Carolina: Cruising Past 70: Exploring from our Minnesota Campground OLA

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Exploring from our Minnesota Campground OLA

a barn quilt by the roadside in Hidden Bluffs Country
Our feet were getting itchy so we made an appointment for the Chicago Camping World to finish the job on our RV (one of the benefits of working with a reliable nationwide chain) and proceeded to Hidden Bluffs Resort (after the little pilgrimage to the Grotto) in Spring Grove at Minnesota’s southeastern corner.  A bluff is defined as a cliff, headland, or hill with a broad steep face.  The resort is a small valley surrounded by bluffs that have been hidden by lots of very green deciduous trees.

a bluff by the roadside
We quickly found out that it is a weekend getaway for local families, especially from nearby Rochester. The planned activities were for kids and the amenities were geared for them, too. Even the hot tub was frequently occupied by a family so we went either early in the morning or late at night. Thus, we quickly plotted our day trips in our 8 days here. Our only condition was to have the trips every other day so we can have time for maintenance, housekeeping, computer work, and cooking.

Our first trip was to Rochester, 1 ½ hours away, and to Minneapolis-St. Paul, another 1 ½ hours from there.  The Mall of the America with a theme park, an aquarium, and an entertainment district (my favorite is the amazing Lego Store) is the biggest in the USA, in a southern burb of Minneapolis. With 500 stores and 4.2 M sq. ft. total area (2.8 M of which are leasable), it is the 13th largest mall in the world (China has 4, Philippines 4, Canada 1, Dubai 1, Turkey 1, and Malaysia 1 in the top 12).

Mayo Clinic
In Rochester is Mayo Clinic, in top 3 of 10 of 12 important specializations (1 in diabetes, gastroenterology, and kidney, 2 in gynecology, heart, neurology, orthopedics, pulmonary, 3 in cancer and urology). Only Johns-Hopkins ranks close with 9.  So we went to see the Mayowood Mansion where the Mayos lived and the Plummer House (Dr. Plummer was the 3rd doctor who founded the clinic along with the brothers). Atop the Plummer Building downtown is the Rochester Carillon, a system of 15 bells that play symphonies!  
Pine Bend Refinery
This day trip took over 11 hours, 7 for driving alone! On the way to the twin cities we saw a huge unique plant looming larger and larger from the horizon. On our way back, we made it a point to stop to take photos. I found out later that it is the Pine Bend Refinery in Rosemount. It is among the top processors of Canadian crude in the US, supplying most of the Upper Midwest and certainly, the twin cities, especially its airport, with its capacity of about 320,000 barrels per day. 

a bear mound
The next day trip was to the Effigy Mounds National Monument, only 2 hours from ‘home’ in Harper’s Ferry, Iowa.  There were about 10,000 mounds at one time in the plains of the Midwest to the Atlantic. The Woodland Period Indians, from 500 BC until early European contact, had regularly constructed them in the shape of mammals, birds, or reptiles but agriculture plowed them under. The monument contains 2,526 acres with 206 mounds, 31 effigies. This park is the largest known collection of mounds in the US.

world's smallest church
From Pike’s Peak in MacGregor, Iowa, you can look out to the Mississippi bluffs and see Wisconsin on the other side, especially the town of Prairie du Chen.  And going back to our ‘home’, we made it a point to make a little diversion to 2 points of interest: the World’s Smallest Church (a Catholic church that seats 8 people) in Festino, Iowa (built in --) and the Laura Ingall’s childhood home at Burr Oak, Iowa. This is the place which inspired many of the stories of her Little House on the Prairie.

Laura Ingall's prairie home

Amish Store in Canton
Around the campground are little towns known as Historic Bluffs Country.  Niagara Cave known for its 60-ft. waterfall is in Harmony, a dozen quaint barn quilts are in Caledonia, and an Amish buggy is the weekend market in Canton. We had a chance to go to Rushford Days, an annual festival with a tractor pulling competition and other never-heard-of games!   At the Houston Nature Park we met Alice, the Great Horned Owl, who ‘works’ with Karla and stars at the International Owl Festival every March!

tractor pulling race
Alice, the Great Horned Owl
As they say, sometimes you do not have to go far from home. Hidden Bluffs Resort had several miles of beautiful hiking trails. One of them ended in a big rock where we found a father-son tandem fishing the clear waters.  Another had a really beautiful scenic overlook of the little valley and the campground. It was T. S. Elliot who once said, ‘We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time,‘ exactly what happened to us!  
our beautiful hiking trail