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Chapter 4

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Iowa As It Is in 1856

N. Howe Parker

Chicago and Philadelphia, 1856

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 6
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 p28  Chapter V

Iowa Scenery — The Bluffs, etc.

Respecting the scenery of Iowa, Owen, in his Geological Report to Congress, pp64, 65, and 66, says:

"The scenery on the Rhine, with its castellated heights, has furnished many of the favorite subjects for the artist's pencil, and been the admiration of European travellers for centuries. Yet it is doubtful whether, in actual beauty of landscape, it is not equalled by that of some of  p29 the streams that water this region of the Far West. It is certain that, though the rock formations essentially differ, Nature has here fashioned, on an extensive scale, and in advance of all civilization, remarkable and curious counterparts to the artificial landscape which has given celebrity to that part of the European Continent.

"The features of the scenery are not, indeed, of the loftiest and most impressive character — such as one might expect to witness on approaching the source of one of the two largest rivers on the globe. There are no elevated peaks, rising in majestic grandeur; no mountain torrents, shrouded in foam, and chafing in their rocky channels; no deep and narrow valleys, hemmed in on every side, and forming, as it were, a little world of their own; no narrow and precipitous passes, winding through circuitous defiles; no cavernous gorges, giving exit to pent-up waters; no contorted and twisted strata, affording evidence of gigantic and violent throes. But the features of the scene, though less grave and bold than those of mountainous regions, are yet impressive and strongly marked. We find the luxuriant sward, clothing the hill-slope even down to the water's edge. We have the steep cliff, shooting up through its mural escarpments. We have the stream, clear as crystal, now quiet, and smooth, and glassy, then ruffled by a temporary rapid; or, when a terrace of rock abruptly crosses it, broken up into a small, romantic cascade. We have clumps of trees, disposed with an effect that might baffle the landscape gardener; and crowning the grassy height, now dotting the green slope with partial and isolated shade. From the  p30 hill-tops, the intervening valleys wear the aspect of cultivated meadows and rich pasture-grounds, irrigated by frequent rivulets, that wend their way through fields of wild hay fringed with flourishing willows. Here and there, occupying its nook on the bank of the stream, at some favorable spot, occurs the solitary wigwam, with its scanty appurtenances. On the summit-level spreads the wide prairie, decked with flowers of the gayest hue; its long, undulating waves, stretching away till sky and meadow mingle in the distant horizon. The whole combination suggests the idea, not of an aboriginal wilderness (so recently), inhabited by savage tribes, but of a country lately under a high state of cultivation, and suddenly deserted by its inhabitants — their dwellings, indeed, gone, but the castle-homes of their chieftains only partially destroyed, and showing, in ruins, on the rocky summits around. This latter feature, especially, aids the delusion; for the peculiar aspect of the exposed limestone, and its manner of weathering, cause it to assume a semblance somewhat fantastic, indeed, but yet wonderfully close and faithful to the dilapidated wall, with its crowning parapet, and its projecting buttresses, and its flanking towers, and even the lesser details that mark the fortress of the olden time."

"The rural beauty of this portion of Iowa can hardly be surpassed. Undulating prairies, interspersed with open groves of timber, and watered with pebbly or rocky-bedded streams, pure and transparent; hills of moderate height and gentle slope; here and there, especially towards the heads of streams, small lakes, as clear as the rivers, some  p31 skirted with timber, some with banks formed by the greensward of the open prairie. These are the ordinary features of the pastoral landscape."

[image ALT: An engraving of a landscape with a small stream flowing in the foreground between sedge- and cattail-strewn banks; the background is of several small hills not very far away, and here and there a deciduous tree. It is meant as typical Iowa scenery.]

Hills of Silicious Marl, Council Bluffs.

In a few instances, the hills or bluffs along the Mississippi rise boldly from the water's edge, or push out their steep promontories, so as to change the direction of the river; but more generally, on either bank of the river, we see a series of graceful slopes, swelling and sinking as far as the eye can reach. The prairie, for the most part extending to the water's edge, renders the scenery truly beautiful. Imagine a stream a mile in width, whose waters are as transparent as those of the mountain spring, flowing over beds of rock and gravel; fancy the prairie commencing at the water's edge — a natural meadow of deep-green grass and beautiful and fragrant flowers, rising with a gentle slope for miles, so that, in the vast panorama, thousands of acres are exposed to the eye. The prospect is bounded by a range of low hills, which sometimes approach the river, and again recede, and whose summits, which are seen gently waving along the horizon, form the level of the adjacent country. Sometimes the woodland extends along this river for miles continuously; again, it stretches in a wide belt far off into the country, marking the course of some tributary streams; and sometimes, in vast groves, several miles in extent, standing alone, like islands in this wilderness of grass and flowers.

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Page updated: 8 Sep 11