And the rain came…… Waking up to the pitter patter of little rain drops on the trailer, instills a sense of dread in even the most experienced teardrop camper. Visions of wet chairs, canopy and all the other equipment was enough to make me want to pull the covers up and go back to sleep.
On our inaugural outing with the Ambassador, we had a heavy rain shower on our very first night at Palo Duro State Park. From this experience, we had compiled a long list of lessons learned. The two plastic totes with fold-over lids I had used for condiments and larger items had filled with water on that first trip. The solution was to stack them and place a garbage bag over the top box. Garbage bags became the go-to-solution for wet gear of all descriptions as well as a preventative measure for a leaking water container on the floor inside the trailer. We have gotten better about stowing things in the hatch and under the trailer. Sigh – garbage bags in hand, it was time to dash, pack and move out!
We returned to our campsite — still pondering what we had seen at Taliesin. Two days of attractions and history, and I was looking forward to dinner, a campfire and a quiet evening. The weather was clear and comfortable, with none of the famous mosquitos I had heard so much about. It was shaping up to be a perfect evening.
Marilyn began fixing dinner while I built a campfire. Many national and state parks will provide a bundle of firewood for a few dollars since they don’t want campers scrounging the woods, and we had thought to pick one up on the way back to our campsite. With a steel fire ring and the split, seasoned wood, getting the fire started didn’t take long. Tasty beverages in hand, we reviewed the day while cooking dinner provided delicious smells.
The conversation about the wonders of central Wisconsin continued, and pretty soon we were eating dinner. As the tasty beverages worked their magic, we began to think about washing up and a peaceful night in the teardrop. I had to get something out of the Lady, and intending to be right back, left the driver’s side door open. As I walked back to the trailer, I heard noises. Was there something in the car?
With our previous experience in mind, I took my iPhone out and readied the camera. I could see movement in the front seat, and opened the passenger door. Staring at me from the driver’s side was a juvenile raccoon! These critters move fast! Holding its ground, I was able to snap several pictures before shooing it away. Later, we found an opened bag of potato chips — a bold bandit with a taste for junk food!
With Starbucks conveniently located across the street from Jim’s office at the university, he had developed a Mocha habit. Even after leaving the campus, around 3pm every afternoon, he starts scanning the horizon for a way to indulge in the chocolaty goodness. Starbuck’s, and coffee houses in general are a city thing — we discovered it was much harder to find in rural and small town America. As we travel, I search the Internet for Mocha each day we’re on the road in the hopes of finding his treat.
A #10 Kraut
We returned to Spring Green to continue our exploration. The vibe was special. There were many locally owned businesses, gift shops, galleries, quaint eateries and even a quilt shop. It was fun to explore the small-town hardware store. The organic grocery store had some very interesting selections.
Then, we spotted Arcadia Books, an independent book store that would be the envy of any other small town in America. Not only did they have a great selection for readers of all ages, but stocked all sorts of prepared goodies, made from local ingredients, baked goods, beer, wine and… even Mocha. We looked at each other and smiled. We could be happy here…. except for that four-letter word — snow.
We left Governor Dodge State Park and headed to Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and architectural school located in the rolling hills near Spring Green. Visiting Taliesin had been on my bucket list after knowing several friends in Arizona who had attended Taliesin West. The name, Taliesin meaning shining brow, is a nod to Wright’s Welsh heritage. The Visitors Center was originally built as the Riverview Terrace Restaurant in 1953 where we met our tour guide as well as the rest of the folks on the house tour. We drove past the waterfall at the dammed stream and up the winding road of the 490-acre estate. Our knowledgeable tour guide introduced us to the court yard, studio and living quarters. She shared the history and important aspects of his architecture, interior design, furniture and light fixtures. She also discussed the challenge of maintaining the various aspects of the architecture as it was in Wright’s time. He was fond of Asian designs and collected artifacts. But he also collaborated with sculptor Richard Bock on other sculptures. Wright was not a very tall man and he had a fondness for lower ceilings and passage ways that challenged a member of the tour who was seven feet tall.
Wright loved music and felt that music and architecture were closely related. The tour explored the famed living room, complete with the Steinway Art Grand Piano and the unique music stand he designed for a quartet. It had been the scene of nightly concerts. Wright was an accomplished pianist. In addition to the works of many composers, he performed works by his father, William Carey Wright who was a composer, music teacher and itinerant Protestant minister. Please enjoy his 1851 composition, L’ Agréable Réverie, played by Jim for this post.
Stories about the people who had lived in Taliesin were an important part of the tour. From his mother to Mamah Cheney – his mistress, the two later wives, his children, the community of students and clients, the property was the setting of a tempestuous domestic life complete with scandals, murders, fires and other dramas.
After the tour, we returned to the Visitors Center and enjoyed a wonderful lunch in
the Riverview Terrace Café, complete with an awe-inspiring view and equally inspiring meal of local food and beverages.
Learn more about Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and listen to his father’s music:
The Tasty Trail took us to Spring Green, which was known for its most famous native, architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It is thought that Wright’s presence at nearby Taliesin helped establish Spring Green as an artisan community, home to the nationally recognized classical theatre company, the American Players. It was the quintessential, charming American small town.
The Shed logo
We had decided to have dinner in Spring Green and found The Shed. They have an outdoor music venue, but we were focused on having a nice dinner. I made a mental note to see who would be playing outside, the next time we visited. The bar was busy, a great gathering place for locals, but the dining room, on the other side of a passage was intimate and friendly. We decided on the special, baked chicken with mashed potatoes, dressing, vegetables and grilled bread. Although the Shed has an amazing selection of local beers, a lovely white wine was the perfect paring with the chicken. Sadly, we didn’t leave room for the amazing pies they had. Next time.
After exploring the Wisconsin country side, this was a relaxing evening. As we headed back to our campsite in Governor Dodge State Park, our conversation turned to how much we liked Spring Green. We speculated that we could happily settle in in this picturesque town, but then we remembered that frightening four-letter word – snow.
The House on the Rock defies description. Imagine the love child of the Smithsonian Institution and P.T. Barnum. Begun in 1945 by Alex Jordan as a lofty home perched on a tall chimney rock, it evolved as “one thing led to another” into an attraction with ever-increasing collections — as eclectic as it is enormous.
I was interested in the pipe organ and other musical instruments we had heard about, and based on the Web site, thought that an afternoon would be enough to explore the attraction. We inquired about the pipe organ as we bought tickets and were advised to not linger too long in any one place. We had no idea just how big this place was.
Rub Budda’s Belly …
We set out through the courtyard, rubbed the Budda for good luck and were quickly in the House. First opened to the public in 1960, the House is a series of rooms surrounding The Rock, no two the same size, shape or style.
The Bauer-Coble Mushroom Lamp
It is vaguely oriental, but also includes furnishings from other eras. The Infinity Room is an engineering marvel that hangs out over the valley floor several hundred feet below.
The collections that follow are too numerous and varied to describe here, but include a mock-up of a late 19th century main street — complete with fully furnished shops, homes and village services like a sheriff’s office and fire department. With the provided tokens, one can play the dozens of mechanical musical instruments that are scattered throughout the attraction. They vary from small music boxes and pianos to a complete 80-piece orchestra.
Along the way, there are collections of dolls and doll houses, firearms, circus models, Fabrege Eggs, agricultural equipment, steam power, stained glass, classic cars, pipe organs, carousel horses and a giant carousel and replicas of the Crown Jewels.
200-foot sea creature
One building contains a multi-level exhibit of several dozen scale models of maritime ships from hundreds of years old to present. Any one of these collections stand on their own, but to have so many in the same place is overwhelming. Suffice it to say, we wished we had allowed more than an afternoon and could easily have spent a couple of days there. Simply Amazing.
Before we left for Racine, I asked Facebook friends for places to visit in Wisconsin. Jim also polled the members of his international online Bridge group. We got some great suggestions. We headed to Governor Dodge State Park near Dodgeville about 48 miles west of Madison to set up camp near several of the most highly recommended attractions.
Humans moved into the area that is now Governor Dodge State Park, just after the glaciers retreated. The park’s scenic hills and valleys provided shelter from snow and cold to the area’s first human inhabitants. The forest, mostly oak and hickory is thick, beautiful and green. The park was named for Henry Dodge, the first governor of the Wisconsin territory.
light and warmth and insect deterrence
We pulled in and established our camp. As is normal, we soon had neighbors. It’s always fun to meet other folks who enjoy camping and they wanted to see the inside of the Ambassador. They told us about another teardrop trailer a few sites away from us. As we left for a day trip, we caught a glimpse of the tiny trailer.
The highlight of our stay was an honest-to-goodness campfire. The glow of the fire was absolutely magic.
After exploring Madison, we noticed FAST Biryani. Finding new culinary adventures is one of the reasons we love to travel and this looked like an opportunity to explore a unique restaurant, especially in a neighborhood of chain eateries. Later, we would learn that FAST stands for Flavorful, Aromatic, Spicy and Tasteful, authentic Hyderabadi Indian cuisine in the Nizam tradition. The experience was amazing, the perfect balance of spices in recipes that had been handed down for generations. Conveniently located across the parking lot from the Econo Lodge.
After dinner it was a short walk across the parking lot and we were back to the motel. As we climbed the stairs, we looked down on the lobby. It always seemed to be awash in activity, busy staff trying to run the hotel complete with an array of eccentric guests speaking lots of different languages – a true international Fawlty Towers.
We awoke from a deep sleep the next morning. Although breakfast came with room, we decided to not dine amidst all the chaos, but sought out the offer of predictability and comfort food of a nearby IHOP, located in a strip mall just down the street. Bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast!
We departed the Old Fashioned after the wonderful Wisconsin lunch – on to explore the city. Jim’s career in higher education information and instructional technology had taken him to Madison for conferences in the past. He would be my tour guide to this beautiful city. Our first stop would be to experience the beauty and grandeur of the Wisconsin Capitol, where the corner stone was laid in 1837.
Classic Capitol Interior
The building was erected on the highest point of the isthmus of Lake Mendota and Monona. The dome was modeled after the dome of the United States Capitol and is topped by Daniel Chester French’s elegant gilded bronze statue, “Wisconsin.” The walls were decorated with colorful murals, stone from around the world, hand-carved furniture and exquisite gold mosaics. From the observation deck, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the city.
Student Union on Lake Mendota
We then proceeded down “The Drag” (State Street) to the University of Wisconsin – Madison also located on the isthmus. We walked along the landscaped campus that has the familiar feel of academia until we reached the Memorial Student Union, considered one of the most scenic student unions in the country.
Most of Madison enjoying The Terrace
We entered the building and walked past the Rathskeller, a German pub adjacent to the lake terrace overlooking the shore of Lake Mendota. The Terrace was crowded, filled with both students and members of the public enjoying the picture-perfect sunny day, socializing, gazing at the lake and the sailboats. Picture perfect. Hard to image how this idyllic view would look in January, something Jim and I continued to discuss as we toured the state.
On the way back to the car, we indulged in some window shopping walking up State Street. From indie book stores to the incredible range of locally-owned specialty stores and boutiques filled with treasures, we were treated to a fun-filled afternoon. Lo and behold, we spotted the familiar green logo – Starbucks and it was Mocha time.
We walked through downtown Madison. Jim had visited Madison before but it was my first time. We spotted The Old Fashioned, a tavern and restaurant founded in 2005, serving Wisconsin fare on the Capitol Square. As their website says, it is much more than beers, brats and cheese, they are preserving traditions of Wisconsin taverns. serving local foods and brews. The atmosphere was retro-style with dark wooden walls, warm and cozy.
The Old Fashioned on the Square in Madison
Beer and Brats — A traditional Wisconsin lunch
We took a table in the bar and ordered Bratwurst with raw onions, pickles and brown mustard on a buttered hard roll. The server recommended some truly amazing local beer to accompany the amazing meal. The only regret – we didn’t have room for beer-battered cheese curds. Soon we were off, fortified and ready to explore Madison.