The Grotto of the Redemption – West Bend, Iowa

The 8th Wonder of the World

Traveling east or west along Highway 18 in Northern Iowa – will bring you to a crossroads intersecting with Highway 15. Take it south (or take it north depending on where you are coming from!) and it will bring you to the little rural town of West Bend, Iowa – population 659. Take a short drive around the town, and the miracle begins to unfold. See, West Bend is more than just a town – it’s the home to what has been nicknamed by some as “The 8th Wonder of the World” and Iowa magazine has proudly named it as “The miracle in stone” and there is little double when you visit this place of the truth in those statements.

Maybe it’s the fact that we visited the site on Good Friday of Easter week, or maybe it was the awe-inspiring artwork and detail of the rock formations that took you on a journey of the life of Christ and finally through the stations of the cross – and leading you to an overwhelming, and breathtaking overlook at the top of the structure – looking upon the cross overhead, but taking notice of the thousands of different rocks, fossils, semi-precious gems, that held the shrine together. Maybe it was the pondering question of why in the middle of rural Iowa to find this amazing place? It’s at this specific question where the story begins to unfold –

A Deal with God

Father Paul Dobberstein – artist and creator of the Grotto

The story goes that Father Dobberstein came to West Bend to serve in the church in 1898, and before his vision of building the Grotto he became critically ill with pneumonia. He fought for his life and prayed that if his health was restored he would promise to build a shrine. As his health returned – he began to stockpile rocks from around the world over the next decade. The history of the Grotto can be found at their website – and etched in stone around the property. It’s odd that West Bend would be the site of such a large collection or precious rocks and minerals, but according to the story, it was part of the divine providence that determined the setting. The Bishop commissioned Father Dobberstein to locate to West Bend, his illness, and the divine deal that built the Grotto are forever part of history.

Worth over $4 Million

We were amazed as we walked around the Grotto to learn that it took over 90 years to build and larger equipment wasn’t brought into play until later – otherwise, the Grotto was built almost entirely by hand! Father Dobberstein used a large collection of different petrified wood, geodes, quartz, topaz, calcite, stalactites, and more to build the Grotto, but the significant fact was that most of it was purchased or donated – and visitors have aided substantially to the work of art. The semi-precious stones and rock are valued at just over $4 Million dollars, and the Grotto of the Redemption is the largest known accomplishment of its kind in the world! After the passing of Father Dobberstein – the continuation and construction of the Grotto continued under the care of Father Greving and Matt Szerensce.

The Perfect Bucket List Place to Visit in Iowa

Scenes around the Grotto of the Redemption

If you are traveling through or to Iowa – make a stop at the Grotto of the Redemption and mark it down as one of your bucket list items. It is uniquely rural, but uniquely one of a kind. The admission is free to wander around the structure and marks as a perfect pit spot, pilgrimage, and a place to take kids! Its family-friendly atmosphere makes it a unique spot, and going through the shrine and the structure will bring wonderment and joy to all ages. Insider Tip: Be sure to climb to the very top of the Grotto – there is a bench at the top where you can sit and rest, but be sure to take a photo opportunity at the very top either looking down at the shrine that surrounds you, or at the cross that sits next to the station up top. It’s worth the climb up – and there are paved stairs and handrails to assist.

Check out the Country Pilgrim Video Episode Below – Visiting the Grotto

Stations of the Cross

Another neat detail about the Grotto is the unique “Stations of the Cross” that is displayed throughout the site. The site itself brings a feeling of reverence, but the stations brought another element all together to the site and shed a light on the personal mission and purpose of the Grotto. Below are the stations of the cross pictured in order 1-14

After the Grotto – Where to Eat

You’ll have a couple of options – but the one that got our attention was “The Wagon Wheel Café” it allows you to explore the town of West Bend and takes your right downtown. For some that are used to the rural Midwest – this is going to feel right at home. For some of you who might be new to a downtown area in Midwest small town – you are in for a treat. The food is great, but the hospitality is even better!

The Wagon Wheel Café isn’t too difficult to find – just right down the street (downtown) from the Grotto.

Great Burgers!

I’m a sucker for great sandwiches. Heck – I’d even settle for a great salad! But you take a nice, tasty, grilled burger, and put all the fixings on it – and you have yourself a winner from Country Pilgrim! That’s exactly what the Wheel Burger served up for us – we heard the Reubens were fantastic as well, but we ordered their specialty burger “The Wheel Burger” which is 1/2 pound of ground beef patty on a grilled bun, piled high with sautéed onions and mushrooms and two different types of cheese. The menu has other options as well – but the burgers are highly recommended. Insider Tip: If half-pound of ground beef is too much for you – consider going to the Wheel Jr. – which offers a smaller 1/3 lb. to fit your appetite. They have different sides as well – but I recommend the crinkle-cut fries.

We were running out of time and it was on Good Friday – but take a stroll down West Bend Main Street – and you will find other options as well. Lots of cute shops – and different places to eat or stop for a fun tasty treat. West Bend has the motto “A Rock of a Community” and beyond the pun – that’s the truth. It’s a small rural town full of heart with one of the largest shrines of its kind – in the world! All in all, it’s worth a bucket list stop if you are traveling through the Midwest or up near North/Northwest Iowa. Get out a map on your road trip adventure – and make the pilgrimage/trek down to check it out. You’ll thank me later – I promise!

Happy Traveling!

2 thoughts

  1. Is there a record of all the people that helped with the building of the grotto? Would be pretty cool to see just how many people were involved in this project! My grandfather put in 40 years, helping with building and collecting rocks. Just a thought.
    Grandfather is the late Roy Stoulil 1902- 1990
    My mom is Pat (Stoulil) Nelson of Pocahontas


    1. I’m sure there is a list of names at the Grotto Museum and the next time I’m over in West Bend – I’ll stop in and see if I can find that information. Thanks for sharing! It still amazes me the amount of detail and work that went into the Grotto!


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