You might have noticed the signs along Hwy 44 and P28 in Guthrie County that look like the image in the upper-left corner.  These signs designate the Western Skies Scenic Byway and are intended to help tourists experience Iowa's natural beauty, history, and culture.  The Western Skies Scenic Byway stretches 140-miles and spans the four counties of Guthrie, Audubon, Shelby, and Harrison. 


The byway begins in Stuart (southern Guthrie County) and heads north on County Road P28 where it connects with Hwy 44 in Panora. On this route, travelers will find Nations Bridge Park, the ghost towns of Morrisburg and Dale City, waterway access to the Middle Raccoon River, the Guthrie County Historical Village, and the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Panora.  The byway then heads west through Guthrie Center rolling along a ridge top and on into Hamlin (Audubon County).  The landscape along the byway gives wide-open views on both sides of the roadway and travelers will encounter terraced hillsides and quaint farmsteads nestled into deep valleys.


The route then passes through the Danish Villages of Elk Horn and Kimballton where travelers encounter apple orchards and traditional Danish windmills.  On to Jacksonville and into Harlan, the route then forms a loop. On the northern portion of the loop, you’ll find Westphalia, Panama, and Woodbine. The southern portion of the loop, which stays on Hwy 44, travels through Portsmouth, and then rejoins the main route to continue to Missouri Valley.


At the western end of the byway, travelers gradually emerge in the unique landform known as the Loess Hills.  The Loess Hills were formed by wind and river-sculpted glacial silt deposits that formed a front ridge adjacent to the Missouri River.  They are remarkable for the depth of the drift layer, often more than ninety feet deep. The only comparable deposits of loess to such an extent are located in Shaanxi, China.  The next time you have to travel across Western Iowa, take a diversion from the usual I-80 and check out the scenic vistas, rolling hills, and wide-open spaces of the Western Skies Scenic Byway. 


Photos c 2011 Kenneth G. West, Jr.