It’s listed in 1000 Places To Visit Before You Die (the international version).

It offers a variety of gastronomic “gastrocities” and many local delights.

Over a million people attend over eleven days in August.

There’s the Midway, Grandstand, campgrounds (no hotelween here, nosiree!), and numerous displays, competitions, and other distractions.

It is the Iowa State Fair, and it must be experienced at least once in your lifetime. (Yes, the Minnesota and Texas versions are also noteworthy, but both of those states offer other distractions. In Iowa, possibly the only thing which comes close is the girls state basketball tournament and the Presidential caucus.)

Think that Captain America statue in Prospect Park is a big deal?

That’s nothing compared to being immortalized (well, for a few weeks anyways) as a butter statue at the Iowa State Fair.

A tradition since 1911, butter cows have appeared every year, except during wartime. What, you greenhorn city slickers don’t know what that is? I thought you guys had culture in your urban utopias!

Very well…

The Butter Cow starts with a wood, metal, wire and steel mesh frame and about 600 lbs. of low moisture, pure cream Iowa butter. Once inside the 40-degree cooler, layers of butter are applied until a life-size butter cow emerges – measuring about 5-1/2-ft high and 8-ft long. Each year, much of the butter is recycled and can be reused for up to 10 years.  [More here.]

Brandon Routh, as Superman, immortalized in butter at the Iowa State Fair.
Brandon Routh, as Superman, immortalized in butter at the Iowa State Fair.

Each year, the resident sculptor, Sarah Pratt, creates a new cow, as well as companion sculptures commemorating noteworthy State citizens or cultural milestones. For example, in 2006, Norwalk native Brandon Routh was commemorated as Superman.

Other notables:

  • John Wayne (birthplace: Winterset, Iowa)
  • Harry Potter
  • Peanuts
  • Neil Armstrong (moonwalking Michael Jackson, who had performed with his brothers at the Grandstand in 1971, was nixed due to controversy)
  • George Washington Carver (student and professor at Iowa State University)
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Tiger Woods
  • Elvis Presley
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    seven dwarfs butter iowa
    The 2012 butter sculpture celebrating the 75th anniversary of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Image courtesy of the Iowa State Fair.

This year, Pratt has undertaken an ambitious project: the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. In addition to the original Federation Starship Enterprise, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Uhura will be featured, which will include the communications console and the Captain’s chair!

The Des Moines Register has a slide show of the work in progress.

And another,

Of course, Trekkers know that James T. Kirk is a future Iowa native, born on March 22, 2233, in Riverside, Iowa. (The town commemorates this occasion every June, with Trek Fest.)

Local station KCCI has a video interview, with a sneak preview of the Star Trek sculptures.

There’s also a concrete sculpture painting contest, similar to the “Cow Parade” seen in Chicago and New York City. Each year is a different theme.  Last year were horses. This year: “Nothing Compares to MY State Fair” (the base sculpture is the Iowa State Fair logo).

But that’s not all! The State Fair also hosts many competitions, from the future farmers of 4-H to Blue Ribbon produce to gaming (checkers, cribbage, backgammon, chess) to fashion (marvelous hats, pigtails, braids, mullets, and mohawks) to crafts and food to Fine Art and Photography and even the esoteric such as chili cookoffs, and even … “HAM, BACON AND SMOKED & CURED BEEF“.

GOOD LORD!  Did I say “Comic Con”?  It’s like Comic Con mixed with the Olympics! But in events you actually want to watch! (Mutton Busting! Outhouse races!) There’s even a parade to kick it off tomorrow, at 6:15, starting at the State Capitol! Then there’s the finals of the statewide talent search, held every day at Noon.

SWEET KIRBY KRACKLE!  There’s even livestock cosplay! Diary goats on August 19, at 6 PM. (Last year, it was horses.)

Dressed as Ace Freely from KISS, Joelle Grubbs, 15, of Casey, Iowa, and her sister Quinn, 10, walked their miniature horse, Echo, dressed as Gene Simmons during children’s costume class at the horse show in the Richard O. Jacobson Exhibition Center at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Rachel Mummey/The Register

[I think Mr. Simmons’ tongue is longer.]

Con pretzels? PSHAW.  The State Fair has FOOD ON A STICK.  75 varities, according to the 2015 list. TEN chocolate-covered sweets. Lots of corndogs, including a cornBRAT and a veggie version. (I hope they fry it in vegetable oil!) Unicorn lollipops. Ultimate Bacon Brisket Bomb. And even “Caprese Salad On-a-Stick”.

On a budget? There’s a $3 and less menu!

Need some excitement? Try the Grandstand. The final weekend will test those pearl-clutching bluehairs as Jeff Dunham, KISS, Steven Tyler, and Lady Antebellum close out the schedule!  (Ratt will also be there, as part of the free entertainment.)

Really bored? Learn to dance! Watch chickens getting primped! Learn to cook! Go to school! Milk a cow (but not a steer)! You can even make your own butter sculpture from a stick of butter!

Comics and collectibles?

2605 Allison Ave; Des Moines, IA 50310; 515-473-5330
(Ertl is a local company, known for their die-cast metal vehicles, especially of farm equipment.)

You can plan your schedule online (wow… comic cons could learn from this!)

Seriously… If you live in or near Iowa, you should definitely visit! $12 at the gate for adults, $6 for kids. $25 for a ride-all-day pass to the Midway.

Of course, if you really want to go hardcore, there’s RAGBRAI, a week-long pub-crawl-meets-Woodstock bike ride of 8500 cyclists held in July.