Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

A Slingshot Trip

Taking a break from my blog about Hawaii, the Big Island, Kona conclusion – onlyMichigan because I’ve run out of time for now, and because I’m going to be without wi-fi for … who-knows-how-long – I am diverting temporarily to our upcoming trip.

We are “sling-shotting” to Michigan to visit friends (Richard, Shannan, Evan & Jack), and, for the most part, travelling a road we’ve already gone AND I’ve already talked about in my blog at some point.

Which is good, because we don’t have time to stop anywhere, so I won’t be pouty that I can’t stop to see the Roadside Attractions.

AirstreamThe plan is – get to Michigan as quickly as possible, by the most direct route, according to Google Maps. (The most direct route is approximately 3,000 kms/close to 1900 miles.)

The “adventure” part of it is that I’ve decided that, rather than hotel-ing, we are going to bring the Airstream, so that we have our own “home away from home” while visiting Richard and Shannan. Since it’s off-season, most campgrounds are already closed, so we plan to stay at Rest Areas, parking lots of places like Wal-mart, and truck stops.

We’ve never done that before (rest-stops, truck-stops and parking lots.) Makes me nervous. And, a little excited. Normally, I have the route carefully planned, campgrounds or hotels booked well in advance. A book with confirmation numbers, addresses, and phone numbers.

This time, I have a “hope for the best” mentality and a website ( which lists every truck stop (including which have showers, restaurants and lounges), rest stops (including whether they are East/West or North/South bound), and parking lot that allows overnight stays, for every interstate in the United States.

Here’s what we’ll be passing:

1) We will be going through Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is home of the World’s Largest TeePee. This I haven’t seen AND we will be stopping for pictures.

2) Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, home of the World’s Largest Moose, and a townWorld's Largest Moose which actually has a few things I do want to do that I missed last time (the Al Capone tour and the Underground Tunnel tours), but we don’t have time. I will eventually be back there for those tours.

3) Dog River/Rouleau, Saskatchewan, filming location of “Corner Gas”.

3) Weyburn, Saskatchewan, home of what could be the World’s Tallest Wheat. (Same link as #3, Dog River)

The World's Largest Buffalo4) Minot, North Dakota, whose motto is “Why-not Minot”….

5) Jamestown, North Dakota, home of the World’s Largest Buffalo AND albino buffalos. (Same link as #3, Dog River) I might try to stop there for a better picture of the Albino Buffalo, actually.. Which reminds me. I should bring the big camera….

6) Fargo, North Dakota, home of the Infamous Wood Chipper, and the Fargo Walk of Fame.

7) A Continental Divide, not THE Continental Divide.Alexandria's Runestone

8) Alexandria’s Runestone. (I did say if we were ever there again, expecting we never would be, I’d stop and see the real one in the museum, instead of the replica… but that won’t be this trip…)

Skimming passed Minneapolis and St. Paul (tons more I need to see there, too, but I didn’t even get that all done last time I was there, and I was there for … 2 days, not 3 minutes…or probably an hour? that it’ll take us to “skim passed”?

Once we get to Wisconsin, though, we will be on a part of the highway we haven’t been before.

Here’s what I’ll be missing (maybe):

1) In or around Eau Claire: Paul Bunyan Logging Camp Museum, a Ship-shaped CarPaul Bunyan Wash, and a Transmission Man.

2) At Mauston, the Kwik Trip sign is apparently a hanging semi-truck… Might be able to see that from the road if I’m looking!

3) Wisconsin Dells – now the home of the Russian MIR Space Station… hmmmm… maybe we can stop on the way back… Looks like there’s also an Upside-down Whitehouse, Storybook Gardens (more research required to see if this still exists), a Muffler Man that looks alot like Burt Reynolds, Paul Bunyan restaurants (might need to stop there), and the World’s Possible Largest Flamingo….

4) DeForest – home of Sissy the Cow and Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet. … Actually, now that I know there’s an all-things-cheese place, might need to stop there for sure. (I mean – at some point, we have to stop at a Cheese Tourist thing – it IS, after all, Wisconsin!)

5) A bunch of sites in Madison, including Otis Redding’s Plane Crash site…

6) An Apple Water Tower at Edgerton.

7) Janesville – Bessie the Cow (apparently in a Fruitopia commercial?) and a 2-story outhouse,

SPAM Museumm8) Beloit – A Giant Bulldog and a Giant Hormel Can…

Speaking of Hormel – last time we were here, we visited the SPAM Museum, (SPAM being a Hormel product). This time, I am in search of La Victoria Chunky Jalapeno Hot Sauce – apparently this is the best hot sauce on the planet – if anyone knows where to find it… Originally, we found it at a little store in Sandpoint, ID (future blog topic), but can’t find it again. I did email to MegaMex Foods (which is “a joint venture between…Hormel Foods and Herdez del Fuerte“) and they are searching. (It IS available on-line, if I can’t find it any other place.)

ENTER Illinois. Still on a “fresh road”.

Oh too bad. I’m out of time.  See you later!

Thank you to our wonderful friends for house-sitting for us, too! Mwah!


Rochester, Minnesota

THIS blog is about Rochester Minnesota, NOT Rochester NY, which is what everyone (including me) thinks of first.We went to Rochester for a Convention, and didn’t really expect too much from the little town. But, even if I had researched it and heard all about it, I probably wouldn’t have believed it anyway.

It’s one of those places that’s “too good to be true”. If someone told me: “wait till you go there – EVERYONE is nice”, I would’ve been skeptical.

And, granted, I didn’t meet all of the something-close-to 108,000 people who live there, but the ones that I did meet, lived up to the hype.

Well, I made up the hype. I’ve just never been any place like it – a town filled with nice, friendly, helpful people.

Apparently, Rochester has been included on Money magazine’s list of “Best Places to Live”, and has even been #1 on occasion!

Good for them – they deserve it.

For example: part of the City’s services include “Vacation House Checks.” Going on vacation and don’t live near friends who can check your house? Or maybe your friends are coming with you? You can contact the City of Rochester, Public Safety Communications Center, and they have a program in place, for your security and general peace of mind.

We stayed at the nearby KOA Kampground – less than 10 minutes from the Mayo Civic Center. We didn’t believe that either. From the KOA, there is absolutely no sign whatsoever of any town, let alone a thriving metro area of approximately 108,000 people. To get from the KOA to the Mayo Center, we drove passed a winding river, wetland areas, cow pastures and then BAM! Right into the city! (You can tell you are close when you see the looming Corn Water Tower.)

We saw so much corn paraphernalia on this trip, you’d think we wouldn’t care about the Water Tower, but I took a picture every time I saw it. (Yes, yes. I know – the pictures all look the same – it’s not like the Water Tower has different poses.)

OK. So, the Mayo Center has a LOT of great venues – everything from “The Price is Right” to Bob Dylan concerts (which was happening right after we were leaving).

There are, I guess, Mayo Centers all over the USA, but this one in Rochester is the original. History shows that in 1883, there was a Great Tornado, which demolished a large part of Rochester – 37 people died, and about 200 were injured. Since there was no medical center, Mr. Mayo and his two sons cared for the wounded.

In 1889 (thanks to donations, the Sisters of St. Francis, and Mr. Mayo) St. Marys Hospital was opened. Wikipedia (under the subject “Rochester MN” subheading “History”) tells us that “The Mayo practice grew and is today among the largest and most well-respected medical facilities in the world.”

The same Wikipedia article mentions that some of the Rochester buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and then lists the former Chateau Theater, which is where Barnes & Noble bookstore is now. I didn’t know that when we were there, but the building was so beautiful and the setting was so serene, I actually did take pictures of it anyway!

Speaking of “theater” and acting – there’s a list of famous people who are from there – Lea Thompson (remember her – primarily (in my opinion) of Back to the Future fame) and a list of others includes Dan Bakkedahl, Warren Skaaren, John Towey, Sheree J. Wilson and Emily Sandberg, along with many sports figures, etc. (I didn’t really know most on the list, but I didn’t want to exclude anyone either…just in case…no hurt feelings…heh)

I’m sure there are many fine places to stay while you are in Rochester, but if you are camping, I recommend staying at the nearby KOA. I’ve never experienced such warmth and hospitality from ANY accommodation – let alone campground caretakers/owners. KOA’s are general good, anyway, from a security and amenity point of view (which is why we like to stay at them), but THIS one (family owned and operated, as many are, I think) was BY FAR the most pleasant, most accommodating, friendliest place I’ve ever been.

I could go on and on, but one of the things that stands out most – that puts them right over the top – is that: We were travelling with our two little dogs, Daisy & Coco, and since we were in Rochester for a Convention – 3 days, most of the day. Our plan was to attend the convention during the morning, come home for lunch, let the puppies out (by the way – they had air conditioning), go back for the afternoon sessions, and then rush back afterwards.

But! Katie (the daughter of KOA owners – Roger and Barb) offered to walk Daisy & Coco during the day! Well! That was an unexpected and brilliant surprise! Daisy & Coco loved their walks and loved Katie – when we got “home”, they were asleep – no barking, no accidents, no stress! It was the greatest thing ever!

Despite the fact that we were there for a one-time plan, we have decided we would go out of our way to go back to that KOA, and to that town, just because of the friendliness and the hospitality of everyone we met. Everyone.

One more thing that Rochester had to offer – FIREFLIES! THEY HAVE FIREFLIES!!!

Sunday, we are going to the place that promised “if you build it, they will come” and it’s true. They built..and we went.


We’re off to the Guggenham err Porkopolis err …SPAM Museum…

Everytime we go to Hawaii, Peter eats SPAM®.    Apparently, it’s a Hawaiian Staple.  You can even order it at Burger King and McDonalds. They love it there. It’s in “local” food – Peter eats it for breakfast in something called musubi…which is kinda like sushi, but with SPAM instead of raw fish… I haven’t tried it… My imagination doesn’t allow it…

 When Rich comes with us to Hawaii, he eats SPAM too (not sure what his habits are when he’s not with us.)

SO, I thought it’d be REALLY funny to take them to the SPAM Museum, in Austin MN.

We all knew except Rich, and that was half the fun!  He didn’t see any of the billboards (which was shocking, but we know he didn’t, because there’s no way he could’ve seen them and not made a sassy comment of some sort.)

Well! the joke was on me! The whole place was completely fascinating!

 It was educational, historical, and fun! There’s a hall of history, a theater, a diner, a children’s educational center, a grocery section and a gift shop… and probably even more to offer.Hormel Foods produces SPAM, and the company was started in 1891 by George A. Hormel. George was so respected by the community that, years later, when one of his employees embezzled over $1,000,000 (and this is back when that was a lot of money!), the bank quickly loaned him the missing money, to keep his business afloat.  (I read that it was $1.5million, but I can’t remember if that’s what the sign at the Museum said…)

I had NO IDEA that SPAM was so important in history.  Did you know that more than 100 million pounds of SPAM was sent overseas to feed allied troops during WWI, between 1941 and 1945? 

Also: Did you know that they sponsored a Nascar car?

And that Doc (from The Love Boat)

and Brett Favre (of Green Bay Packers fame… mostly)

have advertised for them? (That IS Doc, right?)

I really thought we’d be there 10 minutes and leave, but we were there a long time! I definitely recommend going!

In the Gift Shop, they have all kinds of fun things – I think we all got SPAM shirts (mine is tie-dyed and everyone thinks it says “Spain”), one of the kids got a SPAM piggy (stuffed animal) which literally saved his hands and knees at least twice, when he tripped and fell and landed on it (I’m sorry – it gave me giggles – you know, after I was certain he was ok)…we got bandages that look like SPAM (all bandages kind of do), a SPAM fishing lure… I can’t remember everything – but they have so much! games, dishes, toys, dog accessories, and, of course SPAM and SPAM Cookbooks!

GO! such an unexpected surprise!!

See you Wednesday!!


Mr. Jolly Green Giant

In 2005, we took a long roadtrip from Calgary to Halifax NS, through the States, one way. We bought a disposable car, drove one way, and flew home. I’ll tell that adventure later.

 BUT, I bring it up now because, at that time, we had the choice of going either through Minnesota, and seeing the Jolly Green Giant, or through Iowa, and seeing the Bridges of Madison County near Winterset. We chose the Bridges of Madison County and it was so worth it – so beautiful! so historic! Plus, I had recently read the book, and was enthralled. (Didn’t see the movie, so I don’t know how it compares.)
Since then, though, I have always had the Jolly Green Giant in my mind, and this was the trip that was going to fix that!

The Jolly Green Giant (this is tedious – I’m going to start calling him just “Jolly” or Mr. Giant…or Jolls) is in Blue Earth, Minnesota, at the half-way point of Interstate 90. (Blue Earth is named for the nearby Blue Earth River, and the river is named for the blue clay found in the bluffs along the river banks.)

He is the symbol of the Green Giant Company (famous for canned peas and corn). The company started in 1926 as Blue Earth Canning Company, took the name Green Giant in 1950 and has since been bought out by General Mills.

 Jolls is 55’ tall (17 meters). I mean – that SEEMS tall, but what’s a good point of reference? Well, look at this picture. We are standing by his 6′ long feet (size 78 shoe) and you can barely see us.
His Giant smile is 48″ wide!!

I  don’t know how Daisy & Coco knew he was a giant and not just a huge hunk of metal (fiberglass, actually) but they were crazy when they saw him-running at him, barking and snarling, grizzly hair up on their backs, tails in the air, then running away madly, for protection! (They are, after all, only about 8″ tall..) They did NOT like him at ALL! (We were a little bit proud of them-so feisty! 😀 ) 

They keep a guest book there, and the lady there was telling us that since they’d opened for the season, they had someone from every state already in to visit, except Virginia. And wouldn’t you know it? The girl beside us was from Virginia, so we all had ice-cream sandwiches to celebrate.  (Incidentally, Blue Earth is proud to be the birthplace of the Chocolate Dream ice cream bar, which is now the Eskimo Pie. We didn’t have any of those handy, so ice-creams sandwiches substituted.)
Mr. Giant’s little (10’ tall) pal, Little Sprout, has taken a job at a nearby local gas station and convenience store, advertizing Jelly Bellys and homemade fudge!

After we left Blue Earth, we continued east.

We had a secret destination
– well, we all knew, except Richard.

Secret Spot to be revealed Sunday.

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Alexandria’s Runestone

Sick of being in the car, I convinced Peter that we should go into Alexandria MN and take a look at this ancient runestone they have there (another find on

Previously, the only experience I had with runestones was the brief lesson found in the introduction to The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien.

From The Hobbit, Second Printing 1977

Tolkien explains:

“Runes were old letters originally used for cutting or scratching on wood, stone, or metal, and so were thin and angular. At the time of this tale only Dwarves made regular use of them, especially for private or secret records. Their runes are in this book represented by English runes, which are known now to few people”.

The explanation goes on to discuss how they are used, how they compare to modern English, and how they can be translated…

Therefore, having read this when I was 10 or 11, and having done no further research, I assumed runes and runestones were products of the imagination…

 Until I read about this particular runestone on

Replica, 5 times the size of the original

This one (called the Kensington Runestone, after a nearby settlement) is not Dwarvish, but Viking, and is dated 1362. A farmer named Olof Ohmandug it up in a field in Minnesota, in 1898.

 9 years later, Hjalmer R. Holand (a University of Wisconsin history major), translated the Stone, and it says something like:

” 8 : göter : ok : 22 : norrmen : po :
…o : opþagelsefärd : fro :
vinland : of : vest : vi :
hade : läger : ved : 2 : skLär : en :
dags : rise : norr : fro : þeno : sten :
vi : var : ok : fiske : en : dagh : äptir :
vi : kom : hem : fan : 10 : man : röde :
af : blod : og : ded : AVM:
frälse : äf : illü.”

 (As per Wikipedia, The Kensington Runestone, Historic Mysteries (the Kensington Runestone,and other reports.) 

OK. Fine. The translation of that translation is something like:

“8 Goths and 22 Norweigans on exploration journey from Vinland over the west. We camp by 2 skerries one day-journey from this stone. We were and fished one day. After we came home, 10 men red with blood and tourtured. Hail Virgin Mary, save from evil. Have 10 men by the sea to look after our ship, 14 day -journeys from this island year 1362.”

It sounds like a terrible journey, but that’s all that’s reported. Or, if there’s more, it’s on other runestones buried here or there. We did go TO the Runestone Museum, and I saw Ole the Viking across the street, but…didn’t actually go INTO the Museum! Why? I don’t remember.

Oh! That is SO NOT TRUE!! We didn’t go in because: Well, first of all, Alexandria wasn’t right beside the road, but a tiny little detour. Second of all, I hadn’t really written down instructions on where the Runestone was, so I was guessing it could be at the Museum…so, third of all (and in summary), we were arguing by the time we got there, and it didn’t seem as much fun…Now, I regret not going in. (Life lesson for next time.)

We did, however, track down the larger-than-life runestone replica on a nearby highway (see above picture) – a monument actually, on the side of the road – it’s 5x bigger than the original!

 Some people say it’s a hoax or forgery. Lots of studies have been done. How would I know if it is or not? Either way, it’s intriguing…

(As far as hoaxes go.. It seems to me that there could be easier hoaxes to pull off – ones that didn’t take as much work and wouldn’t be examined so…the corn flake that looks like a saint…or whatever…)

Oh goodness! Didn’t make it to Minneapolis! (In real life, we went from Fargo to Minneapolis in a few hours.) Sunday, for sure!! (I’m practically positive…)
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