Today we made it to Minnesota.  We are staying in the town of Winona, in the bluffs right along the Mississippi River.  It is breathtakingly beautiful yet impossible to photograph. 


This is highway 14 which hugs the Mississippi River to the left in this picture and the bluffs and coulees to the right.  The word coulee was new for me.  I had no idea it meant deep ravine.  We drove this road several times while here (it’s the only road) and each time was as beautiful as the next.   When Makenzie saw the mountain in the distance she immediately said,  “That is how I pictured God’s thumb to look like from the book Holes.”  We all agreed with her the closer we got.


That’s the Mississippi River out there.  Like I said, I had a hard time photographing the river… maybe it’s because I’m so darn tired!



This is the view from the Grandad Bluff in La Crosse, WI.  You may ask why we are back in WI?  The main reason is because we found someone willing to fix the AC in the motorhome… for the price of $550…ugh!  But worth every penny as temps are rising this week into the low 80s. Oh, AC how I’ve missed you!



We are also in WI because there is a children’s museum in La Crosse that we were checking out while the motorhome was getting fixed.  It is part of the passport museum  program so we entered for free.  The museum was nice but was definitely geared toward a younger crowd.  This usually doesn’t stop my kids, they still always find something fun to do.  But after about 2 hours they were finished.  Off to the public library, why hadn’t I thought of this before?  Complete silence,  a beautiful thing after living in an RV for almost a month.  I almost fell asleep at one point until Koah came to me asking me questions about a Star Wars book he was reading,  “Uh, ask Daddy.”



We learned that this stand alone rock formation is called the Sugar Loaf, while in the Target parking lot in Winona.



This is the American Dagger… well technically it will be when it becomes a moth.  The black spikes on this are considered to be mildly poisonous by some and not poisonous at all to others… go figure.  As I’m looking at this picture I’m realizing it doesn’t look all that impressive.  Like I said I’m tired.


I really enjoyed this town and would love to come back to do some hiking and summer water activities.  Onward, further into Minnesota…but first some sleep.


Makenzie flies her first plane at the EAA AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, WI. We had a great day at this museum but this was definitely the highlight.

Young Eagles is a program they run at the museum (actually Young Eagles is a world wide program) with the goal to have 1 million kid pilot names recorded in a book by December 2013. The museum surpassed that goal and is now at 1.8 million kids who have hit the skies, Makenzie being one of them. What is so cool is that Makenzie was able to fly this plane for free as part of this program! Let me say that again… FREE!

The process runs smoothly. Sign the waiver, step 1. We happened to be here on a quiet day so our wait time for Makenzie to fly was rather short. I was told that on busier days the wait time could be as long as an hour and a half. When your turn is up the very friendly pilot takes the whole family out to the plane. He then talks a little about the plane itself and then gives a brief explanation of some of the buttons and numbers you see on the dashboard. He explains to Makenzie that she will be steering the plane if she chooses to do so… and she did!



Getting prepared.


Ready for take off!


It’s blurry but there she is in the sky!

I’m so proud of this girl. She was so nervous but she did it anyway. Because she was the last flight of the day, she got a little extra ride, she had the opportunity to drive the plane to hanger where it would then be parked for the night. Not long after her flight she said, “I want to be pilot!”


Jersey girls don’t know pudgy pies.  But I’m in Wisconsin, so now I do.

It all started with a fellow camper asking to borrow our can opener.  She was needing to open 3 cans of pie filling.

Jeff:  “Whatcha makin’?” (truly sounding like a midwest boy,  that’s not far from “you betcha”). 

Vicky: “Pudgy pies.”

Jeff:  “What are pudgy pies?”

What Vicky said, I don’t entirely know.  But what I heard was something about white bread, pie filling and a fire.

End of story…

Until about an hour later Vicky returns.  She says, “Why don’t you come by after dinner and we can show you how to make pudgy pies.”

And we did go and learn the art of how to make a pudgy pie.


Take 1 slice of white bread and butter one side.

Place bread, butter side down, into cast iron pudgy pie maker thing (yes, this is a real thing).  It’s like a Panini maker on a stick.

Glob lots of pie filling on bread.

Place 2nd piece of white bread on top of pie filling, butter side up.

Close pudgy pie maker thingy.

Place in fire.

But not for too long.

It’s like a grilled cheese without the cheese but instead pie filling. I guess you could put whatever you want inside.


I have to be honest, I wasn’t a big fan.  The kids on the other hand…

Thank you Vicky, Mark, Steve and Ruth for your food and fun!


We debated a long time about doing this boat tour.  Because everything in the town is made for tourists to pour their money into, I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it.  When we finally made the decision to do it, it turned out that because we are here off season we got a great deal on tickets (2 kids free and 2 kids half price).  Or maybe they just felt bad for us because it was a cold rainy day. 

I would say that the boat probably holds at least 60.  There were 16 passengers on the boat and we were 6 of them.  During most of the ride up the dells a guide gives lots of information on the dells and points out interesting rock formations that look like things like Indian heads and alligators.  It was very informative and it felt much like a private tour.

The beginning of the tour:





Boat Stop #1- Witches Gulch

I was very excited to see this and it did not disappoint.  I couldn’t take enough pictures to capture the magnificent beauty of this gulch.  Because it was so dreary and rainy, it did have a rather eerie feeling.






Boat Stop #2- Stand Rock

We were told that Stand Rock is known for the famous dog jump.  Not famous enough that I had heard of it.  But indeed a dog does jump the distance of 5 1/2 feet between these rocks, except when it is raining.  No dog jump for us.








What an interesting place?  The best way I can describe it is to think of Las Vegas and Orlando, FL colliding… that is the town of Wisconsin Dells, on a much smaller scale.

It is the “Water Park Capital of the World”.  How it got this title?  According to a local, here is the story (although Wikipedia tells a different version).

It all started with 2 brothers opening a water park in 1979, Noah’s Ark, with the money they made from a game they had patented and sold.  Their goal was to bring a little excitement to a poor poor town.  The park had a handful of water slides.  They set the park a distance back from the main road to preserve the appearance of the beautiful farm land when driving the main road.  The brothers sold the park many years later for $44 million. Noah’s Ark is now the biggest water park in the world.  Also, the street it is located on is jammed packed full of other gaudy water parks, amusement parks, hotels, big signs, and bright lights.  The women I spoke with didn’t seem too bothered by this entertainment boom.  She mentioned that it brought a lot of jobs to a very depressed town.  An interesting perspective.

If you ever decide to come here with kids plan to sink hundreds of dollars on “stuff”.  We managed to get away with the cost of a boat tour because we spent most of our time in state parks away from the many attractions… not to say that my kids didn’t ask for more because they did.

But originally people came to this town for it’s natural beauty, the dells.  More on the amazing Wisconsin Dells tomorrow.  I would come back here to explore more of the dells, other state parks, and the incredible natural land formations that are found in the area.

Here is a tiny glimpse of the main road:








We ventured out to this park late in the day.  It was the same day that we had hiked at Mirror Lake SP.  Now though, the weather was changing, a cold front was moving through and the rain began to fall.  But I was on a mission to find Balanced Rock at Devil’s Lake, although at this point the kids weren’t quite as enthusiastic as me.  When the trail we were on proved to be the wrong one to take us to Balanced Rock the complaining started as did more rain.  I wasn’t sure if it was worth it to push forth but based on the recommendation from the ranger at Mirror Lake, we decided to press on.  And, in time, we did find the Balanced Rock trail.  I did need to persuade the kids to get out of the van and just give it a try.  Well, the second they hit the rocky staircase they were off and there were a few times I had trouble keeping up with them, especially Koah.  And it turned out that we were so focused on our hike that we completely missed Balanced Rock.  It’s a good thing Jeff and Korben were a good distance behind us because when they caught up to us, they were the ones to tell us that we were well passed the rock. 

You will notice in the pictures that Freya is bare foot and Koah is in flip flops.  I do not recommend this.  But if I had to choose one over the other I would choose the bare feet.  Turns out that flip flops and rocky staircases don’t mix well.  Koah slipped hard and split his gum on the edge of one of the rocks.  While he was biting down on a paper towel to stop the bleeding, he was mumbling “I want to keep going, I want to keep going!”

I would say that this cold rainy afternoon turned out to be pretty incredible.


The wrong trail..


Still the wrong trail… but all smiles for the moment.


My girls.. on the wrong trail!


Found it!


A rest at a stair chair… as we called it.


I’m not sure if we were already passed the rock at this point.


This is the Balanced Rock in the distance.  It was difficult to photograph based on it’s position but really was quite impressive in person.  Honesty, the entire hike was amazing, even in the mist.  And all 4 kids made it all the way up and back on their own… even in flip flops and bare feet!


The hike we did at this park was perfect.  It was short enough, but not too short, for all the kids.  It also followed a beautiful lush forest which led to to an enormous rock, hence the name Echo Rock Trail.  After the rock the trail does open up to Mirror Lake. 

The ranger at the visitors center was fantastic, not only about information on Mirror Lake SP but about other parks in the area too.  She gave each of the kids a booklet, broken down by age, of information along with questions to complete on our hike.  When we returned the completed booklets to the visitors center each child received a patch.  This patch program is something that can be done at many of the state parks in Wisconsin.  My kids loved it, especially Makenzie and Koah who still refer to some of the things they learned through the book that day.