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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), which is full of architectural treasures, like the Rock Island Depot, Masonic Temple, and All Saints Center, and fascinating history that includes the story of Bonnie and Clyde and a bank robbery. Lots of amenities are available in Stuart, a busy little town that is the intersection of both the White Pole Road and the Western Skies Scenic Byway. The beauty and intrigue is probably why the famous visitor Jack Kerouac hitch-hiked his way to this area and wrote about it in his novel, "On the Road."
Heading north, travelers wind their way passed Nations Bridge Park, a popular camping destination located on the South Raccoon River, and the ghost towns of Morrisburg and Dale City, both having historical ties to the Underground Railroad, before entering Panora, established in 1851, where travelers will descend from a ridge top created by the Des Moines lobe of the Wisconsin Glacier over 10,000 years ago.
Panora, Guthrie County's first incorporated town in 1851, is home to the Guthrie County Historical Village & Museum, the Raccoon River Valley Trail, and Lenon Mill Park, another popular place for camping and fishing along the Middle Raccoon River. The byway turns at the 4-way stop and heads west on Highway 44 traveling along the Main Street lined with historical buildings, the town's square, and the old Hotel Panora.
7 miles to the west, you enter Guthrie Center, the county seat located in the central-rolling hills of Guthrie County. Guthrie "Center is home to the Guthrie County Courthouse with the historic "Standing Soldier" Memorial or Guthrie County Civil War Memorial with over 700 names and the new Guthrie County Veterans' Memorial Wall. Right on the scenic byway, you will pass the "Listen to the Wind" Byway Art Sculpture, the Guthrie County Fairgrounds, and the Guthrie County Freedom Rock.
Once outside of Guthrie Center, about 7 miles west, you will cross the M & M Divide, Iowa's Great Divide, at an elevation of 1,440 feet and find a landscape along the byway that offers wide-open views on both sides of the roadway and terraced hillsides and quaint farmsteads nestled into deep valleys.
The route then passes through Hamlin in Audubon County to 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.
Points of Interest
Veterans' Memorial Wall
Photo (c) 2022 Jade Williams
Photo (c) 2022 Terry Dermody
Photo (c) 2022 Deb Shoning
The White Pole Road Scenic Byway is an historic, 26-mile route, stretching from Adair to Dexter along old U.S. Highway 6, and lined with over 500 white painted telephone poles. It is from those poles that the road gets its name. The route was formerly part of the Great White Way, Iowa’s first certified state route which stretched statewide from Davenport to Council Bluffs in 1914. This short byway is a delightful and scenic tour through rural and small-town Iowa, chalk full of fascinating art, architecture, and history, and easily accessible from Interstate 80.
First, visitors will be impressed with the numerous giant wind turbines that line both sides of I-80. Iowa is one of the top states currently converting wind power into energy. As you travel along the byway, you will see the windmills to your south the entire route. If you are traveling at night, you will be amazed at the sheer number of red blinking lights that illuminate the sky.
As you start your tour, just west of Adair, on the evening of July 21, 1873, the notorious Jesse James and his band of outlaws committed the first robbery of a moving train in the West. As you enter Adair, you will see the Smiley Face water tower, a friendly greeter to all I-80 travelers, and will cross the beautiful 1923 Adair Viaduct, an open-spandrel concrete bridge that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Heading toward Casey, you can go off the byway to Slayton's Rock, which is just south of I-80, to view one of Iowa’s largest fully-exposed glacial deposits weighing over 500,000 pounds! Back on the byway, you pass through Casey with its McPherson Street, where you can find the Casey Visitor Center and Museum in a restored church, a new Library, a beautiful Veterans’ Memorial Park, some fun little shops, and a new City Hall and Community Center.
East of Casey, you can choose to go off the byway again to visit the original Freedom Rock, a mural painted on a large rock by artist Ray "Bubba" Sorenson, II. Back on the byway, the little town of Menlo greets you with a waving "Gas Station Man," a 12-foot-tall, 7-foot wide, sheet metal cutout of a man waving his arm. The painstaking restoration of this rare, 1930 piece of Americana nostalgia was completed in 2008.
Next on the byway is the town of Stuart, which is full of architectural treasures, like the Rock Island Depot, Masonic Temple, and All Saints Center, and fascinating history that includes the story of Bonnie and Clyde and a bank robbery. Lots of amenities are available in Stuart, a busy little town that is the intersection of the both White Pole Road and the Western Skies Scenic Byway. The beauty and intrigue is probably why the famous visitor Jack Kerouac hitch-hiked his way to this area and wrote about it in his novel, "On the Road."
Keep driving east and you will enter Dexter, which is a little town with big history. Visit the Dexter Museum to learn all about the 1948 National Plowing Matches or the Bonnie and Clyde Shootout in the Dexter Park and then visit those areas just north of town. As you drive through town, be sure to admire the unusual and fascinating 1916 Dexter Roundhouse, listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized for its unusual architecture.
Just outside of Dexter, you can jump back on I-80 and continue east toward our beautiful capitol city, Des Moines. There is so much to see and learn along this little byway that we encourage you to come back soon, plus you won't want to miss the WPR Marathon Sale, 26 miles of garage sales, held in early June every year.
Points of Interest
Menlo Gas Station Man
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