Tag Archives: outdoors

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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An afternoon at Big Creek State Park

Joe and I celebrated our fifth (!!!) wedding anniversary this weekend, without any big plans. The weather was wonderful so while we sat sipping coffee on the porch we brainstormed a few ideas to spend the day outdoors.

Big Creek Park and Shelter

Joe had the idea to head to Big Creek State Park, which is in Polk City adjacent to Saylorville Lake – about 30 minutes northwest of Des Moines. I had never been, but he bikes through with his brothers-in-law each April on a guys trip, and it turned out to be the perfect place to celebrate with our little family!

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Swimming: I can’t really call what we did swimming, but I can attest that a toddler will be able to amuse himself for quite some time repeatedly dumping buckets of water and sand at the shoreline. And, at least compared to some other Iowa watering holes I’ve dipped my toes in, Big Creek (which was created by the Saylorville Dam) felt relatively clean. I’m not sure it’s because we went so soon after flooding, but the beach looked like it had been freshly plowed (?) and was somewhat difficult to walk on, but tidy.

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Picnicking: I was impressed by the array of shelters available. There are several huge family reunion style shelters up close to the beach/main parking area (and several other older shelters at different spots along the lake), and a bunch of small group or single-family mini shelters scattered throughout, too. There are a few little bathrooms in that area, too.

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We just grabbed one of the numerous picnic tables in the shade, though. We packed lots of snacks, but wound up ordering hot lunch from the concession area, where the grill was going. They also have ice cream treats and snow cones available.

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Mega park: I seriously wanted to be about 8-years old again when we saw this park. I love huge, castle-like wooden parks and this one had lots of towers and turrets and tires.

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Emmett is currently obsessed with Baby Einstein, and there’s an episode where a knight gets locked in a castle that we had to reenact about 30 times. I can’t wait to go back with all of his cousins, because it’s got tons of cool features without being high-tech at all.

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Biking/boating: I didn’t realize you can rent not only canoes but pontoons (from the announcements they were making, it sounded like they had them as big as 12-passenger!). Boating didn’t happen for us because by the time we’d hit the beach, eaten lunch and played at the park, Emmett was starting to melt down. Joe had packed our bikes, though, so we did a handful of miles along prairie paths while Emmett conked out in his Burley trailer.

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The super cool thing is that it’s possible to take the Neal Smith Trail from downtown all the way up to Big Creek (about 28 miles). Don’t forget to download Iowa By Trail before you go!

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We capped off our anniversary celebration with a kid-free dinner date to Skip’s and to see “Inside Out” because we never get to the movies these days! 

P.S. I still stand by this post I wrote awhile back on “magic words for a happy marriage.”

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Filed under Des Moines Dates, I love Des Moines, Iowa adventures

Des Moines’ wilder (G-rated) side

We’re into a pretty set routine with the little dude, but have managed to take advantage of summer sun (and missed a few naps) to take some kid-friendly mini adventures lately. Here are a few ideas for enjoying fresh air with a little family:

Splashing at Des Moines’ West Coast, AKA Raccoon River Beach. Go! 

IMG_20140708_192810My niece turned four last week, and we had a picnic dinner and played in the water at Raccoon River beach and adjacent splash pad. There’s a great playground in the park, too. Anyone else feel slightly rebellious putting your suit and going to the beach on a school work night?

Paddle boating on Gray’s Lake. Go! 

We were going to meet friends to go bowling, but then it was gorgeous, so I convinced everyone to attempt paddle boating with toddlers in our laps. Ha.

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Our kid-free friends played it safe and opted for the canoe. Emily and I totally sang a favorite girl scout camp song in their honor.

Adventure Days at Blank Park Zoo. Go! 

Joe and some guys had a softball game planned, so Emmett and I met up with a few friends at the zoo. The new African exhibit is pretty cool.

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It was my first time taking E (my college friends gifted us a membership for his first birthday!) and Saturday also happened to be “Adventure Days,” so there was live music and a few more activities. I fell in love with the baby camel and want to go back for a date night at Zoo Brew soon.

 Jester Park Bison Watching, Natural Playscape and Trail Ride. Go! 

Joe gifted me a sweet little trail ride for Mother’s Day and since he had plans to golf up there this weekend, Emmett and I met him after his round. The lakeside trail was washed out, but it was still nice to be out in the woods, smelling the trees and the horses.

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We swung through Jester Park to check out the bison viewing area, which is adjacent to the “Natural Playscape” geared toward young kids. There’s a big sand area, and water feature and some other simple activities. The bison didn’t get too close, but it definitely felt like a break from the city!

 

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Omaha adventure: Fontenelle Forest frolic

And suddenly, fall was upon us.

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Friday night, we headed to Council Bluffs for a surprise 30th birthday party for one of Joe’s best friends. We decided to stay the weekend to hang out with family, and I really wanted to check out the Fontenelle Forest after reading a blurb about it in Midwest Living. I love going places with my little nieces and nephews because they have such creative spirits.

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My hometown (Lisle, IL) is also home to the famed Morton Arboretum, and the Fontenelle Forest had a similar outdoor education feel to it. There’s a visitor welcome center and the main feature is a mile-long wooden boardwalk that loops through the forest.

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When we arrived, they were bringing out birds of prey for a demonstration. This kind of falcon apparently swoops down on small birds from above, punches them and then follows the stunned creatures to the ground to finish them off. Intense!

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We strolled along the boardwalk, but the forest encompasses 2,000 acres and features a number of different walking trails totaling 26 miles. I could imagine members who return regularly would have plenty of places to hike, and with each changing season the experience would feel different. When we went, they also had an eco exhibit running throughout the welcome center and along the boardwalk, with little huts and sculptures made from recycled materials.

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I especially loved “Acorn Acres,” which had a wooden xylophone that made the most beautiful sounds.

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Admission to Fontenelle Forest, which celebrates it’s centennial this year, is $8.

After our forest frolic, we met up with a friend and her boyfriend at McFoster’s Natural Kind Cafe, a vegeterian/vegan restaurant. I got the veggie enchiladas, which were delicious.

Natural Kind Cafe

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Any suggestions for other Western Iowa/Omaha spots to explore? This Nebraska Passport is a neat idea.

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