Iowa is Not Vertically Challenged

Alleman, Iowa is a town in the northern part of Polk County (the same county I live in), with a population of 432 souls and a 774,000-bushel grain storage facility operated by the Heartland Cooperative. The town has a nice welcome sign at its central intersection, too. Here’s a picture of it:

Downtown Alleman, Iowa.

Oh, and see that tall, skinny thing off to the left of the picture, above the gas pumps? That would be the eighth tallest man-made structure in the world, at 2,000 feet, top to bottom. If it wasn’t surprising enough to have one such formidable world-class structure in humble Alleman, this tower actually has a 2,000 foot tall twin, just a mile or so away. Here’s a photo of the pair of them, with a standard water tower (probably 150 to 200 feet in height) in the middle to provide perspective.

Alleman, Iowa's 2000-foot tall broadcast masts, giving the town's water tower a serious inferiority complex.

For what it’s worth, Iowa also boasts two other 2,000 foot towers, one in Sioux City and one in Rowley. It’s quite hard to capture a sense of scale on objects so large, with so little nearby to offer perspective. Here are a few shots to (maybe) give you some sense of how overwhelmingly gigantic these things are:

On its own, the tower at right would look impressively tall. Here, though, not so much.

Service facility at the base of the eastern tower. Those are big truck doors, though they don't look it.

Guy wire anchors of one tower, with the other tower in the background. You can see the building from the prior picture, looking tiny, at bottom right of the frame.

While transmission masts are the tallest structures in the state, and Des Moines boasts eight buildings of 300 feet or greater (the tallest is 801 Grand, at 45 stories and 630 feet from top to bottom), most of the vertical sightlines around the state are provided by four other types of structures: water towers, wind turbines, silos, and grain elevators. Pretty much anywhere you are in the state on a clear day, if you do a 360-degree scan of the horizon, you’re likely to see at least one, and probably many, many more of those items. You find them out in the middle of the country, and you find them right smack in the downtowns of many cities. I love this shot taken in Indianola, for example, which shows just how short the distance from farm to market is in Iowa:

Indianola's Heartland Cooperative grain storage facility towers over the city's biggest grocery store.

And while we’re talking about verticality, let me dismiss one other notion about Iowa for you: the state is not flat. True, the total vertical distance from its highest location (1,671 feet at Hawkeye Point) to its lowest (480 feet at the junction of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers) is only a modest 1,191 feet, which is about a quarter of the prominence of New York’s Mount Marcy, for perspective. That being said, the state packs a lot of long, undulating hills within that brief vertical envelope, and the major river valleys in Iowa also tend to have steep bluffs or gorges along their paths. As many bikers who come to Iowa to ride the seven-day RAGBRAI no doubt discover, much to their chagrin, it’s not such much the amplitude as it is the frequency of the hills here, and over a long day, you can log a lot of grinding, fatigue-inducing climbs in Iowa.

But at least you have some impressively tall structures to admire as you grind your way up your 25th 200-foot climb of the day, so be thankful for that, at least.

2 thoughts on “Iowa is Not Vertically Challenged

  1. That is sweet! My husband grew up a mile away from those towers and we always used them to judge where we were out in the country 🙂 I had no idea they were the 8th tallest man-made structures in the world…impressive, Iowa!

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