Iowa Geography: An Introduction

Finding your way around Iowa can be hard, because everything looks the same, and the natives named all the places specifically to confuse outsiders, with tricks like these:

  • Let’s put Des Moines (city) on the opposite side of the state from Des Moines (county)!
  • Story County needs a government seat, so let’s not put it in the biggest city (Ames), or in the city named after the county (Story City), but in the town of Nevada instead, which we will pronounce “Ne-VAY-duh!”
  • Let’s make sure that every place name in the state includes one or more of the following words: cedar, rock, beaver, rapids, des, river, city, or falls!

For new Iowa captives, if you just refer to every town knowingly as “Cedar Rock Rapids Falls River Beaver City,” you’ll be able to bluff your way through a lot of geographic conversations without anybody noticing. But once you’re ready to really get the lay of the land, here are the ten Iowa cities you need to know, with some explanatory notes to help you tell them apart.


1. Des Moines: The Capitol of Iowa, located right in the solar plexus of the state. Ruled by a haughty elite of Young Professionals, who travel the city’s bowels through a series of space age Habitrail tunnels. The worker drones who serve them live in the outlying ghettoes of Des West, Des Skankeny, and Des Johnst.

2. Des Mason: In the frozen Northlands, and known for its long rows of Maytag Blue Cheese and Bacon-Wrapped Corndog stands, frequented by hordes of Minnesotans, since those things are illegal north of the border.

3. Des Buque: Northeastern Iowa, known for its giant catfish plantations and its towering bluffs, which rise all of 27 feet above the sweltering Amazon River.

4. Des Quad: So named because it is comprised of six cities, three of which are in Illinois. Simple!

5. Des Bluffs: On the western side of Iowa, in the Nile River delta. The state’s pro football team, The Iowa Black Squirrels, plays here. The city motto is “Thank God for Omaha.”

6. Des Ames: Central Iowa, at the heart of Cyclone Nation, where ferocious twisters sweep through town on a daily basis, preventing the natives from ever becoming good at football.

7. Des City: Eastern Iowa, and home of the state’s largest Truck Stop and University, where you can get a college degree free with every ten fill-ups.

8. Des Loo: Eastern Iowa, and site of the battlefield where Napoleon defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the legendary 1927 Silage Bowl.

9. Des Sioux: Another Nile River delta city, this one known for having the highest pile of flood silt in the Upper Midwest.

10. Fairfield: Southeast Iowa, home of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz University. Follow the Yellow Curry Road to get there.

Okay, once you’ve memorized those, you might be ready for some advanced topics. Here’s a map, if you’re ready to try your first trip from Cedar Rock Rapids Falls River Beaver City to Beaver River Rock Cedar City Rapids Falls (click to enlarge for more details). Happy trails!


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