I did some gravel exploring on the route suggested by Trans-Iowa Steve last weekend, and it was a hoot. Photographic evidence:
Anyone who tells you that Iowa isn't scenic either hasn't been here, or has pants aflame due to the falsehoods they speak. The sort of view pictured above is what I missed most when we lived in Pennsylvania. Not saying Pennsylvania isn't a beautiful state, mind you. The terrain (at least on the western side of the state where we lived) just doesn't provide these massive spans of horizon. If you grew up on the plains like I did, anything else feels a little claustrophobic.
I was surprised to find some stretches that were not quite so vast and had a bit of tree cover. The spot shown above looked like an ideal area to camp out on an overnighter tour. Not sure how the owner (or any territorial dogs he/she might have) would feel about that, though.
Finally, just to ensure that I was getting the full gravel experience, I ventured down what the Iowa DOT calls a "minimum maintenance road", commonly called a "B-road". They aren't technically gravel, just packed dirt. This one was hillier than it looked in the photo, but nothing I couldn't grunt out in a 34x26. Since we're in the midst of a drought, the surface was perfectly acceptable (nay, even enjoyable) on 700x32 road rubber. Put a little moisture on this thing and things would get dicey fast. I'm now kicking myself for all the times I've taken those "enter at your own risk" signs seriously and bypassed these fun little dirt sections.
So, after a couple experiments in gravel, do I see myself becoming a full-on zealot? Probably not. I'm just lazy enough to still enjoy going fast on a smooth surface with minimal resistance. But now that I know my bike and my body can take whatever Iowa can dish out (at least if conditions are dry), my world has opened up a little bit. From now on, when I see dirty diversions like the ones shown above, I'll definitely give them a try.