Oh How I Love You, Wonderful Weird Wisconsin

I rose early Saturday morning so I could make my way to Bloedow's Bakery in downtown Winona before all the good stuff was gone.  Bloedow's has been supplying the greater Winona area with cakes, bread and doughnuts since 1924, and when I got there at 7:45 a.m., there was already a line out the door.  Minnesota is in the doughnut belt and unlike in Texas where we have only the most modest and unimaginative doughnuts, these northerners take their doughnuts very seriously with delicious results.  I selected five different flavors to augment my breakfast for the next couple of days.

When I returned to my room at the Sterling motel, I made a pot of nice strong coffee and savored the chocolate glazed Bavarian creme filled model (upper right above).  I'm not usually a fan of filled doughnuts, but this was genuine custard and couldn't have been more delicious - just right with the chocolate glaze and springy, light as a feather pastry.  The other selections, clockwise: toasted coconut filled with coconut custard (they had an untoasted version too!), poppy seed cinnamon roll, bacon long john and a maple long john (which my counter attendant advised me was the most popular).  I meted out my doughnuts for the next couple of days and they were all very tasty with the exception of the poppy seed cinnamon roll.  It wasn't bad, just not luscious like the others.  The best by a long shot was the toasted coconut.  Perfection!

By the time I hit the road a little later that morning I had obscene amounts of sugar coursing through my veins.  Along the way, I passed the fantastic motel sign at left.  It was pretty hilarious sitting out there across from a corn field on a country road in an area that was definitely not super or sonic, but I appreciated the fact that they'd kept their old sign.
It was a pretty short drive to Cataract, Wisconsin, where I found the delightful Wegner Grotto perched on the side of a shady country hill.  Paul and Matilda Wegner were German immigrants that lived and worked in Wisconsin.  The Wegners made a visit to the nearby Dickeyville Grotto in 1929, and were so inspired by what they saw that when they returned home they immediately began creating their own sculptures with cement and glass and other found objects.  It's starting to be a familiar story, even to you, right?  Paul and Matilda made a variety of sculptures in the next couple of years including a replica of the boat on which they sailed to America in 1885, a tiered confection inspired by their golden anniversary cake and a fireplace hearth complete with red glass shards to represent the embers.  By the time Paul died in 1937 and then Matilda five years later in 1942, the grounds were covered with incredible art.   Thankfully, in the mid 1980s, the Kohler Foundation stepped in to save the Wegner's grotto from ruin.  I'm so glad Kohler has taken on saving these fantastic folk art environments.

After roaming around a bit (alone again - yahoo!), I realized I was famished and decided to sit in the deep shade on an absolutely lovely cement "davenport" built by Paul and Matilda.  The location had obviously been carefully selected since it yielded a perfect view of the entire spread.  I busted out a delicious leftover spring roll that I had from my previous evening's visit to a really good Thai restaurant in Winona and ate it while I listened to the meadow birds performing their avian opera.  Did Paul and Matilda ever envision what great joy this wonderful spot would bring a pink haired spring roll eater on a gorgeous summer day?  I hope so.  They worked really hard and they deserved to imagine how much pleasure they would bring others one day.

Saturday was another day with an action packed itinerary, so I was soon on the road again and headed to Sparta, Wisconsin.  Sparta was the birthplace of Deke Slayton, one of the Mercury 7 astronauts, and there is a modest museum there (sharing space with a bicycle museum) to celebrate all things Slayton.  Deke greets you warmly at the front walkway, frozen in fiberglass rigor mortis. 

There are a huge number of artifacts to behold, one of which the Mercury program space suit worn by Slayton.  It sits in a long coffin-like Plexiglas case, stuffed into approximate human shape with a mysterious white substance - leftover tissue from Xmas?  Hmmmm.  I love small town museums.

I also loved this photo puzzle.  The museum very helpfully provides an intact print so you'll know the mouth from the flag.

And last but not least...a front drop!  I think the fellow I recruited to take the photo for me was a little flummoxed.  You'd think he'd never seen an astronaut with pink hair the way he was acting.

I had yet another stop to make in Sparta, so after leaving the Deke Slayton museum, I headed over to the F.A.S.T. Mold Yard.  F.A.S.T. stands for Fiberglass Animals, Shapes and Trademarks and on a lonely highway outside Sparta there are many, many, many more of them than you could ever shake a stick at.

F.A.S.T. produces almost any kind of giant anything for commercial enterprises all over the U.S. and when they've shipped you your shiny new enormous, say, banana, the mold goes on the lot for future use.  Owner Jim Schauf is nice enough to allow curious weirdos such as myself unlimited access to the yard, simply requesting that visitors refrain from climbing the molds and be careful to watch for wasps nests.  Here's a panoramic image to help you get the sweep of the place - click on the image to see an enlarged view:

I really enjoyed walking around and looking at all the different molds and trying to understand how they were organized.  There is very clearly a classification system in place, but it's not always obvious what constiutes the category.  Little old lady who lived in a shoe.  Lady? Shoe?  It's trickier than it seems.  Ice cream cones were easy enough to pile in the food area.

There were lots of familiar looking giants, muffler men, Paul Bunyans and Big Boys.  

The day was warm, the yard enormous and my fascination deep.  Truthfully, I think I walked around so long that I got seriously dehydrated (and trust me, I'm familiar with the symptoms from attending Burning Man).  It's a good thing I left before hallucinations set in.  Can you imagine visiting this place at night?

I drove just a little further to the impossibly small town of Wilton where I'd be staying overnight.  My thought had been to end the day at a reasonable distance from the Wisconsin Dells and points south in preparation for Sunday's itinerary.  There was only one four room motel in Wilton, no phone signal, no Internet, no Dollar General.  No Dollar General!  That tells you something right there.  As I sat in my room writing a blog draft on the laptop that could be posted later, I could occasionally hear the clop, clop, clop of an Amish buggy driving by.  Saturday night and boy do I know how to live it up!  My room reeked of Glade Apple Pie scent and was decorated like a Precious Moments nightmare.  Of all the oddities I'd observed this fine long day, my room at the Mid-Trail motel was by far the most bizarre.  Oh how I love you, wonderful weird Wisconsin!

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