Picnics with Pocahontas

Pocahontas welcomes visitors along Hwy 3. The tee-pee is the perfect picnic spot. Do be careful when trying to capture these photos though-it did require me to run across a busy highway!

Summer vacation is here, and I’ve had several requests from readers for adventure ideas. So, to kick of your summer adventure list, I have to share our favorite picnic spot. Nothing says summer fun like a picnic lunch! This picnic spot has fun things to explore, a great view, and is a little bit different than the traditional picnic spot you may be imagining. For the last two summers, the girls and I have made a point to picnic with Pocahontas. Yes, you read that correctly. We love to eat lunch with Pocahontas-the Native American woman noted for saving John Smith’s life in early colonial history and depicted in a famous Disney movie from the 90’s.

This mural in Downtown Pocahontas, IA was captivating!

Right off Highway 3 on the edge Pocahontas, IA stands a 25 foot tall Pocahontas. She greets those entering the ‘Princess City’ and waves farewell to those headed East. If that isn’t impressive enough, next to Pocahontas is a towering, metal tee-pee. And inside that tee-pee is where the girls and I have enjoyed several picnic lunches. The tee-pee provides protection from the elements and a great view of Pocahontas herself!

The city and citizens of Pocahontas have worked hard to make this area inviting to all those living or visiting the town of 1,700. In the last few years, not only has the tee-pee been built, but a log cabin and beautiful murals have spruced up the road-side stop. A hidden totem pole adds to the tee-pee dining experience. If eating in a tee-pee isn’t your thing, a nearby picnic table still provides a great view of the city namesake.

The Pocahontas County Courthouse has a beautiful lawn! The Veteran’s Memorial is also worth the stop. We found the names of both of my husband’s grandfathers there!

If you are able, I highly recommend taking a morning or afternoon (or both) to enjoy this quaint town. The girls and I have had fun exploring downtown Pocahontas. There are a cute shops to browse, a beautiful courthouse lawn, and a Pocahontas mural to enjoy. Make sure you have an hour or so to spend at the Kaleidoscope Factory.  Leonard Olson has a one-of-a-kind personality and store. The girls and I were amazed as we watched him turn a block of wood into a beautiful kaleidoscope. Read more about our kaleidoscope adventure here.

The girls loved playing at Elbert Park! This tunnel and the bridge were the park highlights.

If you want to spend some time outdoors or have kiddos in tow, Elbert Park is a great place to explore. Along with playground equipment, near the park you’ll find baseball and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, a campground, and a super fun-looking swimming pool. The girls and I found a cute bridge that connects the ball fields to the park and had fun watching little fish swim below us.

The ‘Princess City’ has a lot to offer visitors! So, find a warm sunny day, and plan a picnic with Pocahontas. I’m certain you’ll enjoy the adventure!

Magical Moments at The Kaleidoscope Factory

Leonard Olson at The Kaleidoscope Factory
Leonard was right at home showing us how to use the lathe and make kaleidoscope parts.

The Kaleidoscope Factory in Pocahontas, Iowa needs to be on everyone’s bucket list! I first read about Leonard Olson’s unique shop in a magazine a few years ago. A friend shared about her trip to his old shop in Pomeroy, Iowa a year or so after that. Then, a few weeks ago my girls and I drove through Pocahontas on a weekend and were intrigued by the resident gnome on the building’s roof. We decided then and there that we had to come back during business hours to finally see the place for ourselves! So, last week the girls and I  found ourselves at the Kaleidoscope Factory on a Girls Adventure we won’t soon forget.

We took one step into the little shop on Main Street and knew we were in for a fun adventure. Big tools were waiting for us right inside the door, and wood shavings curled in piles on the floor. Wooden toys and hand-made kaleidoscopes lined the shelves. It was like walking into a magical workshop. There weren’t any “Do Not Touch” signs. In fact, we were given a hands-on tour of the shop by Leonard Olson himself.

Making a kaleidoscope
The girls learned how to make a kaleidoscope and even got to pick out the colored beads.

Leonard is as special as his one-of-a-kind kaleidoscopes. He loves his work, and it shows. He happily showed us around and let the girls help put together a kaleidoscope kit. Leonard explained the steps and taught us a few things along the way. For example, when you look in the mirror is the image you see larger, smaller, or the same size as your actual self? For the answer, you’ll have to visit Leonard yourself. (No cheating!! Leonard will give you a much better explanation than Google anyway!)

Once put together, the kaleidoscope was ready for our viewing pleasure. It was magic! The mirrors, PVC pipe, and beads made beautiful images. Each little movement made a different, yet beautiful image. We were in awe. There is something about a kaleidoscope that makes everyone, no matter the age, smile.

Looking at Magic
The changing images were magical!

Leonard hasn’t always been a kaleidoscope maker. He spent 30 years in the health insurance industry, mainly as a computer programmer. Ultimately, a heart attack made him switch gears. He received a kaleidoscope as a gift while recovering in the hospital and noticed how it attracted so many people. Viewing a kaleidoscope can be contagious! Making kaleidoscopes began as a self imposed therapy after his heart attack. Eventually, Leonard’s hobby became a full-time venture. He hasn’t stopped making kaleidoscopes since, and it is probably safe to say that while he is in his early 60’s, he’s not looking to retire anytime soon!

After having a lesson on putting together a kaleidoscope, Leonard let the girls hold a wood block with a hole in the middle. As they looked it over, he explained that he would turn it into an egg. We watched in amazement as he did just that with a couple tools and a lathe. There was no template or pattern; the work was done by very experienced hands. He used sandpaper and sawdust to make the egg shiny and smooth. With a dab of tung oil rubbed into the wood, it was finished. The warm wooden egg was handed over to two very excited 5 year-olds.

Leonard then showed us how to turn the wooden egg into a kaleidoscope. The girls picked out just the right color combination of glass beads (lots of pink), and watched as Leonard fit the mirrors and pieces together. Within a few minutes, the kaleidoscope was ready for viewing. Although we had already looked through one kaleidoscope today, we were in awe again as we peered through tiny hole and watched beautiful images appear and morph into more beautiful images.

Egg Kaleidoscope
The finished egg kaleidoscope! The girls found a special place in their room to showcase this beauty.

By this time, my girls were getting hungry, and our visit was about over. Leonard allowed the girls to play with the wooden toys he has for sale as I looked at more beautifully made kaleidoscopes. I couldn’t leave the little egg kaleidoscope we helped make behind, so we bought that along with a few kaleidoscope kits as reminders of our amazing Girls Adventure. If you want to check out a sampling of what is for sale at The Kaleidoscope Factory, check out the website.

With kaleidoscopes in hand and amazing memories fresh in our minds, we said good-bye to Leonard and The Kaleidoscope Factory. We continued on our Girls Adventure with a picnic and more fun in Pocahontas, Iowa (that’s a post for another day). We’ll be back though, and hopefully you will to, to witness even more magical moments and adventures at The Kaleidoscope Factory.