Albert the Bull - World's Largest Bull roadside attraction in Audubon, Iowa.

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?

“Plantoir” giant garden trowel by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen roadside attraction in Des Moines, Iowa.

Cheers from Des Moines mural in Iowa.

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.

Maid Rite Loose Meat Sandwich in Des Moines, Iowa - Cheese-Rite with cheese, fries, and a Coke.

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.

Little Mermaid fountain in Kimballton, Iowa

Danish Windmill in Elk Horn, Iowa

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.

Volkswagen Beetle Spider roadside attraction in Avoca, Iowa

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.

76-Foot-Tall Corn Stalk in Shelby, Iowa

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.

Kenefick Park: Union Pacific Big Boy & Centennial Trains in Omaha, Nebraska | Omaha Tourist Attractions

Fertile Ground Mural in Omaha, Nebraska | Omaha Street Art in Nebraska

Justin Queal Home Run mural in Omaha, Nebraska - Omaha baseball mural street art

Stile di Famiglia - Family Style Giant Fork with Spaghetti in Omaha, Nebraska - Public Art in Omaha at the Towns of Little Italy - Omaha Roadside Attractions in Nebraska

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.

deviled farm eggs with ramp aioli, country ham, citrus infused maple, and smoked trout roe at Stirnella Bar & Kitchen in Omaha, Nebraska

pork schnitzel with huckleberry preserves, pea tendrils, pickled ramps, truffle ranch, and charred lemon at Stirnella Bar & Kitchen in Omaha, Nebraska

gooey butter bar with banana curd, nutella ice cream, and shortbread crumble at Stirnella Bar & Kitchen in Omaha, Nebraska

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…

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Lucie
    September 17, 2019at6:24 pm

    Tim looks like an awesome road-trip partner! 🙂
    Oh, and I can say I saw some similar sculptures to the ones in the park: I saw one of Louise Bourgeois’ spiders in Mexico City (don’t know if it is the exact same, I believe the one I saw was called “Maman” (Mommy) and had eggs under her belly) and a very similar one to Nomade is located not far from work; it’s called Source, and is by the same artist.
    Can’t wait for the rest of the write-up of this road trip! The format is perfect; one day per post. Keep ’em coming! 🙂

  • Allisson Nadler
    September 24, 2019at2:33 pm

    I don’t know what that breadcrumbs is but it really looks good, it’s always very nice to travel if you go by car, I think you can know much more easily a place.

  • CJ Lo
    November 28, 2022at1:57 pm

    You stole the clipboard of fun from Danny Tanner lol. There are far better, WAAAAY less expensive places to eat in Omaha. Like almost anywhere in South O for real Mexican food. The coffee scene is pretty dece. I actually prefer Lincoln. It’s far less pretentious, way chiller and loads of great places to eat. There’s even a bar with a cave under it that you can explore. A great brewery based out of Broken Bow, Kinkaider, and the capitol building is def worth a tour. But the best parts of Nebraska are all out west. Don’t ever take I-80. It’s nothing. Take HWY 92, it’ll take you through some of the most gorgeous scenery on the planet. No where else in the world has the amount of natural, grass covered, sandhills. So much history. HWY92 connects with a lot of scenic byways like HWY2. Valentine became an international night sky location. Multiple places have wagon ruts still visible from the Oregon trail. And Nebraska has more rivers, and streams than any other state. The Niobrara is one of the top 5 canoeing rivers in the world. I could go on and on. Next time skip Omaha, it’s quite boring, and spend your entire time out north and west. Promise you won’t regret it.

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