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Venturing over Siouxland’s Border, Steen, MN

22 Aug

I spent part of a recent day visiting an Iowa State Preserve in Siouxland near the South Dakota border which is also not far from the Minnesota border. While heading  home I saw a sign that said, Steen, MN, six miles. I made a detour. After living in Iowa for a number of years I have not ventured into Minnesota. No particular reason, I just never got there. When I hit the outskirts of the small community I had not even realized I had crossed a state border.

A sign at a park welcomes visitors to Steen, Minnesota Thursday Aug. 3, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Steen is a tidy little community. Originally settled by one Ole P. Steen who fought for the North during the Civil War as a calvaryman. Like many of Iowa’s early communities, Steen was created, 1888, because the Illinois Central Railroad needed a railroad station. Today it’s population is a little over 170 people according to the 2014 census. Many communities that start as a railway hub eventually hit a peek as that hub moves to another community. After having spent a bit photographing various aspects of the community, a pick-up stopped next to me and a man popped out introducing himself as mayor. He was quick, and handed me a little booklet about the community’s centennial which occurred in 1988. A man proud of his hometown and a place he calls home.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Bike Adventure Starts in Siouxland, Orange City

20 Aug

Every year RAGBRAI ( Des Moines- Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) begins somewhere in western Iowa and most times begins somewhere is Siouxland. The ride has been going on since the 1970’s and continues to grow each year drawing riders from across the U.S. and even from some other countries.

John Potter, left, and dad Dale Potter of Knoxville, TN, will ride their 4th RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) event which begins in Orange City, Iowa, Saturday July 12, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Participants line up to sign in for the kickoff and the ride for RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) event which begins in Orange City, Iowa, Saturday July 12, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A convivial recreational bike ride that stops each night in communities along the way and where people celebrate summer with food, music, and an opportunity for even smaller communities to highlight themselves and entertain a genial crowd while boosting their economy.

Instead of Tulip Festival and Dutch history associated items, biking gear and accessories are found on the main drag for the kickoff of RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) event which begins in Orange City, Iowa, Saturday July 12, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Normally Orange City, which hosted the start of the ride, is known for its celebration of its Dutch heritage and its annual Tulip Festival that draws thousands each May to enjoy in the community celebration. This year it was decked out in all things bike. And visitors and residents alike got into the spirit of it.

Brother and sister Chloe and Sam Nonhof hope some bike riders stop by to buy lemonade from them as the kickoff for the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) event which begins in Orange City, Iowa, Saturday July 12, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Residents spruce up their yards fand reflect a little of their Dutch roots or the kickoff for the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) event which begins in Orange City, Iowa, Saturday July 12, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A rider participant wears a tee shirt in an ode to Iowa that the pretty much sums up the RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa) event which begins in Orange City, Iowa, Saturday July 12, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Personally I like to bike, but not in crowds, but the atmosphere of the day before the start of the ride was of a celebration with people enjoying summer time and all that the week ahead would provide. And this year participants were lucky because a heat wave with high humidity was passing and cooler weather was flowing into Iowa making the days with some 50-60 miles of riding more bearable.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

 

Getting Lost in Siouxland, rural Monona County

18 Aug

Maybe because I grew up on a small farm in Illinois that I enjoy driving about the countryside in Siouxland. And in the southern portion of this area of Iowa the country gravel roads meander through the state designation of the Loess Hills.

A couple farms nestled into a valley in the Loess Hills in rural Monona County, Iowa Sunday, June 25, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

I have gotten smarter these days driving about in that I now carry county platt maps and an Iowa county road atlas so when I end up somewhere with no idea what direction I am headed, I can get a sense of where I am lost in Siouxland. While driving about I listen to some various jazz artists and just enjoy the visuals I come upon often times not seeing another soul for the many hours of driving time I spend wandering these roadways.

A car meanders along a gravel county highway in rural Monona County, Iowa Sunday, June 25, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

But I find myself transported to another plane of thought without worrying about current events or other issues that most face if not day to day at least a portion of our lives during the week. It’s a time I let my mind wander and savor the moment and the here and now and sometimes wonder what this area of Iowa must have looked like when early settlers arrived while this state and others west were still prairie grasslands before becoming the agricultural hub of production it is now.

A maintained graveyard of early settlers and forebears in rural Monona County, Iowa Sunday, June 25, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Seeing snippets of land not farmed, especially in the Loess Hills area where some farms and farmland is nestled in amongst the still prevalent hills and green space that exists today.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Surprises in Siouxland, Lake View

16 Aug

One Sunday driving around southern Siouxland I stopped by the community of Lake View and was pleasantly surprised when I found a carnival and small annual festival the town holds every year. It was a day I couldn’t spend a lot of time since I was headed to another destination, but am always happy when I find something unexpected of a pleasant nature popping up when one leasts expects it.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Spending Time at the Lakes in Siouxland, Arnolds Park

14 Aug

As summer winds down in Siouxland the area up around the lakes near Arnolds Park and Okoboji and others will begin to take on their fall demeanor. The trees turn color and it becomes very pretty, but the life begins to slow much like sap running through a tree. The lakes are a summer “thing” and people will begin to pursue other avenues of entertainment away from the lakes, except those who live there and others who like the fall.

The recent day I visited I had the chance to ride the Queen II and enjoy a cruise around West Lake Okoboji and learn more about its history. This was during the week. And while there were people about, the morning was pretty quiet as I made some photos and enjoyed a walk about.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland History in Harrison County, Welcome Center Missouri Valley

12 Aug

A few weeks back as I was getting out exploring some new areas to me in Siouxland, I finally visited the Harrison County Welcome Center outside of Missouri Valley. The Welcome Center and its museum originally started as a personal project of a Preston Niles who moved there and started an orchard and then a store and finally a small museum as it was situated on the Lincoln Highway, Route 30, that travelled across the country from east to west. The Welcome Center and its small village and museum has so many items and pieces of history that it’s easy to spend a couple of hours reading about all the items.

The Welcome Center and Harrison County Historical Museum near Missouri Valley, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Situated outside is a long wooden culvert that was used during the WWII era when metal was in short supply for drainage for communities. Talking with a docent she informed me that when more recent work began around the museum area, the culvert was discovered. And rather than throwing it into the landfill, added it to the other historical items, such as a Bible from the Civil War era, that is from the local area surrounding Missouri Valley.

A Bible from the Civil War era on display at the Welcome Center and Harrison County Historical Museum near Missouri Valley, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Docents at the Welcome Center and Harrison County Historical Museum explained that during WWII with a short supply of metal because of the war, wooden culverts were used for drainage in the area near Missouri Valley, Iowa Friday, June 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

During a massive flood of the Missouri River during 2011 the docent told me some structures were lost and items from those individual displays were put together in a newer building that is more flood resistant than the former wooden structures, although not as historic in nature. And on a hot day, as this particular day, visitors can also try out some cider that is made there. Evidently part of the original owner Niles had an orchard and beside selling its fruit, also made non-alcoholic beverages from the fruit.

The Welcome Center and museum area is certainly a nice place to spend half a day acquainting oneself with local history and understanding some more of Iowa’s development in Siouxland.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Former Railroad Days in Siouxland, Wall Lake

10 Aug

I have found driving around Siouxland that many small communities sprung up in the state’s early days, the late 1800’s and early 1900’s primarily founded on the railroad passing through the community as others continued their trek west and the country expanded. One of those communities is Wall Lake, with a population roughly around 800 people that was tallied in 2014.

With most small communities the railroad was a lifeline in and out. Fostering more growth, but inevitably taking away that growth once the railroad ceased its operation.

The former Chicago Northwestern railroad depot in Wall Lake Iowa Iowa Friday, May 12, 2017. (Photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Esther Bielema, a local historian, explained that the railroad functioned in the Wall Lake area up until the 2000’s when after a flood and train tracks were damaged that the current ownerUnion Pacific did not do any repairs. Later local residents got together and refurbished the depot and turned it into a history outpost for the community informing visitors the railroad’s past presence locally.

Older photos displayed on a wall in the former Chicago Northwestern railroad depot in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

A photograph on a wall shows patrons of the later 1800’s in the now refurbished former Chicago Northwestern railroad depot in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

Brian Bielema formerly worked for the railroad for 37 years and recounted a wealth of history and information about the depot and events a bygone era.

Former railroad man Brian Bielema sits in the now refurbished Chicago Northwestern depot in Wall Lake, Iowa, Sunday July 16, 2017. (photo by Jerry L Mennenga©)

The sad thing though is that small communities in Iowa will one day lose these historians and the history that accompanies the communities may be lost as others do not learn about the place they live and the history of its coming into existence. A dilemma faced by many smaller communities as younger people move away and the towns shrink.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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