“From the Bluff on the 2nd rise immedately abour our camp, the most butifull prospect of the River up & Down and
the Country Presented itself which I ever beheld: The River meandering the open and butifull plains.” — Meriwether Lewis
Two hundred years ago when Lewis and Clark first stood on the Loess Hills and viewed the Missouri Valley, Iowa was threequarters prairie. Now only 0.1 percent of that remains — 50 percent of which is in the Loess Hills. The only person to die on the Lewis and Clark expedition was Sergeant Floyd (of natural causes). He was buried between the Loess Hills and the Missouri River.
What's at Stake: The Loess Hills are a unique landform of wind blown silt (loess) up to 200 feet high. The only places in
the world where loess accumulates to such heights are in western Iowa, northwestern Missouri, and along the Yellow River in China.
The Loess Hills are a biological crossroads between the eastern deciduous forest and the western mixed-grass prairie. The eastern slopes are woodland with Dutchmen’s Breeches and Scarlet Tanagers while the western slopes are prairies with species normally found hundreds of miles west such as yucca, cowboy’s delight, and prairie rattlesnakes. It is the home of the diminutive endangered Loess Hills Fern. Most of the Loess Hills is in private ownership with small tracts owned by the state of Iowa and the Nature Conservancy.
The Threats: Much of the prairie on the western slopes is rapidly being overgrown by brush and eastern cedar trees due to fire suppression that started in historical times. Large areas of loess are carted away for fill in metropolitan areas such as Omaha.
The Solutions: The National Park service has recommended National Reserve Status for the Loess Hills in Iowa. They recommend that representatives of counties and organizations in the Loess Hills — the Loess Hills Alliance — propose a plan to save the Loess Hills and have the National Park Service advise and interpret the area. Congress will eventually need to pass legislation
forming the Loess Hills National Reserve.
Photo: The steeply ridged bluffs of the Loess Hills' Murray Hill rise abruptly from the agricultural fields of Iowa. Photo courtesy of the Geological Survey Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources.