Bison on the Prairie © U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters
Between the Mississippi and Missouri river, in the heart of the Corn Belt, lies the state of Iowa. Its reputation reflects that part of the American identity which celebrates small-town life amid the rolling farmland and patch work countryside. It also contains several bustling cities, such as the state capital of Des Moines, where tradition and innovation are perfectly combined.
Nothing is more traditional than visiting one of Iowa's many local's farmers markets. The rural meets the urban in the most popular of the markets, like the Downtown Farmers Market, which sets up right at the centre of Des Moines, the state capital.
Throughout the state, there are efforts to preserve Iowa's rural heritage and tradition. The Iowa Barn Foundation sponsors the free All-State Barn Tour every September, aimed at saving and restoring these structures. The Madison County Covered Bridge Festival has been a time-honoured tradition in Madison County since 1970. The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge has reconstructed the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, complete with bison and elk.
Iowans have also embraced innovation in various areas. An initiative to plant alternative crops has resulted in a fledgling wine industry. Today, travellers can explore three different wine trails. At the famous Iowa State Fair, the tradition of sculpting a cow from butter remains, but it has been joined by a line-up of the well-known musicians. Along the Mississippi River, visitors can choose between watching the sunset from the stands at a minor-league baseball game in Davenport and trying their luck aboard a luxury riverboat casino in Dubuque.
For a real taste of America, travellers should head to the Hawkeye State during a presidential election year to witness some good old-fashioned stumping. The Iowa caucus is the country's first major electoral event for candidates seeking their parties' nomination. Thus contenders, one of which is the future US president, make numerous appearances at local diners and town halls, lead parades, host barbecues, even clamber atop bales of hay to address voters. Around the 4th of July, campaigning reaches a fever pitch, not to be missed.