Destination Iowa: Mason City/Clear Lake

Destination Iowa

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa — In the summer many head to north Iowa to cool off on the shores of Clear Lake. The Cerro Gordo County town is only around ten miles west of Mason City, so touring both communities is not hard. One stop many make in Clear Lake is to ride the Lady of the Lake.

“Thirty years ago she came here in 1987. She’s an authentic paddle wheel,” said Niki Monson, owner of the boat. “We just do excursions around the lake, about an hour and a half. Of course, we’ve got our refreshment bar.”

Another big stop in this town is the Surf Ballroom. In 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson the were killed in a plane crash northwest of town. Singer Don McClean penned a song about it called “The Day the Music Died.” At the Surf Ballroom, McClean wrote a verse of the song on the wall. In the Green Room you can see autographs of hundreds of artists who played the venue in the 70s through now. There are also many historic displays of photos and instruments from acts who have stopped at the Surf.

“Visitors from all 50 states and up to 40 foreign countries come every year, so we’re very much a spot that people come and take a pilgrimage to,” said Laurie Lietz, the executive director of the nonprofit operating the Surf. “We are home to every genre of music you can possibly think of.”

In Mason City there are two Frank Lloyd Wright designed buildings: the Stockman House, which is now a museum, and the Park Inn Hotel, which accepts overnight guests and gives tours with advance reservations.

“We’ve had people from 65 international countries stay here and people from every state in the union,” said Peggy Bang of the Park Inn Hotel Board. She said the hotel had fallen into disrepair, but the community raised $18 million to bring the hotel back to its glory.

Just to the east of Mason City near Rockford in Floyd County, there is the Fossil and Prairie Center. People can explore this former mine where they took clay from the earth to make tile. There are now tons and tons of gravel-like rocks, which contain thousands of tiny fossils. People can bring buckets and take some home for no charge.

“These fossils are from the Devonian time. They’re about 365 million years old when Iowa was an ocean,” said Floyd County Conservation Naturalist Heidi Reams. “It’s a very unique place to come where you can obviously find fossils that are older than the dinosaurs. We can get a little bit of our local history and there’s plenty of space to hike around, so it’s got something for everybody in the family.”

Here are some links if you plan to visit the area:

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