Week ELEVEN

So you want to see Iowa? Look at the picture of corn above. Look at it a hundred thousand more times. Now you have seen Iowa.
I'm tired of getting mean, defective kittens.

There is a large building on the highway between Madison and Mason City, Iowa, that on the side reads: "Suckow Dairy Equipment." I would love to have been at the meeting where they came up with the company name.

"What do we make?"
"Dairy equipment!"
"And how does it work?"
"It sucks cows!"
"What did you say?"
"Sucks cows! Sucks cows!"
"I can't hear you!"
"Suckow! Suckow! Suckow! Suckow!" ...

(Thanks Binarypowerinc for pointing out the typo!)

The hotel in Iowa was run by a very nice lady, but the pool was filled with some sort of water-like substance that remained liquid even at temperatures of four degrees Kelvin. I'm pretty sure this pool doubled as a cryogenic storage facility at night. We noticed a disposable camera sitting on the window ledge inside the pool room; at first I thought some careless person had left it, but then it occurred to us that maybe hotels in Iowa just have low-tech security. Every couple of minutes, someone has to run in and push the shutter button. When the roll is done, they take it down to Rite Aid for processing, an in about a hour, they'll know if you're up to something. Someone should tell them this would be even easier if they put the camera on the lobby side of the window.

The sardine dish at Auriga. For reference, the thing next to it is a quarter of a cherry tomato.
The birthplace of the mighty Mississippi River.

We spent the weekend with Dirk's grandma in Northfield, Minnesota. Northfield is the home of Carleton College and St. Olaf College; their slogan is "Cows, Colleges, and Contentment." It was a nice and relaxing weekend, and we got to play with our first dog of the trip, Grandma's huge black Lab, Sam. Unfortunately, we were too stupid to take any pictures of him for your entertainment.

On Saturday, we went in to the Twin Cities to have dinner at Dirk's cousin's wife's Mel's (that's a lot of apostrophes) restaurant, Auriga, which is one of the finest restaurants in Minneapolis. We were joined by as many of his relatives as could make it (a great many of them live in Minnesota) The food was excellent, probably the finest "nice" food we've had on the trip anywhere except for possibly K-Paul's in Louisiana. The head chef seems to enjoy serving the smallest possible dishes he can to Dirk's family when they come to dine: one dish was a piece of smoked sardine that was smaller than your fingernail.

One thing to note about Minnesota: those of you who have travelled around the country (or at least parts of it) may have noticed that lots of states think they have the worst mosquitoes in the country. They have no idea. Dirk spent about ten seconds in his Grandma's garden, and got about thirty mosquito bites. Later, at his Aunt Sue and Chuck's farm, he got some more. The next day, at Itasca State Park, he got about thirty more. By contrast, when we were in the Everglades, where according to Frommer's, it was one single mass of mosquitos in the summer, he got about two bites the whole time we were there. We haven't seen all of the states yet, and we won't see Alaska, which I'm told is a strong contender, but Minnesota is hands-down winning so far.

On the last day, we headed out to continue on the trip. Along the way, we had to stop at the largest ball of twine in the world, of course. It's in Darwin, MN, and it's pretty big, about twelve feet across. I tried to create a ball of twine when I was a kid, but I think I quit after it was about an inch across. Apparently after it got big enough, they had to use a block and tackle to move it in order to wind the twine. That's one serious hobby.

She's coming for ya, Northfield.

We awoke in Fargo, North Dakota, which is a desolate flat city. We had lunch at the Granite City Brewpub (the food was good). As we were finishing up, the waitress invited us back on August 18th, to hear Skid Row play at a party outside on the patio. That's right, the Skid Row. Minus Sebastian Bach, of course. The opening bands included a cover band and a band fronted by one of the waiters. It might be a sign that your time has passed when you used to headline the Monsters of Rock tour and now you're playing on the patio outside the opening band's daytime gig.

After that, we headed out in a blind tear across the state. Along the way, we saw the world's largest buffalo, in Jamestown, and the world's largest Holstein, in New Salem. If Northfield, Minnesota, is the home of "Cows, colleges, and contentment", and the place that made the Holstein famous, why is the largest one in New Salem? Northfield, I think you know what you have to do.

We closed out the day at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park on the western edge of the state. A buffalo herd walked across the road in front and behind of us. You feel pretty vulnerable when there's an animal with a four-foot head full of bone three feet away from your car, and it weighs as much as you, and it's taller than you are. But we made it out intact.

If you plan on driving to Mt. Rushmore,
keep in mind that you will have to see at least 200 miles of this first.
Awwwwwwww... wookit da baby goat...
Four presidents we don't have to be embarrassed about.

It's easy to refer to South Dakota as a godforsaken wasteland. Here are some more words that could be used to describe South Dakota: Empty, nothing, nada, zip, zilch, zero, bare, vacant, unoccupied, deserted, uninhabited, bleak, barren, desolate, abandoned, forsaken. Okay, not all of it; the southwestern most three percent of the state is crammed full of parks, old west towns, and Mt. Rushmore. Which is, of course, the only reason anyone not in the dirt farming business goes to South Dakota, and so did we.

There is one other reason people go to South Dakota in the middle of summer: the annual biker rally at Sturgis. Sturgis is a small town located just a few miles north of Mt. Rushmore, and its name is synonymous with the rally that brings Harley Davidson fans to town in enormous droves every August. Thousands upon thousands of motorcycle aficionados gunning their engines, drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon, yelling at women to show their tits, and possibly taking out bloody retribution for the deadly biker gang fight in Laughlin last spring. But our timing was so slightly off. If we'd only arrived two days later, we would have pulled off the worst unplanned event attendance you can imagine: we would have been at Sturgis by accident.

Although the not-Mt.-Rushmore 97% of South Dakota is devoid of anything at all, you can still end up sitting in traffic there. This is because South Dakota sends road crews out to toilet paper the only paved street in the county, and you have to stop and wait for them. Another South Dakota fun fact: it is home to the geographical center of the 50 states, in a little town called Castle Rock. When I say "little town," what I mean is, "three abandoned, refuse-filled shacks on the verge of collapse." The dilapidated remains of an ice cream store and gift shop imply a failed attempt to capitalize on their geographical centricity. Now that Castle Rock is just another breeding ground for the Hanta virus, nearby Belle Fourche has stolen the "Center of the USA" shtick for itself.

As for the remaining three percent of South Dakota: Mt. Rushmore is lovely, and there are mountain goats there; the Black Hills are overrated, apparently only meriting the distinction of being named a National Forest because the presence of trees contrasts with the surrounding nothingness; the Badlands are nice enough, but you'll get more for your money at either the Grand Canyon or the Valley of Fire in Nevada; and Wall Drug may not seem like much to you city folk, but after driving through three hundred miles of South Dakota countryside, it's like finding Las Vegas in the Sahara.

Carhenge. It's exactly what it sounds like.
An actual cowboy, doing cowboy things in Nebraska.

Nebraska looks exactly the way you expect it to look. It's also the home of Carhenge, which is just what it sounds like– a scale reproduction of Stonehenge made out of cars. The most surprising thing to report is that Nebraska is a scenery explosion compared to South Dakota.

We drove through Nebraska so quickly that we went ahead to Fort Morgan, Colorado a day ahead of schedule. One of the Nebraska towns we passed through was called Gurley. That's 639 miles from Manly, Iowa.