Interesting, spooky, out-of-the-ordinary roadtrip stops within driving distance of Iowa?
July 30, 2009 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Interesting, spooky, out-of-the-ordinary roadtrip stops within driving distance of Iowa?

My friend and I (both young women) are planning a short, 4 or 5 day roadtrip in November. We live in central Iowa and are looking for interesting places to visit, preferably spread out along the route to a final fun destination.

I've checked, but wasn't able to find a lot of interactive tourist stops. The world's largest frying pan in Brandon, IA, for example, makes for silly photos, but the novelty runs out in about 5 minutes. We'd love to visit haunted places, hole-in-the-wall diners, or beautiful areas to explore. When we get bored in town, we drive out into the country after dark, we visit spillways at the local lakes, we explore "haunted" graveyards. My friend is a wonderful photographer, so bonus points for neat places to photograph. We like horror movies, video games, bodies of water, metal and cheesy pop music, and anything just downright nerdy.

We're seriously considering the Wisconsin Dells, stopping in Hazel Green, Galena, and the House on the Rock on the way. Once there, we're thinking of going to Wizard Quest and some of the other nerdy tourist stops there, but I'm hoping there are more creative place to visit. Some places we wouldn't expect to find in the midwest.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
posted by jaynedanger to Travel & Transportation around Iowa (27 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
If you are headed toward Madison, WI, the Dickyville Grotto is worth a stop. Not spooky, but a tribute to a very determined mind....
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:13 PM on July 30, 2009

Going west: Vallisca House -- site of the axe murders in 1912.

Going east: Not creepy, but awesome: American Gothic house.
posted by starman at 2:16 PM on July 30, 2009 has listings for both Minnesota and Wisconsin.
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:18 PM on July 30, 2009

Best answer: I don't know if it's still there, but there was a little roadside grocery store in Williamsburg, Missouri that was the most authentically strange, spooky place I have ever been to. The rodents over the ice cream, the rotting horse's head near the potbelly stove, the creepy dolls and buggies over our heads, the sink that worked but was not connected to a drainpipe, the Deliverance-looking dudes in the hats with the earflaps staring at us kept us going for a couple of hours. We'd have stayed a lot longer if we hadn't been on a long drive. It's probably gone, although it had been in the family for a hundred years. If it's there, go in autumn, near dusk.
posted by clarkstonian at 2:27 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

The Spam Museum in Austin, MN is creepy, but for non-supernatural reasons.
posted by Sheppagus at 2:34 PM on July 30, 2009

If you come up to our state, there's always the SPAM Museum. In a natural wonder, I really like Mystery Cave*

*a little self link, but it really is an amazing place...
posted by advicepig at 2:36 PM on July 30, 2009

If you're going to Dickeyville (which I was going to suggest as well) you need to stop at Effigy Mounds National Monument, too. Nice hike up on the bluffs over the Mississippi to see prehistoric mounds built in animal shapes.
posted by readery at 2:39 PM on July 30, 2009

Best answer: Forevertron
Circus World Museum
Grotto of the Redemption
Dickeyville Grotto
Paul and Matilda Wegner Grotto
FAST Corp.
Prairie Moon Sculpture Garden and Museum
The Painted Forest -- You may have to call ahead to arrange for a tour but it's well worth it, easily my favorite thing on this list.
posted by hydrophonic at 2:39 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Forevertron (just one part of Dr. Evermor's "park"). Badass.
posted by Rykey at 2:59 PM on July 30, 2009

I think your plan to go to the House on the Rock is right on. That was one of the creepiest, most surreal places I have ever been to. I needed to go to Target or McDonald's afterward, just to do something NORMAL and get the musty old clown doll funk off me. Make sure you see the carousel, especially if you are the only people there. AIEEEEE!!!!!

Some good creepy fun to be had in Chicago, if you want to go that far.

Starved Rock State Park in Utica, Illinois will make for good nature photography, with the added lure of interesting history, both natural and Native American.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:15 PM on July 30, 2009

Camp in the Wisconsin Ridge Campground at Wyalusing State Park, which is on a bluff overlooking where the Wisconsin River meets the Mississippi. Get up at dawn and see if there's fog rolling up the bluff. If there is, then you're in for one hell of an eerie hike, especially if you check out the old lookout points and shelters built by the Wisconsin Conservation Corps, or climb up into Treasure Cave, overlooking the rivers. A few of the trails are closed, so be sure to ask at the ranger station when you check in.
posted by hydrophonic at 3:38 PM on July 30, 2009

The Dixon Mounds Museum in Lewistown Illinois was built over the site of an Indian burial ground. When I went to the museum as a kid, the remains had been half-excavated, protected by a glass wall, and lit up for people to view.

Not everyone agreed that these people's remains should be on display, so the remains were reburied and the museum redesigned into more of an interpretive center and a place to view artifacts.

Less creepy than it used to be, but... still worth a visit.
posted by rw at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2009

Another great stop is the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Not only is it a fantastic museum, there are many creepy things there, too. There is an effective display dealing with the assassination, which includes a brass bust of Lincoln's head that visitors can touch. It felt to me that you could reach out and touch his face. Wow. Haunting.

PS I don't remember if the bust was from a casting made after his death or one while he was still alive, but I remember it was really hard to tell the difference.
posted by rw at 4:01 PM on July 30, 2009

Make sure you take the Trollway (part of Hwy 151).

Gov Dodge State Park has some neat waterfalls. Check to see what their opening times are after Labor Day.

Try all or part of the Kettle Moraine Scenic route. Lots of Ice Age history there.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:29 PM on July 30, 2009

Is Kentucky too far? Waverly Hills Sanitarium offers night tours, it's alot of fun.
posted by sporaticgenius at 4:53 PM on July 30, 2009

Oh, how could I forget? The Superman museum in Metropolis.

posted by rw at 5:07 PM on July 30, 2009

I thought of another place we stopped on our Dickeyville, Wyalusing, Effigy Mounds trip. The Laura Ingalls Wilder site in Burr Oak, Iowa is the place her family lived that no one wanted to write a book about, the uglier chapter in the family saga.

The family lived in rented rooms in a tavern/hotel, lost their only son and left during the night leaving a bill to strike out anew in Plum Creek. It was creepy 12 years ago when I was there but I think they may have spruced it up for the tourist trade.
posted by readery at 5:12 PM on July 30, 2009

My old stomping grounds a really random list of places I would drive to

Rube's Steak House (grill your own steak, then eat it on a holstein table cloth)
Brucemore Cedar Rapids (old grain barron manor, nice photos in the garden, but creepy tiki room in the basement)
Czech Village Cedar Rapids it has muesem too, but the food is the real attraction.
Stop in Dubuque it always looked like it has all sorts of crazy stuff haven't really explored there

The Brooklyn, IA I-80 diner was always a favorite diner of mine, not sure why.

Madison is awesome. The lakes are great for photographing. Check out the Orpheum Theater downtown for cool old places.

Total random trip too is the Ronald Reagan birthplace muesem in Tampico, IL. It is full of Reagan kitch.
posted by akabobo at 5:26 PM on July 30, 2009

I grew up in Dubuque. It's definitely worth a visit, but the only somewhat creepy things I can think of are the allegedly haunted Ham House and the Grand Opera House.

St. Raphael's Cathedral has a creepy mortuary chapel under which several bishops are entombed. I went there when I was a student in Catholic school, but I don't know if there's any chance of you seeing it. It might be worth looking into.

Beyond the creepy things, Eagle Point Park should make the top of your list, and a visit to the America's River museum is also recommended.
posted by TrialByMedia at 5:39 PM on July 30, 2009

As far as spooky goes, you could always try the Loon Lake Cemetery just across the Minnesota border. I grew up in the area and it's plenty creepy.
posted by sanka at 7:14 PM on July 30, 2009

Try driving up to Clear Lake and visit the Surf Ballroom, the last place Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson played before their untimely deaths in February 1959 (50 years ago!).Bask in the lingering glow of their auras and reflect on how young they all were on that last night of their lives....probably younger than you are now! For an added measure of creepiness, find out where the cornfield their plane crashed is located and visit that, preferably at night with CDs of their music playing...maybe you can summon their spirits.

Spooky enough for you?
posted by motown missile at 11:06 PM on July 30, 2009

ooh ooh ooh! go to carhenge">carhenge in alliance, nebraska. it's a replica of stonehenge made out of cars. there are some other car-sculptures there, too. i thought it would be super cheesy/ironic/kitschy, which it still sort of is, but i wasn't prepared for how spooky the place was. totally deserted, in the middle of nowhere. it seemed like someone tried to make a joke but then the symbolism took over and blam, the ghost of the american dream was seanced (that's a verb). it's a freaking graveyard!
posted by apostrophe at 6:52 AM on July 31, 2009

that link was pretty screwed up. try this.
posted by apostrophe at 6:54 AM on July 31, 2009

Ever since reading it in high school, I've always wanted to visit the places that inspired The Spoon River Anthology. From the linked Wikipedia article:
The work features such characters as Tom Merritt, Amos Sibley, Carl Hamblin, Fiddler Jones and A.D. Blood. Many of the characters that make appearances in Spoon River Anthology were based on real people that Masters knew or heard of in the two towns in which he grew up, Petersburg and Lewistown, Illinois. Most notable is Ann Rutledge, regarded in local legend to be Abraham Lincoln's early love interest though there is no actual proof of such a relationship. Rutledge's grave can still be found in a Petersburg cemetery, and a tour of graveyards in both towns reveals most of the surnames that Masters applied to his characters.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:15 AM on July 31, 2009

Very strongly nthing House on the Rock. I've visited there twice; after the first time, when I was a child, I periodically had dreams about it as a sort of metaphor for my own obsessive/compulsive tendencies. I recently went back during a family reunion in/near Spring Green, and it was bigger--they keep adding on to it, meaning that it's always growing, like a house in a Stephen King story--and even weirder than I remembered. (One of the things that I found out is that some of the "artifacts" that Alex Jordan, Jr. bought for the house--an early horseless carriage for instance--were made up, not fakes in the usual sense of the word but (for example) a made-up car from a made-up car company, which in effect makes the House, in part, a museum of things that never existed.)

Lots of good recommendations in this thread for things in Illinois. You may find some of the early Mormon sites, like the preserved houses and rebuilt temple in Nauvoo and the jail in Carthage where Joseph Smith and his brother were killed, of interest even if you're not LDS (I'm not). And the Abraham Lincoln Library in Springfield comes recommended by everyone I know who's been there.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:59 AM on July 31, 2009

SuperSquirrel: I don't know if they still do this, but the New Salem State Historic Site has a small theater where I caught a production of the Spoon River musical, which was quite good and featured the best cover of "The Water Is Wide" that I've ever heard. And if you're going to come to the Spoon River Valley itself, try to make it during the Scenic Drive in the fall--it's quite lovely.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:07 AM on July 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the excellent responses! I have enough ideas here for PLENTY of weekend trips. I'm so excited to visit each and every place listed!!
posted by jaynedanger at 12:04 PM on August 3, 2009

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