Under rainy skies we left Iowa and entered Nebraska. We prefer to not travel in the rain but the area really needed it. We reached our campsite at Walnut Creek Lake Recreation Area in the city of Papillion outside of Omaha and set up before the really heavy rain began to fall. It would be the last rain we would see for awhile. It was very hot in Iowa and the heat continued in Nebraska. Papillion was named by French settlers after its beautiful butterflies. Walnut Creek Lake Recreation Area is located on a 150 acre reservoir. They do not accept reservations so we were very glad to find an available spot with a view of the water.
On Thursday we made the short drive into Omaha, population 450,000. Our first stop was the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail – Headquarters located inside the National Park Service’s Midwest Regional Office.
Nearby was the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, completed in 2008 and spanning the Missouri River which Lewis, Clark and the Corps of Discovery navigated over 200 years ago. The neat thing about this bridge is that it is the longest pedestrian bridge to link two states.
When walking across the bridge we started in Nebraska and crossed into Iowa about midway. The 3,000 foot cable stay bridge connects Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Cables suspend the bridge sixty feet above the river and the curved shape symbolizes the meandering Missouri River.
Next we drove downtown to the Pioneer Courage Park with amazing bronze and stainless steel sculptures depicting pioneer families and westward expansion.
Omaha is the home of the College World Series so we drove by TD Ameritrade Park. My hometown University of Virginia baseball team won the World Series here in 2015.
Nearby we visited the President Gerald R. Ford Birthsite and Gardens. The house burned to the ground so there is now a nice portico that resembles the West Wing and a rose garden dedicated to Betty Ford. The 38th President was born as Leslie King, Jr. He moved with his mother to Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was adopted by his stepfather and took the name Gerald R. Ford.
Omaha is also the home of Warren Buffet. We rode by his home and office building. His home is surprisingly small for such a wealthy man.
Of course we had to shop at the Nebraska Furniture Mart, the largest home furnishing store in North America. It has 420,000 square feet of retail space spread over 77 acres and several buildings. It was founded in 1937 by Mrs. B who sold a majority interest in the company to Warren Buffet in a handshake deal in 1983. Now you are probably wondering why people who live in an RV would take the time to visit a furniture mart. Besides furniture they also have flooring, appliances and electronics. They also have locations in Iowa, Kansas and Texas. One noticeable thing to us was how quick and helpful the employees were. If you stopped to look at the store map or looked the least bit confused, someone was right there to help you with a friendly smile and cheerful demeanor.
Next we toured the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters which is the location of the Mormons’ main settlement on the Missouri River. Historical exhibits memoralized the hardships the pioneers faced, especially during the winter of 1846-47.
We finished the day at Kenefick Park where we saw “two of the greatest locomotives ever to power Union Pacific Railroad”: the Union Pacific Big Boy #4023 and the Union Pacific Centennial #6900. We climbed sixty steps from the parking lot to where the locomotives sit high on a hilltop visible from the interstate.
On Friday we visited the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and Aerospace Museum in nearby Ashland. It has the largest collection of Cold War aircraft including exhibits of spy planes, fighter jets including a F-101B Voodoo jet fighter, the FB111A Aardvark medium range bomber, the rare XF-85 Goblin fighter escort (one of only two ever built), helicopters, rockets, missiles, spacecraft, a Space Shuttle Atlantis training simulator and other airplanes. SAC was disestablished in 1992. SAC was responsible for control of two of the three components of the U.S. military’s nuclear strike forces.
This Link Aircraft Simulator was the very first simulator used to train pilots. Bill worked early in his career on a Weapons System Simulator (fighter jet) for this Phantom II jet by McDonnell Douglas.
There is an exhibit on what was discovered about the horrors of World War II.
Two of the most famous planes used for reconnaissance is the U-2 and SR-71. On Saturday we had a nice dinner with Bill’s cousin Jimmie who lives in Papillion.
Next stop: Lincoln, Nebraska
Nebraska has nearly 100,000 miles of roads.
Its nickname is the Cornhusker State and it is celebrating 150 years of statehood in 2017.
Omaha and Lincoln are the two largest cities.
Lewis, Clark and the Corps of Discovery navigated the Missouri River on their quest to find the Northwest Passage. They averaged 10-12 miles a day as they moved upriver in a 55 foot long keelboat and two pirogues. They were in the Omaha area in July and August of 1804.
Tuesday we drove to Winterset to visit the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum. Wayne was born in the small four room house in 1907 and was named Marion Robert Morrison. He weighted thirteen pounds! Adjacent to the birthplace is the museum with original movie posters, wardrobes from his films, movie scripts, contracts, letters, artwork and sculptures.
They had his last customized automobile in which the top had been raised to accommodate his height of 6’4”.
Did you know John Wayne got his nickname “The Duke” from a dog? He had a dog named Duke and they were together so much they became known as “Little Duke” and “Big Duke”. Wayne from a Revolutionary War General he portrayed.
There was a small movie theater where we watched a documentary on Wayne’s life and career. We sat in seats which originally were used at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.
Winterset is located in Madison County, Iowa, the setting for Iowa novelist Robert Waller’s 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison County which was also made into a movie in 1995. Scenes for the movie were shot in Winterset and the town of Adel, Iowa. People still talk about seeing Clint Eastwood sitting at the lunch counter of the local restaurant! At one time Madison County had nineteen covered bridges and there are currently six remaining. The bridges are covered to preserve their large flooring timbers which are expensive to replace. We drove to the 1883 Roseman Covered Bridge, 107 feet in length and featured in the movie. It is the most popular of the covered bridges and is located far out in the county on a dusty gravel road.
Before leaving Winterset we also drove to Clark Tower in Winterset’s City Park. Erected in 1926, it is an unusual monument to the county’s first pioneer family by their descendants. Constructed of native limestone and 25 feet high, it made for an interesting drive up a very narrow one way road to the top of a hill to the monument. We climbed to the observation point of the tower but trees prevented a clear view of the Middle River valley below.
We really enjoyed our visit to Des Moines and Winterset.
After a great Winnebago rally we left Forest City on Sunday and headed to Des Moines, Iowa’s state capital. Along the way we continued to see corn, silos and wind turbines. The corn was still not quite as high as an elephant’s eye, but it did seem to be crying out for rain. Everything is so dry!
Our campground was the Walnut Woods State Park in West Des Moines. The park has the largest natural stand of black walnut trees in North America. There were also signs forbidding the collection of black walnuts in the park.
Our main reason for coming here was to visit Des Moines. On Monday we made the short drive into the city. The California Gold Rush once brought people here who stayed rather than continuing west. The state capital was moved here from Iowa City in 1857. Much of the economic and political action revolves around agriculture and the grain market.
Cornerstone of the Capitol Building
Our first stop was the state capitol building and it is one of the prettiest we have visited. We had read that it was beautiful and it did not disappoint! The capitol building is located on a hill surrounded by a 160 acre park with several monuments.
Unusual to Allow Weapons inside the Capitol Building
The main dome is covered with 23 carat gold leaf and is flanked by four smaller domes. The gold leaf covering the dome is so thin that 250,000 sheets pressed together would only measure one inch thick. The building was begun in 1871 and completed in 1886.
Can you find Diane?
The main dome, rising 275 feet above the Capitol grounds, is currently undergoing renovation and is covered with scaffolding.
The interior is made of 29 types of marble and has ornately decorated ceilings and corridors as well as beautiful paintings and statues.
There is a scale model of the battleship Iowa which is currently docked in the Port of Los Angeles. Bill toured the battleship in 2014 (see that blog here) when we were out west. One of the battleship’s two bells, weighing 1,000 pounds is also on display.
This is the Iowa State Flag
The capitol building had a glass display case of dolls representing all of the Iowa first ladies in their inaugural gowns.
We could have taken a guided tour but we picked up a guide pamphlet and did our own self guided tour. The lady at the information desk told us to be sure and go into the law library. It is not something we probably would have thought to visit but we sure were glad we did. It was amazing with iron grillwork circular staircases at each end of the library. Absolutely beautiful!
Can you find Bill?
We walked around the grounds and saw a small replica of the Statue of Liberty and the Liberty Bell. Did you know each capital city in the United States has a replica of the Liberty Bell somewhere in their city?
We left the Minneapolis/St Paul area and headed south towards the Minnesota/Iowa border. Once again we began to see more dairy farms and silos. Our last stop in Minnesota was in the small town of Albert Lea where we stayed at the Myre Big Island Lake State Park. This park was conveniently located near Albert Lea which was nice because we had lots of chores to do to get ready for our next stop in Iowa. We did laundry, bought groceries and Bill got a haircut. Even though the park was close to town it was still isolated enough for us to see a doe and her babies two mornings as well as wild turkeys.
After three nights in Albert Lea we said farewell to Minnesota, which we had been visiting since early June, and headed to Forest City, Iowa. Along the way we saw dairy farms, fields of corn, silos and wind turbines. It is easy to see why this area is part of America’s breadbasket. More than 50% of the corn in the United States comes from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa. More than 50% of all grain comes from Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and Iowa.
We arrived in Forest City to attend the Winnebago Grand National Rally. Forest City is the location of the main Winnebago plant. We pulled in line to wait for the gates to open. Bill noticed the RV in front of us had the tag of the president of the FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) Amateur Radio Club. We are members of this club but have never had the chance to meet Rick and his wife Karen. While we waited, Bill got out to talk with them and made new friends before we even got in the gate. We enjoyed spending time with them, including dinner at the local Mexican restaurant our last evening there.
It was a great rally with fellowship, entertainment and informational seminars. On Monday we took a special all day tour by chartered bus to the nearby cities of Waverly and Charles City where we saw Winnebago parts being made. In Waverly we toured the factory where they were making wire harnesses for all of their motorized RVs. In Charles City we toured two area where they made Corian countertops and Winnebago doors and cabinets made of wood.
Mid week a powerful storm blew through the rally grounds. Our weather system clocked winds at 40 mph with heavy rain. At one point I saw a large flag flying through the air. It was scary and we listened for the tornado siren which fortunately never sounded. After the storm passed we walked around the grounds to check out the damage. All the large tents where daily seminars were held now had yellow caution tape blocking them off. Inside the tents we could see huge poles bent and chairs overturned and scattered. We heard reports of a tent landing on the roof of an RV. The next day the morning seminars were canceled while they waited for the tent owners to come from Waterloo to repair the tents before they would be safe for further seminars.
One evening they had a Row Party. Each state had a tent with free food or drinks that represented their state. Texas had chili, Wisconsin had cheese, California had wine etc. For some strange reason Virginia had lime margaritas. They sure were good!
The week passed quickly and too soon it was time to pack up and say goodbye.
Hoping we left the terrible mosquitoes behind, we headed further south to the tiny town of Aitkin, MN. We settled here for the Fourth of July holiday, glad to be off the busy highways. Our four days went by quickly and since there wasn’t much to see or do in the area, we used the time to do some chores around the RV. We installed extra insulation in the pantry and the upper cabinets to hopefully keep those areas cooler. We cleaned the vents and Bill changed the water filter and ice maker filter. We vacuumed out the tow car, washed it, and Bill applied wax. He also applied 303® Aerospace Protectant™ to the dashboard. He worked hard getting all the dead bugs off the front of the RV. We even managed to get a couple blogs published. It was a busy and productive four days! And on Independence Day the RV park had a golf cart parade.
On Thursday we moved to the Farmington, MN fairgrounds located about thirty minutes south of the Minneapolis/St Paul area.
After settling in we drove up to Bloomington to the Mall of America. The Mall of America is the largest entertainment and shopping destination in North America with 520 stores and more than sixty restaurants. It is four stories, sits on 96 acres and has 12,500 parking spaces. The most amazing thing was the amusement park in the center with a roller coaster, a boat ride as well as many other thrilling rides. After dinner at Bubba Gump Shrimp we spent a couple hours walking around the colossal complex.
In the Mall is a memorial to Thomas Burnett who died on 9/11 after his plane was overtaken by terrorists and went down in the fields of Pennsylvania. Burnett was born in Bloomington and attended school there during his childhood years. He was married and the father of four daughters when he died. I found it interesting that a year before the plane went down he started attending church because of a strong sense of foreboding which he expressed to his wife. On the day of the attack Burnett was one of four passengers to storm the cockpit, foiling the terrorists’ plan to crash the plane into the White House or U.S. Capitol. He is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota.
On September 11, 2002 the Mall of America dedicated the Tom Burnett 9/11 Memorial with a plaque entitled “Do Something” and an open door representing the cockpit door with the message “To Deem Life Important and to Act Affects All of Those That Bear Witness…”. The open door also represents a door to a brighter, safer future and encourages people to walk toward the future intent on doing something good, something kind, something noble and something right.
On Friday we had our six month blood work done and got service done on the Honda tow car.
Sunday we took advantage of lighter traffic and drove into Minneapolis and St Paul. Minneapolis and St Paul are ranked first and second by the Trust for Public Land for best city parks in the nation. Minneapolis-St Paul claims to have the coldest average temperature of any major metro area in the lower 48 states and because of this Minneapolis has a continuous network skyway system with enclosed pedestrian bridges that is purportedly the world’s largest. St Paul has five miles of glass tunnels to allow people to go from building to building. About 18 years ago Bill worked for six weeks in Minneapolis in late November, early December and he will never forget how cold it was out on the streets. Especially for someone from Florida!! He used those enclosed pedestrian walkways a lot!
We had quite a lengthy list of places to visit so we got a very early start. First up was Minneapolis which is a large city with many tall buildings. Very different from smaller St Paul.
We stopped by the Minneapolis Visitor Information Center to see the statue of Mary Richards. Who can forget this popular character from The Mary Tyler Moore Show! The statue was given by TV Land to the city. It used to be outside but construction on Nicolette Street forced the statue to be moved inside. We then drove to a nearby neighborhood to see the turn of the century Victorian house shown on the series where Mary supposedly had an apartment. We noticed the private residence is now for sale. There are other locations around the city featured on the show but there just wasn’t enough time to see them all.
We visited the St Anthony Falls Visitor Center Lock and Dam. At one time St Anthony Falls was the only natural major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River. After the falls partially collapsed in 1869, the natural falls were replaced by a concrete overflow spillway. In the 1950’s and 1960’s a series of locks and dams was constructed to extend navigation.
From 1880 to around 1930, Minneapolis was the “Flour Milling Capital of the World”. Evidence of this can be seen in the Washburn Mill ruins of what was once the largest flour mill in the world located near the falls.
The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (a U.S. National Park) protects a 72-mile and 54,000-acre corridor along the Mississippi River from the cities of Dayton and Ramsey, Minnesota to just downstream of Hastings, Minnesota. In the middle of Minneapolis is the St Anthony Falls Lock and Dam.
Overlooking St Anthony Falls Lock and Dam on one side and the mills ruins on the other is the beautiful Stone Arch Bridge. Constructed in 1883, this is a former railroad bridge which crosses the Mississippi River and is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire Mississippi River. The second oldest bridge on the Mississippi, it is made of native granite and limestone and measures 2100 feet with 21 stone arches. The bridge is now a pedestrian and bicycle bridge and is an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. We enjoyed walking on part of the bridge with beautiful views of St Anthony Falls, the Mississippi River and the Minneapolis skyline.
Next we visited Guthrie Theater because we wanted to walk on the Endless Bridge. This 178 foot long cantilevered structure is neither endless nor a bridge but a steel truss that is counterbalanced by the weight of the building. The Endless Bridge is in the left of the picture of the building. The attraction here is the magnificent views of the city, the Stone Arch Bridge and St Anthony Falls Lock and Dam.
We drove by the U.S. Bank Stadium which is where the Minnesota Vikings play football. The massive stadium is in the shape of a Viking ship. Really neat but hard to get a good picture of the entire stadium from our car.
Next was Target Field where the Twins play baseball. They had a home game today but we were early enough to avoid the crowd and traffic. The Twin Cities will host the Super Bowl LII in 2018 and the NCAA Final Four in 2019.
The Basilica of St Mary, named the first basilica in the United States by Pope Pius XI in 1926, is located here. It was completed in 1915, has a 200 foot high dome and a rose window.
We went by the Sculpture Garden but since we were running out of time and parking was scarce, we snapped a couple pictures of two of the most popular sculptures, the cherry and the blue chicken.
By now it was lunchtime and time to move on to St Paul, the capital of Minnesota. Minneapolis and St Paul is divided by an “S” shape carved by the Mississippi River. It is approximately a six mile drive between the two cities. At 26.2 miles, St Paul has more miles of Mississippi riverfront than any other city in the U.S. It is known as a “City of Neighborhoods” which celebrates different heritages and diversity. After grabbing lunch at a barbecue joint, we headed to the State Capitol building.
The Minnesota State Capitol is a Renaissance Revival Style building, with the second largest self supported dome in the world after Saint Peter’s. It was modeled after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome with the dome inspired by the U.S. Capitol dome. The building is made of 25 different types of stone including 16 varieties of marble from around the world as well as Minnesotan granite and limestone. Construction on the capitol was started in 1896 and completed in 1905 at a cost of $4.5 million. Above the southern entrance is a gilded chariot with four horses representing the power of nature; earth, wind, fire and water. The women leading the horses symbolize civilization and the man on the horse, prosperity.
Near the capitol is the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the third largest churches in North America, seating 3,000 people. It has a 175 foot copper dome and six chapels. The cornerstone was set in 1907 and the design was Inspired by churches in France.
Charles Schultz of the Peanuts cartoon fame, was born in Minneapolis but spent most of his childhood in St Paul where his father owned a barbershop. During this time Schultz and his father were known to purchase newspapers from Minneapolis and St Paul to be sure they saw every cartoon strip printed locally. For five summers after his death in 2,000, artists from all over St Paul designed and displayed renditions of Peanuts characters. In Rice and Landmark Parks as well as throughout St Paul you can see the Peanut characters.
We ended the day with a stop at Minnehaha Regional Park to see the beautiful 53 foot Minnehaha Falls, one of the most photographed sites in in Minnesota. The name Minnehaha comes from the Dakota language and means waterfall. Even though he never visited Minnehaha Falls, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made the Falls famous in his poem, “The Song of Hiawatha”.
Enjoy the following video:
A bronze statue of Hiawatha carrying Minnehaha is located on a small island in the park. The statue was created in 1893 and placed in the park in 1912.
We enjoyed our time in Minneapolis and St Paul, however the two cities, especially Minneapolis, are very frustrating to drive in with many confusing one way streets complicated by construction and road closures.
Next up: Albert Lea and our last days in Minnesota