Stevo (Joe’s dad) turned the big 6-0 this week! To celebrate, Joe and his sisters and their families planned a cabin camping getaway to Lacey-Keosauqua State Park in southeastern Iowa.
And in the divvying up of camping weekend cooking duties, the cake fell (pun not quite intended) to us. We would be birthday-ing on Saturday night, but driving down Friday after work and we wanted our cake to be fresh. So instead of making a dutch oven cake (because we don’t have an outdoor dutch oven), we googled around and found a recipe for a chocolate crock pot cake. Baking dilemma, solved, right? I now introduce you to the ugliest cake on the planet:
I should re-create it this summer to win a ribbon at the state fair. It tasted OK (it actually got burnt on one side, but I was able to cut that part away) but might be better suited for some lame birthday year, like 37.
Aside from my cakewreck (well, and a second crock-pot breakfast strata fail), the rest of the weekend was great. The park rents out delightful little cabins that come with two futons, a range, microwave, table, sink and bathroom.
They’re all in a nice little cluster, close to the beach! Just a few hundred yards from the cabins there’s a sweet whitewashed beach house (boat house?) that was in the midst of a renovation. There’s a little stone balcony that overlooks the beach, and stone staircase that trails down to the sand. Stevo and I both said it would be a lovely place for an outdoor wedding. I could just see the bride and groom canoeing away and the wedding party all hiking around and setting up a picnic feast at the cabins. You’d really have to keep your fingers crossed for weather as perfect as ours was! Mid-October and we were all lounging around in the sand and wading into the water.
We also took a big (looong) family hike on another trail that meandered alongside the Des Moines River.
Can’t you just hear the crunch-swish-swish-crunch of all of the leaves?
Very near the top of the living in Iowa bucket list — probably right after sweetcorn stands and the I-80 truck stop (ha) — would have the be a visit to the American Gothic House. You know, the one in the background of the second most famous painting on the planet (behind the Mona Lisa):
Well, Joe and I drove through Eldon on a camping trip (more about that in another post) and on the return route we stopped at the house, which is by far the biggest attraction in town. There’s a lovely little visitor center/museum, where the mayor of the town was doing a Sunday volunteer shift. She helped us into one of the dozens of pairs of costumes provided for visitors to re-create the iconic image — complete with pitchfork and glasses!
The grounds to the house/museum include a cement staging area that marks exactly where you should stand to get the photo framed properly. We relied on some kind strangers to take ours. Then I lent Joe out to be a stand-in male for a girl who had visited by herself. The randomly cool thing about the American Gothic House Center is that the little park next door to the museum is a small disc golf course! Iowa is such a funny state sometimes. They were even selling souvenir disc golf discs in the gift shop. (We opted for a Christmas ornament.)
The American Gothic House visit was definitely a fun little stop after camping. The only downside is now my iconic photo is of me after having not showered for about 72 hours. Gross! We’ll have to send our photo in for their wall, although I doubt we’d replace the Klingon couple:
(Fun fact: My co-worker showed me a painting Grant Wood did of her grandfather! Apparently the work is up at the Muscatine Art Center.)
There are sunrises worth waking up for. Like a crisp, fall morning overlooking the Mississippi on the way to see your two dear friends say “I do.”
Sunrise at Pike's Peak, Iowa
Joe and I took the long route to Dubuque a few weeks ago, camping in Backbone State Park and Pikes Peak State Park on the way to a wedding. We got to Backbone around 5 p.m. on a Thursday and three of the four entrances were closed off to cars. I was a bit worried we’d have to set up a camp outside the gates, but luckily we were able to enter from another side.
Joe almost fell off the dock trying to take this.
Backbone had a sweet little lake (that’s me trying to balance on the swaying dock), but I’d say that it’s comparable to the much closer Lake Ahquabi for Des Moinesians. If you’re traveling to Backbone, though, you have to go into Strawberry Point and take the obligatory tourist photo:
World's largest strawberry?
Leaving Strawberry Point (where we had some morning coffee and chai at the old hotel in the center of town), Joe and I took a lovely scenic leaf-peeper kind of drive past small towns. I’m so enamored with Elkader. It seemed like the Stars Hollow* of Iowa to me. My heart stopped as we pulled into town, passing a cemetery just as a funeral honor guard of sorts pointed and shot their guns at the sky. The funeral party wore all black, in contrast to the brilliant trees and I was overwhelmed by the moment. In town, a group of red hat ladies and a motorcycle club shared space along the main strip. I didn’t really get many photos here, but you’ll have to trust me that it’s quite scenic with bridges over the Turkey River and an old-time looking movie theater, bakery and quilt shop and Opera house on the main street.
* Obligatory Gilmore Girls reference!
… Next up, lunch with a brewmaster (which was definitely one of Joe’s favorite parts.)