Travels with Children

The adventures I embark upon with my four young children.

Science Center of Iowa — Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

Science Center of Iowa

401 West Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Des Moines, IA. 515-274-6868.
Regular admission w/o IMAX: $8 adults, $6 age 2-12. Parking in adjacent ramp, $1 per hour. Stroller accessible. Restrooms available; family restroom with changing table in children’s area. Restaurant on-site.
Membership reciprocity (free) through ASTM.

I’ll be honest, from the website I wasn’t sure there would be much to interest us at the Science Center of Iowa. But the facts that we had a reciprocal membership and that someone had mentioned that the museum was only about a year old and was very nice convinced me that we should give it a try.

We followed the directions given on the website and found the museum easily, which was good since we didn’t have a good map of downtown Des Moines. We parked in the adjacent parking garage and learned that being a few minutes early was all right; we were allowed to get our tickets and start exploring a few minutes before 9:00.

We missed the memo that there was trick-or-treating at SCI that day, but they gave the kids some bags that they could fill with candy around the museum even though they weren’t in costume.

I did find the signs to be somewhat confusing, but once we got the layout of the place, we did all right. The exhibit areas are called “experience platforms” at SCI. We first went to a hands-on “science around you” area where we spent quite a while before convincing the kids that we should see the rest of the museum. The next stop was a special children’s area, complete with a toddler section and a family restroom.

Upstairs, we saw the traveling “grossology” exhibit, which was fun though loud. The weather area was reminiscent of the Notebaert Nature Museum we had visited in Chicago. And the stars area (which we almost missed) was complete with a planetarium; when there wasn’t a scheduled show, you could make your own show on a computer and then go in to view it.

It was nice that SCI wasn’t too crowded. After visiting jam-packed museums in Minneapolis on weekends, it was a pleasant surprise. We spent about two hours at the museum without seeing an IMAX show, eating, or shopping in the museum store. For having young children with short attention spans, that means there are some good exhibits there!

We paid for our parking at the pay station, which was manned by a real-life, friendly person. I inquired about restaurants and he mentioned that there were several on Court Avenue; what we didn’t realize was that we should have kept our parking spot and walked somewhere to eat. The Des Moines travel guide I had picked up wasn’t particularly good at guiding us through downtown, so after wandering around in circles for a while, we decided to head out to Ankeny for lunch, and then back to Boone for the highlight of our trip, a ride on the rails.

I liked that place even though we didn’t get have our face painted. I liked downstairs when we got to get all that candy and I liked the place where we got to send the thing through the tube all the way around and back.

Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad

11th and Division Street, Boone, IA. 800-626-0319.
Train ride prices vary. Free parking. Trains not stroller accessible. Restrooms available at depot and on board train. Snack bar at depot; soda vending on train.

We caught the 1:30 train for a seven-mile scenic journey from Boone to Frasier, crossing the high bridge at Bass Creek and the Des Moines River. Guides on each of the nine passenger cars dished out safety rules and local history along the way. At the end of the line in Frasier, we switched sides of the car with other passengers so we could see the other half of the scenery on the way back.

Steam engines run the excursion trains on weekends, while diesel engines pull the cars during the week. There are special dinner and dessert trains available, and a trolley that runs to downtown Boone seasonally.

The 1 hour, 45 minute trip got a little long for the kids, who would have preferred a fast-moving train to the 20 mph we were travelling. Fortunately, some snacks I had along tided them over for the most part. My six-year-old was very quiet during the trip; he later explained that he was just very interested in watching and listening to the sights and sounds of the train. We had a beautiful fall afternoon for our excursion.

Back at the depot, there is a gift shop and the Iowa Railway Museum, which we had visited on a previous trip to Boone but didn’t have time to see this time.

It was fun and also a long ride. We got to see a dessert train.


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