Hitchcock Nature Center: Preserving Loess Hills

Hitchcock Nature Center: Preserving Loess Hills

Western Iowa is one of only two places worldwide with a Loess Hills landform, and the only place that still possesses some of its natural characteristics. Hitchcock Nature Center near Council Bluffs was formed to protect the Loess Hills and to provide low-impact recreation for visitors. Read more

Sheaffer Pen Museum: 13 Fun Trivia Facts

Sheaffer Pen Museum: 13 Fun Trivia Facts

Anyone who grew up in the 1960s, or earlier, was required to use a fountain pen in school. I remember how excited I was when I got to the fourth grade and was allowed to use a pen instead of a pencil, sort of a right of passage. In the 1960s we used Sheaffer cartridge fountain pens, never a ballpoint pen. The nuns insisted that the nib on a fountain pen taught you proper, flowing penmanship. I hadn’t seen a Sheaffer cartridge pen in years until my visit to the Sheaffer Pen Museum in Fort Madison, Iowa. Read more

Landscape Across America

Landscape Across America

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain

–Katharine Lee Bates

During our twenty-day road trip from Chicago to Monterey, California, down to Santa Monica and back across Route 66, my favorite patriotic song, America the Beautiful, came to mind. The topography constantly changed. From mountains, some still with snow, to lush valleys, to the hot, dry desert and ocean views, the landscape painted a beautiful backdrop for our trip. We’re sharing some of the scenic areas that we drove through in this video.

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in U.S. Long Cuts. We are merging U.S. Long Cuts with Midwest Wanderer, adding a “Beyond the Midwest” menu option. Read more

All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, Charles City: The Court of Dreams

All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, Charles City: The Court of Dreams

tennis court 2The van we were riding in traveled down the country road past corn and soybean fields, the crunch of gravel beneath us, a trail of dust left behind. I thought we were headed to a park-like setting to visit the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club in Charles City, so when the van carrying several travel writers turned into a rural farm, I was more than a little surprised. Here in front of us next to the farmhouse was a beautifully manicured Wimbledon court look-alike.

Mark Kuhn didn’t intend for people to come from all over to play when he turned the cattle feedlot on his Iowa farm into a grass tennis court. He built it for himself, his family and friends, following a dream he had for decades.

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tennis racketsAs a young child, Kuhn listened to the Wimbledon tournament on the BBC over his grandfather’s shortwave radio and became enthralled with it. He took up tennis, his first racquet bought for him with S&H Green Stamps, and for 40 years he talked about building a grass court on the family farm. That first racquet is still in Kuhn’s collection, along with a racquet that was used at Wimbledon over a hundred years ago.

After discussion with his wife Denise and other family members and with their blessing, Kuhn researched turfgrass management at Iowa State University and got underway with the project with much help from the family.  In September 2003, 100 people attended the grand opening of the All Iowa Lawn Tennis club with an exhibition match featuring Coe College players and alumni.

tennis court 1Word spread about the grass court after media coverage, including a 2007 article in Tennis magazine, and people have been coming to play on it ever since. Folks from 35 different states, as well as from overseas, have played on the court, which is easier on the knees and cooler than playing on a hard surface court. The ball bounces lower and slower on a grass court, and even lower on a wet court, as we found out. Our visit followed a day of heavy rainfall.

Mark KuhnKuhn, a full-time farmer, spends about an hour a day on the court’s maintenance. The grass, the same type used on golf course greens, is on a base of sand and requires occasional rolling to keep it smooth, and of course, lines need to be reapplied regularly. Kuhn has attended Wimbledon twice, and is on a first-name basis with the Wimbledon groundskeeper, Eddie Seaward, who has shared maintenance secrets.

Features continue to be added to the court to make it even more Wimbledon-like from the gate to wooden net posts. The latest addition is an umpire chair.

AILTC gate

referee chair

Our group was invited onto the court to try it out. Not being a tennis player, I was thrilled that I even served the ball over the net, though I wasn’t so good when it came to hitting the ball that was served to me back over the net.


One can’t help but be reminded of the movie The Field of Dreams when visiting the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club, especially both being built on Iowa farms. It’s no surprise that it’s been dubbed “The Court of Dreams.”

The Kuhns allow tennis players to use the court free of charge, but require reservations. Visit the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club web site to request a reservation and for further details.

Disclosure: My visit to the All Iowa Lawn Tennis Club was hosted by the Iowa Tourism Office, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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The Music Man Square, Mason City, Iowa: A Tribute to Meredith Willson

The Music Man Square, Mason City, Iowa: A Tribute to Meredith Willson

Seventy-six trombones led the big parade
With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand …

–Meredith Willson

Twirling a baton and marching to “Seventy-Six Trombones” in a parade when I was eight years old, I was unaware the song was from the movie The Music Man, an Academy Award winner in 1962 and prior to that, a Broadway hit. The catchy tune has stuck in my head for fifty years, but it was only this year, when visiting Mason City, Iowa, that I learned the classic musical’s fictitious River City was modeled after composer and songwriter Meredith Willson’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa, and inspired by the city’s annual North Iowa Band Festival. Mason City pays tribute to likely the city’s most famous resident with The Music Man Square, which includes a museum with a reproduction of The Music Man movie set and his boyhood home.

Music Man Square Statue Read more