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Quirky Things: Iowa / Illinois: Day 9: June 23, 2016

100_9580Louise Speaks:  We are now on a mission to head East and then North to get to Canada.  As we are heading out of Iowa we stopped in Burlington, Iowa to visit Snake Alley.  According to Ripley Believe it or Not, Snake Alley has been known as the crookedst street in the world.  100_9582The physical limitations and steep elevation of Heritage Hill inspired the construction of Snake Alley in 1894.  It was intended to link the downtown business district and the neighborhood shopping area.   Snake Alley is a one-block section of this route.  The street was completed in 1898, but was not originally named Snake Alley.  A resident noted that it reminded him of a snake winding its way down the hill, and the name stuck.  Bricks were laid at an angle to allow horses better footing as they descended. Unfortunately, riding horses back up the alley often resulted in a loss of control at the top; for this reason, even to this day, Snake Alley remains a one-way street, with all traffic heading downhill.  There is a battle as to who has the crookedst street between Snake Alley and San Francisco’s Lombard Street.  Lombard street beats Snake Alley by several turns, but the turns on Snake Alley are sharper, giving it a total of 1100° of turning from end to end, where Lombard Street’s straighter curves total only 1000°.  Snake Alley consists of five half-curves and two quarter-curves over a distance of 275 feet, rising 58.3 ft , a 21% grade.  Having seen both Snake Alley and Lombard Street, Snake Alley seems steeper because I think it’s shorter.  Both are pretty cool though and I’m glad we stopped.

100_9586Our next stop was to Ottawa, Illinois to find the grave and monument of the Boy Scout Founder, William D. Boyce.  The monument is of a lad in shorts and knee socks.  There are also graves of all his family although it was difficult to match up parents and children.  There was a bit of a mishap driving through the cemetery in the RV, but I’m going to leave that up to you to ask Thelma to tell the tale.

100_9590Also in Ottawa, Illinois is a bronze statue of “Radium Girl”.  I found this story very interesting and it was the reason we went on a hunt to find the statue.  In the 1920’s hundreds of young girls worked in a watch factory painting tiny strokes of glowing paint on ity bitty wrist watches.  The glow came from radium and the company encouraged the girls to keep their brush tips sharp by licking them before dipping the brush into the glow paint.  Even after the girls bones began to dissolve and their jaws started falling off, the company insisted that nothing was wrong.  It wasn’t until the girls were dubbed Radium Girls by the press when they sued the company that the practice ended.

Now fast forward to 2006.  An 8th grade student in Ottawa learned of what had happened in her hometown and was amazed that no one else seemed to know about it.  She lobbied her elected officials to erect a Radium Girl memorial.  The town eventually commissioned the young girls father who was a sculpture to create a life size bronze statue of a Radium Girl which was unveiled in 2011.

100_9591While on this trip we have noticed many wooden carved Indians sprouting up everywhere.  They are on corners of gas stations, in shopping centers and in parks.  We were looking for one specific carving but were unaware that there were so many.  While in Ottawa we were looking for the Peter Wolf Toth Statue located next to the Illinois River.  There are many signs that point the way and it is in a very nice park…so nice that this is where we stopped to have lunch.  Peter Toth has hand carved over 70 of his whispering Giants.  These statues are conceptually alike but each statue is unique, and placed  in parks across the United  States and Canada.  I don’t remember where, but I know I’ve seen them just at intersections in the middle of town.  I wish I had gotten a list of where all 70 could be seen…I know we saw at least 10.

100_9594Continuing East, our last stop in Illinois was in Morris…a town where one of my daughters lived.  We were looking for “R” Place”,  a truck stop the claims fame to the “World’s Largest Hamburger”.  The hamburger is made of over a full pound of beef, a half head of lettuce, and a loaf of bread for the gigantic bun.  People come from Chicago, which is over an hour away just to eat here.

We have done some driving today.  We have driven many miles on the Great River Road–US 61 a road mentioned in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”.  Leaving Iowa, going through Illinois and we plan to sleep in Indiana tonight.  Three states in one day.


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The Raj: Fairfield, IA: Day 8: June 22,2016

100_9576Louise Speaks:  Our only reason for going to Fairfield IA and see this attraction is because it is a main attraction to see in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die.”   Thelma has had her own reasons for not coming to the SE portion of Iowa, but Patricia seems to feel like this was a sight to see.

100_9578The Raj sets among 100 acres of rolling Iowa meadows and is one of the few places outside of India where you can experience a complete Ayurvedic cleansing called panchakarma.  This is more than a therapeutic massage.  It is a multi day process that clears the body of toxins and restores it’s balance using treatments like abbyanga, the application of warm herbalized oil by two massage therapists working as one.  According to The Raj, many people suffering from fibromyalgia and depression seem to experience dramatic improvement after a stay at the Raj.

slideshow_theraj2The Raj is here in Iowa because Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Indian guru who introduced Transcendenrtal Meditation to the Beatles and to America in the 1960’s, came to the small town of Fairfield in 1974.  It is now reincarnated as the Maharishi University of Management where those earning degrees counteract the stress of academia by practicing daily meditation.  The Maharishi has since moved to Holland, but you can feel his presence in the Maharishi Vedic City where there are 150 homes, an observatory, an organic dairy and garden, and the Raj which opened in 1993.

For the size of this enormous spa sitting on 100 acres, only 18 male and female guests can stay at the spa and the days are extremely structured.  Organic vegetarian meals are served, 2 to 3 hours of treatments are scheduled,  yoga sessions are required and lectures are given after dinner.  The last treatment of the day is optional and is a basti, or an enema which is just one more weapon in the war on toxins.  The Raj claims it can reduce the bodies toxins and PCBs by 50% in just one 6 night stay.

the raj_ayurveda_health_spa_treatm.The cleansing process begins before you arrive.  You are asked to avoid Cheetos, cold water, chocolate and a list of other enjoyable things.  Once at the Raj you are current mind and body are assessed and you are given a list of recommended treatments.  The treatments vary but can be as strenuous as relaxing in an herbal steam chamber while an attendant pours coconut oil on your head to keep you cool, which is considered a health treatment here.  For beauty, your skin is nourished with mud collected from regions in India, then rinsed with organic milk from a local dairy where the cows listen to ancient Vedic melodies.

100_9577The cost to stay here begins at $2,043 per person for a 4 night stay.  It does include your meals and MOST treatments.  The grounds and the front of the spa look very inviting.  The driveway up to the spa makes you feel like you are driving into another world, and I guess in a way you are.  This place however, did not impress me at all, but I’m guessing Patricia actually did come here and she must have enjoyed it enough to give it a listing in her book all by itself.  I on the other hand am giving it a D rating.  This is just not my idea of a spa.

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To end our day we drove to Mt. Pleasant, Iowa where we spent the night.  We only drove 196 miles today but we did make 11 stops.  I’m no longer keeping track of what we are NOT seeing…I’m just putting those back in a folder for another trip.  11 Stops, that’s a lot for one day.  We are now in our 6th state and our trip total is 2,248 miles.


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The Villages of Van Buren, Iowa, June 22,2016

Louise Speaks:  The villages scattered across SE Iowa in Van Buren County are famous for what they have…one stop light.  Now Thelma who was born in Iowa has never even been to this part of the state, but it is listed in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” so of course we had to stop.

This is part of Iowa’s earliest settlements and in their hay day were very productive.  Today the Villages of Van Buren County have turned their historic brick buildings into charming B & B’s, restaurants and gift shops.  Bonaparte and Bentonsport are considered the main villages or cities, but each village has it’s own character and it’s own claim to fame.  There are only 7,100 residents in the entire Van Buren County.

100_9553Our first stop was the Bonaparte Retreat in Bonaparte, IA.  We weren’t really sure what this stop was but it looked like an old hotel going over some major renovations.  Bonaparte itself had almost no life.  We did not see any people except for 100_9555the construction workers, working on the building.  I asked one of the workers what the place was and I was told it was a restaurant but was only open during lunch and dinner.  We were here about 2:00 so it was not open. The construction worker I spoke 100_9556with was very knowledgeable.  He told me that the Bonaparte Restaurant has a widespread reputation as an outstanding restaurant and used to be an old grist mill.  This made sense since it is right on the river.  He also said it was to bad I couldn’t go inside because I was told that besides the great decor they also served great food.  He also said that people come from as far as a 100 mile radius just to eat there and that their guest book contains signatures from all over the world.  Now being that the streets are dirt, nothing in town was open and there wasn’t a person to be see, this seemed hard to believe.  But he was a local so what can I say.  In doing a bit of research I discovered that the grist mill was active in 1878 and is now known for it’s juicy rib eye steaks and Windsor chops.  I also discovered that Bonaparte has a population of 468, but I don’t know where they were hiding today.

100_9561Directly across the street, and our next stop was the Bonaparte Inn.  This is suppose to be open and have 13 rooms.  This Inn was once the Meeks Pants Factory.  We peeked in the windows and by the signs of the cobwebs covering the doors, I’m 100_9560guessing this Inn was not occupied.  There is a very cute patio with a gazebo that would make a great site for a wedding, but it didn’t see, to be seem to be used much.  The views from the upper windows would have been spectacular as they over look a small park that runs right along the river.

100_9565Our favorite stop in Bonaparte was the Bonaparte Pottery Shop.  There is a story here and you just have to stop by and talk with Marilyn.  Marilyn and her husband Don were looking for a good place to go fishing when they purchased this place in 1992.  They were Img_3112b_smallgoing to build a log home right on the river.  However, in 1993 the Des Moines River jumped it’s banks and their property was flooded.  Thinking they had lost everything and had began the paperwork to recoup their losses, they noticed pieces of pottery emerging from the ground.  It soon became an archeological site and many digs have been done.  The property is now a registered historic site.

13466087_1778598352387054_1251541870677630552_nMarilyn never had her log home built.  She now lives in what was once the gift shop.  But the real gem is the building she now uses as a museum and sells pottery that she has found or that has been made in her pottery barn.  The story is much more fascinating than I am making it sound here, but I’m trying to get your imagination going so that you will go visit Marilyn herself and let her tell you her story.

We spent way more time here than we had planned, but talking to Marilyn, looking at the pottery just coming out of the ground and hearing the history while being inside the old lumber mill made it very hard to leave.

Img_3103b_smallThe lumber mill that was built in 1876 is in remarkable state of preservation.  You can see remains of old kilns and even a 30 foot high beehive kiln that was used to fire stoneware pottery.  The lumber mill was used as a decoy to cover up the fact that pottery was being made and fired in the 1800’s.  The second floor of the mill has been cleared out but you can still see hand prints of workers from hundreds of years before.

thomasesAgain, this is a must stop, so much history and just fun facts.  The sad part is Marilyn has no one to continue on with the pottery tradition.  Don has passed away and Marilyn is getting up in years.  She does have a son who has no interest in pottery.  I hope whoever takes over this historic site has the same compassion for it’s history that Marilyn has.  It is just too much history to be forgotten.

100_9566From Bonaparte it was off to Bentonsport or Keosauqua, IA which is how it is known to locals.  This is a more quaint village than Bonaparte and did have many tourist roaming the streets.  We were here to see  The Mason House Inn, the oldest “steamboat hotel”.  Joy Hanson invited us in but we were unable to see any of the rooms as she had no vacancies.  This Inn is in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, and Joy did tell us that Patricia actually stayed here, one of the few times we have been given verification.

The charming Inn is a 170 year old B & B in the historic district.  The Inn was built in 1846 by Mormon craftsman coming from Illinois.  It was meant to provide housing for steamboat travelers.  The building has been used as a hospital three different times and was also a station on the Underground Railroad.

100_9570What I found most unique is the Caboose Cottage.  This is a real 1952 railroad caboose from the Roscoe, Snyder & Pacific Railway line from Texas.   The caboose features a queen size bed, a dining area, a full kitchen and a private bathroom with shower. Just looked like a real fun place to stay.

100_9572Directly across the street from the Mason House Inn is the Historic Bentonsport Bridge.  The size seemed massive.  It is not being used today in any capacity, not even for pedestrians to walk across, but it still makes a statement.

100_9575As we were leaving town we stopped by the Hawkey Canoe Rental.  I’m sure the reason Patricia mentions this in her book is because of the summer festivals that occur in Keosauqua, IA.  The Canoe Van Buren Festival hosts at least 100 canoes carrying guests along the river to enjoy much entertainment, with stops to eat and sleep, and many places to shop.  All day long you may hop on and off a canoe all along the river.  The rest of the summer the canoes are available to rent so that you may enjoy the river at your own leisure.

thThis entire drive through Van Buren County follows the Historic Hills Scenic Byway.  You follow the river and the scenery is just breath taking.  So many trees and so much greenery.

What a great day and so many things to see.  Thelma is in awe that in all her years living and visiting Iowa she never made it to this part of the state.  This is a place to come back to and just enjoy some of the shopping and eating in all the historic buildings and seeing what antiques are luring inside the quaint shops.  I would have to rate The Villages of Van Buren an A.  There is just so much to see and do and everything is so historic.  There really is too much to see in just one day.  I’m sure we’ll be back to Iowa so now we have a reason to go through the SE corner of the state.

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