Iowa State Fair tips and soapbox schedule

The oppressive summer heat broke in time for today’s opening of the Iowa State Fair. I’ve posted some of my tips for enjoying the fair below, along with the schedule for this week at the Des Moines Register’s “soapbox.” Ten Republican presidential candidates (including one I’d never heard of) are speaking, along with Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The Des Moines Register’s soapbox is located on the south side of the Grand Concourse (on your right if you enter the fairgrounds at Grand Avenue).

Thursday, August 11

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney will speak at 10:30 am.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson will speak at 1:00 pm. Note: Johnson was excluded from the Iowa GOP/Fox News debate on August 11 and will not appear on the ballot at the August 13 Ames straw poll.

Friday, August 12

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain will speak at 10:30 am.

Representative Thad McCotter of Michigan will speak at 11 am. Note: McCotter was excluded from the Iowa GOP/Fox News debate, but he will be on the ballot for the Ames Straw Poll. So far his only prominent Iowa endorser is former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants of Sioux City.

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania will speak at 11:30 am.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas will speak at 12:00 pm.

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty will speak at 12:30 pm.

Texas farmer Jared Blankenship will speak at 1:00 pm. Note: Blankenship will not appear in the Iowa GOP/Fox News debate or on the Ames straw poll ballot. I had never heard that this guy was running for president before seeing his name on the Register’s soapbox schedule.

Longtime GOP activist Fred Karger, the first openly gay Republican presidential candidate, will speak at 1:30 pm. Note: Karger was excluded from the Iowa GOP/Fox News debate and will not appear on the Ames straw poll ballot.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a U.S. House representative from Florida, will speak at 2:00 pm.

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota will speak at 4:00 pm.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will bring her bus tour to the fair this year, but I haven’t seen a specific date or time. UPDATE: Palin turned up at the fair on Friday, August 12. She drew a huge crowd of journalists in the cattle barn.

Tips on food and entertainment at the Iowa State Fair

I’m not a big midway person, but here are many other things my family enjoys at the fair:

“Little Hands on the Farm,” where kids pretend to be farmers and sell their crops for a fake dollar that buys them a real treat in the shop.

The Animal Learning Center, where you can see newborn animals and watch chicks hatching.

The animal barns, especially where there are “avenues” of unusual breeds.

The Department of Natural Resources building, with tanks featuring indigenous Iowa fish and sometimes live turtles. A lot of people don’t know about this attraction. If you enter the fairgrounds at Grand Avenue, it’s on your left. Or, if you are walking down Grand from the midway or other streets, the Natural Resources building will be on your right.

The Ag Building, home of famous butter cow but more important (to me) the place with the best lemonade at the fair. You can buy it at the honey producers’ table, usually on the second level, for about half the price of lemonade at any of the kiosks.

The Bauder’s ice cream truck, usually parked near the Ag Building. Many people swear by the peppermint ice cream sandwiches, but I would go with the turtle sundae or the cookie sundae. Last year they introduced mocha ice cream sandwiches.

The huge yellow slide is fun, but prepare to go very fast–can be a little scary even for adults!

Heritage Hill attractions, including a table where you can play marbles and a pitch for tossing horseshoes.

If you want an aerial view of the fairgrounds, I highly recommend taking the Sky-Glider down from Heritage Hill (near the horseshoe pitch) to the midway area. Most people want to ride it up to avoid walking uphill, but the lines are much longer. You also get a better view of Des Moines riding the glider downhill.

If anyone in your family is into model trains, there’s usually a good set-up in a building near the giant yellow slide.

Taking a change of clothes for children isn’t a bad idea in case kids get muddy or slip and fall in one of the animal barns. Don’t ever dress kids in something you don’t want to get wet, because they will not be able to resist running around in the sprinklers.

It’s worth checking the schedule for any unusual demonstrations or shows. Last year we caught a high diving exhibition and watched an ice carver create a dragon with a chainsaw outside the Ag Building. In previous years they have had shows with frisbee-catching dogs.

I usually park in someone’s yard on Grand, because it’s a short walk from there to the Grand Avenue entrance near many of the things we like doing. More important, when it’s time to leave, tired kids have only a short walk back to the car. If you don’t want to pay for parking and you don’t mind walking a mile or so, there is often free street parking way up on Grand (more than 10 blocks away). There are also shuttles running to the fair from downtown Des Moines and Southeast Polk middle school out on highway 163.

Any comments, rants or raves about the Iowa State Fair are welcome in this thread. Bleeding Heartland user UrbandaleforObama has had good luck beating the crowds by going early on Sunday morning.

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