November 5, 2014

Loess Hills Scenic Byway

After approximately two months, Tim and I left the Dakotas behind on October 17 and crossed into Iowa.  We had a short drive to Stone State Park near Sioux City, which we planned to explore that afternoon.  Sioux City sits at a wide bend in the Missouri River and figured prominently in the expedition of Lewis and Clark.  It was near here that Sergeant Charles Floyd died, likely from a ruptured appendix.  Floyd was the only member of the Corps of Discovery to die during the expedition, and his burial place is marked with a white stone obelisk.

Sergeant Floyd is a major focus of the Sioux City Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  My favorite exhibit, however, featured animatronic figures - Captain Lewis’s dog Seaman barking at a little prairie dog.  I wish photos had been permitted.  That was fun.  Tim and I have visited several Lewis and Clark centers, all of which have done a good job of interpretation.  It has been interesting to see how each center presents the story of Lewis and Clark, and we have been surprised to find much less overlap than one might expect.  Although we have enjoyed each one, my favorite was the first one we visited in Washburn, North Dakota.

We also visited the Sergeant Floyd Riverboat Museum next door to the center.  The museum and welcome center is housed in a decommissioned inspection boat of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and presents the transportation history of the Missouri River.  We only had a few minutes to spend there since we arrived just before closing, but we especially enjoyed the scale models of the many types of vessels that once were common on the river.

Segeant Floyd Riverboat Museum

Captain Tim at the Helm
That Captain Looks Familiar

Sioux City served as our jumping-off point to explore the Loess Hills National Scenic Byway, a day-long meander along the rural roads of western Iowa.  Although I had heard of the Loess Hills, I really knew nothing about them, so we started our journey at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center within Stone State Park.

Fall Color at Stone State Park

Glaciers, wind and water are the primary forces that created the Loess Hills, an area approximately 200 miles long and up to 15 miles wide within the Missouri River Valley.  Loess is wind-blown silt, and it can be found along major river valleys throughout the world.  Iowa is one of the rare places, however, where loess deposits are thick enough to create their own land form.  The Loess Hills of Iowa have some of the thickest loess accumulations in the world, with deposits ranging from 60 to 200 feet.  Only in China are there loess deposits as deep as these.

We spent the day driving through the area’s picturesque farmlands, forested hills and vast grasslands, as well as fall colors.  The many twists and turns of the byway were very well marked until we came to an ominous sign – “Road Closed to Thru Traffic.”  Uh-oh.  Luckily Google Maps came to the rescue, and Tim found several dirt roads that would get us around the bridge that was being replaced.  We were back on the byway in no time.  

Farmlands Along the Byway

Now, What Do We Do?

Should We Take This Road Instead?

A roadside stand caught our attention, and we stopped and purchased a gallon of homemade raspberry cider.  Apples were the featured fruit, but we had just recently purchased a large bag and had no room for more. We resumed our journey and pulled into Council Bluffs, Iowa, at the end of the afternoon.  Council Bluffs would be our base for exploring that city, as well as Omaha, located just across the river.

Apples and Cider

Terraces in the Fields


  1. That back road is definitely and Iowa road! I would recognize them anywhere. ha ha LV

    1. That's interesting. I haven't traveled too much in Iowa, but I certainly loved this drive.


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