Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Loess Hills

The Loess (rhymes with bus) Hills are located along the east side of the Missouri River valley in Iowa.  They are visible from I 29 and anyone traveling on that road will see them rising off to the east. 

What is not obvious unless experiencing the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway is that these hills are formed entirely by deposits of fine windblown soil.  We learned we would have to travel to China to find larger but similar loess formations.  The hills are 200 miles long and are 15 miles wide at their widest.

This view of a road cutout shows how the same dirt is throughout the hill.

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We started the National byway just below Sioux City and ended at Council Bluffs.  We took the Smokey Hollow Loop, the Wilderness Loop and the Orchard Ridge Loop.  The loops were 10 to 12 mile routes up into the Hills, giving us a feel for the interior hills.

We bypassed a information center by entering the byway at midpoint.  When we finally did stop toward the end of our drive, we found a very informative booklet that told mile by mile attractions and directions.  So, if you explore the Hills, be sure to pick one up before you start.  We missed a couple wineries and vineyards.  That is unacceptable.

We did explore the Preparation Canyon State Park, ultimately spending the night there.  I am not sure when we have stayed at a more quiet location.  Almost eerie.  We enjoyed a late meal of lasagna baked in the portable outdoor oven that heats by sitting on a stove.  Thankfully, we had wine with us despite missing the one nearby.

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Preparation Canyon State Park has an interesting story.   I’ll quote, “A group of Mormons rested here in 1853 to prepare for continuing their journey to Utah, but they left the church to follow a charismatic leader who they later discovered was a swindler.”  Other information explained the leader talked the followers into turning over the deeds to land they settled when he found the value of the fertile soil.  When they discovered what had happened, the settlers set out to hang the “leader” but he escaped.  At some point, those who remained were able to get their land back.  The state park sits on land that was, at least in part, donated to the State for the park by the family of an original settler.

There are hiking trails that would be beautiful in the fall in Preparation Canyon and would be worth a return visit.  It was in this area that I remembered I hadn’t tried for one geocache.  So, I set about rectifying that except Dan is the one that finally located it.  I wish he enjoyed finding geocaches more because we would be an awesome team.

This picture is a good example of the wave affect of the blowing dust that created the Hills.

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I guess farmers don’t care if this rich, deep soil erodes because here is how the corn—and there is a lot of corn in the hills—is planted.

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This field had a type of terracing that we saw often in Iowa.  Maybe it works better when there is deeper top soil.  These, obviously, are soy beans.

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After spending the night in these quiet hills, we headed back to Council Bluffs to see if we can complete the ride we were rained out on Monday.  That is tomorrow.

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