Friday, September 17, 2004

Loess blog.

Last Thursday, after my professional obligations were done for the day, I had only a small sliver of the afternoon to myself, so I decided to do two things, both involving my rental pickup, with me behind the wheel. It was a good day for it, warm and clear, and the roads were good too. I’m used to the crowded roads of Chicagoland. Up in Siouxland –- as the greater Sioux City, Iowa, is called –- they felt practically empty.

The first goal: South Dakota. Very easy, this goal, since all I had to do was cross the Missouri, get on I-29 north and drive about two miles. My motivation was completely arbitrary: I’d never been to South Dakota before. So that afternoon it became the 45th state of the union that I have visited. (Remaining: Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina.)

The extreme southeast part of South Dakota looks like a little appendix hanging off the rest of that boxy state. I followed the interstate up this appendix, turned west and made it as far as Vermillion, home of a branch of the University of South Dakota. After that, I headed back east, but not via the interstate this time.

Instead, I crossed back into Iowa at a hamlet called Richland, and went south on Iowa 12 –- a section of the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, which took me back to Sioux City, all of about 20 miles. I saw only two or three other cars on that stretch, so I was free to enjoy the road as it followed the Big Sioux River on the right, and hills on the left. Scenic is a good term for it. Hard to describe, though, except that you couldn’t call the hills rolling or steep. Most were wooded, none very tall, and some were oddly –- irregularly –- peculiarly shaped.

From “…to really appreciate the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, you need to know a little history. Thousands of years ago, active glaciers covered much of the northern United States. When these glaciers melted, fine silt particles were exposed. Eventually, strong windstorms blew these silt particles, or loess (pronounced luss), into mounds several hundred feet thick on both sides of the river valley. This natural phenomenon only occurs in two places in the world - the Yellow River Valley of China and western Iowa. So a trip along the Loess Hills Scenic Byway may be your chance of a lifetime to see the rare and unusual land formations and plant and animal life found on the Byway.”

So there you have it. Geologically, Iowa has something rare in common with China. Full of surprises, that Iowa.


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