- November 17, 2023
- Posted by: Phil Block
- Category: Uncategorized
In mid-November, my partner and I embarked upon our third annual Fall Mega-Adventure (first, second). These are road trips around Wisconsin and neighboring states. This year, our trip took us to Pella, Iowa. A Forever Seger tribute concert at the historic Pella Opera House attracted me, since I’m a lifelong fan of Michigan rock artist Bob Seger. Our adventure trips never disappoint, taking us to interesting places which always offer photo opportunities to me. In addition to live music, my partner and also enjoy art, so we often include art museums, galleries, or sculpture parks in our travels.
This year’s trip brought us five days’ worth of new sights, sounds, and tastes. Leaving our homes near Lake Michigan, we headed west across our home state, crossed the Mighty MIssissippi River, and kept going through Iowa to Pella, a new place for both of us. Day-by-day, our fascination with the state of Iowa deepened, as neither us had previously visited much of it. We got a positive first impression of Iowa and its friendly people. Join me now for the story and photos documenting our 2023 Mega-Adventure.
Day 1 – Thursday
Leaving our home base behind, we worked out way across southern Wisconsin, stopping in Mount Horeb and Fennimore along the way.
Mount Horeb, Wisconsin
Mount Horeb proudly bills itself as The Troll Capitol of the World. Why? Because this small Wisconsin city is home to The Trollway, a collection of over 30 art-carved trolls which populate the downtown area. The town has a distinctive Scandinavian flavor due to the lasting impact of Norwegian immigrants in the past. The city website explains:
Our carved trolls are known to relax while watering flowers, tending chickens, playing music or just plain ol’ hamming it up for your viewing pleasure! They protect the hidden gems of Mount Horeb. In our case, they guard the friendly people and wonderful attractions of our community!
We didn’t have time to track down all of Mt. Horeb’s 30+ trolls, but the photos below introduce you to the ones we met. We enjoyed lunch at Sjölinds Chocolate House, a Scandinavian restaurant and chocolate shop.
Fennimore is a small farm community along US-18 in the southwest corner of Wisconsin. It’s home to a unique attraction, the Fennimore Doll and Toy Museum. Even though it was already closed for the season, an advance call from Mt. Horeb found a kindly volunteer at the museum who was willing to wait there and let us visit the museum when we arrived an hour later. This was a treat for my partner, who found one of her treasured childhood dolls on display there. The museum Gift Shoppe also provided gifts for her much-loved two-year-old granddaughter.
The Fennimore Doll & Toy Museum showcases classic and collectibleand from around the world. Established in 1991, the museum features heirlooms owned by or on loan to the museum. the museum offers unique and exciting displays, and welcomes visitors from near and far.
My partner and I had nostalgic re-visits to the dolls (for her) and toys (for both of us) of our childhood. Barbie fans might want to visit this museum to see what over 750 differently-dressed Barbie dolls look like all in one place!
We spent our first night in Marquette, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River from Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. Dinner was (excellent) burgers and an also excellent beer (Michelob Amber Bock) at the Marquette Cafe & Bar, a local watering hole across the street from our hotel.
Day 2 – Friday
Our day started in Marquette, a river town on the Mississippi. We didn’t have time to explore this little town, as more enticing destinations awaited us. We did, however, notice paintings on top of sidewalk benches near our hotel. A paddlewheel riverboat, the Casino Queen, is permanently moored in Marquette and operates as the Lady Luck Casino (not our thing). The image on the first bench was inspired by the riverboat.
Today was primarily a drive day. Before piling up some serious miles, however, we took in a couple of attractions in McGregor, which is only a couple miles south of Marquette. A local sign provides Marquette history:
“Royal is my race,” was the motto of Clan McGregor of which McGregor’s founder, Alexander McGregor, was a descendant. It was 1837 when Alexander began a ferry boat operation on “McGregor’s Landing” that became a thriving town of 5500. When steamboats gave way to faster transportation, McGregor underwent the metamorphosis to a more quiet community.
The Pink Elephant
First, we stopped to wish Pinky a good morning. This cumbersome beast has been keeping an eye on things around McGregor since 1963. RoadsideAmerica.com promotes Pinky as an Iowa attraction, saying:
Bleary-eyed Pinky, her top hat askew, formerly stood in front of the Pink Elephant Supper Club. Now she stands outside of the Lady Luck Casino, and is a much-loved (if now out-of-context) civic symbol, freshly waxed and shining in the sunlight.
Built by promotional wizard Bob Reis in 1963, Pinky’s moment of great glory came in August 1978, when Reis somehow made her water-ski on the Mississippi River to honor a visiting President Carter.
Paper Moon Books
My partner and I, both readers, have an affinity for old book stores, so we seek them out wherever we go. Pre-trip research led us to this whimsical gem in of all places, the tiny town of McGregor, Iowa. While in the area, made it a point to stop in and browse! The store’s website tells its story:
Cited as a must see in the New York Times travel section, the Paper Moon is a one of a kind book and gift store located in McGregor, Iowa – just one block from the Mississippi River!
The Paper Moon has been described as “the ultimate in therapy shopping.” The ground floor hosts a unique array of gifts, including beautiful jewelry, a hand-picked line of cards and postcards, toiletries, household accessories, and tons of bizarre and fun stuff! The second level balcony holds an array of new books and handmade housewares; the third level is 1,000 square feet of children’s books and toys in a comfortable and charming atmosphere.
Ringling Bros. Circus Connection
As we were leaving McGregor, we stumbled up0n something totally unexpected — a circus wagon. Antique circus wagons are interesting to me because of past service as webmaster of The Great Circus Parade in Milwaukee. This wagon bears witness to a Ringling Brothers circus connection to McGregor. A nearby sign explains:
The Ringling Brothers circus foundation was laid here when Augustus Ringling’s sons gave penny shows here. The Ringling home still stands at the bottom of the hill on the way to Pike’s Peak.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Newbo City Market
Our navigation app took us through Cedar Rapids on the way to Pella. It was mid-day when we got there, so we looked for somewhere to stop for lunch. It turned out to be Newbo City Market in a revitalized factory section of the city.
NewBo City Market is a dynamic public space promoting health, happiness, and well-being in the heart of the New Bohemia District near downtown Cedar Rapids. As a gathering place, business incubator, and event center, NewBo City Market services many different needs for a wide spectrum of people and organizations.
NewBo City Market is a showcase of the local talent and resources throughout Iowa. We support entrepreneurship and small business. We are proponents of the farm-to-table movement and locally-sourced foods and products.
Day 3 – Saturday
We made it to this wonderful place! On the VisitPella website, the city bills itself as…
America’s Dutch Treasure! From our Dutch heritage museums, stunning flower gardens, great shopping and abundant recreation at Lake Red Rock, you are sure to enjoy your visit.
We started discovering all that Pella had to offer near the Tulip Tower in Central Park. Background:
Surrounded by the central business district, Central Park is the heart of the community. Its many tulip beds, flowering trees, cannon, Tulip Tower, 1900′s fountain, Civil War statue, sundial, and windmill can be viewed by taking a leisurely stroll along the park’s extensive sidewalk system lined with 19th-century benches and lamp posts. The windmill also serves as an information center from April through October.
Delicious sweets” Sure! Pella has several, offering sweet treats to residents and visitors alike. We chose the immensely popular Jaarsma Bakery in a prime location just across the street from the Tulip Tower. When we visited, it was packed with folks seeking delectable pastries. In fact, there was about a twenty-minute wait in a long line that snaked through the aisles of the store. Tempting displays of Delft china giftware and similar Dutch gift items fill the store as well. Their website
Jaarsma Bakery has been family owned and operated since 1898, specializing in Dutch Pastries, made from scratch, no preservatives. Dutch imported foods & gifts.
Given the overall Dutch flavor of Pella, the city is dotted with iconic windmills. Besides the physical structures, windmills also abound as business logos and names. The largest and most impressive is the still-active Vermeer Mill. According to the VisitPella website, this is “one of the tallest working windmills in North America.” Windmills are all over town in Pella. Here are some of the ones we saw:
Pella Historical Village
Adjacent to the Vermill Mill is the Pella Historical Village. As stated on their website, “Pella Historical Society & Museums was started in 1935 by a group of dedicated Pella citizens with a passion and vision to preserve the history of Pella.” They describe the Historical Village as follows:
What started as one building has grown to a 22-building complex, covering Pella’s history beginning in the 1840s. Inside the Historical Village, you’ll see…
- The Boyhood Home of Wyatt Earp
- Beason-Blommers Mill and Blacksmith Shop
- Log Cabin, moved piece by piece from a local farm
- Werkplaats, the place where wooden shoes are made
- Sterrenberg Library and Delft House, which houses an extensive antique Delft collection
- Scholte Church, a replica of Dominie Scholte’s first church in Pella
- Heritage Hall, which houses antiques, costumes, and vignettes of Dutch daily life, as well as Goliath, our authentic Dutch street organ
- Bakery, completely refurbished as a working bakery of the 1850s
- Meat and Cheese Shop, a tribute to the legacy of Pella’s meat markets
- Sod House, a replica of the housing of Pella’s pioneers during their early years
…and much more. We invite you to come explore all the wonderful displays, artifacts, and exhibits that the Historical Village offers.
Forever Seger Tribute Concert
Going to see the Forever Seger treibute concert at the 1900 Pella Opera House was why we made a 1,000-mile-plus round trip to Pella. I’ve been a lifelong fan of native Michigan rock star Bob Seger. Forever Seger is a Toronto-based group of talented performers that seek to recreate the experience of a live Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band concert. And they do a damn good job! I was thrilled to hear a live performance of music I’ve loved for over fifty years, since first seeing Bob Seger live in my college town of Houghton, Michigan in 1969.
On their website, Forever Seger states:
With driving guitars, soaring harmonies and an energy that will lift fans out of their seats, FOREVER SEGER delivers a rock and roll show that brings Bob Seger fans back to days gone by. A true concert experience that invites audiences to dance and sing along once again to the soundtrack of their lives.
Before going to the concert on Saturday night, we had the good fortune to meet the band as they arrived in the afternoon to set up and sound-check their equipment
Day 4 – Sunday
Since all good things must come to an end, we started our return trip to Wisconsin on Sunday.
We stopped in Dubuque, Iowa, to see the Felelon Place Elevator and have lunch. But before doing that, I took several pictures from our perch high above the city. Once back at home, I stitched them into this panorama of the Dubuque vista.
Fenelon Place Elevator
Tipped off in advance, we stopped at what they call “THE WORLD’S SHORTEST & STEEPEST RAILROAD!” on their website, they say:
Historic cable car. Also known as the Fourth Street Elevator, this funicular railway has been called “the world’s steepest, shortest scenic railway.” 296 feet in length, elevating passengers 189 feed from Fourth Street up to Fenelon Place. Magnificent view of downtown Dubuque business district, the Mississippi River and three states.
We made it a point to ride this amazing elevator, which was originally built for the 1893 Chicago Worlds Fair.. Boarding at the top, we rode down then walked to a local restaurant recommended by the lady operating the elevator. After lunch, we rode back up, having had a truly unique expeience!
Crossing the Mississippi River into Wisconsin, we made our way to our next stop, Dickeyville. This small community is located in the far southwest corner of Wisconsin. It’s home to Dickeyville Grotto, an artistic treasure that’s been on our bucket list for years.
Visiting the Dickeyville Grotto was a major objective for this trip. It’s an amazing work of art and spiritually inspiring, not to mention photogenic. Their website tells the story:
The Dickeyville Grotto & Shrines are located on the grounds of the Holy Ghost Parish in Dickeyville, WI. They are the works of Father Matthias Wernerus, a German-American priest who served the parish from 1918 until his death in 1931.The main Grotto is an artificial cave created out of stone, mortar, and brightly colored materials and found objects collected from all over the world. It was built without the use of blueprints, and is supported underground with almost as much material as is visible above ground. It was dedicated on September 14, 1930.
In addition to the main Grotto, Father Wernerus constructed several other religious and patriotic shrines throughout the garden area surrounding the Holy Ghost Church. Click our Site Map for a full list of shrines. Later additions to the site include the Stations of the Cross (1964) and Our Lady of Fatima Shrine (1998).
During the Summer of 2023, the Dickeyville Grotto site underwent an extensive site restoration through the generosity of the Kohler Foundation and the hardwork of the Heritage Restoration & Design team.
Holy Ghost Parish
This Catholic church is adjacent to the Dickeyville Grotto. Holy Ghost and Immaculate Conception churches are near each other and share the same pastor. From their website,
Located in Southwest Wisconsin, Holy Ghost and Immaculate Conception Catholic Parishes are dedicated to spreading the Good News of the Gospel and building a faithful community of followers based on the words and deeds of Jesus Christ.
Day 5 – Monday
We ended Sunday’s journey in Platteville, Wisconsin, which was established in the 1800s by Europeans who mined the abundant lead deposits in the area. Today, Platteville is home to a University of Wisconsin branch campus. Thus, the community combines the legacy of a historic past with the energy of a thriving college.
Driving around town at the beginning of trip home, we were struck by the historic Burk house and the murals which adorn some downtown buildings.
On our way home, while driving along scenic Wisconsin Route 39 through the Driftless landscape of southeast Wisconsin, we passed an unexpected roadside attraction near Hollendale. We did a double-take, asking ourselves, What’s that? We turned around and went back to discover and tour Nick Engelbert’s Grandview, an outdoor art gallery filled with whimsical sculptures and an ornately-decorated home. The Grandview website explains:
About Grandview | In 1937, after his children were grown, Nick Engelbert began to build an elaborate arched porch of concrete around the front entrance of his farmhouse, ultimately covering every inch of the outside surface of the house with concrete inlaid with shards of china, glass, beads, buttons, and sea shells. Over the next 15 years, Nick created more than 40 concrete sculptures in his yard, combining patriotic themes with imagery from history, fairy tales, mythology and his own imagination. At the age of 70, no longer able to make sculptures, he turned to painting, producing over 200 oils before his death in 1962.
The Grandview site is now owned and operated by the Pecatonica Educational Charitable (PEC) Foundation, Inc. Many of the statues have been restored or recreated. The house, now a museum, contains many Engelbert artifacts, family memorabilia, and copies of Nick’s paintings.
Grandview also made the list of RoadsideAmerica.com attractions in Wisconsin, where they said:
Nick Engelbert was a farmer, not an artist, but that didn’t stop him from filling his front yard with home-built statues ranging from a Viking in a Longboat to a bum hoisting a pint of whiskey.
New Glarus, Wisconsin
Wikipedia introduces New Glarus as follows:
New Glarus is a village in Green County, Wisconsin, United States at the intersection of Wisconsin Highways 69 and 39. It has a population of 2,266 according to the 2020 census. The village, and the town that surrounds it, were named after the canton of Glarus in eastern Switzerland. The community was founded in 1845 by immigrants from that canton and was incorporated in 1901.
Exploring New Glarus
New Glarus is a visual and gustatory delight to explore. While mid-November is off-season, at least the tourist hoards were gone when we visited. The village seems to have this thing about decorated cows, which are perched on buildings and frequent other places around town.
New Glarus Brewing Co.
The last stop on our journey found us at the New Glarus Brewing Company, home of the immensely popular Wisconsin brew Spotted Cow. You’ll probably find that selection in almost every bar and grocery store that sells beer in Wisconsin. Uniquely, New Glarus Brewing Co. sells its products only in Wisconsin. That’s fine with Wisconsin residents but a bit frustrating to out-of-staters who’ve enjoyed Spotted Cow while visiting our state. Guess you’ll just have to come back to get your fix!
We found that trying a Small Pour selection of New Glarus Brewing beers a fitting way to wrap up our Fall Adventure. Life is good, and so was this trip!