Sunday, September 25, 2011

Peace Tree: Discovering the tree and the beer

The weekend found us in the Red Rocks Reservoir area, the largest lake in Iowa at 15,000 acres at normal level, considerably more (or less) depending on rainfall and the Army Corps of Engineers, who constructed and run the dam that formed the lake. The scenery is excellent with unusual rock formations, mixed hardwoods, plenty of migrating waterfowl, and very few power boats in the fall. There is even the opportunity to rescue vermin along the lakeshore, but more on that in another post. This particular post is about a giant Sycamore tree, 325 years old before it was drowned when the Red Rocks dam was completed in 1969, and the brewery that is named after it.

We paddled Saturday and Sunday with eight of us launching Saturday from Elk Rock State Park. The park is at the south end of a mile long bridge (clocked on the VW's odometer) that carries Hwy 14 across the reservoir. Just west of the bridge, near the middle of the lake in about 10 feet of water, is the stump of the Peace Tree, sticking out of the water about six feet. In the 1840's it is believed that the tree, a couple hundred years old then, marked the Red Rock Line, the demarcation line between tribal lands to the west of the pre reservoir Des Moines River and the white settlement area to the east.It was a well known meeting and trading place for white and native Americans. The archaeological assessment in the link was to determine the historical significance of the tree, albeit over 20 years after the dam was completed and the area was flooded. Part of the draw of historical locations, particularly living (or formerly living in this case) reminders of history, is the speculation about all the dealings and personalities that passed by or stopped at the tree. The Treaty Oak in Austin, TX is another such tree. The Peace Tree is well known in the area, so well known that a small brewpub that was founded last year used the tree as its company name.

Peace Tree Brewing is less than a dozen miles south of the tree in Knoxville, IA. The brewery is in a converted Nash Rambler dealership on the main drag in Knoxville, a town known for as the host of the Sprint Car Nationals. I'm not sure why the founder chose the Peace Tree over the sprint cars as the brewery name but I like the choice. I like the brewery and its product as well. We met there Friday night when the VOR and I rolled into town and tried several of their beers. No food is served here but they have the menus from several local restaurants and food can be ordered in, in our case a couple large pizzas. The one thing I noticed about the beers is that they seem to be true to style, or at least my idea of beer styles. I sampled a very nice crisp and refreshing Kolsch, their wonderfully balanced IPA, a fine red ale, and a sneaky 8.5% ABV unfiltered Belgian Ale, the Blonde Fatale shown in the image right. Some brewpubs and neighborhood bars just have a feel to them, an unpretentious, 'theme' free (eg sports bar, 'fern' bar, fake Irish pub, etc.), relaxing and homey vibe. Peace Tree has the feel and its a lovely place to drink beer.

The Red Rocks Reservoir was a lovely place to paddle also. The big fluctuation in water level makes for interesting rock formations being alternately exposed and under water. This year the water was at 'normal pool' level and last year it was way down for dam repair. Only a couple short months earlier the water was several feet higher as evidenced by driftwood and the obvious vegetation line. The lake has a few homes on it but most are set well back due to the wildly varying water levels. There is plenty of fetch for some wave action and the sheer cliffs offer some nice clapotis when the wind is right. We had a little 10 knot north/northeast going which gave us a little bounce by the cliffs, just enough for a taste of excitement in spots. It was great to see the Iowa/Nebraska gang and ooh and aah over the new Valley boats that had been added to the fleet. I would have to say the most interesting event of the paddling segment of the weekend was the dramatic animal rescue that took place on Saturday. That however, needs to be completely fleshed out in a separate post. Look for it here soon.

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