Earlier this week John and I drove north into nearby Johnston for dessert after dinner. We stopped at Van Dee’s Ice Cream, an old-fashioned ice cream stand that might remind you of life in the 50s and 60s. Facing the street is a sign announcing the family that has owned and operated the ice cream stand for as long as we’ve lived in Iowa, maybe longer. In the back of the stand is an outbuilding, likely for storage, on which is painted a colorful mural of jaunty sunflowers framing a dairy cow. And on the inside, you can pull up to the counter, seat yourself on a padded swivel stool, and order a shake, malt, ice cream sundae or whatever treat captures your appetite.

Van Dee's Collage

Van Dee’s makes the best ice cream sandwich around, the Big Chipper, stuffing the vanilla goodness between two thick-and-tasty chocolate chip cookies.


“Let’s eat our ice cream while we check out Big Creek,” suggested John as he grabbed a few  paper napkins for the car ride.


Big Creek is actually Big Creek State Park, located just 25 minutes from our home in Urbandale. It’s where our family picnicked when David was in grade school, where John taught him how to sail a two-person boat my father gave David, and where John lost his car keys while swimming in the lake with David. Memories. Lots of them.

Big Creek Collage

When my cousin brought his middle school-aged daughter and high school-aged son from Germany for a visit more than a decade ago, we rented a catamaran and spent an afternoon at the lake. You can still rent boats here: paddleboats, catamarans and house boats. I’ve never been on a house boat before. That’s something I’d still like to do.

Boating Collage

On the way to Big Creek, you have to cross the Mile Long Bridge that spans Saylorville Lake, a 9.3 square mile reservoir that feeds into the Des Moines River and whose water levels are monitored and controlled by a dam built by the Army Corps of Engineers to prevent flooding. During the Great Flood of 1993, the water was so high that it touched the bottom of the bridge and you could say that the trees were standing in water up to their knees—that is, of course, if you think trees have knees. I think they did that year.


Big Creek is actually a flood control reservoir that was built as part of the Saylorville Lake project. Between Big Creek and Saylorville Lake, you can enjoy all of the recreational activities you’d expect at a state park. You can’t camp at Big Creek, but you can do so at Saylorville Lake. Because Big Creek State Park is a wildlife refuge, you can’t hunt there, but you can hunt on the lake and in designated public areas around the lake. Plan a family picnic, go fishing or swimming, play disc golf, visit a butterfly garden or tour a nature center. Nearby are horse stables at Jester Park. There are long biking trails and a castle playground that tops any playground anywhere that I’ve ever seen. You don’t have to be a child to enjoy it.

Click on this photo to appreciate the scope of this castle playground.

Castle Playground Collage

We parked our car near the castle playground and strolled along the beach, reminiscing.


On the way home, we followed a motorcyclist exiting Big Creek State Park. The winding roads, edged with fields and trees, make for a pleasurable ride whether you’re on two wheels or four.


Like many of Iowa’s state parks, Big Creek is a watery oasis plunked down in the middle of farm fields.


We had to cross the Mile Long Bridge on our way home again. The sun was ready to dip below the horizon.


Ice cream and a sunset. It’s the small moments you treasure most.


© 2013 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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1 thought on “Sunset at Big Creek”

  1. Great photos! Looks like a fun day!
    We camped at Sailorville Lake one night and went to Adventure Land the next day. And we have family in Ankeny 🙂

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