Amana Colonies – Iowa

Iowa City, IA

We’ve made our way south into central Iowa where we are staying at a nice COE (Army Corp of Engineer) park called Sugar Bottom Recreation Area.  Fellow bloggers John and Sharon (On the Road of Retirement) stayed here in June and recommended it.  The park is along the Iowa River just north of the Coralville Dam.

Sugar Bottom is the largest of a number of nice campgrounds surrounding the reservoir created by the Coralville Dam.  Most sites are water/electric but there are also a few full hook-up sites.  Sixty percent of the sites are reservable on-line while the rest are first come first served.  We had a reservation for a gravel, water/electric site but found that one paved full hook-up site was available when we arrived, so we were able to take it.  The site appears a bit small in the pictures but with the “V” layout we have good privacy from our only neighbor and a wide lawn between us and the road.

The Amana Colonies are located about 20 miles to our west, so one day we drove over for a visit.  Like many who have heard of the colonies but never knew much about them, we thought it was an Amish settlement, similar to those found in Lancaster County near our former home in Pennsylvania.  It turns out the only similarity that the people of Amana had with the Amish is that they were of German descent and very religious.

The Amana Colony is seven villages on 26,000 acres.    The villages are named Amana (or Main Amana), East Amana, High Amana, Middle Amana, South Amana, West Amana, and Homestead. The villages were built and settled by German Pietists, who were persecuted in their homeland by the German state government and the Lutheran Church.  Calling themselves the Community of True Inspiration, they first settled in New York near Buffalo in what is now the Town of West Seneca.  However, seeking more isolated surroundings, they moved to Iowa in 1856. They lived a communal life there until the mid-1930s.

Our first stop was at a small visitor center in Amana where we purchased tickets that gave us entry into various spots in the colonies.  We then moved just down the street to visit the Amana Heritage Center and Museum.

Entrance to the Amana Heritage Museum

Side view of the museum located in the former schoolhouse

The museum is located in two adjacent buildings.  The entrance is in the village’s former schoolhouse.  It contains a room filled with old photos and displays as well as a small theater where we viewed a brief but informative video on the history of the colonies.  Following the video we were instructed to cross a small yard and enter the main part of the museum located in a former family residence called the Noé House.  The Noé House, built in 1864 of locally produced brick, was originally a communal kitchen and later a doctor’s residence (Dr. Noé).

The Noé House

The various rooms in the house were filled with memorabilia and old photos depicting life in the commune.

The laundry room

A note on a bulletin board outside the museum that said Lily Lake was in full bloom.  We didn’t know what that meant until we drove by the lake a few minutes later.  We discovered that the lake is covered with lily pads in full bloom!

We drove just a few miles west to Middle Amana where we visited a communal kitchen.  There was no cooking in the homes of Amana citizens.  Instead, people originally ate together in groups of thirty to forty-five.  Communal kitchens, each with their own gardens, hosted meals.  Men would sit at one table while women and small children would sit at another. Prayers were said in German before and after meals.  Meals were not considered social affairs so conversation was discouraged and diners were expected to eat in 15 minutes (no time to waste, there was work to be done!).

There were as many as fifty-five communal kitchens in the Colonies: sixteen in Amana, ten in Middle Amana, nine in Homestead, six in South and West Amana, and four in East and High Amana.

View from across the street

Old photo of the communal kitchen

Almost the same view today

Women preparing food on the porch

The same porch today

The long kitchen sink

The communal kitchen concept eroded some time around 1900, as married residents began to eat in their own homes.  Food was still cooked in the communal kitchens, but housewives would take the food home.  Kitchen staff and single residents still ate in the communal kitchens.

Serving area – there are two tables in this room

Across the street from the kitchen is the cooper shop.  The coopers in the communal Amana Colonies produced tubs, barrels, and other containers used throughout the community.

We continued west about three miles to High Amana for a visit to the High Amana General Store.

Everything from tires to Amana beverage coolers to souvenirs has been sold at the High Amana Store.  It gained importance in the 1920s as the manager expanded the merchandise to include bicycles, radios, and other popular items. Now called the High Amana General Store, the building has remained essentially unchanged as the merchandise and the store’s role in the community have changed. The pressed metal ceiling, long sales counter and other fixtures date to the 19th century. There are antique display cases in which gifts and Amana Colony made crafts are displayed, a hand pump, original patterned ceilings and other traditional decorations and furnishings. There is a kerosene pump inside for filling lamps and stoves. This pump is one of the oldest functional antiques in the store.

In 1931, in the wake of the Great Depression, the Great Council (the governing body) disclosed to the Amana Society that the villages were in dire financial condition. The Depression was particularly harsh in the Colony because a fire badly damaged the woolen mill and destroyed the flour mill less than ten years earlier.  At the same time, Society members were seeking increased secularism so that they could have more personal freedom.  The Society agreed to split into two organizations. The non-profit Amana Church Society oversaw the spiritual needs of the community while the for-profit Amana Society was incorporated as a joint-stock company. The transition was completed in 1932 and came to be known in the community as the Great Change.

Today the Amana Society continues to own and manage some 26,000 acres of farm, pasture and forest land.  Agriculture remains an important economic base today just as it was in communal times. Because the land was not divided up with the end of communalism, the landscape of Amana still reflects its communal heritage.  In addition, over 450 communal-era buildings stand in the seven village.  In 1965 the National Park Service designated the Amana Colonies as a National Historic Landmark.

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The Day the Music Died – Clear Lake, IA

Clear Lake, IA

We left Sioux Falls, SD on Friday and headed east on I-90 into Minnesota.  After about 150 miles we turned south on I-35 and entered Iowa.  We drove our usual one day limit (about 200 miles) and settled into a spot at Oakwood RV Park on the south side of Clear Lake.  The park is not fancy but we only planned for an overnight stay and Oakwood served that purpose well with long pull through sites.  The sites share utilities with the adjacent site, a situation we don’t care for, but the sites are long enough that you are not side by side with your neighbor who is parked in the opposite direction.

Our site with the neighbor site empty

This stop in Clear Lake was not just a random one convenient for an overnight stay.  John wanted to visit a site that is legendary in the history of rock and roll, the legendary Surf Ballroom.  For some readers the title of the blog was enough to tip you off as to what occurred here.  For others, a bit of background is needed.  “The day the music died” is taken from the first verse of Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit “American Pie.”   It is a reference to the death of rock and roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson who were killed in a plane crash just north of town a few hours after doing a show in the Surf Ballroom in February of 1959.

Plaque surrounded by photos from Buddy Holly’s last performance

The Surf Ballroom stage and dance floor

Buddy Holly’s view during his last performance

Next to the stage is a small “green room” where performers wait before going on stage.  The walls are filled with signatures, some by the famous and some by the not so famous.

The walls in the lobby are filled with photos of past ballroom performers

In 1959 Buddy Holly was a big deal in the world of rock and roll.  He had a string of number one hits during the previous year and had performed on the Ed Sullivan Show twice.  He and his band were touring the mid-west as part of what was called the “Winter Dance Party.”  Also on the tour were the young singers Richie Valens (of La Bamba fame), J.R. Richard, who was known as the Big Bopper (Hello Baby), and Dion and the Belmonts (of Run Around Sue fame).

The show’s schedule had the group criss-crossing the mid-west in January during one of the coldest winters on record, with long distances between performances.  The long journeys between venues on board the cold, uncomfortable tour buses adversely affected the performers, with cases of flu and even frostbite.  After stopping at Clear Lake to perform, and frustrated by such conditions, Holly decided to charter a plane (a four seat Beechcraft Bonanza) to reach their next venue.  One of the other three seats was suppose to have gone to a member of Holly’s band, a guy named Waylon Jennings, but he gave the seat to Richardson, who had flu.  Jennings went on to have a successful career in country music.  We know at least one of our readers will remember him as the narrator for the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard.  He also composed and sang the show’s theme song.  The fourth seat went to Richie Valens after he “won” a coin toss with another member of the band.

The pilot, a 21 year old local named Roger Peterson, took off in inclement weather, although he was not certified to fly by instruments only. Shortly after 1:00 am on February 3, 1959 Holly, Valens, Richardson, and Peterson were killed instantly when the plane crashed at full throttle into a cornfield soon after take-off from the nearby Mason City Airport.

After visiting the ballroom we drove about six miles north to visit the site of the crash, which is still a corn field.  The field is private property but there is a path that leads from the road to the exact spot of the crash.  A large set of glasses similar to those Holly wore sit at the access point to the crash site.

About a quarter mile from the road, at the location of the crash, there is a stainless steel monument that depicts a guitar and a set of three records bearing the names of the three performers who perished in the accident.  Next to the monument are stainless steel wings with the pilot’s name.

We planned to only stay in Clear Lake one night, but when the predicted early morning rain stretched into the afternoon we extended our visit another night.  We were pleased with our decision as it rained heavily off and on all day.  Between the rain we took the opportunity to do some more exploring of the area.  The town of Clear Lake (pop. 7,700) sits on the east end of Clear Lake, a spring-fed lake that is about four miles long and two miles wide.  The lakeshore is dotted with beautiful homes with water access for boating.

After checking out Clear Lake we drove about eight miles to the east for a visit to Mason City.  Mason City is widely known for its collection of Prairie School architecture (marked by horizontal lines, flat or hipped roofs with broad overhanging eaves, and windows grouped in horizontal bands).  At least 32 houses and one commercial building were built in the Prairie Style between 1908 and 1922, 17 of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and eight more are contributing properties to a historic district.   The first two Prairie structures, the Dr. G.C. Stockman House (1908) and the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank Buildings (1909–1910) were both designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The Stockman House

Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank

A side view of the Park Inn Hotel and City National Bank

The most famous native son of Mason City is Meredith Willson, a famous musician and composer who wrote The Music Man and The Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Meredith Willson’s boyhood home

The sky finally has cleared so it’s time to continue our journey.  Next up is a stay at a Corp of Engineer park just north of Iowa City, IA.  More on that later . . .

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A Visit to Sioux Falls, SD

Sioux Falls, SD

As we continued our trek east on I-90, we stopped for a few days in Sioux Falls.  One of our activities there was to ride a great bike path from a spot near the airport down to Falls Park, a nice area on the Big Sioux River with the falls that gives the city its name.

The Sioux Falls Bike Trail

Arriving at Falls Park we stopped at the information center, which has a four story observation tower with a great view of the falls.

Falls Park Visitors Information Center

View from the observation tower

After seeing the falls from the top of the tower we walked through the park to get some different views of the river.

As we toured the park we came upon a photo session with a group of muscle guys posing along the river.  John quickly took off his shirt and joined the group.  Unfortunately, he is blocked out by the photographer in the only photo Pam was able to take.

The falls are lit up at night so we stopped by one evening to take a photo.

Next up for us are a couple of stops in Iowa.  More on that later . . .

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Through S. Dakota – Chamberlain and Mitchell

Mitchell, SD

After a busy stay in the Black Hills area we headed east through South Dakota along I-90.  Our first stop was near Chamberlain for a couple of nights along the Missouri River in the Cedar Shores Campground.

After spending a quiet day along the river we continued our journey to the east.  The next stop was only for a night, so we parked in the Cabela’s  RV lot in the town of Mitchell.   It is always amazing to us how people chose where to park in a wide open lot.  Cabela’s has a large RV parking area just behind the Mitchell store.  We arrived early in the afternoon to find the lot empty, so we selected a spot for the motorhome along side of a grassy area and drove off in the Jeep to visit a couple of spots of interest to us in the area.

When we returned, the parking area was still empty except for one additional motorhome.  Guess where they parked.

There were two sites we wanted to visit in this area.  The first was the Mitchell Prehistoric Indian Village.  The site contains two buildings, the  Boehnen Memorial Museum and the Thomsen Center Archeodome.

The site was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964 as it contains the remains of what was once a village made of lodges surrounded by palisades dating back a thousand years.  The Boehnen Memorial Museum features a reconstructed lodge and many of the artifacts found at the site.

The Thomsen Center Acheodome is built over a large area of excavation which is part of the ancient village.  Each summer students from the University of Exeter in England and Augustana University in Sioux Falls come to the site for a Summer Archaeology Field School to continue excavations of the site.

The students had just concluded their experience for this summer early in the day of our visit.  The items uncovered by their efforts will now be cleaned and analyzed in the adjacent labs.

A midden is a refuse site for the village

The next stop in our brief visit to Mitchell was to the world famous Corn Palace.  What’s that you say?  You have never heard of the Corn Palace?  Between 200,000 and 500,000 people visit it every year so somebody has heard of it!  So exactly what is the Corn Palace, you ask?  The Corn Palace, is a multi-purpose arena/facility that serves the community as a venue for concerts, sports events, exhibits and other community events.   The Moorish Revival building is decorated with crop art; the murals and designs covering the building are made from corn and other grains, with a new design constructed each year.

This year’s theme is “Rock of Ages” and Willie Nelson has played the Corn Palace

Next up is a visit to Sioux Falls, SD.  More on that later . . .

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The Badlands of South Dakota

Hermosa, SD

For our last adventure in western South Dakota we drove east for a visit to Badlands National Park.  It’s a bit of a drive (about 90 mi.) from Hermosa to the park entrance and if we were to do it again we would find an RV park somewhere closer to it, especially since we will be traveling in that direction tomorrow.  But the roads are good and the scenery is nice, so it wasn’t a bad trip.

After a stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, we headed into the park to do a short hike.  The Notch Trail is about a mile and half roundtrip and takes you through a canyon and up a steep log ladder to a nice overlook.

The log ladder

The trail above the ladder

The windy overlook

Heading back with the ladder in the distance

The “down” is more difficult than the “up”

Returning to the Jeep we set out for a 22 mile ride through the park on the Scenic Loop Road (SD-240).

Check out the arch in the center of the photo

The Yellow Mounds

Along the way we passed a number of large prairie dog towns.  In one the sharp eye’s of the nimble hiker spotted a Burrowing Owl.

Burrowing owls like to nest in the holes dug by the prairie dogs.  Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are often active during the day, although they tend to avoid the midday heat.  But like many other kinds of owls, burrowing owls do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn when they can use their night vision and hearing to their advantage. Living in open grasslands as opposed to the forest, the burrowing owl has developed longer legs, which enables it to sprint as well as fly when hunting.

After passing the Pinnacle Overlook we turned left on Sagecreek Rim Road, a maintained dirt road that leads west back out of the park.  Along the way we were fortunate to spot some Bighorn Sheep resting among the rocks.

While a day is enough time to visit the Badlands National Park, the colorful beauty of the area make it well worth a visit.

After a great visit to the Black Hills area we will now continue our journey east.  Next up is a short stop in Chamberlain, SD.  More on that later . . .

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Crazy Horse Memorial- Custer, SD

Hermosa, SD

We ended our last post with an iconic picture from the Black Hills of South Dakota, the faces of Mt. Rushmore.  As we stated then, the Rushmore sculptures are quite impressive, but the site holds no historical significance and none of the four Presidents depicted ever visited the area.  South Dakota historian Doane Robinson is credited with conceiving the idea of carving the likenesses of famous people into the Black Hills region of South Dakota in order to promote tourism in the region.

Just 15 miles from Mt. Rushmore is a monument to a legendary Indian leader who actually lived in the area.  The Crazy Horse Memorial is a mountain monument under construction on privately held land depicting Crazy Horse, an Oglala Lakota warrior, riding a horse and pointing into the distance.  The memorial was commissioned by Henry Standing Bear, a Lakota elder, to be sculpted by the late Korczak Ziolkowski.  He informed the sculptor, “My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”  Today the site is operated by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation, a private non-profit organization.   The story behind the memorial and Korczak Ziolkowski is a very interesting one but much too long to cover in a blog, so we encourage you to do some research if interested.

The memorial has been under construction since 1948 and is far from completion.  Ziolkowski refused all offers of federal funding as he felt that the project was more than just a mountain carving.  He feared that his plans for the broader educational and cultural goals of the memorial would be overturned by federal involvement.  Today the memorial is a non-profit undertaking, and still receives no federal or state funding. The Memorial Foundation charges fees for its visitors center and earns revenue from its gift shops. With limited funding, progress on the mountain is slow and may never be completed.  But that doesn’t matter, just having the face of Crazy Horse overlooking the land of his people is already enough.

OK, enough of that!  Let’s look at our visit to the monument, our third in the past 25 years.  Fortunately for us, our friends, Steve and Joan, are working at Crazy Horse this summer.  In fact, one of Steve’s duties is to conduct small group tours using a van to take visitors up to the flat area above the arm.  As part of his employment contract he is allowed to take one group on the tour at no cost (it’s normally $125 per person).  He invited us and two other couples to join him and Joan for a trip up the monument on Sunday afternoon.

The monument from a distance of one mile

The memorial consists of the mountain carving (monument), the Indian Museum of North America, and the Native American Cultural Center.  We arrived at the memorial about an hour before the tour to allow time to revisit the museum and cultural center.

A sculpture of the finished monument with the mountain behind it

The size of the monument is difficult to comprehend.  Just the head of Crazy Horse is 87 feet high; by comparison, the heads of the four U.S. Presidents at Mount Rushmore are each 60 feet.

We met our group in the lobby of the visitor center at the designated time and soon boarded the van for the drive up the mountain.

The outline of the hand appears as we drive around to the back side of the mountain

During the week there are no tours up to the top before 4:30 pm as the area is an active construction zone.  But since it was Sunday, we were able to go up in mid-afternoon.  When we arrive at the top our guide, Tom, used a pictorial display to explain some things to us.

After that we headed out on to the top of the arm.

As we moved out on to the arm the view back down at the visitor center was fantastic!

We did not look behind us until we were about half way out on the arm.  When we turned around the face of Crazy Horse towered over us.

Think it looks big from here?

How about from here?

Photo depicting the beginning of construction on the eye

The finished project

Detail in the lips (notice the cleft on the upper lift)

Our hosts, Joan and Steve

The group: George, Laurel, Bev, JC, Joan, Steve, Pam, and John

Insightful comments from our guide, Tom

After our wonderful tour we adjourned to a nearby establishment to enjoy a cold drink and discuss our experience.

Pam, JC, Bev, John, and Steve (note the stools!)

We have visited Crazy Horse twice in the past but never had an experience like we had this time.  The trip up to the top was wonderful and Steve and Joan shared a wealth of information they have learned from their time working at the memorial.  Thank you, Steve and Joan, for a great day!

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A Drive Through Custer State Park – South Dakota

Hermosa, SD

On Friday we left Keyhole State Park in eastern Wyoming and drove east on I-90 into South Dakota for a visit to the Black Hills.  We’ve been here a couple of times but it is the first time the motorhome has been in South Dakota.  We were surprised when it showed no emotion as we crossed the state line!

We drove to the little community of Hermosa, on the east side of the Black Hills and about 15 miles south of Rapid City to Southern Hills RV Park.  The park is not very nice but the sites are level, the power is good, the location is good, and the price is right.

That evening we met three other RV couples we have met during our travels at a nearby pizza shop to share stories and enjoy a great meal.  We failed to take any photos of the group but are meeting them on Sunday at the Crazy Horse Monument, so we’ll get some photos then.

Today (Saturday) the temperatures were in the 90s, a bit warm for hiking, so we decided to take a long drive through the Black Hills.  We drove about 10 miles east to the entrance to Custer State Park, paid our $20 entry fee, and headed for what is called the Wildlife Loop Trail, a two lane paved road meandering through the rolling grasslands of the park.  We drove a few miles before sighting some wildlife, a large buffalo grazing near the road.

As we approached, the big guy decided to take a stroll down the road in front of us, so we sat awhile as he slowly made his way across a small bridge.

Finally he turned and headed into the field next to the road.

He must have had an itch on his back as he suddenly flopped over and began rolling in the dirt.

This rolling, also called wallowing, deters biting flies and removes tufts of molted fur.

“Aah, that felt good!”

Buffalo are herd animals, so we knew this guy’s buddies must be somewhere nearby.  About a mile further along we found them.  It seems that they decided the vast grassy fields were not as inviting as the road.  So the herd decided to take up residence on both sides of the road and walk slowly back and forth, blocking traffic.

It appeared they had a plan to keep blocking the road, as a couple of the larger buffalo would take turns walking out to the middle and just stand there.

Cars slowly weaved their way through the crowd and finally, 45 minutes later, it was our turn to pass through the gauntlet.

One large bull was assigned to stand in the road and stare at each passing car.

As we slowly passed by he continued to give us the “evil eye.”

A few miles past the buffalo jam we passed a small herd of wild burros.

A nearby parking area provided a nice spot for the burros to receive a snack from the many tourists who aren’t suppose to be feeding them.

We continued along the loop, passing a cow and her calf walking along the road near another large herd of buffalo.

After completing the 13 mile long loop road we drove a short distance up Rte. 87 for a visit to the Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower.  The tower was one of the last projects completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s.  Built of local stone, the tower rests atop a 6,023′ peak and is still used today as a fire lookout and dispatch center. As the highest point in central Custer State Park, it offers breathtaking 360-degree views from the top of the fire tower.

Mount Coolidge Lookout and Fire Tower

Looking east, see the white area below the arrow?

It’s the Crazy Horse Monument – 10 miles away

Looking north, see the white area under the arrow?

It’s Mount Rushmore, also 10 miles away

We left the tower and continued north on Rte. 87.  After splitting from US 16A, the route is known as the Needles Highway.  This 14 mile long segment was finished in 1922 and is named after the high granite “needles” it winds among.

Lunch with a view

Needles Eye Tunnel

Inside the Needles Eye Tunnel

Leaving the Needles Highway we made a loop to the east on Rte. 244, which goes right by Mount Rushmore National Monument.  As we approached the monument from the west there is a cut in the rock where you can see the face of George Washington.

We continued around a bend and drove right in front of the monument.

While the faces in the stone are quite impressive, the site holds no historical significance and none of the four Presidents depicted ever visited the area.  But we are looking forward to tomorrow when we visit a monument to a leader who did spend time in the area, the Crazy Horse Monument.

More on that later . . .

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