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As you travel through Iowa, not only will you encounter incredibly beautiful countryside, as well as stylish and urbane 21st-century cities, but you’ll be treated to some of the warmest, most down-home hospitality to be found anywhere. As you drive from stop to stop on this route, you’ll frequently want to pull over for photo opportunities or just to bask in the awe-inspiring sights of the prairies as they stretch as far as the eye can see.
Starting off in Ames, there are several city parks that are excellent places to pull over and spend a day in the fresh air and sunshine. The Farmhouse Museum is a very popular destination, located on the central campus of Iowa State University. It’s significant because it was the first building erected on the Iowa State Campus, back in 1860, and has been declared a National Historic Landmark. The museum is open to the public by appointment, but is well worth checking out as it contains exhibits detailing Iowa State’s first 50 years and is a fascinating piece of history.
Heading south on the I-35, you’ll cruise through some beautiful territory for a little less than 30 miles until you take the turnoff for the westbound I-235. In about 5 miles you’ll pull into Des Moines, the capital of Iowa. The Capitol Building is open for tours, and with multiple colors and types of marble, along with many different carvings in wood and stone, it’s a magnificent example of 19th century architecture at its finest. Iowa is very proud of the contribution its farms make to the U.S. food supply, and the Living History Farms exhibit allows visitors a firsthand look at what the farming life was like. Take a walking tour through three different farms – one from 1700, one from 1850, and another from 1900. Each one showcases the lifestyle of the time period, and the advances made by evolving technology. The adjacent town of Walnut Hill is composed of several restored homes, shops, and businesses that are the next best thing to traveling in a time machine to 1875 – you get a real sense of practical history by experiencing this fascinating place.
Another spot of interest in Des Moines is the Salisbury House, an extravagant 42-room Tudor-style mansion that contains treasures from 16th century England, the Roaring 20s, and the present day. Many of the rooms are themed around a particular period in history, and no expense has been spared to furnish them with fabulous antiques and curios from all over the world. The estate sits on 22,000 acres and cost three million dollars when it was finished in 1928. Factor in inflation and…well, you get the idea. It’s extravagant!
Cruise west on the I-235 for 9 miles, then take the westbound I-80 for 12 miles until you come to the exit for the US-169, which you take south for 14 miles into your final stop of Winterset. For those of you who’ve seen Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County, this is the setting of that story. As such, there are six covered bridges in the area for you to tour, all of which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Winterset’s cinematic claim to fame continues, as it’s the birthplace of “The Duke” himself, John Wayne. Visitors can tour the spot where Marion Morrison made his entry into a world that would later come to know him as one of the most legendary movie stars of all time. The facility also features a museum with Wayne artifacts and video presentations, and a gift shop where the truly devoted can grab something to remember him by.
There’s far more to Iowa than just corn!