Lost Lives Blues
CHASING THE BLUES, CHAPTER 20: Springfield, IL, to Des Moines, IA
Monday, April 13—Springfield, IL, to Bettendorf, IA
Leaving the Illinois State Capitol around noon, we headed over a few blocks to look for some lunch. Planning to try a nearby restaurant we had seen on Yelp, we parked on S. 6th Street. But before we could cross the street, we saw a local woman getting into her car parked behind us. She was carrying a take-out drink cup and looked happy, so we impulsively asked her to recommend a good place to eat nearby.
|On Old Capitol Plaza, near the building that served as Lincoln's Springfield law office, Mrs. Lincoln straightens his tie.|
As we left Springfield, headed north toward Minnesota, it became clear to us that we must drive to Des Moines first and check out the Iowa State Capitol. So much had been said about it on our tour of the Illinois statehouse, our curiosity was stoked. And Des Moines was less than 200 miles off our planned route.
Still avoiding interstates, we made our way west to US-67 and drove north on this mostly two-lane quiet road through mile after mile of flatland as far as the eye could see. Huge corn fields lined the roadsides, ready for this year’s crop, interspersed occasionally with farm houses and grain silos.
|This is MY pasture!|
Another hour further north, we stopped near Monmouth to seek a letterbox at Spring Grove Cemetery/Prairie Nature Preserve. In 1859, this site became a church cemetery, but the population declined and the church ceased to exist. The cemetery became the province of Monmouth College, which operates it as a prairie grass preserve, including the periodic burns used on such lands.
|Cemetery or prairie grass preserve?|
Then it was on to Bettendorf, IA, part of the Quad Cities—two in Illinois and two in Iowa—bisected by the Mississippi River and I-74. We stayed at the brand new Hilton Garden Inn, celebrating their one-week anniversary. It was super clean, still experiencing a few glitches, but very nice indeed. After dinner at the hotel restaurant, we retired to our room to plot our course for Des Moines.
Tuesday, April 14—Bettendorf, IA, to Des Moines, IA
On our first bit of intentional interstate driving in a while, we left Bettendorf this morning on I-74, bound for I-80, which offered a straight shot into Des Moines. An hour west we stopped at Iowa City (pop. 67,862), home of the University of Iowa and the state’s first capital. We were in search of a couple of letterboxes in Oakland Cemetery, which we first visited in 2012.
|Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City|
And the angel on the third marker is grieving for a father—Thomas Brigham, a U.S. Air Force psychiatrist who was murdered in a killing spree by a former serviceman he had declared unfit for duty. The angel also mourns the death of Dr. Brigham’s son, Madison. The boy was 6 years old when his father died. Ten years later, the son was killed when riding in an SUV operated by a 13-year-old driver, who lost control of the vehicle on a gravel road.
These kinds of stories help make our letterboxing visits to cemeteries more meaningful. Often such a story will be included in the clue for a letterbox, but some boxes in cemeteries are placed there randomly. In that case, we seek out stories on our own.
As we continued west on I-80, it was clear that we were in Iowa farm country. Vast cornfields lined the highway from the roadside to the horizon. Occasionally we saw low hills, but the land was mostly flat and flatter.
|If you build it...|
By the time he finished the 60-ft. folk art sculpture in 1994, Leonard was 90. More enthusiastic than skilled in welding, he would work all day on the wheels. While he slept, his grandson Craig would re-weld many of the weak connections his grandfather had made, never letting the old gentleman know about his secret nighttime activity.
|Mr. Maasdam's dream|
After planting our letterbox, we cobbled together a picnic lunch from the raw vegetables in our cooler and stretched out our time at this idyllic spot, finally departing a bit after 1:00. Continuing on to Des Moines, we arrived at the Iowa State Capitol around 2:30. But that’s another story for another post.
After a 2.5 hour visit at the statehouse, we found the local Whole Foods store for dinner, filled up with gas and groceries and limped tiredly into the Marriott Courtyard for the night. Tomorrow we’ll drive north to St. Paul, hoping to visit the Minnesota State Capitol on Thursday.
Chapter 20 Stats:
- Miles driven: 412
- Miles walked: 6.88
- Letterboxes: found 4, planted 1
- Weather: clear, 41° to 70°