Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Day in Audubon County

A very HOT day, in fact.

When we, Midwest Partnership, first started talking about ideas to help promote tourism in the region, we knew several things. We needed to see what's out there. We needed to experience what's out there. And we needed to get started.........at the hottest time of the year (actually, not sure why it worked out that way but it did).

So our first Tourism Day we chose Audubon County, and August 3, the first day of the weekend known as Operation T-Bone, which is the town of Audubon's big summer celebration. Every small town has a festival. Some they celebrate their heritage, some their local history, some their industry. Audubon is famous for Albert the Bull, and t-bones and thus Operation T-Bone.

The town of Audubon is a beautiful town named after John James Audubon and many buildings and parks and other landmarks in the town pay homage to him. The park in the middle of the town has the Bird Walk, a walkway paved with mosaic tiles depicting different species of birds. Statues and murals dot the town.

But let's back up just a little bit. There is one thing that really stands out when you arrive in the town of Audubon, if you're coming from the south you are definitely going to meet Albert the Bull right away. Albert is a fantastic work of art and in life-like detail. There is a kiosk in the park with many photos taken during construction and after.

Push the button and Albert himself will tell you his story. Albert lives in a very nice park with lots of playground equipment for little ones while mom and dad learn about the famous bull.

After leaving Albert we headed to downtown Audubon to find the Bird Walk. The town's "main street" is lined with quaint little shops and businesses and at the top of the hill is the park with a big statue of John J. Audubon, surrounded by beautiful plantings and of course, the Bird Walk. The tiles lining the walk are true works of art themselves. I can't imagine the painstaking care that went into the creation of these mosaic glass tiles- the detail and color is just beautiful. Each tile is sponsored by a person, family, organization, etc to help fund the walk.

Just one of many many tiles that line the walk, each depicting a different bird.

Also in the park is a group of old limestone footings arranged to create a small theater, along with a small building.

Again here you can read, and push the button, to hear the story of the limestone footings and how they came to be there.

They are arranged to allow small groups to listen to a speaker or perhaps tour guide describe the different areas of the park, which is right across the street from the austere Audubon County Courthouse.

John James Audubon

Heading back down the main street you just can't miss the giant stained glass window memorializing John J. Audubon. It's a beautiful tribute.

As we headed out to check out some other sights in Audubon county we made Kimballton the first stop. The beautiful fountain and statue of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" graces the park.

Like many small rural towns, Kimballton has the "main street" lined with small businesses, taverns, the post office.

Not far from Kimballton, and while technically NOT in Audubon county, we couldn't come this far without a visit to Elk Horn, to see the historic Danish Windmill and eat at their famous Danish Inn. The windmill is quite a sight to see.

It was literally purchased in Denmark, disassembled with each piece being labelled and numbered and delivered to Elk Horn, to be reassembled where it stands today. Instead of paper blueprints, the construction people who disassembled the mill built a scale model with every matching piece numbered so that once delivered to Iowa, the mill could be reassembled correctly.

Visitors to the mill begin their tour with a short video that tells the entire of story of how the mill came to be where it is today.

 It's an amazing story and quite a testament to what a small community can do when they join together and want something bad enough. After the video you are free to wander inside the mill as your leisure, which we did, taking pictures as we went, everything from the scale model to descriptive plaques on the wall, to the giant grindstones.

Going to up the second level is a simple fight of stairs, climbing to the third level, it's more like a ladder and higher still- well, we didn't venture that far !

Looking up into the mechanism of the mill. We could have climbed
higher but chose not to !!

After lunch at the famous Danish Inn we headed to Exira but before we even got there we had to stop at the Danish Countryside Winery.

This might have been the highlight to the day ! As it was a weekday we were the only visitors to the tasting room and so the owners, Al and Carol Petersen, were thrilled to give us a tour of the restored barn and tasting room. The farm has been in the family over 100 years and what once was a pretty ratty looking sheep barn was transformed by the owners into a beautifully restored and wonderfully decorated winery, tasting room and huge party room on the upper level. They have a photo album that shows the progress from junky old barn to the beautiful building it is today.

Back in the tasting room we tried several varieties and both Sarah and I found something to take home. The owners were so friendly and accommodating. They answered questions, talked about the different grapes and were the perfect hosts. The long drive from the highway to the winery building in lined with acres of beautiful Iowa grapevines in many varieties. We had to tear ourselves away from this charming couple and their beautiful winery.

Exira was next on the list as well as the Plow in the Tree in a park nearby there.

According to the local legend, a young man was working his farm when he was called off to war, leaning the hand plow against a then spindly little oak tree. He never returned and the plow was never moved. Today the oak is a GIANT grown tree and has grown around and "swallowed" the plow. Very little is still visible.

Our last stop  of the day was the Nathaniel Hamlin Park and Museum- just south of Audubon.

The museum is run by a friendly older man who had loads of fun stories and a 3 wheel golf cart he drove us around on (it was a fairly SCARY ride !!!) They had a HUGE barn like building lined with murals that were saved from an old sale barn that was being torn down and brought here.

Antique equipment of all kinds, preserved animals, farm equipment, even the Flintstones' car are all on display here.

He drove us up to the main house which is where the Hamlin family lived long ago. Each room is decorated in a different theme, from cooking to school to military, it was filled with memorabilia of Iowans generations ago. Also on the ground are live animals, rabbits, chickens, a tame raccoon and a herd of elk.

By the end of our huge loop around Audubon County we were pretty beaten up by the heat and ready to head home. There is so much more to explore in Audubon County we just ran out of time- and we will be back !!.............Monica,  August 3, 2012

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