Taking Minnesota by storm

After a pop-up trip to the World’s Only Corn Palace in South Dakota, we unfortunately missed the offramp to the 50 foot Jolly Green Giant statue in the vegetable headquarters of Blue Earth, MN so when we saw the ad for the Spam Museum in Austin we had to go.

It was a restless night in the Cabela’s parking lot. Between the hard plopping raindrops, the ginormous diesel Forza who ran their generator until 2am and the I-90 resurfacing project creating 2-way traffic, the 310 mile journey across stormy Minnesota to the southeastern town of Altura and Whitewater State Park was no picnic.

The road thudded through Betty like tennis shoes in a dryer. She skated between the lines to the strong wind’s push and pull, the same wind powering endless miles of turbines.

Taking a break from the scenic monotony, we stopped at the Fairmont Walmart to get a few supplies. Unfortunately the turbines didn’t produce enough energy for Tim and Julie to figure out how to power up the equipment to slice the cheese so our turkey sandwiches were cheese free. Sometimes we have to laugh at situational absurdity, like two people working the deli counter not knowing how to turn on the slicer.

Like accidentally running into a museum dedicated to the creation, production and distribution of canned Spam.

More entertaining than the Corn Palace, this interactive experience had us dressed in white smocks and hard hats, racing the clock to can the Spam while videos of Monty Python’s Spamalot musical played on the big screen. We learned how Spam is made (from pork shoulder and butt with salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate) and that Eric is 23 1/2 Spam cans tall.

We laughed ourselves back into a good mood for the final 60 miles into St. Charles, MN, gateway to Whitewater State Park, advertised for its excellent trout fishing and mosquito-free camping. We were immediately greeted by swarms of Minnesota gnats. Gnats do not bite, but they do burrow into your eyes, ears, and nose. You can either run around like a crazy person wildly waving your hands or learn to ignore the buzzing sounds inside your head. We tried both, and they drive you about equally nuts.

After a night of heavy storms, we signed up for the free ranger-led trout fishing class. While it was BYOB (bait not beer), the rods, bobbers, sinkers and hooks were provided. We got a lesson on what a trout looks like, then were cut loose to figure the rest for ourselves. The river was crystal clear which helped us tell that not a fish was in sight. Optimistically, we cast the tackle into trees, bushes, and sometimes the water.

Nothing was biting, including the swarms of gnats which are not actually biting you when they burrow into your ear canal. Apparently the water was so high this year, the state could not spray. If it is any consolation, the rangers point out that they were way worse last week.

None of the 20 of us novice fisher people caught anything other than a case of the gnats on this “learn to catch trout” excursion, however, we can discern brook trout from rainbow trout based on the tutorial, if we happen to meet one at a party. The pros (teachers) hung out under a tree, we suppose in case any of the trout made their way ashore.

Hot, smelly and sticky from deet, we found the luke-warm showers and wi-if at the Visitor Center. While we can’t make a phone call, we can make plans for our next leg. Boy do we miss the dry, bug-free, cool air of Santa Fe …