Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Summer Road Trip 2010: It's a Wrap

I'm home. After this...

I came home to this...

This was a 'doing' vacation, next on the agenda I should consider a relaxing vacation. Despite the fast pace, and miles traveled, there is no place I wouldn't recommend seeing that I had the opportunity to see.
Here is a complete set of my trip photos, well, those I'm willing to share, and those I weeded through b/c it was 54 shots of the same thing. There are two albums
(no surprise).
Part One: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=178251&id=725172809&l=98455f3779
Part Two: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=180266&id=725172809&l=16e1649571
I'm going to sleep for the next 4 weeks, wake me up August first-ish....I should consider getting rid of these fudge calories before swimsuit season 2011 b/c this year is pretty shot, but that's fine b/c I'm sleeping for the rest of the summer season, and when I wake it should almost be sweater season.

Summer Road Trip 2010: Little House on the Prairie, Kansas

Our last stop....

Could there be any collection of books more wonderful than The Little House on the Prairie series? The answer is, 'no' in case you were still deciding.
I love.....and I do mean, LOVE the series. I think reading about Laura's journey is where I learned to love reading. On the way home from Iowa, we went too close to Laura's little house on the prairie to miss the stop. It's about 14 miles outside of the little town square area of Independence, Kansas off of 75. It wasn't too well marked regarding directions along 75, but once we hit the turn off, the signs directing you to the homestead were very clear. 9 am were the hours the internet said they would be open, but they were not open until 10....just a little warning. The house is not the original home that stood here, but it's built in the style of the home that Laura and her family would have lived within during these memories she wrote about in the book "Little House on the Prairie."

The site is free, though donations are appreciated. There is also a post office, and a school house that are on the site and set up to give you an idea about life on the prairie (they built here after the Ingalls moved on). In addition, you can see the well Pa dug (and Laura wrote about), and there is a little farmhouse next to the house that sells some goodies, and can answer questions. Of course, there is plenty of prairie surrounding it all.

There is nothing more exciting that standing in the middle of Laura's life setting.
I do have a side story I just have to tell. There is a lady I worked with the first few years I taught who is just an amazing person. She takes her grandchildren on vacations in the summer. She took her granddaughter on a trip a few years back, and they followed the trail of Laura Ingalls Wilder. There are little museums at many of the spots she lived, grew roots...and wings at, and later wrote about. There is a really good book called Laura Ingalls Wilder Country by William Anderson that my pal said she used to help plan her trip. She and her granddaughter read the books as they journeyed, and I was awed by the experience they both have, and am completely convinced I need to take the whole route someday! P.s. The same pal took her grandson on a 'The footsteps of Lincoln' trip, and is currently journeying the Oregon trail like they did once upon a time. Excuse me while I go ask her to adopt me. ;o)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Summer Road Trip 2010: Madison County, Iowa


Iowa made my list because I'd never been, and it seemed like a good time. The great thing about keeping a list of places you want to go is you end up going places you might have never gone, had you not decided you needed to go places you'd never go if you didn't say you needed to go. Diagram that sentence and get back to me in the morning.
The only thing I know about Iowa is they grow corn, have a team that has something to do with the word Huskers, and there are Bridges there. (I know there is lots more, that's just all I know for now). I knew I'd be visiting the bridges until I further my eduction. I've never even seen the movie....or read the book about Madison County's bridges, so as we drove towards my destination location I asked the car occupants for the details of the book, just in case I wanted to reenact some scenes or something....but then I found out it was about a traveling photographer who met a married lady and did things I didn't want to add to any list, and I decided I'd just pretend like the reason I knew about the bridges was b/c it has a lovely collection of covered bridges. I've never seen a series of covered bridges, but I've always wanted to, and so now I have.
The great thing about the Bridges of Madison County is they are on graveled roads, BUT they are well marked. The city provided a map in their visitor center in Winterset. Before I talk about the bridges (more), let me also add a little side note that John Wayne's birth place is in Winterset, here's his house.

There is a museum inside the home, but we were on a different mission this day, and tours of John Wayne's house are things I'm saving for married life someday. I'm also saving "Watch Star Wars for the first time." for married life. Nope I've never seen it. Come to think of it, I don't think I've seen a John Wayne movie either. I'm not even sure I'm human, or at the very least-American. I'm not opposed to the idea of seeing either set of movies, I just never have, and why start now? I was probably too busy practicing my Carebear Stare in my youth, and then I was too busy being busy in my adulthood doing things like refolding sweaters in the men's section at Macy's b/c I like to be helpful when I go shopping. I also like to straighten the candy bars at the grocery store b/c I like to be obnoxious.
OK...on to the bridges. We only saw 3 of a slew of marked bridges b/c they were convenient to our route. At this point my car had gone over 3,000 miles, my feet have walked a few marathons, and who knows how many stairs I've climbed, lake waves I've sliced through, or calories I've eaten. As we headed to the bridges, signs directed your car to each bridge. One more thing before I move on with the bridges....there are exactly 4,356 butterflies per square foot in Madison County. I did a quick scientific study, so I know this to be a fact. I was frightened they were going to carry me away, they were in mass abundance fluttering around as you walked, and drove....and I was glad I ate that extra half pound of fudge in case they got any ideas...I had a little more weight to anchor me down. So, just a little bonus if you like butterflies and also happen to want to see these bridges. Trust me, I do no exaggerate....much.
The bridges all date back to the 1800's. They are covered to protect the wood below from rotting, and they helped someone traveling by something cross rivers. I'm thinking about giving up teaching and becoming a tour guide b/c I've got enough information to keep people entertained for at least 4 seconds.....4 minutes if you include a bathroom break on the tour. I know there is more to it, but it was enough that they were beautiful. You should go to all 50 states, and when you hit Iowa, you should go to the Bridges of Madison County....otherwise known as-Where Butterflies Vacation in the Summer Months.
Hogback Bridge

Inside Hogback Bridge...notice the graffiti....grrrr.

Holliwell Bridge

Imes Bridge (the oldest in the county).

The bridges are still held together with their original wooden pegs....with a little help from iron peg supports.

It really was peaceful drive through the graveled roads to see these bridges, and I'm so glad I did it this time around. Winterset also seemed like a cute little town that needs more attention from me...

I'm sure I'll come back down these roads again someday on some new weird adventure....like....visit all the cities in the country that have 2 E's and 1 I in their name. ;o) o

Monday, June 28, 2010

Summer Road Trip 2010: Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota


Why Minnesota? Because it's one of the states I have never been to or through, so it made the list, plus, it would have been a pretty interesting drive if I were to attempt to avoid in while driving home, it's sort of 'in the way.' The stop of choice seemed pretty obvious, Mall of America is mentioned in every other show/news report/shopping report blah blah blah. It was time. I'm sort of a professional shopper, not to brag, but if it were an Olympic sport, no other countries would bother to send their best when they heard I was in the running. Kidding....kinda....but I do like a good mall upon occasion.
We arrived amongst more clouds....we did not encounter any true storms, but the gray clouds sort of followed us around. It was difficult to overcome as a picture taker, but I kept reminding myself as I took pictures it was about capturing the vacation, and not the perfect picture. I'm sure the overcast skies helped keep things a little cooler.
We got to Minnesota a little earlier than expected. It's just over the Wisconsin border, and if it's the land of 10,000 lakes, I'm pretty sure Wisconsin has 9,999 b/c we sure did pass quite a few. Within the circles of cities that is St. Paul/Minneapolis/Bloomington the Mississippi River, and Lakes surround the cities.
We decided to head to the mall for a few hours before it closed and see what there was to see.

Each floor is 1/2 mile around, and there are three floors (with a basement, and 4th floor bar as well). It's pretty enormous, and though we don't have any quite this big back home, we have some that rival in shopping options (a lot of the same stores were on each floor), and we have lots OF malls in the Dallas area, so it was more about seeing the mall just to see the mall.
There is an amusement park in the middle. You can get a day pass, or pay by the ride. The rides ended up being about 6 dollars a piece, so we just observed.

There is also an aquarium, mini golf course, and a wide selection of shops, and restaurants.
My two favorite shops include the lego store.

We have one of these back home, but do legos ever get old? I pretended I lost a child inside the little shop, and spent the most time in this little land of blocks, and bits.

I love the 'fill you own bucket' option and you can get legos engraved, I did. You can also get them engraved online, but where is the fun in that? I also managed to buy a true jewel....I'll be using my 'new toy' soon to make a little something for a friend's kiddos, and I'll blog about it sometime in the near future. Be prepared to be jealous....or frightened. ;o)
I also loved this store called The Afternoon. It reminds me of this online catalogue I could spend my life savings on....except I don't have a life savings, called Signals. It's for the person that has everything, or the person that has a super strange sense of humor. One of those applies to me. From ceramic cups that look like plastic cups....

To unicorn corn on the cob holders....

To record pot holders.

Some other fun stores included a QVC store that sells products they sell on TV, As Seen on TV store, and a Classic TV store.
We spent one evening, and the next morning shopping the shops. There were normal things as well, but we pretty much stuck to the unusual. I'll post some more pics on a slide show soon b/c I'm pretty sure I need to remember some of these ideas for Christmas gifts (and everyone is now hoping I'm not planning on getting them a gift.).
We ate at a restaurant in the mall called Crave. And, yes, now I crave it. The pizza was delicious. The atmosphere was a quieter version of the Cheesecake Factory, and the service was the best.
We also grabbed a ticket on the downtown train to head out and see Minnehaha Falls

The park is really pretty, you can rent bike carts and travel through the entire area, but we just made a quick sweep of the falls, and then headed downtown.

We walked around the mall a bit down town (b/c obviously, we needed to shop some more), and we used some of the skyways between the buildings that are most useful during winter months to avoid going out in the cold as you walk around the city....Dallas should get a few of these for the summer months! Exploring without a plan, I encountered a few areas where I didn't feel entirely safe, so we hopped back on the train and headed back towards the mall. Minneapolis was really clean, and it also has some real fun building architecture, I just had not done enough research before heading in, and I'd definitely read up on it further next time and see what all there is to see.
One other neat stop we made while we were in Minnesota for part of three days was a Diner called Mickey's Dining Car (NOT to be confused with Mickey's Diner which we first went to in our search-similar name, on a street with the same name, but not the same atmosphere).

Mickey's has been featured a bunch of times on the Food Network. It's the first Art Deco Dining Cart, and it's history dates back to 1939 and is on the list of historical places. The food was good, it's a diner, so it's on the greasy side, but not too greasy. I got a grilled cheese, and I stole some hashbrowns from my Mom's plate, and they were really good, very different. I think it's a don't miss! It's tiny, and fun, and it's got a story to tell.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Road Trip 2010: Door County, Wisconsin


Our next stop was on a peninsula in Wisconsin my pal, Jennifer, from work suggested. She's from Wisconsin, so she helped me quite a bit when deciding what to do to experience this state fully. She gave us great restaurant, and site seeing destination suggestions for Door County, and I took them, and I don't regret it b/c it's a great little area!
Door County is covered with more farms, and cows... (I'm sorry, we just don't have farms that look this cute in Texas, I can't get over it.)

It is also a county that is known for it's cherry orchards, and I believe them, this entire area is covered with these products, and the goodies they make out of them. (I tried dried, chocolate covered cherries, and cherry salsa, and I approve of both, for what that is worth.)

And Fish Boils

These fish boils were going on all over the area on the beach, around outdoor seating at restaurants, the back yards of bed and breakfast locations etc. You could smell the smoke, and see the people waiting for their fish. I don't eat fish, but I wish I did b/c it looks like a fun summer activity. Just before the fish is served the pots are lit on fire, and it flames up in a big dramatic finish. I like dramatic finishes!
All along this little peninsula are small towns that border the bay and lakes with boat launches, little Inns, and B&Bs, boutiques, ice cream parlors (another famous, must do activity Jennifer told me about), restaurants, antique barns, wilderness, the friendliest and most helpful people I met on my whole journey, and lighthouses. There were tons of lighthouses, and we saw most of them!
We stayed for parts of 3 days. We decided to go out and see a few of the lighthouses near Sturgeon Bay before it was completely dark on the first day.
It was a little difficult to follow the relatively unmarked roads, and I accidentally trespassed to see this first lighthouse. I didn't read that I was on private property until I had taken my picture, and luckily I just read about it, and ntohing more happened. I feel fortunate that I got to see this little beauty.
Sherwood Point Lighthouse

The fun thing is most of the lighthouses are still used along these rocky shores.
Our last stop of the first day was to a set of lighthouses, this little red gal was attached to a long arm of rocks you could walk out on to get a closer look.

I ran across a few fishermen hunting for Sturgeon who were also taking advantage of this long line of rocks that extended quite a ways into the lake.
Back on shore was this lighthouse attached to the Coast Guard's quarters.

The lighthouses were a little difficult to find, though the map in a book the County sent when we request information gave detailed road information (don't use the free maps provided by the stores when looking for these specific places, it just gives you a general area), there were not clearly marked signs to the lighthouses, but they are worth the extra effort.
The second morning we were in town we got up and began shopping and sightseeing along the little beach side towns. We stopped at some of the country stores, and antique malls, and I'd love to go back and explore these in further depth. There were some really picturesque, sailboat filled bays that peeked out at you along the road, and my favorite town was Ephraim. I'd definitely want to stay here next time b/c few shops block the view of their waterfront. They are also home to a really famous ice cream shop-Wilson's. It was a very delicious stop.

We grabbed lunch at Al Johnson's in Sister Bay. It's a Swedish restaurant with a grass covered roof, and real goats that graze on the roof, as you eat in their dining hall below. It was one of the best meals we had, very authentic, so tasty, with a great atmosphere.

This was the day of Sweden's royal princess' wedding, so the gift shop was filled with memoriabilia marking the occasion taking place in Sweden. Sadly, it was also the day after Al Johnson (the owner's) funeral services. He certainly left a really great legacy, and pays tribute to this areas Swedish/Norwegian/German roots with this great eatery. I understand the popularity of the stop, and the goats on the roof are just an added bonus!
We then drove through the nearby State Park (there was a $5 entrance fee if you were staying for an hour or less, more for all day). They had swimming beaches, all kinds of trails, a Eagle's watch tower you could climb up (and my cousin, Holly and I did make the 75 foot climb).

The tower rocked, and the stairs were a little less than 'secure', but the view was worth the draw backs once you made it to the top!

Another stop we made in the park was to Eagle Bluff Lighthouse. It was an additional fee to go inside, and we had another lighthouse in mind for climbing, so we observed from below.

I love that each lighthouse has a different feel, style, and no doubt, a different story!
The next two lighthouses we saw from a distance. We had to stop and ask for directions after unsuccessfully following the map. There were no clear markings b/c they are actually located quite a distance away on two separate islands. We found them at the ferry dock that takes cars, and passangers over to Washington Island (home of another lighthouse we did not see b/c we didn't have time, and we didn't want to spend the 25 dollars for a car transport, and 11 dollar per person fee).


Our next lighthouse was one on Cana Island. You park on the side of the road, and walk across a 'rock bridge' to the island.

It's $4 to get on the grounds (this includes access to the house, which is a small museum), the beach below, benches which held artist sketching and painting these scenes on this particular day. For an additional $4 you could climb the lighthouse. Holly and I did. The view on top was worth every dime and tummy flip (though I will warn you the stairs are winding with only one side to grip, this made my cousin nervous, so...be prepared for a few flutters if this sort of thing bothers you, but she'd still tell you to go given the end results).

Our last 'lighted stop' was this rangelight.

The rest of the evening was spent sitting by the bay in Ephriam and enjoying some music, ice cream, and people watching at their annual Fyre Ball Festival.
On the third day we got up early (before heading down to Minnesota) and decided to visit a few of the Belgium churches listed in the guide book. We again found ourselves in the middle of pastures, on unmarked roads, but we were able to find 2 of six or seven of the 'churches.' They are tiny, and so cute, and such a neat testament to the past that influences their present in this county.


I think all of Wisconsin is absolutely charming. I want to go back, like, yesterday. The alternative is I now want to paint my house red, and open a dairy. I'd say that I want to grow grass on my roof, and add goats, but things are already pretty wild on the inside with my three dogs and their antics.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Road Trip 2010: Sault Ste. Marie


This is another stop a friend of my Mom's suggested (over half our trip was planned via good advice from friends). Less than an hour north of Mackinaw City are the Soo Locks in the city of Sault Ste. Marie, along the Canadian Border (which will be a brief, but necessary post I'll throw up here in a little while, you have to acknowledge a border crossing, especially when they let you back across the border despite a less than stellar criminal record....fine I'm just discussing traffic tickets, but still, the US border patrol could read this blog and think I'd be better off as Canada's problem.) Anyway....about the Locks...
This little town (full of more 'stuff' to do than just this experience I'm about to describe) borders not only Canada, but also two of the Great Lakes. Strange, but true, the two lakes have different water levels. This area used to be rapids because the level of Lake Superior is 21 feet higher than the lower lakes. I didn't really wrap my mind around what this all meant. I guess I thought the boats passed through, and I didn't know why that was exciting, but my life is filled with things I think are exciting other people might pass by, so it was on my list of 'must do's.' You can go read all about it in better detail on their links, BUT we saw a freighter that was over 1,000 feet in length, and more than 100 feet wide enter the locks, the doors shut, and once the boat was secured they slowly raised the water level so what looked like a flat boat soon loomed above the locks.



The gate on the opposite side opened up, and the boat, and it's crew drifted away.

There are also tours you can take (which I'd do next time around) where you can ride a much smaller boat. It moved a lot more swiftly, but made it that much more evident what happened. This tour group was secured to the side, and lowered down to go back into the lower lakes from Lake Superior.




Trust me (or don't), it was fascinating. Not one person left disappointed. It did take awhile to watch the freighter rise, but it's OK to relax and just enjoy on vacation, at least that's what people keep telling me. ;o) Bring binoculars! ...and spend some time in the city...and then report back b/c I just got to quickly breeze through, and I need suggestions for my 'next trip up north.'