Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Road Trip and Destination

Last weekend we took a road trip - normally we just go to visit my family in Iowa, but with Fall colors near their peak, we took the "long" way 'round, heading mostly west and north to Galena, IL on route 20, then continued west to Dyersville, IA to visit the St Fransis Xavier Basilica and "Field of Dreams" baseball field before heading south to my family's part of the state.

We barely made it out of our driveway before our first stop - our neighbor across the street had these amazing plants with leaves nearly a half meter (18") across with odd seed pods atop the stalks.  Well, no more had I stopped and taken a couple photos when he stormed out half dressed wondering what was going on!  When expressing interest in his plants, he calmed down considerably and told us they were castor plants, grown from seed every year when the temperatures warmed up enough to support them.  I've noticed them growing out front of his house the last few years - they are quite striking, but also among the most poisonous of all plants (seeds).  It is fortunate we photographed them Sunday, as it got below freezing that night and they were pretty wilted on Monday...

It was quite a spectacular drive across Illinois - a beautiful blue-sky day, and no lack of red color from maple and sumac, and yellows from most other deciduous trees.  As in the "Sunday Drives" of old with Dad wandering the countryside, we noticed nearly all of the Illinois corn was unharvested, though the beans had already been put up, but in Iowa, the beans were long-gone and most of the corn was actively being picked, likely due to drier conditions reaching back through the summer's drought.  We finally reached a rest stop atop a hill a few miles east of Galena with nice views of the rolling hills as we neared the Mississippi.

The roads were filled with similar-minded drivers, and yet, there were Fall festivals in several towns.  We departed St Charles which had a well-attended   "Scarecrow Festival" (as featured on the Today Show!), and Galena was absolutely packed wall-to-wall with a crafts fair of some sort.  It would have been nice to stop and spend time there, as it appeared to have some interesting stops and shops through downtown.  But with all the people and absolutely no parking, one driving lap through downtown had to suffice for this trip.

After a gas and bathroom break near Dubuque, we pressed on to Dyersville.  Years ago, when I was still biking RAGBRAI, we overnighted in the town, and I was really impressed with the Basilica there.  With a population of only 4,000 people, it is quite the religious landmark, testament to the congregation when it was built 125 years ago.  The St. Francis Xavier Basilica is a twin-spired gothic church reaching 212 feet, yet built entirely by hand with block and tackle in the years 1887-1889.  A church becomes a basilica by Papal proclamation, so declared at the centennial of the mission in 1956 by Pope Pius XII, in recognition of the architectural attributes and fervent faith of the congregation.  It was only the 12th church to be so honored at the time in this country (53 at present), and of only 3 serving rural areas.

And while the exterior is astounding, the interior is even more amazing!  It seats 1200, with 64 stained glass windows.  Coming off some renovations 10 years ago, every detail appears perfect.  Arriving a mid-afternoon we had the place to ourselves, with ample opportunity to do a couple panoramas and stereo 3D views of the interior.  Melinda had been hearing me rave for a couple years, and she and Caroline both agreed that it deserved the recognition.  Our only hope now is to return and catch a mass at a future date.

Unfortunately we ran out of time, and given our timetable to meet my family for dinner, we couldn't tarry in Dyersville and visit the "Field of Dreams" ball park...  So that will have to await another visit.  Unfortunately, sister Kathy informed us at dinner that the land had recently sold and they are developing it into a baseball complex, losing some of its charm as a movie set...  So now I'm the bad guy for getting us lost in Dubuque and delaying us those 15 minutes!  Perhaps a Springtime rerun is in order!

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