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Smith Falls State Park, Valentine, Nebraska

Louise Speaks:  Day 38 Continued:  We continued going west in Nebraska.  As we were driving to Valentine we came across the AshFall Fossil Beds.  This was not on our list but we thought we’d stop anyway.  To go look at the fossils they wanted us to go by way of a  tour and it was pretty costly, so we decided to just keep on driving.

100_5502It was a very easy walk.  First we had to go through a campground, then through a meadow, then over100_5498 a bridge that crossed the river and then the real hike started.  It was a very easy path though.  The entire path was wooden planks, with hand rails. It was a climb, but it was gradual.  We had been walking for quite a while, when we finally heard rushing water…that would indicate the falls were close by.  We were almost to the top and we could see the falls peaking through the trees.  When we reached the top, it was breath-taking and worth every step we took.  These falls are 63 feet tall and just amazing.  The trees were surrounding the falls, the moss on the mountains were an emerald-green, and the rushing falls were falling into a pond below.  It was very serene and temperature wise, very cool.

Although this was a bit of a hike, it was an easy hike, and worth every step.  I would love to come back here and camp someday…maybe in a motor home.

refugeAs we headed out to our motel, we drove through yet another Wildlife Refuge.  This one was in Valentine.  The Valentine National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1935 to protect a portion of the Sandhills and their wildlife. The unique nature of the refuge was recognized in 1976 when the Sandhills prairie was designated as National Natural Landmark.  Valentine National Wildlife Refuge lies in the heart of a vast area of undulating sand dunes which stretch across north-central Nebraska. The region, called the Sandhills, is the largest remaining tract of mid and tall grass prairie in North America. After seeing farm land for the past several weeks, it was quite a change in terrain to see the prairie grass blowing in the wind.

This day was full of very scenic things as well as a few quirky things, but all were great places to visit.  We are spending the last night in Nebraska and are more than half way home.

Thelma Speaks:

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Spam Museum, Austin Minnesota and a Quirky Day in Iowa

100_5419Louise Speaks:  Day 37:  We left Sharon in Bloomington and headed south.  We are definitely on our way home.  Our first stop was the Spam Museum…don’t laugh, this was really a cool place.  This is a free attraction and you wouldn’t believe how many people were here.  When you first arrive you watch a short video on the history of Spam.  What was fun was to remember how different the can looked from way back to the present.  I remember Spam with the turn-key, and you were so careful not to mess up, because if you did and broke the key there was no way to open the can.  I remember my mom frying it and having Spam on sandwiches.  Strange thing though I don’t think I ever prepared Spam for my kids.

100_5416The museum is set up in chronological order from the beginning to now.  They have trivia games, recipes, introduction of all the new flavors, and the history of why Spam is so popular in Hawaii…their biggest consumers. One of the questions was How did Spam get its name?  You know I didn’t even know what Spam meant.  They have people walking around to answer any questions you might have so I asked, What does Spam mean?  Answer, Spiced Ham…duh.  They also have a man walking around with Spam samples…felt like I was in a Spam Gallery.  Of course they had a huge gift shop with more Spam stuff than you can imagine.  Very friendly people, interesting stuff and a bit of Spam history…all for free.  This really was a neat place to stop and visit.

When we left the museum we went to the actual Spam factory, because that is where they have the huge can of Spam on display, and of course I had to have a picture.  I know you’re probably laughing, but this really was a great stop.

From Spam we headed out to Buddy Holly’s Plane Crash Site, but I want to blog about that separately, so I’m going to go on with the other Quirky Iowa things to see.

100_5439First on the list is the Large Chicken and Ice Cream Cone.100_5441  This is not too far from the Buddy Holly site, and it’s at a fast food place called Barrell Drive In.  The chicken is out on the street on a trailer so they must pull it around in parades and things.  The ice cream cone is back in the corner, and it is a swirl, not like a Dairy Queen.  We did have ice cream here, but this was definitely a “quirky” thing to stop and see.

100_5444Next stop was the “World’s Largest Bullhead”  This is located at Crystal Lake in a park.  This must be a popular stop because there was a small tour bus there.  Then again this may be a highlight for Iowa…sorry Iowa residents….lol  There sure are a lot of large fish in the Midwest, I mean I think this is the third one we’ve stop to see.


From here it was off to Algona to see the “Worlds Largest Chee-to.”  Yes you heard me right.  This is located in a restaurant and we lucked out as they were only open for dinner and it was just a bit after 5:00.  As we walked in the hostess wanted to seat us for dinner but we stopped her and told her we were here to see the large chee-to.  She informed us that the chee-to was on its last days, as it is a food product and it can only last so long.  That being said, I’m really glad we stopped as it may be gone soon.  I mean the chee-to isn’t like the canals of Venice, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Mount Rushmore, but it is an attraction that will soon be gone.

100_5447There is a history to this chee-to.  Originally found in a bag of Cheetos in Hawaii, it was put up for auction on Ebay, of course. When the bidding became out of control at over $1 million, the seller became fed up and finally sold it to the small town of Algona in Iowa, who had been bidding from the very beginning, but ran out of funds.  Rumors are that the town plans to build a museum based around the Chee-to. Until that time the Chee-to resides in the Emerald Restaurant right off the highway in Algona.

Softball sized reports may have been overstated, but it’s definitely bigger than a golf ball and is housed in a bullet proof case on a cheesy orange pedestal and purple cushion.  When we told the hostess that is what we came to see, she quickly took us to the display case and said there it is and walked off to leave us to admire and photograph.  I’m sure after we left if they saw AZ plates on the car they must have thought we were nuts…and I’m guessing so do you as you read this.

From here we were suppose to go to the Grotto of Redemption, but we were to be at an old co workers of Thelmas by 6:00 and it was close to that now.  This friend is almost 90 so we didn’t want to keep her up too late and she was holding dinner for us, so we skipped the grotto…another reason to come back.

This was a busy driving day, with many things to say to make us laugh, make us scratch our head and say…okay….and just do silly things instead of the usual museums or national historical places.  So laugh if you will, it was a great day!

Of course none of these things are in Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die” and they’re not even in “Off The Beaten Path”.  I found them on a web site, “Quirky Things To Do In Iowa” and I must say we have seen quite a few.  There is even a book called “Oddball Iowa” and yes Thelma bought it, and believe it or not, we have almost seen them all, but we do have to come back to finish the book.

So laugh if you will, it was a fun day!

Thelma Speaks:


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St. Paul, Minnesota

Louise Speaks:  Day 36:  Our last day in the twin cities, so much to do.  We headed up to Stillwater, Minnesota.  Our drive up was going to be along the St. Croix River Valley…another scenic byway.  This drive is nestled between Minnesota and Wisconsin in a picturesque valley, the Lower St. Croix River flows between bluffs of limestone and sandstone, beginning as a narrow gorge with steep vertical walls, then slowing and widening into the scenic Lake St. Croix. This is where we saw more of the high bluffs.

100_5361We finally arrived in Stillwater where we went to the Lowell Inn.  The Lowell Inn, named for famed Stillwater entrepreneur Elmore Lowell, was built-in 1927 on the grounds of the old lumberjack boarding house, The Sawyer House.  A newly annexed addition, completed in 2011, includes twelve new rooms decorated in European Modern decor.  There are thirty-five sleeping rooms, in total, most decorated in Williamsburg and French Provincial style.

The Inn was run for many years by Arthur and Nelle Palmer, former Vaudevillians, who lived at the Inn and raised their family here. Nelle was well-known for her style and was most often the hostess, where she greeted diners and travelers in the Lowell Inn’s glamorous lobby. A portrait of Nelle hangs in the George Washington room.

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100_5365It is a testament to the hospitality of the Palmer family that three generations of the family operated the Inn. In 2001, the St. Croix Boat and Packet Company purchased the Inn, and strives to continue to maintain the personal attention the Palmer family established for the Inn and, all of its patrons and guests.

Although I gave my usual speech, we were not invited to look at rooms or to be given a tour of the grounds.  They did not have a gift shop but did have a sketched post card of the outside of the hotel.  On our own we walked around the lobby and dining room.  There is an outdoor patio that is quaint and inviting, but is small and in the direct sunlight.

The town of Stillwater, was quaint and is on the river, but as for the hospitality of the Lowell Inn, I for one was not impressed.

100_5369We continued on the St. Croix Trail on our way to Afton.  Here we were going to visit the Afton House Inn.

From the moment we entered the inn, it showed all the charm of a historic country inn. The gal at the front desk told us about the inn and shared with us how the Inn also owns the St. Croix River Cruise company, so many package deals are available. She invited us to go look around and spend as much time as we’d like.

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100_5372We did do this and happened to come across one of the housekeeping staff.  She was more than happy to take us to see several different rooms.  Almost all the rooms had a fire-place and a Jacuzzi tub.  The rooms were decorated in antique furnishings and were very clean and inviting.  Each room is unique in decor, with an antique ambiance, along with the modern conveniences of a private bath and television.  It is the deluxe rooms that feature the Jacuzzi  tubs and have outdoor balconies overlooking the St. Croix River.

Now it was time to go visit down town St. Paul.  It was mid day so we figured the traffic wouldn’t be too bad, but then again we came across the same freeway system…having to get off the freeway just to get back on.  We discovered the only good thing about this system is that if you screw up and miss the exit, you just stay where you are and you’re in the right place…simply amazing.

We found some very kind and helpful people in town as every where you park requires a quarter.  I felt like I was in Italy, paying for everything.  Our fist stop, we didn’t have quarters, so we’re asking for change.  The man who was at the meter ahead of us went to his car and got 3 quarters for us, asking if that would help.  I offered him the dollar and he wouldn’t accept it…very nice.

100_5376Now it was time to go find the Fitzgerald Theater.  This is the theater where the Garrison Keller’s Prairie Home Companion is performed.  We were very disappointed here as we found the theater but couldn’t get in.  We saw people inside, probably a cleaning crew, but still the doors were locked.  So all we were able to do was look in the windows and see the posters on the outside of the theater.

Sharon had given us suggestions of a couple of places where we could have lunch, but we were hesitant to move the car and go somewhere else.  Our next stop was again another suggestion of Sharon’s and that was to visit Candy Land, where they make the candy right in front of you.

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100_5383We left the theater to go to Candy Land, and once again had to find a place to park.  I’m walking up the street looking for a meter that may have some time left on it, as we still didn’t have quarters, when a woman was leaving and asked us if we wanted her spot…she had over 30 minutes left on her meter.  So we lucked out again.

Turns out Candy Land was just down the street from the Fitzgerald Theater, we wouldn’t have even had to move..but oh well.  As you enter Candy Land you see them making the candies right inside the door.  There are conveyor belts and trays and trays of candy.

It was a true old fashion candy store, with every type of candy and popcorn imaginable.  As usual, Thelma had to buy a little bit of just about every candy on display.  Oh, and she had to get a good supply of popcorn as well.

From here we were off to Como Park to try to find the location where the Winter Carnival is held in the winter.  Our first stop was a huge carousal…and our luck it was free Carousal day.  Turns out the carousal is usually closed on Monday, but today was our lucky day.

100_5390We then went across the park to visit the conservatory.  This is also the location of the zoo and a huge gift shop.  In the conservatory it was like a huge green house.  We didn’t go inside as I thought it would be just as humid as the green house at the Sculpture Garden so we decided to shop instead.

The Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, could be a place to spend an entire day.  Both of these attractions could take quite a bit of time to truly enjoy, but to have them together, it’s a full day at best.

Before leaving we stopped at the visitor center and asked where the winter carnival was held.  Turns out the winter carnival is held at different locations throughout the St. Paul area.  Turns out some places had the skating rink, some had ice sculptures, some had snow building contests etc.  So I guess the winter carnival is a community affair.

100_5404From here we went back to Sharon’s to meet an old friend from Prescott who had moved to Minnesota.  Thelma had taught with her at Miller Valley so it was great for them to catch up.  We then got the call from Sharon to meet her and Carries family at the Mall of America for dinner.

We were lucky to even find the place as every entrance seemed to end up at a street instead of a store. We finally found a parking garage so we parked, and as it happened, it was right at the entrance to Bubba Gump shrimp, the place where we were to have dinner.

This mall is HUGE. It was four stories tall and each level goes in 4 directions. This mall is actually one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world. Mall of America features 520 stores, 50 restaurants and attractions galore, including Nickelodeon Universe, the nation’s largest indoor theme park, and the new American Girl store.  For someone who likes to shop this is a gold mine as there is no sales tax on clothing or shoes!

Thelma had bought a new game that we had learned how to play at Jan’s so we said our good bye’s to Carrie and her family and headed back to Sharon’s to play the game.  It was our last night with Sharon so it was going to be a fun last night.

St Paul was a great city.  I’m sure there is way more things to do here than what we have seen.  I’m thinking a vacation back to Sharon’s and nowhere else is in order.  I had such a great time here and it’s so fun to meet so many new friends.  St. Paul gets a B rating, a place we have to come back to, and a place you should visit.

AM…Page 545, 552, 554, 556, 557, 

Thelma Speaks:  I had been to Stillwater many years ago and never had seen the Lowell Inn.  The family history is interesting but the lack of warmth and sharing the Inn with visitors I found to be unlike what Nelle would have wanted.  We saw only what you would see walking in off the street so there isn’t any way to tell about the actual rooms first hand.  The tables outside were close to the street, in the afternoon sun and didn’t seem to be a place where you would want to sit even with all the flowers.

On to Afton.  This was a place to stay close to the water and with lots of interesting rooms which we were fortunate to get to visit in person.  Each room was different and I can see why people have weddings at the historic Afton House Inn.  The rooms were all decorated  in a historic antique manor but many with Jacuzzi  tubs and fireplaces.  I would love to stay here by the St. Croix and watch the river float by someday.  It is a little sleepy town with some shops and places to eat but not a place to worry about time.

Aaahhhh after the relaxing feel of Afton it is time to travel to downtown St. Paul!  Being the capital of Minnesota you are thinking hustle and bustle and traffic!  Off we go… one thing to remember is have lots and lots of quarters when you come downtown!  We were parking when we see we need quarters.  Looking here and there we had none!  A very kind man shared three with us and had we known what we were looking at downtown we could have parked here and just walked to the other things on our list… oh well!  So the first stop was the Fitzgerald Theater.  We tried door after door and being the day of the week we were here, there was no way we were getting in.  We saw the posters and people working inside but that was as far as we got to the home of Prairie Home Companion performances.  Maybe next time we can plan to come After plenty of candy and of course popcorn of all kinds…. we managed to get out the door and still have some money left for the rest of the trip.  Thanks Sharon for the great tip!

Next stop is Como Park!  Wow this park has so much to offer.  There were plants to see, gift shops, the Carousal, zoo and conservatory!  This place needs more time than we can offer today.  So we go to the carousal and the gift shop and decide to put this stop on our list for next time!  The carousal is something to see for sure and being free today was a bonus! Oh and there is free parking here, just in case you were wondering.  So one last thing to find is the Winter Carnival.  We asked and find out it is held in different places around the city so you never know for sure where it will be held.  A great idea for winter fun.

Back to Sharon’s to meet my friend Stacy. I had taught with her at Miller Valley in Prescott so it was great to catch up with her and hear about her adventures in Minnesota!  I look forward to seeing her home next time I come back but for now it is on to the Mall of America.  Louise had not been here before and I had so I knew she was going to be shocked! I could only think how many days to shop all the stores and eat in all the places in the mall!  Louise was on over load and was get me out of here!  Being large is not enough.  They are adding as much as there already is to the mall so when we go back we will have even more places to explore as it there are not enough here now?  I should have gotten Louise on one of the rides! But we all were meeting at Bubba Gump for dinner and some time together before we left.  Dinner was great and I loved my sea food!! Since it was our last night, I wanted to get a game we had played with my friend Jan in Racine.  So off to the game store.  Mexican Train was purchased and off we went home to play the night away!  Goodbye to Carrie and her wonderful, well behaved and great family!  Loved every minute we spent together and hope to see you again soon!

Well, we played and talked and got ready to leave in the morning.  Goodbye is always hard when you leave good friends and family.  This is one place we HAVE to come back to soon and see all the other sights of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul and return for more candy and popcorn from Candyland of course!  So saying goodbye to everyone meant we were on the road again to Iowa.

I would give St. Paul a B for lots to do and see and lots of different activities!  I want to return so wonder what we can enjoy on our next trip?