{22 Trips in 2014} Dunning Springs – Decorah, Iowa

Dunning Dunning Springs Park is right down the road from the Ice Cave and it is certainly worth a visit. Again when I think Iowa, I don’t think of waterfalls. Yet there it was in all of its spectacular glory. Even my parents were shocked to find a water fall in Iowa.

dunning springsDunning’s Spring, a city park in Decorah, is the site of the first mill built in the county seat. A boulder near the stream marks the spot where William Painter built a gristmill in 1849. By 1861, E.C. Dunning owned the property and replaced the original mill. Usage changed through the years. The structure was torn down in 1897. The park has ample parking, picnic tables, benches, and a fire pit. When we arrived we found a ton of people enjoying the park. Everyone was climbing up the sides, playing in the water, and taking pictures of the 200ft water fall.

springWhen I saw the spring I knew I had to climb up to the top, I had to know where the water was coming from. I kicked off my flip flops, donned my sneakers and headed up the side of the falls. The source of the falls is groundwater that flows through an open, cavernous cave. Yes! Two caves in one day! it was almost to much for me to handle. Then I remembered I was in IOWA and clamed down. Anyways it was super cool and the water was extremely clear.

StairsThere I was huffing it up the side of the falls when I spotted what appeared to be steps through the woods. Yep there was steps, damn it! Steps, I could have taken the steps. I made my way back down the side of the falls grabbed my parental units and headed up the steps. The steps took you all the way to the top of the falls and ended at a platform that over looked the cave opening. It was well worth the climb.

pete and meWe had a great time hanging out and climbing around the falls. The sun was starting to set and one could hear our tummies grumbling. I backed out of out of the crowded parking lot like a boss and headed on down to the Pizza Ranch. Hey, don’t judge. A girl’s gotta eat.

Our drive home was not fun, we ended up driving back to Red Wing through a nasty rain storm. Luckily it had died down by the time we hit Rochester and it was smooth sailing from there. If you are looking for adventure head on down to Iowa. Yes I really mean this, head on down to Iowa, it is more than corn and turkeys.

{22 Trips in 2014} Ice Cave? In Iowa?

Ice cave signYes, yes there is an Ice Cave in Iowa. I know the concept of a cave in Iowa blew my mind too! When I think of Iowa I think of never ending corn fields and turkey farms. Never caves or rolling hills. It turns out that northeastern Iowa is filled with rolling hills and is known to have a cave or two.

Originally we wanted to tour the Laura Ingles Wilder Museum in Bur Oak Iowa. Well we got there a little too late and the museum employee turned us down. Well actually she turned 10 people down for the tour. Since that plan was foiled my Dad asked me “get on that Google machine of yours and see what there is to do. I want to see something.” Google machine? Ha! That man cracks me up. Google told me that Decorah was home to Iowa’s only Ice Cave and it was just a few miles down the road. The Ice Cave does not have a physical address, so when you go just punch “Ice Cave Road, Decorah IA” into your GPS and it will get you there in one piece.

The Decorah Ice Cave is one of the largest caverns containing ice in the Midwest, and is famed due to the rare ice deposits that can be seen and felt during the late summer months. The cave itself was formed in 450-million-year-limestone and dolomite. The ice formation is created when the chilly air of winter enters the cave and lowers the rock wall temperature. When spring thaw occurs, surface water seeps into the cave and freezes upon contact with the still-cold walls, and reaches maximum thickness in June. The Ice Cave is not a commercialized tourist attraction and you explore the cave at your own risk.

PeteIt was very easy to find. As in we drove right by the sign and had to make an illegal U turn. Hey it happens and at least I did not get caught or cause an accident. There is a very small parking lot and a picnic area at the base of the hill. A steep set of stone steps leads you to the cave entrance. As you climb the stairs you will notice a drop in air temperature, it was much colder near the cave than it was in the parking lot.

Ice Cave I was the brave one in my party and I wanted to go inside the cave. I went about 25 feet in and boy was it refreshingly cold. My mom and I did not spot any ice at the entrance, oh well it was still cool. My Dad did not go into the cave proclaiming “that’s shale, that is unstable! It could cave in on you!” Armed with my iphone flash light app I was trying to see further into the cave when my dad broke the silence and yelled. “If you go in there, throw me the keys I want to be able to get home.” To his surprise the car keys came flying at his feet. Seeing that I was in flip flops and not prepared to climb around on my knees I bid adue to the cave and trucked out of there.

{22 Trips In 2014} Spillville Iowa – Bily Clock Museum

Bily Clock Museum, Spillvie Iowa

Bily Clock Museum, Spillvie Iowa

My Dad loves to watch Jason Davis’s “On The Road” segments and has been asking me to take him to the Bily Clock Museum for years. Iowa was not on my list of places to see and well it has corn fields, I don’t do corn fields. However I promised my Dad earlier in the summer that I would take him to Spillville Iowa to see the clocks. A promise is a promise and well I am a girl of my word so off to Iowa we went.

Iowa is a short two hour drive south of Red Wing and I will admit the drive was very pretty. The leaves are just starting to turn, the fields are a golden hue, and there is just something magical about passing an Amish buggy. Spillville is a tiny town of 400 people strong. My dad kept on saying “I am in Mayberry! Where is Andy and Opie!” Yes it did have the small town charm and the bar we had lunch at has definitely seen better days. With food in our bellies we headed on down the road to the museum. Well my Mom and I drove, my Dad he tried to walk there. We foiled his plans and made him get back in the Prius.

No cameras are allowed in the Bily Clock Museum, which means I have no photos to share with you. The museum occupies an old storefront on the main street in Spillville. In addition to the storefront there is an old log house, an outbuilding with stalls that contain an old jail, voting both, and antique fire truck. The last stall in the outbuilding was occupied by an antique horse drawn hearse from the 1800’s, it was pretty cool.

You enter the museum at the side door and are greeted by the cheerful staff who kindly tell you that the tour is $6.00. We plopped down our $6.00 and walked right into the large space where the clocks lined the walls. She told us to hurry so we could catch the current tour that was going on. Tour? I was confused, all of the clocks were in one large room…. so why the tour. Well tour is not the right word, demonstration is more like it. Our lovely “tour guide” walked around to each clock, told us a short story and then pulled the string. That, that is when the magic happened, the clocks came to life and the room was filled with music.

The clocks’ creators, long-dead bachelor brothers Frank and Joseph Bily carved clocks every winter. Over the course of their lifetimes, using only hand tools and a scroll saw made from a sewing machine, the brothers designed, carved and assembled over twenty wooden clocks. The size of the Bily’s clocks is staggering and the intricacy is breathtaking. The largest clock, which is carved from walnut, rosewood, hard maple and cherry is called the Apostles’ Parade. It stands at 9 feet 10inches tall.

Our guide told us that Henry Ford offered the Bily brothers one million dollars for one of the clocks. They politely turned Mr. Ford down solely on the basis that they didn’t think anyone had that kind of money. The Brothers never sold their work and frequently turned down offers for commissioned projects. All the clocks they crafted were kept on the family farm. Their sister Anna would show visitors the clock collection for ten cents per person.

My favorite clock was of a small church, simple in design, yet eloquently crafted. When our guide pulled the string the room was filled with the sound of “Come All Ye Faithful.” Which just happens to be one of my favorite hymns. Truth, I thought the clocks were going to be boring. My was I surprised and I am glad I kept my word. Each clock was crafted with such precision, the figures are so life like, and the animatronics they created were pretty darn sweet. No two clocks were a like in size, movement, or song.

Watching my Dad’s face light up was worth the two hour drive, he has been talking about the clocks nonstop and wants to go back. Spillville is truly a Midwestern gem and its worth the drive. An heck it only costs $6.00 to see the clocks. To learn more about the Bily Clock Museum and Spillville Iowa, please visit http://www.bilyclocks.org

****Opinions are my own. I was not compensated for this report.*****

{22 Trips in 2014} Minnesota State Public School Museum, Owatonna MN

SPS MainThe Minnesota State Public School for Dependent and Neglected Children was created by the effort of the 1885 State Legislature, Governor Lucius Hubbard and Reverend Hart. Before this facility was created, orphaned, dependent, abused, and neglected children were placed in country-poor farms with adult derelicts, petty criminals, alcoholics, and the mentally ill. This school was created to be a haven where these children could be saved and transformed into productive members of society.

There were 16 cottages on the grounds that housed up to 500 children at any time. Children were constantly being placed out and new and unfamiliar children being placed in. These were orphaned, dependent, neglected and abused Minnesota children who had been made Wards of the State by the probate courts. The State School was to be a temporary home, preparing the orphans for adoption or placement in new, “good homes.” While the intent was to keep the children only for a few months, some stayed on for years and became institutionalized.

SPS StatueBy 1945, the state legislature, on the advice of childcare workers, phased out the orphanage and the institution took on a new role of providing academic and vocational training for Minnesota’s mentally challenged children. That era ended in 1970 and the State School was permanently closed. In 1974, the City of Owatonna purchased the campus to house city and administration offices.

Haven? For some the state school was a haven and for others it was their hell. Between 1886 and 1945 10,635 state schoolers passed through the doors and walked the grounds of the orphanage. Sadly for 198 children the orphanage became their final resting place. The first 47 children were buried with a tombstone. However, the practice was then changed. The next 151 children who died were buried simply with their identification number etched on a slab of cement. 151 children were simply marked by a cold slab and a number. During our visit to the orphanage museum my dad and I spent a lot of time in the cemetery. As you walk the rows is seeps in that you are walking the graves of children. 198 beautiful souls rest beneath the trees. As we walked the rows we read their names allowed, acknowledging the little lives that were lost.

FredI was caught off guard, I had to look three times to make sure I read my own last name correctly. Possibly one of our own lies in this hallowed ground. Fred Beaulieu, may not be related to us, yet we are going to claim him as our own, no one deserves to be forgotten. Lord only knows my Grandfather could have been one of the hundreds of Native American kids that walked through those doors. Once he made it to Saint Paul history loses track of him and he pops up in Lake City years later.

Audio StationMy Dad and I walked the grounds of the State School. The Orphanage museum has six audio stations littered through out the grounds and the voice of Harvey a former state schooler tells you about life at the school. Not only does this self-guided tour give the history of the State School, it also loops you though the grounds so you may take in the historic architecture and re-faced Root Cellar. Each audio clip last for about five minutes or so, my Dad always beat me to the button, I think I only got to push one of the six. We had a lot of fun listening and learning about the state school and the kids that called it home.

Cottage 11The audio tour brought us to Boys Cottage 11. Constructed in 1923 by architect Clarence Johnson, Boys’ Cottage 11 housed 30-35 boys from ages 6-13. Highlights include original terrazzo flooring, bathroom fixtures and woodwork. This is your only opportunity to walk through an original cottage from the orphanage era. Most of the rooms in the cottage are equipped with an audio station. Each cottage had a matron and how you were treated was the luck of the draw.

Some matrons were loving and others ruled with an iron fist. Stories of children being punished and beaten by their Matron’s filled the rooms. My heart broke for these children and I wanted to go back in time and rescue all of them. The cottage was not a happy place, the children had to enter and leave from the basement door. Each one had a chair and that is where they sat and waiting to leave. The chair controlled, it was for institutionalization, punishment, and away of life. I ran my fingers a cross the chair tops, as a child with ADHD, I had no doubt that I probably would have been tied to one.Char

My Dad and I had enough of Cottage 11 and made our way outside. We sat under a group of trees taking in the view of the campus. It was hard for us to picture a happy life as an orphan at the state school. Could you imagine being a scared child and pulling up in front of this large intimidating building that you were to call home. Not knowing a soul, your family gone, and your identity was whittled down to a six digit number. You were no longer a name, you were a number in a sea of broken souls.

After taking in the breeze we made our way into the Main building of the school, which houses the main orphanage museum and serves as the administrative offices for the City of Owatonna. This u-shaped hall hosts display cabinets filled with photos and artifacts of the children who called this place home. The stories and photos in the cases will break your heart. Most are happy stories others not so much. They speak of eating mush in the dining hall, of walking two by two where ever they went, and of siblings being kept apart.
Dining Room

You can visit the schools dining room, today it serves as a public event space for weddings and gatherings. If you ask me I could not have a wedding or a party in such a painful place. Then again maybe the surviving state schoolers would want a little bit of joy in the place they call home. Many of the children who survived got used to being institutionalized and did not know how to function in the outside world. Many didn’t even know that a different type of life existed beyond the borders of the school. When they were 18 they were turned out into the world, little institutionalized citizens that were expected to thrive. Most didn’t thrive, they took a nose dive into the ground and spent their lives wondering. Broken souls trying to make it in a world that doesn’t understand that they were raised without a loving hand.

This trip was a lot of fun and I learned a lot about the Orphanage and the kids that called it home. I kind of wish they still existed, because if they did I could walk in and pick out my child. I could take him or her home same day instead of waiting for our government to sort out the paperwork for me to bring an orphan home from overseas. Then again the government is not good at raising children. If you find yourself in Owatonna step back in time and visit the school. Its free and you will walk away forever touched by the stories of the children that called it home.

{22 Trips in 2014} Cirus World, Baraboo WI

3315Circus World is an important part of Americana and mostly a huge part of Wisconsin’s state history. The state of Wisconsin has given us a lot of great things such as: cheese curds, beer -lots of beer, the Badgers, and of course the circus. Or more specifically Wisconsin is the birth place of the Ringling Brothers. In 1882 the 5 brothers performed skits and juggling routines in towns all around Wisconsin. In 1884 the Ringling Brothers held their first one ring circus in Baraboo, Wisconsin and united with a famous showman named Yankee Robinson. Using the title “Yankee Robinson and Ringling Brothers”, the Ringling Bros. and Yankee Robinson circus traveled through out the Midwest.

3350Wisconsin would always be home to the Ringling brothers and Baraboo would prove to be the perfect wintering ground for the brothers and their performers. The Ringling’s spent their winters designing and fabricating new props and wardrobes, hiring new and returning performers, planning the route the circus would travel, and laying out their new advertising campaign. They also cared for their animals which in 1916 consisted of: five hundred horses and ponies, 29 elephants, 15 camels and about 20 other hay eating animals, plus tigers, lions, monkeys, and birds including ostrich. Today only 10 of the original 25 structures remain in Ringlingville and are open to the public.

As the glory days of the great railroad circuses began to fade, John M. Kelley, personal attorney for the Ringling brothers, saw the need to preserve the history of the circus. To this end he joined forces with members of the Gollmar Family, first cousins to the Ringlings and circus owners themselves. The team incorporated Circus World Museum as a historical and educational facility in 1954. Following Circus World’s opening on July 1, 1959, the site was deeded debt-free to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. What began in 1959 with less than an acre of land, six old circus wagons and a boatload of passion, has now become an internationally recognized historical treasure.3363

Circus World is an important part of American History. For children, it is an eye-opening experience that they cannot get in a classroom. For adults, it is a look back at the good times before iPads and smart phones took over as a form of entertainment. My parents went to Circus World in the 1970s, however they only saw it from outside. To their disappointment they arrived at the museum after closing time and were not ale to visit. They told this story to me numerous times throughout my childhood, I think it was a lesson to always check to see when things close and to be on time.

3331As a little girl I loved going to the circus. My parents took me every time it came to Red Wing, it was always held at the Bergawald Arena and it was usually in the spring. Cotton Candy and a pin wheel kept me company as the acts unfolded before my eyes. Elephants, acrobats, and clowns danced around, and I was as happy as a clam. At 31 I had child like excitement as I plopped down my $19.95 and strolled under the entrance sign.

I love museums where one does not have to tag after a stuffy tour guide. At Circus World you can tour the grounds at your own pace and there is no one trying to stuff facts down your face. My mom and I wondered from building to building, reading, pointing, and chatting about how much work goes into putting the circus on. We made our way through the Irvin Feld Exhibit Hall and we made are way up the hill to the W.W. Deppe Wagon Pavilion which holds a3327 collection of over 50 historic circus wagons. From the wagon pavilion my mom and I trucked on over to the C.P. Fox Wagon Restoration Center and got a glimpse of the wagon restoration process. We took in a magic show, the magician was pretty good and he told us “don’t miss the big top show.”

3365Big top show, my little heart pitter pattered at those words, and we made our way back down the hill. I spied an elephant and skipped on over to visit her. I cannot being to tell you how happy she was, she was probably the happiest little elephant I have ever seen in captivity. At Circus World they pump circus music over he loud speakers and this little elephant was keeping with the beat. She was enjoying the day, swaying back and forth, swinging her trunk, swishing her tail, and stepping to the beat of the music. The elephant made my trip to Circus World worth it. My mom pulled me away and we walked on over to the Side Show display.

Inside the tent they tell the stories of the bearded lady, tiny Tim, the fat lady, and the really tall man. These folks were not freaks, they were human just like you and me. I could not imagine being put on display and having people point and laugh at me for days on end. This to me is the dark part of the Circus and I vacated that tent and made my way to the big top!

3367Yay! A circus at Circus World, wow that’s a crazy concept. I bought a Snapple an some cotton candy, yes I am five and found a spot inside the tent. The circus did not disappoint, puppies did tricks, the ponies pranced, the acrobats spun, and the elephants, OMG the elephants were my favorite part of the entire show. The show did not disappoint and it lasts for a little more than an hour. I was content with my visit and with a grumbling tummy I was ready to head on out.

If you find yourself in the Wisconsin Dells area, pull your ass away from the water slides and take a short drive to Baraboo. Circus World does not disappoint, show your children a piece of your childhood, munch on cotton candy, and let your heart fall in love with the circus all over again. Trust me, you will be glad you did.

{22 trips in 2014} Witch’s Gulch – Wisconsin Dells, WI

3382Everyone knows that Wisconsin Dells is known for one thing, water slides. Beyond the water slides one will find a plethora of mini golf courses, fudge shops, and restaurants. The dells is Wisconsin’s version of Las Vegas. If you thirst for adventure, pull yourself away from the strip and head on out into the wilderness. Take a side road a long the river and find yourself in the heart of Witches Gulch. A place that not many tourists dare tread. $5 gets you on the trail and you will not be disappointed.3414

According to Native American legend it was a great serpent, wriggling down from his home near the Big Lake, that formed the bed of the Wisconsin River. Crawling over the forests and the fields, his huge body wore an immense groove into the land and the water rushed in behind him. 3418When he came to the sandstone ridge where the Dells begins he thrust his great head into a crevice between the rocks and pushed them aside to form a narrow, winding passage. At his approach, lesser serpents fled forming the canyons which lead off from the main channel. It was these timid, lesser serpents that formed Coldwater Canyon and Witches’ Gulch, so the legend goes.

3400The true story is just as exciting. When the great glacial lake of Wisconsin started to break free from its large ice dam the waters rushed free in a catastrophic flood and carved out the great rock formations we see today. It is hypothesized that the noise of the rushing water would have been heard up to six states away.

My mom and I almost missed the entrance to the Gulch. There are now big glitzy signs pointing to it, just a hand painted sign on an old iron gate marks the spot. A dirt road takes you deep into the woods, a stream is to your left, and soon you are in a narrow parking lot. There is a concession stand/gift shop at the edge of the lot, plop down your $5 and you are granted passage. I loved every minute of the Gulch, my head turning round and round in an attempt to take it all in. I stopped looking at the gulch through my iPhone camera lens and sucked in the beauty that is Wisconsin.3391

Witch’s Gulch is magic, pure natural magic. As you progress through the gulch you are greeted by the sound of rushing water. You soon realize that water is running beneath your feet and dumps into what they call “the witch’s bathtub.” The gulch leads you out to the Wisconsin River and of course as we were making our way through a noisy group of tourists arrived on one of the many sight seeing boats. My Mama and I didn’t let them spoil our fun, we slowly made our way pointing and looking at the beauty that was around us.

{22 Places In 2014} Lake Superior Ice Caves

I first discovered the Lake Superior Ice Caves in College and have been returning every year the Park Service deems the lake safe enough for people. The caves are a short trip from the University of Wisconsin-Superior campus and there were always people headed to the caves. During the winter season, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore offers a popular attraction in the dazzling shoreline ice caves at Mawikwe Bay along the mainland. The winter adventure of seeing the beauty of the ice caves will take your breath away. Lakeshore cliffs along Lake Superior form crimson red borders to create an arctic landscape. Pillars of ice extend to the cliff tops where waterfalls have hardened in place. Frozen Lake Superior water encrusts the base of the cliffs.
Ice Cave 16

2014 is the first time the caves have been open in five years. The National Park Service credits social media for increasing the numbers of visitors to the caves. In on weekend close to 30,000 people made the 1.5 mile trek across frozen Lake Superior to view the spectacle of snow and ice. One must bundle up if they deem themselves brave, walking on the frozen lake is no easy task. I would recommend ski poles to help stabilize your steps and super warm boots to keep your feet happy.

Ice Cave 17
This year I made the trek with my Mama and Pete. We set out on a 5 hour drive to the frozen north shore, with each mile my anticipation grew and my excitement had become contagious. I was mainly building myself up for one of the coldest walks I’d ever take, -2 degrees is something to take seriously. This is skin freezing weather and well I want to keep all of my skin.

Ice Cave 4
The most common way to get to the Lake Superior ice caves is to hike out to them from Meyers Beach Road, which is well-marked on the Bayfield Peninsula’s Highway 13. Park your vehicle and hike approximately one mile east to the ice caves. This was the first year that I have ever seen a shuttle service to the caves. My parents and I parked in Cornocopia and took a bus to Meyers beach. From there we walked down the road, through the bustling parking lot, down the steps, and on to the frozen lake. I looked at my Dad and said “Hey Pete! Look I’m like Jesus, I’m walking on water!” My Dad cracked a smile and we set out towards the caves.

Ice Cave 10

Although each year hundreds of visitors trek out to experience the fantasy, hikers are warned that conditions can be dangerous and appropriate hiking boots are needed as the ice can be slippery and bumpy with snow cracks and ice and snow mounds. There have been years where people go out, only to never be seen again. Lake Superior keeps her dead and her power should never be underestimated or challenged.

Ice Cave 12

If you find yourself with wanderlust I highly recommend that you act on it and take a trip to the caves. Your face will freeze, you will be in awe, you will get tired, and curse a few times, yet you will not regret that you did.