Tuesday, October 06, 2009

USA 2009 / Part 2

We crossed the border into Iowa a few hours after leaving Elkton, SD and it was good to see the Missouri River again and drive through our old haunts of Sioux City and environs. We turned east on the I680 and headed in the direction of Des Moines. Looking for a place for lunch we came across the small town of Walnut in the wonderfully named Pottawattamie County. The town was designated as Iowa's Antique City in 1987 and there are more than 15 separate antique shops in this town of 900 people. But none are open on Mondays. However Aunt B's cafe' was open and she does a mean burger with fries and great rhubarb pie (with ice cream of course). And any town where tractors pull into the main street parking spaces among the cars is ok by me.

After a slight detour to the town of Adel (for a quilt shop visit, naturally) with its wonderful county courthouse, we arrived at our destination of Indianola just south of Des Moines for a two night stay. Our B&B was on acreage outside this thriving agricultural centre and we saw white tail deer feeding on the lawn and smelt a skunk outside our bedroom window during the night. There was a really good Mexican restaurant in town and as well as a cafe', Winn, run by the son of Vietnamese refugee whose only concession to his ethnic cuisine was egg rolls (Chả giò or spring rolls). Otherwise it was steak and pizza and an excellent salad bar. After three weeks in the mid west you can see were were starting to crave some genuine Asian food.

Next day we headed for Madison County (see separate post) and the Summerset Winery. The latter was the first winery in Iowa and we were warmly welcomed and encouraged to try all their wines. They grow nine varieties of American native and French hybrid grapes on their 12 acres. Most of the wine produced is semi sweet. The whites are far better than the reds, which due to the short growing season are quite thin and acidic. But it was interesting to get another slant on wine growing particularly in a very cold climate area which is so different to ours.
Next day we headed east on Highway 92 (I like avoiding the Interstates where possible) and took a small detour on the advice of our B&B host. Crossing the dam wall of Lake Red Rock which holds back the Des Moines River on its way south to the Mississippi, we arrived in Pella. This is a town with a long Dutch heritage of which they are justly proud. Founded in 1847 by immigrants escaping religious persecution in their homeland, the town has a distinct Dutch look about it and development of this theme has been done with great taste.
It was also the childhood home of Wyatt Earp and the now home of the Pella Corporation, a large manufacturer of windows and doors. We enjoyed a longer than expected stop here to enjoy the Glockenspiel, a walk around town, some old and interesting architecture and some really good coffee. I window shopped the many bakeries but resisted!
Next stop were the Amana Colonies which are a group of settlements of the radical German Pietists who fled religious persecution in Germany around 1842. They originally set up a community in New York State, eventually arriving in Iowa in 1854. The area in the Iowa River valley comprises seven villages. Often mistaken as Amish, these people lived a very strict communal and religious life until the 1930's when the reality of their critical economic situation brought on by the Great Depression forced them to rationalise their lifestyle.
We found the Colonies to be a little disappointing. It was hard to find anything culturally significant but rather commercial enterprises willingly gouging the tourist dollar. And despite their German heritage, we ate what would have to be the worst pseudo German food I have ever tasted. Luckily Annie's B&B in Amana village was one of the better places we have stayed in.
Back in South Dakota we started making our final rounds of visits. I had an afternoon's gambling at the local casino with my gambling buddy, Lisa. The winnings paid for some quilting supplies. And Karen and Emmet went with us one night to a Bingo session. We had fun but only one of us had any success albeit pretty small. Emmett has a unique way of growing tomatoes ie. upside down in buckets. We will try this at home this year.
He also has a barn filled with the some of the cheapest lucerne (alfalfa) hay I have come across. One seventh of the price I pay. To say I had hay envy was a understatement.
There is also a pretty silo on his property which is fairly typical of those in the area.

The area around Trent, Flandreu and Brookings where we mainly hang out is from our point of view, flat. Think the aircraft buzzing scene from "North By NorthWest". The main crops are soy beans and corn. Thousands of hectares stretching as far as the eye can see.
As Autumn approached the bean fields started to turn yellow and the corn started to dry out. The roads were beginning to fill up with combine harvesters and big trucks taking the grain to the elevators at the many railheads or to the ethanol plants. This disturbed the resident deer who frequent the fields in great numbers so one had to be very careful travelling the country back roads at night.
Soon it was time to head back to Minneapolis for our flight home. We made a short overnight detour to the Mall of America in Bloomington but I think we were shopped out. It took us only 3 hours to cover the biggest shopping mall in the USA and spend $37.
The flight home was uneventful. One hundred percent full and cramped did not make for the most comfortable journey so we were glad to reach Sydney twenty four hours later, pick up our car and head for home. On a sombre note, while driving along one of Sydney's major roads, a car coming way too fast in wet conditions in the other direction spun out on a curve, mounted the median strip and literally flew towards us. How we missed it or it missed us, I will never know. I just managed to squeeze between it as it landed and a parked car with centimeters to spare.
I think we are lucky to be still here!
The day we arrived back, Ulladulla had 60mm rain. This was basically the only rain in the area since we left. All looked pretty brown and dry as we drove in. However follow up rain in the last week is changing the landscape dramatically. Apart from the huge blackened burnt out areas around us, a green carpet is beginning to form. The vines are looking healthy and despite the loss of some condition the cattle are not looking too bad.
So now it's back to work!

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