Sometimes to modernize, you need to take a step back

DSC_9626Did you know that stopping to use the restroom at Iowa’s newest rest area gives you the chance to learn about Native American culture that preceded us by nearly 800 years?

If you have visited one of Iowa’s next-generation rest areas, you’ll notice that each one has a theme and information to help you learn more about what makes Iowa unique. 

The planners, engineers, and designers tasked with creating these rest areas not only provide a place to safely stop and rest but also tap into a wealth of historical information to help you understand the very deep roots of our great state.

Lodge floor plan
Lodge floor plan

Traveling northbound on Interstate 29 in western Iowa, our newest rest area is nestled near the Loess Hills just west of Glenwood. Stopping at this rest area takes visitors back to a large group of area residents from 1200 AD. These Native Americans are connected to what archaeologists call the Central Plains Tradition. 

Fast forward to 1968. Archeologists spent about four years uncovering 19 earth lodge homes in advance of the construction of U.S. 34. In addition, archaeologists discovered that about 300 of these structures once dotted the landscape near modern-day Glenwood.

Artist rendering of a lodge superimposed atop Glenwood lodge archaeolgical remant
Artist rendering of a lodge superimposed atop Glenwood lodge archaeolgical remant

Dolan continued, “When the sites were excavated in the late 1960s and early 1970s, documentation, regulations, and best practices were different. The artifacts were cataloged and housed at the Office of the State Archaeologist. What we did at the rest area was use the information from those excavations to tell the history of the area. It’s less about the artifacts that were uncovered, and more about the context they provide and the dynamic stories they tell about the people who lived here. I think it’s really cool that 50 years after these excavations, we finally get to tell this story of this human experience through transportation and contemporary art.”

Inside and outside of the rest area, the stories are told by interpretive plaques, statuary, and murals commissioned by four Native American artists.  The design team included a remarkable amount of earth lodge detail all around the rest area.    

The rest area is as functional as it is beautiful, with restroom facilities; snack and beverage vending options; free wi-fi; and an observatory balcony at the rear of the building to give you a glimpse at the Loess Hills.

Inside Glenwood rest area
Inlaid in the floor of the rest area is a floor plan for an earth lodge

Walking into the building, you’ll notice the floor is designed to give the feel of one of the area earth lodges by showing the lodge layout on the floor. Keeping with the lodge theme outside, plentiful picnic areas are highlighted by structures reminiscent of these earth lodges that could have been seen about 800 years ago.

Shell of earth lodge
Outside the rest area, you can get a feel for the size of an earth lodge.

While the main focus of Iowa’s rest areas will always be to provide a safe place for motorists to take a break, they have become so much more. Dolan said, “We recently learned that one of the tribes we work with had planned a heritage trip to northwest Iowa and southeast Minnesota, knowing that this rest area is now open they went out of their way to specifically see the culture represented here.”

Because one of our core values at the Iowa DOT is “People Matter,’ sharing the stories of those who have come before us helps enrich the lives of everyone who has the opportunity to spend a little time at one of these rest areas.


The art in the building was designed by four Native American artists. From left: Dr. Jessica Moore Harjo, Lance Foster, Kayla WhiteknifeKent, and Tamara Faw Faw Mihaxege.


Art by Foster and Harjo

Art by Mihaxege and Kent





Hi Beverly - This theme was chosen for the Glenwood area because it reflects the history of that area. Thanks!

This is fantastic. I enjoy stopping at Iowa's rest stops because each one is different. Why was the decision made to have this theme at the Glenwood rest stop?

Stunning artwork! I look forward to stopping there some day when I am in that neck-o-the-woods.

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