When I meet people from Iowa on the road, they almost always tell me that I have to experience their state fair, claiming it’s the best one. So this year Ruth & I included it in our summer itinerary. We spent August 18 at the fairgrounds in Des Moines and had a blast from 10 am until 11 pm. The fair actually ran from August 11 to 21. The only real problems we encountered were parking and the heat. It was almost 100º by early afternoon.
As it turned out, 10 am was a bit too late to arrive at the Iowa State Fair. All of the parking lots were full. This fair, after all, attracts about a million people each year. The first question I asked at the information booth as soon as we gained entry was, “What time do I have to arrive to park on a fairground lot? ” “I arrived at 7 am,” said the smiling, fair-loving lady in the booth with 3 other female advice givers. I told her that we seemed to have gotten lucky because we had parked only one and ½ blocks from Gate 10 on someone’s lawn for $6. I asked her if that might be problem, and she said not to worry. During fair time every year, Iowans in the neighborhood offer their properties for parking. Our first activity was to take the fair-circling free tram to learn where things were.
We got a Nothing-Compares-to-my-State-Fair Guide listing every August 18 activity, read that day’s choices, and headed for the animals. First were the horses, namely Clydesdales that were being better taken care of than most humans. A horse show including them and draft ponies was scheduled for 6 pm, Ruth & I watched lots of fifteen-and-unders groom and pamper their favorites for the 2 pm Sheep Show. We had missed the 9:30 4-H Rabbit Show. At 2 pm we stood in a long line to see the famous Butter Cow that has been sculpted here since 1911 to promote the dairy industry. Norma Lyon created it for 46 years. It was a fair tradition but also a bit of a disappointment.
The other things that I found less than thrilling were the 2 pm Adult Whistling Contest, the Gantry Show, the entire Varied Industries first floor, and the food. The Whistling Contest was well-attended, but the performers lacked personalities and were shrill. I was not sorry that I missed the earlier yodeling contest. Someone told me to seek out the Gantry Show, said to be a wandering circus spectacular. The problem was that it followed no fixed course in its 3-times-this-day ramble so we missed it. The Varied Industries building was popular because it was air-conditioned; but the first level was full of vendors trying to sell grills, drain clearers, spas, etc. The food was ever-present but not the type of stuff that folks in motorized chairs should be eating. Deep fried mac & cheese? Ice cream nachos? Really? We settled for one of the 26 new-this-year foods at Diamond Jacks, Hawaiian Pineapple Bowls, which were awful. Lots of A&W root beer helped us cope.
What we really enjoyed were the 2 Sky Gliders, the entire Cultural Center, the unbelievable number of blue ribbons attached to projects, the 8 pm Jeff Dunham Show, the focused volunteers shucking corn for August 19th, Iowa Corn Day, the Ugliest Ice Cream contest, and more than I could ever record.
At some point Ruth learned that the Minnesota State Fair, also called “The Great Minnesota Get-Together”, rates even higher than the Iowa State Fair, so we vowed to include it in or 2017 travel plans.