SAM_1502 Lake Superior North Shore Scenic Drive, MN

Wow! We've picked up the pace and have visited many places in these past couple of weeks! After the Corps of Engineer park near Minot, ND, we moved further east to Grand Forks AFB and stayed in their nice FamCamp (Family Campground). This is a quiet campground located in a back portion of the base. It's the kind of place we enjoy staying at. During our 3-day stay here, we visited the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site. My last blog post was all about this fascinating historic site.

Our next stop allowed us to mark off another state we've now stayed in - Minnesota. We spent 5 nights at the  Winnie Dam Corps of Engineer (COE) campground, located on Lake Winnibigoshish, MN. We're beginning to really like COE campgrounds. So far, they've had electric hook-ups, have been reasonably priced, have large sites, and have been in pretty locations. We're not used to using COE campgrounds, as there's not many on the western portion of the U.S. We arrive mid-week and the campgrounds are mostly empty. However, they fill-up over the weekends.

During our stay at Lake Winnie, we took a few day trips. The first was to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Yep, we saw where the Mighty Mississippi River begins at the Itasca State Park in MN. The river is only 18 feet wide here, where it will travel for 2,318 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Many people get their photo taken here while they walk across the Mississippi River (it's 18" deep here). We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch along the lake on the back roads of the state park. They also have a nice visitor's center.

Another short day trip took us to the town of Grand Rapids, MN to the birthplace home and museum of Judy Garland. The small museum was interesting with many mementos of Judy Garland, and especially of the Wizard of Oz movie. There's a few costumes Judy wore in the movie and the carriage used in the movie from "A Horse of a Different Color". It was discovered during a restoration that this carriage once belonged to Abraham Lincoln. The museum is also "famous" (?) for having one of the four original pairs of Ruby Slippers stolen from it. They've never been located, so now only three original pairs exist.

We wanted to see more of Minnesota, so we took a long day trip to Duluth, MN then drove north along the Northern Shore of Lake Superior. This scenic drive goes for over 150 miles along the shoreline, but we only had time to do about 45 miles of it before turning to make the 3-hour drive back home. We did enjoy the portions we saw. We stopped for lunch at the famous Betty's Pie shop along the north shore drive and we had to bring home a pie. Their Great Lakes 5 berry crunch pie was fabulous!

Our slow travel days all of a sudden sped up! From this COE park, we headed to Clara City and spent the night at the Hinterland Vineyards. They are part of the Harvest Hosts network, so it was a free night of dry-camping next to a pretty vineyard. We enjoyed a nice dinner and some of their wine while listening to the band play for the evening. While heading out of town the next day, we stopped at the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum. For a small, not well-known museum, it was pretty good. They had a very good selection of WWII aircraft and vehicles on display. I was impressed with the very high quality of the restorations. I think almost everything on display was in operating condition. After a few hours at the museum, we headed to Brandon, South Dakota and stayed at the Wilde Prairie Winery. They are also part of the Harvest Hosts network. We didn't stick around to enjoy the vineyard, as our reason coming here was to visit with Connie's niece, Kama. We hadn't seen her for almost 15 years. It was great seeing her and her family. We went to Sioux Falls for dinner, and a quick visit to view the water falls. We ended our stay very early in the morning as it started to rain pretty hard and we were in a grassy field. So at 6:30am we packed up quickly and crossed our fingers that the field wasn't too saturated. Whew, no problems. We pulled into a parking lot in town so we could shower and get ready.

Our next stop was back to Minnesota to the Round Lake Vineyards (also a Harvest Host facility). Part of the Harvest Host program is that we are only allowed to spend one night at a location, free of charge. This is great for when we are traveling fast and only need a one-night stop. This was a very pretty vineyard and winery, with nice facilities. We were parked under the trees overlooking Round Lake. We made sure we arrived early, so we could enjoy their Sunday Brunch. Although staying at these Harvest Hosts locations is free, we usually end up buying a meal or a bottle of wine. It was nice we arrived early as we got the best parking spot and since it rained all day, we didn't have to drive in it.

Music Man Square
Meredith Wilson

 It was time to move out of Minnesota and visit another state we've never stayed in before. We moved into Iowa and spent a couple nights at the Clear Lake State Park, IA. Even though we were only there for a couple nights, we made the most of touring the local area. We drove over to nearby Mason City, IA to see the Music Man Square. This is next door to the childhood home of Meredith Wilson, who wrote the music and lyrics for the Music Man movie (and much more).

Back in the town of Clear Lake, we visited the Surf Ballroom. This historic ballroom opened in 1934. In the 1930's and 1940's, in order for a big band to make its reputation nationally, it had to play the Surf. The likes of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and The Dorsey's all made regular stops at the Surf. The 1950's saw the dawning of rock and roll, and then manager Carroll Anderson was quick to book the hottest names in the business. Artists like The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson, Little Richard, Jan and Dean and Conway Twitty all took the stage here. In the early 1970's through today, the Surf has brought in the likes of Santana, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, Alice Cooper, The Doobie Brothers, BB King, ZZ Top, Martina McBride, Lynryd Skynyrd and countless others. This ballroom was  the last location Buddy Holly performed at. After his performance in 1959, Buddy Holly, Ricthie Valens, and The Big Bopper were killed in a plane crash 5 miles away,  It was amazing to see all of the music history in this ballroom. Hundreds of photos and autographed guitars line the walls. I couldn't believe it's open to the public to visit, all for a small donation. Connie and I even took a little spin on the dance floor.

The next day took us to the nearby town of Forest City, IA. This is in Winnebago County, home of Winnebago Industries. There are two Winnebago production facilities here and we took tours of them both. Our morning tour was to the Class B (Van) motorhome production facility in nearby Lake Mills, IA. We watched the workers making a couple models of the Winnebago camping vans. After lunch, we took the "big" tour of the facilities in Forest City. Here, we observed the production lines for Class C and Class A motor homes, as well as their upholstery shop. It was interesting to see how Winnebago motor homes are made. No cameras were allowed, so no pictures.

Our next stop in Iowa was to the Sugar Bottom Corps of Engineers Campground on Coralville Lake in Solon, IA. We'll be here for 4 nights. We don't have much planned for here, other than to slow down and relax (and catch-up on this blog). However, we did have a couple day trips planned to do some local site-seeing. One of these day trips was to the nearby Amana Colonies. The Amana Colonies is a collection of 7 towns formed by German immigrants. Persecution and an economic depression in Germany forced the community to begin searching for a new home. They hoped to find religious freedom in America and left Germany in 1843-44. They pooled their resources and eventually purchased around 26,000 acres in Iowa for their community. We visited one of their towns and enjoyed a great German meal and also walked away with some locally made yarn and smoked meats and cheese, and pie!

Another long day trip was to the town of Winterset, IA. Our fist stop was to spend some time at the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum. The museum was nice and information, but a tad small. But we did learn more about John Wayne and saw many of his costumes worn in various movies. His birthplace home is next door. He was born in this house in 1907, a 13 (!!) pound bouncing baby boy. His parents were only renting this house and lived there for 2 years.  But it was still interesting. He mainly grew up in Glendale, CA. Hmm, I wonder where that house is, lol. The rest of the afternoon was spent driving around viewing 5 covered bridges. These were made famous in the movie "The Bridges of Madison County". These covered bridges are over 140 years old. Although not used anymore, they still seem pretty strong. We also made a stop at a Cidery where Connie sampled and walked away with a couple of bottles of hard cider.

Saturday will be another down/catch-up day and then Sunday we will head north again, stopping at Fort McCoy, WI. Another state to check off!