From O-Ur-Wa RV Park – Onawa, Iowa
The Loess (pronounced “luss”) Hills Scenic Byway was our destination of the day. Loess is a geological term of German derivation, meaning loose or crumbly. The geological term of loess means windblown soil.
We chose to drive the roads of the Byway that were located in Monona County. This is the county in which Onawa is located. Within this part of the Byway there are 3 Excursion Loops: Wilderness, Larpenteur Road and Preparation which makeup the core of the Loess Hills Scenic Byway.
These famous Loess Hills are a geographic feature with their extreme depth, unique to only 2 places in the world; Western Iowa and the Yellow River Valley in China. One major difference between the 2 is the origin of the silt. In China, it is blown in from a desert, whereas Iowa’s Loess Hills originated from the Missouri River flood plain, Also, the loess hills in China have been altered and no longer retain any of the natural characteristics.
The golden Loess soil was formed by moving glaciers some 14,000 and 24,000 years ago. In the summer, melted glaciers would create tremendous flows of water down the river valley. When these glaciers stopped melting in the winter it exposed huge mud flats.
Strong winds sorted the exposed sediments and swept the finer particles off the flood plain into huge clouds of dust. This dust was deposited on Iowa’s side of the river due to dominate westerly winds and as the silt accumulated the bluffs or hills were formed. These loess formations sometimes exceed 200 ft.
We stopped beside one of the hills where the soil could be reached and held in our hands. As it was crumbled between our fingers, it had a very fine feel resembling baby powder and when brushed off our hands formed a cloud of dust blowing away as was the case when the hills were formed many thousands of years ago.
95% of the Loess Hills are owned by private individuals. The challenge is to preserve them in as close to a natural state as possible, while yet realizing that the land must provide a living for the landowners.
A couple of stopping points were the Ingemann Danish Lutheran Church and Cemetery which was established in 1884. In the cemetery, we found a headstone which showed the age of the deceased being 106 years of age. The church itself is unique in that it had no interior lights? Another stop was at a scenic overlook in the Loess Hills State Forest, Preparation Unit. The observation deck is known as “The Spot” and offers a panoramic view of the hills and valleys considered a geographic wonder.
Again, I am hoping that the photos taken on our drive today in someway relay the beauty and uniqueness of these geographical formations.