Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Twin Cities

Wow! They must get a lot of snow here! Glad it's summer.

I had never been to the Mall of America, the biggest in the US. There are 4 floors of stores.

And an amusement park in the middle.

My favorite spot was the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, where you can see Forrest's shoes, suitcase and box of chocolates on his bench.

The Minneapolis Zoo was a terrific zoo with lots of the usual animals. But the cutest were these prairie dogs.

This mommy Canada Goose was trying to teach her babies how to beg. It seemed to be working.

There is an Imax theater in the zoo, and we went to see a 3D movie about an African safari. I don't know why the 3D glasses were so big.

Here's a clip from the movie in 2D. Now imagine the elephant's trunk right in your face.

They also had a great bird show. An eagle's cry is something you never forget once you hear it.

Leaving the Twin Cities, we were going to stay at the Walmart in Ashland, WI, but there were nasty signs all around. So we went across the street to a beautiful view of Lake Superior. My friend Corey happened to be going by and stopped and joined us.

Friday, June 27, 2008


For a town of only 25,000, Owatonna has some nice photogenic attractions. Union Depot was built in 1887.

I really liked the huge Cabella's. I got lots of great wildlife shots from some very cooperative subjects.

This bank is rather famous, the most well known of architect Louis Sullivan's creations.

This chandeliers inside weigh 2 1/4 tons each.

The bank was commemorated on a postage stamp in 1981.

Next to the fairgrounds where we were parked was the "Village of Yesteryear," where you can experience what life was like in Owatonna 100 years ago.

Built in 1891, this church was the first structure moved here.

We went on a tour of all 15 structures.

This was a room in the main house.

One interesting thing amoung the farm implements in the barn was this treadmill, made so the family dog could run the washing machine or the butter churn.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Let's Polka! (Or Not...)

Well, here I am back west of the Mississippi in Owatonna, MN to attend yet another dance rally. We're parked at the fairgrounds, and it's a pretty small group.

We started out with a pot luck, but I'm looking forward to the dancing.

Unfortunately, we are in Polka Land! We were hoping for country music, but 3 of the 4 bands we had at the dances were Polka bands.

This band even had big stacks of old-fashioned music, unlike the electronic gismos most bands have these days.

Finally on Friday night, the Full House Band looked like they had promise. The lead singer even dressed up as Willie Nelson for one number.

He also played the Orange Blossom using both a plunger and a hanger as a bow. It seems to be a contest among bands for them to try to play this song in the strangest way possible. Then, since I was up there taking pictures, he said I could play it. Well, this ought to be good... Am I holding the bow right? I guess so.


Finally! Success!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

La Crosse

La Crosse, Wisconsin is a lovely town on the Upper Mississippi. Unlike the Lower Mississippi, much of the upper river is a series of pools created by a system of 29 locks and dams. Lake Onalaska is one of these pools. On the Wisconsin side, there is a nice trail out to the spillway.

On the Minnesota side is Lock & Dam #7. The locks and dams were built in the 1930s. The primary reason for damming the river is to facilitate barge transportation. The dams regulate water levels for the Upper River, and play a major part in regulating levels on the Lower Mississippi.

A 15-barge tow like this one can carry as much as 870 large semis or 225 rail cars. We were hoping to see one, but the river was closed south of here because of the flooding.

We did see a boat go through the lock. Yeah!

Next we went on a tour of City Brewery. We weren't allowed to take pictures on the tour, but here's the world's largest 6-pack.

And the stats. Let's see, how many ounces are in a can?
If the 6-pack holds 7,340,796 cans, one big can would hold 1,223,466 little cans.
With 12 ounces in a can, we get 14,681,592 ounces.

Whoops! They are off by 10,000 ounces. Only a CPA would actually do the math! I sent them an email about their error, but haven't received a response yet.

But the King of Beer gave me a toast.

The La Crosse Queen is an authentic paddlewheeler that offers tours.

The Julia Bell Swain is a reproduction of a late-1800s steamdriven paddlewheeler. It is prettier than the authentic one -- isn't that often the case...

All around town were beautifully painted herons. This one even had the King of Beer on it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

House on the Rock

The House on the Rock, in south-central Wisconsin, is the grand vision of Alex Jordan, who believed that sights and sounds were the most effective means of stimulating the senses. The self guided tour takes most of a day. Besides the original main building, there are lots of other buildings that house his collections, all connected by walkways.

The first part of the tour takes you through the original house. The most amazing part is the Infinity Room, which juts out 218 feet from the main house without supports underneath. The room has 3264 windows! I'd hate to be a window washer here...

I didn't get a picture of the outside, but here's a picture of a picture.

At first the collections seemed to be a lot like the ones in Place de la Musique -- lots of animated and automated music machines.

But here's a whole orchestra!

Some of the sets were huge. My favorite was The Mikado, shown here.

Even the drummers eyes and facial expression were animated.

A huge carousel, the biggest in the world, was the highlight of the tour.

It's 80 feet wide and 35 feet tall, and has 20,000 lights.

But the most unique thing was that of the 269 animals, there is not one horse's head!

In another building, there was even a multi-level doll carousel. There were many other collections in the complex: organs, doll houses, crown jewels, armor, weapons, fine arts of the Orient, Burma Shave signs, mechanical banks, Baranger Motions, etc, etc.

One building housed a collection of miniature circuses that contains one million pieces.

And one had a 200-foot long whale battling a giant octopus. This was the last thing Alex Jordan worked on before he died in 1989.

To watch a segment that was on the CBS Early Show about the House on the Rock, click here (You have to watch a short commercial first)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

More Fun at Paul's

I wasn't sure I wanted to go to the Volo Auto Museum. Sounded like a guy thing to me. I was afraid there would just be a lot of old cars, but I was pleasantly surprised. Most of these cars I remembered! (Duh, maybe I'm just old...)

Most of the cars were for sale.

But my favorite part was a large collection of TV and movie cars, including the Batmobile,

The Flintstone-mobile,

And the Cat-in-the-Hat-Mobile, which cost 1.2 million to build and was used by Mike Myers in the 2003 movie.

I had a great time hamming it up with the Blues Brothers.

On another day, we went to tour the Golden Oaks Farm. This is a beautiful dairy farm, the home of 600 registered Holsteins.

The cows are milked 3 times a day, and each produce an average of 10 gallons of milk per day. The milk is carried away in a stainless steel enclosed system to the processor and cooled from 100 degrees to 36 degrees, all in 15 minutes.

The cows were a little skittish, except for this curious one.

Here's what I was amazed by -- there was no cow manure smell! The barns are cleaned 3 times a day. What a difference between this and the barns around Yuma, where the smell is evident for miles around.

And last, but not least, we had a pig roast! Lots of testosterone was necessary to check to see if Miss Piggy was done.