Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Caves and Cheese: Wisconsin

Location: Winona, MN
Miles: 1189

We awoke around 9 am at the lovely Knight's Inn in Beloit. This late in the morning, the motel was deserted: all the deadline-bound tourists off on their frantic journeys. We independent travelers are free to set our own agenda.

(Below) Here's a sign that we hung in Eurovan's window. That's the Hamster Puppet looking out below the sign.

By 11 am we were on the road. We stopped almost immediately at Wal-Mart in Beloit, where we did some grocery shopping. At the suggestion of my dead mother, we've brought along our electric frying pan. With this most versatile piece of equipment, we can make occasional meals in motel rooms, saving on restaurant costs.

Of course, Thomas found some Star Wars toys at Wal-Mart.

Driving on I-90 through Wisconsin, we saw billboards for "Cave of the Mounds." Caves and caverns are a favorite of ours, so we decided to follow the signs and visit the Cave of the Mounds. Wow, was that a great decision! The Cave of the Mounds is a really great cavern, with lots of colorful features. Our guide was the boyishly-cute Trevor, who did a superb job. At one point, he explained limestone erosion by making an analogy: "Carbonic acid is also present in Coke and Pepsi, and it erodes your teeth, making cavities. So basically, the cave is just a big cavity. So brush your teeth, or you might wind up with tours going through your mouth."

Cave of the Mounds is most highly recommended; when you go, make sure you get Trevor as a guide.

(Above) One of the magnificent features in Cave of the Mounds

Following Cave of the Mounds, we set off in search of a cheese shop (it being Wisconsin, after all). The first cheese shop we found was closed on Tuesdays, boo. So we set forth on the highways, confident that we would find a cheese shop. Leaving lovely Sauk City, I noticed a huge sign in the rear-view mirror which read, "EROTS ESEEHC" -- so we turned around, and found ourselves at Carr Valley Cheese (one of four locations in Wisconsin). No, there was no bouzouki player, and there was plenty of cheese. We bought about $20 worth of cheese to see us through the rest of our arduous joruney.

While driving around, we searched for NPR stations on the radio, as is our wont. And we found a few...but we also found two independent public radio stations, not connected with NPR. One was considerably more liberal than NPR, and the other was similar.

Along about 7pm we crossed over the Mighty Mississippi and into Minnesota. (below)

The terrain changed on the other side: we climbed steadily upward until we hit a plateau, where it was flat farmland as far as the eye could see -- except much higher.

We stopped in lovely Winona, MN, where we are now in the Sugarloaf Motel. We fired up the electric frying pan and made a delicious meal of scrambled eggs, toast, and fine Wisconsin cheese. And now, with Futurama on the TV, we're settling down for a restful evening.

Tomorrow, we have a full day planned for Minnesota sightseeing. First there's the Spam Museum, then the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota (made famous in the Weird Al song of the same name), and finally the Kensington Runestone (we'll explain tomorrow, or you can google it).


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