Leaving Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we cut across the northern portion of Wisconsin and settled in for a stay at the not-so-attractively named Leech Lake. The Corp of Engineers park was fantastic – one of the best parks we’ve stayed in. We relaxed, did some sightseeing, and driving around one day, crossed the Mississippi River near its headwaters. Just a quiet creek here, but driving south it didn’t take long for the river to grow into what truly looked like a river. After spending time in Northern Minnesota, we realized that Minnesota, rather than the land of 10,000 lakes, is really one big lake with a lot of little islands connected by roads. Driving through the area is exhausting…..left curve, right curve, left curve – on and on as you wind your way around all of the lakes. And we had plenty of opportunity for exercise, as any trip outdoors meant waving our arms frantically to drive off the hordes of mosquitoes.
In Central Minnesota, we stopped near the town of Redwood Falls and visited the Charles Lindbergh Historic Site and Museum. There was a nice museum filled with artifacts, a movie theater showing clips of his historic flight, and a flight simulator based on his aircraft. Brenda tried flying the simulator, but wasn’t too successful. It took a couple of 10-year olds to figure out how to work it and get airborne. Figures. The museum was informative, the house interesting, and the mosquitoes maddening. We tried to explore the city park, a large park with an overlook of….why Redwood Falls, of course. I managed a quick trip to the overlook and a picture of the falls before losing too much blood to walk, but it was close call.
My last position in the Air Force was unusual in that I was the only male branch chief in my division, which resulted in a lot of jokes about my branch being composed of “Manly Men”. At my retirement, I was presented with a package from the “Order of Manly Men”. In it was a large beer stein with the Manly Men crest, an official certificate confirming that I was, indeed, a Manly Man. And a can of Spam, because as we know, Manly Men eat Spam. And so it was with eager anticipation that as we neared Austin, Minnesota I could at last visit the Mecca of Manly Men, the Spam Museum.
Entering the museum, you’re greeted by a happy Spam team member. The museum is large and visually stunning. As you walk around, a conveyer belt of all of the various Spam varieties moves along overhead. Ah, so many wondrous exhibits! It was difficult to decide where to go first!
There were many other displays – one had white work coats and hard hats for children. Kids could don the gear and sit at a workstation where their ability to assemble, stuff, and label cans of Spam was timed and displayed on a large digital clock. There was a display of WWII and how Spam was an important, if not generally enjoyed, GI food. Another displayed production numbers – 44,000 cans produced each hour, 140,000 pounds of pork shoulder used each day! And no mention of Spam would be complete without the Monty Python Spam Skit. With sixteen varieties available in the U.S. and countless other overseas, it’s no wonder that Spam is probably the most pork-based food consumed worldwide. After touring the museum, we visited the Spam gift shop, where hundreds of wondrous gifts could be found, from hoodies, caps, highly desired collectables…..and Spam! Once again confirming by husbandly manliness, I bought these hand-painted collectors edition pair of near priceless earrings. Seriously though folks, this was a truly worthwhile stop – if you’re in the area, put it on your list!
Our next stop was in our home state of South Dakota at the Randall Creek Recreation Area, a large campground along the shores of the Missouri River. We arrived at the end of a busy and crowded Labor Day weekend, and for the next few days had the park to ourselves. Next to the park is the former site of Fort Randall, established in 1863 to provide protection from Sioux tribes in the area. A large and active post, not much remains today. The ruins of the chapel, considered one of the largest and most beautiful on the plains, still stand under the protection of a modern roof. We walked the paved interpretive trails through the fort grounds, where descriptive displays with pictures described military life in the 1860s. Nothing really memorable here, but a beautiful setting and a beautiful day made the visit worthwhile.
We’re back in Rapid City once again before heading south next month. Hope you all enjoyed your summer – we’re looking forward to fall with its cooler temps!