Minnesota March 2019:
Day 5 - Mississippi River

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Minnesota March 2019: [Day 1 - Madison] [Day 2 - White Bear Lake] [Day 3 - White Bear Lake] [Day 4 - White Bear Lake] [Day 5 - Mississippi River] [Day 6 - Illinois]

Saturday, March 23, 2019: We checked out of the AmericInn at 9:00 AM and loaded up our van.
Debbie's dad was with us because we were headed to the airport to drop him off at the rental car center. We first stopped at Walgreen's to pick up some Ensure, then we got breakfast at McDonald's.
As we were heading to the freeway, we spotted a bald eagle soaring through the sky.
He was last seen soaring over the AmericInn as we drove away.
Debbie's NCAA bracket was looking pretty green after the previous night's games had completed. She missed a couple of upsets and made a bad decision taking the Badgers to the Elite Eight, but picked all of the other upsets correctly.
We drove past the Bank with the One at the Top in downtown St. Paul for the last time this trip.
Here's the hospital where we spent time with Debbie's dad last November.
Bob suggested driving down West 7th Avenue so we could see places near where we used to live. There's the turn-off to Snelling Avenue as it winds up the hill to Highland Park.
Here's the Zapata-turned-Zantigo-turned-Taco Bell-turned Zantigo.
We arrived at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport before 10:00 AM.
Tom and Claire stayed in the parking garage while Debbie and Bob went into the rental car building.
Debbie got Bob's rental car set up with ...
... lots of beverages and snacks for his two-night visit to Brainerd and Bemidji.
Then we were off to explore Minnesota.
We spotted an eagle's nest as we drove along the Minnesota River but didn't get a great photo.
We crossed the Wakota Bridge over the Minnesota River, ...
... and made our way to the Great River Road for the second time in two months.
The fastest (and most scenic) route south involves crossing to the Wisconsin side first, then crossing back at Red Wing, so we did just that.
For the third time in less than a year, we took a photo of the Prescott sign.
This place looks intriguing. Maybe someday, we will actually visit instead of fly through town in the morning.
We passed a group of people filling sandbags to prepare for the coming flooding of the Mississippi River.
It was clear that the water was already much, much higher than normal and it would be much worse a week later.
See that smudge in the upper left corner? Bald eagle.
There's Mr. Sippi again, an establishment whose name we fell in love with last November when we first spotted it.
Black dot on the ice? Another eagle.
Bald eagle nest, folks.
We crossed the Mississippi River back into Minnesota at Red Wing, where we had spent a lovely visit the previous month.
As we were returning to Coville Park, where we had spotted five bald eagles on our last visit, ...
... we spotted two eagles flying by overhead, ...
... one after the other.
It was 50 degrees out, which is a 70-degree improvement over our last visit. We immediately spotted an eagle on the left edge of these trees to the north of the park, just like we did last time.
Let's zoom in, ...
... and zoom in some more.
There was another one to the right.
Here he is.
We headed closer to the river.
There was an eagle in this stand of trees across the river, ...
... but he flew away.
The view of the river was quite different from the same look a month earlier.
Here are Tom and Claire enjoying the sunny day and break from the car.
Another bald eagle flew by.
We had spotted a pair of eagles in this tree last time but there weren't any this time. We didn't venture much farther since we had a lot of touring left to do.
Check out the cool ice and ice crystals on the edge of the puddles.
There's an eagle across the river.
Max zoom.
We noticed concrete barriers surrounding the sunglasses sculpture we had seen last time.
Once we saw the workers setting up sand bags, we realized that those barriers were probably to keep the sculpture from being swept away by flood waters.
Once again, as we were driving away, ...
we spotted this eagle's nest in a tree, ...
... with an eagle standing guard nearby.
It was snack time for Claire when we got back on the road, but that didsn't stop Debbie from taking photos from the back seat.
We had driven only fifteen minutes when we spotted this pair of eagles in a tree and stopped to get a better look.
Majestic. About this time, Tom started speculating what the proper term would be for a group of eagles. A majesty of eagles? A freedom of eagles?
Moments later, we stopped at the rest area just north of Lake City briefly, ...
... and sure enough, a casual look confirmed that there was a bald eagle out on the ice of Lake Pepin. Can't see him in this photo?
Here you go.
At another viewpoint of Lake Pepin, we spotted another group of three eagles.
One parent and two juveniles? Two parents and one juvenile? Not sure.
By now, it was slowly occurring to us that every dot we saw on the Lake Pepin ice was an eagle.
We were hungry when we pulled into Lake City, ...
... but we were also in a hurry, so we opted for Burger King ...
... instead of our traditional Dairy Queen stop. Please forgive us, Dairy Queen. We will never cheat on you again.
We passed Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center. For the first time, we noticed that the sign featured two bald eagle statues on either side.
There's an eagle.
There's an eagle's nest.
It was nearly 1:30 PM as we approached Lock and Dam No. 7, which is another popular spot for eagle watching.
We were the only ones there, ...
... and we immediately spotted eagles.
There's one.
This photo gives you some perspective on just exactly how far our little camera was having to zoom in order to see the birds.
Debbie spotted another bird on the Minnesota bank.
There it is, ...
... and here's a closer look.
We spotted a beautiful grey heron on the bank as well.
An eagle soared overhead, ...
... and then soon, there were five or six.
A flock of Canadian geese flew by on their journey back north.
Next up: Winona, ...
... with its Sinclair dinosaur, ...
... and Sugar Loaf overseeing it all.
The bluffs were still sporting frozen blankets of ice on the side of the road.
We had seen several dozen eagles so far on this trip, but it was still a thrill to spot them in trees like this one we saw as we started to cross the Mississippi into La Crosse.
But the best was yet to come, because we saw more eagles on the frozen edge of the water.
We crossed the Wisconsin border, ...
... and a minute later, we realized that the ice was covered with eagles. Covered! In the unedited high-res version of this photo, we counted at least 25 eagles.
Not to be outdone, a pair of gorgeous grey herons flew by.
We drove through Debbie's ancestors' land next.
Farms dot the scenery along the interstate.
We saw a sign for Astronaut Deke Slayton & Bicycle Museum, and this time, we didn't have to feel sad, because we were headed there next.
We were surprised (and just a little bit disappointed) that the main road into Sparta was no longer covered with traffic cones. But hey, that road construction and the new roundabout turned out really nicely, Sparta. Well done.
Sparta is a cute little town with a bicycle theme.
In fact, there's a bicycle sculpture right on this corner.
And there's another bicycle sculpture two blocks down in front of the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum.
Of course, Tom had to pose next to the sculpture of Deke Slayton.
This building is home to two museums (well, really, three if you count the Deke Slayton/Bicycle museum as two). We started out at the free but excellent Monroe County History Museum on the ground floor.
There's a great model train exhibit in the middle of the main room.
The model towns were based on buildings found in Monroe County as they looked in the 1950s.
The detail was amazing. The town streets featured working stoplights.
This church scene pictured a wedding party with a Just Married car, complete with tin cans tied to the back.
This little sign pointed out something we would check out later: the intersection of Court and Main Streets (just outside) is the only intersection in Wisconsin boasting a building on each corner recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
This fantastic display featured 3D photos taken by a Sparta resident in 1955. This rotating collection contained thirty images from different locations in the Southwest, ...
... including the Grand Canyon.
This plinko-like display illustrated how a child placed in the Wisconsin Child Center from 1885 to 1976 could end up - indentured, graduated, returned, or adopted.
For a fan of then-and-now photos, this was a fun display of Wisconsin towns and how they've changed over the years.. Here's Warrens, Wisconsin then (1904) ...
... and now. Presumably, it isn't quite as blurry as this lousy photo depicts.
Tom: "Debbie, take a picture of this." Here you go, honey. It's a 1964 telephone switchboard, one of nineteen switchboards used by the Monroe County Telephone Company from 1964 to 1982.
This dollhouse depicted "The Modern Home of the 1950s." Room descriptions were given below, along with an I Spy game to help you notice interesting details.
Next, we headed upstairs to the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum. A previous group was just leaving, so we had the whole place to ourselves. We carried Claire's wheelchair up the stairs since there wasn't an elevator. Note that Claire can walk just fine - it's the standing around that she doesn't like, so visits are much more pleasant for her and for us when she is in her wheelchair.
The star of the show is the moon rock, oops, we mean "lunar sample." It was donated to the museum on behalf of NASA and Deke Slayton's widow, Bobbie Slayton. To commemorate the 35th anniversary of human exploration of the Moon, NASA created the Ambassador of Exploration Award in 2004. Recipients of the award include all astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. Each award recipient selects a museum or other educational institution where their awards are publicly displayed in their name to help inspire a new generation of explorers.

The sample reads: "This is a portion of a lunar sample returned by Apollo 16 Astronauts who traveled to the moon in April 1972."

The plaque reads: "Ambassador of Exploration Lunar Sample Presented to the Deke Slayton Memorial Space & Bicycle Museum In Memory of Donald "Deke" Slayton on behalf of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Bobbie Slayton."

We had previously seen the one for Frank Borman at the Pima Air and Space Museum three months earlier.

This painting illustrates that Sparta is home to the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, the first rail trail. Formerly a train line, it is now a trail for biking, running, and walking.
Sparta is known as the Bicycling Capital of America, which is why half of this museum focuses on bicycles. The museum consisted of one large room with the bicycle portion lining the two long edges of the room and all the space stuff in the center. We'll come back to the bike stuff later.
Bring on the space stuff! This display was filled with toys Tom wished he had when he was younger. "But, Tom, didn't you have an astronaut GI Joe?" "Not like that one. Mine pretty much just had tin foil for a helmet."
This is a replica of a couch from an Apollo command module. It doesn't look all that comfortable.
Here's Deke Slayton's Mercury program space suit, on loan from Johnson Space Center in Houston. Maybe Tom's tin foil GI Joe suit wasn't that inaccurate.
Here's a bunch of Slayton's memorabilia from his only space flight and his trip to Russia for training.
This is a model of the American Apollo and Russian Soyuz space vehicles, on loan from NASA's Glenn Research Center in Ohio.
At the back of the museum room is a platform with lots of kid-oriented stuff. That life-size Mercury program space capsule is a great toy for kids to get in and pretend they're in space.
And check out those adorable space suits for kids to dress up in!
From the platform, you can see the whole layout of the museum. Space in the center, bikes on the side.
These laminated magazines were placed on a table to flip through. The text with the Astronaut's Wives issue read: "The Mercury 7 were the first American astronauts. At the time the seven were chosen, no human being had been to space, truly making it the great unknown. LIFE Magazine was given exclusive rights to interview the astronauts and their wives. The country was deeply interested in how the wives felt about their husbands going into space."
Here are Deke Slayton's handprints in bronze. Despite losing his left ring finger as a child in a farm accident, he was able to become an astronaut because NASA had determined that the ring finger on your non-dominant hand was the only one you don't need to be qualified as a pilot.
This was a collection of patches from various Apollo missions. Tom has something similar in his workshop. Space nerd.
This display focused on astronaut Mark Lee, from Viroqua, Wisconsin. He was born in 1952 and was a graduate of the U. S. Air Force Academy and MIT.
Here's a display of all Wisconsin native astronauts.
This is a replica of plaque on the Apollo 11 lander. Tom loves this so much, we also have a replica in our living room.
Now, let's get to the bicycle highlights.
This is a Greg Le Mond Elite II named for the three-time Tour de France winner, from the early 1980s. This looks a lot like the Schwinn Le Tour bikes that Tom and Debbie each owned back then.
This cool 1960s-era Hiawatha Astro Flite has tons of storage and actual working headlights.
Did you know that John Deere was briefly in the bicycle-making business? We didn't either! They made bicycles in 1894 for several years, then again in 1973-1975.
The museum volunteer working came out to ask if it was okay if he did some vaccuuming in the lobby. He didn't want the noise to bother Claire. What a kind gesture! Fortunately, Claire doesn't mind noise and was still doing great.
On our way out, Debbie checked out what she would weigh on the moon, Mars, Venus, and what she actually weighed on Earth. We had enjoyed a Zero-G flight the previous July so we already knew what gravity felt like on the moon and Mars.
This scale had been given to Sparta High School by Deke Slayton, who actually never went by "Deke" here - it was just a nickname given to him because there was more than one Don in the test pilot program, derived from his initials D. K.
After our museum visits, we headed outside to check out the historic buildings on the intersection of Court and Main Streets. As mentioned earlier, a building on each corner is recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. Here's the Masonic Lodge that is now home to the museums, ...
... the Sparta Free Library, ...
... the U. S. Post Office, ...
... and the Monroe County Courthouse.
We drove through pretty downtown Sparta.
This is the historic Williams Block Building, built by W. G. Williams, a banker in the early 1900s.
Here's one of many beautiful old homes in the town.
This handsome Spartan Warrior stands guard over a sports facility and football field.
As we approached our next destination, Tom asked, "What on earth is this?" Since he doesn't plan our travels, he often has no idea where we are going next.
This is FAST Corporation's headquarters.
Visitors are allowed to drive through their property to see their fiberglass molds and creations. They create statues and decorations for places like theme parks, water parks, and mini golf courses.
The text on this baseball sculpture reads: Clarksville Sunset Rotary Club.
Here's a cheeky little devil. Correction: this is a cheeky huge devil.
We took a closer look at the statues that faced the highway, like this large cow.
The majority of what is stored on their property are the molds used to create the statues and structures. But even though they aren't brightly colored, they're still really fascinating.
There's an elephant statue. It looked similar to the popular pink elephant series that can still be found around the US.
There were two huge World Series rings featuring Tommy LaSorda ...
... and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Here's a selection of guitar statues ...
... and spooky white cows.
A selection of finished items is displayed near the entrance, ...
... including this fine lumberjack ...
... and this mermaid.
The sign on this building reads: ...
... Fiberglass Animals Shapes & Trademarks, which is the basis of the company's name: FAST Corp.
We traveled through backroads to return to the freeway and were momentarily stopped by not one, but two trains crossing the tracks in front of us.
Our route to the freeway took us past Fort McCoy. We've traveled this way for decades and never realized that Fort McCoy was right next to us.
Here's a known distance range for training recruits.
This is a rifle range.
When we returned to the freeway, we drove right past where we started. Huh. Guess it was there all along.
Wisconsin does love its oversized rodent statues.
Howdy, Castle Rock!
We rolled into the Wisconsin Dells at 5:00 PM.
Yes, this is definitely the modern land of Debbie's people. Her uncle worked for the Tommy Bartlett company for decades and her family reunions are held here every two years.
We picked up Carol and went out to dinner.
Mexican food ... delicious.
Claire wasn't thrilled to be here, but she made it through dinner just fine. Endless tortilla chips helped.
Hey! No one was prepared for this surprise photo!

Tom was still working on his work emergencies, so he stayed behind at Carol's house while she and Debbie went out after dark to look for the Northern Lights which were predicted to possibly be visible as far south as the Midwest.

First, they drove past the Kalahari Resort, which is huge and getting bigger every year.
They made several different attempts to see the Northern Lights beyond the city lights but just ended up touring the back roads of the Wisconsin Dells, including a drive past Baker's Sunset Bay Resort, current home of Debbie's family reunions. The only thing visible were wisps of clouds and a handful of stars.
They finally gave up when they made it to the shores of Lake Delton, which was frozen over but starting to melt.

Day 6 >

Minnesota March 2019: [Day 1 - Madison] [Day 2 - White Bear Lake] [Day 3 - White Bear Lake] [Day 4 - White Bear Lake] [Day 5 - Mississippi River] [Day 6 - Illinois]

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