Let’s go exploring

Have you ever went exploring for a weekend?

My husband, Larry, and I enjoy doing just that. We pick a general direction and take off to explore to see what we can find. Last weekend we chose to head northeast toward Des Moines and spent the weekend exploring the Amana Colonies, Pella and Winterset.

We have both been to Pella and Winterset before, but it was many years ago. For both of us, this was the first time to the Amana Colonies.

Since I had never been to the Amana Colonies before, I looked up a bit of history on them.

In 1855 a religious group from Germany, known as the Community of True Inspirationists, arrived in Iowa and established six villages Amana, East Amana, West Amana, South Amana, High Amana and Middle Amana. In 1861 the village of Homestead was added which provided railroad access to the Colony.

Upon reaching the large sign that displays the Amana Colonies Trail, which is a 17-mile loop, we decided to take a right toward Homestead. As we pulled into Homestead not sure what to expect or any real direction as to what to do in each town, we saw AJ’s Copper Garden and Metal Art Gallery.

The art gallery was filled with a variety of metal garden, wall and miscellaneous décor. Each piece is constructed using the finest metal and is cut, shaped and finished by hand with detail and painted in brilliant colors.

Kim, co-owner, and artist at the gallery shared some “must-see” stops for us as we made our way through the colonies and provided us with a detailed map and information.

As we left Homestead with our next stop in Amana, we both agreed what we were seeing is not exactly what we had anticipated. We also found being the middle of winter, not all of the businesses were open. The colonies are more active during the summer months.

We did come across a couple of honorable mentions as we made our way down the 220th trail through the specialty shops that line the main street of Amana.

If you appreciate beautifully crafted word work, the Amana Furniture and Clock Shop is a must stop. Individuality is expressed in each unique piece of quality furniture and clocks. I would also recommend a venture through The General Store which had a little bit of everything from unique handcrafted pottery, home décor, unique foods and gifts.

We needed something sweet while in Amana and decided to stop at the Ox Yoke Inn, founded in 1940, for a piece of apple pie. Upon entering, I was hit with the smell of sour instead of sweet. The restaurant appeared to be cooking up a traditional German dish of sauerkraut. Not being a fan of sauerkraut, my nose instantly curled but being the adventurer that I am, I hung in there though and took a seat in hopes that their apple pie would be delicious. The crust was homemade and flaky with sugar sprinkled on top. I was not disappointed.

As we passed through each colony, the architecture of the buildings was simple and primarily made of brick, sandstone and wood. We noticed many of the buildings had trellises on their sides for growing grapes.

West Amana ended up being the highlight of the Amana Colonies Trail for me and offered the perfect photo opportunity.

West Amana is the home of Iowa’s largest solid walnut rocking chair at the Brooklyn and Basket Shop. The rocking chair weighed in at 670 lbs and was built with 300 ft. of walnut. Made by Schanz Furniture and Refinishing Shop in 1983, it took 75 hours to build, 48 hours to cane and 10 ½ hours to finish.

Also, an exciting find for me at the Brooklyn and Basket Shop was a wooden puzzle called Towers of Hanoi puzzle. I spent hours as a kid playing this wooden puzzle at my aunt Dorothy’s house. I had searched at craft shows for years hoping to find one.

As we ventured back toward Des Moines, we detoured into Pella for a look through their unique downtown shops and a drive out past Lake Red Rock which is Iowa’s largest lake. Having an appreciation for the architecture for older buildings, I noticed the 65 feet high, 120 feet long and 40 feet wide Pella Opera House that originally opened in 1900 located just off the square. As we left Pella, a plan was made to return in early May for the Tulip Festival.

After spending a second night in Des Moines our weekend came to an end and it was time to venture home. We took I-35 from Des Moines to Winterset to scout out where a llama farm was located. Llama’s being my oldest granddaughter’s favorite animal we plan to take her on one of our adventures soon to visit the llama Farm.

With the recent snow and the weekend’s warm temperatures, Larry reminded me the country roads would most likely be too muddy to travel down to get to most of the famous Bridges of Madison County. Having seen them before, I wasn’t heartbroken but disappointed enough to attempt going down a few country roads.

As we started down the first road towards Holliwell Covered Bridge, it wasn’t too bad until we reached the top of a hill where looking down appeared to be a giant mudslide instead of a road. Thinking we probably wouldn’t make it back up the hill in the car rather it would have to be on foot we put the car in reverse and found a place to turn around. Holliwell Bridge was built over the Middle River in 1880.

Our second attempt was Cedar Bridge, which we arrived at successfully with a white car that was quickly becoming brown. Cedar Bridge was built in 1883 over the Cedar Creek and was moved to its current location in 1921. Larry and I came to a mutual decision that our last stop would be at the Cutler-Donahoe Bridge located in Winterset City Park instead of down a country road. The Cutler-Donahoe Bridge was built in 1870 and crossed the North River in its original location. It was moved to the city park in 1979.

As we passed through Winterset, my eye caught the detail and character of the courthouse sitting in the middle of the town square. Remains salvaged from the courthouse that was destroyed in a fire in 1875 were used to construct the current courthouse which was built between 1876-1878.

If you ever want to go exploring there are plenty of interesting and fun sights to see and learn about in Iowa. We had a fabulous time and made it back home in time to watch the Kansas City Chiefs win Super Bowl 2020.

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