Tropical Paradise in Iowa

This Tuesday, I visited the Des Moines Botanical and Environmental Center and stepped into a little bit of tropical heaven. My daughter and I wanted to cheer ourselves up and escape the frigid numbing Iowa weather. Not being able to hop a plane and fly to warmer climates, we decided the Botanical Center’s sunny arboretum and balmy greenhouse environment right here in this state would be a welcome substitute, even if only for a few hours.

The second we stepped into the stories-high bubble, it felt like summer and we gratefully shed our winter coats. Our noses welcomed the light fragrance of blossoms and rich pungent smell of freshly-dug soil. We feasted our eyes on thick greenery, intertwining vines, orchids, huge palms, cacti, brilliant jewel-colored blooms and foliage, giant trees, ferns, and many other bizarre and intriguing plants from around the world. As we strolled along the paths and walkways, we reached down to feel the moist rubbery texture of tropical leaves and the knife-like sharpness of lethal-looking cactus needles.

Turtles rested on the flat-rock edges of the little streams that were fed by waterfalls, while huge colorful koi glistened bright orange, crimson, yellow, and white in the pools below. The soothing sound of the little waterfalls and gentle trickle of the streams boosted our spirits, as did the cheeps of a few tiny finches that flitted around the branches.

We enjoyed a yummy soup and sandwich lunch at the River Walk Café, a bistro-deli type restaurant attached to the center. Before we reluctantly left, we threw a couple of coins in the wishing pool. I wished for spring.

If you live within driving distance and would like to treat all of your senses to an afternoon away from the cold, I encourage you to experience this oasis in Iowa yourself. For more information, visit

If you want an escape to the real tropics, it’s not too early to plan ahead and book the Iowa Voyagers Caribbean Discovery cruise for 2012.

Diane Baker
Director of Alumni Travel

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