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Is this heaven?
Eastern Iowa boasts pastoral scenery, varied attractions

If you build it, they will come. The “Field of Dreams” movie site in Dyersville, Iowa, attracts baseball fans of all ages. Get in a game, toss some balls or explore the new corn maze. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find Shoeless Joe Jackson./ ©Gerry Schnieders-Unicorn Stock Photos
By Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer
Published: Jul/Aug 2000

As you drive through the bluff-lined valley of the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa passing rugged hills, limestone cliffs and rolling farmland, you may wonder something. Is this heaven?

Nope, it’s Iowa.

To the natural scenery add historic main streets and houses, immigrant/religious communities like the Amana Colonies, ethnic attractions and museums featuring everything from riverboats to a U.S. president. There’s plenty to keep you occupied.

A magnet for immigrants

Immigrants escaping religious persecution in Germany founded the seven Amana Colonies near Iowa City. Although no longer a religious commune, the villages are preserved in their original setting of green, rolling farmland in the Iowa River valley.

The largest village, Amana, contains many of the attractions. In July and August, take a walking tour with a costumed interpreter. Amana has a good historical museum, as well as a woolen mill, a furniture and clock shop, numerous restaurants, wineries, craft and antique shops, and bed-and-breakfast inns. The other six villages also have historic buildings, crafts demonstrations and wineries.

For information, call 1-800-579-2294 or look up

Bear-shaped mounds

For thousands of years, the Mississippi River played an important part in the lives of the native people living along its banks. By A.D. 350, the Late Woodland (or Effigy Mound) culture had emerged along the upper Mississippi River. At Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette, Iowa, you can view 191 prehistoric mounds, 29 of which are shaped like animals.

To know what you’re looking for–and looking at – it helps to begin with a 15-minute film in the visitor center. It explains that Woodland people buried their dead in conical mounds, whereas they built linear, compound and effigy mounds mostly for ceremonial purposes.

To see the effigies, you have to hike the wooded trails. The two-mile Fire Point Trail takes about an hour to walk. The shortest trail in the park, it winds past conical, linear and compound mounds, one bear effigy, and includes a good view of the Mississippi River.

The four-mile Marching Bear Trail leads to the second-largest effigy group remaining in the United States. It consists of three bird mounds, two linear mounds and a line of 10 bears.

Rangers give guided walks and programs during the summer, including a monthly Friday Night Chautauqua series, bird walks and moonlight hikes.

The visitor center is open daily 8 a.m.–6 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. the rest of year. Summer admission is $2, vehicle rate $4. For more details, call (319) 873-3491, or visit the Web site

On the rollin’ river

Dubuque has an excellent Mississippi River Museum that encompasses the past 300 years of river history. You’ll see two riverfront buildings, a towboat and a 277-foot dredge boat–the William M. Black – anchored near the Diamond Jo Casino Riverboat and the Spirit of Dubuque sightseeing paddleboat. A film narrated by Garrison Keillor, “The River of Dreams,” introduces the exhibits.

The museum experience begins with American Indians and voyageurs on the river, then moves on to a walk-through model lead mine. You can look into a large cut-away model of an 1867 riverboat with passengers and crew and listen to the pilot’s orders. You can also climb onto a simulated log raft in the lumber-trade exhibit and imagine that the logs are rushing down the river.

Other exhibits feature a steamship pilothouse, river fish, the effects of pollution, locks and dams, and full-sized and model boats. Hours are from 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. in summer, 10 a.m.–5 p.m. November–April. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children. Call 1-800-226-3369.

Keokuk (1-800-383-1219) and the Quad Cities (1-800-747-7800) also have river-oriented museums and exhibits. See the Verity Riverboat Museum and Lock & Dam 19 in Keokuk. The Mississippi River Welcome Center at Rock Island, next to Lock and Damn 15, looks at river history and offers tours of the lock and dam.

Batter up

The Field of Dreams Movie Site near Dyersville will appeal to baseball fans and movie buffs. The site looks just as it did in the 1989 film. You’ll see the large, white farmhouse with wrap-around porch, the ball diamond and cornfields.

You can play catch, hit a few balls, join a game, or if you prefer, just sit on the bleachers and watch. Bats, balls and gloves are available free for your use.

Visit between noon and 2 p.m. on the last Sunday of the month (June through September) and see ghost players emerge from the cornfield to do a comedy routine that involves children and adult visitors.

From July through October, you can explore a nine-acre maze in the cornfield and imagine you’re one of the ghosts waiting to come out and play a game. Admission to the maze is $6 adults, $4 children.

Refreshments and Field of Dreams souvenirs are available at the Left and Center Field of Dreams building on the site. Hours are 9 a.m.–6 p.m. April 1 through November, 9 a.m. until sunset in summer. Admission to the site is free. Call (319) 875-7985 or visit the Web site

A product of the American Dream

The Herbert Hoover National Historic Site at West Branch near Iowa City may not sound exciting, but it actually gives a very lively look at the life and times of our 31st president.

After watching a brief video at the visitors center, you can stroll around the spacious, tree-lined grounds that contain the two-room cottage where Hoover was born in 1874, a replica of his father’s blacksmith shop, the first West Branch schoolhouse and the Quaker meeting house where his family worshipped.

A large presidential library-museum gives an in-depth look at his intriguing life. A poor orphan at 10, Hoover was a highly paid gold-seeking geologist in Australia at age 24. When he was 40, he organized the effort to feed the Belgian people during World War I. At age 54, he was president of the United States. Hoover certainly represented the American dream fulfilled.

The museum presents a fascinating look at the Hoover years through photographs, videos and full-sized dioramas. Galleries are devoted to Hoover’s presidential campaign, changes during the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression and Lou Henry, Hoover’s wife.

The gravesites of Herbert and Lou lie on a hillside near a 76-acre tallgrass prairie.
Summer events include “Growing Up in West Branch,” which features activities common during Hoover’s childhood, Wednesday evenings in July and August. Hooverfest, Aug. 5 and 6, includes theater, turn-of-the-century craft demonstrations, children’s activities, a band concert and fireworks. Hours are 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily. Admission is $2 for adults, $1 for seniors 62 and older. Children under 16 admitted free. Call (319) 643-2541 or look up

As the line from “Field of Dreams" states, “People most definitely will come.” This summer, perhaps you should “go the distance” and explore eastern Iowa.

Jinny Ravenscroft Danzer is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

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