Beyond The Trail

Rachel Jessen


Iowa, United States

This campaign season, I went back home to Iowa. Not to cover the presidential hopefuls, no. I turned my camera away from the politics and toward the people and places of the Hawkeye State. Over the course of six months, I travelled to each Iowa county in a feat known as the "Full Grassley," an endeavor named for the long-time Iowa Republican senator wherein candidates make a point to visit each of Iowa's 99 counties in order to prove themselves worthy of a caucus win. I wasn't looking for votes at a local town hall or fish fry—rather, I searched for the stories in the individuals and communities that make Iowa the unique, complicated, and nuanced place it is.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • Tourists at the Field of Dreams movie site, Dyersville. (Dubuque County)

  • Shuckfest, West Union. (Lee County)

  • The Indian Princess statue, Pocahontas. (Pocahontas County)

  • Mural in an alley, Pella. Dutch immigrants settled in the area in 1847. (Marion County)

  • Pammie's quinceañera, Iowa City. (Johnson County)

  • Notes for Michael at a gas station, New London. Michael, a farmer, works between 60-80 hours a week, and deals with chronic pain from a degenerative disc disease in his back. In his wallet, he keeps these notes his wife and daughter wrote him while he was in a behavioral health services clinic being treated for anxiety and depression. At one point, he was taking eight different prescriptions totaling 23 pills every day for pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep. (Henry County)

  • Jenny in her aunt's yard with miniature horses Thunder and Lightning, near Delhi. (Delaware County)

  • Swing set, Yorktown. (Page County)

  • Empty garage, McPaul. In 2019, communities in southwestern Iowa were devastated by severe flooding from the Missouri River and its tributaries, as a result of rapid snowmelt and excessive rains. A number of damaged levees still haven't been repaired. Fremont County has 170 homes that qualify for buy-outs. (Fremont County)

  • Deer at sunset by the road, near Chariton. (Lucas County)

  • A car in a lot at Maharishi International University, Fairfield. The university employs consciousness-based education, including the teaching of the Transcendental Meditation technique. (Jefferson County)

  • A field next to Dollar General, on the southern edge of Larchwood. In smaller, rural communities, the arrival of dollar store chains can be both welcomed and threatening; in some cases, they are seen as filling a void, while in others, they run local grocers and retailers out of business because they are able to offer lower prices. A 2018 article stated that there were more Dollar Generals in the United States than McDonalds. (Lyon County)

  • Davis County High School bowling team waiting to compete against Sigourney, Bloomfield. (Davis County)

  • The first Freedom Rock, near Menlo. Local artist Ray "Bubba" Sorensen II has painted the 60-ton stone with an armed-services theme every year since 1999. He plans to have a Freedom Rock installed in each of Iowa's 99 counties. (Adair County)

  • Peeling paint, Maurice. (Sioux County)

  • Hobo Hawk at a table in the Jungle, Britt. He arrived early to set up for the annual National Hobo Convention, a gathering and celebration of vagrants since 1900. Hawk has been coming to the convention for 18 years, where he has, on and off, held the position of the Crumb Boss, coordinating food preparation in the Jungle. (Hancock County)

  • Allison. Butler County has no stoplights or chain stores. (Butler County)

  • Public swimming pool, Lake City. There are no lakes in Lake City. (Calhoun County)

  • A woman floats on West Okoboji Lake. (Dickinson County)

  • Window, Kensett. (Worth County)