Heritage Hall jet.

Clocks, Caves, and Canned Meat.
Minneapolis, MN to Moline, IL

Field review by the editors.The sky is clear, perfect weather for photographing statues, as we move out of statue country.

We head south on I-35, opting to skip sights such as the Giant Snowman and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in the Twin Cities orbit. We've got to make Iowa by noon! But passing Owatonna, we spot two giant leaping deer, bronze glistening in the morning sun. A Cabela's store! That means big dead animals on display for free. We exit and backtrack along the frontage road...

Cabela's: Dead Animals in Big Store

Owatonna, Minnesota

Lion attack.People won't pay just to see dead animals any more; so why not just put them in a big store? The huge physical outgrowth of mail-order outfitter Cabela's poaches the best aspects of the classic wildlife museum, and doesn't charge you a penny. Except if you buy something -- this is, after all, a store. But it's the kind of store that includes a live bait room, a gun library, a 53,000-gallon aquarium filled with Minnesota fish, and hundreds of dead animals in action positions. We recommend a stop, especially if you need a camouflage six-pack cooler.

On an African savannah setting, a mounted elephant pulls down leaves with its trunk from an artificial tree. Nearby, a lion leaps onto the back of a zebra. The multistory mountainside display (complete with waterfalls) that dominates the massive store is titled "Tribute to Sportsman." At its base, menacing bears surround and maul an elk.

In fact, there's a wealth of dioramas depicting perfectly natural scenes of animals killing other animals. The message is clear: If we didn't shoot 'em, they'd just kill each other anyway.

Spam Museum.SPAM Museum

Austin, Minnesota

A new facade -- a giant SPAM can -- glorifies this mini-museum located on the shank end of a mall. But the rumors of massive expansion are untrue. This little place isn't any bigger than when we last saw it. Still, it's always good to broaden your mind by understanding the vital impact on world history of a canned processed meat product.

Ed's Museum

Wykoff, Minnesota

Our lead on Ed's Museum hints at great risk -- the risk of a really boring pile of junk left by another dead guy. But there's a tempting line in the state tourism lit, "He never threw anything away," that draws us here despite our forebodings. This time we get lucky. Ed's Museum turns out to be a surreal bubble in time, preserving every scrap of history that blew down the Main Street of this itty-bitty town.

[Read the complete visit report.]

Big Trout

Preston, Minnesota

Our last big statue in Minnesota, built by FAST in 1988. It's 15 feet long, and mounted on a float so that it can be hauled past cheering citizens during Preston's "Trout Days."

Niagara Cave

Harmony, Minnesota

Niagara Cave features a 60-foot underground waterfall (as if you couldn't guess) plus a wishing well, echo chamber, and "Paul Bunyan's bed," among other formations. Over 300 weddings have been performed in the Wedding Chapel room -- but none this year. With no nuptials to observe, and a tour that takes an hour that we don't have, we execute a quick sortie through the gift shop and then head south into Iowa.

Bily Clocks

Spillville, Iowa

Bily Clocks building.There's not much in the northeastern corner of Iowa, but we'll say this: The locals do love their clocks. Bily (bee-lee) Clocks occupies an old brickfront residence in Spillville. The clocks' creators, bachelor brothers Frank and Joseph Bily, carved them every winter for over 50 years, when they weren't being tidy, thrifty Bohemian Czech farmers. Most of the clocks are huge, and fully animated with wooden figures and built-in music boxes -- much too finely crafted for our tastes. This is a place for antique-ers and weekend furniture buffs. And Bily Clocks doesn't allow video or photos....

House of Clocks

Waukon, Iowa

Iowa's other clock attraction, in contrast, is wonderful. Owner Ray Sweeney, like the Bily brothers, is dead, but that's all their two attractions have in common. Ask for a tour at the Village Farm and Home feed store on Highway 9 (look for the cowboy muffler man and a charging steer). If you like looking at rural clutter and eclectic junk in a stuffy building filled with a thousand ticking clocks, this is the northeastern Iowa attraction to visit.

[Read our complete report.]

Pinky the Elephant

Marquette, Iowa

Marquette elephant.Bleary-eyed Pinky, her top hat askew, formerly stood in front of the Pink Elephant Supper Club (we have a photo from the early 1980s). Now she stands in front of the Marquette Riverboat Casino, a much-loved (if now out-of-place) civic symbol, freshly waxed and shining in the sunlight. Built by promotional wizard Bob Reis in 1963, Pinky's moment of great glory came in August, 1978, when Reis somehow made it water-ski on the Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien to honor a visiting President Carter.


Spook Cave

McGregor, Iowa

Spook Cave.You have to admit, advertising a cave with a hollow-eyed sheet ghost on billboards is promotional genius. We allow ourselves to be sucked in, and discover that Spook Cave is one that must be toured entirely by boat. We appreciate this extreme lack of physical effort, and it's a good way to escape the heat. Feeling a little guilty that we skipped out on the Niagara Cave tour earlier, we do Spook Cave in its entirety.

Gift shop.The cave is a single passage, and the tour has a wild feel to it. When the guide cautions about low ceilings she means it; at several points our boatload has to bend in half, placing their heads between their knees, just to barely slip beneath the low ceiling. Pray that the water level doesn't rise while you're inside, and pay attention or lose a piece of your scalp to an outcropping in the murk!

On our way south to the Field of Dreams, we pass through Guttenberg, familiar from an ancient note in the database. It was the location of Folk artist Paul Friedlein's Jolly Ridge. There's a Jolly Ridge Road heading inland, about two miles south of town. Unfortunately, on the other side of Hwy. 52, overlooking the Mississippi, is a NEW HOUSING DEVELOPMENT. No time to stop all ask, but all signs point to Jolly Ridge's demise....


Donation box for left field.Field of Dreams

Dyersville, Iowa

By arriving late in the day, we discover an interesting aspect to the Field of Dreams (where the 1988 movie starring Kevin Costner was filmed). The infield and right field -- owned by one family -- close promptly at 6 PM, while the left and center field -- owned by their neighbors -- stay open until dusk. Don't go hitting your baseball into the infield after six! Several latecomer families are standing around, camcordering each other as they feebly swing at dad's pitch, or wading out into the surrounding fields for a souvenir ear of ghost corn.

[Read the complete visit report.]

Road Cheese home. On to Day 7: Illinois and home...

November 24, 2014

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