Archive for the ‘Midwest’ Category
Spend any time at all on the American highway and you’ll see one: the world’s largest [fill in the blank].
The Frazee, Minnesota turkey. The Vergas, Minnesota loon. (Giant fowl are popular in MInnesota). The Medicine Hat Teepee in Alberta, Canada. The list is endless; their aficionados, legion.
If you have a very long Airstream you’ll have trouble turning it around—especially if other gawkers pull in behind you—at the site of Salem Sue, the World’s Largest Holstein Cow, who makes her home at the top of a steep hill in North Dakota.
The state fair may be legend, but Minnesota’s podunk summer festivals—Detroit Lakes’ Water Carnival, the Audubon Pet Parade (which took ten minutes, beginning to end), and “Looney Daze” (sic) in Vergas—deliver superior fun with easier parking.
Lakeside communities in northwestern Minnesota—frozen into a block of ice for seven-plus months—have to cram their pent up energy into the short tourist months of summer. In Vergas, where the loon is revered as a deity, you’ll find loon ball, the worlds largest loon, and, in August, Looney Daze. (Actual slogan: “WhAt HaPpEnS In VeRgAs!…StAyS In VeRgAs!”)
As I can’t resist a “world’s largest” or “home of” roadside attraction, I swerved off the highway in Iowa and followed signs to Winterset— birthplace of John Wayne (American). There I encountered bustle and excitement: bunting around the courthouse, a cavalry encampment, a Rotary-sponsored fun run, a band assembling in the town square, and everywhere, flags flying.
“What’s going on?” I asked a local Rotarian. “Memorial weekend?” He blinked at me. “It’s John Wayne’s BIRTHDAY,” he said.
Oh. Sorry! Didn’t know.
From the moment I was informed by the nice gas station character that filled the trailer tires that 38 tornadoes just had their way with my eastern destination states, the hostile spring weather has tried to run me off the road: torrential rain in Washington; fat wet snow flurries in Oregon (is the west not aware that it’s nearly Memorial Day?); fierce winds in Idaho that actually BLEW A PART off the Airstream (hopefully they’ll reattach it at The Mothership); and fog so dense in Wyoming that semi drivers on the I-80 formed a 30mph protective convoy, hazards flashing.
I didn’t see another Airstream on the road until two days into the journey—they waved to me from the other side of the freeway where I was shipwrecked with a blowout.
For those entering Canada from North Dakota: take heed. There will be no gas on the way. We coasted on fumes into Pembina, the last chance for everything before the border crossing at Emerson where the passport guy grilled us with a lot of intrusive trick questions about our personal lives (“How did you two meet?”) and our reasons for visiting. We were already pitting out over the pack of fresh pork chops we were bent on smuggling in and watched in horror as two motorhomes ahead were pulled into secondary and boarded by customs officials.
Maybe it’s because I came up in the suburbs of the west coast and have never seen oddities like weatherworn drake decoys and antique muskie lures. Maybe it’s the way said items were displayed. Maybe I just hadn’t been shopping in awhile. But I was positively mad
A bit like Les Puces de Saint-Ouen without the newer merchandise and pickpockets, Shady Hollow is not about transients unloading their castaway crap. Here, professional antique dealers traffic hand picked items from teeny, tasty little store-sheds and tables piled decoratively with fabulous junque. Shabby chic people, you’ll go out of your mind.
Look up “good clean fun” in the dictionary and you’ll be directed to the Detroit Lakes, Minnesota annual Water Carnival. The community recently celebrated the 75th anniversary of the event in the usual way: turtle races, boat parade, firehose water fight, “polka in the pavilion”, kid’s ship building contest, and 63 other events.
The money shot of the two-week festival is the Parade of the Northwest, involving every Shriner in a 200-miles radius, every emergency and service vehicle in the city (including the Kentucky Fried Chicken delivery van), assorted entrants (like the bed race champion), and local elected officials and festival organizers waving from towed pontoons.
How did Roslyn, South Dakota get to be the vinegar capital of America?
“Yes. Ok,” replied the amiable host at the International Vinegar Museum, who earnestly launched into his docent’s speech. “This fella by the name of Lawrence Diggs,” he said, pointing to the framed articles on the wall at the entrance. “He was living in California and looking for a place different from California. He happened to come through Roslyn and he’s been here ever since.” (What are the odds of this.)
The wind blew so hard driving into Pierre South Dakota we nearly ran the DWR into a pasture. (Fun fact: it’s pronounced “peer”). Other drivers passed blithely by without seeming to notice but I was frantically searching weather.gov on the iPhone for tornado warnings.
The next day the wind died down and we left behind a perfect morning at the country’s most retarded state park. Oahe Downstream Recreation Area has two kinds of signage: none or misleading. “Stop! All Campers Must Register at the Visitors Center” reads a small marker posted in the middle of a road where there is no structure or sign of life.
Ralph’s mother, a travel writer, has a lovely home on the water in Detroit Lakes—an unpretentious town with an intimate community surrounding two appealing little lakes where families from Fargo and Minneapolis have been summering for generations. We timed our visit to avoid the two annual events that overflow the local campgrounds with rowdy fans: WeFest, the largest country music concert in Middle America (which the locals call “Drunkfest”) and the 10,000 Lakes Music Festival (“Drugfest”).
When we arrived, DL was just recovering from 10KLF (“Minnesota is the land of ten thousand lakes,” explained Ralph’s mom, “but there are more depending on how many potholes you count.”)