Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Southern Minnesota

This past weekend we headed to southern Minnesota for a weekend get away. We tend to visit the North Shore because we love it so, but I really wanted to explore something new. I asked for suggestions on Facebook and recieved a bunch of suggestions. Multiple people mentioned Lanesboro so Lanesboro it was. We weren't really on top of things though so we couldn't find any appropriate spaces to stay in Lanesboro which is known as the bed and breakfast capital of Minnesota. Instead we found a hotel 8 miles away in Preston. It had two queen beds, WiFi, a pool, and was close enough to Lanesboro so it was a go. Plus, Preston had it's own activities worth checking out so it didn't feel so far away from everything.


We came up with a general plan of activities and while we didn't get to do everything, I can see us coming back here in a couple years to explore the area more. We actually picked the middle of summer to try and avoid the rain (Jesse always wants to pick spring/late summer/fall to avoid the hot hot weather). I'm a little tired of it raining or dealing with cold weather every time we go some where so this timing was really my pick... and leading up to the weekend the weather forecast looked glorious. That is, until shortly before we left when the prediction for Friday afternoon was a damaging thunderstorm. Lolz. Whatever, Saturday was supposed to be 84 and sunny so we were banking on big things this day followed by cooler temps on Sunday (with potential for rain, of course).

Luckily, Friday was gorgeous, but Saturday wasn't as nice as anticipated and this impacted our plans. Sunday was cool, but pretty darn nice. In the end we spent our time in Preston, Lanesboro, and Harmony.


Lodging

It's probably a good idea to plan this out further than we did so you have more selections. If it's just you and your honey there are a lot of B&B's right in Lanesboro that apparently are great to stay at. Since we have a  4 year old we wanted something a little more kid friendly. The plus side of the hotel we selected was that it had a pool, WiFi, a fridge, continental breakfast and cable TV. The downside was that the WiFi cut in and out, the bed and pillows were pretty uncomfortable (and ours had a questionable stain on the side which looked a lot like old dried blood), and I may or may not have gotten bit by bed bugs. Gah! Strangely enough this is the only hotel I've stayed in, in perhaps ever, that had soft water.

Besides hotels and bed and breakfasts there were plenty of places to camp or park your RV. In fact there was this cute little park in Lanesboro, Sylvan Park, that you could camp at. It was right in town, but surrounded by a creek and a playground. There was also an RV park on the top side of the waterfall which looked pretty nice.

Activities

When I first started researching this area I was a little hesitant that this was the place to take a 4 year old because it was a lot of B&B's, bike riding, and shopping, but turns out there is a lot to do. I think Riley would enjoy this more when she's a little older which is probably true of most places we haul her, but we still found plenty to keep us busy.

County Fair
A day before we left for our vacay we realized that the Fillmore County Fair was being held in Preston. This was our first activity and oddly enough there were a bunch of signs about the fair 15 minutes away in Chatfield, but not one in Preston. We wandered around until we found the fair grounds (not that hard) and paid our $2.00 to park. Our first stop was the barn. I was excited to take pictures of the animals, but Riley broke down at the sound of the goats and the guy on the loud speaker (there was a cow show going on or something) so we had to vacate the barn and figure out what else there was to see at a county fair. We did find some arts and crafts made by 4H'ers, some food, and some questionable old rides. Riley was never a fan of rides before, but has recently started to embrace them so this is where we spent most of our time. There were at least 6, maybe 7 rides, but only 3 operators. Either one guy would be operating a couple rides at once, or a ride just wouldn't be available. The ticket lady clearly spent her years in the sun and never uttered a word to either Jesse or myself, instead chose to bang her hand on the counter to communicate. Good stuff. The ride operators were pretty nice and one even let Jesse and Riley ride down the slide multiple times on one ticket.

Fair grounds from the roadside overlook


Held together with duct tape. I am totally confident in this.















I gave Riley the option of a smoothie or mini donuts. If I knew that she would only take one bite of a donut and be done I wouldn't have ordered the medium since I wasn't able to finish them on my own either. Such a waste. Apparently, she was upset that I added sugar to them. 



We did get Riley to check out the rabbits, but that was even difficult since they were in the same building as the noisy chickens. Jesse was nice enough to stay near Riley to comfort her while I took pictures.






We tried to get Riley near the horses, but yeah... that wasn't working either. I walked through the horse barn and then checked out some bulls while Jesse and Riley headed back towards the rides area.






The bulls were really amazing and super scary. They were big and the fence between us wasn't really that comforting. One bull turned around when I started to get close and kicked up some mud so I was especially hesitant to get close. I didn't want to be the city girl idiot who got attacked by the bulls because I wanted my little picture.



This guy really like me. I was really tempted to reach out and pet him, but thought better of it. Object in picture is closer than in real life, but not by much.


Before we left I asked Jesse to walk with Riley outside the barn so I could walk through the barn to take some pictures.




Would someone please milk this cow!? I'm in pain looking at her.




Turns out the lhama show was two hours late which worked out fine for me since it just started as I walked through the barn.




Tubing/Canoeing/Kayaking

We had every intention of going tubing down the Root River and Riley was super excited, but the weather wasn't as nice as we hoped. We would have still gone, but a local told us she would never go out, especially with a 4 year old when the weather was that way. We walked down to the dam to test the water and it was freezing. Since I was already cold and it started to rain off and on we decided to skip it, but will check it out in the future for sure. Riley was pretty upset when we said we weren't going especially when she saw the rowdy teens walking to the river with their tubes. It's a little hard to explain to a 4 year old that teenagers/twenty somethings think they are impervious to the cold. Luckily, she got over it when we suggested another activity.


Parks/Biking

Whether it's larger parks with trails or a smaller park with a playground you will be able to find it here. We spent most of our park time in Lanesboro at Sylvan Park. There is a new playground, camping, pond, bathrooms, and more and it's right in the middle of town.


So proud of herself as it's the first time she tried and completed these things.

Before she fell off and got wood chips EVERYWHERE. 

Across the street from Sylvan Park you can find the Root River and the waterfall. It is also here that you will find Amish selling some of their goods and their horses tied up near the trees.


Brrr. Cold water, waterfall, and RV campers.


Bicyclists were everywhere so I was a little concerned about walking on these trails, but they were multipurpose trails so it worked out fine. There were a lot of people at our hotel that went on daily bike excursions to surrounding cities. In the morning at the continental breakfast people would meet up and talk about their plans for the day. It seemed like most of the people biking were aged 50 and up, but we did see some families out on the trails.



She'd slap his butt and he would jump. Repeat over and over. Goofballs.

Shopping

Laneboro has a number of unique shops worth checking out. The first one we stopped at had a lot of fun stuff that you wouldn't readily find elsewhere. Sort of regretting that I didn't get myself a pair of new socks.


Or a  new game for Riley.


Or these party rats which are ideal for night blogging. I will now forever live in regret and wonder how my blogging may have improved if I were to have purchased these. #whothinksofthisstuff


We did purchase Lola's Fandango, a read along book for Riley at another store and then got to listen to it on repeat for the remainder of our trip.

Puppies for sale

Garden next to one of the restaurants.

Caves

There are two places in the area that do cave tours: Niagra Cave and Mystery Cave. When our tubing plans failed we moved up our cave tour plans a day early. We checked out the Niagra cave as it sounded like it might be a little more appropriate for a 4 year old. The cave was discovered in 1924 when a farmer lost his 3 pigs. He found that they fell into a 75 foot deep sink whole and when he lowered himself in to retrieve them he discovered that it was much more than just a hole. The cave was cleaned out and opened for tours in 1934, but it wasn't until years later that the tour became what it is now as they had to clear a lot of mud out, and install lights.


The cave is chilly (think 48 degree) so you will want to make sure to bring a coat, unless you are Jesse who thinks that is perfect t-shirt weather. Tours leave every 15 minutes and our tour had about 10 people in it. The cave has been made very accessible - think level floors and lighting,  but does have a lot of steps and some low spots that you have to dunk your head to get through... and some high spots of probably 100 feet. About half way through the tour the passage was so narrow that you had to walk single file through it. Tours are 1 mile long (you go to the end and back since there is only one entrance) and take about an hour. Our guide was super friendly and knowledgeable and I would totally go again.


The cave was created by water and has a waterfall and river that you can see. Occasionally, the cave floods out and we were able to see some water marks from the 2008 flood that were way above our heads.


Also known as "cave bacon"

algae fossil 

At the end of the cave the guide took our pictures. Obviously, it's hard to get good pictures in a cave, but there were so many cool rock formations to see so I had to try. I ended up with a lot of blurry pictures, but they have a specific tour where people can bring in their camera and tripod if they want to get better pictures. 

Also at the end of the tour, the tour guide turned off all the lights so we could see that it was truely pitch black in there. She tried to demonstrate by muffling her flashlight what it would have been like back when they first discovered the cave and only had torches that could blow out and leave them in the dark. If I didn't know that we were perfectly ok I might have freaked out and I was actually waiting for Riley to, but she was happy as can be. In fact she amused our tour mates with all her comments as she thought the cave was the coolest thing ever. 200 feet below ground in a dark, cold narrow cave? No big deal, but if a goat 'maa's' at her she totally loses it. Go figure.


Niagra Caves also had a small playground and picnic area, mini golf, and gemstone mining.


Amish Tours

There are about 100 Amish families that live around this area. You can pick up a CD at one of the local stores in Lanesboro and go on a self guided tour or you can sign up with one of the tour companies.  We did not go on a tour, but saw plenty of Amish driving around or selling their wares at flea markets. We did stop at an Amish furniture store in Harmony and bought a side table for a chair in our basement. The quality of the furniture there was amazing and if we ever re-do our decks we may drive back down to get some outdoor furniture made out of recycled milk jugs.


Food

Once we settled in to our hotel, Riley and I walked over to the visitor center next door. The lady there recommended we check out the Red Barn Supper Club for dinner, but I wasn't so sure after she also suggested a pizza from the gas station. Luckily, Jesse asked some other guests at our hotel and they suggested Los Gables, a Mexican restaurant located about 5 miles away in Fountain, MN.


Los Gables offered authentic Mexican food made with local ingredients. I thought it was good, but I found it a little on the mild side and I usually like things mild - meaning it was even a little too mild for me. They did provide some 'spice' on the side which Jesse reports was very hot, but otherwise my salsa and tacos did not have any kick at all. They did have some good flavor and the pork was tasty and lean. The young man who was our server was impressively professional for someone his age. Not to judge teens, but seriously this guy was good. So good that Jesse added to the tip I left and I'm usually the high tipper in this marriage. If you are in the area check out this place also for ice cream and a game of bean bags or tether ball out back.


We took advantage of the free breakfast at the hotel, but I was looking forward to finding some good food around town. We decided to get a bite to eat for lunch in Lanesboro on Saturday, but the one place that really stood out was only open in the evening (Intermission). We walked by the Pedal Pushers Cafe and it was packed which we took as a good sign, but we avoid crowds like the plague. It was probably a big risk that we walked into a restaurant that was completely empty, but shortly after we ordered at Gil B's it filled right up. Riley got pizza, I got a burger, and Jesse selected a sandwich... and all were really good. The pizza crust is homemade, and the burger's are hand pattied every day and never frozen. Plus, Riley's kid's meal came with some ice cream. Win for her.


When our tubing plans fell apart and we headed to Harmony for the cave tour we decided to check out what this little town had to offer in the way of food. Again, we received some suggestions from a local, but I'm glad we went with QUARTER/quarter Restaurant and wine bar. We know that Riley may not be interested in any food a restaurant has to offer so I usually carry something with to make sure she gets fed. This place didn't have a kid's meal, but she was satisfied with the potato rolls from the restaurant and the items I brought with so we were good to go. While I want to go to kid friendly places, we also like to go places that we know we will enjoy the food.


We split the chorizo meatballs to start and they were nothing less than amazing. I had the lemon salmon and Jesse had the naked New York strip and now we are looking for an excuse to drive the two and a half hours back to Harmony to experience this food all over again. Totally delish. Oh, and the wine list was nothing I've ever seen in the Minneapolis area. It was a decent selection of wine and pretty much all offerings were around $4.00 a glass (except for that one for $7.50). I had a $3.75 glass of Pinot Grigio and then I had another just because I could.



Our weekend wrapped up with Riley and I spending some quality time in the pool (sorry no pictures of this miraculous moment). She was hesitant since there were a bunch of splashy kids nearby, but she had enough trust in me to keep her safe.

Sunday morning we got up and debated about what to do since nothing was really open yet. We decided to head back to the cities and stop at Minnehaha Falls on the way home. It's not part of Southern Minnesota, but I might as well share the pictures here as well.









Seriously, anyone want to road trip this weekend for dinner in Harmony, MN?