{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 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‚Äôs 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.