OK, so I may be stretching things a bit by making rest stops along Interstate 80 a subject of a Monday Dreaming post, but when you’re doing as much driving as we were on our road trip rest areas truly do become the stuff of dreams. On long trips with kids, you need more than just a toilet and a vending machine – you need a place to move. The rest areas we visited in Iowa fit the bill nicely on a day spent almost entirely in the car.
The first of our two stops was at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center, just west of the river off I-80. It’s about a two-minute drive from the highway, but is well worth the small detour. The boys enjoyed the playground while I admired the view and read the various panels describing the history of the area and efforts currently underway to restore the prairie. I made the boys stop playing for just a moment so that I could take the requisite photo of them to show that they had crossed the mighty Mississippi.
Inside the lovely little information center and shop, I picked up a number of maps and brochures and was very pleased to score some invisible-ink activity books for Teddy (it proved almost impossible to keep up with his greedy desire for these books on this trip) and several bottles of local Iowa wine as gifts for the friends we would be visiting that night. And before you turn up your nose at Iowa wine, I’m here to report that the white had all of the lovely mineral flavors of a decent dry Bordeaux.
The second rest stop was perhaps even more of a surprise. We were about halfway through a nine-hour driving day. From the road it looks like just another typical rest area (although it does have the distinction of a clock tower) and of course it does offer a bathroom and vending machines. But the high ceilings and art by local children were a sign that this might be something more pleasant. This was confirmed when we walked out the back door to discover this:
We spent a good half an hour here while the kids played and I chatted with another mother who was headed from Michigan back home to Colorado with her husband and two children. Once we piled the kids back into the car they were good for another four hours of travel before we stopped for dinner. This was mainly down to all the toys we hoarded in the car before we left. I was especially surprised to learn that I could Turn Photo into Puzzle so I had one made and it went down a treat with the kids, it kept them entertained for hours!
A few more perks: Both the Welcome Center and the rest area (which you will find just east of Des Moines at mile marker 147) had free wifi and were immaculate. The Welcome Center offered free coffee and the rest area had a weather station where you could check on driving conditions. Now do you see why I think they are dreamworthy?
If you liked this post, you might also be interested in my review of the Sideling Hill rest area on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. And if you’re looking for more information about great places to stop on the road, please visit Pit Stops for Kids, a website specializing in making not just the arrival but the journey more enjoyable.
I’ll be covering the second half of our Slowcation road trip during the rest of my posts this week. Our itinerary took us from Janesville, Wisconsin to Kansas City; Saint Louis; and then Bardstown, Kentucky before we returned home to Delaware. All told, we covered 2855 miles in about 48 hours of driving. In addition to talking about a number of the fun outings we went on, I’ll be writing about all of the different frozen custard we sampled (I did you all the favor of trying it everywhere we went in search of a favorite – you can thank me later), the family-friendly restaurants we ate at, and what new things I learned about traveling on this road trip. Look also for a True Confessions post where I admit the deep dark secret that is a key part of my road trip success.
If you’re interested in sharing a Monday Dreaming post of your own, I’ve included a place to do so below using Mr. Linky. If you’ve got questions about how this works, please see About Monday Dreaming.