some pimply teens goofed around and played Lynyrd Skynrd  louder than we’d like but hey, it’s a public park.

Leave a comment

Filed under bike trails, biking, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Welcome improvements on the Raccoon River Valley Trail – west of Des Moines

Two years ago, when I wrote a cover story about the Raccoon River Valley Trail  for  Rails to Trails magazine, the trail was looking good. Now it’s even better, as promised two years ago.  Where the trail intersects with gravel roads, the section you ride over is now paved – rather than gravel, which is a huge improvement. There is also  new landscaping here and there – some with new amenities such as picnic tables — which is also greatly appreciated.

It was hot and humid on the trail yesterday, which may explain why we had the 12-mile stretch from Redfield to Panora almost to ourselves. Lovely autumn landscape (despite the summary weather) with wide expanses of yellowing corn and still-green soy beans and old barns and bright blue silos in the distance. In the tiny town of Linden (a midway point), we had a lovely picnic at a table under an overhang in a small park. No one around other than the occasional piece of farm machinery rumbling by. In Panora, we stopped trailside at the Kick Stop for some ice cream and met some fellow riders from….the Czech Republic (they’ve lived in Ames, home of Iowa State  U., for years). Great day and welcome reminder of what I love about living in Iowa.

Leave a comment

Filed under bike trails, biking, Des Moines

Elizabeth Warren, Slipknot,Pork Belly on a stick at 2019 Iowa State Fair – Des Moines

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.

Dirck and “Captain,” the big boar (2157 pounds)

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…

Leave a comment

Filed under Agritourism, Des Moines, Iowa City

One glorious day of Ragbrai riding…

…was enough for me. I thoroughly enjoyed the 39.9 mile (i.e. 40 mile) ride on Day 3 of RAGBRAI from Winterset to Indianola in central Iowa. Glorious weather, fun biking companions (my docent friend Judy and her friend Carole, from Fort Dodge, and Carole’s daughter.).

The ride wasn’t as hilly as I feared – but hilly enough, which was a challenge for me psychologically (not to mention physically) because after breaking my arm twice, I’ve become even more cautious. I braked a lot on the downhills, which were further complicated by the often rough condition of the roads (a big crack down the middle at times, bumpy patches and other cracks). Sadly, the danger I perceived was real — three riders landed in the hospital, some with what sounds like serious injuries. Part of the issue too is that there were so many riders and I’m partly to blame for that. Like many Des Moines residents, I jumped on the ride for a day because it was coming so close to home.

As we arrived in Indianola, after some hills that felt gratuitous to include on the route. I was surprised to see a big hole in the center of the square where apparently the old courthouse is being replaced with a new “justice center.” Apparently the festivities were actually nearby — on the Simpson U. campus. (News to me.) I did find Outer Scoop on Jefferson, for some great and much-deserved ice cream.

Leave a comment

Filed under biking, Des Moines, Uncategorized

Improvising on the bike trails in Des Moines

Bike Riding in Norway (not DSM) in June 2018

Spring – and Des Moines’ bike trails beckon! But this spring, like many others, is tricky for riders (and walkers), thanks to flooding and construction. On our first ride of the season, yesterday — a gorgeous spring Easter Sunday — D and I set out on the Inter-urban Trail north of our house in Beaverdale and rode east toward the Neal Smith/Dorrian trail along the Des Moines River.   Within minutes, we encountered flooding and closures. Nevertheless, we persisted.

Crossing the trestle bridge over the river, we ended up going straight on a new dirt trail spur that led us toward McHenry Park (we think) and then back onto the Smith/Dorrian trail briefly. As we figured, the portion of the trail hugging the river north of Birdland Marina was flooded but we didn’t expect the road paralleling the trail to be torn up (apparently under construction). Instead of navigating dirt and gravel,  we ended up walking our bikes up a grassy embankment and taking what turned out to be another detour, in an industrial area near North High. We ended up just south of Union Park and Birdland Marina, where we again encountered torn up trail so we walked our bikes up the hill past Captain Roy’s, a popular riverside bar and restaurant. (Braver souls rode on the street.) From there we had smooth sailing past the Botanical Center into the East Village, past Principal Park and west along the Raccoon River to Gray’s Lake where we encountered more construction but it was easily navigated, in part because the road around the lake is closed to cars so it’s wide open for bikers and walkers.

More smooth sailing in Waterworks Park, even along the river where there is often flooding. And no issues — except my out-of-shape body (this was my first ride in nine months, since breaking my arm in July 2018 in Norway) — as we chugged up the road past Ashworth Pool, Greenwood Park, The Des Moines Art Center and along Polk Boulevard and Roosevelt High school home to Forestdale. Oh happy day!

Leave a comment

Filed under bike trails, biking, Des Moines, DESTINATIONS - Iowa, Uncategorized

Gorgeous day for a tour of Iowa barns – in central Iowa.

We should have set aside more time but in three hours we still managed to visit four distinctive barns in Central Iowa (Story and Marshall Counties) on a spectacularly beautiful early Autumn day. Thanks to the Iowa Barn Foundation for making this opportunity possible, free of charge (although I now realize I need to make a donation to support the foundation’s worthy work of preserving Iowa’s old barns, and in the process, its rural heritage and agricultural history.)

The hardest part of the two-day fall tour — held annually  statewide (the spring tour focuses on one geographic region) — was deciding where to go since there are so many barns on display. The Foundation breaks the state into nine geographic regions, which is a helpful start. I looked at the regions closest to Des Moines (central and south central) to see how many barns are listed and their locations. I thought we’d head southeast to Madison County but a few minutes into the drive, as I was looking closer at the Foundation’s list, I realized that Story and Marshall Counties had some particularly cool barns and a few were within miles of each other so we could see several in an afternoon. My patient driver (Dirck) switched course and we drove northeast instead.

Some other tour-goers I met told me that the Foundation used to provide maps showing the specific locations of the barns/farms, which would be helpful. Without that, some tour-goers now map out their tour in advance — which is a smart idea and an improvement upon my last-minute geographical plotting. Although in remote locations, we found the barns easily, thanks to  GPS and 911 emergency system requirements that the smallest of gravel roads have names or at least numbers.

The four barns we visited differed  in terms of architecture and degree of restoration — although they were all similarly situated, on remote gravel roads in the countryside, usually beside a pretty old farmhouse and a prosaic modern metal shed that has largely replaced traditional barns. As my resident ag expert explained, old barns weren’t built for today’s agriculture. They don’t have big enough doors or enough space for large machinery.  And today’s livestock hang out outside, unless they’re stuck in big metal confinement sheds.

The experience of visiting each barn also differed. At the first barn in the small town of Fernald, north of Colo, – a rare square barn built in 1875 and restored in 2004 – we pulled up to a farmstead with no signs of life, but the door was open to the pretty red-painted wood barn with a limestone foundation, accented by nearby pink and orange asters.  Great that we could walk right in, where we found a sign-in book and a table laden with plastic containers full of sweets – sweet rolls, Kringla, cup cakes, cookies, brownies, chocolates. No invitation to partake and no place to donate. I couldn’t resist trying a few sweets – including a decadent peanut cluster and German Sweet Chocolate brownie.

Built on a farm bought by the Handsaker family in 1853, the square barn inside was very rustic — they all were, with late afternoon yellow light filtering in through the windows and spaces between the wood plank walls, spotlighting the interior’s sturdy latticework of wooden beams.  (Because the barns were built before electricity, and electric lights. they often have lots of windows and natural light.) It was refreshing to wander around with no directions or posted cautions couched in legalese (i.e. warnings about taking your life into your own hands by walking on narrow rickety steps up to the barn’s second floor hay loft or wandering on the sometimes less that solid feeling wood planks of the second floor, past openings with sheer drops to the bottom floor.) The downside is that these barns were definitely not built to be disabled-accessible.  We brought our dog Millie along and had to keep her on a leash to make sure she didn’t do anything stupid/harmful.

Two women later pulled up from Pottawatomie County (near Council Bluffs, about two hours west) and they appeared to be tour veterans. I got the impression they pick a different region to tour each year.  One woman has received a grant from the foundation to restore her grandfather’s 1905 barn near Oakland, Iowa. I need to find out more about the Foundation’s grant-making but I gather it awards grants for restoration that recipients must match – and they also must agree to open their barn to public view during the tour. I also gather the Foundation lives on private donations. One barn owner told us they got a $50,000 grant. I don’t know what the max or min or average is. Or how much that covers of what can be very costly restoration projects.

At the second barn we visited in Colo –a more traditional straight-walled barn built in 1885 —  we joined four other people (three from Ames, one from Nevada – the state, not the small Iowa town near Ames)  on a  casual tour mid-stream led by the young owner who along with his wife has taken on the barn restoration as a hobby after moving to the farmstead a few years ago. Unlike some owners we met, they’re not farmers.  They both work in Ames but wanted to  live out in the country on an acreage. They do have some cattle and pumpkins growing in the garden and a beautiful Victorian farm house with a tasteful modern day addition. Their partially red-painted barn in on the National Historic Register and they are doing intensive labor to rebuilt the inside to near original state, with plank-and-batten siding/paneling (aka board-and-batten or wainscoting that alternates wide boards and narrow wooden strips called battens) and using original materials (white oak, pine, cottonwood) which has meant finding and bringing back wood from Wisconsin by rail and then by truck, as well as wood found online (“I’m a Craig’s list junkie,” he told us.) They are taking advantage of modern-day technology by using power tools rather than hand drills.

Unlike some of the owners, these owners did not grow up with or inherit their barn/farm so they have spent considerable time trying to figure out what various bits of the barn were used for and what materials they need to restore it. They hope to have the job done in a few years.

“I really do love doing this  kind of stuff – I don’t golf or play softball so I get out here to use my brain for a different purpose. I read a lot,” he told us. Noting how the  heavy wooden timbers are help together with wooden pegs (not nails) at the joints, he said, “When you think about all the ingenuity back then, it’s kind of staggering. It’s basically like a wood ship built,  upside down.”

The Barn Foundation’s website (full of interesting material) includes a piece by the previous owner written for the 2015 all-state barn tour, with great historical info:  The barn was built by an Irish family (the Mulcahys) who bought the land in 1872 from the federal government and they owned it until 1999 when it was bought, improbably, by a young couple from New York City who wanted to raise their kids on a farm. They started with the renovation- pouring a new foundation, putting on a wood shingle roof, and hiring “frame straighteners to square the roof.” Without this, the barn would have collapsed. The next owner (and author of this history) from Texas found the barn in distress, a decade after its renovation. He started another restoration, with a matching grant from the Iowa Barn Foundation. He loved the “old world air” of the farmstead, which includes other 19th-century burilindgs including two corn cribs, two chicken houses and a coal building. Interestingly, he notes: “I did not restore the barn to perfection; I believe one loses the historical essence of something when you replace all the parts with new. To that end, I’ve kept the original siding on the barn, warts and all. The barn has a sound foundation, roof, good doors and windows, plus nice red paint with white trim work. It looks like a structure that has survived the test of time and will for many years to come.”

The third barn (on Elmnolle Farm in State Center) is a massive round barn (65 foot diameter), made of peeling white-painted wood and a stucco roof, built in 1919 from a pre-cut kit designed and made to order in Davenport, Iowa. It cost $6000. I’ve seen a few round barns from the road but they are even cooler inside. They feel almost like cathedrals, the ceiling is so high and curved. There is a massive (12 x 35) clay block silo in the middle (built with blocks from Lansing, Michigan), surrounded by 13 dairy cow stanchions, five double horse stalls, two box stalls, two grain rooms, a milk room and tack room. Truly a “general purpose barn.” The barn is topped by a large round cupola with windows, louvers and a conical roof.

Although oddly round, the barn still has a classic inverted U-shaped, gambrel roof, aka “Dutch or barn-style roof,” which wikipedia tells me is a symmetrical two-sided roof with two slopes on each side, the first slope shallow the second steep, which is good for water run-off (preventing mold and mildew) but not as good as other roof styles at withstanding heavy snow or high winds. But the owner told us the barn’s overall round shape was, at the time, considered sturdier and better able to withstand strong winds than a straight-sided barn.

Considered experimental, back in the day, it was interesting to learn how the barn was laid out, like theater-in-the-round, for agriculture – apparently round barns were thought to make more sense space-wise than a more traditional barn, providing more storage and a circular layout so it’s easier to get to things than having to walk down long narrow corridors.    This barn was part of a century farm, which means the same family has owned it for 100 years. The woman showing us around turned out to owner of a parked nearby with the Georgia plates. She and her husband live there and here, on the farm first owned by her grandfather (“he was a little forward-thinking” she replied when I asked if people thought he was crazy to build a round barn)  and then her father (born the farm in 1916) and then her (born on the farm in 1941).

“As a little girl I loved to tag along behind my dad,” she recalls, although girls and women didn’t do as much farm work in those days as they do today. “I finally go to do a few things” including stacking hay. “It was scratchy and it was dirty.”

The round barn needs a new roof and shingles – no small or cheap task – and a new second-level floor, a bigger project than the maintenance effort they envisioned when they applied for their first grant of $50,000. They have been encouraged to apply for another.

The fourth barn, red-painted wood, restored in 2006, had a lovely little cupola at the top and the owners had a thick scrapbook full of family photos and mementos from the many years the barn has been in the family. One was a hand drawn map with the names and locations of various horses that bunked in the barn. The cupola says 1906 on it but apparently that marks the date when the barn was moved, a little back from its original location nearer the road. The owner didn’t know how old the barn was but said it was on the property when his grandfather bought the farm in 1893. The owner pointed out handprints in the cement floor – made by his grandfather as a child and his sister. Although the barn is now empty, he said it used to house milk cows and hay bales. And the current owners kids kept goats, horses, sheep and pigs in the barn.

Leave a comment

Filed under Agritourism, DESTINATIONS - Iowa

Priya Indian, Rays – suburban Detroit 

  • E4BB38C9-2ED7-485D-9EDD-0B8AFA556349.jpegWe had good Indian food at Priya near Troy, including onion badjis (which the restaurant called onion pakora) and dosa, a southern Indian crepe, plus more traditional  fare like saag and shrimp tikka masala. Then onto Rays ice cream in royal oak where the kiddie scoop I got was just as enormous as the regular scoop. Not complaining.
  • Had a bit of a scare when Noah and I couldn’t find my moms memorial bench in the park on scotia road in Huntington Woods. We found it has been relocated temporarily to city hall while the park is being redone.
  • 98550806-10AA-4F82-8C1C-074612185956.jpeg


Leave a comment

Filed under Adventure travel, Michigan, Uncategorized

Riding a new almost-loop along both sides of the Des Moines River – in DSM

Whether biking, walking or driving, I always prefer going in a loop — returning a different way than the one I just rode, walked or drove.  New scenery, new experiences, new, new, new! But it’s not always easy- – especially on bike trails around Des Moines.

Now we have a new almost-loop that takes us north of our Beaverdale/Drake Neighborhood, on both sides of the Des Moines River, thanks to the new improved bridge on NW 66th Avenue that crosses the river.  It’s all about “connectivity” — in this case connecting the Inter-Urban Trail to the Trestle to Trestle Trail , along the river’s west bank, to the Neal Smith Trail, along the river’s east bank. It’s not perfect — the second connection still requires navigating residential streets — but it’s better than it used to be.

From our house, we ride north to the intersection of  Urbandale Avenue and 34th street, where we hop on the Inter-Urban trail, winding through the woods eastward, across  30th street on Urbandale Avenue, past the HyVee on ML King Blvd and onto the  Trestle to Trestle Trail, riding north to the Des Moines suburb of Johnston.

In the bad old days, we used to turn around when we got to the ice cream shop (Van Dees) in Johnston (where all good trails should lead) and retrace our route. Or we’d dare to wend our way north and east on neighborhood streets (including the once-scary NW 66th Avenue bridge) to connect to the Neal Smith Trail, where we’d ride south on the river’s east bank.

Now, thanks to the new bridge, getting to the river’s east side is a breeze — a pleasant discovery we made last Sunday.

The NW 66th Ave. bridge now has a self-contained bike lane!  On the west side of the bridge, there also is a new section of paved trail that leads briefly into the woods, away from the car traffic.  In the past, we had to ride on a sidewalk along the busy road to the bridge and then share the bridge road (which narrows) with cars.  At least once, we almost got blown over by passing cars while riding on the bridge’s slim and rough shoulder. NOT FUN!

Thanks to the new bridge, we can now ride safely to the east side of the river, head south to the  (Wakonsa) Trestle Bridge and then retrace our route on to the Inter-Urban trail and home.





Leave a comment

Filed under bike trails, biking, Des Moines

Sjolinds, Driftless Historium, Military Ridge State Trail biking, Grumpy troll, Blue Mounds, Stewart Lake, Marcine’s — in and around Mt. Horeb, WI

1horebpix2 (2)

Stone House airbnb Mt. Horeb

Playing catch up.  On Sunday, we met our friend Jane for breakfast at Sjolinds (“shoe” linds)  in downtown Mount Horeb – cheerful Scandinavia fare (tried the Scandinavian fruit soup, bit too gelatinous for me and certainly for Dirck). We got a sneak peak at the very impressive Driftless Historium, a new local history museum (that I’m writing a story about) and then attempted to ride bikes in 94 degree heat on the Military Ridge State Trail. The trail is packed dirt and stone but really lovely. But the heat kept us from going far. We went a few miles east, which was all downhill (we barely peddled) but, of course, uphill on the return; Then we went a few more miles west which was more level but less shady and closer to the highway.

Mount Horeb’s Grumpy Troll brewpub was packed with hot sweaty people like us — including several motorcyclists.  We ended up on the second floor, eating newly introduced nachos. Pleasant place. And cool temps! To really cool off, we went to the local swimming hole — Stewart Lake County Park — which reminded me a bit of Ithaca.  Small body of water, murky and warm on top, colder toward the bottom, lined with woods including the occasional white birch (my favorite). Across from the sandy beach, some kids took turns climbing up a sagging pine tree and jumping when they reached the top. Dangerous but looked like fun. We drove to nearby Blue Mounds and spotted people eating ice cream cones on the porch of the local convenience store so we joined them. (The one employee was very busy scooping cones and working the cash register.) Onto Blue Mound State Park where we climbed up a high old wooden observation tower (I got a splinter holding onto the railing) for a stupendous view of rolling green Wisconsin dairyland – with pristine red wood/stone foundation barns, century farms with white farmhouses, the occasional golden limestone house like the stunner we airbnbed in. As our friend Jane suggested, we drove from the park along Ryan Road (near Highway F) for more glorious views from high on a ridge. We also drove past  Campo Di Bella Winery which also offers farm-to-table meals and farm stays. Looks promising!

Dinner was classic townie – Marcine’s, a tavern in the small town of Mount Vernon, that Jane took us to. Fortunately we just missed the band (which could have been very loud) but sat at high top tables and drank beer and ate very good burgers. Place was packed.  Later, we finally could really enjoy the porch at our airbnb (cooler temps, fewer bugs), where we sat on a quiet night and chatted with our airbnb host Nina, a former professional juggler who does various jobs now (including helping out at the famous Bleu Mont Dairy in Blue Mounds).


Leave a comment

Filed under bike trails, biking, Madison, Wisconsin