You’ve heard of “flyover country,” right? Most of the Midwest is included in the catch-all moniker and as a rural mom and traveler I want to let you in on a little secret: if you align with this mindset, you’re missing out on a LOT of cool countryside! Since living rural means road trips, we see a lot of “the middle” of the US as we zigzag our way back and forth, coast to coast, up and down America. We recently decided instead of “passing through,” we would spend at least two nights exploring the places that get overlooked on the way to Disney or Spring Break. One such trip was proof that we are on to something here… Welcome to Ames, Iowa, folks!
Discovering Ames, Iowa
If you’re a sports fan, you might already be familiar with Ames, home to Iowa State University and the Cyclones. The school not only produces impressive athletes and winning collegiate teams, it’s also well-known for academics and producing professionals in the Agriculture and Natural Resources fields.
Since this was my lifeblood before children, I was interested in checking out the campus area and imagining myself a handful of years ago, driving up as an incoming freshman.
In a quick cruise of the town while looking for our hotel, we noted that almost every chain restaurant in existence is available to Ames students and travelers! A far cry from my college experience–no Ramen noodles for these kids! We were delighted to also find mom-and-pop type restaurants and drooled over the menu at Buford’s BBQ, conveniently hooked to the Quality Inn & Suites where we were living the suite life for the night. We ordered entrees that were reasonably priced and ended up being nearly half of a cow and pig, respectively.
The Best Western Plus University Park Inn & Suites makes another solid choice for a great base camp. It’s near Reiman Gardens and the Jack Trice Stadium, set in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of town life, yet is easy to find from the Interstate. There’s a pool for the kids and a hot tub for the adults, which is actually a spa quality temperature!
What to Do in Ames
Between the Jack Trice Stadium (where you might want to score some tickets for the 2015 football season) and a few open fields you might be surprised to find a serene, magical spot. The Reiman Gardens are 17 acres of well-manicured, diverse plants and landscape features – promising a laid back afternoon of educational, fresh-air fun! It can be a whole new experience for children that has nothing to do with computer animation, amusement rides, or commercialism!
We witnessed a wedding while at the gardens — the special day for two complete strangers to us and I couldn’t help but feel like we were watching the closing minutes of a TV show on TLC–everything was so perfect for the lucky bride.
My son was in little boy heaven as we played a game of “find the treehouse,” ensuring my husband and I would be able to see all of the grounds without complaints of “tiredness” or “sore legs!” We experienced the InTREEguing TREEhouses exhibition (and you can too through October 25, 2015).
It’s an interactive display of art and architecture on the property — and they were TRULY interactive! One sported a climbing wall and slide, another was a Giant Pumpkin (as part of the Children’s Garden) and my personal favorite was a “pod” that looked like it might have grown up out of a grapevine. The treehouse exhibition was the ideal setting for our preschooler to have fun while setting the roots of an appreciative upbringing for art and infrastructure and the natural world!
The entire adventure was something we would not have experienced if we hadn’t taken the time to pull off of I-35 and into Ames!
Being Transported in Central Iowa
I loved the Butterfly wing and we did learn an immense amount in a very short time. We walked through the tropical-feeling conservatory with gigantic window panes, inside a building made to look like a butterfly. I felt a little bit like I was back in Costa Rica as I spotted some Blue Morpho butterflies lounging on a nearby tree.
Who knew you could be transported to the tropics of Central America through Central Iowa? The Atlas Moth is the largest in the world and we saw more than a couple (there were so many butterflies in the room that they were actually hard to notice because they were ubiquitous. This is a notion you simply must experience to understand!)
Fun Pit Stop
If you are headed north (or if you don’t mind a teeny weeny detour) head to Story City if you have little kids. They have an antique carousel that has been restored. Rides are inexpensive and kids are thrilled to pick a horse and delight in the music of the calliope.
So, we urge you — next time you are driving through the middle of the nation, stop in a town you might otherwise blow past. Stay a while. Discover what makes our country so interesting! Ames turned out to be such a fantastic town that we felt we could have stayed another night or two easily. In fact, we’re planning to go back for another weekend getaway and perhaps brave an Iowa winter wonderland! There’s no telling what adventures you might find if you travel with an open mind.
What have you discovered along the Interstate? Share with us in the comment section below.