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Leg one of ‘staycation’ — caves and Spam

July 28, 2012
By Cindy Votruba , Marshall Independent

I took a few days off last week to enjoy at least some part of summer before it's over. I really didn't go anywhere, with the exception of an overnight trip Sunday into Monday to Mystery Cave State Park, the Preston area and Niagara Cave, but I did get a few things I've been meaning to do for months during my "stay-cation" of sorts.

Ross was the one who suggested going to the caves. But this involved getting up early on Sunday so we had time to get there and maybe make a couple of stops along the way.

We decided to head toward Interstate 90 via the Slayton way. Of course, we had to detour through Lake Wilson, but I finally got to see what that town was like (at least what one of the gas stations was like). The plan was to eat lunch in one of the towns that started with an "A" that was close to our eventual destination - either Albert Lea or Austin. Well, Austin is where we stopped. We happened to get off on the one of seven exits to Austin that led to, you guessed it, the Spam Museum. It hasn't been my lifelong dream to visit, but I got the chance that Sunday afternoon. It was lunchtime and I was hungry but not for Spam. Not in the least. Admission is free and the first thing you do after you walk in the door (well it was the first thing we did) was watch a movie about the history of the meat product. Actually it was kind of entertaining to see some of the old TV ads for Spam. As for the museum itself, it was more about the history of the founders and the product throughout the years. One of the museum workers was handing out "Spam-ples" on a tray. And no, I didn't take one. At the end of the line was the Spam gift shop with anything you want with a Spam logo on it, from T-shirts to playing cards. Cans of different flavors of Spam were also available for $3 apiece.

After lunch in Austin, it was back on the road for the Mystery Cave State Park. By that time, the temps had dipped into the mid-90s, along with the added humidity. So it was a relief to clamber into a cave that was 48 degrees. I put on my fleece to keep warm. Mystery Cave has a lot of great features, as did Niagara Cave. The one difference between the two is that Niagara is privately-owned. Ross would sometimes lag behind to get photos of the cave's interior. One time we actually had to dash to catch up with the rest of the tour group. I was humming the theme song to the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" as we ran. Yeah, it was mildly amusing at the time.

Once we exited Mystery Cave, my glasses fogged up because of the humidity in the air. We then decided to go into the state park part of Mystery Cave and explore historic Forestville, a restored 1800s village. By the time we got there, tours were done, so we looked at the outside of the buildings and the sites of where some buildings used to be. We had taken the road to the sites and then went on the trail back to the historic village area (which took longer than I expected). I kept thinking, "heat index, heat index, I'm going to pass out here along the trail." But it wasn't as terrible as I thought, and we somehow managed to get back to the car without collapsing from heat exhaustion.

So began the search for a somewhat populated town for dinner and perhaps a place to stay. That led us to Preston, another historic type of town. Quaint is what came to mind. I swear Ross drove up and down those streets until we finally settled on a place to eat - the Branding Iron, a type of steakhouse up on a hill. It had gotten four stars from a review the Rochester newspaper did (as displayed in the restaurant itself), so I figured it had to be decent. And we got a two for $22 type deal where we got our entrees and drinks for $22 (we could've done the one appetizer, two entrees avenue for the same price, but I figured we'd need something to wash our food down rather than more food). The food was good, by the way.

The next morning saw us attempting to take the driving version of the historic Preston tour. We gave up on that after looking at one too many brick houses from the 1890s to the 1920s era and went to the sub shop in town. Then it was on to Niagara Cave. We were near an Amish community, so it wasn't too surprising to see a buggy or three sharing the highway with us. Harmony even has tours of the Amish community. It was another cool morning in the cave.

I noticed that we weren't too far away from Burr Oak, Iowa, the little-known Laura Ingalls Wilder site. The Ingalls family helped run the Masters hotel in the town, which is unincorporated. There were three other couples on the tour. One was from Atlanta and had attended Laurapalooza in Mankato the previous week. They also toured a majority of the LIW sites in the week: DeSmet, S.D., Pepin, Wis., Independence, Kan., Mansfield, Mo., Walnut Grove, Spring Valley (where Almanzo's family lived for a while) and then Burr Oak. Our tour guide Bonnie was very informative. Ross also entertained the rest of us for a little bit when Bonnie said anyone could play the pump organ that was in the museum. He did a one-handed performance and sang along to "The Sweet By and By." It turned out that a younger couple that was also on the tour was also visiting some of the LIW sites, just hitting Walnut Grove, DeSmet, Pepin and Burr Oak.

So that was the "vacation" part of my "stay-cation." The boring chores that I finally got to was cleaning out my sock drawer and going through my clothes and shoes to see what I could get rid of. I filled up two garbage bags of clothes and one garbage bag of shoes. Big fun all around.

 
 

 

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