We continue our way east and our next stop was for a night at a Harvest Host location, the Wilde Prairie Winery, owned and operated by Jeff and Victoria. Jeff met us at the entrance and directed us to a field behind the barn, adjacent to a vineyard, with views of corn fields as far as the eye could see.
After we had set-up camp, changed from our flannel mountain wear to lightweight clothing more appropriate for the 90 degree weather, we headed for a barn converted into a tasting room at the front of the property. Sampling numerous wines, mostly fruit wines that had been blended with hearty, wild-hybrid grapes, we learned about the ambitions of cold weather, mid-west wine growers who obtained their grapes from the labs of the university in Minneapolis. Being from an area that is ideal for vineyards, we had never heard of genetically modifying grapes for the severe winters of the midwest. Deciding on a dry rośe, we took our bottle and settled at a picnic table to enjoy the afternoon sun and our wine.
A few hours later we dragged our camp chairs back to the tasting room, where a summer evening concert was in full swing and the vast lawn had filled with guests. The band played cover after cover of country, blues, and well-known rock songs that were particularly susceptible to participation from the audience for a sing-along.
After the band had played and the guests started to say farewells to each other - it had become obvious that everyone knew each other here and most were neighbors of the winery - we were invited to stay for the after-party bonfire and more wine. I enjoyed a conversation with Victoria, who is a fitness instructor and we discussed shared our favorite yoga music, as well as the origin story of the winery. It got late and we made our way back through the field to our Airstream home.
The next morning, we awoke to laughter and chatter coming from the vineyard, which we knew from our conversation with the owners the night before, were the helpers for the vineyard harvest. At some point the night before we had also volunteered ourselves for the effort and so we quickly pulled on jeans and boots, grabbed our gloves and headed for the voices in the vines. We caught up with a group of teenage girls, a few adults dispersed among them, and after receiving instruction from one of the men at the end of the rows, discovered it was a high school girls softball team. So, we grabbed our clippers and a bin and inserted ourselves into the talkative group.
Soon, it came time for us to take down camp and head on our way towards our next Harvest Host spot in central Iowa. Hansen’s Dairy farm is a 7th generation dairy farm and the owner and descendant of the original family greeted us at the entrance. She instructed us to park ourselves next to a giant pond, and after checking in, we arranged to receive a tour of the farm. Our guide was one of the wives of the five brothers who oversaw the farm, and she led us towards the group of white and metal farm buildings next door to our spot near the pond and farm store. It was clear how much pride the family took in the operation and made sure to manage every aspect of the operation with care and consideration for the cows and the milk they produced.
However, the real highlight of Hansen’s Dairy Farm was the kangaroos. The farm logo has a kangaroo drinking milk, so we were curious about why and how the farm obtained them. We learned it was as simple as one of the brothers had visited Australia, loved the kangaroos and decided to procure three of them. The two females were so friendly and gently accepted bread from us, while the male brooded at the far end of the pen. Such a bizarre experience for being the middle of Iowa!
Our travels took us towards Chicago the next day and we planned to stay in the Indiana Dunes, as the camp options near Chicago really weren’t very good and the dunes looked like a nice, secluded spot. Upon arriving at our pretty, wooded campsite near the southern tip of Lake Michigan, we decided to extend our stay and give ourselves a break from the driving. That evening, we went for a walk with Jenga and caught a stunning sunset over the dunelands, which are called that from the large sand deposits that are everywhere. There was a little wood-fire pizza truck along our route and we stopped to grab dinner before heading back to our campsite. Chicago was on our agenda for the following day and I was excited to see the city, while not yet aware of how much we would completely fail our trip there. But that’s a story for next time…