If you’ve shared a meal with us since Braden was eating real food, you know that the child eats almost exclusively food centered around peanut butter or cheese, with varying breads surrounding either of them.
So when the staff member at the Spam Museum walked up with a platter of samples and asked Braden if he’d like to try it, I thought I knew the answer. But, as five-year-olds do, he surprised me. He not only tried the Spam (bacon flavored), but he loved it and has taken extra effort to beg for it every time he’s seen it in a grocery store since then.
Three cheers for trying new things in Minnesota and North Dakota!
At the end of March we pulled into a cold, windy and rainy Gopher State. Our first stay was at Big Island State Park, near Austin Lea, which claimed to be open with running water. The water was indeed running, but it was a rusty orange from a single spigot that was inaccessible from the road. The lake in which Big Island sits was still partially frozen over. The only other camper in the park was a trailer near the water spigot that was sitting at an odd angle like it was about to tip over. There were also a few dishes and silverware at an empty campsite that Jess thought looked like a homeless camp. Oh and the dirt roads were so muddy, I gave it about was about a 30 percent chance that we were going to get the tires stuck. It was definitely one of the “What are we doing?” moments of the trip.
Things started improving though. An older couple came in and camped near us, which helped our mood. Then I found a plastic dinosaur in a tree, so there’s that.
The camping was fine, but we were glad to get out of there. On our way out, we noticed the dishes and silverware were gone …
We camped for two more rainy nights at Autumn Woods RV Park in Rochester, Minn. It was on our way there when we made our infamous visit to the Spam Museum in Austin. We drove past the Hormel corporate headquarters and into downtown, which had free RV parking right behind the museum.
Whether or not you are completely grossed out by Spam, it’s probably the best corporate product museum I’ve ever seen. They had an indoor playground, nicely appointed gift shop, giant screens with clips from cooking shows using Spam, several exhibits of Spam around the world, an entire room dedicated to Spam’s uses during wartime and a “Pack the Can” exhibit where guests got to stuff beanbag spam into a can and apply the lid and label while the production timer ticked away. In the end, the exhibit told you how many cans of Spam the real production line could make in the time it took you to stuff one.
We also sampled the bacon Spam and garlic Spam, which were brought around to guests, even though it was a weekday morning.
Across the street from the Spam museum is the Guinness Book-certified largest collection of Bernstein Bears items in the world. Series authors Stan and Jan were from Minnesota and a little bookstore in Austin had made the savvy decision to display the collection on loan from it’s creator right across the street from the town tourist attraction. Apparently, the Bernstein Bears remain a big enough deal that there is a regular podcast about them even today.
While in Rochester, Jess and Braden also went to a mildly disappointing children’s museum in town. By this point, Jess should be a consultant for children’s museum, she has seen so many. If you’re curious, The Thinkery in Austin, Texas, remains her favorite.
The Twin Cities
There were a few factors that led to our longest stay of the trip being in Minneapolis. We camped at Mystic River Casino Campground for a full nine days in part because I had a conference in Minneapolis for three days and a visit with a potential new client nearby in Wisconsin for another day. Jess also has a cousin who lives in town and her aunt and uncle were up visiting from Georgia at that same time.
Then there was Opening Day of the baseball season for the Twins. Throughout this trip, we’ve had a remarkable run of empty baseball stadiums. Most of you know, I’m a huge baseball fan, which is why it’s pained me that for either off-season or road games, we’ve missed chances to see games in Milwaukee, Miami, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Diego, Kansas City, Dallas, Tampa, Denver and Houston. The only Major League city where we’ve been in town when the team is playing is St. Louis early in the trip and I wish we had gone to the game.
I was very happy for us to be able to catch the Twins at home, because A) I’d never been to an Opening Day game, B) I’d never been to Target Field and C) the Twins were playing the Royals, which was one of the last two Major League teams I’d never seen play in person. (Tampa Bay Rays are all that’s left).
Target Field is a great place to watch a game and the Twins do a good job with the fans. We got $26 seats there were in the second row of the upper deck, but right behind home plate. As an added bonus it was “Twins hoodie” giveaway day so we got free hooded shirts. By middle of the game, Braden was wearing his and Jess and I had ours on like blankets because it was the coldest baseball game I’ve ever been to. We made it to the Seventh Inning Stretch before heading out to get warm.
Overall, we were very much impressed by the Twin Cities. It’s a major metro area, but still has some medium-sized city charm and character. From a marketing perspective, calling a double metro area the “Twin Cities” is certainly more charming and inviting than the “Metroplex” of Dallas and Fort Worth.
We went to the Mall of America and rode an indoor roller coaster. We also finally found Braden some waterproof gloves at the LL Bean store. Jess picked up two extra sweatshirts to try and fortify herself against the cold weather.
There were still piles of snow in many places and the campground at Mystic Lake turned their water on for the season while we were there because they were guessing it would stay above freezing from then on.
Mystic Lake was an interesting spot with a casino, ice rink, hotel, RV park and indoor kids playground. While ice skating has been on my list to try for a longtime, Jess suggested that since I need a non-broken right leg and right ankle to drive this RV, we should save ice skating until after the trip.
The casino is owned by one of the wealthiest tribes in the United States and it’s known for a giant teepee shape made from the a bunch of spotlights shining into the sky. By the end of our time there we had some sunshine and Braden enjoyed playing on the playground and with the Nerf guns that some of the other kids shared. As an added bonus, the RV park had complimentary cookies in the office. As a double bonus, I got to jam with another ukulele player who camped next door in a VW bus. They were antique spoon artists who were in town for a craft show.
Even with me attending the Minnesota Telecom Alliance Conference for three days, we packed a lot into our time in the Twin Cities:
- Sampled Chick-Fil-A’s cheese sauce. It was mediocre.
- Braden completed the Junior Ranger book for the Mississippi River National Recreation Area
- Jess and Braden visited the Bakken Museum and particularly liked the Mary Shelley/Frankenstein exhibit and the magna tiles
- Braden, Jess and Jess’s cousins Christi, Harley, Cash and Aunt Frances and Uncle Everett visited the Franconia Sculpture park, and explored Stillwater and a candy store
- Visited the impressive Minnesota Science Center where I did my annual fantasy baseball league draft in the lobby
- Watched a bald eagle soar over our heads in the parking lot of an IHOP on an unexpected “Kids Eat Free” night
- Once again visited with our friends Jerid and Colleen, their human baby Ollie and their baby chickens
- Enjoyed barbecue, trampoline bouncing and fellowship at Jess’s cousin Christi’s house
- Took care of some business like an RV oil change and getting the dogs vaccinations for going into Canada
Glacial Lakes State Park
After 9 days at a bustling casino RV park in a major metro area, we shifted gears completely for our stay at a deserted state park on the sparsely-populated prairies of Southwestern Minnesota. I was working with one of our new clients in Morris, Minnesota and while I was working in their service area, Jess and Braden pretty much had the park to themselves. We saw park rangers one day and a couple of runners, but otherwise it was a pretty solitary existence for three or four days. They found three geocaches, hiked a long, boring trail to the highest point in the park, hiked a pretty trail around the lake and found some huge dog prints in the campground. We told ourselves they were dog prints, but were still pretty cautious when taking the dogs out after dark.
While working I stumbled onto Gnome City, USA, — Dawson, Minn. According to the person who handed me my lunch at the Dairy Queen drive-thru in Dawson, another town in the county wanted to be the county seat instead of Dawson and once disassembled and stole the courthouse in Dawson and moved it to their town. People thought only gnomes could have done it so quickly, so Dawson lost the courthouse but gained an identity that now brings in tourists for their annual Gnome Festival. I haven’t researched the truth of the DQ lady’s story, because I really want that to be true.
After our time was up, it was time to get on the road for North Dakota.