column #5 of Travels with Lola (from the Oberlin News-Tribune)
As we wander from one town to the next, it’s interesting to see how the places describe themselves. You can learn a lot about a town by the signs they post at the city limits.
Entering Champion, Michigan, we learned it was home to the "1998 U.P. Best All Around Fire Department." A sign in Eagle River, Wisconsin proclaims it the "Snowmobile Capital of the World."
Pulling over for the night at a 24-hour truck stop in Prentice, Wisconsin, we learned that the exit also led to "Timm’s Hill – Wisconsin’s Highest Point." Naturally, we knew where we’d be heading the next morning.
The hill is in Timm’s Hill Park, about 220 acres with a few lakes, an observation tower, picnic shelters, and several hiking trails—including Timm’s Hill National Trail.
We climbed the hill—all 1951.5 feet of it—to the observation tower to take in the surrounding countryside. The view was pretty much just tree tops as far as the eye could see.
To put it in perspective, the highest geographic point in Wisconsin is less than 1/10 the size of the highest point in the U.S., Alaska’s Mt. McKinley. But hey—how many people do you know that can say they climbed the tallest point in Wisconsin?
In St. Peter, Minnesota, we drove straight past the historic Cox House and the Treaty Site Historic Museum, and stopped at Ruttles 50’s Grille & Bar. Six years earlier, during my only previous visit to St. Peter, I dined here and took their Rama/Lama/Ding/Dong challenge (apparently they like slashes).
The Ding/Dong is an $8.99 sundae—ten scoops of ice cream, toppings, nuts, whipped cream, etc. By comparison, they do have a "regular" sundae at $2.99. If you can down the whole Ding/Dong in one sitting, the prize is your name on a plaque at the restaurant.
Naturally, I took the challenge and had no problem at all—I even had an appetizer bowl of potato soup beforehand (3 summers working at Dairy Queen may have given me some experience). But that was then. Since I’d never returned, I could never verify that my name made it on a plaque.
Well, I can now say that my name is on a plaque in St. Peter, Minnesota. Rather than celebrate with a memorial Rama/Lama/Ding/Dong, Kaci and I opted for a small strawberry sundae and a margarita.
Back on the road, we soon found ourselves on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway (U.S. Hwy. 14), which took us to Walnut Grove. It was here that the Ingalls family moved in 1874 when Laura was 7 years old.
Though she didn’t publish her first "Little House" book until she was 65, Laura recalled enough of her time in Walnut Grove to detail it in "On the Banks of Plum Creek."
Strolling around town, I was beginning to think the town had done a remarkable job of restraining themselves from naming every other street or sandwich after Laura or one of her books. There’s no "Little House on the Prairie Realty" or "5/3 Banks of Plum Creek."
But then I did notice Ingalls Street and Lake Laura on my map. I also found Nellie’s Café which offers "Laura Lunch Pails." And it is just off the historic highway which bears her name.
For a small agricultural town with barely 600 residents, I was surprised to see the sign for the Southwest Minnesota Hmong Culture-History Center. But then I noticed that most of the people I saw on the street appeared to be of a southeast Asian background.
I wondered if any of the Hmong people had read Ms. Wilder’s books and been enchanted with the tales of pioneer life, before determining where they would immigrate to themselves.
As I sat contemplating children’s books outside the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum & Information Center, I watched three motorcycles pull up. Their riders, all clad in black leather with dark sunglasses, hopped off their bikes and walked into the museum. I guess "Little House on the Prairie" really is for everyone.
Our last stop in Minnesota was Pipestone, home of the world’s longest peace pipe (to give a hint, it’s 12 feet longer than Lola). We strolled through the quarries at the Pipestone National Monument. Here only Native Americans can mine the red claystone, which is carved into pipes for use in ceremonies.
The area inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s "The Song of Hiawatha." In honor of the poem, the town hosts an annual Hiawatha pageant.
Next stop: South Dakota
[Note from Ryan, 11/19/09: Thus concludes my first blog attempt 5 years ago. Yep, the first one indicated I would try to post each week. And I did post each week. For 2 weeks.]