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Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 23: US 6 in Iowa (Dallas County Line to Des Moines; Dallas and Polk Counties)

Go to: Part 22 | Main US 6 page | Part 24

In this section we'll take some detours for local colour rather than the dreary samey Interstate, but unfortunately they also cost me a fair amount of time and light, and the later portions became rather hurried as a result. For this, I apologize in advance.

Dallas County, Iowa

Dallas county was named for George M. Dallas, U.S. Vice-President under James K. Polk, for whom the neighbouring county is named and the President at the time Iowa was organized. Another original 1846 county, it has a surprising 90,180 residents [2018] due to its proximity to Des Moines; its largest city proper, Waukee, only has about a sixth of the population, and many of its eastern cities with larger populations are actually partially within Polk. Its county seat is in Adel, which we will reach as well.

I-80/US 6

Exit 100 to DallasCo F60.
DallasCo F60 is one of the old US 6 alignments. At this interchange it picks up unsigned DallasCo 925, the parallel former alignment, and continues north to Redfield. This was a very late realignment which occurred as part of the 2003 decommissionings and moved US 6 to I-80 between this exit and US 169. Let's give it a spin.

Fork 1: DallasCo F60 (Former US 6)

There isn't much along this route. Although we pass by Redfield, we never actually enter it from the current alignment, and it isn't at all clear if the highway ever did.

EB DallasCo F60.
South of Redfield, the route turns east again, though several local spurs return to I-80.
Another F60 shield.
The presence of GAR signage proves this was US 6.
Junction US 6 and US 169 in Adel. This is the end of DallasCo F60.

Fork 2: Interstate 80/US 6

We return to the present-day Interstate alignment.

Distance signage to Adel.
Advance signage for US 169, and for US 6. The US 6 was obviously not of the same age as the US 169 shield.
Two attractions of note: John Wayne's birthplace in Winterset, and the famous Bridges of Madison County (though both are in that county). We'll visit them in turn.
We leave I-80, but not for the last time, at exit 110.
Guidance signage at the end of the offramp.

Detour: John Wayne's Birthplace

My father would have had me shot, and then shot again, if I hadn't gotten a few touristy snaps of the Duke's former domicile. Born Marion Morrison in Winterset on May 26, 1907, he grew up in the Los Angeles area; after losing a football scholarship to the University of Southern California due to an injury he ended up working for the Fox Film Corporation as a prop boy and occasional bit part performer. His early small roles quickly became much larger after his 1930 appearance in The Big Trail (where his stage name was selected for him by director Raoul Walsh, though his nickname "Duke" came from his beloved Airdale terrier) and it was John Ford's 1939 epic Western Stagecoach that made him a national star. He starred in 142 films over his career, most of them Westerns, including classics such as Rio Bravo, The Searchers and True Grit, for which he received the Academy Award for Best Actor; his final role as a grizzled gunslinger battling cancer in 1976's The Shootist proved to be prophetic as he died of stomach cancer in 1979. Controversial then and now for his forthright opinions on race and social policy, including a notorious 1971 Playboy interview, a monument to him at USC was eventually removed in 2020 after student complaints though other namesakes, notably the John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California, remain. Although politically active, he never ran for office despite multiple requests and joked an actor would never make it to the White House, though he supported his friend and fellow Republican Ronald Reagan's gubernatorial campaigns in 1968 and 1970. It was President Jimmy Carter, however, who awarded him both the Congressional Gold Medal shortly before his death and later a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1980. He remains a perennially popular actor years after his death and was the only actor to appear in every edition of the annual Harris Poll of Most Popular Film Actors, including almost two consecutive decades in the top ten despite passing away over 15 years before.

His original home still stands in Winterset at 224 S. 2nd St, and is painstakingly maintained by the John Wayne Birthplace & Museum. He didn't live there long, however, as they moved to Palmdale, CA after several years and then to Glendale, CA in 1916.
At the time the museum was a small cottage next door. It has since become a much larger facility.
This arresting van conversion was on display with some very nice graphics. I have no idea if it's still there.

Detour: The Bridges of Madison County

And now something for Mom. Madison county (which we briefly discussed in the last Part) is also well known for its covered bridges, built as such to protect the structural load-bearing portions from the elements. The bridges feature most prominently in the 1992 novel The Bridges of Madison County and its 1995 film adaptation, where the female protagonist has an affair with a photographer completing a study of the landmarks. There were 19 originally, built at various times between 1870 and 1885, but only six survive and are the largest extant group of such bridges west of the Mississippi. Arson is a perpetual threat and nearly claimed the most famous Cedar Bridge in 2002 and 2017 (it was rebuilt each time); it is the only one vehicles may still cross, and all of the bridges are now protected by camera surveillance. Obviously we don't have time for them all, and the first one we reached was the northernmost Hogback Bridge (1884), so we'll do that.

The Hogback Bridge from the rebuilt approach.
The bridge gets its name from a nearby limestone ridge with characteristic overlapping rock faces, itself so named for its resemblance to the livestock animal. (Such geologic features are named "hogbacks" or "hogsbacks" in other regions as well.) It crosses the North River and is a single span stretching 97'.
The interior, showing the structural supports in a Town lattice truss pattern.
This particular system allows the intercrossing planks to support parallel beams on each side without heavy stone abutments or larger timber. Vandalism is present but reduced by the white panels at the end provided for tourists to "leave their mark." A 2003 arson attempt was repulsed by alert tourists and only minimal damage was sustained, though the culprit was never caught.
Side views.
Although the paint needed a bit of touchup at the time, the wood is in good repair and the bridge seemed very sound. This was in large part due to its subsequent pier replacement with steel supports and an extensive renovation in 1992. Despite the apparently robust appearance, however, vehicular traffic is no longer permitted after the bridge was bypassed in 1993.

Fork 2 (Continued): US 6/US 169

We resume from I-80 north towards Adel. US 169 runs 966 miles from Virginia, MN to Tulsa, OK; we will meet its parent US 69 later in this Part.

EB US 6/NB US 169.
Mile 84 (US 169).
Crossing the Raccoon River (actually the south fork).
A 30.8 mile long tributary of the Des Moines River, and ultimately the Mississippi, measured along its longest northern fork it runs almost 226 miles to Marathon. This is the smaller southern fork which joins the north fork in Van Meter and together become a major drinking water source for Des Moines; the Great Flood of 1993 actually shut off the water supply by inundating the treatment plant. Nitrate contamination from agricultural runoff periodically imperils local residents. Its average discharge is over 2700 cubic feet per second.
Entering Adel.
Adel is the county seat of Dallas county. Early settlers reached the region in 1843 after its purchase from the Sac and Fox Indians in 1842; the arrangement required the area to be depopulated by 1846. In 1847 the city was first incorporated as Penoach, an uncertain Native American word allegedly meaning "far away." In 1849, however, it was renamed Adel after "a very pretty child with a prettier mother" now lost to history. The modern city has 5,455 residents [2019].
Passing by the local high school.
Junction US 6 [sic]/DallasCo F60.
This sign obviously hadn't been changed from the 2003 rerouting, though US 6 splits from US 169 here, so it's arguable whether it no longer serves a purpose.
Our forks merge here. We turn right to continue on US 6.

US 6

Through the east side of town.
Crossing the north fork of the Raccoon.
Distance signage leaving Adel.
More G.A.R. signage.
Mile 120, on more conventional MUTCD milepost livery.
Entering Waukee.
Waukee is thought to be a contraction of Milwaukee by way of the Milwaukee Railroad. First platted in 1869 and incorporated in 1878, it has benefited from growth in the Des Moines metropolitan area and nearly doubled in size from 2010 to 2020 with an estimated 24,089 residents [2019]; it has further benefited from Apple Inc.'s selection of the city in 2017 for a $1.38 billion data centre. The city marks our transition to a more built-up region of Iowa as we approach Des Moines proper, although US 6 largely bypasses Waukee to the north.
Through the west side of town, now named Hickman Rd.
Distance signage.
Entering Clive.
Another Des Moines bedroom community, the town's name is thought to come from Robert Clive, 1st Baron Clive, one of the early architects of the British Empire in India. Platted in 1882 as a railroad shipping point along the St. Louis-Des Moines Northern Railway, it was a coal mining town for many years until the seams ran out and the town reinvented itself as a suburb. The modern city was incorporated in 1956 and has 17,242 residents [2019].
Mile 125.
Polk county line.
Polk County, Iowa

As mentioned above, Polk is named for the 11th President of the United States, James K. Polk, who was the president at the time of Iowa's statehood in 1846. Polk's presidency is considered obscure but notable for his commitment to a single term in office and the completion of every major policy goal he set, including settlement with Great Britain over the Oregon Territory, a sweeping victory in the Mexican-American War and re-establishment of an independent Treasury. However, a slave owner himself, he failed to improve the worsening relationships between free and slave states and effectively forced new states admitted to the Union to choose sides. Today most historians view this outcome as a direct cause of the Civil War and his most enduring infamy. He died the summer after leaving Presidential office in 1849.

Polk county is Iowa's most populous county at 490,161 [2019] and its county seat is Des Moines, the state capital. Des Moines in French is "the monks;" the name was applied to the river, a tributary of the Mississippi, by early French explorers as a possible reference to the Trappists who built huts along the Mississippi's expansive shores. In 1843 a fort was built along the confluence of the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers to control the local tribes, persisting until they were forcibly moved to Oklahoma in 1846. The modern city was incorporated in 1851 and took its name from the fort, which in turn was named for the river. Almost half of Polk county's residents live in Des Moines with a population of 214,237 [2019] and like Omaha is considered a major centre of the American insurance industry. Recent years have also seen a surge in information technology from tech leaders such as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard. It also retains substantial pull in national presidential politics, being one of the first caucuses of the primary campaign cycle and a must-win for many candidates.

Junction I-35 and I-80.
Interstate 35, as the number implies, is a major north-south Interstate running 1,569 miles from Laredo, TX near the Mexican border at US 83, and MN 61 in Duluth, MN. Despite its preeminence, however, it has no actual international crossing on either end. In Iowa it largely parallels US 69 and this segment is part of a 12-mile multiplex with I-80 on the outskirts of town.
Passing along Urbandale to the north.
US 6 acts as the southern boundary to the city, so we never actually enter it proper even though all of the streets we pass immediately cross the city limits to the north. Urbandale was a contrived name for what was incorporated in 1917 as a streetcar suburb of Des Moines, though mining was also an important local industry and four coal mines operated in the region until around 1950. After the mines closed, however, like Waukee and Clive it entered a new second phase as a bedroom community and even expanded slightly into Dallas county in the process. Despite being primarily residential, an important number of business parks have recently sprung up near I-35/I-80 as part of its so-called "Urban Loop" to take advantage of the traffic counts and higher visibility. The modern city has 44,379 residents [2019].
Junction IA 28 at 63rd St. This is the western city limit for Des Moines.

US 6/IA 28

IA 28's first incarnation became US 161; the number was then reapplied to a new routing between Des Moines and Martensdale, then extended along 63rd St in 1980 to this point and thence with US 6 up along former IA 401 in 1991 to I-35/I-80. It runs 22 miles.

Both US 6 and IA 28 turn north at this point along Merle Hay Rd. Old US 6 didn't; I'll explain in a moment.
EB US 6/NB IA 28, though the state shield fell off.
At Douglas Avenue IA 28 continues north as the inheritor of old IA 401; we turn right and continue alone.

US 6

US 6 largely sticks to the northwest quadrant of the city; we do not enter its city centre. This was a very early realignment in 1934. The original routing continued on Hickman (passing Merle Hay Rd), then south on Beaver Ave, southeast on Forest Ave, down 19th St to Keosauqua Wy, then east on Grand Avenue to Hubbell Avenue and thence back to the US 6 mainline. This was signed at least into the late 1960s as CITY US 6 and appeared as such on maps even up to a decade later. This is a significant detour for us, however, and some of the one-way conversions in town make it impossible to traverse it as it was originally designated, so we will not travel it here.

50th St.
Beaver Ave.
Martin Luther King Jr Way. Here US 6 changes to Euclid Avenue.
Crossing the Des Moines River.
The Des Moines River is Iowa's largest and runs approximately 525 miles from its most distant headwaters. It has two main west and east forks which join near Humboldt, IA. Forming a short portion of Iowa's border with Missouri, the River then empties into the Mississippi River near Keokuk, IA with an average discharge of 13,223 cubic feet per second. Notorious for occasional devastating floods, a number of levees and flood walls contain the river throughout the city and surrounding areas; its most recent flood stage was in 2008 where much of the downtown was placed under a precautionary evacuation order.

The visible spire is 801 Grand/the Principal Building, Des Moines' highest building at 630' and the tallest in the state. It was completed in 1991 and is primarily office space occupied largely by Principal Financial Group, its owner; retail and restaurant occupants lease the lowest three floors.

6th Ave.
Junction IA 415 at 3rd St.
IA 415 occupies an odd hockey stick routing between this point and IA 141 to the northwest. It runs 17 miles.
Cornell St.
Junction US 69 on E 14th St, with signage TO I-35/I-80.
US 69, like US 6, was a smaller highway in 1926 that grew much bigger just a few years later. Originally only 150 miles long between Leon, IA and Kansas City, it was extended to Des Moines in 1934 and Albert Lea, MN in 1935, and south to Port Arthur, TX the same year. I-35 parallels US 69 for much of its length including here down to Kansas City, but isn't presently slated to replace it in Iowa. We already met US 169, its spur, which it intersects in Kansas City as well. The modern highway is 1,136 miles.
Delaware Ave.
Crossing I-235, which serves as the 14 mile southeast half of Des Moines' inner loop (I-35/I-80 is the northwest and intersects it on both ends).
E 29th St.
Junction Hubbell Avenue. Old CITY US 6 merges with us from the right. We turn left.
Distance signage as we leave the urban area.
Junction US 65.
US 65 in Iowa includes a section of the old Jefferson Highway that ran from New Orleans to Winnipeg and was established as an early auto trail in 1916; an obelisk at St Charles Ave and Common St in New Orleans still marks the historic southern terminus. Here US 65 serves as the Des Moines outer loop with IA 5 down to US 69 and up to I-80. As established in 1926 it ran between St. Paul, MN and Vidalia, LA, changed to Minneapolis and New Orleans in 1935, then retracted to Natchez, MS in 1951 and Albert Lea, MN (at I-35) in 1979, and finally extended once more back into Louisiana to Clayton, LA in 2005. Today it runs 966 miles.

In 1980 US 6 was moved to I-80 between Altoona and Newton, which we will get to presently. The old alignment became IA 926 and is now PolkCo and JasperCo F48; it left Des Moines on 8th St SW (Broadway Ave), went north on NE 116th St and then east again south of Mitchellville on NE 54th Ave where it adopts the F48 designation. This continues through Colfax, crosses I-80 and enters Newton where it intersects mainline US 6. Another realignment we unfortunately haven't sufficient time nor fuel for, I will mark the eastern terminus once we reach it.

Merging onto I-80 as we leave town.

I-80/US 6

Same-pole love!
Distance signage leaving Des Moines.
Jasper county line.
Continue to Part 24
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