Iowa trip side trips were great

My wife and I took a little cross-state tour of Iowa over spring break. To be perfectly honest, she planned the whole thing. And I like it that way. When I map out a vacation, it is usually about getting from point A to point B. I am not all that concerned about what is in between. Our getting to the destination as quickly as possible is the goal.

But, when Kathy sets out on a journey, she finds lots of out-of-the-way side trips between the starting line and the finishing tape. Some?times I become really annoyed at all the interruptions. However, I nearly always have to admit the decision to leave the beaten path is a good one.

We took off for Des Moines via Kansas City on a Tuesday morning. As we approached KC, Kathy suggested we stop in and surprise our daughter at work. Her office is just a few blocks off I-35, but I was concerned she might be in a meeting or something, and if we just dropped in unexpectedly, she could be unavailable. So, at my urging, mother texted daughter. There was no response. We stopped anyway.

As it turned out, daughter Anna was in fact facing a morning filled with meetings, but she popped out of one of them to say hello and introduce us to those coworkers who had never met us. Then she returned to her meeting. After all, we would be coming back through at the end of the week.

We drove on toward Des Moines and detoured only once through the Amish tourist trap of Lamoni, where we purchased some overpriced chocolate-covered nuts.

As we approached Iowa?s capital city, the heavens opened up and poured on us. To escape the rain, we ducked into West End Architectural Salvage. This place is fantastic, even for those not looking to buy anything. Four floors of an old factory and warehouse are filled with antique and quirky pieces of all kinds, including everything from bullet-riddled car hoods to an antique bowling ball return. We didn?t make a purchase, but we had a good time just looking around. The store has a museum feel to it.

We had supper at Fer?nando?s Mexican Grill, just a block or two from Drake University. Fernando and his crew cook their flour tortillas right in front of customers. Their tacos tasted as good as they looked and smelled, and the price was reasonable for their a la carte items.

The plan for Wednesday was a trip to the state capitol, the only five-domed statehouse in the United States. We hooked up with a tour of about 30 high school students, who looked as bored as Kansas kids do when hearing about history and architecture.

Also, by way of comparison to our state, Iowa has spent millions reclaiming its capitol while turning its back on educators. The governors of both states seem to be on the same page when it comes to balancing the budget on the backs of every?one but the wealthiest citizens.

We opted for lunch at The Cheese Shop, a corner caf? that specializes in wines and macaroni and cheese dishes. A person could buy quite a few boxes of Kraft brand mac and cheese for the price of one bowl in this restaurant. We tried to save room for a treat from the La Mie Bakery next door. The place was crazy busy, but we managed to snag some cookies and some Danish for breakfast.

In the afternoon, we toured the Salisbury House, a mansion built by the Weeks family and modeled after a manor in Salisbury, England. Though it is no Downton Abby, the house is filled with expensive art pieces and interesting family heirlooms.

Eventually, we jumped onto I-80 and headed east toward Davenport and the Quad Cities area. Though I was tired of driving, I agreed to stop in West Branch, birthplace of everyone?s favorite president, Herbert Hoover.

It was actually kind of fun walking among the buildings of Hoover?s neighborhood. The most interesting building was a Quaker church. The meetinghouse featured a wall to separate the men from the women. There was no pulpit, as the congregation members would sit in silence, meditating, until someone felt called to stand up and speak. I imagine many pot-luck casseroles burned waiting for the service to end.

Bierstube, a German restaurant, was our choice for supper in Le Claire. The sausages were good, but the Spatzle was nothing special. We could, however, look out the window at the mighty Mississippi River flowing by. Across the river to the south, several small tornadoes had skipped around the night before, causing tree and roof damage.

We paid a visit to Antique Archeology, the home base of Mike Wolf and Frank Fritz and their History Channel show, ?American Pickers.? Though Wolf was reportedly in town, he was not at the store that morning. As a loyal viewer of the series, I enjoyed seeing some of the items the pair of glorified junk dealers had purchased as they pick their way around the country.

From Le Claire, we took a day trip to Maquoketa Caves. Most of the caverns were too narrow for us to access, so we did a bit of hiking and spelunked our way through the upper, middle and lower Ballroom Cave. We came face-to-face with a couple of tiny bats hibernating just inside the openings.

As we headed back toward Kansas City the next day, we again detoured off the Interstate system, this time to Pella. Even though we arrived well in advance of the annual tulip festival for which it is famous, the town was alive with visitors. We stood in queue at the famous Jaarsma Bakery, where we picked up some pastries shaped like a letter ?S? and filled with almond paste. As busy as the bakery was that morning, I couldn?t imagine the crowds during the festival.

Upon our arrival in KC, we continued to seek out-of-the-way spots. We had Saturday brunch in a small caf? that didn?t even have a sign out front. Yet, it was overflowing with diners feasting on biscuits and gravy and breakfast casserole.

After brunch, we took a tour of the home of artist Thomas Hart Benton, who died at work in his studio. Our knowledgeable guide was a freshman in high school. I asked her if she was a big fan of the artist. She said, ?Not really.? She just thought it would be a good job she could keep for a few years.

To wrap up our trip, we attended services at Rain?bow Mennonite Church. As we sat down, we noticed a couple we knew from Goessel in the pew in front of us. It turns out their son is a member of the Bethel College choir, which was performing that morning.

All in all, our excursion was a great way to spend spring break with my favorite traveling buddy. And I am not talking about my GPS.

Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro Middle/High School. He can be reached at