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Travel [1401.22]

Wisconsin Road Trip 2005

(this article first appeared in our 2005 holiday newsletter)

In July we had some time after the U.S. Kendo Championships, which were held in Ann Arbor, Michigan, so we took a weeklong road trip through Wisconsin and environs.

We found a guidebook in the library called "Oddball Wisconsin, A Guide to Some Really Strange Places." They had a whole series of "oddball" guides for the area, which gave us some good ideas for sites to visit.

The best was the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum in Wisconsin. Once we saw the "Poupon U" tshirts in the window, we knew this was someplace special. Surprisingly, their display of more than 4000 mustards from over 60 countries was truly fascinating.

By comparison, the Spam Museum in Minnesota was a let down. This was partly due to the fact that we already owned many of the items in their collection, and more (Hawaii is a much richer source of spam memorabilia than Hormel, apparently).

We passed a garish pink elephant as we headed to a national scenic drive in Iowa, with mile after mile of cornfields stretching as far as the eye could see (we could only take it for about 5 miles before turning back for Wisconsin). Our biggest regret was that we could not make it to see the world’s largest cheeto on display in western Iowa (originally discovered in Pearl City, Hawaii, and sold on eBay).

We’re not normally into dairy products, but Wisconsin’s stuff is so good! We had raclette cheese, squeaky fresh cheese curds, and fried cheese curds and butter burgers at Culver’s hamburger chain. We could almost feel our arteries congealing at every meal. The most amazing item: frozen custard, similar to ice cream but richer, denser, and creamier. It’s made fresh in small batches and served at a slightly higher temperature, so it literally melts in your mouth.

The climax of the road trip was meeting up again with Vicki and Greg Buchwald from last year’s Africa trip. Greg is affiliated with the Yerkes Observatory in southern Wisconsin, and the two were kind enough to give us a detailed tour of the facilities.

Yerkes is home to the famous 40-inch refracting telescope. Built in the late 1890’s, it is still the largest refracting telescope in the world. The observatory has the original Scientific American issues covering the telescope’s opening, as well as many items of historical significance in astronomy. Sadly, the observatory is in danger of being sold to a developer by the University of Chicago. We hope they can find a solution which preserves this beautiful and historic site.

We really enjoyed visiting Wisconsin. The food was great, the people were so friendly, and we saw landscapes we could never see in L.A., namely terrain that is unbelievably flat. While taking another national scenic drive along the Mississippi River, we took a detour in La Crosse to see Granddad Bluff. "Towering" 600 feet above the city, this landmark offers panoramic views of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota. They say on a clear day you can see forever.

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