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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another place for breakfast

Yes, I have several post about food, especially about breakfast.  Since most of us eat three meals a day I have a lot of experience with food.  I also have a general rule when traveling - eat a big breakfast, snack for lunch, and have a nice dinner.  So, in keeping with my "rule," Don and I sat down for breakfast in Urbandale, Iowa before heading to Madison County and the famous bridges during our trip to Iowa.
The Machine Shed welcome wagon
After seeing a special aired on the Travel Channel about the best places for breakfast I chose the Machine Shed to fill up our bellies before hitting the road.  Don and I found the Machine Shed one block east of I35 and north of US 6 in Urbandale.  There are a total of six Machine Sheds with the original in Davenport, IA.
Farm equipment that help feed a nation
We rode up to the barn red restaurant on a sunny July Friday morning.  The vintage farm equipment and tractors out front gave the place an old farm atmosphere.  The 8 foot tall ear of corn, well tended flowers, and small farming equipment line the building and entrance to the store.
That is a big ear of corn!
A different uses of farm equipment
Once inside the aroma of bacon, fresh bread, and country cooking filled the air.  We were quickly greeted with a friendly smile and led to our table. The server promptly took our drink order as we studied the menu.  There were plenty of options and combinations on the menu.  Pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, and biscuits, just to name a few of the items.
One of the more famous items on the menu is the Machine Shed Cinnamon Roll.  This thing is huge!
After tough deliberaton I chose the Hired Man's Breakfast: "Two eggs cooked just as you like them, plattered with your choice of a thick slice of smoked ham, smoked country sausage, three strips of thick cut Applewood smoked bacon or southern style sausage 
(three links or two patties)."  While Don selected the same basic breakfast except he also got some bacon and summer sausage with his eggs and hashbrowns.
The Hired Man's Breakfast
A meat lovers breakfast
The scrambled eggs were fresh and not over cooked.  The ham was thick and had a great smoked flavor.  The pancake was tasty and fluffy, not heavy or bland.  The pancake topped with real butter and maple syrup made for a nice ending to the meal. 

We also ordered a slice of the cinnamon roll (more like cinnamon log!).   The order was about a 6 inch square!  We cut off a little and tried it.  The real butter cream frosting was great!  The roll was full of cinnamon and covered with pecans.  This was one awesome cinnamon roll.  We took the rest back for my son and his friends.
I bet this tractor has plowed a few fields
If you are near a Machine Shed Restaurant stop by for truly the best breakfast around.  I can certainly see why the Travel Channel named it to the top breakfast in America.  I know the Machine Shed will be on my list of stops the next time I am riding in the Midwest.  Stop by and enjoy some great farm cooking.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wind Cave - South Dakota

Over the years my son and I have visited several caves/caverns in five different states.  I already posted about Blanchard Springs Cavern which is one of my favorites and is located in Arkansas.  Another cave we enjoyed is just off of US 385 in scenic Custer State Park north of Hot Springs, South Dakota: Wind Cave National Park.

In 1903 Wind Cave became the first cave worldwide to be designated a national park.  Wind Cave is also the 4th longest cave in the world and is contains 95% of the known "boxwork" formations, a unique honeycomb type formation.
Boxwork is found in the middle and lower levels of Wind Cave.
The park offers five different tours, including a candlelight tour.  We decided to take the 1.25 mile Natural Entrance Cave Tour.  The tour began with a walk to the natural entrance where we could feel the wind either leaving or entering the cave (depending on barometric pressure). The "wind hole" is where the cavern got its name.  We then proceeded to the man-made entrance of the cave.  
There are a lot of steps on the tour, but most are headed down.
Shortly the trail descended a long stairway.  There are a total of 300 steps on the tour with very few going up.  We walked though some really narrow places and several times the top of the cave was low enough we had to duck to get through.  One larger guy in our party had some close encounters with the cave walls.
This is NOT the larger guy in our party - just a happy biker enjoying the cave.
We saw a lot of the unique boxwork formations throughout the tour.  The formations are more unique but less colorful than the formations in many of the caverns we have toured.
Boxwork 
Another unique area of the cave was Snowball Alley.   This area's ceiling was covered with small formations that looked similar to snow.   
Ceiling in Snowball Alley
The tour took us deep into the cave.  We viewed big open rooms as well as the tight walkways.  The guide led us the innermost area for that particular tour and had us sit down.  After providing us with some history and geological information he turned off the lights (after warning us not to move and told us what he was doing - don't want any surprises when you are hundreds of feet below the surface.).  The darkness is amazing!  It is difficult to explain that something can be darker than night - darker than when I close my eyes.  It was a very eerie sensation.
An old exploratory hole from above
The tour was moderate to strenuous.  There was a lot of up and down on the trail.  It was a good think that at the end of the tour we rode an elevator back up to the visitor center.  It was an educational and fun tour.  I am glad we took the time to visit Wind Cave National Park.  

If you are heading up to South Dakota make plans to tour Wind Cave.  You will be glad you did.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bridges and the Duke

1992 Robert James Waller brought fame and a new interest to Madison County, Iowa with his novel, "The Bridges of Madison County."  I followed the masses to Madison County in June of 2010 to see the bridges and I found there was more than bridges.

Actually, I was attending a National Junior Forensic League competition in which my 13 year old son was participating.  Instead of riding the school bus with him and several other adolescents, I invited a friend, Don, to take a scenic route to Des Moines, Iowa.  We took some fun roads, stopped at some out of the way places, tried some local eateries, and did some camping on our way to Des Moines and on the way home.

We had some extra time so we decided to visit the famous Madison County including the town of Winterset, county seat and birthplace of John Wayne - The Duke!  We knew we would need our nourishment so we ate a great breakfast at The Machine Shed in Urbandale near our hotel. (I will post later about the awesome breakfast and renowned cinnamon roll.) After breakfast we were ready to do some riding and take a lot of pictures.

I had an idea about the location of at least one of the bridges so we headed south on I35 taking the exit for CR G14 (Cumming Road) and riding west.  We saw a sign for "Cedar Bridge" so we turned on the white rock road, Cedar Bridge Trail.  I had been told that many of the bridges were on gravel/rock roads.

After about a mile we saw the covered red Cedar Bridge.  We turned on the road to the bridge so we could ride across it.  The road splits so that one can ride over the bridge or around it.  The bridge was destroyed by arson and the current bridge was built with the original plans using authentic materials and methods.  It is pretty and is located in a quiet area over a small river.
Cedar Bridge is the only covered bridge which allows traffic.
Inside the Cedar Bridge
What really struck me was the construction of the bridges.  It was impressive to consider all of the lumber and the time that was taken to build the bridges at that time in history.  One noticeable disappointment on all of the bridges was the graffiti.  I just don't understand why Bubba from Smithville thinks the world needs to know that he loves Betty Jo.  

We continued south to Winterset where we visited the Chamber of Commerce across from the impressive county courthouse and picked up a map of the bridges and other useful information about the attractions of Winterset and the county.  The people at the chamber were very helpful and friendly.
Madison County Courthouse - built in 1876
After studying the map and info, we decided to visit the Winterset City Park which is home of Clark Tower, a memorial to one of the county's first pioneer families.  At 25 feet it gives a great view of the Middle River Valley.  The road to get to the tower leaves the paved roads of the park for about 1.5 miles and runs through a lush forest.  The road is not in the greatest shape, but it is ridable. 
Clark Tower erected 1926
The loop to Clark Tower brought us back to the city park where we saw our second Madison County bridge, the Cutler-Donahue Bridge.  Vehicles are not allowed on this bridge.  The Cutler-Donahue Bridge has a pitched roof instead of a flat roof like the Cedar Bridge.
Cutler-Donahue Bridge in Winterset City Park
All of the bridges have graffiti.  What a shame.
We left the park and rode six blocks to The Duke's birthplace.  The quaint little house sits on the corner of 2nd Street and East Washington.  Due to time constraints we visited the grounds, Duke's statue, and the gift shop.  We greatly enjoyed looking at the memorabilia and gifts of the great American icon.  We need more Americans like the Duke.  Just think if the Duke was in the White House!  Things would be different.
Duke's statue marks the spot that will be the foyer of the planned 
John Wayne Museum near the house of his birthplace. 
(House in the background is NOT his birthplace)
John Wayne's birthplace
We headed west on SR 92 to Roseman Bridge Trail.  Turning south on the gravel road, we rode about 3.5 miles to Roseman Bridge.  This 107 foot bridge is still in the original location where it was built in 1883 (it was renovated in 1992).  The Middle River was flowing quickly from the recent rains.
  Roseman Bridge sits in its original location over Middle River.
Vehicles are NOT allowed on the Roseman Bridge
Since I was leading, Don was eating plenty of dust as we continued to the next bridge.  All along we were passing rolling farm land.  The farm houses reminded me of a simpler time and kind of made me envious.  I knew for sure I was not missing the Dallas traffic.

We continued west on Roseman Bridge Road since it was closer to a paved road than going back the way we came.  We hit Deer Run Ave.(paved!) and headed north back to SR 92 and then east back towards Winterset.  We stayed on SR 92 as it looped on the northwest side of town.  Hogback Bridge Ave. intersects SR 92 and runs north away from Winterset.  We followed Hogback Bridge Ave. for three miles until we came to Hogback Bridge sitting over North River.  
Hogback Bridge sits where it was originally built.
North River running under Hogback Bridge
Our map also showed that we where near the North River Schoolhouse, a one room school built in 1874.  Don is a HS teacher, and I am an assistant principal - seemed like we should visit the schoolhouse.  We continued north on Hogback Bridge Ave. for about a mile then turned east on North River School Street.  Shortly we saw the school on the north side of the road surrounded by rolling hills of some kind of crop. (Horticulture is not my field).  The school had a hand water pump and an outhouse.  Now that made me not long for the days gone by.
North River School is on the National Register of Historical Places.
That sure would be cold in January.
North River School Street intersected US 169, we turned south and rode back to Winterset for an afternoon shake at  Frostee's.  Frostee's is a small ice cream shop with a couple of benches and picnic tables outside.  There is no inside area for customers.  We ordered our shakes and drinks at the window and enjoyed the old fashion vanilla shake.  Stop by; you will like it.
Frostee's is a favorite spot for locals and visitors.
There were two more of the six bridges to see.  We rode south on US 169/John Wayne Blvd, turning east on Court Ave, just south of the court house.  We followed Court Ave until it ended at Norwood Ave.  We turned south and then veered left on unpaved Holliwell Bridge Road.  Two miles later we stopped to see Holliwell Bridge sitting on Middle River in its original location.  At 122 feet Holliwell is the longest surviving covered bridge in the county.  No vehicle traffic is allowed on the bridge.
Holliwell Bridge has the same design as Cedar Bridge, Roseman Bridge, and Hogback Bridge.
Looking out from Holliwell Bridge
Holliwell Bridge Road took us south to CR G50 where we turned east and headed to St. Charles and Imes Bridge.  Covered Bridge Park sits on the eastern edge of St. Charles and is where the Imes Bridge is located.  Built in 1870 Imes Bridge is the oldest surviving bridge.  The bridge has been moved twice and now sits over a natural ravine where pedestrians use it.
Imes Bridge is 81 feet and is the oldest surviving covered bridge in the county.
4 of the 6 bridges are accessible by gravel roads.  Time to find a car wash.
I would recommend allotting a full day for visiting the county and all it has to offer.  We got a late start and had to get back mid-afternoon so we did not linger at the bridges and had to skip other attractions.

I found Iowa pretty and interesting.  The miles of rolling farm land points to a simpler but hard life. If you get the chance to visit this area of America's heartland, I suggest taking the time to ride the bridges and visit Winterset.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good eating in West, Texas

In Texas we have West Texas (a geographical region) and we have West, Texas (home of a great little bakery).  That's right - West, Texas, a town named West.   West is not even in West Texas, it is in Central Texas right off of I35 south of Dallas (about 65 miles) and north of Austin (about 135 miles). 

West is named after Thomas West, the land owner who sold land to the railroad company for a train depot and other people to develop the land around the depot.  By the 1890's Czech immigrants and their businesses were flourishing in the area.  Many of the descendants of the Czech families still live and own businesses in West.

One such business is the Czech Stop, home of the Little Czech Bakery.  Located on the southeast corner of I35 & North College Avenue the bakery/convenient store is always busy and I mean ALWAYS!
Czech Stop home of the best kolaches in Texas! Maybe in the USA.
Parking spots are usually hard to find as travelers stop by for some Old World pastries.
Ever since my first visit to the Little Czech Bakery in 1987 (on my way to the Texas Girls State Basketball Tournament) I have stopped every chance I get.  It is such a treat to get fresh baked pastries of this quality.
The bakery has two shops separated only by a wall, but serviced by the same kitchen in the back.
I have visited the Czech Stop in the early morning, around lunch time, at dinner time, and after midnight - never have I seen less than 10 patrons in the store.  On a nice Saturday in the summer you will have to wait in a line of 10 or more, but it moves quickly and it is worth the wait.
Signs give customers an idea of how much cooking goes on at the bakery.  Yes - weekly amounts!
Upon entering the bakery the aroma of fresh bread and sweet pastries will grab your attention and your senses.  Every time I walk in to the bakery my mouth starts watering as I anticipate the fresh flavorful Czech food.  Besides their famous kolaches they prepare strudel, cream horns, cookies, bread, sausage, turnovers, brownies, cinnamon rolls and more.  Full Menu
That is a lot of cream cheese!
My favorite combo is the sausage, sauerkraut, cheese "puff" and a blueberry cream cheese kolache!  It is like a mini meal and dessert.  The puff's fresh baked roll surrounds the sausage, kraut, and swiss cheese making for a perfect little sandwich.  The roll is fluffy and taste like the homemade rolls my mom used to make (mom is 90yrs old and she is from the old school of cooking where items were not premixed in a box).   All of the ingredients are fresh which makes for great flavor.
Sandwich and dessert - perfect combination.
Everyone can find something they would like at the Czech Stop. The only disappointment is when stepping on the scales after getting home, but it is worth it.

West is just northeast of the Texas Hill Country, home of some of the greatest roads in the south.  There are also some good Farm to Market roads to ride to or from West if you do not want to ride on the I35 super-slab.  So take a ride to West, Texas and enjoy the great food at the Czech Stop.  You will love it!