A Road Trip. Day 2. Des Moines to Omaha.
It should have been a short day. The drive from Des Moines, Iowa (where we ended up on day 1 of our ten-day road trip) to Omaha, Nebraska, via I-80 should only take about 2 hours. It’s a short drive. An easy drive.
But I had made the itinerary. And, when you’re with me, no trip is ever short or easy.
You see, I had made, what Tim and I came to dub, a “clipboard of fun.” After scouring Roadside America to find every roadside attraction on our route, I had mapped out 230 potential stops across the ten-day, ten-state trip. I then printed out a spreadsheet that listed each potential stop in order of appearance and ranked them in order of importance (must see, like to see, can skip) and included addresses and directions and notes. And then, yes, I bought a clipboard to keep it organized. Because I’m fun.
The drive from Des Moines, Iowa to Omaha, Nebraska might only take two hours, but there are over twenty things you can potentially see in between. So let’s just say I have an uncanny ability to turn a two hour drive into six.
We started day two of our road trip exploring Des Moines itself. Since we didn’t get in until late the night before all we’d really seen thus far was the inside of a restaurant and our hotel room. I wanted to walk through Pappajohn Sculpture Park, because sculpture parks are really just breeding grounds for weird statues. Plus it was just down the block from where we were staying.
I also really wanted to see Plantoir, a pop art sculpture of a giant garden trowel by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, that lives just beyond the grounds. And a Cheers from Des Moines mural. Because, murals are cool too. And anyways they were all in a quick walking distance from each other and our hotel and, really, who wouldn’t want to see those things?
After exhausting everything weird to see in downtown Des Moines, we went back to the hotel, packed up our things, and set off on our six-hour, two-hour drive, clipboard of fun in hand.
But not without stopping for lunch.
Have you ever had a loose meat sandwich? It’s kind of like a hamburger but more crumbly and also kind of like a sloppy joe but without the sauce. It’s just, well, loose meat, on a bun. And it’s a specialty of Maid Rite, which is a specialty in Iowa.
I’d never had a Maid Rite loose meat sandwich before (though I had been to a Maid Rite loose meat sandwich eating contest years ago) so when Tim suggested it for lunch, I was all in. I got a Cheese Rite, which, if you couldn’t guess, was a Maid Rite with cheese and I wasn’t disappointed in the crumbled meat covered in melty cheese concoction that I gobbled up before slopping up the remnants of the mess I had made (right) with my spoon.
After feeling sufficiently stuffed, we finally, really, left Des Moines. Our next stop for the day was one I was really looking forward to: Albert the Bull in Audubon, Iowa. Albert is the World’s Largest Bull (and he even has the world’s largest bull testicles to match) and he is magical. Magical.
He was a top-ranked “must see” on my clipboard of fun.
Now, though, is where that clipboard really came in handy. You see, Albert was a grade A, top of the class, must see roadside attraction. Sure. And the next thing I wanted to see was also. But, in between, on the way, there were two other potential stops that weren’t high priority and were definitely skippable, but, since we were going to pass them anyways, we might as well hop out of the car and take a couple of photos. Because you only live once. And, you very well might only drive through a random sideway in Iowa once. You know?
So we stopped at the Little Mermaid fountain in Kimballton and the Danish Windmill in Elk Horn. Neither of which I would have gone out of my way for, but which were perfectly worthy of a non-detour.
Both of those stops were on the way from point A to point Z, or, I should say, Point A to Point V: Albert to VW Spider. Now, I’ve actually visited this VW Spider before, back in 2008 on a road trip to Mount Rushmore. So, I already knew that this VW bug turned into a giant spider was well worth a detour. I mean, it’s a VW bug turned into a giant spider. That is always a must see.
There wasn’t anything else I really wanted to stop at between the spider and Nebraska. But we did pull over at a low-priority giant corn stalk, because we could see it from the highway, and it was there, and then trudged on until we crossed the border into state number three.
When we reached our final destination, Omaha, we wanted to make the most of the dwindling daylight. So, before checking into our AirBNB, we explored a little around town. We went to Kenefick Park to see the Union Pacific Big Boy and Centennial Trains, visited a couple of murals (and failed at finding a few more), and saw my personal favorite local treasure, Stile di Famiglia: a giant fork with spaghetti.
With touring over for the day we checked into an AirBNB (one who promised two beds but only had one and that had zero three-pronged outlets outside of the bathroom) then got dinner at a local gasto pub we found on the host’s info sheet, Stirnella Bar & Kitchen. We had some deviled eggs, a pork schnitzel topped huckleberry preserves that was so thin and crispy I had to work to cut it, and some gooey butter cake. Because it was a vacation afterall.
And then we retired for the night, prepared for an early start the next day. After all, if I turned that two hour drive from Des Moines to Omaha into six hours, just imagine what the next day’s nine-hour drive with a clipboard full of fun stops in between would hold…