In Defense Of Flyover Country

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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:

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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?