Some New Scenery near Home

Benton City-Fry Recreational Area – Cedar River 

This little trip started out as a chance to do some testing on a device recently added to the van to help with hot water needs for cooking, dishes, showering, etc.  I wanted to try it out in combat – camping in the boonies – but also wanted to find some new scenery along the way.
The campground chosen was a tiny little county park that barely appears on a map.  It is near the town of Urbana – a place where Mom lived for many years.  I took her there shortly before her passing (2 years ago tomorrow).

The first stop was just north of the town of Shellsburg to I could visit K&K popcorn, the makers of Tiny But Mighty popcorn.  Farmer Gene Mealhow raises this rare, heirloom popcorn and ships it all over God’s green earth.  The kernels are very small but incredibly flavorful.  Note that when popped they are smaller than a penny.  Large companies don’t want to deal with this type of popcorn.  It’s difficult to grow, doesn’t yield as many kernels, and isn’t a big money maker.  In other words, Orville Redenbacher can’t be bothered.

Nobody knows the exact origin of this corn but it is believed to be a relative of “flint corn” and may have originally come from local Indians who brought it from the southwest U.S.  This variety dates back beyond 1850 and is very rare.

You can buy it either as poppable (is that a word?) or pre-popped in various flavors.  My favorite is the “White Cheddar” variety.  Warning – it is highly additive and delicious.  Farmer Gene and his wife Lynn were very friendly and I’m glad to have been able to meet them!  We got to talking about trout fishing and I said I will bring him some fish on the next trip through.  Farmer Gene is your typical laid back, friendly Iowa farmer but his products are world class delicious!  Check out the website – if you like popcorn, order some!

Just a sidenote – there is a state wildlife management area a mile east of Farmer Gene’s property.  A couple of roads lead nowhere.  Talk about a perfect spring camping spot!


After taking care of some family matters and visiting some personally significant landmarks, I did a little frisbee golfing (it’s a lot of fun!) at Wildcat Bluff park near the Cedar River.  Frisbee golf is a heck of a workout.  Not only do you have to climb the hills, flinging the frisbee from target to target, but you also have to retrieve bad throws which often end up in a ravine.  With a strong wind, there was a LOT of extra climbing around.  I played the entire 18… “hole?” course and got pretty scratched up and banged up in the process.

In addition to great frisbee golf, Wildcat Bluff has a great campground with some potential for spring fun but once I saw the other little spot across the river (Benton City Fry Recreation Area) it was a no brainer… It’s all about the scenery!  Check out the map above by clicking on it – you can see the size difference in the two parks.  You’ll have to look for the arrow to even see the smaller campground.

Here is another picture from the BCFRA campground.  It’s situated on a steep hill overlooking the Cedar River.  This cute little park is in the middle of nowhere on a level B (no maintenance) county road. 

After the hike/ frisbee golf it was time for a shower in the lovely 35 degree Iowa weather.  That was the reason for this trip – to test out a new hot water burner for the van.

To the left is the gadget I bought in lieu of new tires – a Mr. Heater Base Camp hot water heater.  This nifty little device allows you to carry everything  needed for a hot shower (burner, pump, hoses) in one convenient package.  Thanks to rechargable batteries powering the pump, you can shower anywhere, any time! 

A 1# spin-on propane tank fuels the burner.  You provide the water.  The pump for the Mr. Heater threads on to a portable water tank but to my dismay, NOT the Coleman tank I carry. 

No problem… Instead, I just filled a clean 5 gallon bucket and per the directions, submerged the pump into the bucket.  The swing out water faucet was directed back into the bucket (though not pictured here) to aid in heating the water to a lovely, nearly scalding temperature.  You can see the shower head on the ground.  Disassembly and storage took about 2-3 minutes.

I will be doing a full review of the Mr. Buddy water heater in a future post.  A lot of video was shot explaining how the machine works.  Needless to say, I was impressed with how it performed.  Since the campground was deserted, it was great to take a 100+ degree shower in 35 degree weather.  Stay tuned for that video to be put up later in the week.
Supper was cooked in the toaster oven.  The local grocery store had some tiny little foil pans of ham loaf on sale for only $1.19!  At the same time, I had warmed up some tomato basil soup in the crock pot, adding a few tortellini and a bag of Aldi roasted veggies.  Soup tastes good in this cold weather.  Heck, anything warm does!

Later in evening it was off to the town of Vinton for a small chocolate malt at Tootsie’s – a 1950s styled malt shop.  Such establishments are becoming few and far between.  I had heard good things about the charming decor and great food.  The locals weren’t kidding.  It’s fun stuff.

Something felt familiar about the colors in that restaurant – red and yellow.  It was kind of haunting me.  No, it wasn’t like the Fisher Price toys…  Hmmm….Who has yellow and red?  Then I looked up… Right now I’m sitting at the McDonald’s in Vinton and a cutout of good old Ronald McDonald is staring in this direction…  That’s why those colors looked so familiar.  It works.  Yellow and red… ketchup and mustard…  It’s comfortable.

The highlight of the evening was a visit to Koopman’s light display located northwest of Vinton.  This exhibit is comprised of thousands of lights as well as many handmade, moving figures.  Each year this display gets better and better and huge numbers of people visit.  A strong summer storm had torn up the decorations a couple of years ago but not to worry – they are back and the decorations are better than ever.   There is a little collection post where you can put some money in a giraffe to help with the cost of the lights… if you are able.   Check out this fun video… Nobody was hurt during it’s creation but it wasn’t easy keeping the van on the road and watching the camera!

As always, thanks for visiting.  It’s dark out and time to head back to the campground for the evening, hopefully avoiding the deer along the way.

Who knows what tomorrow holds in store?  With shower facilities, it’s even easier just to disappear and have some good and… CLEAN… fun. 

Take care.

Brad, the Van Trekker

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

One Response to Some New Scenery near Home

  1. tinycamper says:

    It’s amazing the difference a hot shower can make in your enjoyment of a day. Glad you found something that works so well for you.

    Frisbee golf sounds like fun. That’s the first I’d ever heard of it.

    Also enjoyed your campsite, the popcorn, Tootsies and the lights. 🙂