Through West Virginia to Pennsylvania

York, PA

After visiting friends in Oxford, OH, we took four days to drive to our former hometown of York, PA.  It doesn’t take that long to do the drive but we had time to kill before our reservation date in York.  The first stop was in Cambridge, OH where we stayed at a nice park (Spring Valley Campground) just off the interstate for two nights.  There was not much to do in Cambridge but we always enjoy visiting small towns in our travels.

After that we drove just a bit over a hundred miles to Morgantown, WV where we stayed two nights in Mylan Park.  Mylan Park is a community park just a few miles west of Morgantown.  It has a number of recreation fields and indoor facilities used by the local community.  One of the large parking areas has some full hook-up RV spots that are used mainly by people attending football games at nearby West Virginia University.  So it’s not a good place for an extended stay but works well for a night or two.

Looking down at the RV area from a nearby hillside

West Virginia is the brunt of many jokes about the local population being a bit “backward” at times, a stereotypes that may or may not be deserved.  But it wasn’t long before we had an experience that just reinforced that picture.  After setting up the motorhome we drove to a nearby coffee shop (one of those chain stores based in Seattle) for a little refreshment.  As we got out of the Jeep we heard a strange sound emanating from an Audi parked next to us.  We peered in the open window and found that we were looking at a goat sitting in the driver seat!

They let anyone drive a car in WV!

We were looking to stretch our legs a bit after the drive from Ohio so when a stop at a visitor center revealed that a park with a scenic overlook was nearby, we headed there for a visit.  Dorsey’s Knob is a 70 acre park just south of the downtown area.  Its main feature is Sky Rock, which stands about 600 feet above the town.

Grassy area leading up to Sky Rock

The sign at the base of the trail was pretty intimidating, but we didn’t see anything resembling the mountains of southern Utah so we figured we would be able to make the climb.

Heading up the strenuous section of the short trail

A WVU cheerleader was posing on Sky Rock

The view from Sky Rock was nice, but tree blocked the best angles to the city.

The next day we parked along the Monongahela River to explore a nicely paved bike trail that runs through Morgantown along the water.  The trail was very nice but not much of the river bank has been developed so there wasn’t much to see.  We did pass a couple of small restaurants and a very nice outdoor pavilion right on the water.

After enjoying the bike trail we put the bikes back in the Jeep and drove about 25 miles east of town to visit Coopers Rock State Forest.

The tree-lined road leading in to the forest

Coopers Rock State Forest gets its name from a legend about a fugitive who hid from the law near what is now the overlook. A cooper by trade, he resumed making barrels at his new mountain hideout, selling them to people in nearby communities. He lived and worked in the forest for many years.  During the Depression the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built numerous structures in the forest, including a scenic overlook with a nice view of the surrounding area with the Cheat River winding its way below.

Walkway to the overlook

The large rock outcropping fenced in by the CCC had many old graffiti carvings dating back many years.  One dated 1897 caught our eye.

After enjoying the viewpoint we hiked a short trail that winds down under the viewpoint.

Returning to the Jeep we drove about five miles to another section of the park where a trail leads down to the remains of an old iron furnace.

The furnace was built between 1834 and 1836, and is a 30 foot square, 30 feet high stone structure in the shape of a truncated pyramid.  The furnace may have continued to operate until 1868 when all the Cheat River iron works ceased production.  During peak operation years the area around the furnace was stripped of all trees (used to make charcoal for the furnace) and was surrounded by a community of over 200 people.  Today all the structures except the furnace are gone and the forest has reclaimed the area.

After two nights in Morgantown we continued our journey eastward across I-68 through West Virginia and Maryland before turning to the north into Pennsylvania.

We are now settled into a small RV park just a few miles from our daughter’s home in York.  We’ll be staying for about a month and half visiting family and friends and completing yearly medical appointments.  Then it will be time to head south as the weather begins to change.

More on that later . . .

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Coach Upgrades Then a Visit with Friends in Ohio

Oxford, OH

When we first started full-timing in 2010, we attended a Fleetwood (manufacturer of our motorhome) Rally in central Illinois.  While there we met Kevin Mallory, owner of Cruising America RV in Celina, OH.   Later that summer we drove to Celina to have some work completed and were very pleased with the results.  Since then we have returned on a number of occasions to have other work completed.  When our satellite dish died in Utah, we decided to wait until we were traveling east to have a new one installed so we could have it done by Kevin.  Later, when we developed a loud noise in our washer/dryer combination we called Kevin to schedule installation of a new one while we were replacing the satellite dome.

Our appointment day finally arrived and we drove from Indianapolis to Celina, which is just 30 miles from the Indiana state line.  During our last visit three years ago we were one of only two motorhomes in the lot.  But business is good at Cruising America and we were surprised to find a line of motorhomes parked awaiting attention.

Our “site” in the Cruising America lot

The first task for Kevin and John (his trusted assistant) was the replacement of the dead satellite dome.  The dome had worked flawlessly for many years, but a dish in a dome does not have the ability to receive HD channels.  We always considered replacing it but since it worked so well we put off an upgrade.   Since the dome died a natural death, an upgrade was in order.

The original dome satellite dish

The new dish is not under a dome as it has an oval shape, allowing it to “see” three different satellites required for HD reception.  The dome could only see one satellite, limiting it to standard definition reception.  We’ve now moved into the 21st century in TV viewing!

The new Winegard Trav’ler dish

The following morning Kevin and John tackled the next project, replacing the Splendide washer/dryer combination unit with a new, upgraded model.  Since the combination unit has a small drum it doesn’t hold many clothes, requiring more loads than a residential unit.  We use ours almost daily so when it developed a loud knocking sound during high speed spins (and this unit had really high speed spins!) we decided it was time to replace it.

Yes, no more laundromats!

As we planned our route back toward Pennsylvania, we heard from our dog friend, Cody (OK, from his owners David and Karen) that they would be traveling through Ohio and were stopping to visit friends, Herschel and Pam, in the town of Oxford, OH, just 70 miles south of Celina.  We know both couples from our numerous winter stays in Cortez, FL and couldn’t pass up a chance to see them.  But the real reason was to get our doggie fix.  Herschel and Pam have two cool dogs, Casey and Mia, and David and Karen travel with our buddy, Cody.

We have spent a great deal of time with Cody (and David and Karen) both in Florida and hiking in Utah last year.  We had not seen them since that hiking trip so it was really fun to see if Cody remembered us.  And there is no doubt that he did, as he went crazy running around and jumping up on us when he first saw us.

Cody and the “Treat Lady”

Herschel, Pam, Karen, David, Cody, and John

We stayed in a site near David and Karen in Hueston Woods State Park, just north of the town of Oxford.  The park, named for the original owners of the property, surrounds man-made Lake Acton and has 12 miles of trails, a 96 room lodge, and an eighteen hole golf course.  It also has a nature center with a bird sanctuary.


Over the course of our weekend stay we went in to the town of Oxford a number of times to enjoy meals at a couple of the local restaurants and to visit a very nice farmers market on Saturday morning.  During one of those visits we drove around the beautiful campus of Miami University, which is adjacent to the town.  Founded in 1809, Miami University is the 10th oldest public university in the United States and the second oldest university in Ohio.  In its 2016 edition, U.S. News & World Report ranked the university 82nd among national universities, the 34th top public school, and 5th for best undergraduate teaching preparation at national universities.  One of their favorite sayings is “Miami was a university in Ohio while Florida was still part of Spain.”

On Saturday we drove a few miles south of Oxford to visit Herschel and Pam’s beautiful home.  The visit turned into a bit of a dogfest, as we also had to visit with Mia and Casey.

Casey (the Bulldog) and Mia visit the Treat Lady while Cody keeps an eye on things

Bulldogs are even cool when they sit!

Their neighbor’s across the road were having an engagement picnic and we were all invited to attend.  The neighbor (can’t remember his name) is a retired auto mechanic and, for a retirement gift to himself, built a large garage out back of his house, complete with a lift.  One of his prized possessions is a 1964 Chevrolet Impala with a rare 409 engine that his grandfather bought brand new.  When his grandfather died, he took ownership (he wasn’t old enough to drive) and has had it ever since.  Pretty cool!

1964 Chevy Impala

His “American Graffiti” style roadster on the lift

Every cool garage needs a shiny Corvette

We left the picnic early and took Cody with us so David and Karen could stay there a bit longer.  Cody loves to hang out in our motorhome, especially with the “Treat Lady” at work!

Oh boy, a chicken snack!

A little “after snack” rest after a long day!

We said our good-byes to Herschel and Pam on Saturday and to David and Karen (and Cody) on Sunday morning as we pulled out of the campground and headed west on I-70.  We’ll make a couple of overnight stops along the way as we continue our journey back to our hometown of York, PA for an extended stay.

More on that later . . .

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A Stop in Indianapolis

Indianapolis, IN

Our route eastward took us through Indianapolis, a city we enjoy, so we stopped there for a few days to visit.  We’ve stayed at  Lake Haven Retreat, a decent RV park just south of the  I-465 beltway, on previous stops in the area so we reserved four nights there again.

On our first full day here we headed downtown to see some sites we missed during our previous visits.  Our first destination was Monument Circle, a circular, brick-paved street that intersects Meridian and Market streets in the center of the downtown.

Apparently they forgot the “I” so a Colts cheerleader stood in for the photo

At the center of the circle is the Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument, a 284 foot obelisk.  The monument’s original purpose was to honor Hoosiers who were veterans of the Civil War.  However, it is also a tribute to Indiana’s soldiers who served during the Revolutionary War, the Mexican War, and the Spanish–American War.  The monument is the first in the country to be dedicated to the common soldier.

The memorial is ringed with several notable outdoor sculptures and statues.

The basement of the monument contains the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum,  a museum of Indiana history during the Civil War.  Lilly served with distinction in the Civil War (spending the last years of the war as a POW) and later founded the famous drug company.  He donated a large amount of money to the construction of the monument.

If you look to the west down Market Street,  you see the main entrance to the Indiana State House just two blocks away.

The Indiana State House is the state capitol building of Indiana. It houses the Indiana General Assembly, the office of the Governor of Indiana, the Supreme Court of Indiana, and other state officials.   We stopped in to see Gov. Pence but apparently he was off touring the country.

Looking past the statue of Oliver Moore, governor during the Civil War, toward the Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Looking up at the dome inside the capitol building

Senate Chambers

House Chambers

After touring the capitol we walked back east past the monument to the City Market for lunch.  Built in 1886 the market now is filled with food vendors and has a nice eating area on the balcony surrounding the vendors.

Real Philly pretzels!

The humidity finally passed out of the area and Sunday afternoon had a moderate temperature.  So we took advantage of the great weather for a walk along the Indiana Central Canal, located just a couple of miles west of the Capitol Building.  The Indiana Central Canal was intended to extend for 296 miles and connect the Wabash and Erie Canal to the Ohio River.  But the state ran into financial troubles and only eight miles were built.  Today about two miles of the canal are still in existence and lined with condo buildings and restaurants with a wide sidewalk running along either side.  It’s a great place to spend a beautiful summer afternoon.

Note the gondola on the left

One way to take a large dog for a bike ride (sorry for the focus, he went by quickly)

The nearby JW Marriott Hotel provides great reflections of the passing clouds.

Returning to the RV park we took our chairs down to the pond to enjoy some quiet reading time.

OK, not exactly “lunch with a view” but it’ll have to do

On Monday, our second perfect weather day, we drove to the north side of Indianapolis, parked the Jeep, and rode the beautiful Monon Bike Path north into Carmel.  A former teacher from the History Department where John taught (Susquehannock HS) now lives there and we were meeting her for lunch.

We met Jill at a nice restaurant in downtown Carmel with outdoor seating right along the bike trail.  We had such a nice time reminiscing about our past experiences, we forgot to get a photo!

We now head about 130 miles northeast to Celina, OH for a couple of repairs to the motorhome.  Kevin Mallory of Cruising America RV has done work for us in the past and we really like his work, so if we need something done in the coach (he doesn’t do engine or chassis work) we try to have him do it.

More on our “repairs” in the next post.

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A Few Days in Champaign, IL

Champaign, IL

Sunday morning we left Shady Creek COE Park along the Mississippi River southwest of Davenport, IA and headed east into Illinois.  After about 200 miles we pulled into D & W Lake RV Park just north of Champaign.

This is a nice little park sitting next to a small lake, giving us a nice view outside our front window.

Our Torrey, UT friends, Larry and Annette, are familiar with Champaign (Larry lived here in his “younger” days).   When they saw on Facebook that we were here, they quickly informed us that we should not miss enjoying a lemon custard with cold fudge from Jarlings Ice Cream and Frozen Custard Shop.  They sure were correct, the dish was delicious!

A young maiden enjoys a well-deserved treat

We spent three days in Champaign but it rained hard throughout day one and the temperature was in the 90s with high humidity on day two.  Finally the sun was out and the humidity dropped just a bit on day three so we headed into town to ride bikes around the campus of the University of Illinois.

While in an urban setting, there is a definite campus feeling to the school, with two quad areas in the center of the academic area.

The McFarland Carillon (Bell Tower) on the South Quad

Looking north toward the Illini Union Bldg. on the Main Quad

Foellinger Auditorium at the south end of the Main Quad

Memorial Stadium is home to the Fighting Illini football team.  The stadium, completed in 1924, is a memorial to the students from the school who died in World War I.  Their names are engraved on the nearly 200 pillars surrounding the stadium’s facade.

Memorial Stadium

A beautiful statue located in front of the main entrance honors Red Grange, a legendary figure in college football who played here in the 1920s.

The stadium has been renovated numerous times over the year and has a seating capacity of 60,670 .  An interesting story involves the original construction of the playing field.  Heavy rain during the construction resulted in a bulldozer sinking into the field.  It was decided the expense of removing the bulldozer would have been greater than leaving it buried under the field, and it remains there today.  Is it a myth or reality, who knows!

Across the street from Memorial Stadium is State Farm Center.  State Farm Center opened as an Assembly Hall in 1963.  From 1963–1965 Assembly Hall was the largest dome structure in North America until the opening of the Astrodome in Houston.  The roof is supported by 614 miles of quarter inch steel wire wrapped at the base of the dome under intensive pressure.  The building is undergoing renovation outside so we couldn’t get inside.

State Farm Arena

Returning the the motorhome we enjoyed a beautiful view over the lake at sunset.

Next up on our journey is a short visit to Indianapolis.  More on that later . . .

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Along the Mississippi – Davenport and Muscatine, IA

Muscatine, IA

After leaving the Iowa City area we had a short drive of about 60 miles to our next stop at Shady Creek Recreation Area, a small Corps of Engineer park along the Mississippi River between Davenport and Muscatine, IA.  The park is typical of COE campgrounds with nice paved sites.  While some COE parks have full hook-ups, Shady Creek only has electric, so we arrived for a one week stay with a full tank of fresh water and empty waste tanks.

Site 42 at Shady Creek

For the past few years Pam has been following a former York Township Elementary School (where she taught for “a few” years) third grade student, Brendon Sanger, as he played college baseball at Florida Atlantic University.  Last year Brendon was drafted by the LA Angels and this year is playing for the Burlington (IA) Bees, a Class A team in the Midwest League.  Davenport also has a team in the Midwest League, the Quad City River Bandits, and we were pleased to see that the Bees would be playing in Davenport during our stay.  Pam is friends with Brendon’s mother on Facebook and let her know of our plans to attend a game.  Brendon was happy to have someone from home attend one of his games and left free tickets for us at the stadium.  OK, so the night we were there was half price night making a ticket $3, but we still saved $6.  And we still had to pay for parking ($2)!

Modern Woodmen Park is a nice little ballpark right along the Mississippi next to downtown Davenport.  Modern Woodman is an insurance and investment firm located across the river in Rock Island, IL.  We were there on a Monday night and the crowd was a bit small so we were able to get great seats a few rows behind the visitors dugout.  Since he had not seen Pam since third grade we weren’t sure if Brendon would recognize us, but when he turned around to return to the dugout after the national anthem he recognized the two young fans waving to him and came up to say hello.  While he didn’t have much time right then he said he would come up in the stands to talk after the game.

Although he usually plays second base, for this game Brendon was the designated hitter.  He had two hits in the game and scored a run.

On first base after a solid single

Oops, not so good on this one

Now we certainly do enjoy a baseball game, and both teams played very well.  But nine innings is enough, especially when you have no interest in or experience with either team.  So we were a bit dismayed when the score was tied at the end of the ninth, and the tenth, and the eleventh, and the . . . you get the idea.  By the time the game ended (in the fifteenth inning with the Bees winning) we were sitting in an almost empty stadium!  We would have left hours earlier but told Brendon we would talk with him at the end of the game (who knew?).  But it was worth the wait as we had a nice talk before he had to get to the bus for the return trip back to Burlington (75 miles away).  No hotels in the minor leagues!

Our son, Kevin, is a pilot for ExpressJet, a regional airline flying as Delta Connect, and Davenport is one of the cities they service.  When he found we would be in the area, he was able to fly a route that put him in Davenport overnight and most of the day on Wednesday and Thursday (he flew to Atlanta and back Wednesday night).  So we drove to Davenport both days, picked him up at a downtown hotel, and spent the day together (oops, we forgot to get a photo).

Later in the week we drove down the river about 10 miles from the park to visit the “Pearl Button Capital of the World.”  That, as everyone knows, would be the city of Muscatine, IA.  To find out what it means to be the Pearl Button Capital, we made a visit to the Muscatine History and Industry Center.

We became curious about the button industry here when we spotted a statue called “Mississippi Harvest” in a park along the river.  The statue is man standing in a small boat holding a pair of large tongs with mussels at his feet.

“Mississippi Harvest”

A picture that inspired the statue was on display in the center.

So why is the town called the “Pearl Button Capital?”  In 1884 J.F. Boepple, a German immigrant, began producing buttons that looked like pearls by machine-punching them out of freshwater mussel shells harvested from the Mississippi River.  Muscatine’s slogan, “Pearl of the Mississippi,” refers to the days when pearl button manufacturing by the McKee Button Company was a significant economic contributor.  In 1915, Weber & Sons Button Co., Inc. was the world’s largest producer of fancy freshwater pearl buttons.  From that time forward, Muscatine was known as “The Pearl Button Capital of the World”.

Harvesting fresh water mussels

Unloading mussels on the river bank

Shell cutters operated lathes with tubular saws made of hardened steel and used tongs to hold the shell in place. Jets of water sprayed on the saw during cutting to keep it cool and to control dust. The cutter produced blanks or circular pieces of shell with one rough side and one smooth side.

Cutting lathe

Shell, blanks, and a button

The second floor of the center is dedicated to displays highlighting eight current industries that are in Muscatine.  One company that is familiar to us is HON,  a company that is a leader in the production of school and office furniture.  Most of us sat in desks manufactured in Muscatine as we went through our school years.

Not far from the Shady Creek Recreation Area is the Pine Creek Gristmill.  The mill essentially appears as it has since the 1920s and is a virtual museum of the range of milling processes that were used between 1848 and 1929.

The mill today

The mill in the early 1900s

A non-profit organization has restored the original building to operational status.  It was quite impressive to stand inside when the machinery was in operation.  Belts driven by a steam engine in the basement were moving in all directions on three floors powering machines and lifts moving grain through the milling process.

The Mississippi River is known for its high volume of barge traffic.  We spent one afternoon along the river watching a few of the large barges move up and down the river in front of us.  First we stopped at one of the numerous locks that are located along the river.

A tug pushing 15 barges was slowly making its way through the lock.  It is so long that it has to push the first half of the barges into the lock, disconnect them, and pull back with the other half.  The first barges are lifted and pulled out of the lock, then the tug pushes the remaining ones in and they are lifted.  Then they move forward and reconnect before moving on.  It is a slow, methodical process that they repeat at each of the numerous locks.

We then moved down to Riverside Park in Muscatine, set up our bag chairs, and enjoyed some quiet time watching the barge traffic while enjoying our favorite beverages.

While we watched, two large 15 barge vessels passed each other right in front of us.

Look at the wake behind each boat in the photo below.  Can you tell which one is going upstream and which is headed downstream?

That concludes a fairly interesting visit along the Mississippi River.  Next up is a four day stop in Champaign, IL as we continue moving east.  More on that later . . .

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A Quiet Stay Near Iowa City

Iowa City, IA

When we arrived at Sugar Bottom Recreation Area, a Corp of Engineers park just north of Iowa City, we had a reservation for four days.  About 60% of the sites here are reservable with the rest available on a first come first served basis.  The site we reserved turned out to be a bit unlevel, and we were fortunate that one full hook-up walk-up site was empty upon our arrival.  With a very nice site and nothing on our schedule for the near future, we ended up extending our stay here to the full 14 days allowed.  While central Iowa is not exactly in the list of the top ten places to visit, we did find a few things to keep us busy.

Old Capitol Museum

Nearby Iowa City is home to the University of Iowa, and the school dominates the city.  The campus is integrated into the center of the city so it doesn’t seem to have that same campus appeal we have found in other schools.  Some people obviously enjoy the urban setting of schools like this, but we prefer a campus away from the city.  One afternoon on a visit to a nice farmers market in downtown Iowa City, we walked a few blocks to the west to visit the Old Capitol Museum.  It was once the main government building for the state of Iowa, and it now stands as the most prominent landmark at the center of the university campus.

The cornerstone of the Old Capitol Building was laid in 1840.  Iowa City served as the third and last territorial capital of Iowa, and the last four territorial legislatures met at the Old Capitol Building until 1846, when Iowa was admitted to the union as the 29th state. Iowa City was declared the state capital of Iowa, and the government convened in the Old Capitol Building.

Restored main legislative chamber

After ten years of housing the government in Iowa City, the state decided to move the capital to Des Moines, a city located more toward the center of the state. When the state government moved in 1857, the Old Capitol Building became the first permanent building owned by the University of Iowa.

Beautiful staircase leading to balconies for the legislative rooms


Cedar Rapids

The city of Cedar Rapids is located about 20 miles north of our park.  One afternoon we drove up for a visit.  While it is the hometown of PGA golfer Zach Johnson and NFL MVP Kurt Warner, Cedar Rapids’ best known figure may be artist Grant Wood.  You may not recognize the name but you’re probably familiar with one of his most famous works.

American Gothic

This year is Wood’s 125th birthday and, in recognition, 25 fiberglass statues of the couple in the famous painting have been decorated by local artists and placed at various locations throughout the city.

“Advance to Go-Go” (Monopoly theme)

“American Artist” (he’s wearing Grant Wood glasses)

Wood’s studio on 2nd Ave. (closed the day of our visit)

“Mike and Rosie” (Iron Mike and Rosie the Riveter)

The “Mike and Rosie” statue sits at the entrance to Veterans Memorial Building, located on May’s Island in the middle of the Cedar River.

Veterans Memorial Building

The Cedar River on one side of the island

The building sustained considerable damage, as did other buildings along the river, in flooding that occurred in 2008.

May’s Island in the Flood of 2008

Our main reason for visiting the Veteran’s Memorial Building was to see the large stained glass window designed by Grant Wood.  The window measures 24 by 20 feet.  It depicts a 16 foot Lady of Peace and Victory in the clouds.  She wears a Grecian robe and a blue mourning veil and holds a palm branch for peace in one hand and a wreath for victory in the other.  The artist’s sister, Nan, was the model for the Lady of Peace and Victory.  Across the bottom are six 6 feet tall soldiers representing the American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican–American War, American Civil War, Spanish–American War, and World War I.

Grant Wood (seated) supervising the construction of the glass in Germany


A Little Hiking

The humidity levels have been brutal during our time in this area so outdoor activities have been limited.  One slightly cooler afternoon we did complete a short hike on the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, located within the Sugar Bottom Recreation Area.

Although only about three and a half miles out and back, the trail has some decent “up and down” sections that provide a good workout.

The trail passes by an cave, a home to some Native Americans from as long ago as 10,000 years.  The entrance is blocked off as it is used by the University of Iowa Archaeological Field School.

The next day we drove to the other side of the reservoir to hike the Square Point/Woodpecker Trails.

By connecting the two trails we were able to complete a hike of just under four miles.


Devonian Fossil Gorge

Just a mile or so from the Square Point/Woodpecker trails is the Coralville Dam, an earthen dam built to control flooding on the Iowa River. Sitting on the west side of the dam is the Devonian Fossil Gorge.

During a flood in 1993 water roared over a large spillway on the west side of the dam.  For 28 days as much as 17,000 cubic feet of water-per-second flowed down the spillway, obliterating the road and a campground.  Fifteen feet of river-bottom silt and sand were rapidly eroded and washed away, exposing the limestone below. Up to five feet of limestone was then eroded near the end of the spillway and stone slabs weighing as much as two or three tons were carried hundreds of feet downstream.  When the flood abated, the eroded gorge surface exposed a rich collection of Devonian-age fossils from when Iowa was covered by warm, shallow seas 375 million years ago.  Naming the area the Devonian Fossil Gorge, the Corp of Engineers built a small visitor center next to the site with a concrete walk leading down to the fossil bed.

In 2008 another flood caused the river to go over the spillway again, significantly widening the gorge and exposing more of the fossils.  Below is a photo taken during that flood showing water cascading through the fossil gorge.

A young archaeologist in the center of the visitor area

Sidewalk into the gorge (the spillway is visible in the background)

Looking down the gorge (the spillway is behind us)

As you go down the gorge you have to look carefully to spot the fossils embedded in the rock.  Once you spot one, the others around it become more apparent.

Hexagonaria Colonial Coral

Stem of a Crinoid (Sea Lily)


Cephalopod (top) and Brachiopod (bottom)

That ends what was planned as a brief (four day) stop that became a wonderful, long (14 day) stay near Iowa City.  Next up is a week along the Mississippi just south of Davenport, IA.  More on that later . . .

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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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