The Middle Raccoon River flows adjacent to the Bobcat hiking trail in Coon Rapids. The trail can be accessed behind the Rookery Cottage Airbnb in Coon Rapids and meets with many other trails for hikers to explore. (Photos by Jacob Fiscus)
The Middle Raccoon River flows adjacent to the Bobcat hiking trail in Coon Rapids. The trail can be accessed behind the Rookery Cottage Airbnb in Coon Rapids and meets with many other trails for hikers to explore. (Photos by Jacob Fiscus)

May 10, 2019


When we left Carroll, we headed southeast where the roads gradually steepened, and our car wove its way over the hills and out away from any form of civilization.

For one night, we were getting away — and even though we were only going about 20 miles away from home, it was just what we needed.

A few weeks ago, Jacob Fiscus and I were invited out to stay at the Rookery Cottage in Coon Rapids after I recently interviewed many Airbnb owners in Coon Rapids who rent out their homes or renovated farmhouses at Whiterock Conservancy.

Airbnb is an online marketplace and phone application where people can access listings of houses, apartments, condos or even treehouse rentals offered all over the world and book them with a swipe of their fingers and just a few clicks.

The Rookery is owned by Coon Rapids residents Emily Babin and Matt Reiling, who decided they wanted to utilize the little flower shop that sat about 100 yards away from their home that backs up to Whiterock Conservancy’s hiking trails.

Together, they fixed up the old flower shop and opened up the Rookery to guests as an Airbnb in 2016.

So, for the night we packed everything up, stopped responding to work emails, stepped off the paved roads and embarked on a new adventure.

When Jacob and I first veered onto the gravel road and arrived at the cottage, we were ready to get everything unloaded and start hiking. Our dogs, Canon and Charlie, were equally anxious.

As soon as we had everything organized inside the little cottage, we laced up our hiking boots and headed toward the Bobcat Trail, which can be quickly accessed from the Rookery, past an old, broken-down barn and through the trees.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon. The weather was just starting to get warm and stay warm, which felt great as we traipsed through the woods and down the hills.

Our little pugs were ready for the much-needed hike, especially Canon, who had enjoyed the long, brutally cold winter that invited him to cuddle up and chew on fatty bones.

Along the trail, we discovered a few trees that had started blooming and many others that were beginning to reveal small green buds.

We hiked for about half an hour, but the bright sun and hilly walk quickly wore out both us and the pugs.

When we returned, it was time to start cooking. We had thought about checking out the local bar or even the bowling alley for a drink and dinner, but we had packed food to grill on the small grill provided by the Airbnb and wanted time to escape from society.

So, Jacob fired up the little grill adjacent to the chicken coop, as I stuck peppers, mushrooms and chunks of salmon on metal skewers.

As the veggies and fish slowly cooked, we cooled off and relaxed inside the cottage. The evening was already going by quickly, and it felt great to lie down for a bit and not feel like we were on a time crunch to hurry to get ready for anything.

That’s when Charlie spotted the chickens.

I was in the bedroom when I heard him. The front of the cottage has a small walk-out deck for guests to sit on, and through the glass doors, Charlie spotted the chickens roaming through the yard.

Charlie was beyond excited to see the chickens and immediately started barking and crying. I had to run over, pluck him up off the floor and close the blinds so that he could no longer see the chickens.

Not only does the Rookery house chickens, it also has a few cows, as well as a goat named Kiwi.

After we devoured our dinner, we let our stomachs settle for a bit, but even though the short hike had been exhausting, we knew we were quickly running out of daylight and time to explore Coon Rapids.

We headed back out.

This time, we went a different direction and left the dogs to rest.

As we wound through the hills, we came to a clearing, where we saw old cars that seemed to have spilled over the edge of the hills and down into the ditch in front of us. It was hard to look away from the cars, who had rusted and seemed to have become part of the earth after years of abandonment.

Daniel Gudahl, executive director of Whiterock Conservancy, joked that the cars were an art installation put out in the ditch.

He said that years ago, farmers had taken old cars and used them to protect the soil from erosion.

“If you look at, it’s art,” Gudahl said. “Many people in Iowa used to do that for erosion prevention. Water has volume and velocity. If you can slow water down and keep it in place, then it will flow gently through the cars. It enables the soil to absorb a lot more water.”

We rambled along the Bobcat Trail until it took us down by the Raccoon River, and then we continued to walk along it through the sunset.

Even though we do not live in a big city, it is easy to become trapped in the same everyday routine. Work, cook, find time to exercise, finish household chores, work some more -— the cycle is endless.

Just one night away, to absorb the wonderful world we live in and be in the present in the moment, was just what we needed.

Coincidentally, it was also Earth Day, so it amplified the gratitude we felt as we spent the day in nature.

After the hike, Jacob wanted to be able to capture the night through his camera. Even though we could see fewer stars than usual due the full moon, it was still beautiful.

He set up his tripod and we spent time outside photographing the moon, the cottage, the coop where the baby chickens slept and more.

It was a vacation, just a town away, that we would never forget.

When I first moved to Iowa, I had one thought in mind: work hard and leave. I never imagined I would find such beauty in Iowa or meet such incredible people.

It’s coming up on two years of living in rural Iowa, and I’m still here. Before I’m ready to set out on another adventure, I have a lot more exploring to do — including in Coon Rapids.