Tag Archives: northwest iowa

Enjoying the Outdoors in Siouxland, Preparation Canyon State Park

6 Jun

Spring emerges after an Iowa Dept. of Natural Resources burn off recently seen during a Spring Photo Safari outing at Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa. (Jerry L Mennenga©)

Time spent outdoors is always time spent well I believe, barring the fact that it isn’t a blizzard or a -20 degrees temperature with 40 mph wind gusts. And there are many nice places in Siouxland to spend some outdoor time, like Preparation Canyon State Park situated in the Loess Hills area of western Iowa which runs from Sioux City down past Council Bluffs. The Dept. of Natural Resources gives this history of the park, “The 344 acre the park encompasses what was once the town of Preparation. In 1853, Charles B. Thompson broke from the Mormon wagon train to Utah after receiving a message from the “Spirit.” The Mormon leader and elder led 50 to 60 Mormon families to Kanesville, now Council Bluffs. Upon much searching, Thompson and a few select men chose the area called “Monona,” an Indian name meaning “Peaceful Valley.” Here they organized the town of Preparation, complete with houses and schools and started Monona County’s first newspaper which Thompson owned and operated.”

On a recent class outing for my Spring Photo Safari class through a Lifelong Learning program at Western Iowa Tech Community College we spent some time at the overlook, as the actual park with camping sites is down the road maybe 2-3 miles. And not far from here also is a cemetery of early pioneers as well as more recent local residents interred in a bucolic setting with the wind creating a concert of sound along with chirping birds.

A quiet spring day during a Spring Photo Safari outing at Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa. (Jerry L Mennenga©)

It was only a week or two earlier that the DNR had done a controlled burn in early spring which I believe is a yearly occurrence. The area had rebounded and spring green was gradually coming to life giving the area a fresh face for another outdoor season, well, an outdoor season that doesn’t include trudging through snow.

A ridge line trail taken during a Spring Photo Safari outing at Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa. (Jerry L Mennenga©)


Spring emerges after an early burn off by Iowa’s Dept. of Natural Resources seen during a Spring Photo Safari outing at Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa. (Jerry L Mennenga©)

There is a nice trail that leads out from the overlook into the adjoining area that is not overly difficult and gets one into the pastoral setting, giving a visitor a chance to explore and see what is over the next hill and dale without going to far off the beaten path and after some exertion, a chance to return to the overlook, rest, and then continue the journey through the Loess Hills and the chance to find other places to explore and ponder what it must have been like for the early settlers in the later 1850’s as some made their way west and others settled into the area to begin life anew.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Hiking a trail for a better photo perspective during a Spring Photo Safari outing at Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa. (Jerry L Mennenga©)


Pausing to enjoy a nice day outside during a Spring Photo Safari outing at Preparation Canyon State Park near Pisgah, Iowa. (Jerry L Mennenga©)


Little Sioux Cemetery in Siouxland, Smithland

26 Aug

Of the various places I visit when out driving around in Siouxland, are cemeteries. I like to pay my respects to those who have gone before me, as well as see how old some of the grave markers are within the cemetery. Some small communities in the Siouxland area, like Smithland, as well as the larger ones, have former residents who died in the middle and late 1800’s. Pretty amazing that a century or so have passed since these people possibly walked the ground I am trudging over during my visit.

This particular cemetery had a marble mausoleum that was built in the late 1800’s by a local doctor. Marble by today’s standards is not cheap. But I can not imagine the cost of this purchase then. So I would guess the doctor had a thriving business through which he could afford the memorial site for his family. Many of these small cemeteries are located on the outskirts of their communities, overlooking the area from a hilltop giving an eternal view that the current residents probably had witnessed themselves. Time passes, but some things never change.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Backroad Delights in Siouxland, Plymouth County

20 Aug

These days of what feels like dogged days of summer with high humidity and heat, I am not driving about as much as in spring when traversing the backroads in northwest Iowa in Siouxland when it’s much more pleasant. Windows rolled down, a light wind and looking for interesting sites. And sometimes when you find a place, it strikes you as unique in that time and moment but then you think about the best way to visually record the scene and to share with others. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder its said, and sometimes what is seen and what is recorded can vary. Because when viewing a scene all the senses are working. Sight, smell, touch and hearing. The scent of spring flowers, birds chirping, a light breeze and a beautiful scene. But when sharing, one can only provide the scene and hope the other aspects might somehow present themselves to the viewer.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City

Siouxland Murals, Le Mars

1 Mar

On a recent outing to Le Mars, Iowa, home of Blue Bunny Ice Cream (Wells Dairy), I noticed some new murals up in the alleys. The community has a number of murals painted on various walls throughout its downtown area that brightens up what could be a rather drab appearance, and makes it fun for visitors.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Small Wonders in Siouxland, Maurice

21 Feb

A few days ago when the weather turned nice and the sun was shining in SIouxland, I headed north of Sioux City just driving and looking around. I mentioned in an earlier post I have driven past the town of Maurice (pronounced Morris) many times and that particular day stopped in.

Now a couple years ago I came across a PBS series I was not familiar with but have come to love. It is a travel program produced by travel guide and writer Rick Steves. He is always upbeat and looking for those lovely little gems when he is traveling abroad. Some day I would like to travel overseas, but until then, have to enjoy my shorter excursions here locally. But I agree with Mr. Steves, one never knows when you might encounter a little gem that makes traveling, even short distances, a fun and wonderful experience.

People who know me well know I love my coffee. And I know most of the “better” shops in the surrounding area, or at least have luck in finding them. The other day when I stopped in Maurice, I met a couple and was talking with them and made mention that I found it interesting in that a town so small there seemed to be some thriving small businesses. One of them, up and running for only about 6 months is Kel’s Koffee.

Kel Eekhoff has been roasting his own coffee for about 10 years. During which time he shared it with friends and family who liked coffee. Like some people produce bathtub beer or a few bottles of their own wine, Kel produces some fine blond and medium roast coffee. And it was only by chance that I met him.

The couple I had been talking with, said that at times you could find Kel in his small shop just down the block from them. I told them on my way over to their shop, I saw someone stop in that area, and they said that was him. Kel will roast coffee for you per your personal taste. I prefer dark roast myself, but he talked me into trying a medium dark say the flavors of the coffee would come out more.

Kel said he has only been roasting coffee commercially for about six months, and it was only by per luck that he happened to stop in that day to roast some for a friend who had put in an order. He is in the process of setting up to ship roasted coffee to people and I highly recommend checking him out. I am a Peets Coffee fan, having lived in the Bay Area a number of years ago. It produces a variety of different types of roast.

But getting back to traveling, and even locally, one never knows what or who you might find in the next small town if you don’t take the chance and check it out. And it is in meeting people and talking with them that I find most rewarding. Plus, when you can score and buy some coffee or other “treasure” to take with you, who can complain. And to those who like photography, I only carried a couple of lenses that particular day, and photographed everything with just a 23mm lens on a mirrorless Fuji Xcamera.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland’s Winter Sunshine, Le Mars

18 Feb

One thing I like about winter is the light that occurs late in the afternoon. Very directional and sharp. It’s another matter sometimes braving the elements to go out and photograph in it here in Siouxland. Especially when the wind is blowing at 20 mph or higher and the temperature without wind chill is 5 or 10 degrees. When I ended my excursion out the other day in Le Mars, Iowa, I walked around a bit in its downtown area. The older buildings have a lot of character and I love the rooflines. The hard directional light gives them a nice definition, and during winter, you don’t have to wait until 9 p.m. when it is even colder, to photograph them.


Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland alleyways, Le Mars

16 Feb

When I teach people attending my photography classes at the local community college, I always try to impress upon them that they should look around when they photograph. Photography is seeing, and overcoming possible preconceived ideas of what they are looking to capture image-wise. The other day when it was nice out, that is warmer, I went for a drive and ended in Le Mars, Iowa. I walked around the small town for a bit, even down an alleyway or two. In small towns, there is not the feeling of trepidation one might have, understandably, as in a large city. And I found some interesting shadows on the backs of these downtown buildings. More interesting in that there were no trees lining the alleyway which I found more intriguing. Some nice hard afternoon light and it made for a nice image.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Small Siouxland community, Maurice

14 Feb

Maurice, Iowa, is a small rural community in northwest Iowa. Tucked away in Sioux County near Sioux Center, the first thing one spots approaching the town are the cement grain elevators of the Midwest Farmer’s Coop. It doesn’t take long to make a loop through the community. It stills has a post office but no longer has its own school, long ago consolidated with another community as people moved away leaving only a few residents behind. But that is the nice thing about small communities, they are quiet, everyone knows their neighbor and there generally is not a lot of fuss going on. I met a couple residents and another gentleman at a business and had nice chats with all. It’s a place I pass driving north a number of times, and will probably stop in again if just to say hello to the people I met.

With warmer weather popping up more frequently, it is nice to get out and see more of Iowa and meet new people.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Wandering Siouxland’s Loess Hills

29 Oct

Last week I had a couple days where I could wander about in the northern and southern areas of Northwest Iowa, affectionately known as Siouxland. There is a land phenomenon and area called the Loess Hills, a formation of wind-deposited loess soil in the westernmost part of Iowa and Missouri along the Missouri River. The only other area this type of land formation occurs is in China.

It is a nice drive to wander among the farm country and small communities that dot the area. To get lost among the rolling hills and not worry about the time, but to take the time to find photographic moments on a nice autumn day with a light wind and blue sky. One doesn’t often get these opportunities, but when they occur, Carpe Diem.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

Siouxland’s large prairie reserve, Broken Kettle Grasslands

13 Jul

This weekend was the annual Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve bison day near Westfield, Iowa. This preserve is part of Nature Conservancy and is the largest prairie area in the state of Iowa for the organization and contains the largest remaining prairie in Iowa. The buffalo herd or bison were started in northwest Iowa five years ago with 28 animals from the Wind Cave National Park herd in South Dakota, and are as genetically pure a descent of those former bison that roamed these prairies when Europeans first began exploring the area. This was the fourth annual bison day and a variety of activities, geared for children, but educational for adults as well. Naturalists talk and show living bird species that include a bald eagle and raptors and and owl. Then there is the hayrack ride out into the area where the bison are currently roaming. The volunteers and members of the conservancy are great in answering questions as well as trying to get their visitors as close as possible to the wary animals. This weekend was a little soggy, as rain continued to make its presence intermittently. But that didn’t dampen the excitement when the bison came into view and both adults and children oohed and aahed with delight. 


After seeing the bison visitors were then treated to some treats that volunteered had cooked via the Dutch oven method, an oft used way of cooking that campers still use, but was in vogue with the pioneers. Around the home base are fields that visitors can explore and climb some small hills that give an extended view into the Loess Hills area and enjoy the vistas, imagining what the Native Americans saw when they roamed this open land, and what early settlers had seen when they first arrived.

Jerry Mennenga

Sioux City, Iowa

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