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Exploring the wilds of Ledges State Park

A few years before the U.S. Corps of Engineers started its all-too-often mission of flooding the Ledges it was the place of my dreams. This was during a time before the public was assured the state park would be safe from water backed up from the soon-to-be-completed Saylorville Dam. Oh, the Corps confessed, there maybe could be a problem once every hundred years or so.

My first Ledges visit came some time in the late 1940s. I was an 8- or 9-year-old and a veteran explorer of the entanglements in our neighborhood as well as the forest at Nelson Park. When my grandmother, Phoebe Ellsberry, suggested our family travel all the way to near Boone, Iowa, to visit another park I was not impressed. Why go that far when we have a perfectly good park just a block or so from home?

My objection was overruled and the next Sunday, after church, Grandmother, Mother, Dad and I piled into the family’s faithful 1948 Ford and headed in a northwesterly direction.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Suddenly, the flat landscape disappeared and our auto snaked its way down into a world of huge trees, impressive stone buildings and bridges and steep cliffs. The tall rocky ledges and water running over the roadway were more than my young mind could absorb. It was as if our Ford had transported us to a far away planet.

Dad staked claim to a sturdy wooden picnic table in a picnic area near the stream while Mom and Grandmother fetched items from the car’s trunk. Soon a blanket covered the table. Atop the blanket rested a wide array of rations including deviled eggs, potato salad, baked beans and fried chicken. A large container of lemonade topped off the feast.

After consuming more than our share of the foodstuffs Dad and I ventured off on a reconnaissance hike. I was in good hands as he was no stranger to the Ledges. Seems visiting the park has been a youthful endeavor for generation after generation of Central Iowans.

Dad and I hugged the cliff wall and edged our way out on the narrow stone ledge leading to Devil’s Cave. As we neared the cave he pointed out his and my mother”s initials carved into the wall long ago. (Evidently, that took place before it was a no-no.)

Later, we climbed the trail leading to Table Rock. From that vantage point we could count the cars passing by down below us. It was then that Dad confessed to his habit of splashing unsuspecting girls with his car as they waded in the creek next to the road.

It was nearing the end of a perfect day as we weaved our way down a steep rocky trail leading back to our picnic spot. Nothing can top this I thought as I rounded a curve. That’s when things got even better! Just off the trail was the neatest little black snake I had ever seen. With a move so fast it caught the snake off guard, it was mine. Dad was far enough behind me that he failed to see the dynamic capture. I quickly stuck the snake in my pocket.

Back at the picnic area Mom and Grandmother were relaxing on the blanket near our car. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I reached in my pocket and proudly produced my prize.

My perfect day had suddenly come to an abrupt finish.

(Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He lives near Cambridge.)

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