Thursday, August 28, 2014

Eventful Decorah

Summer is generally so beautiful in Minnesota it’s hard to leave even to take a vacation.

We bestirred ourselves this year and actually left the state for a couple days. 

Now as we come to the end of August we pat ourselves on the backs for doing so.

Two days gone guarantees a small trip. It was a perfect length of time and we played it leisurely. We dipped just below the state line to visit Decorah, Iowa.

We’ve driven past Decorah heading north many times. We’re coming from St. Louis or other points south and we don’t stop. 

We’re closing in on the Minnesota border with its promise of home in a few more hours. We keep promising we'll come back some day and see the town properly.

We knew Decorah to be interesting. It’s been covered in Midwest Living which scouts out the cool spots. 

Luther College, a private liberal arts college located there, is one of the reasons Decorah has been attracting interest.

With a beautiful campus, and an academic program to be proud of, it's the strong music tradition and excellence of its many music groups that come to mind when I think of the school. 

A musically talented young woman we know chose this school as a match for her gift of a voice and this is how we came to hear of Luther College.  

Then there’s the small matter of Decorah’s Norwegian heritage. The city is proud of its Nordic connections via its early population of Scandinavian immigrants from which it developed and grew.

You start out to see one thing, as we did with Decorah, and the nature of travel is that extras are generously thrown in. 

These bonuses can be as special or as appreciated as what you set out to enjoy. 

One such place turned out to be a gem of a discovery. This was Spring Grove, Minnesota. 

From the map it lay just off our route. Spring Grove struck me as a refreshing name. I suggested we detour the few miles to check it out.

A sign at the entrance to town informs that Spring Grove is the first Norwegian settlement in Minnesota.

It's a pretty little town set in green hills. The original families could have believed they were back in Norway with the verdant hills and steep valleys. All that was missing to make it Norway were the fjords.

The quarter Norwegian in me was happy to touch base with this original setting of Norwegian relocation to Minnesota.

Norwegians from the Old Country dispersed through the state in the years that followed the settlement of Spring Grove.

Leaving all behind, it took brave hearts. Those who settled Spring Grove, then a wilderness, and who preceded the rest of their countrymen, were role models for the rest.

Burr Oak is an Iowa hop and skip over the Minnesota border. It’s sits barely off Hwy 52. Burr Oak was another serendipitous find. As a Laura Ingalls Wilder fan it was like finding a lost chapter of her life.

Laura Ingalls and her family lived in Burr Oak about a year when she was a small girl. 

The Ingalls family moved from Minnesota when friends from their former home in Walnut Grove bought a hotel and then asked Laura’s father to manage it.

I don’t believe the Iowa year is chronicled in The Little House in the Woods series, which is why coming upon Burr Oak was a surprise. (We must have missed the signs other trips.)

There are some facts known about her time here. I found them at an online link. Laura and her friend Alice roamed the pretty hillside above town, and Laura’s little sister Grace was born here. 

The new baby was after the loss of nine-month-old Freddie, who died before their move to Burr Oak. Laura attended school in Burr Oak adding to the education begun back in Walnut Grove. 

Burr Oak is attractive as you picture Midwestern hamlets towns to be. 

Masters Hotel, now the site of Laura Ingalls Wilder Park and Museum, and where Pa in 1876 took the position as manager, has a white painted exterior and is pristine with orange daylilies growing alongside.

Our Iowa getaway was unplanned even to motel arrangements – perhaps not the smartest thinking during busy vacation season.

We came into Decorah the day after Nordic Fest 2014. We missed all the activities associated with the annual event.

Bad timing to miss Nordic Fest you say. Fifty-fifty bad luck, or equally good luck, is more like it.

Yes, we missed the event and it’d have been a blast (a reason to return next year). 

However, without motel reservations made, if we arrived while Nordic Fest was going on, we probably wouldn’t have scored a room.

Coming when we did, we had an available room and a room at Country Inn and Suites that faces a quiet hill. The place serves cookies, warming Al's heart. 

Country Inn and Suites is located on the Trout Run Trail (the trail is practically right out the door). 

Trout Run Trail is part of a trail system Decorah has developed and recently extended. The trail, we were told, is an 11 mile loop, and learned that eagles nest where hikers can view them.

With the weather sunny and pleasant – actually a tad cool for this time of year - we made the most of the time by using it outdoors on the trails.  

Along with the trails we enjoyed Dunning’s Springs. It occupies a shady glen, has a neat overhead walkway, is worth a camera shot or two and comes with some history besides. 

Later we found a little prairie park with wildflowers. Rocks are placed strategically. I parked myself while Al photographed flowers and butterflies and enjoyed the mild warmth on me from the lowering sun.

The big hill next to our motel was bright with firefly light when dusk turned to night. Hundreds of miniature lights wove luminous trails in a ever changing pattern against the hill as it disappeared into deep shadow.

The firefly show was quite magical, as was the vacation in its brief entirety. It was a pleasant chance to drive not too far, and to enjoy something quite nearby.  

Ro Giencke – August 28, 2014


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