I'm off down the black top roads of South Dakota and after a couple of twists and turns, I cross over the Big Sioux River into Iowa. Soon I am on the edge of the tiny town of Inwood travelling towards Rock Valley where I had lived for a couple years after college. My sister currently calls the small town of approximately 2,700 people home but I won't spend a lot of time in my blog talking about it's history. I will provide a link to the town's history page in case you want to read more. ( LINK ) As I get to the corner to turn towards town I decide to head straight and bypass it. Driving through this part of northwest Iowa is quite familiar to me as my father grew up here and many of my relatives still live in the area. We made many trips this direction or the usual family gatherings and my families homestead farm, where my grandparents lived, is close by also. Today my aunt and uncle live there as it continues to be in the family.
On my drive today I decide to limit the number of towns I travel through as I am in the mood for open road and each town means a 35 mile an hour stall. I turn down a blacktop I have never driven to avoid one of these towns and to head south. It ends up being pretty normal drive through the countryside with the road as straight as an arrow and brown crops patiently waiting to be harvested on each side. It is Sunday mid morning and there is only an occasional truck or car to meet. After a quick glance at my watch, I realize how far I have left to travel and that I should be a little closer to my destination then I am. Any site seeing plans need to be boycotted so that I can stay fashionably late and not miss the whole celebration. I decide to bypass the little towns of Primghar (history link) and Pallina (history link) in order to save a little time, but the speed limit of 55 and having to make more corners only allows so much progress. I guess being a fashionably late for a leisure afternoon is not the worst thing in the world. As I get a little closer, some panic sets in as I cannot exactly remember the route I need to take in order to come from this direction (the back way). My parents place is to the east of the park and I am coming from the west so it is not the usual route we would take to get there and being a little late I don't want to go out of my way to come the direction we used go. That would put me at least 45 minutes late verse 10-15 now. I decide that there has to be signs leading to the park and that I need to trust my instincts as I have come this way before, it has just been a while. I finally arrive to the edge of Peterson, Iowa (history link) and the road I want to travel down is blocked by those orange and white road closed barricades. Just as I am about to continue the long way around, I see a truck coming down the hill just on the other side of the barricades. It travels past me and turns so since there is room to pass and it being Sunday, I decide to take a chance on the closed road and see if I can make it through. I drive a couple of miles and am pleased that there is no limits for my passing this direction today. I am reassured that this is also the right road as I spot a directional sign for the park on the corner of an old country road. I have found my way and soon I slow down to make the corner onto the gravel road. It is a great fall day with clear blue skies and an occasional white puff of cloud. As I drive the five or so miles down the gravel road with dust billowing from behind, I begin to reflect on growing up and how this
small section of Iowa shaped me. Formed by the Little Sioux River, there is plenty of hills followed by valleys and beautiful scenery for one to enjoy. This year has been pretty dry so everything is brown but smells so much like fall. The rolling hills greet me as I travel and soon I
come to the entrance of the park and the shelter my family has reserved for our gathering. I am the last one to arrive and once again I am greeted by my nieces and nephews in full force. Wow, how I love that. My mom, sister, and brother's wives are hard at work getting the lunch ready as the kids are outside running around and enjoying the wonderful weather. Soon we eat and it is time for us to head out and do some exploring. The best part of this park is that it is a conservation area and has a lot of trails and areas to investigate. If we are lucky we may even see some wildlife. As a kid growing up, my family would come here and have picnics, go tubing in the winter, and do some hiking. As I got older our school would load us into yellow buses and bring us here for field trips to learn about conservation, our church youth group would come to spend a Sunday afternoon, and my college friends and I would stop here after we canoed down the Little Sioux River not very far away for the perfect end to a lazy afternoon. After lunch, my sister, the youngsters, and I head to our first destination, one of the many playgrounds on the park premises. My nieces and nephews enjoy the monkey bars, the slide, and of course the swings as I become the master of the underdog. After a while my brothers and dad show up and we decide to go on a hike just like when we were kids. We set off for the look out point where we as a family would often have our picnics. It is a campground site complete with grill, open air shelter, and fire pit overlooking the valley beyond and just at the trail head of our favorite path. Before we get to the campsite today, we take a small detour to enjoy the piles of oak leaves that have fallen from the trees and accumulated. The kids have so much fun burying each other and hiding from one other in the dusty dried leaves. I have such a wonderful time just watching them and actually getting involved from time to time.
They get bored with it after about a half an hour, or maybe it is the adults that get bored and so it becomes time to head to the trail and take our hike. The clouds in the sky have disappeared so their is blue skies that seem so endless as we begin our journey. Our childhood favorite picnic spot is still well maintained and ready for guests. Today there is no one there so my siblings and I pause for a moment to remember as the nieces and nephews hurry ahead and begin the steep descent down the hillside. Like any well travelled trail down a sharp incline, this one has become a place for hikers as well as rain water to to find its way to the small creek below. The soil on the trail has eroded and the local conservation team has installed some logs to stop further erosion, which act as steps for us today but it is a little treacherous. About half way down the hill, there is a scream from ahead and my smallest niece begins to cry. She has fallen head first down into the tree root just a step or two below her. Skinning her cheek and chin a bit, we pause a minute to console her. Fortunately. although tramatic for her, it is a small set back and soon we are able to continue on down the trail encouraging the kids to stay behind with the adults to keep this from happening again.
A forest of oak trees surround us as we walk at the bottom of the hill keeping an eye out for signs of wildlife. My brother spots some deer rubs on the local bushes along the walkway. His boys get the kids all excited about this find as they have spent some time out with their dad hunting. During the trek, I get a little more time to catch up individually with each of my siblings and enjoy the wonderful fall beauty. After some distance we come to a portion of the path that is quite steep again and we will need to maneuver in order to get up to the shelter. One bad thing about starting a hike on a hill going down, you will always have to go back up at some point and time. Our time to journey back up is now, so we slowly navigate the slightly twisting path until we reach the summit. To our surprise we have walked further then we thought and have found ourselves at the other shelter house and playground area. No way, this means we are on the other side of the valley and upon peering out one can see where we need to be. The obstacle in the way is the old sledding hill where we as children enjoyed a cold winter day riding inter tubes down the snow covered slope. Today the hill is covered with brown grass, laying in wait for the first snow of the winter. We decide there is no sense in waiting as we must descend down the hill and then climb back up the other side in order to get to mom who is waiting at the shelter with my sister n laws for our return and the birthday cake.
Down and up the hill we travel and of course the kids all make the journey much quicker then the adults. I am sure it is because dad was with us and we wanted to make sure he made the climb OK. We get to the shelter house and settle down to relax a while after singing the usual birthday song and mom and dad distinguish the candles. Of course the cake has a windmill on it and how appropriate for this journey to Iowa. After enjoying some cake and ice cream, it is time to clean up and head back to Minneapolis for my flight. There is one final stop to make before heading that direction. The annual visit to my parents farm to wander the pumpkin patch in search of the perfect jack o lantern. Each year my father plants pumpkins and in the fall, all the nieces and nephews find time before Halloween to come by and pick out a pumpkin or two for their carving. It is a great tradition for them and for my parents to be a part of their lives. I am extremely happy this year I was able to assist them in their quest for the perfect pumpkin.
Well - this concludes my trip back to Iowa blog. I sure hope you have enjoyed the journey with me (part 1 - part 2 - part 3 - part 4) and I look forward to sharing future trips with you. Please feel free to leave a comment with your memories and fondest hometown stories for me to share with my readers.
If you are ever in Iowa and want to visit the Buena Vista County Conservation Park - here is a link to information and directions to the park - ( LINK )