Head south on I-35/ Between exits for county roads 45 (south) and 9 (north) Cabela's Outfitters, Owatonna. Exit and enjoy.
Take I-90 east to exit 177, take 218 north only a block to the Oak Park Mall. The Spam Museum is in the Mall interior at entrance nearest 218.
Take I-90 east to Exit 193, head east on Hwy. 16 about 20 miles, turn north on 5 to town of Wykoff, Ed's Museum. Jack Sprat store, 100 S. Gold Street (Hwy. 80). Ask for permission to visit; get keys at The Bank Gift Haus across the street. Back down to 16 heading east to Preston, north of town in a little park on Hwy. 52 is the Trout statue.
Two miles south of town on Hwy. 139, then west two miles on County Rd 30 to Niagara Cave Rd. to Harmony's Niagara Cave.
Take 139 south into Iowa. Head south to 9 to Spillville and the Bily Clocks Museum. Or skip it and jump on Hwy. 9 east out of Decorah to Waukon to the House of Clocks. Get keys and tour guide at Village Farm and Home (Muffler Man and bull in front).
Take Hwy. 76 southeast from Waukon to Marquette to see Pinky the Elephant and the Riverboat. Spook Cave is west about 8 miles on Hwy. 52.
Hwy. 52 drops south through Guttenberg (Jolly Ridge, where are ye?), go straight at Luxemburg south on 136 to Dyersville. 3 miles NE of town off Hwy. 136. Follow signs from 3rd Ave. NE. to the Field of Dreams,
Head west on 20 to Dubuque, south on Hwy. 61 all the way to the "Quad Cities." We stayed in Moline for the night.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
Pinky the 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.