Coralville which was just west of Iowa City had a convenient Starbucks, so I stopped for a couple of hours before driving to Neal Smith NWR.
The mission of the [Neal Smith] Refuge is to actively protect, restore, reconstruct and manage the diverse native ecosystems of tallgrass prairie, oak savanna, and sedge meadow. These were the native habitats existing on the Refuge’s 5600 acres prior to Euro-American settlement.The staff works at these goals using the historical land practices of fire and grazing buffalo, along with replanting native grasses and flowers and removing invasive species. Neal Smith has an impressive Prairie Learning Center. As I drove into the parking lot, sparrows were feeding on the tall grasses along the edges. When they landed on a stem, it would bend over, but the birds hung on, swinging gently as they fed.
|Neal Smith NWR - IA|
It was nearly closing time, so I walked quickly through the exhibits and then drove refuge roads, seeing elk but no buffalo. The sun was low, lighting the golden, brown and rust-colored grasses.
The great old Eastern Cottonwoods in the bottomlands had summer green or fall yellow leaves in nearly equal parts. All was peaceful on this late afternoon. The prairies were a lovely messy tangle of dozens of species, always full of light and subtle colors.
|Elk on Neal Smith NWR - IA|
I slept in a truck stop near Stuart, an I80 exit, behind one-half of a double-wide trailer whose driver had also stopped for the night. The other half was in another spot, along with the accompanying vehicles announcing "Extra Wide Load." The Interstate truck stops are busy but preferable to Walmart lots, partly because I can usually find a place that is not overly lit up. Sometimes I can almost read without an LED light in the Walmart lots. And the people are travelers like me, going places, coming from places, just wanting a safe and free spot for the night.