In 2016 Iowa ranked first in the US for corn production with Iowa farmers harvesting 13.5 million acres of corn (2.7 billion bushels). So even though it was our first time in this state, it was no surprise to us when we crossed the state line from Illinois into Iowa that everywhere we looked there was corn. Rows and rows of corn in what seemed like an endless expanse of fields stretching as far as we could see. The monotony of staring at the asphalt of I-80 was replaced by staring at miles and miles of corn fields.
Being from New England, where there aren’t that many corn fields (we weren’t even ranked in the Ranking of States that produce the most corn in 2016), the majority of the corn that is grown back there is sweet corn, the kind that is harvested when the kernels are soft, sweet and juicy, the kind that is offered at local farm stands or at the grocery store, the kind that tastes so yummy slathered with butter and salt. But in Iowa, less than 1 percent – or only about 3,400 acres of sweet corn is grown in Iowa each year. The rest is field corn or dent corn which is used to feed livestock, make ethanol fuel, plastics, starches, adhesives and thousands of other bio-based products like carpet, make-up or aspirin.
Being mid-September, the corn fields were no longer green but brown with dried stalks. If the corn is dead, why hadn’t the fields been plowed like they are in New England we wondered. Was the corn still growing, was it dying or was it actually dead? It turns out the field corn was not dying, instead it is drying. The corn is ready to harvest when the silks at the top of the ears turn dark brown, then the rest of the corn plant dies and turns brown and finally the ear falls so that instead of being held up against the main stalk, it drops down so the silks are pointed at the ground. As the corn dries, it develops a black layer at the tip of the corn kernel when it has about a 35% moisture content. Harvesting occurs in October and sometimes into November usually when the corn’s moisture content has dropped to about 15%. At this level of moisture, it can be stored safely for a long period of time. No wonder so much corn has to be grown, according to the Iowa Corn website, “one bushel of corn only produces about 2.8 gallons of ethanol” and “in livestock feeding, one bushel of corn converts to about eight pounds of beef, 15.6 pounds of pork or 21.6 pounds of chicken.”
Along our westward route on I-80, interspersed with the corn were farms surrounded by pastures dotted with cows, horses and sheep. But the livestock wasn’t just out in the fields, it was passing us in semi livestock trailers transporting either cattle or pigs off to greener pastures somewhere (hopefully not the other alternative). We could only identify what was in the trailer by the size and color of the snouts sticking out of the side air holes. But we were able to get up close and personal with one when we stopped at a Pilot Travel Center. Parked in the lane next to us was one of these trailers filled with a bunch of cows serenading us with their mooing. Too funny hearing them (not so funny smelling them though)!
As we continued to make our way to our destination for the evening, Griff’s Valley View RV Park (see our review) in Altoona, IA, the outside temperatures were dropping rapidly from 92° to a much more pleasant 70°! Ah, finally relief from the hot, humid 90+ degree temps!
At Griff’s for two nights, we had a chance to explore the Des Moines area and the Saylorville Lake Recreational area. Saylorville Lake was created as a result of the completion of the Saylorville Dam built by the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) in 1977. It was constructed as part of a flood control system for the Des Moines River as well as to aid in controlling flood crests on the Mississippi, of which the Des Moines is a tributary. Within the park is the reservoir, a Visitor Center, picnic areas, beaches, boat ramps, four beautiful campgrounds and a 24-mile paved, multipurpose trail. At the Visitor Center, interactive, educational displays highlighted the habitat, wildlife and the history of the lake. Beautiful Visitor Center and area!
Saylorville Lake campground info: We did not stay at, but explored three COE campgrounds at Saylorville Lake via car; Bob Shetler, Cherry Glen and Prarie Flower. Bob Shetler and Cherry Glen both were nice, but it was Prarie Flower and in particular sites 82-94 in the Coneflower Loop that really wowed us. Beautiful widely spaced concrete pad back in sites in the 60-70 foot range with a fabulous view of the lake. Most had 50/30/20A electric (no water or sewer) at a rate of $20 per night or $10 for federal senior pass holders. We really wished we had stayed there!
Continuing on with our travels after our two night stay at Griff’s, we crossed the state line into Nebraska, the 3rd biggest corn producer in the U.S. (Illinois is 2nd).
On this trip segment, we came upon a series of oversize load “variable length trailers” carrying enormous wind turbine blades. Yikes, those blades don’t look that big on a windmill off in the distance, but up close, they are ginormous!
Pulling into a rest stop in Casey, IA to take a break, we quickly learned that the theme of this particular rest area, according to the Iowa DOT, is wind energy. Instead of the usual statues and historical markers, this rest area had a 148 foot tall wind turbine blade planted vertically in the ground, donated to the state by an energy company to be used as a sculpture. Even the picnic tables were made to look like windmill blades. And how fitting that parked right next to us was one of the oversize loads hauling a new wind turbine blade. We had a chance to talk to the couple driving the truck – actually they jokingly offered to trade their blade for our rig stating its value was about $300,000 (and each turbine has three of these). They explained that they were hauling the 53m (173.8 ft) long blade to TX and that this was a “small” one. Imagine maneuvering a 174 foot trailer! We also learned that in addition to the truck cab driver, there is also a driver that controls the rear of the trailer due to its extreme length. The trailer itself is also quite unique in that it’s length can be adjusted to handle various length blades. Very cool!
Later that day we made a quick overnight stop at the Double Nickel Campground & Resort (review coming) in Waco, NE but besides this campgrounds high price and underwhelming sites and amenities, nothing much to report about our stay here. Our next destination would be a little more interesting…