Jeep Surrey Safari 2012
“Dragoon Trail Ride”
By Alan Bruce
Finally the day was upon us and we were ready. With missing last year’s Surrey Safari, it feels good to be back in the saddle. This event has grown over the last 13 years since Colorado 1999 to be one of the most memorable jeep events exclusively for the 2wd DJ3A “Barbie” or “Elvis” Jeep. This years event will take the Surrey along the 200 mile long “Dragoon Trail” in central Iowa from Red Rock to Ft Dodge. Trail was originally forged by a lightly armed cavalry soldiers known as Dragoons. They were among the first people to scout Iowa after the Black Hawk Purchase of 1832 put the area under U.S. control. In the summer of 1835, the Dragoons blazed a trail along the Des Moines River and established outposts from present-day Des Moines to Fort Dodge. Today, you can follow in the footsteps of the Dragoons by exploring a 200 mile “greenbelt” along the Des Moines, Boone and Raccoon Rivers. The Dragoon Trail takes you past Lake Red Rock, Ledges State Park, the Kate Shelley High Bridge and Dolliver Memorial Park.
Arriving at Red Rock we checked in one by one thru registration-vehicle inspection tent, where jeep’s tires and fluids were all checked and topped off. With all the Surrey’s systems checking out as road worthy we were prepared to head northward along the Dragoon Trail. 2012 Surrey Safari was underway. Sunshine and a warm March breeze greeted participants as we made our first stop at Neil Smith National Wildlife Refuge Prairie Learning Center
The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge (formerly Walnut Creek), located in Jasper County, Iowa, is a unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System administered by the federal government. The Refuge was created by an act of Congress in 1990 to re-create 8000 acres of tall grass prairie and oak savanna, the native plant and animal communities existing in central Iowa prior to Euro-American settlement in the 1840’s.
The Prairie Learning Center facilities include a visitor center with book store, theater, classrooms and exhibit area. Miles of trails radiate from the Center. In addition, an 800 acre drive-through bison enclosure is also open. Teacher workshops, birding, hiking, biking, mushrooming, and wildlife watching are some of the outdoor activities featured for thousands of visitors each year. After time and money spent in gift shop and visitors center, riders gathered up their courage and headed back to the 2wd Jeeps for our 800 acre drive-through bison enclosure.
We had live music and BBQ awaiting us once we finished our ride though prairie grasslands hunting down the wild buffalo. It was such a beautiful day as we road through the buffalo trails stopping to take pictures when we got close to them. One unnamed jeeper left the safety of his vehicle to get close up pics of the buffalo. Too bad we didn’t get any pictures of him running away from one ticked off bull, screaming like a school girl, back to the safety of his jeep. Riding through with out any more trouble the smell of BBQ and sound of music filled the air and led us back to visitor center where they had a wonderful spread laid out for our enjoyment. BBQ buffalo wings and ribs, corn on the cob, baked beans, chips and drinks made this a fulfilling stop in every way.
Local bluegrass group “Buffalo Willys” rocked the place and had everyone tapping their toes, except for Bubba, who lost his when a jack gave way and cut them clean off back in 05. It has been a great day and with miles still ahead of us we needed to get our jeeps cleaned and back on the road. A local central Iowa jeep club member, who’s name will be withheld to protect him from his mother in law, allowed a free wash for each Surrey at his mother-in-law’s “Rose City” Car wash in Pleasantville Iowa. Thanks JB.
A quick rinse and towel dry washing the dust from the buffalo trail off the jeeps we were back on the trail with just 30 miles till our stop for the evening. The Dragoon Trail is well marked with road side markers showing main and alternate routes. With it running along the Des Moines River, it might have been more colorful to take this trip in fall, but with the March temps in mid to high 80s, I can’t think of a better way to spend a spring weekend in Iowa than the Jeep Surrey Safari.
Rolling into Prairie Meadows Race Track and Casino we parked our rides in lighted secure lot, on grounds. After dinner was devoured the group quickly spread out in every direction looking for fun. There was plenty to do with heated pool, game room, shopping center, table games, slots, race track and live stage show by Jay & the Americans. Jeeps were checked over, looking for any problems before heading off to bed. Other than half quart of oil we all were ready for day 2 on the trail early the next day.
Day 2 was another beautiful day with clear sunny skies as our Surreys wind their way up the trail and by the 26,000 acre Saylorville Lake. Crossing the Dam became a scary challenge. The wind was so strong when we broke thru the trees above the dam it felt like we were going lift off. It worried a few of the Surrey sweeties, but we made it over without getting air born. A few more miles up the trail and we passed by the 886 acre “Big Creek” State Park just outside Polk City. We stopped at both Saylorville and Big Creek just long enough to allow the locals to get their cameras and take pictures of the rare Jeep Surrey Gala. It was great seeing all of happy locals waving and smiling as we headed up the trail.
Following Hwy 17 to Hwy 210 to R-26 took us right to Camp Matigwa entrance. Camp Matigwa is a Boy/Cub Scout reservation, used as summer camp. This Surrey rider has fond memories of this area. Camp Matigwa is located northeast of Woodward Ia, north of the state capital in, Des Moines. The camp has over 450 acres of rolling valleys and ridges. Lake Fisher is a man made lake which provides opportunities for canoeing, rowing, and fishing. The camp has six year-round wood heated cabins available for weekend rental through the council service center. Camp Matigwa gained national awareness when human skeletal remains were found at the Boy Scout Reservation back in 1986. With all of our bones accounted for, we load up and follow the trail into Boone Iowa, the northern most point of our ride this year.
We had a great lunch and some great jeep discussion about where next years Safari will take us. Lunch over and we are on the trail once again, taking a side trip to Ledges State Park.
The beauty of the canyons and bluffs of Ledges have made it a major attraction to the local communities. Ledges was proposed as a state park as early a 1914. The first park custodian Carl Fritz Henning, was appointed in 1921. In 1924. The Ledges officially became one of Iowa’s first state parks. The park facilities were constructed of native timber and field stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1930’s.
The facilities include an arch stone bridge shelter in Oak Woods, stone trail steps and the stone shelter in lower Ledges.
The sandstone cliffs that give the area the name Ledges were the result of glacial melting. Ledges still floods regularly by the nearby Des Moines River. The major flood water levels have been recorded on a “flood pole” located in the lower area of the park. It was this flooding from back in 08 that had the lower trail closed.
Park Rangers not wanting to turn us away did allow our group to take the bike trail down inside the lower park. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
As we headed back south the wind that was at our backs all day was now blowing hard directly into our face. Fighting the wind was a great test for guys with newer tops. Not one failure of any fabric. We did have our first breakdown that required us to pull over and make repairs. Top rail rod had lost the bolt and nut that secured it to the front right top side bow and it needed out attention right now. Luckily the nut found the bolt and we were able to get it back together and get right back on the trail.
We made it back to base camp hotel & camp ground where we all sat down for a relaxing dinner. Organizers had awards and prizes they handed out which included gas cards. Cards were given to those who traveled the farthest. We sat and talked sharing the memories, having a few beers late into the evening…
Sunday morning after getting all loaded up, we said good-bye to our old and new friends and wished them another
Happy April Fool’s Day.
By Alan Bruce
All content not credited and previously copyright, is copyright Bruce Agan