Seniors Head For Loess Hills


This senior has spent most of his life in Iowa, however I never knew much about Loess Hills on the western border near Nebraska along the Missouri River. The Loess Hills are one of the most unique landscapes in Iowa. Get your coffee and let’s head for the hills.

Loess, pronounced “luss”, is German for loose or crumbly and it is good stuff. It is a predominantly silt-sized sediment which is formed by the accumulation of wind-blown dust. I read somewhere that that soil may be called “glacier flour.”


The definition of a Loess Hill is a hill made of loess that is more than 60 feet in height; using that definition, about 640,000 acres of land in western Iowa constitute the Loess Hills landform. Although deposits of loess are found across the world, nowhere else but China are those deposits higher than they are in Iowa.

Dynamic and Evolving Hills

My Merriam-Webster notes that it is an unstratified usually buff to yellowish brown loamy deposit found in North America, Europe, and Asia and believed to be chiefly deposited by the wind. I’ve always called it loam and it’s really good stuff for Iowa farmers who grow corn and beans.


The Loess Hills are a rare and unusual Iowa landform, but they are not permanent; loess terrain is dynamic and  evolving. When originally deposited, the loess was smooth like a sand dune or a snow drift. Today, the Loess Hills are rough and jagged, the result of erosion by the very elements that created them:  wind and water.

Those hills have been around for a good long time and senior visitors will note that they only run 1 to 15 miles east of the Missouri River. They form what geologists call a “front range” and rise above the flood plain. The hills stretch from a small town in Iowa called Westfield south to Mound City, Missouri, about 200 miles in length.

Seniors Find Tallgrass Prairie

The steep, rugged terrain supports the best examples of loess prairie in the five-state Central Tallgrass Prairie region. Iowa’s largest surviving prairies are found in the Loess Hills, and the Conservancy’s Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve contains the largest contiguous native prairie in the state.



The Loess Hills Scenic Byway affords many scenic views as it twists through the range from north to south. The main route is 220 miles of paved highway or county road in a general north to south direction paralleling Interstate 29.

The Nature Conservancy is using science-based conservation in the Loess Hills to restore and maintain healthy habitats for prairie plants and animals. For example, about 4,000 acres are blackened by controlled fire each year. Scientific analysis has revealed, however, that to keep this prairie healthy five times that amount, or 20,000 acres, needs to be burned each year.

Senior travelers, when you’re near western Iowa, take in the Loess Hills.   jeb

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