This is my sixth post about our family's visit to Minnesota and Wisconsin. I suggest reading the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth posts. Because I am a travel blogger, I was given media rates, discounts, complimentary admission tickets, and other perks for some of the places we visited. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone. I paid full price for the others. How much I paid has no bearing on my reviews, as everything I share is something that I absolutely recommend.
Family Fun in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Part 6: Pepin, WI and Wabasha, MN
From Red Wing, we continued our travels southeast along the Mississippi River, this time on the Wisconsin side. Our destination was the small town of Pepin. If that name sounds familiar to you, there's a good chance that's because you grew up with the Little House on the Prairie (afffiliate links) books.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in the Big Woods region of Wisconsin, seven miles north of Pepin. Her time there inspired her first book, Little House in the Big Woods. There is now a replica of that "little gray house made of logs," open to visitors.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is in downtown Pepin.
It is packed with artifacts related to Laura Ingalls Wilder. Entering the museum is like jumping back in time.
Thank goodness for the many interpretative signs. I don't think I would have recognized that gizmo in the upper left as a toaster if it weren't labeled.
Speaking of signs, something I really like about the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is that many items are accompanied with a quotation from one of the books. It was neat to read Laura's words describing an item I was seeing in front of me.
I'll definitely be rereading the books. It's been too long.
We crossed back over the Mississippi to the Minnesota side. Our destination was Wabasha, home of the National Eagle Center. What a fantastic place!
The center is beautifully done, with two floors of exhibits and a hands-on area for kids. There's a lot to see, but a good place to start is at the large floor map. It shows the locations of the many known eagle nests around Wabasha. We learned that eagles are loyal mating partners... sort of. They return to the same nest each year, where they meet up with their mate. So it's more accurate to say eagles are loyal to their nests, not necessarily to each other.
Eagle nests are enormous. They start out pretty big, but they grow larger and larger as the eagles add sticks to them annually. The largest known nest was 10 feet in diameter and 20 feet tall! Lest you picture eagle chicks at the bottom of a 20-foot bowl, it's important to know that most of the 20 feet is filled in. Their nests accumulate a lot of gunk, which they cover each year before laying their eggs.
There are approximately 60 eagle species found around the world.
The United States is home to two species of eagles: the bald eagle and the golden eagle.
There are eagles in 49 of our 50 states, Hawaii being the one without. The best place to find eagles is by water, making Alaska, Florida, and Minnesota the top states for spotting eagles.
The National Eagle Center is full of interesting exhibits...
... including an enormous collection of eagle-related items. Collector Preston Cook donated a staggering number of pieces that feature eagles. (Watch the video of him on his site.) It's hard to even summarize what's included in his 50+ year collection. Artwork of all kinds. Dinnerware and other functional crafts. Foods. Money. Stamps. Postcards. Games.
In Cook's book detailing the items in the collection, our Eagle Scout found that award.
While there's plenty to love at the National Eagle Center, there's no question that the best exhibit is the birds themselves. The Center has five resident birds, 4 bald eagles and a red-tailed hawk. These bird ambassadors cannot survive in the wild.
In case it isn't obvious in the photos, there is no barrier between us and the birds, other than a waist-high rail to keep guests out of the eagles' area. I'm used to seeing raptors through fencing or plexiglass, but that's not the case here. The eagles are on a long tether when they're on display, but they're doing exactly what they'd be doing even if they weren't tethered. Eagles spend the vast majority of their time perching.
The eagle ambassadors spend part of their time on display, but they also travel (in modified dog crates!) for educational presentations at schools or other locations. You can (and should) watch a live eagle presentation at the National Eagle Center. We learned so much!
The National Eagle Center sits on the bank of the Mississippi River. There's a gorgeous viewing area there. We learned that during the winter in particular, it's a great place to spot eagles in the wild.
I could go on and on about the National Eagle Center. You should go. You will love it.
We needed a quick lunch in the middle of our time visiting, so we popped over to The Olde Triangle Pub. The homestyle Irish food was delicious. Get the Irish stew!
We reluctantly said goodbye to Wabasha. We had a 3.5 hours drive ahead of us, which turned out to be quite pleasant. We're used to 'golden' summers in California, so seeing all of the lush greenery along the sides of the roads doesn't get old.
We arrived in Middleton, a suburb of the Madison, and had dinner at the outstanding Longtable. Everything was outstanding.
Trevor and I had very light dinners in order to leave room to try both of Longtable's desserts. The one on the left was entirely new to us: a chocolate karpatka. It was SO good! The maple pecan bar was equally outstanding.
We checked into our hotel, the Courtyard by Marriott Madison West / Middleton for the night. It was clean and comfortable and in a great location for the following day's first destination. I'll tell you all about that tomorrow.
Cindy deRosier has a masters in Education and taught 4th and 5th grade for 11 years. She uses that experience to blog about crafts and family-friendly educational travel. She spent many years as the Editor of Fun Family Crafts, a website with over 12,000 kid-friendly craft tutorials. Cindy is the co-author of "What Would Jesus Patent?", does freelance writing and designing, loves jigsaw puzzles, is an avid scrapbooker, and has been to all 50 states.