The Bridges of Madison County… Wasn’t that an old 90’s chick flick? I thought to myself as I drove past the sign.
I glanced down at my energy indicator and saw that I only had 25% battery life remaining, which interestingly made the journey a bit more exciting. Suddenly, i was in the Will I Make It territory, knowing that the closest charger was 20 miles in the opposite direction, and there were four or five different bridges spread across the county to try and see. Feeling a bit of motivation from the recommendation a cousin had given me to go and see the bridges while I was in Iowa, I decided to see if what these things were all about.
I directed my Tesla to navigate me to The Bridges of Madison County with, as expected, a number of options coming up. I chose the closest one and promptly set off on the adventure, having no clue what was lying ahead of me. I have to say, when I pulled up to the bridge fifteen minutes later, I was thoroughly disappointed, finding myself sitting next to a generic bridge crossing a small creek consisting of nothing but a pathetic trickle flowing through it. Was this it? I got out to assess the situation while admiring the corn field along the side of the road. In moments like these, I always have to be thankful for cell phones and modern technology. I quickly discovered that I was trying to find the COVERED Bridges of Madison County. Not making that distinction had led me to a normal bridge. With a smile on my face, I corrected this mistake, laughed at myself, and headed to (hopefully) the first actual bridge in this collection.
I drove further into the corn fields, the entire time amazed by the merging summer colors. The world seemed so far away, which is exactly how I like it. I passed farm after farm, field after field. I moved from pavement to dirt road to gravel back to dirt. The sun shone high above the world, offering its warm rays to anyone that wanted to take a minute to appreciate them. Then, I saw a red building in the distance, its stark color making it stick out from everything around it. As it got bigger, and I got closer, I smiled truly realizing that this picturesque scene was what I was looking for. The Holback bridge stood by itself over a small river, reflecting perfectly off of the still glass beneath it. Taking a moment to stop and walk through it, I read message after message scrawled on the inside walls. Messages of love, screaming reports of frustrations from the artist, memos of friendships long gone. The walls were covered in stories of locals, waiting for someone to stop and appreciate. I relished in this moment, for a second, felling connected with so many people that I will never know or see. After a short drone flight, I knew there were other bridges to see and now that I had whet my appetite, I was thoroughly excited to get to the next destination .
The third bridge on my list was not too far down the road, and with the last one having such an awesome ambience, I was excited to get to it. Along my way, I passed what seemed like hundreds of cows. I always find the worlds proximity to cattle highly amusing. Growing up in a suburb and spending much of my youth in a big city, I always forget how prevalent this bovine is everywhere else. Sometimes they seem more common than cats and dogs. If nothing else, America does love its beef. I digress.
After the cows, I pulled up to a small park with a quaint gazebo and wildflowers blooming all around. I sat around for a minute watching these “pollination stations” and the rush hour of traffic that surrounded them. Moths and bees swarmed the area to their hearts content, eager to get a drink of the sweet nectar and in the process, carry pollen away with them. Next to the park, was a small creek, more prevalent than the first I saw but still quite small, with a covered bridge over it. I laughed to myself realizing that it looked exactly like the last one. I don’t know why, but I had assumed that each bridge would be at least mildly unique. Happy that I had this opportunity to hang out with the bees though, I spent an hour wandering and clicking about. It may not have been impressive so to say, but it definitely lended a moment of peace that I was thankful for.
Now this is more like it! I exclaimed to myself while pulling up to the Winterset City Park. The grounds were home to the Cutler-Donahue Bridge as well as seemingly being the city center for recreation. On site was a small campground, a playground, hedge maze and forest trails leading into old growth trees and ancient relics. I was surprised to find the park bustling with action and took a moment to walk around and take it all in. The first stop i made was the hedge maze, excited to get lost in the towering bushes. Growing up, I had always dreamed of finding an active maze, having read about them in fantasy books. As I walked up, I realized that this one seemed like it was (appropriately) built with children in mind, the bushes only being about five feet tall. Determined to still get lost though, I crouched down in an attempt to find the sundial hidden at the middle. It didn’t take too long, but for a second, I honestly felt like I had been transported into a childhood dream.
Past the park, one will find the covered bridge, not much different from the two previous. Across, it opens up to a well maintained trail leading into the forest, a path into adventure with the giant oak trees providing shadow. I welcomed this reprieve from the blazing rays of the sun overhead as I pushed into the unknown. A small sign simply saying “Castle Overlook” pushed me forward and for the next mile, I listened to birds chirp overhead, always just hidden from sight, no matter how close they seemed. Eventually, the trees opened up to a mid-evil looking tower overlooking the county and farms beyond. Climbing up it, one finds an enviable view. One likely to invoke the jealousy of the friends you are sure to show a picture to later. I enjoyed losing track of time at the top, getting lost in the scenery. If nothing else, this spot provided a perfect place to stop and remove oneself. A hideaway to escape for a moment.
Not wanting to get lost in these trails for the entire afternoon, I eventually started on the trail back to my car to head to the next bridge. While in town though, I wanted to stop by the childhood home of John Wayne, which was located a few blocks away. I always enjoy stopping at these little gems in small towns. It is a perfect looking glass into the history of our pop culture, to see the humble beginnings of now famous names. Even more enjoyable is when the names have fully been forgotten and lost to time. It hasn’t happened yet, but John Wayne seems to be headed on that road, the western a forgotten time in Hollywood. Arriving at his house, it seemed so quaint, which seemed entirely appropriate for someone with such a huge personality, as if his aura came directly out of a response to this small town and humble beginnings.
There was one last bridge to stop at on my way back to charge in Des Moines. As expected, it was in a tiny park on the outskirts of town, not much different than the first two bridges. As I sat on a bench reflecting on my afternoon, I watched car after car stop to take their picture and then head off into the distance. I felt a strange peace inside of me during this moment, as if I now shared this experience with all these random people that have no clue that I exist. And I guess that’s the wonder of these roadside attractions that dot the small towns of the United States. Why are they here? Who else has been here? Will I ever cross paths with any of them outside of this moment? Only time will tell, and until then, I will be thinking of these bridges and the special ambience they bring to Madison County.
Closest Supercharger West Des Moines IA 27.4mi
1725 Jordan Creek Pkwy, West Des Moines, IA 50266
Madison City Park and the Cutler Donahoe Covered Bridge
300 S 9th St, Winterset, IA 50273