Seven Hours, No Stops!
We made it…this far! Once we got out of Greater Cleveland, traffic was a breeze, even around Chicago. Incredibly, Becky made the entire 7-hour drive without even a single stop! This got us to our hotel in the Quad Cities last night at 11:30pm local time. Checkin at the LaQuinta Inn Moline Airport was a breeze, and we settled into bed maybe a minute or two past midnight.
‘Tis the Season
I haven’t had the best time sleeping lately…it seems 4 or 5 hours is about all I get most nights. I set an alarm for 6:15 with the hopes we could grab a quick breakfast in the hotel lobby and get on the road. My sinuses had other ideas—every year they let me know when August arrives. This morning they reminded me, which made it difficult to exist let alone get up. Becky was feeling it too.
“The World’s Largest Truckstop”
We finally got out the door and back on the road at 7:30am. The Iowa 80 Truck Stop just west of Davenport was our first refueling stop of the trip. It bills itself as “The World’s Largest Truckstop”, with about half a dozen fast food franchises, a ton of retail, a buffet restaurant, plenty of American automotive memorabilia, and of course gas and diesel.
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Interstates…
Normally we just follow I-80 all the way across Iowa. This time I wanted to try a different route farther north. US-20 runs from coast to coast—Massachusetts to Oregon—and it passes maybe 50 miles north of I-80 through Central Iowa before running across Nebraska within a few miles of the South Dakota border. Today we’ll head up I-380 to join US-20 until Sioux City, where we’ll diverge on the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway to follow the Missouri River more closely.
The Great Plains: #NotFlat #NotBoring
I can’t say this enough, but I don’t understand why people repeat over and over again that the Great Plains are flat. I mean, I realize it’s not exactly mountainous (except it actually is in the High Plains!), but most of it has rolling hills. Eastern Iowa is especially pretty where farmers sow their crops to follow the terrain. We usually go through in July. August offers larger and more mature plants, including tasseled corn, but everything is still a wonderful green. When we passed through last September, things definitely appeared less verdant.
The weather was mostly cloudy at first. We even hit some rain between Cedar Falls and Fort Dodge. We also hit some gigantic bugs with yellow innards. Yuck. (Turns out these were actually monarch butterflies! Now I feel guilty too! Those poor things have it tough enough!)
Driving Across Iowa on US-20
We found the drive across Iowa on US-20 very pleasant compared to I-80. Traffic is nearly nonexistent past Fort Dodge, and the route is more scenic in the Western part of the state. The only drawback we discovered was the total lack of rest areas…but there were adequate numbers of gas stations all the way up to Sioux City.
At Sioux City we crossed the Missouri River and the state line into Nebraska. After stopping for fuel we diverged from US-20 to begin our journey along Highway 12—the Outlaw Highway—which follows the Missouri River and the state line with South Dakota.
Ponca State Park
Our first stop, Ponca State Park, preserves a section of the River that still looks much the way it did back in the time of Lewis & Clark. We stopped to enjoy the view at the Three State Overlook, where you can see South Dakota and Iowa while standing in Nebraska. This is one of the few places where the Missouri River hasn’t been dammed, straightened, or bypassed with a canal to better facilitate shipping (and flooding). The overcast sky and humidity weren’t the most comfortable, but it was exciting to ponder the beginning of Lewis & Clark’s adventure across the continent, as well as their return through this stretch of river two years later.