Last week, I was looking for somewhere in Iowa to go on Saturday that would be especially interesting (I always welcome suggestions!). I turned to the always trusty Travel Iowa website calendar and spotted the "Color the Wind Kite Festival" happening on Saturday in Clear Lake.
Upon further research online and via Facebook, I discovered this is quite the annual big deal in North Iowa. Adding even more intrigue is the fact that Lee Cowan of CBS Sunday Morning, of which I am a big fan and regular viewer, was planning to be there to cover this unique festival.
After pitching the idea of going to Clear Lake on Saturday to my oldest brother Andrew, we decided to venture up to Cerro Gordo County to satisfy our curiosity about this intriguing event.
Clear Lake is about 110 miles from Des Moines and you can get there, going the speed limit on I-35, in just under two hours. About half way through the trip, it started to snow. I hadn't planned on driving through significant snow accumulation, but fortunately it was mostly the type of snow that was not overly heavy and thus blew off the road relatively easily.
Since the festival did not start until 11am and my brother and I rolled into town earlier than that, we wandered around the downtown district a bit. It's a very beautiful downtown and it was quite picturesque on this day with the falling snow.
If you are not familiar with Clear Lake, it's a community of about 7700 people but much higher than that during the summer. They have a significant tourism draw with the beautiful lake.
The first stop was the locally famous Cabin Coffee Company, which is both a coffee roasting business and a very popular coffee shop. I've been to Cabin during the summer months when there is literally a line out the door. On this particular snowy Saturday, it was bustling with consumers looking for caffeine or cinnamon rolls, but there was no line out the door. I just got a cup of coffee, but my brother got one of their warmed up cinnamon rolls, which are quite heavenly.
The place definitely has a cabin or rustic aesthetic to it. I can always appreciate a place that has a vision and then just jumps all in.
The Clear Lake Arts Center is a great place to enjoy local art and they also have a great calendar of activities for all ages. On this particular Saturday, given that the kite festival was occurring, they had a kite activity for kids. Much of the art work on display is for sale.
I saw some paint by number which might be more up my alley.
They have a media studio in addition to the galleries.
This is one of my favorite stops in Clear Lake because it is such an eccentric place. There are a lot of unique things in this store. To me, it's almost like a cross between a Spencer Gifts and a Ben Franklin. There's usually something for about anyone and you find yourself chuckling to yourself as you mosey through the aisles.
I am always a fan of stopping in antique stores and Collector's Wonderland is a good one. The gentleman working in there is very engaging and was eager to point out a number of interesting pieces. There are a couple dozen airplanes, some furniture, artwork, old signs, collectibles, primitive tools and more.
My brother and I were quite intrigued by this mission oak library desk and Christopher Columbus desk lamp, but we left without purchasing either.
Roaring Lion Antiques and Collectibles is across the street and a few stores down from Collector's Wonderland. A very kind lady was working in there and my brother and I wandered around a bit. This particular store has fewer "large" items and more smaller items, but there's plenty to look at.
Ralphene's is a unique store in that half of it is an antique and collectible store and the other half has mostly new merchandise and decor.
By this point, it was time to wander on down to the frozen lake. However, first we stopped for some cookies at Cookies Etc.
Cookies Etc is about a block from the lake, across the street from the city park, and oh so delicious. They have a location in Clear Lake as well as two in Ames. Their fresh baked homemade cookies are outstanding but they also have some drinks and ice cream treats too. Without a doubt, this is a happenin' place for the summertime vacationers.
This sign did not lie - very delicious!
This was the whole reason my brother and I came up to Clear Lake on this particular Saturday. Though there was some snowfall and it was cold, the ice on the lake was more than thick enough to support the cars and people who would be venturing out. This whole thing exceeded my expectations. What a spectacle! Truly, I do not think my pictures do this justice and so I would encourage you to go to their website where they have posted some videos and other albums of photos.
The free festival was started/is run by Larry and Kay Day and they give a little more background about themselves on their website.
I don't know how many people actually attended the 11am to 4pm festival, but I would have to guess it spanned well into the thousands. What a great community and economic development event. Clear Lake gets a lot of traffic during the summer but they found a truly special event to bring people to town in the middle of the winter, too.
Since most of the kites (nearly all) were quite large, apparatuses were lodged into the ice that would allow the kite to stay up without someone having to to hold it for hours on end.
Before this event, I did not realize these enormous kites are part of a whole community of people who do this as a regular hobby. Goes to show, if bored - go fly a kite!
If you didn't think pigs could fly - they did in Clear Lake on Saturday!
This dragon kite was one of my favorites.
I also liked these whale kites. Enormous!
It's hard to put into perspective how large a kite like this is. Huge.
This was one of the first times either my brother or I had been on a frozen lake. It was a bit slippery but neither of us fell.
There were people of all ages enjoying this spectacle. Several girl scouts selling boxes of cookies, but I believe they did have a stand or two selling refreshments.
The cold weather ensured most of the lake was plenty thick with ice but not everywhere was sturdy enough to support the weight of vehicles and thousands of people.
I found this Great Depression era plaque near the water.
Mr. Kite (one of the co-founders of the festival) was playing kite-themed music from his tent and also making announcements as an emcee. This is also near where the choreographed kite flyers were competing.
On a disappointing note, we did not see Lee Cowan or any of the CBS crew. I was so hoping to get a photo with him. Apparently he hung out at the art center and greeted folks for awhile? Can anyone confirm?
My brother and I stayed around the kites for about an hour. What an event. We then headed over to the Surf Ballroom. It's on the National Register of Historic Places and is the last place that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper played before their plane went down north of town. I had been to the ballroom (but never inside it) and my brother had never been to the outside or inside - and unfortunately it was not open. I was surprised that on a day when thousands of out-of-towners were rolling into town that it was not open. Hopefully another time I can finally make it inside.
Before hitting the road back to West Des Moines, my brother and I had lunch at the Surf's next door neighbor - Bread & Buttercreme. It was quite delicious. I highly recommend. I know Clear Lake has a number of great restaurants and I always welcome recommendations.
It appears that they have a nice patio area that would be enjoyable during warmer months.
It's not an overly large restaurant, but they have some seating at the bar, some high top tables, and some other shorter tables.
There was a big cooler behind the wall.
I found both of these pieces of decor to be humorous. I HATE ranch dressing but know plenty of fellow Midwesterners that could relate to this photo if a restaurant were out.
Of course, no establishment selling beer is quite complete without the neon beer sign.
Elsewhere, a large television advertised the pancake special of the day and a blackboard had information on the wide array of drinks available.
The menu itself was fairly diverse. Lots of things looked good.
Ultimately, my brother ordered the hangover burger minus the fried egg and I went with the Cali Turkey Club Schiaccata.
My sandwich came with chips and his came with fries. We both cleaned up our plates without any problem - if that's an indication of how delicious both items were. Outstanding.
They had a whole display of delicious baked goods. As scrumptious as they looked, there was no room for more. Between a great lunch, cinnamon rolls, and cookies - trying those items will have to wait for another visit.
Despite the cold and snow, this was an outstanding adventure. Never in my wildest dreams did I think Iowa had a kite festival that would attract national attention, but that's the beauty of our state. There is always more going on then you would otherwise think.