2021 T-Bone Trail · Family Adventures · Iowa Food · Northwest Iowa

“Old School” Sutherland & the Prairie’s Burned Bridge: O’Brien County, Iowa

*One of the most memorable family Gallivants we’ve ever had was to O’Brien County a few autumns ago. There was just something about the trip that impacted us in a very united way. And now we’re back for another memorable round of this prairie filled area! Our visit was sponsored by the O’Brien County Economic Development Corporation. Some of the meals, goods, and services were complimentary. The views expressed in this blog post are of our own. Now, let’s Gallivant!

Just when you think you have a plan, you see this on the table. Road trip extended!

O’Brien County, Iowa

Every county in Iowa has their own unique features when it come to scenery and geography. I’ve been to all 99 counties and I can say that with all genuine honesty. Yes, much of the state looks “the same” from outside your windows on our major interstates. Then there’s the handful of counties that have a one and only landscape to them. To me, O’Brien County is one of those regions that holds a certain beauty that I can’t compare to other counties in the area or throughout the entire state. There’s something about this place that lures me in. It’s no secret that one of my favorite interior rivers of Iowa is the Little Sioux. I’ve explored many of it’s communities, valleys, and muddy banks throughout my travels. But it’s here in O’Brien County where it captures me like no other place along its path.

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The geographical center of my attraction to Western Iowa’s Little Sioux valley.

Always and forever….Burned Bridge Access. Where the Little Sioux valley opens with plush timber, hilly horizons, and a native prairie that seems to hypnotize me whenever I arrive. For my entire life, I’ll always claimed that not one single patch of prairie is like another. I’ve looked over different beachfronts, mountain ranges, lakes, deserts vistas, wetlands, farmland, and snowy days in several areas of the country. All unique and with their own beauty, but multiple times I’ve caught myself seeing glimpses of their terrains and comparing them to others. I don’t know what it is about prairies, plains, and grasslands, but my mind never leaves the moment I’m in when I’m among the tall grass and breezes that seem to always pass by. Call it what you want. Zen, religious experience, spiritual, finding the lord, being one with nature, energy, and good vibes. I just call the mental phenomenon O’Brien County and that’s where my mind takes care of the rest.

The Little Sioux creeping by and always capturing my imagination.
The path along the river banks has a very interesting tree line. The limbs bend in unique ways and it almost feels like they’re natural arms protecting you during your hike. Several sounds of wildlife and winds through the foliage will accompany your exploration here at Burned Bridge Access.
Someone get me a Clydesdale the next time I’m here! That horse trail looks mighty inviting.
Have I mentioned how much I love this place?
The Little Sioux isn’t the only place I like to stretch my legs in O’Brien County! Mill Creek State Park for another sun soaked afternoon.

Mill Creek State Park in Paullina is a very nice outlet for recreation and camping whether you’re bringing a tent, RV/camper, or wanting the comfort of a cabin. Mill Creek is also close to town and Paullina’s restaurants, bars, grocery store and historic movie theatre. How does a day of swimming, fishing, laps around the lake’s walking path, and followed by a dinner and a movie before retiring to your campsite sound? Sounds like an O’Brien County specialty if you ask me! Let’s take a walk down Main Street-Paullina to stay a little more active…..

Walked up and down Main Street to see inside some of what we loved during our first time to Paullina and was about to take off. Then I saw an open sign. After a long day of exploring I figured a beer at J&D Tavern would hit the spot.

Roadside Attractions

Iowa’s byways have a way of popping up when you’re taking random road trips. Glacial Trail is one of our favorites!
Turn here and get another unique prairie experience in the O’BC!

36 miles of the Glacial Trail Scenic Byway loops through O’Brien, Clay, Cherokee, and Buena Vista counties. It’s a beautiful way to see Western Iowa and you’ll want to make time for a stop at the Prairie Heritage Center near the town of Peterson. A great place for another hike, natural history, overlooks, or a useful break from the heat of the day if you’re traveling in the summer. I highly recommend stopping here to get a glimpse of Iowa before western expansion.

Dude! They supply the binoculars! You can also take them with you during your hike through the prairie and down to the river. That’s some quality O’Brien County Conservation Board hospitality right there, folks!
The rolling hills look a lot better up close. Whether you’re hiking through them or zooming in from atop of the observation deck.
Alright kids! Just face the sun and smile while I take the pretty picture!
The AC is on, clean bathrooms, and plenty of ways to relax and learn a thing or two about the Glacial Trail inside the Prairie Heritage Center.

The random interpretive centers you encounter on road trips are some of the most interesting pitstops you can make. Local conservation boards put many resources into places like this and all for the public that will stop by from time to time. Yes, they appreciate donations and when we purchase items from the giftshops. But they love to see the enjoyment on all our faces even more. They’re proud of these preserved areas and every time we visit they get more momentum for keeping these lands relevant and beautiful long into the future. Does anyone else have that craving for antioxidants right now or is it just me?

Want the kids to get more vitamins and minerals? Then have them start picking for’em near Sanborn, Iowa!

It’s not all corn and soybeans in Iowa and Getting’s Garden has the farmland to prove it! We hear the phrases of eat local, buy local, and shop small all the time. Well, there’s not too many places where you can hit all those nails on the head better than right here at this strawberry farm.

Rows and rows of premium Iowa strawberries at Getting’s Garden!
Get the whole family to work and pick the best ones off the vine! Or stem? Stalk? I may need to spend more time here and learn a thing or two.
These tasty strawberries are turned into a lot of other tasty products at Getting’s Garden. Do not leave without some donuts! I dipped mine in their ice cream. True story!
A lot of entertaining ways to spend your time here. Pet a goat and take a ride on a huge inflatable slide! That should be printed on our money.

We picked oodles of strawberries and it was a great way to spend our morning in the O’Brien County countryside near Sanborn. Plenty of sunshine, cute farm animals, and choices from the giftshop to keep us busy while we were here. Getting’s Garden focuses on just how much fun the entire family can have here. It also helps the little ones appreciate the work they have to put in while they’re here because those strawberries aren’t going to pick themselves! Get out to Sanborn and spend some time harvesting some notorious flavors of O’Brien County! Now, let’s go see how Sutherland is doing….

Oh, ha-ha! Made me look!

School Is In Session

Many of Iowa’s small-towns and rural schools started shuttering in large numbers over the decades. Some of them getting reclaimed by nature or meeting the wrecking ball. However, there’s communities that have done an incredible job of repurposing these schools and the town of Sutherland has kept a coupe of them going in an amazing way. Maybe I should say, Willoway…..

The school bell may have stopped ringing, but the doors are still opening for the residents and guests of the Willoway Complex!
Our official guides and welcoming committee to Sutherland!

The Willoway Complex was one of the most interesting and enlightening places of lodging we had on the T-Bone Trail. Most of the building is used for the independent senior living residents that were so kind and welcoming to us when we showed up. Then there’s the guest rooms for anyone who happens to be in town whether you’re visiting friends and loved ones at Willoway, or traveling like us.

Kitchen, living room, full bathroom, dining area, and comfortable bedroom!
The original chalkboards supply a great way to write a message about your stay here. How awesome would it be to stay at a place where your grandparents went to school!
Look at all the perks! State of the art exercise equipment, a salon, party rooms, and a full sized industrial kitchen. And that’s just some of what Willoway has to offer….
The former gymnasium turned into an incredible indoor swimming pool with hot tub!

Willoway surprised us many times as we took our tour. We were there to stay in the guestroom and it was nice to be able to be a part of the community at the same time. It had a whole new spectrum of welcoming we’ve never received before arriving in Sutherland. Seeing how great the facility was for the residents made me feel so grateful to be there. I love this concept and I hope to see more like them in the future. And you know what was the best part of our stay here?

Meeting this wonderful woman may have been the greatest reward of the entire trip to Western Iowa.

Nellie Kammerer is a resident of Willoway and she greeted us while we were touring the building. She welcomed us into her apartment and we started visiting right off the bat. A few minutes went by and we started talking about where we were from and how many times I’ve been to NW-Iowa. I mentioned that some of my family members were from the little town of Early that’s about an hour south of Sutherland. Nellie put her hands on my shoulders and said she was from Early as well and asked me their names. Turned out that Nellie was best friends with my late grandparents. She started telling me about the bridge club, golf course, and trips they all were a part of and we instinctively hugged each other. For many years I have wanted to embrace my grandparents just one more time. Getting a hug from Nellie in her beautiful kitchen was just what I needed and I couldn’t hold in my emotions. I have O’Brien County and the T-Bone Trail to thank for all of this. Let’s get a tissue and see another repurposed school in Sutherland…..

Unreal! That was the word that kept going through my head multiple times as we went back to school in Sutherland.

We have met another internationally known business here in small-town Western Iowa. Bogenreif Studios is a jaw dropping trek through an old elementary school turned into a glass making paradise. Around every corner was supreme talent on display and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing the entire time.

Artists are coming in and out of Sutherland to work for Bogenreif Studios and for very good reason. Look at these detailed works of masterful glasswork!
Bogenreif gets orders from people all over the world. Collectors and designers everywhere are getting these beautiful pieces of art and I love how its coming out of small-town O’Brien County.
Two places on planet Earth have this piece of glasswork. The folks here at Bogenreif Studios and Tyler Perry’s private residence.
The once busy hallways of Sutherland’s school is now loaded with Bogenreif’s collectables, antiques, and materials. The lockers are used for organizational systems, and the old classrooms all have their own purpose when it comes to making these studios operate.

Wow! Unreal is the correct word for this entire building. Bogenreif Studios floored me in so many ways. I can see why they’ve become superstars in this field and there’s nothing better than seeing it during our travels in O’Brien County. So many look to huge metro areas for the arts and the studios that house them. It’s only natural to gravitate to those cities as they have so many options. Keep an eye out on communities like Sutherland and others their size. They’re home to artistic masters of their own.

Let’s Eat Steak

My favorite acronym in all of Iowa! Welcome to Primghar!

Sometimes you need just one more. In O’Brien County you can have Just One More all the time at the Primghar Golf and Country Club! It’s time for another steak for this Iowa Beef loving family in Western Iowa on the T-Bone Trail!

A perfect day on the links is best when it’s capped off by a fantastic meal in the clubhouse. A great duo on the day was getting the food cooked and out the customers while sunshine flowed into Just One More. Look at that Western Burger…..Fore!
And now for the headliner! Sirloin steak topped with a mound of grilled mushrooms and onions with a side of wild rice and buttery toast. I’d take a golf course “drive” to Just One More for this steak….

Get me off the fairway and into the clubhouse for Just One More! We’re getting all sorts of juicy cuts of steak during the entire T-Bone Trail and this Sirloin was a delicious team member to have on this promotion. I had a bite of mushrooms and onion with every cut I made into my Sirloin. The course was in full view from our table and we really enjoyed visiting with everyone working at Just One More. It was a perfect Sunday evening and chatting with the locals is what I enjoy as much as the meals when I’m on the road. Yes, this always makes the steak even that much better. You better click here and see the video of our charbroiled Sirloin at Just One More in Primghar!

Goodnight from Sutherland, Iowa….

O’Brien County provided more if it’s beauty to us and I’m not just talking about the scenery. Our past Gallivant made a huge impact on me and then it all happened again when we returned. The prairie that I cherish was still there and I saw it in a completely different season this time. Paullina looked like it was thriving and Primghar’s cooking kept us entertained into the evening. You may have thought those Sanborn strawberries would have been the sweetest part of the trip, but Nellie took that award home very easily. Thank you so much O’Brien County! Sutherland really knows how to keep the day fulfilled in an “old school” kind of way.

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I’ll be back, O’Brien County. I still need to see Burned Bridge in the spring and winter as well….

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