The Most Beautiful Thing We Have Seen On Our Trip!

I always see America as really belonging to the Native Americans. Even though I'm American, I still feel like a visitor in my own country.

Nicolas Cage

State 11: Iowa - August 11, 2017


Occasionally, our cross country trip requires us to briefly cross over to adjacent states we are not yet scheduled to visit, or have already previously visited, to see points of interest not included in our path through a specific state. Since our path through Minnesota will not take us through southwestern portion of the state, we briefly crossed over from Northern Iowa to visit the Minnesota’s “Roadside Attraction”


We woke up in Austin, MN ready for another day of exploration on the open road. For geographical convenience, we briefly crossed over into Minnesota to view an attraction we would have otherwise missed. Now, we were ready to cross back over the state border, and continue our journey through Northern Iowa. On the agenda was a 3-hour drive to Harper's Ferry, IA in the far northeastern corner of the state to visit the National Park depicted on the reverse of the Iowa State Quarter “Effigy Mounds National Monument”.

The Effigy Mounds are a bit of an enigma. Scholars agree upon their definition as a man made raised pile of earth built in the shape of an animal, symbol, human, or other figure and generally containing one or more human burials built between 700 BC and 1300 CE. They are attributed to the Woodland Indians who inhabited the region at the time. Many questions still remain unanswered even to this very day. Why did their construction begin, and why did it suddenly stop? Why were they constructed in specific sizes, patterns and shapes of animals such as bird, mammals and reptiles? Why are the mounds only found in specific Midwestern regions of the US, and nowhere else in the world? Even the Native American's do not possess the answers to the above questions. What we do know is less than 25% of the Effigy Mounds in North America are still in existence. In an effort to preserve the remaining few, Effigy Mounds National Monument was added to the National Park System on October 25, 1949. The park consists of 2,526 acres with 206 mounds, 14 miles of hiking trails, and no paved road exist within the park.

As usual, we first stopped by the visitor's center to inquire how to best embark on our exploration, and to learn more about the park. The visitor’s center had a fascinating collection of artifacts excavated from within the park in an attempt to gain a better understand of the Effigy Mounds. Please see the pictures below.

We spoke with the ranger on duty, and he suggested we hike the parks 2 mile loop trail. He also highly recommended we stop at Fire Point lookout, but would not elaborate as to why. That was all I needed to hear! Hiking is one of my favorite activities, but it is also one of Lori’s least favorite. However, she graciously agreed to the hike since we haven’t had many opportunities to do so on our trip thus far. We were very pleased to see the trail was well marked and meticulously maintained. The beginning of the trail was a very steep uphill climb, which leveled out after ¾ of a mile.

Around this point, we came across our first mound which was 10 feet in width and a foot in height. As we proceeded along the trail, additional circular mounds began to rise up before us in a clearly evident pattern as we progressed along the windy trail. Since they were essentially large green grassy mounds, I found them extremely challenging to photograph from the ground. However, they possessed an interesting energy compelling us to continue further on our hike.

We finally came across our first animal shaped Effigy Mound, Little Bear Mound and soon thereafter, we came across the largest in the park: The Great Bear Mound. The Great Bear Mound is 42 meters from head to toe, and over 1 meter in height! It was so massive, I had to take pictures of the mounds in sections. Based on the aerial pictures of the mounds I had seen, I expected the mounds to be much taller than they actually were. Perhaps the best way to see the mounds were from the air.

We eventually reached a sign directing us to Fire Point lookout, and we skipped up the trail with glee! When we finally reached the lookout point, we were both left absolutely speechless. The 180 degree sprawling views of the Mississippi River possessed enough natural beauty to inspire the creation of a Monet’ masterpiece. Time seemed to stand still, as we both stood in silence mesmerized by the images I attempted to capture in the pictures below.

After regaining our composure, we looped back to the start of the trail. On our way back, we came across a wild turkey who decided to stand up and and entertain us by performing a funky turkey dance pictured below.

Lori did very well on the hike, and I was very proud of her! We then drove to the nearest Walmart just over the Iowa/Wisconsin border in Prairie Du Chien, WI to get a much need nights rest. Tomorrow we will depart Iowa, and enter the 12th state on our cross country trip.

We are both very happy our time in Iowa has come to an end, and we feel the need to get a few things off our chests! Iowa is known for 2 things: Corn and Pigs. Pigs create manure, and the corn is fertilized with it. Then, the corn is fed to the pigs. While the two industries are very copacetic, they create a very foul smelling, and toxic breathing air throughout the entire state. Particularly in the city of Cedar Rapids, IA, the smell was so atrocious when we opened the car door we both almost passed out from the stench. We actually had to leave the city unexplored because of the horrid smell. The waterways within Iowa were also extremely polluted. Iowa clearly values their hog and corn industries at the expense of their environment, which is a totally unacceptably practice in our potential new home state. Iowa has also been the most vegetarian unfriendly state we have visited thus far to the point where at times we felt discriminated against! While there are many aspects of Iowa we have discovered that we greatly dislike, one of the most surprising things about the state has been it's overall beauty. Second only to West Virginia, Iowa has been to most picturesque state to drive through. We were both expecting a week driving through fields of corn. While the aforementioned was true, Iowa possesses an elusive yet poignant beauty I have yet to capture in pictures or in words. If you ever find yourself driving across the Midwest, we hope you make a point to drive through Iowa to witness mother’s natures splendor! Just don’t roll down the windows!

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