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(Foot)Notes on Iowa - Day 18 - McKnight's Point to Robert Mulroney Recreation Area

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Back on the road to finish the walk across Iowa, I picked up at McKnight's Point where weather forced my pervious travels to an early end. Determined to find a little redemption at a site famous for it, I took the road northward into extreme southern Kossuth County (Iowa's tallest county) and toward West Bend's Grotto of the Shrine of the Redemption.

Similarly to the end of Part 2, the weather forecast for the day looked dismal. Consistent rains, much wished for by farmers throughout the area, appeared likely throughout the day. With no severe weather predicted, I decided I would do my best to cover the route for the day. I cinched up the hood on my rain jacket, checked my supplies, and took to the road.

Almost immediately the rain picked up. Before I covered the five miles to West Bend, I was soaked to the bone. A small town of about 800 people at the time of the 2010 census, the Grotto of the Shrine of the Redemption looms as the most significant feature of the small town. As I made my way toward the shrine, I walked past a statue of a bison in the shadow of the grain elevator and a recreated sod house. Downtown rested quietly as I paced my way up Broadway Avenue toward the Grotto.

On a sunny day a few weeks prior I scouted out the Grotto in preparation for arriving at the end of Part 2, however, as noted in the previous post a series of bad luck left me just short. On the previous visit many people crowed the shrine, snapping photos and admiring the incredible handiwork of Father Paul Dobberstein.

During a bout with pneumonia in the early 1900s, Father Dobberstein promised to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary should she intercede for his healing. When he recovered, he started to prepare by stockpiling precious stones and other rocks. In 1912, his work commenced.

The project would span the next 42 years, growing to nine grottos each depicting scenes in the life of Jesus. The site stands as the largest grotto in the world, and the stones within are valued in the millions of dollars.

The day I arrive in late June rain fell, keeping most other visitors away. I slowly meandered through the individual grottos, hoping the rain might abate during my visit. I considered the incredible handiwork of Father Dobberstein while contemplating the journey ahead. The next four days would take me 75 miles, bringing the total for my walk across Iowa to 371, and leading me up the west fork of the Des Moines River to the Iowa-Minnesota border and beyond to Big Spirit Lake. I met my father at the support vehicle in the parking lot to change out of my soaked socks, and headed back northwest toward Robert Mulroney Recreation Wildlife Area (RMRWA).

The remaining ten miles or so from West Bend to RMRWA proved relatively uneventful. Hours of walking along gravel roads led me across the Des Moines in a steady rain, but I encountered no other people or even vehicles as I crossed from Kossuth County in Palo Alto. I passed more hog confinements than houses, and felt my feet beginning to deteriorate. Over the first three hundred miles, I surprisingly experienced no difficulties with my feet. Confident I had already put the longest stretches into the metaphorical rearview mirror, I anticipated no issues as I averaged 18 miles per day over the four days of Part 3. Overconfidence often leads to destruction, or at least difficulty, a lesson I learned on Part 3.

Passing what appeared to be a bar turned home, I eventually headed north along a gravel road stairstepping on the west bank of the river. The sun broke the clouds momentarily, and I quickly dashed off a text to my wife: "The rain has finally stopped." A few minutes later I had to send a quick follow-up: "Nevermind, back to downpouring." I trudged on, eventually arriving at County Road B55. Eventually, I saw a slew of signs for public hunting lands along the river indicating I was on the edge of RMRWA.

RMRWA hosts a variety of habitat: hardwood forest along the river, upland prairie ideal for bird hunting, and even a gravel pit stocked with fish by Palo County Conservation. I headed for the bridge crossing the river and the canoe access on the northside of the river (the Des Moines started running east-west momentarily following the 'West Bend'). Squishing my shoes with each step, I spotted the support vehicle and ambled the last few tenths of a mile.

With the first 16 or so miles of Part 3 behind me, I completed day one with a few new blisters and thoroughly soaked. The total journey stood at just over 310 miles since I first left Montrose on the Mississippi back in June.


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