Friday, September 7, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, in Iowa


After I had hit the "publish" button last night, I realized I'd forgotten to add the photo of the ceiling of the St. Francis Xavier Basilica.  Consider  this a  "p.s." to yesterday's blog.  This ceiling is so beautiful that it took our breath away.  Enjoy this, then continue reading today's adventures.
September 7, 2012   Friday
Today was a driving day.  It was also a day when we were "thrifty."  We had breakfast at McDonalds as we were leaving Waterloo, and we began our drive west across the rest of Iowa.
With my AA book and a map of Iowa on my lap, I tried to find interesting things that we could stop to see along the way.  We decided we might stop at Fort Dodge to see the old fort there.  It was raining when we arrived, which literally dampened our enthusiasm for the partially outdoor prairie fort and museum.
When we looked it over, we decided to skip the tour, partly due to the rain, but also because we have seen many other little towns set up to remind us of the past. We strolled through the souvenir area, spoke to the two workers there, and made a decision to use that hour for driving, instead. It may have been very wonderful. We will never know.
Unfortunately, as we were leaving the "welcome center," the man who was selling  tickets followed us to the parking lot and asked us why we had made that decision.  Since we had been pleasant while we were in there and also polite when we wished them a nice day and turned to leave, we were taken aback by this. We told him we'd decided not to stay to see the fort and village.  He actually told us that the fort had a $170 electric bill that tourists need to cover.  We told him that we had a big electric bill, too, thinking he was kidding.  This man then told us that he knew we had a lot more money than he did, and could afford the tickets!  We got in the car and drove away.  I relate this story only because it happened at the Fort Dodge Museum and Frontier Village, and we were appalled.  Randy says it's OK for me to tell this story, because not everything on a trip is wonderful and marvelous, and it's true.
We did help the Fort Dodge Subway with its electric bill, and also the local gas station, however.
An audio book that we've been listening to as we drive has become quite exciting and very involved, so we listened most of the afternoon as we passed field after field of dried-up corn still in the fields. The soybean crop may be just as dry, but somehow it is quite beautiful with its yellow leaves. 
We stopped in a very small little town named Sac City to see their Civil War soldier statue.  As I said to Randy, "They went to a lot of trouble and expense long ago to put it there, so it deserves to be visited." I should have mentioned the soldiers it honors. Across the street from it were other monuments with names of more recent soldiers from that county who went to other wars. 
                                                          I love small towns of America!
Arriving in Sioux City, Iowa, we planned to see The Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which is a place that explains the Lewis and Clark Expedition in detail through murals, figures, and gardens. Thelma took us to the address, but the entrance was blocked off due to construction.  I called the center to find out how to get there, and those directions didn't work out, either.  We decided that we were not supposed to see this place, since it wasn't showing up for us, and went on to Plan B.
Plan B turned out to be a winner! 
 In the historic district, on 4th Street, is The Sioux City Public Museum. We knew it was about the city, but had no idea it would be so wonderful.  It included old fire engines, a locally-made Soap Box Derby racer, Native American artifacts, and mastodon and mammoth bones.  It also had the dinosaur skull and bones that you read about in National Geographic in the last few years.  The entire skull of one is encased in a display, on loan from the two doctors from South Dakota who discovered it.  I'd read about it in the news, but never dreamed I would get to see it!
We were taken under wing by Carolyn Rants, a retired college professor and dean of students at a local university, who now works or volunteers at the museum.  She made sure that we saw everything in the one hour that we had before it was to close, including the "Big Dig," which is a room with a huge sand pile in it.  Kids who visit the museum can dig up "dinosaur bones," and entertain themselves a bit in the large room with murals of Iowan scenery surrounding them.
The last thing we saw was an interactive movie showing the history of Sioux City. It showed the Corn Palace that was built in the city for only four years. It is not the most famous "corn palace," as you may know. Enthusiasm for this creation was dimmed by a flood of the city by the Sioux River. 
Another part of the museum had three short, vividly done movies, showing the disasters that happened in Sioux City over the years:  the flood, a huge city fire, and the horrendous crash of an airliner.  The city rebounded from the flood and the fire, and showed the citizens' hard-working pull-together abilities in the crash of the plane in a nearby cornfield.
Our "thrifty dinner" was fried chicken from a Walmart. (If you haven't tried their fried chicken, go get some, and you will see why we like it!)  We also bought two ears of Iowa corn and cooked them in the microwave of our immaculate Quality Inn.  Randy is watercoloring, using the motel ironing board for his easel as I type this.  We're having fun.   
                                        OK, call us "cheap."  We can take it.