Saturday, November 30, 2013

Last Day of Iowa and Nauvoo

Our time in Iowa was almost over, but there were still some wonders in store for us. 


We both thought the prison was pretty neat looking. Lydia has a new found interest in the prison system after watching Orange is the New Black, and then being so hardcore about it that she read the book that the show is based on.

We popped across the river to Illinois to visit the town of Nauvoo. Nauvoo is best known for being the place that Joseph Smith settled his crew of Mormons. Nauvoo is also known as the place where I like to practice my Jar Jar voice. “Yousa mean we goin to da Nauvoo?” The audience loves it.

We first did a little drive by of the reconstructed temple, and then had lunch. Yay!

I picked this place solely based on its cool sign.

Next it was time to go straight into the heart of the Mormon den: the visitor center. We were greeted immediately after entering the visitor center, but Elder Whatshisface mercifully left us alone after a brief spiel. There were some interesting museum type exhibits about the early church, while others left us giggling. For example, one sign read:
Nauvoo’s charter concentrated power in the city council and municipal court. Because those elected were also Church officials, some area residents thought it mixed church and state, but there was nothing improper about such exercise of political rights.
Well then, case closed I guess. My understanding is that Joe Smith set up some sort of a strange law in Nauvoo where police from other jurisdictions couldn't arrest people without the city's approval. Coincidence would have it that Joe was wanted in Missouri for treason.

Some interesting parts of the Mormon thing are that they baptize long dead ancestors and marriage doesn’t end at death.

This was probably the best kept and staffed historical village that either of us had ever been to; And the business hours were obscenely generous. This was a Sunday and these little nonprofit historical storefronts were open until 4 or 5pm. Well, it turned out that the village really had two purposes. One seemed to be to tell the story of the people and the events that happened here, and the other was to proselytize. We stopped in at the Browning Home & Gunsmith Shop, and were greeted by a man and a woman in period dress. The guy was telling us lots of interesting things about Browning, and also showed us how they made rifles back in the day. The woman would chime in with weird religious things. It was like a good cop/bad cop situation.

Good cop.

Bad cop.

This invention was pretty cool. It was a rocking baby cradle that doubled as a butter churn.

As we were taking in the lovely view here, bad cop pointed out the baby grave in the backyard and then added that the family would be able to raise the baby in the afterlife. Thanks for the info, bad cop.

We didn't have the energy for any more awkward conversations at this point, so we moseyed.

Our last little taste of Iowa was touring a few towns in Van Buren County. The book made them sound quaint but there wasn't a heck of a lot going on. Maybe because it was a Sunday. Desperate to interact with one town I stopped in the tiny little grocery store for no reason in particular. The cashier asked us if we were from the area, and after we replied in the negative she added: “yeah, because I pretty much know everyone who lives here”. It was pretty funny at the time, asking a question that she admittedly already knew the answer to. Maybe you had to be there. I was. So there. Iowa.

Friday, November 29, 2013

A President and American Gothic

From Des Moines the next stop was Grand Rapids. Then one of those awesome unplanned roadtrip opportunities presented itself. We began seeing roadsigns for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum.

It's pretty hard for me to pass up a chance to see a presidential museum because I've always had such great experiences with them. My interest in them began with the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in my hometown of Springfield, IL. My knowledge of American history seems very poor. Outside of the major wars and some really terrible school textbooks I don't know much, and my knowledge of Hoover consists of Hoovervilles and Hoover Dam.

Hoover's boyhood home

What did I see upon entering the hallowed halls of Hoover? A bunch of friggin’ Christmas trees! After I nearly had a Christmas overdose the day before that was really the last thing that I needed to see. Bah humbug. To be fair, these trees were much more interesting than the others because their themes all related to Iowa history or culture.

I begged Lydia to come look at an awesome Star Trek themed tree, and her response was “what does Star Trek have to do with Iowa?” I laughed out loud when I read the sign that accompanied the tree:

Star Trek
What does Star Trek have to do with Iowa? Well, Riverside is the future birthplace of Capt. James T. Kirk.
Every year the Riverside Area Community Club hosts its annual “TrekFest” during the last weekend of June. The celebration features many activities and a parade. There is also the Voyage Home--Riverside History center, which contains a museum and a gift shop dedicated to exhibiting items related to Riverside and Star Trek.

As far as the actually Hoover-related portion of the museum, there's too much to really cover, but one thing I particularly like was the campaign swag.

I think more people would vote if free political stuff was still this awesome.


I think the story here was that his wife invented the practice of Girl Scouts selling cookies.

We then continued back on the road to Cedar Rapids, smug with the knowledge that we were now Hoover experts.

Our time in Cedar Rapids was dominated by one of its most famous sons that you've never heard of: Grant Wood, painter of American Gothic. The super famous painting is currently located in Chicago, but the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art had plenty of his work on display. The main thing that struck me about him was his ability to excel at lots of different styles and with different mediums.

This machine dispensed art, as long as that art was the same size and shape as a pack of cigarettes.

Afterwards we just barely made it on to the last tour of the day of Grant Wood's house. The guy was almost da Vinci-esque with all of the funny little solutions he came up with for problems. For example he liked to stand up when talking on the phone but his mother like to sit down, so he made this two level phone ledge so that they would both be comfortable.

The phone ledge in question.

They said that he got ideas for his compact kitchen from the kitchen compartments in a train car.

Continuing our culinary tour of Iowa we stopped at a Maid-Rite, the old school loose meat sandwich chain that started in Iowa.

We ended our day in Amana, Iowa. My understanding is the quaint little tourist village is what remains of an Amish-type group that is no longer in existence. Long story short there were lots of little shops selling old timey handcrafted things.

It turned out the only handcrafted things I have much interest in is food and drink. Boom.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Starved Rock in Illinois? Pizza and Ice Cream in Iowa

After a couple of Thanksgiving meals I wanted to get out and do something. My Uncle Andy always has good tricks for Black Friday that I like to hear his stories about, but as those stories take place at 5 in morning I don't usually feel the need to participate. The recent trend of having Black Friday on Thursday night, though, had me interested. Sports Authority was having a promotion where the first 80 people in the door got a scratch off ticket that got them from 10-200 dollars in free stuff. Why not? It was pretty cold outside waiting in line, but we just put a blanket over our heads like a tent and watched some Netflix on our phones. It was just like camping!

We both got the $10 tickets, and spent them on things we didn't really need. It was fun.

My friends back home in Springfield, IL have an annual Thanksgiving tradition of going to the Pair-A-Dice river boat casino in East Peoria, IL. Part of the experience is going really late: after everyone is completely finished feasting with their families. The casino was pretty much as can be expected, with group members' fortunes shifting up and down constantly. My friend Fish forgot that his driver's license had expired and so was pitifully forced to wait outside the entire time. Bummer dude.

Well since being in Peoria already put us about 2.5 hours drive north of St. Louis, we decided to spend the night there and use it as a starting point for a little excursion. In the morning we were able to look out the hotel window and see Peoria's Thanksgiving Parade marching on by. It was a good omen for an eventful trip.

Once on the road, our first idea for a stop was Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. The little country road to the park took us along the Illinois River and through numerous little towns. We stopped in one and had lunch. I believe a small amount of rocky road fudge may also have been purchased.

Unfortunately a big draw for the park is several waterfalls which are dry this time of year. It was still a very nice place to take a crisp little hike and see one's own breath. It was pretty windy and I hadn't brought headgear, so I had to make an emergency trip to the park's gift shop.

Lydia thinks my new hat makes me look like Wilfred.

I'd say that's fair.

From there, straight to Des Moine, IA! We had been looking for events to entertain us in Des Moine for the night, but not too much jumped out at us. One of us really wanted to go to the Festival of Trees, and one of us was pretty ambivalent at best. I'll leave who was who to your imagination, but off to the $8 a person Festival of Trees we went!

I wanted to try some Iowan food but the closest thing I could find was a local pizza and ice cream chain, Happy Joe's. We had pizza and ice cream, believe it or not.

To finish off a fun night we went to the local riverboat and killed a bit of time, and then off to bed we went.

 There were lots of sky-ways that connected the buildings downtown. The one that led to the casino was all Christmasy-Psychedelic. Check it out.