Tag Archives: nature

The (Loess) Hills are alive

This weekend we went on a mini Iowa adventure to the Loess Hills for the dedication of the Turin Prairie, a project of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation. It felt so good to hike! Our garage sale hiking backpack is by far the best $30 piece of baby equipment.

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Joe grew up in Council Bluffs, so the western Iowa landscape is home to him. The sun was glowing on golden fields as we drove the hour along I-29 to the hills from Council Bluffs, and it was fun to hike a quarter mile or so uphill to the dedication site, which overlooked the Loess Hlls landscape. (Photo below via INHF.)

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I had heard about the Loess Hills from Joe, but had never before experienced them. According to VisitLoessHills.org, they are land formations made almost entirely of windblown soils.

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“Toward the end of the last ice age, winds picked up soils that had been ground as fine as flour and formed dunes along the ancient waterway that became today’s Missouri River. The process repeated itself during the thousands of years the ice age took to end, enlarging the dunes. Because the prevailing winds were from the northwest, the dunes on the Iowa side of the river were higher than those west of the Missouri.”

That website also tells me that the ridges where we were hiking were once roamed by Ice age animals such as the wooly mammoth, camel, giant beaver and giant sloth (!!!).

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While the ideal of walking in the footsteps of the giant sloth is pretty neat, being in a serene environment like the Turin Prairie allows you to see lots of wildlife and expansive views.

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Iowa is the most altered landscape in the United States, so saving these wild places that preserve natural habitats is important.

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I love that Emmett can grow up harvesting prairie seeds and wondering if a badger is going to come clambering out of a hole we guessed might be a den. Sweet Eileen – even she enjoyed being out among the butterflies, grasses and oaks.

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Turin Prairie is going to be managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and open to the public. Read more about the project in a recent story from the INHF magazine Joe publishes.

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Prairie Party at Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge

Pick a blue sky day when the clouds are extra fluffy, pack a picnic and head to Prairie City, where the buffalo roam and butterflies flutter freely.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me 8 years of living in Central Iowa to experience the beauty of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. We went to their Concert on the Prairie fundraiser on Friday night, and it was such a treat to explore the visitor center (after hours-ooh) and wander the paths nearby. (Joe, with local wine in hand, of course. Pretty picturesque happy hour.)

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We learned about conservation efforts and there was a casual dinner and a concert by the Big Blue Sky project, and Emmett mostly entertained himself by touching plants and throwing clods of dirt into the air.

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The visitor center has lots of classroom space, interesting exhibits about prairie habitats and restoration, and a sweet little kids puppet theater, among other features.  DSC_0075  .

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Emmett was too scared to go into the cave maze area, but I was all honey badger don’t care.

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We also drove through part of the 700-acre enclosure that is home to bison and elk, which felt like being on a special little safari. I definitely poked my head out of the sun roof to get a few more photos.

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As part of his job at the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Joe is learning more about ecosystems like the tallgrass prairie and oak savanna that are native to Iowa, but now rare after European settlement. I’m glad he’s teaching us, in turn, and that Emmett is getting opportunities to be in nature.

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I kind of wanted to wear a Laura Ingalls Wilder bonnet and sing the Dixie Chicks “Wide Open Spaces” at the same time. There’s enough land out here I could probably do this without anyone seeing, but a nice lady offered to take a quick family photo, so I kept in the crazy this time.

The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge features miles of trails, and I can’t wait to go back when we’re able to do some more ambitious hiking. Also, we’ll need to work in a stop at Goldie’s Ice Cream Shoppe, which is owned by a friend-of-friends and is supposed to be pretty amazing.

P.S. In further evidence that I’m turning into my mother, I picked up a flier for the NSNWR’s 1st Annual Pollinator Fest happening Saturday, June 20 2015 from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.. It’s a free, family friendly event that will feature some special kid-oriented activities (bug hunts! storytellers! crafts! pollinator seed packet giveaway!) 

Find the Friends of Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge on Facebook.

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