Making A Long Road Trip Fun: Western Wisconsin To Denver And Back
By Angie & Jeff
July 5, 2023
2000 Miles in Four and Half Days
Over the holiday weekend, we had to fit in a road trip from our home in Western Wisconsin to our daughter’s home in Denver, Colorado to deliver a car. Approximately 2000 miles in 4 ½ days is not really anyone’s definition of fun, but we work to find the fun along the way and would like to share some of those random finds and gems with you. This post is not sharing the sites in geographical order or the chronological order we visited them in, so definitely check your route and maps to plan your stops if planning something similar.
Heading to Fong’s Pizza in Des Moines, Iowa
Our destination for Friday night, leaving our home after work was Omaha, Nebraska. We knew it would be a very late arrival, but set Des Moines, Iowa as our dinner location and part of the trip to look forward to that night. Des Moines is not on everyone’s foodie lists, but in 2017 I road tripped to Lincoln, Nebraska for the eclipse with my friend Jessica. She had researched food stops along the way and Fong’s Pizza is one of our now favorites to come out of that trip.
Any time we are going to be anywhere near Des Moines, Fong’s Pizza is on the list to visit. Any time anyone we know mentions being in that area or road tripping near it, we recommend Fong’s Pizza to them.
It’s a very unique place in downtown Des Moines. (There used to be a handful of locations, but only the downtown location is currently open at the time of writing this post.) Fong’s Pizza mashes up a Chinese food restaurant (we’re told the building held King Ying Low, the first Chinese food restaurant in Iowa, if not the entire United States) and a Tiki bar.
Did Someone Say Crab Rangoon Pizza?
The historic location has many stories to tell, but the main reason we visit is for the Crab Rangoon Pizza. Yes, it is as good as it sounds! It has a bit of a kick to it with the chili sauce, but it’s the perfect amount for our tastes. Besides the Crab Rangoon Pizza, Fong’s Pizza offers an array of other options. We saw a barbeque pizza and macaroni and cheese pizza on other tables during our visit and have had the Sweet and Sour Chicken pizza in a past visit. But, for us, it isn’t a visit to Fong’s Pizza without ordering Crab Rangoon Pizza.
Jeff Outside Fong’s Pizza in Downtown Des Moines, IA.
Our favorite at Fong’s Pizza, Crab Rangoon Pizza.
What are Those Eerie Mysterious Blinking Lights All Around Us?
Our late-night drive from Des Moines to Omaha for the first night was dark, so it was hard to find things to entertain. However, we did find the simultaneously blinking red lights on the wind turbines all around the highway that we could no longer actually see, except the eerie simultaneous blink of the red lights kept us intrigued through the end of that day’s drive.
Watch our YouTube video of the blinking wind turbine lights at night.
Is This Year 1983?
There is plenty of humor to be found on the road. We drove into the past briefly in Omaha, Nebraska…
A building with an ad for ATS The Beeper People, Beepers that Work-Is it 1983?
We Found the Funk!
We also had fun when we found Funk, Nebraska and Wahoo, Nebraska on the map near our route on the road-trip.
We found the Funk! Jeff and Angie point at the Funk sign at the town entrance to Funk, Nebraska.
Wahoo! Jeff and Angie celebrate in front of the Wahoo City Limit sign. This road-trip was nearing the end at this point and we were still having fun!
Enjoy a bit of Jeff’s silly antics.
What is a Runza?
Angie and Jeff in front of Runza sign in Kearney, NE.
Runza is a Nebraska fast-food chain that you will find off most exits in Nebraska. This is another find that my friend Jessica discovered during our 2017 eclipse road-trip and Jeff and I continue to enjoy a Runza stop on each trip to or through Nebraska.
Runza kind of reminds me of our beloved Wisconsin chain, Culver’s, which we will share a post about soon with our favorite thrifty living tips at our local favorite. The menus are not that similar, but both are taking local state favorite foods and making them for the masses in a fast-casual environment.
Both chains started in their home state (Runza in 1949, Culver’s in 1984), both boast scratch made food, and both have now begun to expand beyond those state borders, too.
The sandwich that the restaurant is named for, Runza, is a mix of ground beef, cabbage, and onions and they have different takes on those from the Runza original to the Runza with cheese or the Runza Swiss Cheese Mushroom. I am not a big meat eater, but I really enjoy stopping at Runza when the opportunity presents itself.
The inside of the Runza in Kearney, NE we visited.
The Cheese Runza Combo. Sandwich, Fries, and Drink.
Jeff enjoys his Runza lunch.
Another app that is a must have if you ever visit is McDonald’s. We will share a blog post in the future of our tips with this app specifically, but a quick note on this trip, we visited a McDonald’s early on one of our long day drives for breakfast and were both getting errors when trying to order the $1 breakfast sandwich deal the app offered.
When we mentioned this to the staff in the restaurant for ideas, they noted they knew their location was having trouble with the app and just gave us each our preferred breakfast sandwich at no cost! Full price without the app, this would have been about $10 spent.
Along our road-trips, we watch for opportunities to visit places we might not set as a destination itself along the route and also watch for signs for points of interest for quick stops and opportunities to stretch our legs.
On this trip, we happened upon the First Pony Express Station in Gothenburg, Nebraska and the World’s Tallest Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, Minnesota.
We Found the Very First Pony Express Station
The First Pony Express Station got us to stop in Gothenburg, but we found a very charming, beautiful small town and enjoyed our brief drive through town and stroll through the park where the first Pony Express Station now sits. Nearby there is a free museum that we would have visited, too, but it was closed because we were there on a Monday.
We enjoyed wandering the small downtown and always love a mural, like this one, dedicated to the Pony Express Station.
We try to always be willing to be silly and have fun each day. Here we are not sure what Jeff is doing with the Pony Express metal sculpture. Telling them which way to go?
This is not the actual site of the original Pony Express station, that is another location nearby, but where it rests today for visitors like us.
Enjoy a bit more of Jeff’s silly antics.
Is that a Jolly Green Giant Up Ahead?
As we approached Blue Earth, Minnesota, Jeff spotted a sign that we could see a nearly 60 foot tall Jolly Green Giant on the upcoming exit and our lunch location for that day was set. We had fun taking pictures with the Jolly Green Giant and mingling with other road-trippers who are interested in silly stops like us as we took turns taking one another’s group photos.
Angie and the Jolly Green Giant.
Us switching roles with Angie being the tall one and Jeff the less tall one!
Going on a Sprout Search
We also noticed a small statue of Sprout and that the town has a scavenger hunt throughout their town to find all 11 of them. We took the time to find 3 but thought this could be a fun stop with kids to break up a road trip!
Sprout # 1.
Sprout # 2.
Sprout # 2.
A Town Full of Windmills
The final stop along our road trip that I want to highlight is Orange City, Iowa. My friend Jessica, who I mentioned found Fong’s Pizza and Runza, grew up in Orange City. She has told me how it is a charming city displaying the Dutch heritage throughout the town and with people marching in parades in wooden shoes. The Netherlands is a favorite country of mine, so I have been planning a stop in Orange City for a while now and this road-trip was that opportunity!
Jeff and Angie with one of many windmills in Orange City, Iowa
We noticed this Windmill was a phone booth, so Jeff had to check it out.
In Orange City, we parked the car downtown and enjoyed strolling the streets and the park in the city center. We happened to stop in Orange City on the morning of the 4th of July and it was very quiet on that day with all shops and most restaurants closed.
We enjoyed the Dutch signs around town. Angie’s German speaking skills helped us to decipher them as the two languages have similarities.
The Orange City Tourism Center is a full size windmill.
Jeff and Angie in front of one of several tulip related murals.
Jeff enjoys the giant wooden shoe in the downtown park.
Orange City Tulip Festival
We read about Orange City’s annual Tulip Festival in early May and hope to be back for that in a future year. Though, we did chat with one resident in the park who confessed that the Tulip Festival is sometimes a stem festival depending on that year’s weather. So, we said goodbye to Orange City for the day, but hope to be back.