In Defense Of Flyover Country


This weekend, we took a trip to Iowa City. It was the first trip in seven years in which we got to choose our destination. Yes, I can see your reaction right now. You’re thinking, Iowa?  You chose Iowa?

As enlightened and tolerant as we think we are these days, we still view certain destinations as intrinsically better than others. Times Square: the center of everything. Rural Iowa: cornfields, with no culture at all. I won’t even go into the way the Midwest is portrayed in the movies.

I’ve lived my entire life in “flyover country,” and thanks to my grandparents, who took me on long RV vacations when I was a young elementary schooler, I’ve traveled quite a bit too. I’ve been to Chicago, New York, Washington, L.A., Florida. They’re great places to visit, but all you folks on the coasts who think the only things worth seeing in the great interior are the Grand Canyon and the ski slopes of Colorado–it’s time to open your mind.

Iowa, for instance, has its act together. It has five minor league baseball teams, countless professional and semi-professional symphony orchestras, more than two dozen state parks, plus lots of trails, local parks and recreational lakes with summer and winter activities (snowshoeing, cross country skiing, etc.).

We spent three days in Iowa City visiting friends, and for every block of time we had to fill, we had to choose one option from among many. Friday morning we went to Coralville’s Devonian Fossil Gorge:



Saturday we visited the Iowa Children’s Museum. Our friends apologized for it being small–small, at least, compared to one big-city museum which boasts a carousel inside it so big that you can’t see the whole thing at once. But bigger isn’t necessarily better. It doesn’t take long to cross the line from “great” to “overwhelming for the target population.” This museum kept our kids completely occupied for three hours. Plenty of time.

(Julianna and I even got our faces painted.)

Saturday afternoon while the little ones napped, the older kids went to the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History.

I’ll grant you there’s something exciting about visiting the big cities, the historic sites and landmark images that permeate the culture. But there’s so much more to the world, and so much of it you can’t get on the coasts. The vast expanse of this country is beautiful and diverse in its geography. Just look at the national park system. It’s so much more than a handful of big-name attractions.

I learned this weekend that digital cameras have twice as many green sensors as they do red or blue. This is because the human eye sees more variations in green than in any other color. As we drove home, I realized anew how truly wired for nature we are. I marveled at the array of green all around me, framed by the brilliant gold of wheat under harvest: thick carpets and rippling waves of fields growing in strips of  pale lime-yellow and primary green, deepening to near-blue beneath the wide shadow of a cloud–to say nothing of the variation in texture and color of the woods beyond. I watched with wonder the puffy cumulus clouds stacked upon each other, tried to guess their height and superimpose cityscapes on them. Why haven’t I ever seen clouds like these swirling around skyscrapers? Are the clouds higher than I think they are, or does something about the buildings disrupt the flow of air and prevent such clouds from forming in a downtown area?

The cities, the coasts are great, and I will enjoy them to the fullest when the time comes to take those stereotypical vacations. But everybody’s been on those trips. Everybody has the same pictures, the same stories, the same experiences. I’m going to go looking for places to enjoy in flyover country. Because this is where the untold story is.

Your turn: I know a lot of my readers also live in Flyover Country. What should we all be going to visit, see or experience?

12 thoughts on “In Defense Of Flyover Country

  1. Amen! My wife and i lived for one year in Clinton, IA (population 20K, right on the Mississippi) and it was by far our favorite place that we’ve lived. The community was great, we had a wonderful parish, and we never lacked for cheap, family-friendly activities. We loved Iowa!

  2. Holly

    Our recent family vacation (3 years ago!) was to Field of Dreams! Jim wanted to get a DVD player for Brett, but I said, “No! There will be too much to see!” Not so much…corn, corn, and more…corn!

    This summer Jim wants to go back to Iowa to visit the store from American Pickers, Antique Archaeology. Not sure if I can handle all the corn again!

    I do love the ocean and the city, but you’re right, there is something to be said about open country.

  3. My grandparents lived in Wisconsin; I grew up on the Mississippi Gulf coast. We made a lot of car trips that basically followed the Mississippi River, and I decided that one day I wanted to make that trip the slow way, stopping when something looked interesting, whether a state park, a big church I could see from the interstate or some kitschy roadside sign or attraction. One day I will do that.

    A few years ago I was able to do that for the space between my grandparent’s town and the Minneapolis airport.

    Here is a book that might help:

  4. Carrie E.

    I’m from Eastern Iowa. I would say that some of my favorite things to visit are: The Mississippi River Museum and Fenelon Place Elevator (plus many historic houses) in Dubuque, Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa Veteran’s Museum/Grout Museum District (with our own children’s museum), and Phelp’s Youth Pavillion in Waterloo–Center for the Arts has a great gallery as well and the trail system is wonderful. George Wyth State Park beach also just reopened after the floods of 2008. Cedar Rapids and Stone City are where Grant Wood painted, so there are MANY cultural spots that way there. In Iowa City area, I would visit the Devonian Fossil Gorge, Museum of Natural History (and the one above it on UI campus–both free), and Old Capitol. I’ve also heard that the Medical Museum that is in UIHC (I believe it’s on the 6th floor of the hospital) is free and very cool.

    • We saw the MI River Museum and the Elevator a few years ago and I can second those. I miss George Wyth State Park! I have pictures of myself ice skating on the lake, and of filled-in ice fishing holes.

      • Carrie Evans

        The beach at George Wyth opened again a few weeks ago. It was destroyed in the floods of 2008. They also built a man-made lake on the south side of CF and stock it well for fishing. When the kids’ classes went, one girl caught 17 fish.

  5. jen

    I grew up in Silicon Valley and spent 7 years in flyover country. In Minnesota, you have beautiful lakes and little churches and museums. In Montana, you have Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, the Great Falls (well… only one is left due to damming), the Sweetgrass Hills, Our Lady of the Rockies in Butte…

    Even the coasts have places that are largely unexplored like Del Norte State Park near the Oregon border of California.

  6. Andrea

    South Dakota! And there is so much more there than Mount Rushmore. The drive up from Eastern Missouri had us crossing the Missouri River many times on our way up to Sioux Falls, the Ingalls Homestead, and then Pierre where we finally left it behind us. We did so much and left enough undone for at least two more vacations. It was GORGEOUS — if it weren’t form the hard winters I’d love to retire there.

  7. Sharon McGough

    I am a Texas born Okie. I have only lived in three states, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, but you wouldn’t believe the diversity! In Arkansas we have the Hot Springs, the Ozarks, wonderful caves and horse racing(where jockeys will actually visit with your children). In Oklahoma, the Little Sahara(fun sand dunes), Red Rock Canyon and in the Southeast, Beavers Bend State Park with excellent canoeing experiences. Texas, from Corpus Christi to the Great Pine forest of the Northeast Corner, so, so, so much to see. I have been to California, Maine, Colorado, Arizona, South Carolina but I still love the Ark-La-Tex.

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