You find yourself smack dab in the middle of the United States, feeling deprived of fun and exciting things to do or see. You may ask yourself, “What the hell is there to do and see in Iowa?” We’re here to answer that age-old question by presenting a handful of ideas to save you from your enervating boredom.
by Andreas Haffar
The World’s Largest Concrete Gnome
WHERE: Ames (Reiman Gardens)
In this garden, standing at an impressive 15 feet tall and weighing in at 3,500 pounds, hailing from Reiman Gardens, ladies and gentlemen, the World’s Largest Concrete Gnome, Elwood. This colossal lawn ornament was created by Andy and Connie Kautza in Wisconsin at the request of Reiman Gardens staff. In spring 2010, the bearded beast moved to Iowa State University to live life as a full-time outdoor model—the profession most gnomes tend to pursue. Coming up on Elwood’s five-year anniversary this spring, he’s still a sight to behold. Iowa State students are given free admission to Reiman Gardens with their student ID.
Zombie Burger (original)
WHERE: Des Moines and West Des Moines (45 min. south of Ames)
Few restaurants in the state, if any, can compete with the post-apocalyptic-themed Zombie Burger. The original, located in downtown Des Moines, features a number of cleverly-named and hunger-quenching burgers such as the “Juan of the Dead,” “They’re Coming to Get You Barbara” and the “Undead Elvis” in various sizes or “taps” such as single, double or—at the risk of limiting your mobility and making you groan, much like a zombie—a triple. A Zombie Burger experience isn’t complete without indulging in the restaurant’s’ “Drink Lab,” whether it be a Zombie Bride Wedding Cake Shake or the bacon-included Chuck Norris “headshot” drink. But before you embark on this, there are few things you should be aware of; you’ll want to bring a first-aid kit and the food has a diabetic level of calories. You can’t say we didn’t warn you.
Villisca Murder House
WHERE: Villisca (2.5 hours southwest of Ames)
Attention believers of the supernatural and the superstitious: we recommend taking a trip to Villisca, Iowa—at your own risk. For just over a hundred years, stories circulated around the isolated town of Villisca regarding the mysterious and eerie Ax Murder House where in 1912, six children and two adults were savagely murdered in their sleep. To this day, the case remains unsolved despite the number of possible suspects and theories about who committed this horrendous act and why. Since the house opened as an exhibit in the 1990s, paranormal investigation teams and ghost enthusiasts have flocked to examine the historic spot after multiple stories of bizarre and paranormal experiences surfaced. Visitors are able to take day or overnight tours of the house with prices depending on the number of people in a group. Braving a night alone in the “not-so abandoned” home will cost you around $80.
Maquoketa Caves State Park
WHERE: Maquoketa (3 hours east of Ames)
Iowa may be known for it’s abundance of farmland, but perhaps one of the more beautiful and visually-striking sites in the “corn state” is the Maquoketa Caves State Park. This is an intriguing destination for a weekend of activities including camping, fishing, picnicking and hiking the six-mile trails that feature the impressive 17-ton “Balanced Rock.” However, its 16 unique caves, the most of any park in Iowa, are what set it apart from the rest. You’ll need headlights and flashlights for some of these caves, while others require you to crawl through on your stomach—so be prepared to get down and dirty. It’s a solid getaway for lovers of the outdoors.