There was a lot of cool stuff to do in Minnesota and I only really scratched the surface. Spending a holiday weekend there meant a lot of places were packed and I had to adjust my travel plans a little. There was still a lot of random cool stuff in Minnesota like the SPAM museum and lots of parks over looking lots of different bodies of water. Oh yea, and of course, food.
Great River Bluffs
I’m pretty sure that I’d never heard the term bluff before this trip to describe a geological entity. But Wisconsin and Minnesota are covered in them. So Charlie and I decided to check out Great River Bluffs State Park to get a better idea of what they are in person. A bluff is a type of broad, rounded cliff typically bordering water. Most of the bluffs created in the Wisconsin/Minnesota area are created by glacial drift. Roughly 12,000 years ago, as the glaciers began to melt, the meltwater runoff caused the ancient and much larger version of the Mississippi River to carve itself a pathway through the valley. What is left over are these bluffs hundreds of feet high overlooking the gorgeous landscape of the smaller, current day Mississippi River. Interestingly, the rocks left over in the park are much older than the bluffs themselves. The rocks are a result of the shellfish and other sea creatures that died and fossilized much earlier than the glacial melting that took place millions of years later.
55.5 Feet of Green
On the way from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Sioux Falls, South Dakota along Interstate-90, there is a 55.5 foot statue of the Jolly Green Giant. It was originally erected to preside over the completion ceremony of I-90; the highway that stretches from Boston to Seattle. The meeting point of the east and west construction was Blue Earth, Minnesota. The statue was kept to bring commerce to the city and moved to its current location in 1979. Since then, every year people from all 50 states and typically over 20 countries come to take pictures with the size 78 shoe wearing figure. He represents the Green Giant company who started packaging frozen food out of a plant in Blue Earth. As an aside, there has been a radio show called Welcome Travelers that interviews random people who stop by to see the statue. That day, I was Johnny on the spot. You can listen to the radio interview below (which was fun but caught me completely off guard).
Supplementing the Power Grid
It’s difficult to get an appreciation for how windy the roads can get along the highways. But as a proxy for feeling it, you can see that there are stretches of highway that contain large farms of wind turbines (also known as wind farms). As I was driving, I started thinking, where is all this power going? Considering the average wind turbine costs roughly $65,000 to install, you can see by the picture on the right that there is a high cost of entry with this many turbines. However at roughly $0.02 – $0.06 per kilowatt hour, it is the cheapest form of renewable energy that exists today. The major issue is that they tend to be a bit of an eyesore. Additionally, under certain conditions, they can effect change on the local ecosystem by changing the normal temperature of the area (like when put on the water). If you assume that the average wind turbine output is roughly 2.5-3 megawatt’s (~6 million kW hours per year) and there were easily hundreds of these turbines, what is using up the roughly 1,500-2,000 million kilowatt hours of electricity generated per farm. To understand the magnitude, 1.5 megawatts can power roughly 300 homes for a year. This is orders of magnitude beyond that for just a single farm. Food for thought…
And Now, Something Completely Different
Speaking of food, there is a SPAM Museum located in Austin, Minnesota; the original home to the Hormel food company. Not only was this place giving out free SPAM to veterans for Memorial Day, but they were offering tastes of some of the many varieties of SPAM on the market. Hormel is well known for their support of the American troops and the SPAM museum showed that extensively. In World War II (1941-1945), Hormel shipped an average of 15 million cans of SPAM per week (or about 133 million cans in total) to the deployed troops. This continued through every major US conflict up to and including the most recent Iraq wars. While I don’t remember eating any bacon flavored SPAM (what they were offering to taste in the museum that day) while deployed in Iraq, I do remember lots of meals that included SPAM in a variety of forms. SPAM eventually found its way to many other countries around the world. This happened not only as a result of GIs settling in other countries after being used to eating SPAM during the wars (like South Korea), but also places like China were canned food can be easily shipped around the country inexpensively. In case you didn’t catch it, the header line was a reference to Monty Python’s Spamalot. Monty Python makes a few appearances in the museum.
Mall of America
I didn’t spend much time in the Mall of America. Malls aren’t really my thing. But seeing as though it’s the largest mall in the US (and yet not a single pet store anywhere amongst the 500+ stores), I wanted to see it. If nothing else, it’s a modern marvel of engineering and showmanship. Between the incredible lego displays (pictured here), the giant amusement park in the middle of the mall with nearly 30 rides (including a roller coaster pictured below), and a full on aquarium with over a million gallons of water to support things like sharks, it was a sight to be seen. Not bad for a place that has hosted nearly 9,000 weddings over its 25 year history (yes, you read that right).
Last but not least, it wouldn’t be a trip to a city without checking out their main stays for food. One of the things Minneapolis does best is a thing called the Juicy Lucy. It’s basically a cheeseburger that has the cheese inside the meat instead of on top. While there are a bunch of places that claim to have been the original creator of the Juicy Lucy, the place I ate was the 5-8 Club (DDD). This cool little place was originally a speak easy that opened in 1928. The food here was excellent. Instead of getting a regular old Juicy Lucy, I ate the Saucy Sally which is a half pound burger stuffed with secret sauce and topped with American cheese, shredded lettuce, raw onions, and a smear of thousand island dressing. I added the extra bacon for good measure. For fun, I also got their Pig Pen Wontons (which were more like egg rolls). They were filled with ground chuck, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, diced pickles, and bacon bits are all wrapped up in a wonton wrapper and fried. Desert was ice cream from the Grand Ole Creamery. They make their own waffle cones which were soft and really good. So I got a sundae with caramel salted nut and cinnamon flavored ice cream topped with whipped cream and a cherry. I wanted to try more flavors, but they had 200 flavors on rotation and 2 was probably my limit.
Here are some additional random pictures. Also while driving through La Crosse, Wisconsin, I found out that they have the largest six pack in the world there. So I naturally stopped there for a picture.
The gallery of pictures from Minnesota are available on Google Photos.