First Time in Madison County, Iowa

It was very sad driving out of Colorado and away from friends, but we were excited about seeing some new territory and meeting up with our other (but equally awesome) friends Deb and Steve.  Plus, there was a section of US-50 eastbound that was absolutely beautiful.  Seriously, one of my favorite stretches of highway to date, and it was completely unexpected.  We drove through these beautiful canyons with blue skies, and I was awestruck.

Sadly, as soon as we left the Rockies the landscape changed.  Eastern Colorado was definitely not my favorite landscape, and that continued when we initially entered Kansas.  It was pretty sparse and barren, without much to look at, so I broke out the cross stitch to keep myself entertained.  Because we were on a state highway south of an interstate we also needed to be very careful of when we got fuel. There were places to stop in small towns, but the spaces in between were just large fields.  And many of the small towns were really desolate, no industry, ramshackle houses, and once I even saw a closed Dollar Store.  Things are pretty rough when a town can’t keep a Dollar Store going.

Eventually we made it to Deerfield Beach Campground which was a $15 a night Passport America and we were both taken aback by what we found. (Shocked is more like it. – Lee)  Lots of permanent trailers, no one on staff, a small man made pond which was where the “beach” came in, and it wasn’t even clear where we should pay, if we should pay, and how much we should pay.  As we drove through what was essentially an open field, with a “road” that was nothing more than ruts from vehicles driving on it, and lots of deep mud puddles, we saw a fifth wheel trailer with the entire area under the nose fenced in, and about 12 live chickens, and that was enough for us.  Time to move on.  So we pulled out Ultimate Campgrounds and we found a fairgrounds in Garden City, so we decided to drive a little farther and check it out. Unfortunately it was an unmanned parking lot and although there were central electric boxes we had no idea if we were even able to stay there.  Some folks would have gone ahead and boondocked, but we are just not that adventurous, so we punted and looked at our Good Sam App.  There was another campground in Garden City that had OK ratings, and since it was closing in on 6pm we decided to stay there.

RJ’s RV Park was not great, and definitely not worth the $30 they charged.  No one was in the office when we pulled in, and several of the sites were blocked with concrete blocks because the power didn’t work.  We finally pulled into one open one and Lee found the breaker was missing, so we had to really search before we could find a 50 amp site that we could fit into.  It was very run down and honestly the only interesting thing about it was it was right next to a wind turbine manufacturer and we could see the various parts of giant wind turbines next door.  I love wind power and had never seen on of these on the ground, so that was pretty cool, but I never would have stayed there if I had any other reasonable choice. (The picture below makes this place look like it’s something other than a complete dump. It’s a really nice camera. The place is a complete dump. – Lee)

Our spot …I know it doesn’t look that bad but it was. Best thing though was it was very level.

Wind turbine pieces directly in front of us

To the left in front is the tip of a blade. Those things are huge laying down.


I know that whole story was a bit of a bummer, but I actually think it’s pretty cool.  There was a time when we would have been freaking out, but we truly have learned to roll with it.  Letting go of needing a “perfect” site every night was a big step for us and gives us more flexibility in our travel.  We could have kept driving to Dodge City for example, but Lee didn’t want to cruise through that any more than I wanted to cruise through Moab.  So it was only one night and although $30 is not great our budget does allow for the occasional more expensive stay.  Plus when you are just eating dinner and then going to bed, as long as you feel safe generally not much more matters.

After Garden City we headed up the freeway and got on interstate 70.  Things were much more pleasant along the way and we even saw this huge, square block festival in Scott, Kansas.  We would have loved to have stopped, but we weren’t sure where we could park the rig and there must have been over a thousand people there. It was nice to see a small town flourishing though and things got better as we entered the center of the state.

Nice to see some of the wind turbines in the fields

The landscape was green with rolling hills as we approached Topeka.

I was actually excited to travel through Topeka, a place I had heard about but never been, but first we stopped for the night at Lake Shawnee Campground.  This was a county park (our absolute favorite kind of campground)and since it had over 100 sites I was pretty confident we could get in even on a Saturday.  Thankfully this was the case, after some initial confusion at the gate. The entrance gate was actually closed and since it was self pay we weren’t sure what to do, but eventually we just drove in on the exit side.  The lake was really beautiful and the place was very popular and there were several spots available although most of them were too small for us.  Eventually we decided to park in spot 17 which was right on the edge of the lake.  The electric box and water were on the wrong side but Lee had enough hoses and cables to make it work.  It was a tight squeeze, but we were in and the view was absolutely fantastic.

View from front of rig

We pulled in kind of sideways but made it work

View from our picnic table

It was much better than the night before and the price was right at $20 for water and 50 amp. Plus the view. You really can’t say enough about an awesome view.  Yes, I know above I said it didn’t really matter if it’s just one night, but every time we do stumble across it it’s a very nice bonus.  We got up bright and early and headed out because we wanted to get to Deb and Steve as early as possible. The dump station onsite by the way was one of the cleanest we have ever seen, and Lee actually said it was “lovely” which isn’t a word we associate with dump stations too often. Since it was early on the weekend we went ahead and drove through Topeka and ended up shaving 20 minutes off our drive.  We also jumped on the turnpike which took us to Kansas City and although it cost $5.25 that road was fantastic, with free boondocking in the very large service plazas along the route.  And there were lots of things in the east part of Kansas that I definitely want to go back for.  We passed Eisenhower’s hometown where his presidential museum is, and of course have to go back and see Dodge City.  So, no state sticker for us in Kansas, but we did dip our toe in the water and I made a mental list for next time when we can stop and see a few things.

Next we entered Missouri and Kansas City traffic was a little heavier but not too bad.  35 North was a very nice road and overall  Missouri was much prettier than Kansas with rolling hills and more trees.  The last leg of the journey went pretty quickly and in no time at all we were hitting Iowa.  We headed up to Des Moines on 35 but took a detour about 45 minutes before in Osceola, took a right turn and ended up in Madison County.  Yes, it was where the movie was made, and Deb and Steve chose it because there was some fun stuff to do in the area.  After much searching they found walk in campsites at Pammel State Park  and what a great choice.  Not only was it priced right, $18 for water and electric, but we practically had the place to ourselves, only one other rig in the place. We did have to route ourselves in very specific  directions though because the main entrance has a low 12 foot tunnel near it so we had to take some gravel roads to get in the back way.  Truly it was incredibly sweet how much trouble they went to and although I would have been happy anywhere with them, it was nice being in such a great place.

Crazy how low this tunnel was way we could have gotten the rig through

Instead we went in this entrance

Despite how old the park was the campground was well laid out and modern and practically empty with only one other camper!

Us on the left and Deb and Steve on the right

And they gave us the end spot with amazing views from our yard

As soon as we got there I put on a pair of shorts…it was hotter and more humid than I was used to, and we set up quickly.  Then I gave Hurley a duck toy that he quickly devoured…lol.  Hurley is a pit bull rescue and one of the sweetest dogs I have ever met.  He single-handedly changed my opinion of pit bulls and we always love seeing him. Plus Deb keeps him in amazing shape with all the hiking they do, so I never feel guilty about slipping him snacks!  Deb gave me a couple of presents she had picked up for me at a farmer’s market and I got a pumpkin, some yummy smelling goat soap, and a small loaf of pumpkin bread,it was incredibly sweet of her to think of us.  I gave her some strawberry syrup I had personally made and canned in Oregon.

Hurley loved his duck!

Deb used to raise goats and she knows I loves goat milk products. She also remembered I don’t like flowery smells so this soap smelled earthy and perfect for me. Very thoughtful and sweet.

The only down side was we discovered we had driven the entire way with the fan open next to our fridge slide. Never done this before and it probably happened because the slide is stuck in the in position. Somehow it managed to stay on which we are extremely grateful for. Just goes to show you can never get complacent on travel days.

We were all chatting a mile a minute and getting caught up, and by 3pm we had finished setting up and had covered the basics of what had been going on with each other.  Reading each others blogs and Facebook helps with that of course, but there are some stories you want to hear in person, and we hadn’t seen them since last April.  Now at this point lots of people would have settled into happy hour and just chilled all night, but we all decided to go and do something.  Steve works a full time job through the week and makes the most of his weekends, so we all piled in their truck and headed out to see a couple of the famous Madison County bridges.  Steve and Deb also turned us onto geocaching, which is kind of an adult treasure hunt, and Lee and Steve were happily looking for geocaches near the bridges.

Holliwell Covered Bridge

These bridges are all going on 100 years old and although they are no longer used are a testament to expert craftsmanship. Crossing these rivers was a major problem in the late 1800’s and the bridges were built to solve that issue. Why were they covered? Simply to protect them from rain and snow…not for the aesthetic.

There is a kayak tour of the various bridges but the water was too low for us to even think about that

Inside the bridges is really neat although there is graffiti everywhere. For some reason though, probably because it was the I was Here variety, it doesn’t ruin the over all look

Deb. Steve, and Lee walking to the nearby modern bridge and looking for a geocache

I’m not a huge fan of geocaching, but I will say following the instructions do take you places you wouldn’t necessarily see…like this view of the bridge

The thing about geocaching is there is always another one around the bend…so off they went again

Lee and Steve found one…you can see how delighted they is like a treasure hunt but you don’t always find the treasure. This time though success!

We all felt we had time to see one more before dinner was done (Deb and Steve were cooking a pork roast for us) so we went to a nearby city park.  Turns out they moved one of the bridges to this beautiful city park and wow what a find that was.  Winterset City Park is huge park, with it’s own small campground, which ran a close second in the campground choice.  And the fact that there are two great campgrounds in such close proximity is a testament to what a great small town Winterset is.

This bridge was moved so is part of the trail system. I actually found this one to be the prettiest because they added some white and gave it a new paint job

What was even cooler in some respects was this fairy-tale “troll bridge.” Loved this and Lee and Steve found a cleverly hidden geocache close by.

Too cute!!

Beautiful craftsmanship on the bridge

See the teeny tiny plastic vial in the rocks? That’s how hard some of these goecaches are too find

I was more interested in the bridge itself…but in all fairness if we weren’t geocaching I probably would never have seen it.

We were all getting hungry, but Steve had one more surprise.  I love when we can follow along with someone else’s plan once in awhile.  Don’t get me wrong, I like exploring and finding new places, but it’s also great when other folks we meet up with have their own list.  Different set of eyes find different things and this last place turned out to be amazing.  It was in the city park and about a mile drive up a one way road, so we turned a corner and this is what we saw.

This small castle was erected in Memory of the original pioneer settlers of the area by their descendants and it was really beautiful

There were three levels and each one was really pretty and a great place to take pictures. There was actually the end of some senior pictures being taken there when we arrived so we waited a little bit for our turn

Loved the views from the top

Lee got a panoramic view

Loved the stairs



We really enjoyed it and then Deb got the idea for us to take a picture with each of us in one of the holes on the curved steps.  It was truly a group effort as for the first time we figured out how to set the timer on the Iphone and Lee figured out the best place to put it.  Love, Love, Love this picture and what a wonderful memory. Definitely Iowa State Sticker worthy!

Fromt top: Steve, Deb, me, and Lee

We were all getting hungry, so we headed back to the campground and a yummy dinner of pork roast, asparagus, salad, and of course…..pie! We built a beautiful campfire and stayed up late talking and catching up.  Once again we simply picked up where our conversation had ended back in April and it was like no time had passed.  It truly amazes me how easy it is to reconnect with long-time friends and my favorite part is this allows the conversation to go from the superficial to deep, emotional subjects very quickly.  We share a common interest and common problems, plus we all love each other, so they are great people to bounce things off of or simply vent.  It was a great night and we are all looking forward to the John Wayne Museum tomorrow.  Did I forget to mention that?  Winterset, Iowa was the birthplace of John Wayne, and we are all excited about seeing the museum.

Camper Chronicles is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, a program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to We very much appreciate any purchase you make via our website links.  There is no additional cost to you and helps support our blog.  Search here

Or you can check out our recipe book filled with 80 real recipes we have cooked in our RV and taste tested by Lee himself. The cookbook specializes in recipes that have a limited number of ingredients, without sacrificing flavor and is organized into categories that matter to full time RVers such as Happy Hours, Travel Days, and Pot Lucks   You can preview the kindle version on  Amazon or the Apple version on Itunes.    It is also available in paperback.

9 thoughts on “First Time in Madison County, Iowa

  1. Madison County is on our list. Really nice you guys have a camping spot right next to each other.

    I 35 through Kansas City has had a lot of work done to it in the past few years which includes the new and wider bridge over the Missouri River. Once you get past Liberty Missouri, or about 15 minutes past downtown from the south, it’s wide open travel so not much traffic. That interstate stays busy at all times of the day. I stay off the downtown stretch before 10:00am on weekdays if I have a choice.

    Glad you guys made it safely to meet up with Steve and Debbie. Enjoy

  2. I just love your blogs in that you have so many friends with whom you share common interests. Your photos are always the best as well as the stories behind them. Glad your travels are safe.

  3. We live in Topeka not far from Lake Shawnee, and have enjoyed following your blog for quite a while. It would have been cool to have just stumbled upon meeting you both. I’m retired but my other half is not, so our rv trips aren’t as long as we’d like. We take short trips out of Kansas but this summer spent some time exploring right here and found some hidden gems… On your next trip this way Scott Lake just north and a tad west of Scott City is worth a couple nights stay. Several areas to explore around there. Monument Rocks, Castle Rock and Battle Canyon. Thanks for putting so much in to writing a good blog. I look forward to your next recipe book. Safe travels!

  4. Oh and one more thing from an old lady you don’t even know…. when we stay at the Lake Shawnee campground #17 is the spot we always get. We have motorhome so we can pull in. That lake view and a campfire is the reason we go stay just a few miles from home once in a while.

  5. I’ve been to a few of the covered bridges in Madison county and I went to the park where the stone castle is. It was a nice walk!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.