I've been in love with the hills of Northeast Iowa my whole life. I grew up in Fredericksburg, which I fondly call “The Gateway to the Hills.” Heading east on Highway 18, the land begins to undulate gently into small hills, like a rumpled bed sheet. A few miles before entering West Union, the hills begin in earnest, and driving further east towards Clermont and Elgin reveals spectacular views. “Viewage!!!” my family calls out whenever we catch our first glimpse of “Little Switzerland.”
Driving aimlessly on the country roads has been one of my greatest pleasures ever since I was a kid. My mom and I would cajole my dad and brother into goin' on a drive. We would pile into the Chrysler Du Jour and head for the hills. My mom and I were in seventh heaven, exclaiming in delight upon seeing bright red barns, tidy white farmhouses, meadows of wildflowers, babbling brooks, deep woods, giant trees, and hill after hill. Whenever we came to a bridge over the Turkey River, we'd make dad stop the car and turn it off and just listen.
My dad, a farmer born and bred, would remark how he couldn't see anything with all the hills and trees in the way. His preference was the flat, fertile farmland around home where folks could make a decent living raising crops. He'd grumble about wishing he was at home in his recliner watching the game, but I know he secretly loved to see the his beloved wife's eyes light up at all the beauty outside the car windows.
My younger brother, on the other hand, hated these drives. He'd ask anxiously, “Are we lost?” and Mom would reassure him that, no, we weren't lost. He'd ask my dad, “Do you know where we are??” and Dad would say, “Nope.” This never failed to totally freak my brother out!
Some of my favorite destinations were Gouldsburg Park near St. Lucas, Pike's Peak on the Missisppi, and Dutton's Cave near West Union. The first time I trekked through the shallow gorge to Dutton's cave, I felt like I was in a magical fairyland. The trees formed an arch overhead, there was a rushing stream nearby, and I was utterly enchanted with the little waterfalls that framed the cave on either side.
30 some years have gone by, and now my husband and I take off on a road trip every chance we get. We have returned to our beloved NE Iowa roots after spending 30 years in the bustling metropolis of Des Moines. Even when we lived there, we'd make a pilgrimage to the hills several times a year to fill our hearts and renew our spirits. We have made hundreds of discoveries off the beaten path, and I have faithfully documented each one with my camera. I look forward to sharing what we find with you. You just never know what you're going to find around the next bend...