Friday, October 05, 2012

Wisconsin! Part One of That

After crossing the Mackinac Bridge we drove across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and entered Wisconsin at the town of Marinette, which is north of Green Bay. I read somewhere in the course of my researches for this trip that the rectangle between Duluth, the Twin Cities, Green Bay, The Mackinac Bridge and the Canadian Border is the largest swathe of territory in the lower 48 unsullied by any interstate highways. What I saw of Wisconsin, I liked. I could even imagine myself living there fairly contentedly if I had to, which is not a sense that I get most places. Culturally, the German/Scandinavian/Polish vibe is not alien to me, as my grandparents on my mothers' side were of this stock, and one thing I do lament about New England is the dearth of beer gardens and places to get schnitzel and sauerkraut and liverwurst and all of that sort of food which I like and used to eat quite a bit in my childhood in Pennsylvania. This is purely hypothetical of course, as I don't have the level of career that would justify such a dramatic move, besides which I doubt my wife and children would ever consent to go beyond the borders of New Hampshire or maybe Vermont, if indeed they would even consider leaving our house. I also self-identify as an East Coast person, the northeast in particular, as even though I moved around quite a bit in my youth I have always lived in the U.S. 1/I-95 Maine to D.C. corridor and I still respond to its particular rhythms and manners and such whenever I recognize them. But still, maybe growing up in Wisconsin would have been better for me...    

1. Entering Marinette, Through the Windshield. Taken by my oldest son. The camera was too slow to catch the "Welcome to Wisconsin" sign, but this makes something of a similar effect.

2. Gas Station, Waupun. About an hour east of Madison (?) Note the nearly treeless prairie in the background.

3. Along US 151 Going to Madison. The place definitely has a distinct look. I will add here, probably not for the last time as it was the dominant feature of our time there, that this trip took place in July in the midst of a drought and a brutal heat wave, and without air conditioning in my car, to boot. The temperature at the instant of all these outdoor pictures was no lower than 97, and usually was 98 or 99. It was grueling.

4. More Sample Roadside Views. The extreme heat and the length of this day's drive (approximately 9 hours) aside, the roads in Wisconsin are pleasant to drive on for the most part. This is a U.S. highway rather than an interstate, so there are occasional crossing roads, but it is four lanes and you still go fast, and it's old and more connected to the life around it than the interstates, although Wisconsin had some decent ones of those too: 39/90/94 from Wisconsin Dells to Madison was a nice drive. There are a lot of four lane high speed old U.S. highways, which tend to be scenic and enjoyable as long as the road isn't in too bad of shape, which is usually the case in Pennsylvania. Similar routes in the East would be U.S. 301 on the eastern shore of Maryland, and some of the old parkways in New York, like the Taconic State.

5. Daughter, Holding Up Well. For being trapped in the car all day in biblical heat (I actually don't remember how hot it was in the Bible, but I always imagine it as being often rather toasty).

6. I Couldn't Decide Between the Two Daughter Pictures, So I am Including Them Both.

7. The Parking Lot at Little Norway, Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Odd as it may sound, Little Norway was the germ of the whole trip, being this year's lucky selection from the 1966 Encyclopedia's family vacation recommendations. This is a small sight that, going at as leisurely a pace as possible, stopping multiple times for drinks and ice creams, and scouring every display in the gift shop, it is hard to stretch into a three hour outing, so it sounds slightly ludicrous to say that this was the purpose of our going all the way to Wisconsin, and it wasn't. That said, once we were there I would have been disappointed if we hadn't gone to see it. Here is their website, by the way.

8. Getting in Touch Simultaneously With Our Feminine Side and Our Viking Side. In the gift shop. You get taken on a guided tour around the place, and as we had to wait for a half-hour or so for that and it was 99 degrees out, we hung out inside for a while. The tour was actually very enjoyable. The place is old-fashioned, privately owned and maintained by the same family since the 1920s. There are no iPad guides or any kind of computer things. An actual person, in our case a very pleasant young lady, who admitted however to being of German rather than Norwegian descent, takes you around to all the buildings and points out dusty artifacts and tells stories about them. I hadn't realized how much I had lost, and how I missed that sort of leisurely interaction with other humans.  

9. Boys on the Steps of the Stave Church. Built in Norway for the Norway Exhibition at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, and acquired by the museum in the 30s. This is the only building that was brought to the museum from outside, and it is stuffed full of souvenirs and tools and weapons and furniture and things like that. The other buildings were built by the immigrant farmer who settled the land way back when as a shrine to the homeland.

10. View of the Upper Part of the Imitation Stave Church. All of the encyclopedia's recommendations for sights to see in Wisconsin are rather odd in their decided unspectacular-ness. For one thing there are only four places listed; most states have around six to eight, and the big western states with lots of national parks often have ten or more. Those four sights were Little Norway, Devil's Lake State Park near Baraboo, which we also went to, the world's largest grain elevator in Superior, which is way up at the northwestern tip of the state adjacent to Duluth, Minnesota--I am not sure if this site even exists anymore, as I was unable to find anything referring to it on the internet--and Wisconsin's first state capital historic site, which was about an hour west of where we stayed, getting near the Iowa border, and which looks like a pretty modest site as well, as it seems to consist of two old clapboard buildings sitting in the middle of the prairie. But as I say, we really did have a good time. My children are quite good about doing this retro kind of stuff to this point, they make an honest effort to enjoy themselves and get something out of it. Maybe this is because we don't hang out with other people, who are cool and involved the whole cool modern lifestyle, or maybe it is just our personalities, and we can't adapt to or thrive in our actual present environment. 

11. The Little Norway Trail. The layout is kind of reminiscent of a European park or campground, I think.

12. The Food Storehouse. You may note how the grass is all brown and dried up from the drought. If you go to their website in all the pictures the place is lush and green. I actually think there is something about our pictures--it must be the crispness of the light--which looks better.

13. The Spring House. 

14. Happy Campers. No doubt just glad to be out with father getting introduced to America. Besides, if they thought this was hot, how are they going to deal when we go to Big Bend and Arizona and Death Valley and Vegas in some future July.

Happily there was a little lake not too far from this fine attraction, and we were able to get in some swimming before heading back to our historic farmhouse for dinner. All of this still to come...

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