Monday, June 30, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 29

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BEAUTIFUL BRIDE. Today was Joanne's birthday and also our last day in Wisconsin. We have had a great time in the land of milk and cheese but it is time to move on. We have been camped at the Briarwood Campground in Fairchild, Wisconsin. If you were going to mark on a map where "the middle of nowhere" was you would put the pin in Fairchild, Wisconsin. This is a really small town and the campground is right on the edge of it. They main thing to do around here is to ride the trails on a big four wheel ATV. The area is crawling with ATV trails. A major part of the park is full of trailers that are here for the whole season. During the week, like today, there are three couples at their trailers. Everyone else packed up and went back to their real lives until next weekend. Also, over the weekend we had several RV's show up pulling trailers loaded down with ATV's. Since we don't own an ATV, and have no intention of ever owning one, we enjoyed watching these folks go out all excited and then come back in dragging their tails all covered in mud.

We are actually located about 30 miles southeast of Eau Clair, Wisconsin. (I would have pronounced it Ew Clair but have been informed it is a French word and is to be pronounced Oh Clair.) Just north of Eau Clair is the town of Chippewa Falls. On Sunday we drove over to check these towns out. As it turned out they are just another couple of towns. Nothing really special about them. I did have to admit that Chippewa Falls had a neat little park in the middle of it's downtown. It is a vacant lot between two buildings and they have painted murals of historic highlights of the town. They also had a big outlet shoe store that we had been seeing advertised on local TV. We checked out the shoe store but didn't see any bargains.

Today, as I mentioned, was Joanne's birthday. To celebrate I drove her over to Osseo, at about 15 miles away this is the closet town with any business district. This gave her a chance to go to the laundromat to take care of all the cloths that have piled up over the past three weeks. On our way back we stopped at McDonald's for lunch. Unfortunately, I did not have enough cash on me so she got to buy her own birthday lunch. After returning to the coach for a little rest time, and to replenish my cash supply, I did take her back into Osseo for dinner. We went to Moe's Diner, which is almost world famous, according to their sign. This is a nice 1950's style diner and we had a good meal, served by a young lady wearing a poodle skirt while 1950's music played in the background.

Tomorrow morning we will leave Wisconsin thus ending this portion of our current adventure. We will move on to Minnesota, the land of my dear brides birth. Looking forward to meeting up with RV friends, attending another rally and then moving up to Duluth to visit with some of Joanne's relatives. Again, I want to wish my beautiful bride of almost 20 years a Happy Birthday. It's been a great ride so far and looking for a bunch more to follow. (Here she is at Moe's Diner waiting for our food to be served.)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 26

We've been out of pocket the last few days so we have not had a chance to update our travels. This past Tuesday we took a short drive north to the Wisconsin Dells. We had seen reports that the area had received extensive damage during the heavy rains and flooding last month. As a matter of fact, we had thought about cancelling the Wisconsin part of our trip due to the reports of roads out and flood problems. We are glad that we decided to come on to Wisconsin because we've had a great time and the reports were pretty much off base. There was some damage in the area but not nearly as bad as the news people had reported. They did lose a lake in the Wisconsin Dells but the Dells themselves were not hurt. Okay, for those of you who are wondering, what is a Dell? There are two areas on the Wisconsin that have these high cliff like sides to them that have beautiful rock formations due to erosion over many years. These are called the Upper Dell and the Lower Dell. You really cannot experience the Dells properly unless you take a boat ride through them. Since we were here a few years ago and did the whole boat thing we decided not to do that this time around. The first picture, to the left, is one I took of the Upper Dell from a walking path. Now, how do you lose a lake? A few years back a man-made, fairly shallow lake was built in the middle of the Wisconsin Dells area. This was used mainly for a commercial water ski show. There has also been a lot of residential construction around the lake and it was open to the public for boating. During the flooding in May the water in the lake breached the dam and all ran out into the Wisconsin River. This did cause some flooding downstream but nothing within the Dells themselves. Here is a picture of Lake Delton after the water left.

Wednesday we decided to check out a "minor" tourist attraction south of Baraboo. My good friend Rod recently sent me a linc to a webstie called This is a site dedicated to the odd and unusual tourist attractions around the country. From the site you can enter the state or province you are interested in and it will bring up a list of odd and unusual attractions in that state. From this list we found Dr. Evermor's Art Collection and Studio. Dr. Evermor is a pseudonym for a gentleman who operated a salvage yard/surplus business. After he retired and his son took over the business he started building "art" out of the many pieces of scrap that has been collected over the years. Several of his pieces are displayed out by the highway in front of his "studio". Unfortunately, those were the only ones we were able to see. It seems that the place is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and we were leaving Baraboo on Thursday. Not to miss out we delayed our departure for a couple of hours and drove back down to the place. The sign said they were due to open at 10:00am. When no one showed up at the scheduled opening time we checked with the salvage business next door. Apparently Dr. Evermor has now passed on and his wife runs the place. We were referred to a phone number, which we tried, but were unable to get hold of the good doctor's wife. Oh well, we still got to take some pictures of what is displayed outside of the high fences. Here are two of the several works of art displayed along the roadway.

As mentioned, we left Baraboo yesterday and headed north. We are now at the Briarwood Campground in Fairchild, Wisconsin. If you were going to put a name for "the middle of nowhere" on a map you would put it in Fairchild. This is a very small town and the campground is right on the edge of town. The really good thing about being here though is we do have cell phone service. Since we have been in Wisconsin we have had to drive into town to have cell phone service. We had nothing out in the campgrounds. This was going to basically be a rest stop for a few days before moving on to Minnesota, meeting up with friends, visiting family and attending another rally. Joanne is planning to do laundry while we are here but we found today the nearest laundromat is 13 miles away in another town. Anyway, today we did do a little exploring. We drove back down to Black River Falls to check out the town. A nice town but not much to see, except for the orange moose. On the website I learned they had a large, orange moose. This moose is made of plaster and has been standing in town for many years. No one really knows why or where it came from. A second, smaller orange moose has been put in town and someone has now opened the Orange Moose Bar & Grill. Anyway, we did get to see Black River Falls orange moose. As you can see this thing is huge and towers over Joanne. We've had a good start on our "rest" time here in western Wisconsin. We'll do a little more exploring, get some laundry done and rest up for Minnesota.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 22

We have moved on in our latest adventure. We are now in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Today we took a walking tour of the downtown area. I always enjoy to visit these old towns that have maintained and celebrated there downtown areas. So may places have seen their downtown abandoned with buildings empty or completely torn down, like my home town of Oklahoma City did during the 1970's. Here is a picture of the Al Ringling Theater. This is truly one of the old theater palaces. Old Al had the vision to realize that movies were going to catch on when he built this place. He even built a fire-proof projection booth. This was 20 years before "talkies" were even invented.

Baraboo is just south of the Wisconsin Dells. We had been to the Dells some years ago but had never been to Baraboo so we knew nothing about this area. Turns out Baraboo was the original home to the Ringling Brothers Circus and several lesser known circuses. The five Ringling brothers started out fairly small but built their circus to be one of the largest in the world. Later they merged their show with the Barnum & Bailey Circus to become "The Greatest Show on Earth". Well, if you find yourself in Baraboo what do you do? You go to the circus. Well, since there is no real circus still in town you go to Circus World Museum. This place is a wonderful tribute to everything circus.

At Circus World we saw an unbelievable amount of old circus wagons. These have been painstakingly refurbished and are nicely displayed. They not only have wagons from Ringling Brothers but from many other circuses and shows. They even had one from the old Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. Another one, that was in the refurbishing shop, was from the original Pawnee Bill Wild West Show. Most of the wagons were very ornate and must have cost a lot to have built back when the traveling circus was a major form of entertainment. In addition to their display of wagons they had a big tent displaying P.T. Barnum's Side Shows. The outside had the large banners we used to see on the midway when we went to a circus or fair. In the tent were statues of some of Barnum's greatest characters, including Col. Tom Thumb. They also had an area set up for kids to ride some of the animals. These included ponies, burros, an elephant and a camel.

Some of the venues have interactive displays to give people a chance to get actually involved in the show. Joanne tried out her ability to ride a unicycle. In some of the venues they had live acts going on. We took in a variety show that had several acts, including an aerialist, a dog act, an acrobatic couple and others. The acts were introduced by a Ringmaster and the acts were interspersed by a clown. In all we had a good day at the Circus, or at least as close as we could get today. The days of the traveling circus appear to have been a fun time in our history.

On our way back to the coach we passed the local airport. They are setting up for an air show this coming weekend. As we drove by we noticed a blimp flying over. It appeared that they were doing touch and go landings so we stopped and watched. This was the MetLife blimp with the big picture of Snoopy on it. In all, we had a good day.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 20

The sun is about to set on our time here on the banks of the Mississippi River. We have enjoyed this week in Southwest Wisconsin. We have explored much of the area and seen many of the sights. But, like all good things, this part of our journey must come to an end. Tomorrow we will hook up and head Northeast to others areas we have never explored.

But before we left the area we decided to take in a festival. A Midsummer Festival to be exact, although officially today was the first day of summer. Up north, toward LaCrosse, is the small town of Coon Valley. At Coon Valley is something called Norskedalen Nature and Heritage Center. This is a place dedicated to all things Norwegian. Norskedalen is open from May to October and in addition to the Visitor's Center they have an old homestead working farm. Each June they have their Midsummer Festival where many of the local people demonstrate the crafts of years gone by. They also had many animals including Fjord Horses which are stout built horses bred for pulling the plows. To transport people around the grounds they had horse drawn wagons. The wagon in the picture to the left has a two horse team pulling the wagon. One of the mares had a colt with her. They had the colt tethered to his momma and he followed along while the wagon made it's rounds. The trip to Norskedalen was a good way to end our time in this part of Wisconsin.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 19

The last two days have been a mixed bag. Yesterday we took it kind of slow. A trip to Wal-Mart, some time to relax and some time to do a little coach maintenance. Had to go around tightening screws that had worked loose while we drive this thing around exploring this great country. This is a pretty serene place to be right on the banks of the Mississippi River, except of course for the trains that go by, blaring their horns about every 30 minutes to an hour. The first couple of days we saw some barge traffic on the river but that has all but stopped due to the high water and flooding they are experiencing down stream in Iowa and Missouri.

Today we took a drive south about 40 miles to the town of Cassville. They have a river ferry there that usually runs between Cassville and some place in Iowa. The ferry can haul up to nine cars at a time. Unfortunately the ferry was closed due to the river being so high. We did have a good brunch at a place called the River Cafe. Just a little mom and pop place with good home cooking. After we ate we drove around the town to check it out. A nice little town that takes pride in it's parks and public areas.

We later drove out to the main attraction in Cassville, the Stonefield Museum and 1900 Heritage Town. This is a great museum of Wisconsin agriculture. They have many displays of farm life and farm equipment dating back to the 1800's. They also have constructed one of the most authentic looking replica towns as it probably would have looked in 1900. The buildings are all complete inside and out. They have all been furnished with stuff from that era. You enter the town through a covered bridge and immediately come upon the depot with a train sitting on the tracks next to it. The town is arranged around a town square with wooden plank sidewalks in front of the buildings. The buildings down "Main Street" has a soda fountain on one end and a saloon on the other. On the other end of town they have a carpenter's shop, blacksmith shop and a livery stable. Within the town are also a school, church building with cemetery, creamery, fire house, and the usual stores that a person would find in a small town in 1900. Although we had a good time wandering around the "old" town we found the agriculture museum just as fascinating.

We were really amazed at the old farm implements and machinery. They had everything from horse drawn plows and other equipment, including huge thrashing machines to more modern things as gas and steam powered tractors. If you ever find yourself in the far Southwest corner of Wisconsin then a trip to Cassville and the Stonefield Museum and Heritage Town is well worth the trip.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 17

We have gotten settled in here at the Frenchman's Landing Campground. The address for this place is Eastman, Wisconsin. Not sure why that is. We are seven miles north of Prairie du Chien and Eastman is a few miles east of that. Anyway, other than a train rumbling through about every 30 minutes this is a pretty serene place to be.

Yesterday we toured Prairie du Chien and the adjacent St. Feriole Island. There is not much to the town itself. You would think there would be more since this is supposed to be the second oldest town in Wisconsin. The bulk of the historical section is on St. Feriole Island. The island at one time was the location of Fort Crawford. Apparently this fort was very important during and after the War of 1812 and several important treaties with the Indian tribes were signed there. All that is left of the original fort is one a reconstructed blockhouse. This structure was rebuilt in the 1930's by the WPA. Originally the fort had two of these blockhouses. The second one sat on a mound which was the highest portion of the land and was replaced by the mansion of the subsequent land owner. After the fort was closed the site was acquired, in the 1840's, by a rich fur trader named Hercules Dousman. He also originally owned much of the property that is now the town of Prairie du Chien. Dousman built a large house on the mound where the second blockhouse stood. After his death this house was replaced, by his son Louis, with a larger mansion. It is now called Villa Louis and has been restored to it's 1800's grandeur. The grounds also have the original carriage house and servants quarters. Additionally there is a fur trader's museum in the building that the original Dousman conducted his fur trading business.

Today we drove north about 50 miles to the city of LaCrosse. This is a large city adjacent to the Mississippi river. It had a very nice, historic downtown area that has been well maintained. The convention center is along the river with a beautiful park with walking paths. Throughout the city a local art gallery has placed statues of herons. These have each been painted by local artist and will be on display throughout the summer months and then will be auctioned off. There are a total of 35 of these herons. We came across six of them in our walking tour of downtown. (This is very similar to the program the City of Oklahoma City did in conjunction with the 2007 states centennial last year except they used buffalo.) Each of the heron stands about six feet tall. After walking through the downtown area and having lunch at a Coney Hot Dog place we drove up to Grandad Bluff. This is a 540 foot bluff overlooking LaCrosse. From up on the bluff you can not only see all of LaCrosse but you can see into Iowa and Minnesota.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 15

Maybe spoke a little quickly in the last post about the storms being behind us. After I put that post up we decided to see if we could find a path south from Amana to Interstate 80. This trek had two reasons: 1) Joanne wanted to go to the Outlet Mall down on I-80 and 2) to see if we could find a shorter route for my brother to get to I-80 without going out of his way by going far north first. We did find one road that had the water recede enough to be partially opened. The Transportation Department had Flagmen there allowing use of one lane while the water was still over the other. (Brother Bill and his wife, Nancy, left on Sunday morning using this way south.) But, when we returned to the RV Park from this excursion we drove into the tail end of a major storm. While we had been gone it had rained, hailed and the winds got up to almost 60 mph. By the time we got back the clouds were clearing and the sun was coming back out. We had nothing but sunshine for the rest of the weekend.

By Saturday evening we were down to four coaches from the rally. We got together that evening and drove into Amana for dinner. This time we went to The Brick Haus Restaurant. Like everything else in Amana it had a German influence and the menu was full of German dishes. Sunday morning brought some more departures and then we were down to two. Gary and Carol Granat and us were the only ones left. We drove into Cedar Rapids to Fazoli's for a quick dinner.

We finally hooked up this morning and left Amana Colonies and Iowa. We traveled north and east and are now just across the state line in Wisconsin. The state line between Iowa and Wisconsin is marked by the Mississippi River. We are in a campground directly on the river. We are in the Frenchman's Landing Campground just north of Prairie du Chien, WI. Although the park has seen no flooding the river is up about eight feet higher than normal for this time of year. Most of the people here are "reverse snowbirds" in that they are here for the entire summer. Most of them have their RV's backed right up to the river. In normal times they would have steps leading down to the river and a place to tie their boats. Right now those steps are all under water. We have a great view out our front window of the river. The only problem with this campground is that, like many campgrounds, it is built next to the railroad tracks. Actually, this one has double tracks. Trains have been rumbling through all day long. When two trains come through at once it makes the ground shake in the whole park. We'll be here throughout the week before moving on next Sunday. There is quite a bit of history in the area in that Prairie du Chien is the second oldest town in Wisconsin.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 13

Aww, what a little sunshine will do for you. The rain has stopped and we've had beautiful sunshine the last two days. Most of the rally attendees left on Thursday morning and by that evening we had less than a dozen left. Several of us got together Thursday night and went into Amana for dinner at the Ox Yoke Inn. Joanne and I both had won gift certificates of this restaurant as door prizes during the rally.

We spent Friday doing some sightseeing along with a trip into Cedar Rapids. Although the downtown area of Cedar Rapids is under water we only had to go to the edge to get to Wal-Mart. We drove around the area attempting to get to the different towns that make up the Amana Colonies. We got to most of them but then ran into roads closed due to flooding. The picture is where the road turns south at West Amana and goes down to South Amana. This is not a lake but farm land covered in water where the creek ran over it's banks. We did get to see some things. In West Amana we stopped at a broom and basket shop where they have Iowa's largest solid walnut rocking chair. At the same place they had some other displays, along with a tractor that seemed really stuck. Fortunately, this is not from the current flooding. ;-> We did see several places that the flood waters have taken over, mostly in Amana. Areas that we had been able to drive earlier in the week are now under water.

By Friday evening we were down to six coaches still at the RV Park. We all got together to have a potluck dinner. There was plenty of food and everyone had a good time sitting around visiting. Another coach left this morning and the rest of us will be leaving tomorrow and Monday.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 11

Rain, rain, go away......We had another huge rain storm last night, probably the worst since we've been here, and woke up this morning to water all around us. They have reported on the TV that this is a 500 year flood. The picture to the left is of the RV sites just east of ours. Until early this morning those sites were all full of motor homes. Since the rally ended last night most of the coaches have left with many having to hookup and get ready in a torrential rain this morning. Since we did not have rally activities scheduled any longer I took the opportunity to sleep in and most coaches were gone by the time I got around. We have about a dozen still here and will stay through the weekend.

The rally was a great success. Although our numbers were down this time we still had a fabulous time. We had fewer coaches due to the weather and due to the high cost of fuel to get here, with diesel running well over $4.00 per gallon. For our entertainment last night we again had Ron & Kay Rivoli. We have come to really enjoy their shows and they have become great friends. Kay writes lyrics and Ron set them to music. They currently have one of the number one hits on You Tube with "Dial one for English". Also, they have a new song on You Tube called "Memorial Day". This is a great tribute that Kay has written in honor of our service members and veterans.

Each time we see Kay, either around the park, setting up their equipment or performing she always seems to have a different look about her. Last night Kay really outdid herself. Backstage she posed for pictures with a few of us that have gotten to know her & Ron so well. I have not personally known very many entertainers over the years but it is a real privilege to call Ron & Kay friends.

Although we have many of the Rivoli's CD's in our collection we purchased another last night. Additionally, Ron gave us a copy of the DVD with their video of "Dial one for English". After the show several of us hung around to visit with them before they hit the road for their next performance. Our last farewell was this morning as they drove out in their coach. We'll stay here until Monday and then head north somewhere. We are scheduled to go to southwest Wisconsin for two weeks but that area is underwater also. We may have to just cancel that portion of the trip and just head over to Minnesota, where we plan to spend the month of July.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Northern Exposure--Day 9

Last night at the rally we were entertained by Ron & Kay Rivoli with an evening of dance music. Ron & Kay have become one of our favorite entertainers and they put on a fantastic show. They travel the country in their motor home, entertaining at RV shows and rallies, conventions and other gatherings. Ron told me that his current coach has in excess of 250,000 miles on it and does not show any sign of slowing down. If you ever find yourself in an area where Ron & Kay are performing do yourself a favor and catch there show.

The Monaco America Spring Rally is in full swing. We have greeted the last two mornings with a great breakfast served by the caterer. During the day we have numerous seminars available on coach maintenance, caravan travel, crafts, etc. We also have technician from the Monaco factory here to provide services to our coaches. The techs will perform two repairs to each coach regardless of the coaches age.

I have been designated to be this rallies photographer. Each rally we wind up taking hundreds of pictures with a digital camera. Then, with the aid of an overhead projector hooked up to my computer, we show them on a large screen each morning and evening during meal time. In addition to taking pictures of all the activities we try to get a picture of each of the couples here. After the rally these pictures are then put in a file on our clubs website and other club members who were not able to attend can see them to realize what fun they missed.

Today, as usual was filled with activities. Following breakfast we had our semi-annual business meeting, which included elections of officers for the next year. The officers of the club, along with the past two club Presidents, make of the executive board. I was elected to the office of Treasurer. Although during a rally all the officers are very busy and involved the Treasurer is one of the jobs that requires a lot of time and work throughout the year. With a current treasury in excess of $100,000 it is the Treasurer's job to secure and to make sure all club expenses are properly taken care of. This includes the expenses for the two annual rallies, which cost around $35,000 to $40,000 each. Our outgoing Treasurer, Cookie Baker, has held this position for about five years and has done a very good job. Here the club President recognizes Cookie for a job well done.

At noon we had an ice cream social out in the new coach area. At all the rallies we have a local Monaco dealer bring in new coaches for us to view and buy, if the feeling strikes. (We bought our current coach at a rally in Tucson, AZ, in October, 2006.) The ice cream social is sponsored by the Monaco Dealer. This gives everyone a break and a chance to stand around and visit.

Later in the afternoon the Pet Parade was held. This is where all the pet owners bring their pet to show off. A drawing is held for pet door prizes. In the past we have not participated in this event due to our little Brandi not being very sociable around other people. (She was a biter.) Since she is no longer with us I felt it was time for Buddy Joe to enjoy the show. He likes to play with other dogs and this gave him a chance to meet a bunch of them. As most of you know Buddy is the grey Schnauzer in the picture.

Tonight, after dinner, we were entertained by a fellow Oklahoman. Sarah Getto, from Norman, OK, was born blind and with other physical problems. She has overcome these handicaps to become an extraordinary entertainer. At age three she taught herself to play the piano. She is now grown up, has a college degree in music education and has completed her student teaching requirements and has her teaching certificate. She has a fantastic voice and also plays multiple instruments. She is currently traveling in an RV with her parents performing at RV shows and rallies around the country. Seeing and hearing this young lady perform was a real thrill.