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road trip: midwest again

road trip, midwest, rockford, cedar rapids, Iowa, Iowa City, West Branch

Our fourth trip to Iowa together may have been quick, but we managed to do a lot in short time. And our sixth wedding anniversary even had a few surprises for Rafa… what’s up for this visit??

Rockford, Illinois, Midwest, Rock River, pedestrian bridge

Since flights from Chicago to Cedar Rapids cost more than ever, renting a car & driving four hours makes better sense for these trips; we’d need a car in Iowa anyway. But on each trip we try to go via different routes & see new places if possible. I learned from our last Iowa visit that driving an hour after arrival is easy enough + gets us a little closer to our destination… & is more economical. So hello, Rockford!

We were there late in the year, so the Anderson Japanese Gardens were closed for the season. And the Laurent House by Frank Lloyd Wright wasn’t open on the day we visited. But we drove by both for a quick peek. Greenwood Cemetery was magical because just as we arrived, the sun came out & started melting some of the snow on tree branches… falling down on us in big clumps among the beautiful grounds:

Rockford, Illinois, Midwest, Greenwood Cemetery

Downtown seemed desolate but with some stunning architecture. The scene was so typical for many US cities that abandoned their core areas in the 20th century. As we arrived to the pedestrian bridge across the Rock River, snow began to fall & picked up throughout the next hour:

Rockford, Illinois, Midwest, downtown, Rock River

While exploring East State Street, we got pelted by a sudden snow storm. So much fun! But arriving to the Prairie Brewing Co. for lunch, the snow slowed down. And by the time we left, we had partial sun, an easy & scenic drive to Iowa & a new bridge to cross…

When I researched routes to Iowa, I found a bridge across the Mississippi that we’d never taken. Leaving Illinois on Highway 52, the road drives straight south down the river through marshes. Very cool. And you arrive to the only island city in Iowa: Sabula. Not much going on there, but nice views & a fun way to cross Old Man River.

2022, road trip, Cedar Rapids, Mae Carlson, Marion

Although snowy on arrival, most of our days were sunny, just really windy & cold. Like -12ºC cold with an even lower wind chill. Temps may have been below normal for November but very welcome to us after such a long, hot summer in Spain. That also meant a light cover of snow on the ground stayed for most of our time there.

My aunt’s dementia is definitely progressing. It’s the first time I’ve seen such marked deterioration, so that made me a bit sad. She’s even having difficultly putting words together to speak. I can tell she understands what I say, but our visits were mainly one-sided conversation. However, the last day I saw Mae she was her old self for about the first 20 minutes. The best way to say goodbye.

In the meantime, Rafa got COVID for the first time ever, most likely from the plane trip. What luck. He tested positive while I continued to test negative & had no symptoms. Obviously he didn’t go see my aunt & was wiped out one entire day. But he managed to get well quickly… I even went to get my second COVID booster shot + a flu shot while he was out for the count! I also got some shopping done, we explored the Czech Village area & just before Rafa got sick, we spent our sixth wedding anniversary doing things we love…

2022, road trip, old state capitol, Iowa City, university, museum, natural science

I’d made surprise plans for our anniversary, the first of which was a visit to the old state capitol building on the University of Iowa campus. We’ve never ventured down there even though it’s only a 30-minute drive south of Cedar Rapids. I think we were the only tourists that day, & seeing the campus full of students was great. The nicest surprise was the Museum of Natural History, filled with life-size dioramas & a Mammal Hall full of skeletons. We’d driven past Big Grove Brewery since we got turned around entering the city but didn’t have time to go back… fortunately they’ll be in Cedar Rapids next year!

Lunch called! We could have opted for any place in Iowa City, but while checking out the route to West Branch, a barbecue joint popped up on Google Maps. Now Iowa isn’t really a BBQ state, although they have everything needed to become a national reference. Pork & corn are their thing! Wildwood Smokehouse had crazy good ratings, I’d never taken Rafa to a saloon before & y’all know we love our BBQ. The food was out of this world, sauces served on the side as it should be, & we sat imagining how fun this place gets at night.

2022, road trip, Iowa, Wildwood, saloon, barbecue, BBQ

But wait, there’s more! Lunch took longer than expected, but we still had time to visit the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site… a presidential library, his birth house, a Quaker meeting hall, his father’s blacksmith shop, a schoolhouse & his burial site. So much to see! The library wasn’t as large as some of the others we’d been to —a good thing— or else we wouldn’t have had time to enjoy it all.

Since Hoover isn’t one of our most beloved Presidents, I was interested to see how his life would be discussed. Impressed by his international travel, Rafa & I couldn’t help but comment how something seemed missing… sure, he made a ton of money in mining, he was a humanitarian later, but… I don’t know. I’ll have to read more. The grounds were exquisite with a light layer of snow. Romantic & perfect for our anniversary.

2022, road trip, West Branch, Iowa, Herbert Hoover, presidential library

My #1 reason for going to Iowa is obviously to see my aunt, but I think I needed this trip on a personal level as well. 2022 has been a rough & tumble year, & the combination of snow, cold temps & familiar places did me a world of good. We met some really nice people along the way too. In spite of my aunt’s condition & Rafa being sick, I felt restored & centered while there. Maybe these feelings are a sign of getting older, but going back to my roots always gets me on track.

2 thoughts on “road trip: midwest again”

  1. Special reunion for you and your Aunt. Hard to watch her slip from your grasp. I well know the feeling. Happy 6th and glad Rafa is fine and that you could get boosted and flu shot. RSV is now crowding hospitals with many infants and children.
    The MS River is always a view.
    The BBQ sounds great and seeing another Pres. library fills in some history
    Thanks for sharing. You guys would love a Nashville-Memphis-Little Rock 6days would do it.Music, brews and BBQ and lots of history on civil rights. Be well. h

    1. Thanks for the comment, Herb! It was quite a trip, & I had so much fun. We definitely need to go back to the South… you might not remember that I grew up in Memphis, so I know it well. Although I haven’t written about it yet, I took Rafa on a road trip from St. Louis to Atlanta, with stops in Memphis, Florence, & Birmingham (among others). But just the tip of the iceberg. I need to show him Texas & California too. So many places to visit!!

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