The Oregon Trail

Founded in 1850 to protect settlers from Sauk and Black Hawk people, Fort Dodge (pop. 24,441) is today a sleepy Midwestern town, economically dependent on local farms, gypsum wallboard plants, and a huge Friskies cat food factory. Amid many stately homes on the south side of downtown, one place really worth a look is the Blanden Memorial Art Museum (920 3rd Ave. S., 515/573-2316, Tues.-Sat., free). Housed inside a grand neoclassical 1930s building, the collections of “Iowa’s Oldest Museum” include examples of pre-Columbian pottery, Renaissance sculpture, and Japanese prints. Modern paintings include works by people you wouldn’t expect to find in the middle of the Midwest—Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, and Rufino Tamayo, to name three—along with works by Grant Wood and other Iowa artists.

The famous Cardiff Giant, a 10-foot-tall “petrified man” supposedly unearthed in New York in 1869, was thought by experts to be the body of a prehistoric man. However, the figure, which was kept on prominent display by showman P. T. Barnum for the next 35 years, was later proven to be a hoax, carved from a slab of gypsum quarried at Fort Dodge. A duplicate is on display at the Fort Museum and Frontier Village (515/573-4231, daily May-mid-Oct., $7) along US-20 on the southwest edge of town.