Travels with Children

The adventures I embark upon with my four young children.

Cabela’s — Dows Depot — Boone County Historical Society — Living History Farms


3900 Cabela Drive, Owatonna, MN. 507-451-4545.
Free. Free parking. Stroller accessible; shopping carts also available. Restroom with changing table available in store. Restaurant on-site.

Cabela’s is almost as much a museum as it is a store. While my husband shopped, I took the kids around to the displays that rival a natural history museum. Stuffed animals, including an elephant, zebras, bears, and more, live in three “habitats” within the store, and the tunnel of fish tanks complete with posted feeding times allows for a look at various types of fish. If you have to get stuck at a “daddy store,” Cabela’s is probably the best you can hope for. We were in the store for an hour without me pulling my hair out, since there was enough for the kids to look at that they didn’t get bored.

Lunch was at Famous Dave’s Barbecue, adjacent to Cabela’s. Then we headed down I-35 to Iowa. We intended to stop at the Iowa Welcome Center just across the border but got lost in confusion. We knew that the welcome center looked like a nice red barn and silo, but when we got to the exit, the only barn and silo we saw belonged to a new casino along the Interstate. By the time we realized that the dwarfed welcome center barn was behind the casino barn, we had missed the exit. Fortunately for my husband, Iowa has many welcome centers and we found one more interesting less than an hour down the road.

Dows Depot & Welcome Center

1896 Railroad St., Dows, IA. 515-852-3595.
Free. Free parking. Not easily stroller accessible. Restrooms available; no changing station.

While most Iowa Welcome Centers are on the well-traveled roads, this one is a few miles off the beaten path. There is a modern rest area at the I-35 Exit 159, but the welcome center itself is in the town of Dows a little farther down the road. Follow the Burma-shave-type signs and you won’t have any trouble finding it.

The Welcome Center is located in the 1896 Dows Depot. One half of the building is set up as a museum of railroad memorabilia and local interest, and the other half is filled with travel information from all parts of Iowa, and a friendly person is there to help you find what you need. A gift shop is located in the former ticket office, and restrooms are in the building.

There are various other historical buildings in Dows, but we had a full agenda for the day so we got the information we needed and headed down the back roads to Boone.

Boone County Historical Society

Northeast Corner of Story Street and 6th Strett, Boone, IA. 515-432-1907.
$2 adults, under 18 free. Free street parking. Stroller accessible. Restrooms available.

Our main purpose for stopping at the Boone County historical museum was to see the lantern that 15-year-old Kate Shelley, Iowa railroad heroine, carried when she traveled through a storm to warn the trains that the Honey Creek bridge was out on the night of July 6, 1881. When we arrived at the museum, we told the guide that we were interested in Kate Shelley, and he led us to a room with a diorama of the route she traveled and a case with her lantern and some medals she was awarded for her heroics. He then offered to show us a 19-minute video about Kate Shelley, which included many pictures from the book we had read about Kate.

The museum also included various local history items and a display of Iowa in the 20th century, broken down into decades.

Before we left, the guide told us how we could drive to see the Kate Shelley Memorial High Bridge outside of Boone, so we drove out of town to catch a glimpse of it. Because a new bridge is being built to replace the existing high bridge, we could not get as close as we had wished, but nonetheless we were able to see the 2685-foot-long bridge that stands 185 feet above the Des Moines River.

On the way to Des Moines, we stopped in Moingona to see the Kate Shelley Railroad Museum, which was not open, but we saw the restored depot where Kate Shelley issued her warning.

Then we were off toward Des Moines, where we dined at the Golden Arches and checked into our hotel, donning costumes for our next bit of excitement.

Living History Farms Family Halloween

2600 111th St., Urbandale, IA. 515-278-5286.
$4.50 per person. Free parking. Stroller accessible. Restrooms available in main building.

I’ll admit that Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday and I usually do little to celebrate it, but when I read about the safe, non-scary Family Halloween at Living History Farms, I thought we’d give it a try. Running from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on several dates in October, it’s a well-organized trek around the 1875 town of Walnut Hill with stops for candy along the way. (Costumes and flashlights are recommended.) Jugglers, clowns, and storytellers are there to entertain you and there are many photo opportunities with scarecrows available. Popcorn and pop, roasted marshmallows, and ice cream are offered along the way, and a horse-drawn wagon ride is a special treat. Our kids really enjoyed seeing the jack-o-lanterns along the pumpkin walk as we ended the evening.

It truly was non-scary, and a nice bit of fun for an October evening.

I liked watching the Kate Shelley movie at the Boone museum. I liked getting a lot of candy at the Living History Farms but not the stuff with peanuts. I liked the boardwalk.

I liked using our Buzz Lightyear flashlights.

I really liked hearing the train whistle on the clock and using the old applesauce maker by the door and looking at all the axels on the trains (at the Dows Depot).


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