Monday, January 30, 2012

Let classic and modern works of art inspire you, and history engage you, on a visit to an Iowa museum.

At the Figge Art Museum, with its expansive views of Davenport’s Mississippi riverfront, art fans will find an outstanding collection of Haitian art, given new prominence two years after the region’s devastating earthquake. The Figge’s other current exhibits feature a WPA artist, and children’s book illustrations.

The Union Pacific Railroad Museum in Council Bluffs celebrates 150 years of the Union Pacific Railroad in 2012. One collection of note is the Abraham Lincoln Collection, encompassing artifacts from the 16th president’s life and death. The nearby historic home of Civil War general Grenville Dodge, a railroad builder, is open for tours.

For the past 50 years, the life and accomplishments of Herbert Hoover have been documented and celebrated at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library, Museum, and Historic Site in West Branch, Hoover’s birthplace and boyhood home. Temporary exhibits relating to American history are always on display – currently you can learn about the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America. Lou Henry Hoover, wife of the president, served as president of the national organization twice.

The campus of Iowa State University in Ames offers rich cultural experiences. The Brunnier Art Museum is known for a notable collection of decorative arts such as ceramics, glass, dolls, ivory, jade, and enameled metals. The Christian Petersen Art Museum is named for the resident sculptor who founded the Art on Campus collection. The Farm House is a National Historic Site. And don’t miss Reiman Gardens, a living museum of plants and flowers with a dramatic glass butterfly wing housing hundreds of free-flying butterflies.

Find all of Iowa’s art and history museums online at or in the Iowa Travel Guide. Order your free copy today or browse the pages of the digital guide.

Kathy Bowermaster, Iowa Tourism Office

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Best Canadian City: my awards

Quick! What's the best Canadian city? The subject has led to a lively discussion on Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, something so prickly that Toronto-based author Andrew Potter suggested could actually bring about a civil war.

Most people equate Canada with its natural beauty, or hockey, or Mounties, or beaver nickels. Last year I visited Canada six times, mostly to focus on Canadian cities (resulting in this string of videos on Canadian cities). I like Canadian cities. So thought I'd put together my awards.

(Note: I've not been to Halifax, among others.)

Canadian city most want to live in: MONTREAL. Montreal is ridiculous. A top-five city in the world to me. I love a place that takes bikes seriously (public-use bikes clean-up canal rides), and the city truly beats NYC with bagels. Plus all sorts of playful architecture, like a orange-shaped food stand (that serves as my Twitter photo) and the unreal Habitat '67 (above).

Canadian city with most interesting neighborhood: TORONTO's post-hippie Toronto Islands. You get there by ferry, it has super views looking back on TO (above), a fun community of locals that have survived development, a hokey amusement park, nude beaches and the spot where Babe Ruth hit his first homerun.

Canadian city that's best in winter: QUEBEC CITY. Its winter carnival has dog-sled races and a huggable snow man, and there's free open-air skating rinks, minor league hockey with NHL buzz, ferry rides over the icy St Lawrence. Plus curling.

Canadian city with most energy: right now, WINNIPEG. I enjoy having French food across the river in St Boniface (and seeing the atmospheric cathedral ruin), but I've never seen more energy than at the Winnipeg Jets' first win (above). (If you don't think Peg is a hockey town, watch Guy Maddin's hilarious 'My Winnipeg' documentary.)

Canadian city with them most tunefully suggestive name: SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN. Pronounced as SASKaTOON by locals. It's the place I zeroed in on during back-seat atlas-scavenger-hunts on long roadtrips as a kid. Plus the saskatoon berry makes for a nice pie.

Canadian city that’s most beautiful: Easy, VANCOUVER. Views from False Creek ferries are worthy, as is a revolving meal up Landmark hotel (above).

Canadian city that most surprised me: EDMONTON. Expected a flat oil town, and immediately struck by the deep river valley linked with shady trails and crossed by a historic bridge to Strathcona's theaters and bookshops. (I bought a used copy of the full transcript of Louis Riel's trial. Yet to read, must say.) And I was surprised when 12-year-olds agreed to teach me hockey in the second-biggest mall in North America.

Canadian city most want to return to: ST JOHN'S, NEWFOUNDLAND. It's not just the apostrophe, seafood, rugged coast, local kids with Bieber haircuts and the voice of 70-year-old pirates, but its friendly vibe of a place that really sees itself as its own nation.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Escape the indoors and enjoy a healthy dose of fresh air – Iowa’s outdoor options await.

Have you resolved to be more active in 2012? Get outside and get moving at one of Iowa’s ski areas, parks, or multi-use trails. Seek solitude on a snowshoe trail through the woods. Warm up with a group of friends at fun winter festival. Planned or spontaneous, a day in the Iowa outdoors will invigorate you.

Seven Oaks Recreation, near Boone in Central Iowa, offers winter activities for all ages and abilities, including skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. With 11 runs, even beginners can learn quickly. The Lodge at Seven Oaks provides an indoor view of the slopes while you enjoy food and drink.

Sleepy Hollow, Des Moines' only ski resort, offers skiing and snowboarding, along with multiple lanes for tubing. It’s a great urban escape for the whole family, and a top choice for group outings.

From Sundown Mountain Resort’s two lodges, skiers can pause to take in quite a view - 100 square miles of scenery. With one of the highest lifts in the midwest, Sundown Mountain has long been a destination for winter adventurers from three states.

No special equipment is needed to wander Iowa’s trails and hiking paths. Most of Iowa’s state parks have multi-use trails that are available for cross-country skiing when there’s snow, or hiking when there isn’t. For example, Brushy Creek State Recreation Area near Fort Dodge in north central Iowa offers 50 miles of trails! Pikes Peak near McGregor offers three miles of ski trails and many more miles of hiking trails, with spectacular views of the Mississippi River valley. 

The Iowa Natural Heritage foundation’s comprehensive guide to Iowa’s trails can point you in the right direction for longer trails. Iowa’s county park system is extensive, offering all types of outdoor recreation in all corners of the state.

Plan the perfect winter getaway at Honey Creek Resort State Park on Rathbun Lake in southern Iowa. Choose an upscale cottage, or stay in the main lodge – special packages are always available. Families will love the indoor waterpark, while couples and friends will appreciate the fine dining and the opportunity to schedule spa services. Miles of trails wind through the woods along the lake.

Here’s one resolution that’s easy to keep –explore more of Iowa’s destinations and attractions with family and friends this year. Your first step is to visit for a look at everything Iowa has to offer. Flip through the pages of our digital Travel Guide or order your own free copy.

Kathy Bowermaster, Iowa Tourism Office

Monday, January 23, 2012

Saskatoon frenzy (it's a)

I wrote a song for Saskatoon recently (debuted at the end of this video).

And apparently Saskatoon is delighted.

A local on this CBC News TV broadcast calls the song 'pretty catchy.'

Global Saskatoon broadcast says 'Saskatoon Sensation' does a 'good job.'

Article covering it on CTV News.

And a delighted Saskatoon is a delighted Robert.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saskatoon in B/W

While in Saskatoon, making this video, I took some black-and-white photos on my old 35mm camera. It felt as cleansing as a summer rain on a muddy face to do. Here they are.

Granite Curling Club is the city's oldest.
Calories was once the Louis Riel Coffeehouse, where Joni Mitchell played one of her first shows.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Finding the Saskatoon Sensation [video]

Ever since reading about Timbuktu in Dr Seuss' 'Hop on Pop' as a kid, I've concocted all sorts of wild visions of what places are like based on the sound of their names. The more unusual, the more magical the skyline I envisioned. Of course, it rarely works out that way -- Tahlequah isn't all that different from Fort Smith -- but it did help fill hours in the back of a station wagon on family road trips. I'd ignore the 'Annie' soundtrack my sister played and disect the road atlas, pouncing on places like Okefenokee, Truth or Consequences and Chevy Chase and wonder what they really looked like.

One place I found towards the back of the atlas always resonated with me most: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Just saying it aloud sounded like a toy train wobbling across a cobblestone bridge, guarded by bunnies. Nothing else really compares. It even won my recent poll for most 'tunefully suggestive' city name:

Some songwriters have noticed its rhythmic nomenclature over the years, including songs like Sonny James' fun 'A Little Bit South of Saskatoon,' Johnny Cash's 'The Girl in Saskatoon,' and the Guess Who's 'Running Back to Saskatoon' -- which Pearl Jam tried to do as well.

But did locals ever chip in on the lyrics, I wondered? I mean, in travel we say that locals make for great experiences, but can locals make great lyrics?

So when I was there recently (to create a video for Lonely Planet/Canada Tourism), I carved away a precious day to find out. I met with a pierced t-shirt maker, a curling vet, a indie rocker, a high-end bass-guitar maker and Canada's 'Craziest Mayor' -- to ask how they summed up the 'Saskatoon sensation.' I took their answers for lyrics, then made up a song. (It's debuted at the end of the video.)

Pearl Jam, if you cover it, go ahead. I won't sue.

By the way, a note on how Saskatoon got its name. In the 1880s, John Lake, of the Temperance Colonization Society of Toronto, founded Saskatoon because his notoriously by-the-book home town back east was just too sinful. (Alcohol and prostitution would soon follow though, and Lake himself would be found guilty of corruption.)

Regardless, on a sunny day in 1883, Lake named the new settlement for the local juicy berries he so enjoyed to snack on. Good choice, but a wrong one. Apparently saskatoon berries weren't in season at the name's chosen hour, and chokecherries were. Should the name really be Chokecherry, Saskatchewan?

It's not a bad name. But I'm not sure it deserves a song.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter Fun at Hitchcock Nature Center

It will be a weekend of winter fun at Hitchcock Nature Center in Hnney Creek on January 21-22.

First, strap on some snowshoes and trek through the beautiful Loess Hills during a guided snowshoe hike on Saturday, January 21. Hikes will take place at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pre-registration and pre-payment is required by Friday, January 13, as space is limited. These workshops are designed for participants 12 years of age and older.

Cost is $5 per person and includes a guided hike, refreshments and the use of snowshoes. Call 712.242.1197 to pre-register for either session. Please meet at the Loess Hills Lodge. Weather permitting.

Bring the little ones on Sunday, January 22, at 1:30 p.m. to learn all about nature in the winter during the KinderNature program "Animals in Winter." Children will find out how their favorite animals keep warm in the rugged winter weather. Outdoor time if weather permits.

KinderNature Preschool Programs are designed for children ages 3-5 years old accompanied by an adult. These unique programs are full of hands-on learning and outdoor activities that encourage curious minds to explore and engage with the natural world. Each program explores a new and unique nature theme, and includes stories, crafts and outdoor exploration. Programs are held each month and last an hour. Cost: $4 per child. Weather permitting.

Information supplied by Erin Kenney, Pottawattamie County Conservation

Friday, January 6, 2012

Four new sites added to Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area (SSNHA) is proud to welcome four new Partner Sites. There are now 110 Partner Sites designated to interpret and preserve its own unique part of America’s agricultural story.

New Partner Sites:

Miss Effie’s Country Flowers & Garden Stuff, Donahue. This U-Pick flower farm encourages guests to relax and enjoy the beautiful Grant Wood Landscapes in the shade of an 1892 Classic L Victorian Farmhouse. Chickens and ducks follow you as you select and create a beautiful bouquet from a variety of 90 different flowers.

Tyden Farm No.6, Dougherty. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this farmstead was originally owned by Emil Tyden, a Swedish immigrant and mechanical genius (he held 200 patents in his lifetime). The sixth of eight farms, Tyden No.6 was developed from 1915 to 1939 and is still in use today by the Pitzenberger family. No.6 features a massive 40’x140’ barn and a 26,000-bu concrete-block corncrib, both an unheard of size at that time.

Dysart Historical Center, Dysart. The center features a historical building, a one-room rural school and a new agricultural museum and interpretive center. Through Dysart’s inspiring stories, experience Iowa’s rich agricultural heritage and culture.

Johnson County Historical Society Museum, Coralville. The exhibits and interactive displays show how the land, people, transportation and business including agriculture evolved to create today's Johnson County community. The museum's newest permanent exhibit "A Home on the Farm" explores the changes in the lives of Johnson County farm families from 1930-1990.

Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area is one of 49 federally designated heritage areas in the nation and is an Affiliated Area of the National Park Service. The Heritage Area covers 37 counties in the northeast quadrant of Iowa. I-80 borders it on the south and I-35 borders it on the west. Through a network of sites, programs and events, SSNHA interprets past and present farm life, agribusiness, and rural communities.

Aaron Steinmann, Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Cabin Fever Series at Living History Farms

Celebrate Iowa's rich culinary bounty with unique monthly tastings in the Living History Farms' Visitor Center. Gather your friends and explore local food and beverage specialties, and talk with winemakers, micro-brewers, artisan bakers, and more in a casual open house atmosphere.

Farms Uncorked - Saturday, January 14, 3 - 6 p.m.
Come sample the best of native Iowa wines, cheeses, and Gelato from Chocolaterie Stam. Enjoy appetizers crafted from La Quercia pork products by local chefs, including Mojo's on 86th. Local experts will present mini-sessions with wine-related topics. Shop the Marketplace Gift Store for your favorite wine. Other generous partners include: Cabot Creamery, Covered Bridges Winery, Jasper Winery, La Mie, Penoach Vineyard, Prairie Moon, Two Saints Winery, Vines and Wines, and Snus Hill Wineries.

NEW! Spirits and Sweets - Saturday, February 11, 3 - 6 p.m.
Dare to pair one of a kind mini-tini's mixed by Iowa artisan distillers with bite sized sweets created by local bakeries. Visit with distillers about the process of making spirits with Iowa corn. The event also features an olive bar by Gateway Market. Many thanks to our partners: Cedar Ridge Distillery, Crème Cupcakes, El Patio, Mississippi River Distilling Company, Sweet Binney's, and Templeton Rye.

Beer n' Bread - Saturday, March 10, 3 - 6 p.m.
Sample Iowa micro-brewed beers along with fresh artisan breads and other goodies including fine Cabot cheese. Come learn how to make craft brew in your home from the experts at Beer Crazy. Over 20 different beers will be on tap, along with breads from La Mie, South Union bakery and The Beer Bread Company. Back Pocket Brewing will attend for the first time, with several favorites returning such as Court Avenue, Peace Tree, Madhouse, Millstream and Raccoon River Breweries.

Tickets are $18 per event for Living History Farms (LHF) members, $20 for non-members. New this year - Enjoy all three with a series pass for only $48/LHF members; $52 guest. All tickets are sold in advance by visiting If space is available, tickets may be purchased at the door. For more information call 515.278.5386 ext. 171 or email You must be 21 or older to attend, and non-alcoholic beverages are available.

Proceeds from these fundraising events benefit education programs at Living History Farms, a non-profit, historical, educational museum which serves over 30,000 Iowa school children annually.

Jennie Deerr, Living History Farms

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I Woke Up with Al

I shared a few good-value destinations for 2012 -- and talked a bit about Al Roker's 'pal' Marco Polo -- on the Weather Channel's Wake Up for Al this morning.