PRIME VACATION SEASON is almost upon us and that means many of you will soon hit the roads. And when you travel, especially long-distance, rest stops hold necessary importance.
A year ago, my husband and I drove 2,800 miles from Minnesota to Boston and back to attend our son’s graduation from Tufts University. Some days we spent up to 10 hours in the van. The need to stretch our legs, to pee and to take a break from roadway fatigue led us to many an interstate rest stop.
Hands down, Iowa has the best rest areas. Indiana, not so much.
So what makes Iowa’s interstate rest areas so appealing? Themed rest stops, of which there are 16. These are centers of art and history as much as places to take a bathroom break, to picnic, to gather travel info and to stretch. And bonus, the sole facility we visited was clean.
On our return trip from Boston, we stopped at the Grant Wood Rest Area northbound along I-380 south of Cedar Rapids in Linn County. At the time, I knew nothing of these unique stops for travelers. So imagine my surprise when we pulled off the interstate and into a place that looked like a cultural art center in the middle of, well, Iowa fields.
Completed four years ago, “The View From Our Window: Grant Wood in Iowa” rest area honors Wood, painter of “American Gothic.” In my limited knowledge of Iowa art, this painting of a farm couple standing in front of a farmhouse is symbolic of Iowa as I view it. Rural, through and through. David Dahlquist of RDG Dahlquist Design Studio in Des Moines created the art at this interstate stop.
For this weary traveler, the Grant Wood rest area proved a welcome respite from the interstate and from the countless other rest stops that were nothing more than functional spaces to meet travelers’ basic needs. Expanding that purpose beyond—to include art and history—made an impression upon me.
In other sections of Iowa, you can, for example, learn about Lewis and Clark at the southbound I-29 rest area at Sergeant Bluff.
These themed Iowa rest areas are most prolific along I-80. The Mississippi River is the focal point of the westbound stop in the Davenport area. Eastbound, the rest area at Grinnell highlights pioneers while one in Cedar County focuses on the Underground Railroad.
If you’re so inclined and looking for an inexpensive way to view public art and learn history in Iowa, you could plan a trip around visiting Iowa’s themed rest areas. If anything, it would be quite the unique vacation story.
TELL ME: Have you come across other such unique public interstate rest areas in your travels across the country? Or, offer your opinion of these Iowa rest areas.
© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling