Travels 2016: A look back at fun times in Iowa


Clear Lake, Iowa, quickly became one of our favorite Midwestern spots. We visited five times in one year. It’s a beautiful area with friendly people.

We started our 2016 travels in Clear Lake, so it seemed fitting to kick off our travel recap with Iowa attractions. From a frozen lake in January to statues created using the “American Gothic” painting as inspiration, we enjoyed a lot of fun times around Iowa.

We were thrilled when we were asked to write a story about the Lady of the Lake paddle boat for the city’s travel guide. We, along with other bloggers, were invited to a celebration revealing the year’s guide.

Since we were going to be in the area for a couple of days, we thought it would be fun to check out Clear Lake during winter. The fun thing about traveling during winter are the snow photos. Having been used to seeing the lake with waves and the sun glimmering off the water, seeing the frozen lake was a bit of a surprise. Actually, trying to see the lake through some blowing snow created a challenge. But, we were up for it. Between walks along the lake and stopping in some local shops to warm up and browse – as well as a hot cup of coffee or chocolate at Cabin Coffee – we enjoyed our January visit.

Looking for Clear Lake among the blowing snow.

We returned to Clear Lake in late February for the annual winter kite festival. My, how a month changed things. A winter thaw created slushy spots around the lake. However, we had a blast watching hundreds of people ring the lake or even walk out on it as people flew their giant kites. Kites the size of horses – and resembling horses – dotted the mostly sunny sky that day.

Let’s go fly a kite on Clear Lake.


Funny thing, the first three months of the year involved trips to the Hawkeye/Cyclone state. Waterloo is home to some impressive museums. I visited three of them one afternoon. The Grout Museum offers a look at the area’s history. As you tour the museum, you see the development of Waterloo, from a small rural town to a city proud of its blue collar history. It has been home to several manufacturing companies, including John Deere and Maytag.

A replica of an early pharmacy in Waterloo.

John Deere has a large plant in the city still. It produces some of the best tractors in the world. The plant is also home to a visitors center, offering the public a glimpse into its history. John Deere began when the founder created a curved plowing blade to help farmers better navigate the Midwestern soil. Today, the company produces tractors and combines that can be controlled through GPS, no longer requiring a driver.

Tractors tell the history at the John Deere Museum in Waterloo.

One of the best military museums I’ve visited is the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum. Not only does the staff do an excellent job telling the Iowa brothers fateful story – all five served and died aboard a ship during World War II that was hit and destroyed by an enemy torpedo – it traces Iowa’s military history from the Civil War to the recent Middle East conflicts.

Iowa’s military history is told at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in Waterloo.

Back to Clear Lake

A northern trip in late May brought us back to Clear Lake. The lake was its ice-free beautiful self. The thing that stuck out on this trip was the number of people taking advantage of an especially warm late spring/early summer day. People on the docks with their pets. Others fishing. Families and young people taking advantage of the sun and tanning or swimming.

Fishing on Clear Lake .

We took a mini tour of the area, visiting the Surf Ballroom for the third or fourth time. This is a spot that never gets old. I always find something new to catch my attention. We were told to check out the ice cream at South Shore Sweet Shop. We split a banana split from a place in the shape of an ice cream cone. Fun times.

We all scream for ice cream.

Sioux City

Sioux City – in northwest Iowa – provided a great weekend. We took in so many interesting attractions. Our daughter Mallory attended Morningside College there, and we never realized how much there was to do in Sioux City. Our visit in May included stops at a candy shop and museum, taking in pop corn history, a look at a religious-themed garden and some great history lessons.

Sioux City is home to Palmer Candy, maker of the Bing bar. The cherry nougat mound was my dad’s favorite candy. The store offers a look at its history with a small museum ringing the walls. It includes old candy-producing machines and photographs.

Palmer Candy in Sioux City makes the world famous Bing.

Jolly Time Pop Corn is headquartered in Sioux City. It’s one of the top pop corn producers in the world. A visitors center takes a look at its history.

Sioux City
Jolly Time Pop corn is more than 100 years old. It’s been a Sioux City staple during that time.

Trinity Heights is located on the grounds of an old college and high school. It features tall sculptures of Jesus and Mary. In-between, several exhibits examine the Stations of the Cross, highlight saints and other Catholic-themed items. It includes a unique life-sized wood carving of The Last Supper, featuring the artist’s family and friends as Jesus and his disciples.

Wood carving of The Last Supper featuring the artist’s family and friends in the roles.

The city’s history museum looks at Sioux City from its early Native Americans to the old stockyards that were once among the best in the country.

Remnant of Sioux City’s stockyards.

Cedar Rapids

Our last visit in Iowa this year took us to Cedar Rapids. The city’s visitors bureau and local businesses sponsored a series of statues based on Grant Woods’ iconic “American Gothic” painting. The painting featured a man woman standing next to each other with stern looks on their faces while the man held a pitchfork between them. The painting now hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago. The series – which included 25 statues scattered about in the city and surrounding towns – honored the artist’s 125th birthday.

The statues ranged from ag-related to military service to hipsterville. Our favorite was a hipster take on the “Gothic” concept. It featured a man and woman standing near the Cedar River. The dude wore a stocking cap and wore a Cap’n Crunch T-shirt. The woman wore a fedora-style hat and had a camera slung over her neck.

“Hipsters Gothic.” The statue was one of 25 honoring Cedar Rapids native Grant Woods’ 125th birthday with a twist on his “American Gothic” painting.

My second favorite paid tribute to the United States’ military history with “Mike and Rosie.” The statue, featuring Mike holding the American, stood in front of the city’s veterans memorial museum (which is now on our 2017 must-visit list).

A patriotic view of the “Gothic” sculptures.

Iowa has been one of our favorite states to visit. The state has so much to offer. We could spend every weekend traveling around the state and still not cover what they have to see and try. Among our goals for 2017 are stops in Ames to see the world’s largest garden gnome, the Great River Road along the Mississippi River and a return trip to Des Moines.

Check out things to do and places to see in Iowa by visiting Tell them The Walking Tourists sent you. Happy New Year and safe travels in 2017.