*In honor of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System four special dogs, the Lewis and Clark Pups, will travel in the paws of their ancestor Seaman, dog of Meriwether Lewis. The pups will travel more than 3,700 miles to complete their mission to commemorate and protect the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. As they make their stops they will be reporting back in on their adventures. Here is a guest blog post written by Rocky, one of the Lewis & Clark Pups about his visit to Hitchcock Nature Center. Get all the details & follow Rocky & his siblings Harper, Dakota & Keelie on their adventures at: https://www.nps.gov/lecl/blogs/newfienews.htm
Today I visited Hitchcock Nature Center deep in the Loess Hills of Iowa. Even though this park is pretty far off the Missouri River it is still an important stop along my journey on the Lewis & Clark trail. The Loess Hills are an important land-form that stretches the entire western side of the state of Iowa and the unique hills were written about by Meriwether Lewis & William Clark during their time on this stretch of the river. Hitchcock Nature Center, owned by Pottawattamie County Conservation & the people of Pottawattamie County is a great place to see these hills up close so I decided to make a stop and see them for myself.
I started off with a visit to the Lewis & Clark Selfie Spot in the campground. The park staff decided to put the selfie spot in a very cool place, the Lincoln Highway Overlook Deck. This deck looks out over a piece of the original Lincoln Highway & gives you some history on America’s first highway stretching from New York to San Francisco.
While I was in the campground I made a new friend, Park Ranger Chad Kunze! Ranger Kunze was nice enough to give me a tour of the park, there’s almost 1,300 acres of park and over 10 miles of hiking trails to explore so it was nice to have an expert & he let me ride in his truck! I learned that people come here from all over the world to see these impressive hills up close. While they visit they enjoy hiking the trails, camping, bird watching, & so much more. Each year the park hosts many different environmental education programs like Monarch Tagging, their guided Hitch Hikes, & their monthly Speaker Series. The staff at the park works very hard to offer programming to people of all ages that covers a range of topics & experiences. Hitchcock Nature Center is also a destination for many area school field trips & the staff here plans a full summer of camp for children in the area from pre-school all the way up to 8th grade. That’s a lot of people coming to the park each year!
First he drove me through the park, stopping to let me check out the local trees of course, then he brought me up to the main building, the Loess Hills Lodge. This was a great place to get all the information. I had fun visiting with the staff & I learned that the Loess Hills are made of some very special dirt. Loess (rhymes with “Bus”) is special because it is shaped differently than other dirt. During the last ice age debris that was ground flat by the glaciers was picked up by wind once the glaciers melted and it was dropped here in Iowa. It drifted into hills kind of like how sand dunes form on beaches and those hills were quickly covered by prairie plants which held this soft dirt in place. There is only one other place in the entire world that has Loess soil in such large amounts and that is all the way in China so Iowa’s Loess Hills are really something special. Some people call Loess soil “sugar clay” or “sugar soil” because of how it liquefies when you mix it with water. This make erosion a very big problem in the hills and it’s something the folks at Hitchcock work very hard to prevent.
Another neat thing about Hitchcock Nature Center is their work to restore the prairie here at the park. They use a lot of different tools like prescribed burns & seed harvesting to protect & restore the prairie. They even have a team of goats that visit during the summer to eat up invasive plants at the park.
No visit to Hitchcock Nature Center is complete without climbing their observation tower. From the top of this perch, 45 feet above the ground on top of a very high hill, you can see for miles all around you. If you look out to the west you can see the Missouri River & beyond that the state of Nebraska. This tower gives visitors a chance to see not only this historic river but also gives you a full view of the amazing Loess Hills. On a clear day if you look south on the tower you can see all the way to Council Bluffs, Iowa & Omaha, Nebraska.
I really loved my visit to Hitchcock Nature Center and thank my new friend Ranger Kunze & all of the staff for their hospitality.