I’ve grown up with a plethora of people who just can’t wait to get out of their home state. I on the other hand, find a great deal of pride in our little-big city and cornfields. Whenever people say that there’s nothing cool in Iowa outside of Des Moines, I’m the first one to speak up and beg to differ. Here’s a list of my favorite spots from around the state that are just too cool not to pay a visit to.
Ryumonji Zen Monastery: Decorah, Iowa
A traditional Japanese Zen Buddhist Monastary– located out in the rolling hills of Iowa. You heard me right. Forty acres of land were donated to the project headed up by Shoken Winecoff Roshi. He is a Dharma Heir of the late Dainin Katagiri Roshi, founder of the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center. The monastery has weekly meditation meetings, and offers a unique opportunity for long-stay Ango and Sesshin for people who want to deepen their practice. Shoken has been the teacher of many prominent Buddhist teachers in the Midwest, including Eido Bruce Espe who leads the Des Moines Zen Center.
The Grotto of the Redemption: West Bend, Iowa
The Grotto of the Redemption is something that I remember being completely enchanted by as a child. My grandparents took me on a day trip, and though the religious meaning was lost on me entirely– I was delighted to run around a place littered with beautiful stones and crystals. It was like something out of a fairytale. The Grotto of the Redemption is the largest of its kind in the world, and has been called the eighth wonder of the world, according to its proprietors. There is also a cathedral and a campground on site– as well as an old fashioned soda fountain for a quick bite to eat.
Bonnie and Clyde’s Last Stand: Stuart, Iowa
In an amusing turn of events, the last bank that Bonnie and Clyde robbed together is now the location of the Stuart police department. All of the convenience stores along the white pole road sell CDs that offer guided tours along their ill-fated path. The locals are all very interested in talking about the infamous couple, as the event has brought in some major tourism for their area. If you’re looking for a relaxing road trip sort of get away, this one’s for you.
Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk: Riverside, Iowa
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone out there who hasn’t at least heard of Star Trek. According to the lore of the series, the much beloved Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise will be born in this small Iowa town in the year 2228. Though it seems a trivial bit of information from an obscure sci-fi series from the past, it has been an incredible boon for the tourism industry of this little town. People come from far and wide to see their Star Trek museum and visit the gift shop (Where you can purchase “Kirk dirt!”). More importantly, they’ve capitalized on the fad further by transforming their annual festival into Trek Fest– a mix between the charming small town and a Trekker’s heaven. There’s even a parade with a competition between Star Trek themed floats!
Iowa won’t ever be comparable to the East coast or West coast, but it doesn’t want to be. We have our own quirky, small town big city flare that no one can duplicate. The next time somebody tells you that there’s just nothing cool in your home state, do some hunting and I’ll bet you that you can prove them wrong.