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Iowa Travel Guide

Iowa is known as the “Hawkeye State”, but nobody quite knows why. It is believed to have come from the nickname for the character, Natty Bumppo, from James F. Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. “Hawkeye” was allegedly promoted as the state’s nickname by an influential Burlington newspaper publisher in Iowa who wanted to pay tribute to his friend, Chief Black Hawk. Whether this is true or not, the “Hawkeye State” is a fitting state nickname for a land that has been inhabited by Native Americans since the end of the Ice Age.

Geographically, Iowa is bordered in the east by the Mississippi River and in the west by the Missouri River. In between, there are more than 55,000 acres of lakes, 20,000 miles of river streams, and 70 state parks and recreation areas. Naturally, this makes Iowa a playground for outdoor recreational enthusiasts. What landscapes that aren’t parks, lakes, or forests are dedicated to agriculture. You’ll find vast stretches of farmland in Iowa, especially of endless corn fields. Iowa is the state, after all, famous for its fictional baseball field carved out of cornfield, which was depicted in the Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams and Kinsella’s novel, Shoeless Joe.

Iowa has been inhabited since at least 7,500 BC. Evidence from prehistoric artifacts suggests that the early Paleo-Indians hunted the mastodons, bison, and mammoth that roamed the Iowa plains. When the first Europeans, French explorers Jolliet and Marquette, arrived in 1673, the various Native tribes in Iowa included the Sioux, Missouri, Ioway, Meskwaki, Sauk, Oto, and Potawatomi. Chief Black Hawk was the war chief of the Sauk, the most powerful tribe in Iowa at the time. The Sauk like the other tribes were being forced off their lands. To defend against this encroachment, Chief Black Hawk led a group of Native tribes in a war dubbed the Black Hawk War, in which the natives fought against U.S. forces. After the war ended in defeat for the natives, Black Hawk was captured and taken for a tour around the United States, as a way of showing him the awesome power of the United States and the futility of warring against the Americans. During this tour, Black Hawk became popular, attracting numerous crowds in the east who were drawn by the myth of the “noble savage” who was uncorrupted by worldly influences and “at one” with nature.

After the Black Hawk War, the Sauk were forced to sell their land to the U.S. federal government in the “Black Hawk Purchase”. Soon afterwards, settlers from the east migrated to Iowa. More pioneers poured in after the railroads running through Iowa were completed in the 1860s. The state became the home of many immigrants, especially people from Scandinavia, Germany, and England.

Today, Iowa remains much as it did more than a hundred years ago – a state dominated by agriculture. However, over the years, Iowa has added significantly to its manufacturing operations, nowadays producing appliances, farm products, and plastics that are exported to all corners of the globe.

Iowa offers tourists an array of recreational opportunities. Visitors can enjoy boating and fishing in the state’s rivers and lake reservoirs, as well as picnicking, camping, hunting, hiking, and biking in Iowa’s numerous national forests and state parks.

Golfing is also a major attraction of Iowa, surprisingly. The state actually has the most golfers per capita in the U.S. and some of the best golf courses in the country. So serious are Iowa’s golfers that they even tee up in the winter on ice wearing their sspikes.

Notable attractions in Iowa include the Effigy Mounds National Monument near Marquette. This park features more than 200 prehistoric mounds with more than 30 of them constructed to look like reptiles and mammals. The mounds are said to date as far back as 500 BC.

Another highlight of Iowa is the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site near Iowa City. The site features the small cottage home where the former President was born. There is also a blacksmith shop, schoolhouse, and meetinghouse where the Hoovers worshipped on Sundays. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museums commemorates and retraces the life of the 31st U.S. President.

Also worth visiting are the Amana Colonies, a group of seven villages settled by German Pietists from the 1850s to the 1930s. The Amana has been designated a national landmark and today features preserved woodworking shops, restaurants, wine shops, craft shops, and a brewery.

If you enjoyed the book and movie Field of Dreams, you can also visit the baseball field near Dyersville, which was used during the filming of the movie. The movie starring Kevin Costner depicted a farmer called by voices to build a baseball field out of a corn field. After he built it, the field became the playground of dead baseball players. The field today has become a popular pop-culture tourist attraction.

Another pop-culture attraction is found in Madison County. The novel and film The Bridges of Madison County featured a national geographic photographer sent to Madison County to write about the county’s covered bridges. In the film, the photographer played by Clint Eastwood began a torrid love affair with a married Iowan housewife played by Meryl Streep. Today, six covered bridges remain in Madison County: the Cedar Bridge, Holliwell Bridge, Imes Bridge, Roseman Bridge, Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, and the Hogback Bridge.

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