Our trek to cross Iowa began in Omaha. Corn grows everywhere in Iowa, and much of it is already over six feet tall without yet developing ears or tassels. The crop looks to be huge this year, meaning poor prices for the farmers, but good prices in a couple of years for American carnivores.
We got as far as Des Moines with our first pull. Our campground, Cherry Glen, is operated by the Corps of Engineers and is near a suburb known as Ankeny. This marked our first July 4th as full-timers which we neither camped at a Wal*Mart or worked as camp hosts. The locals were out in force, but they were well behaved with the occasional exception of zig-zagging kids on bicycles or skateboards. It was hot and humid, but we had shade and glorious air conditioning.
It was too hot to sit beside charcoal to grill anything, so we drove into Ankeny’s one open café, Zombie Burger, in search of a GOREmet burger with an order of poutine. Poutine is huge in Canada, but rare in Iowa. It is a high-calorie side consisting of crisp French fries, brown beef gravy, and softened cheese curds (they look a little like a zombie’s food of choice, brains). If you are a cheese curd rookie, curds are marble-sized hunks of white cheese that taste much like fresh Mozzarella. We passed on the Walking Ched (fried mac and cheese is the bun) and skipped the Dead Elvis Burger, an odd concoction of meat, peanut butter, fried banana, cheese, mayo and fried egg. We chose 28 Days Out with carmelized onions, bleu cheese, and a half pound patty. It was closer to okay than good, but Kat liked it, and I Simply Adore poutine. Fries with cheese and gravy is my kind of chow!
After a couple of days’ rest we pulled on to Muscatine, IA, 20 miles west of Davenport. We set up at a lovely Corps campground, Shady Creek, alongside the mighty Mississippi. Even this far north the river is powerful and perhaps half a mile wide, yet remarkably clean compared to the Big Muddy that swirls around New Orleans. Even up here it handles a lot of barge traffic with many tugs pushing ten to twenty floats loaded with gravel, fertilizer, or coal. In the fall millions of tons of grain will go down river, but now most loaded barges go north.
We had lunch in town at Boonie’s on the Avenue. The food was pedestrian at best, but the bartender makes a world-class Moscow Mule. Mules are a blend of lime juice, good vodka, and ginger beer over ice, ideally served in a copper cup. Done right, this is a crisp, refreshing drink. Kat caught an episode of Oprah! in which she and best friend Gayle went camping in Yosemite. For the benefit of the show they trudged from trailer to tent to RV offering free Moscow Mules in keeper copper cups. After passing out 50 or 60 Mules, Oprah asked Gayle “Where are the black people?” Gayle knew: “Isn’t camping on Angela Tucker’s list of 15 things blacks don’t do?” Soon enough our heroines found a tent occupied by a black guy and a white gal. A relieved Oprah handed them Mules and noted “I was beginning to think black people don’t camp.” He grinned, “I’d rather see a ball game or shoot pool. I’m only here because she loves the outdoors.” Oprah gave them her new pop-up and its tow truck, went home, and apparently hasn’t camped since.
No visit to Iowa is complete without a Breaded Pork Tenderloin sandwich. I enjoyed one of the best at TC’s Point After in DeWitt, IA. It’s a 6 ounce slice of pork, pounded thin, breaded, fried, and served with lettuce and tomato on a plain old hamburger bun. Mustard is the customary sauce. It was outstanding, and Kat ate her entire ½ pound bleu cheese burger, high praise in itself.