Iowa is a state rich in out-of-the-way local destinations that treat guests to unique, down-home treasures. From small-town restaurants to scenic back roads, Iowa is full of nooks and crannies known best to long-time residents.
But Iowa is also home to several destinations with broader appeal, including some of our country's first nationally designated areas.
The Sergeant Floyd Monument in Sioux City was the first National Historic Landmark in the United States. Today, as the country prepares to celebrate the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, travelers come here to observe the 100-foot-tall stone obelisk, built to honor Sergeant Charles Floyd. Floyd became the lone casualty during the Lewis and Clark journey when he died in 1804 near what is now Sioux City.
Civil War General Grenville Dodge and his wife built a Victorian mansion in Council Bluffs between 1869 and 1970. Today their ornate home is a National Historic Landmark open every month except January.
In east central Iowa, the seven villages that make up the Amana Colonies are another of Iowa's National Historic Landmarks. Settled on 20,000 acres straddling the Iowa River, the Amana Colonies were founded more than 150 years ago by Germans who sought more land for their communal society. Today, remnants of that interesting lifestyle are alive and well, as artisans, cooks and craftspeople keep the history of the Amana Colonies alive.
Animal lovers are interested in Iowa's four National Wildlife Refuges:
The DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Missouri Valley is a popular haven for migrating waterfowl, namely geese and ducks. The facility is well equipped to handle the hundreds of travelers who come here to witness the annual migration and heavy concentration of bald eagles. The visitor center offers films and bird-viewing areas, and houses 200,000 artifacts from the steamboat Bertrand, which sank here in 1865.
Located just east of Des Moines in Prairie City, the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge celebrates Iowa's rich prairie heritage. Visitors can explore the Refuge by car on the auto trail or can set off by foot to take in wildlife, native flowers and grasses, buffalo and elk. The on-site Prairie Learning Center offers state-of-the-art audiovisuals and a museum.
Hugging the Mississippi River in southeast Iowa, the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge is one of the nation's most important flyway routes, providing waterfowl and other migratory birds with food, water and protection during the spring and fall migrations.
Established in 1924, the Upper Mississippi National Fish and Wildlife Refuge stretches from Wabesha, Minnesota, to the Quad Cities. Encompassing more than 200,000 acres of water, marsh, wooded islands and forest prairie along 261 river miles, the area is home to hundreds of species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and fish.
Also in northeast Iowa, Effigy Mounds is Iowa's only National Monument, and is a favorite destination for outdoor adventurers. Along 11 miles of hiking trails, visitors can view prehistoric American Indian burial and ceremonial mounds, dating from 500 B.C. to 1300 A.D. Located on 2,526 acres of forested land along the Mississippi River bluffs near Marquette, Effigy Mounds includes a visitor center, tall-grass prairies and wetlands.
One of only 23 National Heritage Areas in the United States, Silos & Smokestacks Natural Heritage Area preserves, promotes and celebrates Iowa's agricultural heritage through a network of sites, programs and events. Made up of 37 northeastern Iowa counties, Silos and Smokestacks interprets farm life, agribusiness and rural communities representing Iowa's past and present.
Learn more about Iowa's national attractions by visiting www.traveliowa.com. Or call 800 345-IOWA and request a free Iowa travel packet.
Shawna Lode, a Cherokee native now working with the Iowa Department of Economic Development's tourism division, contributes a weekly column for Pilot-Tribune readers exploring Iowa's travel treasures.