Tour Planners Lauren and Michelle Visit Iowa

From The Desk of Michelle Slater

As CTD Tour Planners, Lauren and I were highly anticipating our exploration of this part of Iowa. Having lived in Iowa myself for a few years, I was excited to return to this great state and explore parts I haven’t seen before. Below are some of the highlights we encountered on our trip and a sneak peek look at what’s in store for our travelers on the 2023 Iowa’s Hidden Gems tour.

Our trip began by visiting award-winning Author/Illustrator, Bruce Arant. Learning his story from obtaining a degree in marketing to becoming a published author sure did delight us! The warm and engaging way he shares his life story is a great way to kick off our tour of Hidden Gems.

Continuing on our first day, we went to the city of Harlan. We had the pleasure of meeting Camelia Jorgensen whose farm was deemed by Our Iowa magazine to be “One of the prettiest farms in Iowa”. And I completely concur! Camelia is such a gracious host as she shows off their historic property. The views from the backyard are truly breathtaking!

As we leave the Council Bluffs area, we make our way north to the De Soto National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is home to such a diverse population of wildlife. Many species of birds flock to the refuge every spring and fall. There is a large viewing area to sit and take in the natural wonder of the area where I enjoyed the fresh breeze before going inside to hear the story of the Bertrand Steamboat. The ship and all its cargo sunk in 1865 after hitting a submerged log. The cargo on board was worth, in today’s dollars, approximately 1.4 million! Lauren and I saw these amazing relics on display and felt like we were looking into a time capsule.

We continued our journey to the quaint town of Denison. The people of Denison are proud to be the home of actress Donna Reed! The Donna Reed Museum offered so many treasures from her life, including vintage costumes, scripts, and movie posters. The museum itself focuses not only on her, but the achievements of local Iowans.

Credit: Donna Reed Museum

Then it was off to the town of Ida Grove. The first thing that we noticed was the plethora of castles everywhere! The city entrance sign itself is in the shape of a castle! Arriving at the area’s Skate Palace, I felt like royalty entering the building (also shaped as a castle!) because the entrance had large knights guarding it. Skate Palace is one of the most unique roller rinks I have ever seen. It’s even used by the locals for wedding receptions, dances, and parties. 

Lauren and I had been intrigued by Le Mars before we even entered the town. Lauren is a huge Ice Cream lover, and as the town gained the title of Ice Cream capital of the world in 1994, she was quite excited for this stop. In Le Mars we also visited The Brown’s theater, a beautiful historic building purchased in 2015 by the Brown family, who have been renovating it back to its original glory.

We began our next morning at Okoboji Classic Cars for a nostalgic trip down memory lane. They call themselves the “Ultimate Man Cave”, and we can certainly see why! Even if you are not a car enthusiast this place will capture your attention. The artistry is so amazing you feel as though you have truly been taken back in time and are walking the streets of yesterday. The cars we saw dated from the early 1900’s through today. We both left with smiles on our faces and chatting about what we had seen. Our time in Okoboji was not over! We next wandered over to the Arnold’s Park area to see the Queen II. The boat, which is designated the “Flagship of the Iowa Navy” was built in 1986.

Our next day was spent in the charming small town of Jefferson. We toured the Courthouse and learned the rich history of the building and local town. We then ventured up to the top of the Mahanay Bell Tower, a gift to the people of Jefferson and Greene County. The tower is 168 feet, and the view is simply stunning. The locals have taken to painting murals and designs on the roof tops of some of the surrounding buildings for viewers to enjoy while at the top. What a surprise that was to see! We next got to meet with Robby Pedersen, the owner of RVP 1875, who builds historically accurate furniture using only the tools and techniques used in 1875 Iowa. His passion for what he does shows as he talks about the different pieces of furniture and what makes them special.

Our next stop led us to Templeton, Iowa - home of the Templeton Distillery. Our tour through the museum was an informative walk through the history of whiskey during prohibition. We learned how critical bootlegging was to keep this small town alive. Our tour ended with a tasting and a chance to shop in the gift shop!

Credit: Templeton Rye Distillery

Our trek through Western Iowa continued to the City of Coon Rapids, and the farm of Ron and Nancy Bowman. In true Iowan spirit they welcomed us to their farm with open arms. The farm was deemed to be one of “Iowa’s Prettiest Farms” in March of 2023. There were so many unique planters around the farm, including an old safe! Nancy showed us the greenhouse they built, and we saw how she incubates the plants all winter for planting in the spring. There was so much to see our time here seemed to fly by!

Credit: Justin Rogers

Our last day in Iowa started with a visit to the town of Clarinda and a stop at the Glen Miller Museum. The meticulously kept museum immerses you in the life of the famed musician and is filled with interesting exhibits showcasing the impact his music had through the decades.

Then it was off to Shenandoah started for a tour of the famous KMA radio station. This radio station first began in 1925 by a seed salesman in town and our tour talked about the history of the radio station and explained the updates they made to modernize as times have changed. We were able to see the broadcasting booth where “the magic happens” on air.

We then walked over to the childhood home of the world-famous Everly Brothers on the “Iowa Walk of Fame”. Much like Hollywood, Iowa has a walk of fame celebrating every famed person of the great state. Featuring more than 140 tiles, each one highlights the individual and where in the state they are from.

One of our favorite moments of our time in Shenandoah was meeting up with CTD Tour Director, Jill Whitham. Jill is not only the Tour Director on all our Iowa tours, but she calls Shenandoah home! Jill is just as excited as we are for people to see what her state has to offer.

After a fabulous tour of the western side of this great state, it became time to say our goodbyes until our next visit. Laurena and I both commented on the hospitality and welcoming feel you have in these small Iowa towns. We returned to the office completely confident in the fact our travelers are all going to find this to be one of the best tours they have been on.

Happy Travels,

Michelle Slater
CTD Tour Planner

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