Travel Far, Travel Near But Just Travel - a Road Trip Exploration of Northern Iowa
Some of the most fascinating places I've visited in my travels have also been among the least expected. I grew up in a small, rural Iowa town. I had somewhat of a sheltered life, but I don't say that with a negative connotation. Growing up in Iowa was "wholesome". I knew there was more to life than Iowa, though, so I moved to Florida after high school. I traveled the world some, doing an exchange program in Germany and I was able to see more (but not all) of what was beyond Iowa's borders. I have always been drawn back to my "home" state, though.
There's just something about the midwest that draws me back.
Rural Iowa, Small Town Values & Local Treasures
Small towns, especially in the midwest, have always intrigued me. My home town had around 30,000 residents, and was considered a "big city" in that area. Growing up, I still felt like it was the middle of nowhere, or the "boonies". Curiously enough, there was a place not far from my town called the Boondocks.
Many of the towns in the area had far fewer residents than my "big city". In fact, the town my grandparents lived in only had less than 500 people. Everyone knew everyone else. People waved at each other as they drove by - even if they didn't know you. It's far different than the hustle and bustle of the cities of the east coast.
Small town people are generally very nice, but they can also be very protective. I've come across some of the nicest people in the world in small town America. I make it a point to seek out small towns and explore the surrounding area and talk to the residents.
I love finding small town treasures in rural America. You can find parks, shops, restaurants and people unlike what you'd find anywhere else in the country, or even in the world. One of my favorite hidden gems in north Iowa is Gobbler's Roost Restaurant and Bar in Grafton, Iowa. Gobbler's Roost is in a tiny small town where the largest "building" is a grain elevator. They've got some of the best fried chicken you'd ever hope to taste. But best of all, it has that small town diner look and feel. If you're ever in the area, I encourage you to check them out.
Exploring Rural North Iowa
I took some time to explore my old stomping ground in northern Iowa. There are a number of quaint small towns in the area. One of my favorites is Rock Falls, Iowa. Just outside of town, there's a famous covered bridge. I grew up just a few short miles from this very bridge.
I've seen it before, but not often; perhaps 3 or 4 times over the course of my lifetime. I don't know why, but I never thought to photograph it before. I guess I was young and had better things to do. The last time I visited it was a few years ago with my grandfather before he passed away. We drove his 3/4 ton full-size Chevy pickup out there one afternoon. Not for any particular reason. You don't visit the bridge for a reason. You don't even visit the bridge for the purpose of crossing it. That's not what it's all about.
I had the opportunity to visit it again, this time with my 89 year old grandmother.
The rural covered bridges of Iowa were made famous by the novel and subsequent movie The Bridges of Madison County. Not all of the covered bridges are in Madison County, and we found our way to one of the bridges in northern Iowa.
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Travel Far, Travel Near But Just Travel
If you're like me, I dream of travel. Many of my dreams involve far-flung destinations like Bora Bora or St. Petersburg (Russia or Florida, take your pick), but not all of them. Some of the best trips I've been on barely had me leaving my back yard. This trip was special because I was able to spend time with someone dear to me and someone I don't see often any more.
My grandmother and I had never really "traveled" before and I'm not sure this qualifies either. I visit "back home" at least every few years and when I do, I will stop by my grandparent's home they've lived in for nearly 60 years. My grandmother isn't very mobile now, but I still wanted to take her out this time.
Even if it was just for a drive.
We started by visiting the local cemetery where my mother and many of my family members rest. My grandmother and I enjoy going there to remember those we loved.
After a short stay, we loaded up the car and just drove. We explored rural country blacktops and gravel roads until we were just outside Rock Falls. We took the bumpy dirt road that doesn't even have a name on Google Maps until we reached the bridge. I talked with her about the last time I was there with Grandpa. We both loved talking about him. She and grandpa were married for over 60 years. She reminds me every time I talk to her about how much she misses him.
I miss him too, grandma. But most of all, thank you for such a wonderful trip.