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Rest Stop Education: The Mighty Mississip-pee

We were road-trippin’ down I-80 through Iowa looking for fast relief at the rest stop. We got the promised “rest” PLUS we got an unexpected history lesson about the mighty Mississip-pee in what the information sheet called “this new generation of Iowa rest area.”

You see, this rest stop has a historical theme, one which was designed to “mimic the character of the Mississippi riverfront.” Good idea! Why expend a massive effort to attract visitors to your museums when you have a fully-captive audience pulling in off the interstate?

Little did I know that this location played a unique role in the history of the 2552-mile long river. It is here, in the middle of Iowa, that the river flows decidedly from east to west.

Looking for the ladies room? Just follow the steel “trestles” right into the building.

Public artwork is integrated throughout the site that highlights the importance of Mississippi River transportation in Iowa–tows, barges, and the lock and dam system. Look up and you’ll see a wall mural depicting a vehicle-rail bridge.

Look down and you’ll see a floor mural that depicts the Army Corp of Engineer’s boundary marker, the river’s locks and dams, all connecting to a floor map of the “Quad Cities.”

What’s that on the walls? They’re terra cotta blocks and tiles that are designed to help visitors imagine “locking” through a Mississippi River dam. They “rise and fall” like the water levels and depict tows, barges and their valuable cargo…”coal going upstream and grain going down.”

And then… the promised payoff! (Not sure what those numbers represent; maybe there’s a height restriction for this loo, somewhat like roller coasters!) And just in time, because as fascinated as I am learning all these river facts, I came here to go! When it comes to rest stop public art, I think I prefer function before form!

According to the onsite plaque, credit goes to artist David B. Dahlquist working with French Reneker Associates (Engineers) and Yaggy Colby Associates (Architecture and Landscaping).