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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Amana, Iowa

We're happy to report we had a safe and enjoyable trip Thursday to The Amana Colonies RV Park here in Amana, Iowa. Our trip was mostly south on I-35 where we saw more corn than you can shake a stick at!  The park here accepted our Passport America discount card for 2 nights and Good Sam for the rest of our stay, so it's a pretty good deal. The normal rate is $35/night before discounts and taxes. We signed up for six nights, so we plan to pull out Wednesday and head south into Missouri.
        I had never heard of the Amana Colonies until Kathy mentioned it, so we did some research and decided to come here to explore the area and do several day trips from here.
        The Amana Colonies were originally known as The Community of True Inspiration, have an interesting history and are often confused with the Amish, but are entirely separate from them. The Amana Colonies are of German descent and migrated to the US in the 18th century to avoid religious persecution and economic hardship. They originally settled near Buffalo, NY and from there moved to the present 26,000 acre location in Iowa. They were self sustaining, lived a communal life, and were known as the Ebenezer Society until the great depression forced them to change. They desired to keep their community intact but realized they had to abandon their communal lifestyle to maintain their community and keep their children from moving away. In 1932 they formed The Amana Society, Inc, a profit sharing corporation to manage the farmland, mills and larger enterprises. Today, the seven villages of the Amana Colonies represent an American dream come true; a thriving community founded by religious faith and community spirit and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Hundreds of thousands of visitors visit the colonies each year to come see the place where the past is cherished and hospitality is a way of life. By the way, the name Amana, means to "remain true". Amana is also the home of the former Amana Appliance Corporation, which has been purchased by Whirlpool and operates a large manufacturing plant in the colony known as Middle Amana. The plant employs over 2,000 people and is still hiring. The Amana Corporation was started by a local entrepreneur and was later owned by the Amana Society before being purchased by Whirlpool.
           There are a number of blogs I follow regularly, with one of them being RV-ing in the kram-a-lot-inn, which is written by Ginger & Jesse Haman who are full time RV-er's. We met Jesse and Ginger 4 years ago while camping at Mountaindale RV Resort in Colorado Springs, where they were working. When reading their latest post, it mentioned they were at the same park we are, so I started looking for them and lo and behold, they were across the road from us! I went over and re-introduced myself and had a great visit with these fine folks. Talk about a small world! They pulled out today headed south where they will slowly make their way to the Rio Grande Valley for the winter. Safe travels my friends!
         We plan to travel to Le Claire, Iowa Monday to check out the home of the American Pickers TV show as seen on the History Channel, and see what else we can find while there. Tuesday we'll probably go to the Amish community in Kalona, Iowa and then make preparations to pull out Wednesday.

Entrance to our park. The park is very large with around 400 sites. There is a festival this coming weekend called October-Fest and the park is totally booked. The lady at the visitor's center told us they expect in excess of 50,000 visitors.

Our site, W-11. The sites are very deep and good size yards. The biggest problem with the campground is the gravel roads that produce clouds of dust when someone drives by.
Partial view of the campground taken from the roof of our rig. There was a large rally in the park this week, but most of them pulled out this morning leaving the park almost empty. It will be full by this coming weekend. The campground is in the middle of what else........cornfields!

The utility hookups in this park are unlike any I've seen before. This is our water hookup which supplies water to 4 different sites.
Iowa ground squirrel which appear to be a cousin to chipmunks like we have at home. But these guys are marked different and make their burrows underground. They typically hibernate 3 to 4 months. They are about 6 inches long. The campground is full of them.
I threw this one a pretzel and he jumped right on it!
Crickett and Kathy alongside pretty fall flowers in Amana.

We had dinner at this German restaurant. I thought it was very good and enjoyed it.

Shops in Amana

Amana General Store and Christmas shop. Date on building said 1854.

That's a big barrel. It'd take a lot of wine to fill up that puppy!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015


We have been here at River View Campground in Owatonna, Mn for the past four days and are making plans to head south into Iowa tomorrow. We are still traveling with our Cajun buddies Terry and Kathy Derouen and are very much enjoying their company.  But before I get ahead of myself, I need to mention our stay in  Wisconsin. From what I could learn, there were not a lot of scenic areas to go see or visit in Wisconsin other than the big tourist attraction in Wisconsin  Dells. The Dells is primarily a summer attraction area with many indoor and outdoor water parks as well as Duck rides, and scenic cruises down the Wisconsin River to view the Dell rock formations. It reminded me a lot of the tourist trap area in Gatlinburg and Pigeon  Forge. We had just about seen all the water and rocks we needed after being on, in, and around Lake Superior for so long, so we chose just to ride around and sight see instead. There's also an abstract attraction nearby called House on the Rocks built by an architect with unusual ideas and attracts a lot of folks, but at $29/apiece, we decided to pass on that too. We didn't do anything really blog worthy during our time in Wisconsin but did enjoy our stay there, which brings us to where we are now in Owatonna, Mn.

Owatonna is about 50 miles south of Minneapolis and is close to Interstate 35. We are staying at the River View Campground which is a pretty nice park that also accepts Passport America, so we are staying here for about $20/night for full hook ups. We decided to stay at this location because it's halfway between the Mall Of America and the Winnebago factory in Forest City, Iowa. We Traveled into Bloomington Sunday to check out the Mall of America we've heard so much about for many years. First, let me say that it being huge is an under statement. We went into the west end and probably didn't cover 25% of it before we had seen enough and retreated! It would probably take a week to cover it all. The mall employs over 12,000 people and has 3 to 4 million visitors each year.  It has 4 levels with over 400 stores and restaurants, not to mention the amusement park, aquarium, swimming pools and ice skating facility. It's very impressive and has just about every store you can imagine, but if you decide to visit, be sure and bring a sack full of money as everything we saw was pretty expensive. Monday we traveled south on I-35 to visit the Winnebago factory, which is the largest motor home manufacturing facility in the country. I thought sure Terry and Kathy were going to pick out a new one while there, but they didn't have the right color!  I told them I would buy them one just as soon as my lottery numbers hit! Seriously, it's a first class operation with Winnebago manufacturing about everything but the chassis that goes into a motor home and employees over 2400 folks at their Forest City plant that covers over 60 acres. They have recently ventured into the towable RV market with the purchase of SunnyBrook RV in Indiana. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take photos, so we can't visually share our experience with our buddies in blogger land, but will say the factory tour was informative, interesting and very worthwhile.  Yesterday and today have pretty much been catch up days where we caught up on our cleaning and maintenance chores, which is a necessity now and then. 

Tomorrow, we're pulling up anchor and heading south to Amana, Iowa about 200 miles south of here. We'll probably stay about 6 days there and should have some interesting stuff to share. Oh by the way, the weather here has been perfect for the last several weeks with day time highs in the 70 & 80's and lows in the 50's. I'm sure it's not long before the bottom drops out, but sure has been pleasant.

Entrance to River View Campground
Our Site B-2. That's Terry and Kathy's motor home next to us.
There shouldn't ever be any shortage of corn. We've seen ions of acres of corn.
Sign over main entrance to Mall of America
Inside west entrance. There are 4 levels.

Nickelodeon Park where there are roller coasters, zip lines and various rides.

Partial directory of stores in mall. It took 2 more panels like this one to list them all.

Main entrance into park.

Want some gourmet snacks for Fido?

Lego section of mall that was way cool.

Partial directory of attractions on level 4.

They even had a Bubba Gump's. Didn't see Forest though!

One of the lobby areas.

This fella was luring folks into the aquarium.

Hard to believe all the figures were made from Legos.

I thought it was interesting that the Apple store and Microsoft store were across the aisle from each other.

On the banks of the Mississippi River in Lake City, Mn. It's supposed to be the widest part of the entire Mississippi River.

Park on the river.

Pretty sunset on the way back to Owatonna.

Pretty sunbeams in the sunset.  Goodbye from Minnesota!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Quincy Copper Mine and St. Joseph's Church

The Keweenaw Peninsula in the UP is a place unlike any other we've traveled  and I wanted to post a  report on two more different and interesting places we visited while there.  One unusual thing I noticed is that the entire upper two thirds of the peninsula is an island with the only connection back to the mainland being the lift bridge in Houghton we mentioned earlier. There's a large canal from the west side of Lake Superior crossing the peninsula into Lake Portage and empties back out on the east side of Lake Superior. If there was any other access across the water, I couldn't locate it on Goggle Maps or any of our trips.
          Our host at City of Houghton RV Park, Dan Kemp, provided us with a list of a"be sure to see" places in the region and among those was the Quincy Copper Mine and St. Joseph Church in Lake Linden.
        The Quincy Copper Mine is located near the City of Hancock and operated from 1846 to 1945 and is a National Historic Landmark.  The mine was one of the more productive mines in the area due to the copper rich veins underground and more modern mining techniques in use at the time. Parts of the original mining operation have been preserved and serves as a tourist attraction where visitors can ride a tram down the side of a large hill and go into one of the mine shafts for a guided tour. There is a very nice visitor's center on the property we went to explore and determine if we wanted to take the tour. We learned the tour seemed safe with the biggest issue being the 43 degree year round temperature inside the mine which was a big differential from the 80 degree temperature outside. The Quincy mines had seven total shafts with the deepest being over 9000 feet deep. The senior rate for the tour was $19.00 and lasted about two hours.
         The St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Lake Linden was constructed in 1902 and is one of the more scenic buildings of that era. The church is constructed of red sandstone which is common to the region, but the inside is what makes the church very special. The stained glass windows with the beautiful architectural designs and lighting make the sanctuary very impressive and inspirational. There is a very large pipe organ in the balcony section of the church. The photos should convey the beauty of it all.

Map of our trip from Houghton, Mi. to Baraboo, Wi. We're probably going into Minnesota from here Saturday.

Sign at entrance to the Quincy Mine.
Visitor's Center at Quincy Mine. The building is constructed of sandstone unique to the area and was mined from a vein that goes from this area all the way under Lake Superior to the Pictured Rocks area.
We  came across these Model A's in the parking lot.
Got our hard hats on and jackets ready.

Here's the cog rail we rode down the hill to the mine

Getting ready to start down the hill.

Pretty steep. They told us it was too steep for a conventional steel wheeled train.You can see the extra track in the middle of the two main tracks.

This is the wagon we rode on into the mine shaft. It was pulled by a John Deere tractor.

Crickett ain't taking a chance on getting cold.

900 pound copper nugget that was 99.8% pure. It was unearthed by college students doing field work at the mines.

Two man hammer drill that was used back in the day.

This was a one man drill and was supposed to be more cost effective. They would drill holes in the rock and then set off black powder charges to loosen the ore and was then loaded for excavation  to the top by an elaborate lift system.

Our guide demonstrating how they drilled holes in the rock before hammer drills. The candle on the wall is like the ones they used for light in the early days. Of course he had to blow out the candle to show us how totally dark it was in there without any light. He did warn us before he did it.

One man ore car. One man was supposed to roll this car to the excavation system and dump it by himself. This was all he did for an entire shift. Had to be hard work. 

Talking about mining techniques back in the day.

Part of lift or excavating system used to bring the ore from the mine to the surface to dump on a locomotive to take to a smelting plant. 

Shaft house that was directly over mine shaft and was used to transport the miners in and out of the mine as well as ore and water excavation.

The area under the round rusted drum is where the ore was dumped onto the locomotive.

View inside St Joseph's church in Lake Linden

Large pipe organ located in balcony.

View from balcony

Outside of church

Scenic view where canal enters the waterway that crosses the peninsula. There is a wind break on each side going into Lake Superior with a light beacon marking the north break.

Unusual bird I caught on the beach. Notice the coarse dark "sand" on the beach. It's from the many mines in the area.

Different angle

Pretty Sunset

Good-bye from Lake Superior.