#29 Loess Hills


Valley in Loess Hills

Eastern South Dakota is really flat, and it looked like crossing Iowa would be very much the same.  But when I looked at the map, I saw a scenic road zigzagging south through Iowa along the Missouri River.

Loess (pronounced less) is dirt that is ground fine like flour by glaciers and other geologic forces.  Strong winds then blew it across the mid-west until it piled dunes along the banks of the ancient predecessor to the Missouri River.  Then plant life grew and gave it a coating of topsoil.  There are loess hills all around the world, but only China has ones that are bigger.  Who knew?

When Lewis and Clark passed by, the Loess Hills were covered in prairie grass.  Then the farmers came and blocked the prairie fires that once swept the hills clean.  Now, two hundred years later, the hills are covered with trees.

I expected a drive through a narrow corridor of dunes similar to the narrow forested corridor that is the modern Natchez Trace.  The Loess Hills cover around six hundred and forty thousand acres, are as much as fifteen miles wide and two hundred miles long.  There are old farms are in the valleys and numerous very small towns.

Bayliss Park

A picture of the flat green fields along the banks of the Missouri coming up to the dune-like hills would have been nice, but I did not think of it and took one of a valley typical farm founded in 1867.

We pulled back a dirt road to Plantation, an 1853 county seat.   There is nothing left of Plantation but a lovely shaded picnic spot.  The dirt was as fine as dust.  It erodes easily, and locals call it “sugar clay.”

Modern Hobos


Missouri Valley, a place near the end of the Loess Scenic Drive, is one of the few small towns we have been in that seems prosperous but has done nothing in recent decades to make its streets attractive.  We have been impressed with the efforts of other little towns all over the country.

Council Bluffs, on the other hand, has done much to beautify its streets.  We drove to see Bayliss Park with its modern lighted fountain and monuments.  Men were removing equipment used the day before for Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s visit.  The fountain and little water park were not operating, a disappointment to two small children there with their mother, but they enjoyed the squirrels. 

We talked very briefly to three young men passing though.  They were dressed in rough hunting camo, had big packs, and one carried a guitar.  But their eyes were clear – no obvious sign of drugs or booze – and they spoke well.  They were crossing the country hopping freight trains!

At the edge of the park, is the city’s war memorial.  It had two exceptionally moving statues.  One, a young man holding a flag, looks up at a conventional statue of a soldier.  In the other, two elderly people look at the memorial, and the woman points at a name on the wall.  My personal definition of “art” is that it must in some way evoke something in the viewer.  This may be emotionally heavy-handed, but it did evoke emotion; it was art.

After spending a night in St. Joseph, we started down and across Missouri through the rolling hills and farmland of the Ozarks.  We have appointments at home, so except for a stop for lunch in lovely Liberty Park in Sedalia, we just pushed on. 

County Road WW

But that meant at the end of the day there were no pictures and little to write about – until dinner in Willow Springs.  The restaurant just had a sign “BBQ & Grill.”  The back of the waitresses’ shirts said “Just shut up and eat.”  But it was good!

Missouri 60 across the south of the state is like an Interstate.  On the good side, it doesn’t have much traffic.  But on the bad side, it bypasses anything there is to see.  So we got off at New Madrid, site of the 1811-12 earthquakes that created Reelfoot Lake and changed the course of the Mississippi River.

“Road Ends In Water”

We took County Road WW which was interesting because it runs long the top of a dike, but road work closed it after we had gone quite aways.  After backing and filling and perhaps twenty or more miles out of our way through delta farms, we reached Missouri County Road A and followed it until a sign proclaimed “Road Ends In Water,” our destination: the Dorena-Hickman Ferry.  We had been this way once years before with our trailer, but we still thought it would be fun to cross the Mississippi River on a ferry.

The ferry arrives at a wooded bank across from another wooded bank.  There is little to see, and there was a slight rain, but it didn’t dampen our fun.  Barges on the river passed going both ways, and when we reached the middle of the river, Alie said she thought t it must have looked much like this when Mark Twain wrote about Huck Finn. 

Our plea to all who want to see the U.S., get off the Interstate.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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