As children and their caretakers enjoy a leisurely day at Union Park, a cluster of animals—storks, giraffes, brown bears, and ostriches among them —suddenly storms past. What sounds like a stampede is really the family-friendly site of The Heritage Carousel of Des Moines, which has been entertaining guests since 1998. For only 50 cents, participants can hop aboard the turn-of-the-century replica carousel, which builders hand carved from basswood and hand painted. As the dulcet tones of an old-fashioned band organ hum in the background, the carousel accommodates children, wedding parties, and bull riders in training. Elsewhere, riders can pause from carousel excursions to sample other Union Park attractions such as multiage play equipment and the Rocket Slide, whose recent repainting replicates its original look from the early 1970s.
When it first opened it doors in 1970, the Science Center of Iowa was among the first interactive science museums in the world. It engaged the community with hands-on exhibits and programs. In 2005, the center moved to its 110,00-square-foot downtown location, where it fills its halls with a variety of experience platforms, each demonstrating different scientific principles. The When Things Get Moving exhibit invites visitors to build rockets and conquer a domino obstacle course, and Why the Sky? demonstrates the science of space with a digital planet-exploration globe and the Cosmic Jukebox, which allows you to create your own show. Interact with exhibits that demonstrate the basic principles of physics in the themed scenario, the Eureka! Lab. The renovated Small Discoveries exhibit features Dahl's Produce Market and Edna's Kitchen, a favorite of younger visitors.
Owner Darlene Olson holds court over Merle Hay Lanes’ sleek bowling lanes, where the sounds of laughter and pins crashing fills the air. An Olson family heirloom since 1993, Merle Hay caters to amateurs and pin-toppling veterans alike with open bowling and league play for a variety of age and skill levels. Bowlers quench competition-induced thirsts at Bowlwinkles Lounge with a formidable lineup of drink specials. The bowling alley also plays host to a variety of special events including birthday parties and corporate outings, preventing coworkers from having to bowl in the alley behind the office.
Val Lanes Recreation Center has been in business for more than 50 years, and its knowledgeable staff draws upon a wealth of knowledge and history while overseeing the alley's 36 lanes. Automatic scoring tracks bowlers' progress and ability to silence pins singing 10-part show-tune harmonies during daily open-bowling hours. Automated bumpers buffer gutters against sore egos and upset youngsters, and upbeat rock music serves as a sonic backdrop to the jovial thunder of scattering pins.