Road Trip to Iowa

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North America » United States » Iowa » Des Moines
November 16th 2018
Published: August 2nd 2019
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Initially, I was very excited that I would be leaving school two days early, thus extending my thanksgiving break. When I heard my family would be driving through the midwest to go see my cousins in Iowa, I was a little less excited. I decided, though, that I wouldn’t ruin my trip even before it started. I was sure there had to be things to do in the Midwest.

My parents picked me up from school on Friday, November 16 at about 7 pm. There wasn’t much more to do than driving that night. So, we drove west as far as we could before we got tired. This ended up happening at about 1 am, five hours after we had left. We had arrived in a town on the westernmost end of Pennsylvania, less than an hour from Pittsburgh. We stopped where we were and looked for a place to stay the night. Luckily we found an Econo Lodge nearby that still had rooms available.

After my brother and I got into our room, I realized I had left some stuff in the car and went out to get it. Once I had grabbed the stuff from the car, I realized that I had my room key and phone back in the room. While this wouldn’t have normally been a problem, the doors to the hotel only opened with a room key, and the front entrance was closed. So for the next half hour, I stood outside in the cold (without a jacket) banging on my room window hoping my brother would hear me. Finally, my brother woke up and trudged over to the window and saw me. In the end, I was finally asleep by 2. My parents, who had gone to bed at an early hour of 1 AM, woke up at 6 ready to get back on the road. So I eventually moaned and groaned my way into our car and we were on our way.

After five hours of driving, we reached the first museum of our trip. At 11 AM we reached the Wilbur Wright Birthplace and Museum in Henry County, Indiana. On the property, there was a renovated version of the Wright family’s original home, a small building still in its original form from the 19th century, a gift shop, and a small museum with a life-size replica of the Wright Flyer. Inside the renovated home, we saw bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a couple bathrooms. Apart from the fact that Wilbur Wright was born in that house, there isn’t much to it. In the museum, the exhibit took us through Wilbur’s life first as a printer, then a bike repairman, and eventually an aviator. We were informed that the replica of the Wright Flyer in the museum took ten years to build and was meant to fly. After a quick stop at the gift shop, we hopped back into our car and headed on to our next stop.

After a relatively short three hour drive, we arrived at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign or UIUC for short. We had a couple reasons for stopping at this college, one of them being that my brother was visiting colleges. The other was that my maternal grandfather had come to UIUC to study many years ago, and my mom wanted to see the campus as well. Prior to our visit, a cousin of mine that is currently a student at UIUC offered to give us a tour, but since he was out of town the weekend we arrived, his friend gave us a tour of the campus instead. We went into the computer science building since that’s what my brother is interested. We also saw the library with three floors underground. After a couple more hours of walking around the campus and taking photos, we hopped back into our car and found a hotel to stay in for the night.

After a restful night in Springfield, IL, we made our way to our next stop, which was in Springfield. If there’s one thing that town is known for, it’s Abe Lincoln. We spent about half the day in his Presidential Library, his home, and the place where he was buried. His Presidential Library showed the classic Abraham Lincoln story: born and raised in a log cabin, taught himself to read, eventually became a lawyer, a member of the house of representatives, and then finally president. There was also an emphasis on the struggles he faced as the great emancipator during our country’s bloodiest war. After leaving the library, we went to Lincoln’s home when he was in Springfield, which had been preserved since the 19th century. Inside the home, we saw many rooms including Lincoln’s bedroom, his wife’s bedroom, his childrens’ bedrooms, the kitchen, the dining room, the sitting room, and the parlor. After walking around the restored property some more, we drove to Abraham Lincoln’s tomb, which only takes about ten minutes. At the site, there was a large obelisk with Lincoln’s name on it and four bronze sculptures, one for each of the Civil War military services (infantry, artillery, cavalry, and navy). In front of the obelisk, there was a bronze statue of Lincoln’s head, which is a reproduction of the marble Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Inside the tomb itself, there are hallways with smaller statues of Abraham as a young man, and other phases in his life. There are also plaques with parts of some of his famous speeches including the Gettysburg Address. All the hallways lead to the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln. There is a rectangular granite block with his name on it and surrounding it are the US flag, the presidential flag, and flags of the states that he and his ancestors had resided in. Lincoln’s body is buried ten feet below the granite block and the remains of his wife and three of his sons are placed in crypts.

Our final stop before we reached our cousins house just outside of Des Moines was St. Louis, MO. We went there to do the two things any normal person would do: look at the Gateway Arch and buy root beer, obviously. Once we arrived inside the visitor center of the Arch, we bought tickets to go up to the viewing area. I was confused as to how we would go up a curved structure, but I was provided with an answer pretty soon. About 15 minutes after buying the tickets, my family and I climbed into a small elevator like thing with five seats. We felt it go up slightly slanted, and then it would readjust to become straight. The elevator repeated this process multiple times. On the way up we could see the inside of the arch through the windows in our little car. Once near the top, we got off and walked a couple steps upward and reached the viewing area. Through the thin windows, I got a clear view of the Mississippi river on one side and the old Missouri State Courthouse along with the rest of the city. We stayed up there for a little while taking photos, but we had to eventually come down to allow the next group of people into the viewing area. Once we were down at the visitor center, we walked through the museum and watched the documentary on the construction of the arch. We learned how often the people that worked on the construction of the arch put their lives at risk, hanging hundreds of feet in the air attaching huge metal puzzle pieces. Now because of them, the Gateway Arch stands 600 feet tall gleaming in the sun looking out to the west, the gateway to the rest of America.

That’s all good but there was one more thing for us to do in St. Louis. After leaving the Arch, we went on over to the downtown area, specifically Fitz’s Bottling Company. The main attraction is the root beer they make right in front of you. You can see the bottling line right from the restaurant while you eat. If root beer’s not your thing, they make many many other sodas there as well. And if soda’s not your thing, well there are many other things to do when in St. Louis.

After wrapping up dinner, hopped back into our car for the final stretch. It was a five and a half hour drive to Des Moines, and it was already almost 10 PM. As we drove on, the roads became more and more void of cars. Towns were fewer and much farther between. There was only the monotonous line of lamps lining the highway far into the distance. But after a certain point, even that wasn’t the case. As time passed by, we found ourselves driving through the freezing cold with no life around for miles and nothing more than our headlights to shine upon the icy road barrelling toward with no end in sight. Finally around 3 AM we saw “big city” lights (if you can call Des Moines a big city). For a while, we wound our way through the suburbs and the maze of the numerous conjoined culdesacs before arriving at my cousins doorstep, worn out from the journey.

After waking up not so early on Monday November 19, my family and I got ready and headed out to our first activity of the trip: a tour of the John Deere Engine Works factory in Waterloo, Iowa. When we arrived, we were shown a short documentary about the history of John Deere and what they are doing today. The factory we visited is special because it is the only one in the entire world that makes the 9 litre and the 13.5 litre engines. In the factory itself, we sat on a mini tram that took us around the entire factory. We stopped at each section and learned about the role it plays in producing the final product. Since the factory was so large, the tour took multiple hours. Once it was over, we had a two hour drive back to my cousins house. So by the time we got back, it was too late for us to do anything else that day.

On Tuesday, we went to the Iowa Science Center which in central Des Moines, about 20 minutes away from our cousins house. There were multiple exhibits including one that displayed many US landmarks made out of LEGOs, one involving physics (basically just making and throwing paper airplanes), and one that displayed common wildlife in Iowa. Since it was geared for younger kids, my little cousins had more fun than I did, but don’t get me wrong; making paper airplanes is fun no matter how old you are. Afterwards, we drove around Des Moines and visited multiple government offices, parks, and other places.

On Wednesday, we didn’t leave the house until much later in the day. When we finally did, it wasn’t for much more than a little bit of sightseeing. Outside one of the military bases in Johnston, there were a couple stationary tanks overlooking a hill. We took photos with the tanks and watched the sun slowly fall lower and lower into the chilly air. After this stop, we made our way over to Saylorville Lake, which actually isn’t a lake at all; it’s a manmade reservoir. Regardless of this, it is huge. At the end we were at, the lake flowed out into the Des Moines River. It was at this spot, overlooking the river, did I see the sun finally slip behind the sleepy suburb scenery; only then did I feel the air become even colder.

The next day, Thursday, November 22, was thanksgiving. We didn’t do much of anything. All I remember is eating a LOT of food for multiple hours. The day after that was Friday the 23, and that was the day we left our cousins house to begin the arduous journey back home. On Friday, we drove seven hours straight to Indianapolis, IN. We reached our hotel around 1 AM, but I wasn’t tired, I was ready for the next day…

After checking out of our hotel, we visited what was definitely the highlight of my trip. There isn’t much to do in Indianapolis, except for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, of course. As an avid car enthusiast, I was beyond exhilarated at the opportunity to stand on the very track where the world famous Indy 500 takes place. We signed up for the bus tour, which took us out to the track and did a full lap around it. The bus stopped at the start line to let people get off and take pictures of the pagoda, the pit lane, and the famed yard of bricks. There is a little bit of history to this yard of bricks: Originally when the speedway was built, it was made of crushed rock and tar, and in 1909, the entire track was covered with bricks. To patch some of the cracks in the bricks, some asphalt was added. By 1937, all the turns were covered with asphalt, and in ‘38 everything except the front straightaway was covered with asphalt as well. In October of 1961, the remaining bricks were covered up, save for a little 36 inch strip at the start line. It is now known as The Yard of Bricks. The Yard of Bricks is also associated with the tradition of kissing the bricks, started by Dale Jarett, a NASCAR driver. I do have a reason for all this explanation though, after getting off the bus, I was given the opportunity to kiss the bricks, and I definitely did. I wasn’t gonna miss out on something this big for me.

Once the bus tour was over, we headed into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, some of us more joyously than others (my brother doesn’t care too much for cars). Inside, we saw the cars of the winners of the Indy 500 going back from 2018 (we visited in November 2018) to even before the 50’s. There was also the wall of fame that showed some of the most talented people to ever sit behind the wheel of an Indycar. In another room, they had even more cars, and even a “racing simulator.” I figured out pretty quickly that is was an Xbox One running Forza Motorsport 6 hooked up to a steering wheel. But I didn’t pay too much mind to that because it was still fun. Sadly, at some point, the visit of a lifetime would have to end, and it did.

Our final stop of the entire trip was a tour hour drive east from Indianapolis near Dayton, OH. Even though it couldn’t possibly top the Motor Speedway, the National Museum of the US Air Force was still pretty spectacular. It is located at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which is still active, and it is split into four huge airplane hangars. On the guided tour, I learned about many different aircraft including the X-15, which is a rocket powered plane whose purpose was to gather data for the space program and the future of hypersonic aircraft. It could reach speeds of around 4,400 miles per hour, meaning it was 2,000 mph faster than the SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest air breathing plane. There were also a couple tamer planes lying in the hangar including multiple versions of Air Force One that were used by past presidents JFK all the way to Clinton. The museum is so large we didn’t even get to go through half of it, but still spent upwards of three hours there. If I’m ever in Ohio again, I know where I’m going. Like I said, this was our last stop of the trip, and all that was left was the grueling nine hour drive back home.

We arrived back home in the very early hours of Saturday, November 24, 2018 from a roadtrip to the midwest that was surprisingly fun and interesting.


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