- Written by James Hills
Iowa? Seriously? Yes! Honestly this quiet midwestern state known for corn more than anything else is probably not high on your list of places to go for your next mancation.
It wasn't for me either, but a cross country road trip last year from Chicago to San Diego caused me to take a moment to reconsider Iowa and all the stuff that it does offer for a group of guys looking for an adventure.
As I drove through I saw signs for places like towns named Manning and Manley, the World's Largest Truck Stop, John Wayne Birthplace, Maytag (home of the worlds greatest blue cheese!), Templeton Rye distillery, a farmer creating revolutionary new breeds of hog that are starting to be recognized as the best in the world, a rapidly growing craft brewing scene, the Blue Bunny Ice Cream Museum and more. So, I started wondering what else was here waiting for guys in Iowa.
I discovered more than can be featured in this article, I encourage you to visit Travel Iowa and explore there as well.
John Wayne Birthplace
John Wayne (or Marion Robert Morrison as he was born)'s birthplace is in Winterset, Iowa and the museum there has accumulated one of the biggest collections of John Wayne memorabilia in the world. Each May, the museum also hosts the John Wayne Birthday Celebration - May 23-24, 2014. The celebration is very much a collection of "western" traditions including a rodeo, western swing dance, and cowboy mounted shooting demonstrations. However there are also historical discussions about The Duke, a marathon of his films, and of course tours of his birthplace.
If you can't visit this year, you should plan for next year's Birthday Celebration which will mark the opening of the brand new John Wayne Birthplace Museum
John Deere Factory Tours
John Wayne might have shown us "How the West was Won" but John Deere folks are the ones that did it one farmer at a time. A tour of their factory and visit to their museum is the perfect opportunity to inject your adventure with a bit of extra testosterone as you watch these giant machines come to life or as John Deere says, "See where giants are born". Since these are tours of real working factories the tour schedule is highly subject to manufacturing schedules.
There are actually several John Deere Factory Tours that are available. However, we recommend that you contact them directly for availability: Harvester Works in Moline, IL(309) 765-8000, Tractor Cab Assembly Operations in Waterloo, IA (319) 292-7668, Engine Works in Waterlook, IA (319) 292-5347, or the Des Moines Works in Ankeny, IA (800) 450-2670.
Additionally, the John Deere Headquarters in Moline (across the river from Davenport IA) is also open for visitors to their display floor featuring 2,200 pieces of memorabilia across 1,400 acres of land where you can sit in the operator's seat and pretend that you are down on the farm with both antique and modern farming equipment.
Anyone can hunt deer but how about going after some big game like actual Buffalo! While this animal may have been hunted to near extinction 100 years ago it is now a carefully managed species that you can hunt in certain places such as the Hawkeye Buffalo Ranch can provide the thrill of hunting these massive animals. Each hunt is preceded by a Sioux "smudge feather" ceremony and after taking your bull guests will perform the "sacred Crow 'tobacco' ceremony" to honor and help guide the animal to the "Great Spirit Herd" and culminates with the blood marking ceremony in which you honor the bull.
While most of Iowa is open prairie and corn fields, these buffalo hunts take place on foot through heavy, hard wood timber, brush, creeks and some open meadows. Rifle hunters can expect 70-125 yard shots and bow hunters can expect a 25-35 yard shot with time.
Hunts are offered as a complete package including lodging and meals in an 1870 ranch home and take place year round, but prime season is Mid-October through early March.
If auto racing is what you need to get your motor running, Iowa Speedway has 3 race weekends this year with Nationwide Series races as well as Indy Car. The speedway 7/8 mile tri-oval track, designed by NASCAR legend Rusty Wallace, is often referred to as "The Fastest Short Track on the Planet" and located only 30 miles east of Des Moines. Even outside of race weekends the track plays host to driving schools such as the Richard Petty Driving Experience so it makes a great year-round destination if you have a need for speed!
National Wrestling Hall of Fame Waterloo
There are two National Wrestling Hall of Fame locations - one is in Stillwater OK, but the other is in Waterloo Iowa and celebrates the influence of wrestling great, Dan Gable. With exhibits ranging from exploring President Lincoln's influence on wrestling to an exploration of wrestling as part of ancient history, the modern Olympic games, and the NCAA, there is something for any wrestling fan. (unless you are looking for the more theatrical style of wrestling popularized by people like Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon)
Iowa 80 Trucking Museum
Ever wondered about the history of the trucking industry or wanted to check out some historic "big rigs"? This will be your dream destination. Located at the Iowa 80 Truck Stop in Walcott Iowa, this is the home of the worlds largest truck stop and the dream of it's founder Bill Moon. His passion for collecting antique trucks and trucking memorabilia ultimately spawned this museum.
The Iowa 80 Trucking Museum collection now features more than 100 trucks with 60 of them currently on display.
Field of Dreams Movie Site
25 Years ago, Kevin Costner made a small cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa the center of the entertainment world with the release of Field of Dreams. Lucky for us that field is still available to visit - just as it was at the end of the movie. If you can't visit it actually, the site has provided a virtual tour as well. We personally can't think of a better thing to plan a mancation around than playing catch on one of the most famous ball fields in the world though!
If you want the ultimate experience though, you need to visit the site on July 6 this year for the "Ghost Players" event. Still need more Iowa baseball? Don't miss the Bob Feller Museum, the Iowa Baseball Museum of Norway, or stop by the Cedar Rapids Kernels, Class A Affiliate of the Minnesota Twins.
Climbing Up, Crawling Under, and Floating Through
If natural adventure is more of what you are looking for, Iowa also offers plenty to stir your soul - under the ground caving at the Maquoketa Caves State Park,
or above ground with rock climbing adventures at Backbone State Park.
Additionally, whitewater adventures await you in Charles City ranging from kayaking to tubing.
A Visit to the Surf Ballroom
For music fans, the Surf Ballroom and Museum in Clearlake, IA is a "must visit" destination. It is famous as the site of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson's last performance before the tragic plane crash the next day in Feb. 3, 1959, an event inspiring Don McLean's famous "American Pie" lyrics referring to it as "the day the music died".
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designated this a historic landmark in 2009 and each year on Feb 2, they host a "Winter Dance Party" tribute commemorating the famous last show, followed by a memorial service the next day.
Templeton Rye Distillery
Last but certainly not last - I am sure you are familiar with Templeton Rye, "The Good Stuff", but did you know that it was from Iowa? or that it is considered to be Al Capone's drink of choice during prohibition? Probably not, but you can learn even more when you visit the Templeton Rye Distillery in Templeton, IA.
While modern Templeton Rye was brought to market in 2006, it's history goes back all the way to the 1920's when residents of this small Iowa town (including the founders families) decided to become bootleggers.
"Standard" distillery tours are held Monday-Friday but one saturday per month, Templeton Rye Co-Founder and Master Distiller, Keith Kerkhoff leads a tour starting at 10 a.m. Reservations are required. Tours cost $5 to reserve a spot and all guests receive a free shot glass to use in the tasting room.