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Midwest road trip Skip the airport and fill your summer with heartland adventures

Headline Cutline goes here. Cutline goes• here. Meander down the Mississippi … in your car • Who needs an ocean? Great Lakes offer sun, sand, surf • Breathtaking beauty, epic history at state parks • Fun things to do, see – and eat – in 12 states







Inside Find yourself a time machine this summer Hit the road in a classic camper or on a vintage bike. Ride in a biplane, test-drive a Model T, and more. 5

State parks: Spectacular and accessible They get three times as many visitors as the more famous national parks. Here are a few worth a trip. 11

Great places to savor some global flavors


Maribel Perez Wadsworth

Publisher and President, USA TODAY Network

Indiana: These attractions were millions of years in the making

Nicole Carroll Editor in Chief

More than 4,000 caves snake hundreds of miles under the southern part of the state, where eons’ worth of water flowing underground dissolved the limestone bedrock to form massive caverns.

Patty Michalski Executive Editor Issue editor Lori Santos

Communities across the Midwest proudly keep their immigrant heritage alive — especially on the menu. 32

Issue photo editor Emily Johnson Issue designer Tiffany Clemens

State by state: What to do, where

h North Dakota: When you follow I-94 across the state, you encounter some truly larger-than-life sights. 38 h Nebraska: Homestead National Historical Park com-

Design manager Jennifer Herrmann ISSN#0734-7456 A USA TODAY Publication, Gannett Co. Inc. USA TODAY, its logo and associated graphics are registered trademarks. All rights reserved. Editorial and publication headquarters are at 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22108.

memorates the land rush that reached 30 states. 40 h Iowa: Surf Ballroom has hosted some of music’s biggest names, and saw one of its most tragic days. 42 h Minnesota: Way up north, far from the glow of civilization, the skies are so dark they’re utterly dazzling. 46 h Missouri: Aquariums in St. Louis and Branson take you beneath the surface of waterways worldwide. 50 h Ohio: What Midwestern state comes to mind when


you think of cheese? OK, what about Swiss cheese? 52 h South Dakota: Parks, museums and other locations


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across the state are rich in Native American culture. 56 h Wisconsin: “Pizza farms” welcome summer crowds

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Midwest road trip

with good food, local brews, live music and more. 58 h Kansas: Taco Trail offers a delicious view of “KCK” with dozens of places offering Mexican specialties. 62

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Skip the airport and fill your summer with heartland adventures

Headline Indiana Caverns is one of the longest cave systems in the country. GARY BERDEAUX




Cutline goes here. Cutline goes• here. Meander down the Mississippi … in your car • Who needs an ocean? Great Lakes offer sun, sand, surf • Breathtaking beauty, epic history at state parks • Fun things to do, see – and eat – in 12 states

About the cover






Fill your car, and belly, at these gas stations

Nothing’s too obscure for its own musuem

Take your car down the Mississippi

Midwest beaches: Sea for yourself

Visit Chicago, and drink it all in

Don’t settle for a candy bar and a dried-out hot dog off the roller. Check out the gourmet food available at places such as Joe’s KC, above. 8

Interested in the history of the U.S. Air Force? Head to Dayton, Ohio. Got a hankering for all things Spam? Hit Austin, Minnesota, above. 16

Great River Road follows the mighty river past landmarks like the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, above, in Hannibal, Missouri. 20

You don’t have to travel to the ocean to catch a wave, climb a dune or just stretch out in the sun. Above, surf’s up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. 26

An ace mixologist guides you through the beverage scene, whether at a tiki bar, a teahouse or the world’s biggest Starbucks, above. 34

Design: Tiffany Clemens Images: Clockwise from top left — Tettegouche State Park by Deborah Rose/ Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; St. Louis Aquarium by Aaron Fuhrman/Missouri Division of Tourism; Kayakers in Michigan by Keweenaw Adventure Co.; Fly fi shing in Decorah by Travel Iowa.




Communities hold tight to traditions From small towns to big-city neighborhoods, communities across the Midwest wear their heritage on their sleeves. Case in point: Lindsborg, Kansas, founded by Swedish immigrants 150 years ago. The town’s high school folk dancing troupe has been active for nearly 60 years. PHOTOS BY DOUG STREMEL/KANSAS TOURISM DIVISION




Snooze in a Vanagon, teardrop or Airstream — anywhere USA


Get into a time machine or two

It isn’t hard to make friends on the road when you’re in an attentiongetting 1981 VW Vanagon Westfalia or another vintage camper. Check out Outdoorsy ( outdoorsy.com ) to fi nd a rental vehicle brimming with personality. Just be aware: Many of the classic vans are standard-shift vehicles, so you may need to brush up on your “stick” skills. “A lot of travelers mainly think of the trip experience being the destination itself. But the vehicle you’re driving to get to your destination — especially if it’s in a little slice of Americana like a VW or Airstream — is an experience in it’s own right,” says Outdoorsy’s Jennifer Young. “My favorite feature of the Airstream was the back because it had this huge window, and I felt like I had an outdoor living room. I think it was originally supposed to be for people to easily slide in kayaks and other adventure-type equipment, but I loved to just sit back there and take in the scenery wherever we parked each night.”

All kinds of retro rides available Sarah Sekula

Special to USA TODAY

A vintage ride can easily transport you back in time. From cruising in a retro boat to fl ying in a 1930s-era biplane to taking a Model T for a spin, there are plenty of ways to strike up some nostalgia. Jennifer Young, co-founder and chief marketing offi cer of RV rental marketplace Outdoorsy, can attest to that. Her website — think of it as an Airbnb for RVs — arranges rentals of vintage Airstream and teardrop travel trailers and Westfalia camper vans. She’s spent plenty of time traveling in old-school vehicles. “It can take you back to a time when families would intentionally pull over and take advantage of rest stops alongside the highway, perhaps even unfurling tablecloths and packed lunches at picnic tables,” she says. “There’s an attitude of embracing time, rather than fi ghting against it. You feel encouraged to slow down, rather than speed up.” Continued on page 6



Rent a vintage boat — Saugatuck, Michigan Go back in time out on the water at Retro Boat Rentals (retroboatrentals.com),where you can helm an old-school boat that has been retrofi tted to run electric. Cruise around Kalamazoo Lake in style in a 1958 Geneva named Jane or a 1959 Bell Boy Banchee that seats four. If you have kids, Dottie, a 1960 Dorsett Catalina, works really well. There’s a small cabin area that kids just adore. Note: You’ll only be going about 5 mph, so it’s more about the experience than speed. And don’t forget to take pictures; these beauties make an excellent backdrop.

Aboard a biplane, you never have to worry about getting stuck in the middle seat. GYPSY AIR TOURS


Continued from page 5

Hop on a classic motorcycle (or in the sidecar) — anywhere USA Twisted Road (twistedroad.com) connects owners of motorcycles with people looking to rent one. Take your pick from classic or classic-inspired rides like a Ural Retro bike complete with sidecar (pictured) or a 1976 Honda CB550. Tip: Get into character by sporting vintage goggles and a scarf.

The Gilmore Car Museum’s “Model T Driving Experience” includes a 3-hour class and 3 miles of driving. JOHN A. LACKO/GILMORE CAR MUSEUM

Fly with the wind in your hair — Brodhead, Wisconsin

Test drive a Model T — Hickory Corners, Michigan

If you’ve never flown in a biplane, you’re in for a treat. Gypsy Air Tours (gypsyairtours.com) will take you soaring through the sky in a 1930s WACO Taperwing, believed to be one of only seven of its kind still flying in the world.

Even if you’re not all that into cars, driving an authentic century-old Ford Model T is a genuine thrill — maybe even a bucket-list item. The Gilmore Car Museum (gilmorecarmuseum.org) offers the rare opportunity to get behind the wheel of one of these legendary early automobiles and learn what it takes to start and drive one. It’s not just pushing a button or turning a key. There’s a hand crank to turn and three separate foot pedals to master. Your best bet is to basically forget everything you’ve ever been taught about driving. While you’re in a yesteryear mood, head north about 230 miles to Mackinac Island State Park, which was established in 1895 and where cars have been banned since 1898. It’s home to the country’s oldest grocery store, the longest front porch and 70 miles of shoreline to explore.

“It is exhilarating and fascinating, and the flight is smooth enough that you can relax and realize this is what flying was like in the 1920s and ’30s,” says Kerryann DiLoreto, co-owner of Gypsy Air Tours. “When you look down on the farms and the small towns, it all looks essentially the same as it did 100 years ago. If you feel like it, you can give the thumbs-up to the pilot, and he'll lightly maneuver the plane so that you can feel the lift of the wings and the agility of the stick and rudder.” Flying in the Taperwing is so special because WACO produced only 70 of this model during the “Golden Age of Aviation.” The engine on this plane is similar to the one on Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis during his historic solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. Stick around afterward and pop in to Kelch Aviation Museum (kelchmuseum.org) to learn more about the history of aviation in this area.






Running on empty? Fuel up on this fare Sarah Sekula

Special to USA TODAY

When you’re making a pit stop at a gas station and need something to eat, your choices tend to be along the lines of Kit Kats, Coca-Cola and day-old nachos. You don’t expect to fi nd hand-crafted burgers, quinoa power bowls or pulled-pork sandwiches. But there are a number of places in the Midwest that will redefi ne your idea of gas station food. We’d go as far as to say they are worth planning a road trip around.

Casey’s is a pizza colossus. CASEY'S

Mean Miner’s tacos. FARMER’S GRANDSON

Casey’s — Ankeny, Iowa

Farmer’s Grandson Eatery — Eagan, Minnesota

If you have a hankering for pizza, Casey’s is the place to get your fi x, devotees say. The gas station/convenience store has more than 2,200 locations in 16 states and is actually the fi fth-largest pizza chain in the country, behind Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Papa John’s and Little Caesars. Pepperoni is the top seller, of course, but taco pizza and several breakfastthemed pizzas are equally tempting. For more: caseys.com

This Shell station with a mini mart actually offers several dining experiences, including (sssshhhhh!) a speakeasy. It’s called the Volstead House, and you’ll have to fi nd the secret entrance on your own. For street tacos, tortes and breakfast burritos, pop into Mean Miner’s. And for insanely tasty burgers and craft beer, Burgers and Bottles is the place to be. For more: farmersgrandson.com


Leo’s Market & Eatery — Greenfi eld, Indiana

Just a few favorites. JOHNNY JUNXIONS

Joe’s has 3 locations, including “The Original Gas Station Restaurant.” JOE'S KC

Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que — Kansas City, Kansas Barbecue is a way of life in the Kansas City metro area. And this restaurant attached to the Shamrock gas station at 47th Avenue and Mission Road is a solid option for ribs and the famous Z-Man sandwich. A line forms well before the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. The late Anthony Bourdain was a huge fan of this place, so that should tell you something. (Joe’s also has two other locations in the K.C. area.) For more: joeskc.com

Johnny Junxions — Bedford, Indiana Transport yourself back to the 1950s in this gas-station diner. Big appetites can fi ll up on favorites like chicken tenders, pizza, massive toasted sammies and strombolis. For dessert: hand-dipped ice cream. Pro tip: Plan ahead and go when there’s a car rally or festival going on. For more: johnnyjunxions.com

Part fresh market, part convenience store, this lovely eatery features local produce, meats, gifts, flowers, kombucha on tap and premium dairy products. Kickstart the day with a freshroasted local coffee and house-made baked kolaches — a Czech-goneAmerican pastry that can be stuffed with savory ingredients or topped with sweets. Health nuts will dig the Power Bowl with quinoa, pasta or fresh greens, topped with herb-roasted chicken, fresh vegetables and cheeses. For more: yourleos.com







GO ESCAPE State parks: Maybe not as famous as national parks, but grand all the same Matt Alderton

Special to USA TODAY

The colossal trees of California’s Sequoia National Park are incredible. So are the salmon-colored rock formations at Utah’s Zion National Park, the everlasting views at Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park and the unbridled wildlife at Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. And don’t forget the sunrises at Maine’s Acadia National Park and the turquoise waters of Florida’s Biscayne National Park. Clearly, America’s national parks are special. If you live in the Midwest, however, there’s one problem: With a handful of exceptions — for example, Badlands in South Dakota, Voyageurs in Minnesota and Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio — you have to travel far from home to get to a designated national park. But the Midwest isn’t lacking in natural grandeur. In fact, the region includes hundreds of state parks whose beauty matches and even rivals that of national parks. “National parks are truly amazing. However, America’s state parks host over 800 million visits per year. That’s almost three times as many as national parks,” says Linda Lanterman, director of the Kansas state park system and past president of America’s State Parks. “State parks are known for being closeto-home parks with access to many iconic and pristine locations.” Lanterman says state parks are having a special moment on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, which limited travel but left people yearning to get outdoors. “Being outside and in nature was healing and soothing to so many wanting to fi nd a safe place to escape from being inside,” she says. “State parks were the ticket across the nation.” Even so, many state parks lack the profi le of national parks and therefore continue to operate under the radar. That is, until word gets out. Here, then, is the word on fi ve stunning state parks across the Midwest. Continued on page 12

Spectacular, surprising, so close

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park — Kansas Kansas has 28 state parks encompassing approximately 32,000 acres. One of the most spectacular is Little Jerusalem Badlands, which contradicts everything you think you know about Kansas. At this park, what you assume is a fl at and nondescript state transforms into 332 acres of rugged wilderness, including 220 acres of badlands whose fragile Niobrara chalk formations are viewable from designated trails. “After we did our grand opening (of the park in 2018), … the next day someone posted on Facebook that they were on the trails and saw a rattlesnake,” Lanterman says. “It is that kind of habitat — including the ferruginous hawks.” Also check out: Backcountry bicycling at Wilson State Park, home to the 25-mile Switchgrass Bike Trail, or camping at Cross Timbers State Park, whose wooded landscape includes oak trees that date to the 1730s. DOUG STREMEL/KANSAS DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE, PARKS AND TOURISM



Continued from page 11

Devil’s Lake State Park — Wisconsin Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson was a senator from Wisconsin, and his legacy of land preservation lives on at the state’s 49 state parks. A favorite is Devil’s Lake, which boasts three campgrounds with a total of 423 campsites, two beaches and over 29 miles of trails — including the 1.6-mile East Bluff Trail, which leads to the park’s iconic Devil’s Doorway (pictured), an ancient rock formation that rises 500 feet above the lake itself. “Devil’s Lake, hands-down, has some of the best hiking of any park in America, and for sure the Midwest,” says Craig Trost, communications director at Travel Wisconsin. “When you’re at the top of Devil’s Doorway, there’s blue water below you and eagles soaring above you. It’s such a cool place.” Also check out: Go stargazing at Wisconsin’s only “dark sky” park, Newport State Park, or see Wisconsin’s highest waterfall at Pattison State Park.

Smith Falls State Park — Nebraska What Nebraska lacks in quantity — it has just eight state parks — it makes up for in quality. Case in point: Smith Falls State Park, whose namesake waterfall is the state’s tallest at 70 feet. “That might not sound like much compared to other waterfalls that are out there, but in Nebraska that’s pretty unique,” says Jim Swenson, administrator of parks at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “We’ve got a wooden boardwalk that will take you right up to the base of the falls so you can feel the cool spray from its spring water.” Perhaps the best view is from the Niobrara River, where you can kayak, canoe or tube. Also check out: Stay in soldiers’ quarters that date to the 1870s at Fort Robinson State Park, or celebrate this year’s centennial of Chadron State Park — Nebraska’s fi rst state park —by hiking its forested buttes and canyons. Continued on page 14 TOP: RACHEL HERSHBERGER/TRAVEL WISCONSIN; ABOVE: NEBRASKALAND MAGAZINE/NEBRASKA GAME AND PARKS COMMISSION





Continued from page 12

Tettegouche State Park — Minnesota

Even more state parks to see

With 66 state parks in Minnesota, it’s hard to choose just one. But if you have to, make it Tettegouche. Located on Lake Superior’s north shore, it boasts six inland lakes for fi shing, tall crags for climbing and one of Minnesota’s highest waterfalls, not to mention 23 miles of trails — including one to scenic Shovel Point overlooking Lake Superior from atop a rocky cliff . “This is a hiker’s paradise with miles of trails that overlook the Sawtooth Mountains and wind down to inland lakes accessible only by foot,” says Rachel Hopper, visitor services and outreach section manager for the Parks and Trails Division of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Also check out: Revel in the sights and crashing sounds of fi ve wondrous waterfalls at Gooseberry Falls State Park, or see the bison grazing on protected prairie at Blue Mounds State Park.

Consider a trip to these states’ outdoor offerings, too. h Indiana has 24 state parks. Check out the sandstone canyons at Turkey Run and Shades state parks, the big waterfalls at Clifty Falls State Park and the ancient fossil beds at Falls of the Ohio State Park. h Iowa has 68 state parks. Check out the limestone caverns at Maquoketa Caves State Park, the unique Loess Hills landform at Waubonsie State Park and the 75-foot cliffs at Wildcat Den State Park. h Michigan has 74 state parks. Check out the sandy beaches and dunes at Warren Dunes State Park, the pristine forests and rolling hills at Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park and the iconic lighthouse at Tawas Point State Park.

Giant City State Park — Illinois Most visitors to Illinois gravitate to Chicago. But there’s an entirely diff erent kind of “city” worth checking out: Giant City State Park. Located inside Shawnee National Forest, the park gets its name from the massive sandstone formations that tower like skyscrapers of rock. “Visitors to Giant City State Park will marvel at the many hiking trails, especially the popular Giant City Nature Trail, home of the “Giant City Streets” — huge bluff s of sandstone formed 12,000 years ago,” says Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Colleen Callahan, who notes that the park is home to hundreds of species of wildfl owers and more than 75 varieties of trees. Also check out: Experience canyons, waterfalls and tree-covered sandstone overhangs at Starved Rock State Park, or trace the steps of Native American pathfi nders while exploring riverside bluff s and limestone caves at Mississippi Palisades State Park.

h Missouri has 56 state parks. Check out the towering bluffs and springfed Sinking Creek at Echo Bluff State Park, the billion-year-old pink boulders at Elephant Rocks State Park and the natural “water slides” at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. h North Dakota has 13 state parks. Check out the Missouri River’s virgin shoreline at Cross Ranch State Park, the clear-water lakes at Lake Metigoshe State Park and the Native American earth lodges at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park. h Ohio has 75 state parks. Check out the enchanting waterfalls and caves at Hocking Hills State Park, the 3,000acre reservoir at Salt Fork State Park and the gorgeous limestone gorge at John Bryan State Park. h South Dakota has 13 state parks. Check out the plentiful wildlife at Custer State Park, the striking pink Sioux quartzite rock formations at Palisades State Park and the haunted woodlands at spooky Sica Hollow State Park. TOP: DEBORAH ROSE/MINNESOTA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES; LEFT: ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES






There’s a museum for that You don’t need Van Gogh to get in the van and go Ellen Wulfhorst

Special to USA TODAY

There’s very little in America that someone hasn’t thought of collecting and putting on display. So this summer, why not take a look? The Midwest has an abundance of museums that are eccentric, enchanting, educational or just plain kooky. They might not feature grand masterpieces, but they might have a delicate fi gurine to warm the heart, a bit of nostalgia for a trip down memory lane or an oddball relic that brings a smile. Kick off your tour at the Route 66 Association of Illinois Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum in Pontiac, Illinois, is fi lled with signs and statuary that lined the iconic 20th-century motor route from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels in Rosemont, Illinois, has more than 25,000 of the popular porcelain fi gurines, a collection assembled by the town’s late mayor. Far less cute are the dozens of torture devices from around the world at the Curiosity Museum in Alton, Illinois, where you’ll also fi nd guillotines and an ancient punishment cage. Cut and polished stones are the focus of the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Oak Brook, Illinois. See sparkling gemstones, cameos, mosaics and carvedgem dioramas of wildlife, farm animals and dinosaurs. Chester, Illinois, celebrates its status as the birthplace of cartoonist Elzie Crisler Segar, who created Popeye, Olive Oyl, Bluto, Wimpy and friends. The Popeye Museum — a large room at the back of a store called Spinach Can Collectibles — is fi lled with items dating as far back as 1931. The RV/MH Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, features vintage campers, travel trailers and motorhomes going back to the 1930s. In Detroit, the Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum has outdoor installations and a gallery with thousands of stone, wood, bone, seed, shell and glass beads that visitors are invited to touch. A mile and a half down the road is the Motown Museum, located in the music label’s original headquarters and recording studio. The Merry-Go-Round Museum in Sandusky, Ohio, Continued on page 18

A museum in Austin, Minnesota, celebrates Spam, a product of the hometown Hormel Foods Corp. HORMEL FOODS





Artist Patrick Acton creates masterpieces from hundreds of thousands of matchsticks at the Matchstick Marvels museum in Gladbrook, Iowa. COURTESY OF PATRICK ACTON Continued from page 16

has a fanciful array. The Ohio Glass Museum in Lancaster, home of Anchor Hocking, looks at the state’s signifi cant glass art and industry. On display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, are rare planes, missiles and historic military aviation equipment. There’s a parachute made for “Vittles,” a dog that fl ew 131 missions with its owner during the Berlin Airlift, a jet that served as Air Force One, and the C-141 “Hanoi Taxi” that brought prisoners of war home from Vietnam. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City showcases decades of Black athletes from the post-Civil War era to the barnstorming teams that traveled the country looking to play at a time when African Americans were barred from Major League Baseball. In St. Joseph, Missouri, the Glore Psychiatric Museum presents a history of

mental health, illness and treatment. The museum, which opened in a ward of the St. Joseph State Hospital in a public awareness eff ort, takes a thoughtful approach to the topic with displays of historical tools and notes as well as artwork and writing by patients. The Museum of World Treasures in Wichita, Kansas, has a bit of everything — Egyptian mummies, Civil War artifacts, fossils, U.S. presidential curios, a piece of the Berlin Wall and shrunken heads. Also in town, Wichita State University students serve as docents at the Pizza Hut Museum on campus. The school is the alma mater of the business’s founders, Dan and Frank Carney, who opened their fi rst location there. Worth a look near Alliance, Nebraska, is Carhenge, a replica of Stonehenge constructed from vintage American cars that have been painted gray. The Matchstick Marvels museum in Gladbrook, Iowa, hosts treasures such as a model of a Dodge Charger made from

720,000 matchsticks and a 298,000matchstick model of Notre Dame. A short drive away, the Traer Salt & Pepper Shaker Gallery has more than 15,000 sets, a collection that began with souvenirs of a longtime resident. Aptly located near Mount Rushmore, the National Presidential Wax Museum in Keystone, South Dakota, has realistic life-size fi gures of every U.S. president. A 32-mile stretch of road called the Enchanted Highway in North Dakota features imposing metal sculptures such as “Geese in Flight” and “Teddy Roosevelt Rides Again.” A herd of bison lives at the National Buff alo Museum in Jamestown, North Dakota. Delve into pioneer history at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, the childhood home of the author who wrote the “Little House on the Prairie” books. A museum in International Falls, Minnesota, honors native son Bronko Nagurski, a professional football star and wres-

tling champ in the 1930s and 1940s. For everything there is to know about Spam, there’s a museum in Austin, Minnesota, while the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin, has a collection of more than 5,300 mustards from more than 60 countries. And although it may be vacation time, consider a stop to refl ect on labor at the Grohmann Museum Collection at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. Its exhibits document the evolution of work from ancient seaweed gathering and rudimentary farming to technical trades, industrial mills and factories. Some of the Midwest’s museums are the small, personal passions of a lone collector, while others benefi t from civic and public support, but all have labored to stay open under COVID-19 restrictions. Museums may require masks and social distancing or they might have cut their hours, closed their cafes or turned off their water fountains to help keep the public safe. So call before you go.






The city of Minneapolis grew out of a settlement at St. Anthony Falls, the Mississippi River's only naturally occurring waterfall. PAUL STAFFORD/EXPLORE MINNESOTA TOURISM

Take the road down the river Parkway follows Mississippi through big cities, small towns and more Matt Alderton

Special to USA TODAY

The Mississippi River gets its name from misi-ziibi, an Ojibwe term that loosely translates as “father of waters.” But the Mississippi is forebear to so much more than water. At 2,350 miles long, it’s the second longest river in the United States, with the world’s fourth largest watershed. For centuries, it has been the primary artery of the American environment, economy and experience. “A large part of life for Native Americans, the river became a magnet to fur traders and European settlers who used it to explore and settle the continent,” says Roger Carmack, executive director of Great Rivers Country, which promotes tourism in western Illinois. “Today it is one of the most important commercial waterways in the world, moving 175 million tons of freight each year.” But in a world that’s become impos-

sibly complex, how relevant can something as simple as a river still be? Amid a global pandemic, there’s a newfound sense that it is very relevant indeed, says Anne Lewis, board chair of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, a 10-state organization whose mission is preserving, promoting and enhancing the Mississippi River. “We’ve become so busy in the United States that we’ve stopped looking down at our rivers. We’re in such a hurry that we just drive over them as fast as we can to get where we’re going,” she says. “But that’s starting to change.” Lewis says burgeoning interest in open space over the past two decades has spawned the recreational redevelopment of riverfronts across the country. “In many communities, there’s a return to rivers and a deeper appreciation of them,” Lewis says. COVID-19 has accelerated that renaissance. After months of international

travel restrictions and indoor isolation, Americans are more eager than ever to explore their own country surrounded by fresh air and sunshine. People who might otherwise vacation at resorts are therefore fl ocking to rivers — including the Mississippi, the banks of which are strung with communities that embody America’s past, present and future. An ideal way to experience those communities is by traveling the Great River Road (experiencemississippiriver.com). Originally known as the Mississippi River Parkway, it was designated a National Scenic Byway in 1938 and is actually made up of a series of roads rather than a single thoroughfare. Stretching more than 3,000 miles from Minnesota in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, the route it follows intersects American culture like the river bisects the American continent. “The Great River Road makes it easy to slow down and discover how important

the Mississippi River was to the United States a generation ago, and how important it still is today,” says Lewis of the Mississippi River Parkway Commission, which acts as steward of the Great River Road. “There are so many stories to be told along the river. If you just drive over it, you’ll miss them. But if you drive along it, you’ll discover them.” Although a drive from top to bottom is a worthy item for anyone’s bucket list, the Upper Mississippi alone can keep you busy for days or weeks — whatever your schedule allows. There’s a mobile app you can download to guide you, or you can follow your whims along with the road signs that bear the route’s distinctive paddlewheeler logo. Either way, a uniquely American adventure awaits in the fi ve Midwestern states on the river: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and Missouri. Continued on page 21



Situated on the Mississippi southeast of the Twin Cities, Minnesota's Frontenac State Park is a prime spot to see bald eagles. PAUL STAFFORD/EXPLORE MINNESOTA TOURISM Continued from page 20



After leaving Minnesota, the Great River Road travels another 250 miles through Wisconsin, passing 33 historic river towns and villages. They include La Crosse, whose charming, historic downtown is highlighted by City Brewery, home to the “World’s Largest Six Pack” and a giant statue of King Gambrinus, the patron saint of beer, who watches over it. Just north of town are Perrot State Park and Elmaro Vineyard. The former promises breathtaking views of the river from atop mountainous bluff s while the latter serves local wine to pair with Wisconsin’s famous cheese. From La Crosse, you can go north or south: h To the north, visit the famous “stair step streets” that run perpendicular to the river in Alma; the Nelson Cheese Factory in Nelson; the birthplace of writer Laura Ingalls Wilder in Pepin; and Maiden Rock Bluff , one of only six limestone bluff s along the Mississippi where peregrine falcons nest. h South of La Crosse, don’t miss the Potosi Brewing Company, which houses the National Brewery Museum and its one-of-a-kind collection of beer bottles, cans and collectibles. (wigrr.com)

In Minnesota, the Great River Road travels 565 miles through 43 communities and three tribal nations. “Minnesota is the birthplace of the Mississippi, where visitors from around the nation and world come to walk across the stones where the river begins as a small stream,” boasts Chris Miller, director of the Minnesota Mississippi River Parkway Commission. Miller describes how the river changes shape and character as it traverses the state, transforming from an “infant river” that snakes its way through towering pines into a whopping waterway that touches big cities and small river towns alike. “The experience is quiet and serene, or urban and glitzy, or charming and historic.” Alyssa Hayes of tourism agency Explore Minnesota says that you can fi nd the river’s headwaters at Itasca State Park, which boasts 223 campsites and more than 100 lakes — including Lake Itasca, from which the Mississippi emerges. From there, Hayes recommends stops in Grand Rapids, home to the Judy Garland Museum; Minneapolis, where you can see St. Anthony Falls, the river’s only natural waterfall, from the historic Stone Arch Bridge; St. Paul, home to the 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreation Area; Wabasha, where you can see bald eagles at the National Eagle Center; and Winona, whose riverside Minnesota Marine Art Museum is a sure bet for art lovers. (mnmississippiriver.com)

The scenic Marquette-Joliet Bridge links Marquette, Iowa, on the west side of the Mississippi River and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, on the east. TRAVEL IOWA

A former rail crossing turned walkway, the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis dates to 1883. EXPLORE MINNESOTA TOURISM

Continued on page 23





The panoramic view from Mount Hosmer in Lansing, Iowa, stretches 50 miles across the river valley. To the north is Minnesota; to the east, Wisconsin. TRAVEL IOWA Continued from page 21



The Great River Road runs for more than 550 miles through Illinois, where it off ers a juxtaposing of agriculture with industry, and of history with innovation, according to Carmack of Great Rivers Country, who serves as coordinator of the Illinois Great River Road. “The Great River Road in Illinois is … quaint downtowns that lead to breathtaking natural areas and fi elds of corn and soybean around the bend from bustling urban areas,” Carmack says. “It’s a great place to experience the purest form of Americana.” Among Carmack’s favorite destinations are Galena and Quincy. The former has more than 100 shops and restaurants that transport visitors to “another era of Main Street America,” he says, while the latter boasts 3,600 historic structures across four national historic districts. In between them you’ll want to see the authentic Dutch windmill in Fulton, which spotlights the region’s Dutch roots, and the authentically restored pioneer village in Nauvoo, the original 19th-century seat of the Mormon church. Farther south are Chester, birthplace of the iconic cartoon character Popeye (or, really of his creator, Elzie Crisler Segar), and Thebes, whose claim to fame is its historic courthouse where Abraham Lincoln once practiced law. Nature lovers can head to Illinois’ largest state park, Pere Marquette State Park in Grafton, while city folk will want to stop in the Quad Cities to hear live music, learn about agricultural innovation at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline and sample Quad Cities-style pizza made with malted crust and cut with scissors into strips instead of slices. (greatriverroad-illinois.org)

The Great River Road unfurls for 328 miles in Iowa, whose portions of the byway you’ll remember for their “heart-stopping views,” predicts Jenna Pollock, Clayton County commissioner of the Iowa Mississippi River Parkway Commission. “The Iowa Great River Road boasts pristine water that might refl ect the muddy Mississippi after a hard rainfall, mirrored on either side with towering, forested limestone bluff s,” says Pollock, who also promises “quaint and charming river towns” full of art, history and food. Pollock’s counterpart in Jackson County, Paula Mayer, says her favorites include Harper’s Ferry, site of Effi gy Mounds National Monument, encompassing more than 200 earthen mounds built by Native Americans in the shapes of animals like deer and bison; Dubuque, where you’ll fi nd the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, home to live ducks, frogs, turtles, catfi sh and dozens of other native species; and Muscatine, whose main attractions include the 19th-century Pine Creek Grist Mill, where wheat became fl our that was shipped down the Mississippi, and the Muscatine History & Industry Center, where you’ll learn how Muscatine became the “Pearl Button Capital of the World.” (iowagreatriverroad.com)

Fort de Chartres State Historic Site near Prairie du Rocher, Illinois, is a former French fort (later held by the British) that dates to 1753. GREAT RIVERS COUNTRY

Nearly 100 feet tall, the “de Immigrant Windmill” in Fulton, Illinois, was made in the Netherlands and shipped to the U.S. GREAT RIVERS COUNTRY

Continued on page 24



Rollin’ on the River See America from a different perspective on a Mississippi River cruise When he wrote the lyrics to his 1969 hit “Proud Mary” — “big wheel keep on turning” — John Fogerty had never seen the Mississippi River. Nevertheless, he was inspired by it. “I wrote the song about a mythical riverboat, cruising on a mythical river, in a mythical time,” he told Rolling Stone magazine in 2018. “Perhaps, the setting was ‘back in time’ on the Mississippi River. It was obviously a metaphor about leaving painful, stressful things behind for a more tranquil and meaningful life.” Half a century later, what was a mythical escape for Fogerty is a real and beloved refuge for millions of Americans who flock every year to the places that dot its banks — and to the water itself, which may be best experienced aboard a Mississippi River cruise.

A scenic spot known as Lovers Leap overlooks Hannibal, Missouri, birthplace of Mark Twain. MISSOURI DIVISION OF TOURISM

Among them are American Cruise Lines (americancruiselines.com) and the American Queen Steamboat Co. (americanqueensteamboatcompany.com), both of which resumed operations on the Lower Mississippi in March, with plans to begin cruising the Upper Mississippi by summer. New health and safety protocols aboard their vessels include reduced occupancy, mask mandates in public areas, and mandatory COVID-19 testing of all guests and crew. Additionally, American Queen will require all guests and crew to be vaccinated against COVID-19 effective July 1.

Continued from page 23

Missouri The Great River Road’s last stretch before leaving the Midwest is in Missouri, where the best-known river town is Hannibal. Birthplace of Samuel Clemens — aka Mark Twain, who immortalized 19th-century river life in his famous novels about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn — it’s home to the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum and Mark Twain Cave. From there, consider stops in St. Louis and St. Charles. The former is home to the famous Gateway Arch, which in 2018 became a national park, as well as the St. Louis Zoo, the Missouri Botanical Gardens and the Budweiser Brewery. The latter, meanwhile, is where pioneers Lewis and Clark embarked on their exploration of the newly acquired Louisiana Territory in 1804. Located at the confl uence of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, it has a vast historic district that’s lined with adorable shops and restaurants. Finally, there’s Ste. Genevieve, Missouri’s oldest city. It’s home to Ste. Genevieve National Historical Park, which tells the story of Missouri’s fi rst permanent European settlement and includes three of only fi ve surviving French Colonial “post-in-ground” houses in the United States. Because it dates to the 1700s, it’s an ideal place to end an Upper Mississippi sojourn. When you’re engrossed in history and full with new memories of the modern-day Mississip’, it’s a place to refl ect on what America used to be, what it has become and what it might yet be. (visitmo.com/great-river-road)

Because of COVID-19, which brought the cruise industry to a standstill, cruising wasn’t possible through most of 2020. This year, however, many cruise operators are running tours once again.

In St. Louis, the Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse rise over Keiner Plaza, named for runner Harry Keiner, who competed in the 1904 Summer Olympics in the city. MISSOURI DIVISION OF TOURISM

“The health, welfare and safety of our crew and passengers is the most important thing,” says American Queen Steamboat Co. founder and CEO John Waggoner, who promises passengers will still be able to enjoy everything they expect from a river cruise — high-quality accommodations, food, entertainment and shore excursions, plus all the tranquility Fogerty ascribed to the Mississippi so many years ago. “Most people don’t realize how relaxing it is. The high point of everybody’s trip is just sitting in one of our rocking chairs on the front porch of America and watching the river go by,” Waggoner says.






Sea for yourself Midwest’s beaches have it all for summer fun

Sheboygan, Wisconsin, dubbed the “Malibu of the Midwest,” is considered by many to have the best surfi ng on the Great Lakes. VISIT SHEBOYGAN Ellen Wulfhorst

Special to USA TODAY

You don’t have to travel to the ocean coast to catch a wave or climb a dune this summer. The Midwest has spectacular beaches and sun-soaked islands for swimming, surfi ng, boating, snorkeling, sipping a frozen concoction or just stretching out on the sand. Who needs the Atlantic or Pacifi c when you have waves crashing onto sandy beaches and lapping into the bays

of the Great Lakes, and the water stretches to the horizon? Dramatic cliff s, picturesque rock formations and quaint lighthouses add to the maritime charm, without a long journey. On Lake Erie, the village of Put-InBay, on Ohio’s South Bass Island, off ers parasailing and paddleboarding, as well as fanciful thatched-roof tiki bars and swim-up bars that rival those at tropical resorts. The Beer Barrel Saloon claims to have one of the world’s longest bars — 405 feet long with 160 stools. Cars are

The waves of the Great Lakes are smaller but more frequent than ocean waves, making them excellent for beginning surfers.

permitted on the island, but they’re not recommended, and most visitors prefer to get around via golf cart, moped, bicycle, the island’s trolley, taxi or just wandering on foot. The island, north of Sandusky and about 80 miles from Cleveland, is accessible by ferry. Nature lovers will take to nearby Kelleys Island State Park, a short ferry ride from Marblehead, where deep, distinctive tracts of glacial grooves and striaContinued on page 27


27 Continued from page 26

Michigan’s Tawas Point State Park hooks out into Lake Huron, earning it the nickname “Cape Cod of the Midwest” for its resemblance to the defi ning feature of the Massachusetts coastline. STEPHANIE YANCER/MICHIGAN DEPTARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES

tions in the bedrock show the path of ancient retreating ice sheets. North Pond State Nature Preserve on the island is home to hundreds of songbird and waterbird species and is a great place to see bald eagles. Back on the mainland, Nickel Plate Beach on the Erie shore near Huron is a popular spot for sunrises and sunsets. Where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, Mackinac Island abounds with eye-catching Victorian homes. The 660foot-long front porch at the majestic Queen Anne-style Grand Hotel is said to be the longest in the world. Cars are prohibited on the island, so horse-drawn carriages serve as taxis. Visitors can learn to drive their own buggy or hire horses for rides through town or on more than 70 miles of trails. To the west is Beaver Island, the largest in Lake Michigan, accessible by a ferry ride of about two hours or a fl ight of about a half-hour from the city of Charlevoix, Michigan. The remote location makes the island a favored nighttime spot for astronomy buff s and star gazers. In daylight, head to the beaches and inland lakes for scuba diving and snorkeling, fi shing, boating, swimming, biking and hiking. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore includes 35 miles of beaches on the mainland Michigan coast, where huge sand dunes tower hundreds of feet. The Dune Climb at Glen Lake is a tough trek up but a fun run down. Another trail — taking about four hours to cover some 3.5 miles — traverses a series of steep dunes, made challenging by the loose sand underfoot. Along the way are “ghost forests,” the remains of trees once buried by moving sands that have been exposed by erosion. Don a mask, snorkel and fi ns for a look at historic shipwrecks in the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve off the Sleeping Bear coast, the resting place of more than 130 sunken ships. Wooden steamers that sank in the early 1900s are visible in shallow water, as is a steelhulled freighter that fell victim to a 1960 blizzard. Thanks to the lake’s fresh, cold water, the wrecks are well-preserved. For surfers, Lake Michigan has plenty of spots to catch a wave, like the beaches at Grand Haven, Silver Beach in St. Joseph and North Point Park an hour west of Kalamazoo. For conditions, check surf-forecast.com. Even Chicago has surfi ng at its Montrose and 57th Street beaches. The Great Lakes’ knee- and shoulderhigh swells are good for beginners, surfContinued on page 28



Cave Point County Park on Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula features limestone caverns accessible only by water (and only on calm days). MIKE TITTEL/DESTINATION DOOR COUNTY Continued from page 27

ers say. In contrast to the ocean waves that originate far out at sea and build up strength, lake waves are smaller, winddriven and more frequent. Fresh water is less buoyant than salt water, so paddling is harder, and wetsuits are more or less a year-round necessity. Jutting out into Lake Superior is a rock hunters’ delight: Keweenaw Peninsula in the “Copper Country” of Michigan, where agate abounds on its beaches. When the sun sets, look for yooperlites — rocks that appear gray in daylight but are streaked with fl uorescent sodalite that glows vivid yellow and orange under ultraviolet light in the dark. Local shops sell special UV fl ashlights for the hunt. But be advised that at the height of summer, with daylight saving time in eff ect, the sun doesn’t set until about 10:30 p.m. Sometimes called the “Cape Cod of

the Midwest,” Tawas Point hooks out into Lake Huron, creating a bay with warm, shallow water that beckons for relaxed swimming and sunbathing. About three hours north of Detroit, the Tawas Point–Lumbermen’s Monument Auto Tour is a 68-mile self-guided drive past cultural and natural attractions like a Victorian-era lighthouse and the troutladen AuSable River. At Warren Dunes State Park in southwest Michigan, near the Indiana border, the climb up 260-foot Tower Hill is strenuous, but the view is worth it. A little to the south are the “singing sands” of Indiana Dunes National Park, which has 15 miles of beaches. The dune sand of quartz and silica, deposited by receding glaciers, makes a distinct sound underfoot. Singing sands are rare, found in only a few other locations, including Continued on page 30

The yooperlites of the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan appear gray in regular light, but the rocks glow spectacularly under ultraviolet light in the dark. (A “Yooper” is an inhabitant of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; the nickname comes from the abbreviation “U.P.”) KEWEENAW CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU





Continued from page 28

Japan and Dubai. Indiana Dunes State Park has swimming beaches and the “3 Dune Challenge” — a strenuous 1.5-mile trail that climbs more than 550 feet to superb views. Nearby is towering Mount Baldy, a so-called living dune that moves as much as 10 feet a year. As erosion eats away at the dune, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has periodically trucked in loads of sand in hopes of staving off its demise. Also getting battered by wind and sand and worth a look are fi ve remarkable homes transported to the Indiana coast from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, where they were part of an exhibit of contemporary and futuristic buildings. Constructed of experimental materials like artifi cial stone and enameled steel, the homes displayed newfangled conveniences like dishwashers and central air conditioning. They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Advertised as the “Key West of the Midwest” is Blarney Island, situated on Grass Lake about a half an hour’s drive inland from Lake Michigan, northwest of Chicago. The island hosts a lively nonstop tropical-themed party with beach bars, palm trees, live music and drag boat races. Wreck divers fl ock to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, where some 240 ships are submerged in Lake Michigan. More than two dozen wrecks are visible by boat or from clear-bottom kayak tours. The doomed ships sank in the unpredictable weather, dense fogs, rough winds, snowstorms and powerful currents of the treacherous strait leading to Green Bay, aptly named Death’s Door. Other ships caught fi re or struck underwater shoals. One of the world’s more unusual beaches is found on Wisconsin’s Washington Island, popular with sea kayakers and other boaters. The pale, rounded rocks of Schoolhouse Beach are smooth, soft limestone that produce a relaxing sound in the waves. The beach is one of just a handful of such stone beaches in the world — and removing a rock means risking a hefty fi ne. Accessible only by water, hidden limestone caves are carved into the rockface shoreline of Lake Michigan at Cave Point County Park on the Door Peninsula. The caverns were formed by wind, ice and waves known to top 30 feet, so visits by kayakers and scuba divers are typically limited to days with calm conditions. Divers can explore the nearby wreck of the Australasia, a wooden steamer that caught fi re and sank in 1896 while carrying a load of coal from Milwaukee

Dunes stretch for miles on the shores of Lake Michigan in western Michigan and northeastern Indiana. NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

bound for Cleveland. The ruins lie about 20 feet below the surface, and its coal has been found on a nearby beach. Dubbed the “Malibu of the Midwest,” the Wisconsin city of Sheboygan is considered by many to have the best surfi ng on the Great Lakes. Surfi ng culture to rival Hawaii and Southern California has been growing in the industrial city, about halfway between Green Bay and Milwaukee, where enthusiasts brave the cold temperatures, erratic weather and rip tides. Peak season runs from August to April, but beginners are advised to test out the warmer water and smaller waves of the summer months. Newport State Park is Wisconsin’s only designated wilderness park, with backpack camping and scant development, and it is one of just a few offi cial

Dark Sky parks around the world. Poised at the tip of the Door Peninsula, the shoreline park has beautiful unspoiled night sky views to the east. At the western tip of the Great Lakes in Duluth, Minnesota, the 7-mile-long Park Point is said to be the world’s longest freshwater sandbar. It’s a busy strip of land with homes from cottages to mansions, marinas, churches, shops and an airport along with miles of trails and beaches, sand volleyball courts and powerful Lake Superior waves for roughand-tumbling surfi ng. A few miles north, surfers ride windwhipped waves at the mouths of the Lester and French rivers, where the waters spill into the lake. At Gooseberry Falls State Park, impressive waterfalls roar through rocky

gorges to Lake Superior. Nearer to Canada is the mysterious Devil's Kettle Waterfall at Judge C.R. Magney State Park, where the Brule River splits in two. One cascade pours into a pool that empties into Lake Superior, but the water on the other side descends into a hole in the solid rock and disappears underground. It wasn’t until 2017 that state scientists confi rmed that the vanishing water rejoined the river downstream. Restrictions and cautions about the risk of COVID mean this could be the perfect summer to visit the Midwest rather than make a long trip to the seacoasts. These destinations plan to be open for business, but make sure to check before you travel in case plans change or there are limits on hours of operation, facilities and the number of visitors allowed.






As you might surmise from the name, Dutch heritage is front and center in Holland, Michigan, from fi elds of tulips to the DeZwaan Windmill. HOLLAND AREA VISITORS BUREAU

Savor some global fl avor

Communities keep their immigrant heritage alive with old-world touches — especially on the menu

Lisa Meyers McClintick Special to USA TODAY

Swirl a piece of bread into a pot of cheesy fondue at Glarner Stube restaurant in New Glarus, Wisconsin, then bite into molten deliciousness and follow it with a swallow of nutty beer. Steins line the wall at Glarner Stube, while outside, pink and red fl owers spill from window boxes and balconies of timbered Swiss chalet-style buildings. Other merchants coax customers with chocolate, more cheese and fl aky alpenhorn pastries.

Welcome to “America’s Little Switzerland” (swisstown.com), where you can experience a slice of Europe without the expense or hassle of air travel. As the pandemic continues to make foreign travel challenging, you can fi nd global experiences across the Midwest in small towns and city neighborhoods that off er colorful art and architecture, exotic tastes and treats, and the spice, scents and cadences of other cultures. Here’s a sampling of global getaways, from 1800s settlements to places reshaped by 21st-century immigration.



New Ulm, Minnesota The careful planning of this German settlement is evident in the intricate brickwork of homes and the ornate Renaissance-style Brown County Museum. Watch the Glockenspiel twirl and play and stroll downtown shops for glassblown ornaments, nutcrackers, cuckoo clocks and chocolate. Veigel’s Kaiserhoff restaurant serves landjaeger sausage, spaetzle and deep-fried sauerkraut balls, and beer fans know not to miss touring the historic August Schell Brewery, the second oldest family-run brewery in the United States. Head to the hilltop Hermann Monument for sweeping views of the Minnesota River Valley (newulm.com).

Lindsborg, Kansas

The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. The town has long been a center of Norwegian American culture. TRAVEL IOWA

Holland, Michigan

Chinatown, Chicago

As its name would suggest, this community on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan celebrates all things Dutch. Things peak in the spring when millions of tulips unfurl. Stroll through Veldheer Tulip Gardens, tour the working 18thcentury DeZwaan Windmill, watch artisans carving wooden shoes and learn klompen dancing at Nelis’ Dutch Village. Grab almond boterkoek at DeBoer’s Bakery and leave time to admire Big Red, the town’s iconic lighthouse (holland.org).

Visitors to Chinatown can admire the Nine Dragons Mural Wall and stop for steamed buns and pastries at Chiu Quon Bakery. The Chinese American Museum of Chicago tells immigrant history while the two-story Chinatown Square houses an array of boutiques and restaurants such as MingHin Cuisine with plates of dim sum to share and savor. You can learn more about the area with walking and food tours that also cover Chicago’s other ethnic hubs, such as the Pilsen neighborhood with Latino culture and vibrant street art or Little India along Devon Avenue (choosechicago.com).

Decorah, Iowa Tucked into the rolling Driftless region of northeastern Iowa, this artsy college town clings to Nordic roots anchored by Vesterheim, the National NorwegianAmerican Museum and Folk Art School. Visitors come from around the world to see the indoor and outdoor exhibits and learn heritage crafts from Acanthus carving to rosemaling. Find lingonberry wine, horse-headed ale bowls, delicate silver Sølje jewelry and all things Norwegian at the gift shop (visitdecorah.com).

Mineral Point, Wisconsin About a half an hour from New Glarus, this early Wisconsin lead- and zincmining town embraces its roots in Corn-

Swedish immigrants settled this town in the middle of Kansas more than 150 years ago. The locals keep traditions alive selling Swedish textiles and home décor, serving Swedish sausage and cheese at Öl Stuga Bar and savory Swedish meatballs at the Swedish Crown Restaurant. You can also watch artisans creating and painting horses made from linden wood at the Dala Horse Factory on Main Street (visitlindsborg.com).

Dearborn, Michigan

Schell in New Ulm, Minnesota, is the second-oldest family-run brewery in the country (after Pennsylvania’s Yuengling). The grounds include a museum, deer park and historic gardens around the 1885 mansion. LISA MEYERS MCCLINTICK

wall, England, with restored 1800s limestone cottages and downtown buildings rimmed by rock walls. Dig into Cornish steak-rutabaga-potato pasties and fi ggyhobbin (a pastry with dried fruit) in

downtown’s Red Rooster Café, stroll through galleries and fi nd historical tours in what was Wisconsin’s fi rst city on the National Register of Historic Places (mineralpoint.com).

In this Detroit suburb, start with a cultural visit to the Arab American National Museum and pick up tips for exploring the many restaurants that line Warren Avenue, along with specialty grocers and spice shops. Refuel with rich coff ee, honeycomb bread and sabaya, a layered Yemeni honey cake, at Qahwah House or fl aky baklava and pistachio ice cream at the Shatila Bakery, where palm trees create an inviting oasis. Sheeba Restaurant serves shredded lamb and potatoes in clay bowls or over fragrant basmati rice (dearbornareachamber.org).



GO ESCAPE However you wet your whistle, the Windy City can hook you up Matt Alderton

Special to USA TODAY

Chicago is a food town. Home to more than 7,300 restaurants and host of the James Beard Awards — the alimentary Oscars — it’s the kind of city that sends you home with a beautiful bellyache. Deep-dish pizza? Italian beef sandwiches? Chicago-style hotdogs? (No ketchup!) Steaks the size of your head? You’ll want to try it all. And you should. But there’s another delicious way to experience Chicago. And that’s through a glass. Any kind of drinking vessel, really. A coff ee cup. A beer mug. If you’re feeling wild, a shot glass. Whatever your drink of choice, here are some of the city’s best spots at which to sip, slurp, gulp, guzzle or chug.

Coffee Chicago has the world’s largest Starbucks — the fi ve-story, 35,000-squarefoot Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago on the Magnifi cent Mile (starbucks reserve.com/chicago) — but it also supports a legion of homegrown roasters. One of the oldest is Intelligentsia Coffee (intelligentsia.com), which helped start the so-called third wave coff ee movement in 1995; its original location is still standing in Lakeview. For a sustainable sip, Dark Matter Coff ee (darkmattercoff ee.com) has eight locations specializing in environmentally and socially responsible brews. Bartender and local drink guru Kevin Beary, beverage director at the beloved Chicago tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash, likes Metric Coff ee Roasters (metric coff ee.com) in the West Loop for its “amazing single-origin coff ees and blends” that are often roasted within a day or two of shipment.

Tea Tea blender and collector Rodrick Markus keeps Chicago fl ush with tea via Rare Tea Cellar (rareteacellar.com), his warehouse in Ravenswood. Although Continued on page 36

Go to Chicago, drink it all in Beverage expert Kevin Beary, in his element at renowned tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash. LETTUCE ENTERTAIN YOU ENTERPRISES





Cathedral of coffee: A 56-foot sculptural cask (surrounded by a spiral escalator) is the centerpiece of Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago. GRACE HAUCK/USA TODAY Continued from page 34

there’s no public storefront, his website lists more than 125 local establishments where you can drink his teas. “His world-renowned teas can be found at all the best bars, restaurants and cafes,” Beary says. For a traditional afternoon tea, try Russian Tea Time (russianteatime.com), a traditional Russian tea room that dates back to 1993 and recently unveiled a major renovation. Or check out The Langham, Chicago (langhamhotels.com/ chicago), whose afternoon tea service was imported from the original Langham hotel in London, which has been serving its elegant afternoon tea since 1865.

Hot Chocolate Esteemed Chicago pastry chef Mindy Segal is so famous for her hot chocolate that until about a year ago, she had a restaurant named after it: Mindy’s Hot Chocolate. She closed that place in 2020 after a 15-year run, but you can still get

the good stuff at her new spot, Mindy’s Bakery (mindysbakery.com). Mindy’s is only open weekend mornings, so a plan B is essential. Try XO Marshmallow (xomarshmallow.com), which sells hot cocoa alongside gourmet marshmallows in Rogers Park, or JoJo’s Shake Bar (jojosshakebar.com) in River North, which along with whimsical milkshakes sells hot chocolate you can spike with Jameson or Baileys. There’s also European import ChiqueoLatte (chiqueolatte.com), whose fi rst U.S. location in Logan Square sells both hot and cold chocolate topped with treats like donuts and waffl es.

Juice The Hi-Vibe Superfood Juicery (hi-vibe.com) sells bottled and blended juices from its locations in Lakeview and River North. Whether you’re looking for juices for increased immunity, stress relief, detoxifi cation, anti-infl ammation or just good taste, there’s a functional beverage with your name on it.

Or try RealGood Stuff Co. whose eight locations (realgoodstuff co.com), serve juices, smoothies and shots with humorous names but healthful ingredients — for example, the Juice Springsteen, which has celery, apple, kale, Swiss chard, dandelion greens, parsley, ginger and lemon.

Beer Chicago has some 167 craft breweries — more than any other American city. Try several in one sitting at Andersonville’s Hopleaf (hopleafbar.com). With 68 draft lines and more than 400 bottles, it has easily the city’s largest beer menu. Or head straight to the source. Popular breweries include Metropolitan Brewing (metrobrewing.com), which has a riverside taproom in Avondale, and Half Acre Beer Co. (halfacrebeer.com) in Lincoln Square. Beary’s favorite is the South Side brewery Marz Community Brewing Co. (marz.beer). “It’s incredibly well done with interesting beers and other fer-

mented treats, as well as a great-vibe taproom and legit food,” he says.

Spirits “I had always heard that Chicago is a ‘shot and a beer town,’ ” Beary says. “I’m not sure I agree, but Clark Street Ale House (clarkstreetalehouse.com) — one of the oldest continuously operating bars in Chicago — is a good place to try and fi nd out.” Beary notes that the city’s signature shot is Jeppson’s Malört, a bitter and oftmaligned Swedish spirit that’s distilled and bottled locally in Pilsen. For a more sophisticated evening, head to Beary’s own Three Dots and a Dash (threedotschicago.com) or one of his personal favorites: The Violet Hour (theviolethour.com) in Wicker Park, which specializes in what it calls “preProhibition-style libations,” or The Aviary (theaviary.com) in Fulton Market, which off ers creative cocktails by Michelin-starred chef and molecular gastronomist Grant Achatz.






Rolling down I-94, you can’t miss these Erin Gifford

Special to USA TODAY

As I crossed the fi nish line of the Go Far Woman Half Marathon in Fargo, North Dakota, I was sweaty but smiling — and eager to set off across North Dakota to take in some of the state’s best sights. I cleaned up at the trendy Hotel Donaldson in downtown Fargo, where I spent the night in one of the hotel’s 17 art-inspired rooms. I’d already explored the historic Fargo Theatre and Vinyl Taco, a fun and vibrant restaurant that serves Mexican dishes and drinks to the tune of vinyl records. So now, sporting my new “Fargo, North of Normal” T-shirt, I was ready to head west. I’d picked up a brochure touting “9 Places to Visit in North Dakota Along I-94” — the interstate that runs 353 miles through the middle of the state, from the Minnesota border at Fargo to Montana — so I had my marching orders. In the next couple of hours, I crossed off two stops by sampling rhu-berry fl avored soda (rhubarb grows abundantly in most parts of the state) at Maple River Winery in Casselton and walking across footbridges in Valley City. I soon discovered that North Dakota has more than its share of roadside eye candy. “Our roadside attractions provide a quirky experience for North Dakota travelers, from the ‘udderly’ cool 38-foot-tall cow, Salem Sue, to a gigantic 60-ton buff alo, Dakota Thunder,” says Kim Schmidt, public relations and digital communications manager at North Dakota Tourism. “There’s even an entire highway speckled with larger-than-life statues.” Here are a few other standout stops to check out on an I-94 road trip across North Dakota: High atop a hill in Jamestown is Frontier Village, an 1880s-style prairie town complete with original buildings that were moved there from across North Dakota, including the Northern Pacifi c Railroad Depot, the fi rst train depot in Jamestown. The 26-foot-tall Dakota Thunder has been watching over James-

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park: rich military and Native American history.

town from this perch since 1959. Rich in military and Native American history, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park near Bismarck, the state capital, is worth slowing down for. Occupied by Mandan Indians until 1781, the grass-covered earth lodges at On-A-Slant Indian Village tell the story of the tribe, which once numbered upwards of 15,000. Fort Abraham Lincoln served as a cavalry post, headed by Lt. Col. George Custer, during the expansion of the Northern Pacifi c Railway in the 1870s. As you keep riding along I-94, the “World’s Largest Holstein Cow” comes into view. At 38 feet tall, Salem Sue has been standing, head held high, looking over the small dairy community of New Salem since 1974, when she was erected at a cost of $40,000 for the local Lions Club to honor local dairy farmers. It may be a 32-mile detour (each way) off I-94, but the Enchanted Highway is worth it, with massive scrap metal sculptures, like Tin Family and Pheasants on the Prairie, and wide-open fi elds of sunfl owers on either side of the twolane road. The idea of lining the highway from Gladstone to Regent with sculptures was dreamed up in 1989 by local artist Gary Greff to entice visitors to the area. Near the state’s border with Montana, the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits adjacent to I-94. In Medora, a few miles down the road, enter the park at the ranger station for an eyepopping 36-mile loop drive peppered with scenic pull-out points.

Larger than life: Roadside attractions include Dakota Thunder, a 26-foot-tall buffalo made from concrete and steel that has been watching over Jamestown since 1959, and the 38-foot-tall Salem Sue, the “World's Largest Holstein Cow,” erected in the small dairy community of New Salem in 1974. PHOTOS BY ERIN GIFFORD





GO ESCAPE Diana Lambdin Meyer Special to USA TODAY

From your high school history classes, you may remember the Homestead Act of 1862, which basically gave away more than 270 million acres in the American West to anyone willing to work the land for at least fi ve years. Ellis Island in New York Harbor opened to accommodate the nearly 12 million European immigrants who responded to that promise of free land. That was the American dream — owning land. One in 3 Americans, or 90 million of us, are considered to be descendants of homesteaders. It’s believed that Daniel and Agnes Freeman fi led the very fi rst claim under the Homestead Act, for these 160 acres in southeastern Nebraska, making this a fi tting location for Homestead National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service dedicated to examining the land rush and its far-reaching eff ects. The popular image of pioneering immigrants working the prairie is just a part of the story. The Homestead Act eventually applied to 30 states from Florida to Alaska, and homesteading remained federal policy until 1976. Homesteaders included families, single men and single women, former enslaved people and Native Americans. Of course, the Homestead Act was the fi nal blow for many Native American tribes, and their story, too, is told here. Find help researching your family story, listen to oral history recordings and shake your head in awe at the fortitude of these pioneers. Walk trails through the tallgrass prairie, partake in the prairie bird count weekends in May and explore the cabin where Daniel and Agnes Freeman raised a family and built a life. The nearby city of Beatrice hosts the Homestead Days festival June 23-27 (see beatricechamber.com). The park is located 4 miles west of Beatrice. More info: (402) 223-3514; nps.gov/home.

FAR RIGHT: An exhibit devoted to Daniel and Agnes Freeman, who fi led what is believed to be the fi rst land claim under the Homestead Act of 1862. RIGHT: The Heritage Center displays original implements from homesteads in the newly opened West. Visitors to the center can also research their own history in homesteading records. PHOTOS PROVIDED BY HOMESTEAD HERITAGE CENTER


Epic land rush got its start on this prairie The Homestead National Historical Park Heritage Center is shaped like the plows that broke the soil of the tallgrass prairie.






The music endures at Surf Ballroom Diana Lambdin Meyer Special to USA TODAY

One of summer’s all-time great road trip songs, to be bellowed with the windows down and the volume up, is Don McLean’s “American Pie.” Sing it loud! “So bye-bye, Miss American Pie, Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.” Laced throughout the lyrics, though, are references to “the day the music died” — Feb. 3, 1959, when three of rock ’n’ roll’s biggest names died in a plane crash in a frozen Iowa cornfi eld. Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the “Big Bopper,” aka Jiles Perry “J.P.” Richardson Jr., had just performed at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, which is one reason the Surf is now recognized as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The Surf was the 12th stop on a 25-city tour called the 1959 Winter Dance Party — now recognized as one of the the most important concert tours in rock history. “What most people don’t realize today is that concerts were not that common in 1959, and this was the beginning of what we know as concert tours today,” said Laurie Lietz, executive director of the Surf Ballroom. The Surf has been a landmark on the music circuit since 1933 and is one of the few buildings from the era that still hosts live performances (although they were suspended during the pandemic). “We’re deemed to be nationally signifi cant to American culture,” Lietz said. “Ritchie Valens’ legacy as a part of the Latin culture increases the signifi cance of our site.” The adjacent museum includes one of Valens’ bow ties, Buddy Holly’s cuff links and the briefcase that Richardson was carrying on the plane. Modern music stars such as ZZ Top and Martina McBride have performed at the Surf and

ABOVE: The Surf Ballroom’s museum pays tribute to the hundreds of music stars who have performed at the venue in its nearly 90-year history.

RIGHT: Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper last performed on this stage at the Surf just hours before they perished in a plane crash Feb. 3, 1959 — known as “the day the music died.” PHOTOS BY IOWA TOURISM

donated signed guitars to the museum. The Surf is once again hosting concerts, including the Beach Boys with Mike Love on Aug. 16. More info: (641) 357-6151 or surfballroom.com.







Attractions were millions of years in the making

Ellen Wulfhorst Special to USA TODAY

When the temperature is rising and the sun is beating down, cool off underground in Indiana while exploring some of the country’s most beautiful and intriguing caves. More than 4,000 caves snake hundreds of miles under southern Indiana, where water moving below the surface has dissolved the limestone bedrock to create sinkholes and caverns. Among the attractions: h At Bluespring Caverns, descend 400 feet for a boat ride that takes you more than 3 miles on an underground river. Sharp-eyed visitors can spot the blind cavefi sh and crayfi sh that live in the million-year-old caves. Located in Bedford, Bluespring opened to the public in 1974, after an entrance opened up in a sinkhole that formed following a heavy rain. h More developed are the Indiana Caverns in Corydon, one of the longest

cave systems in the country, where bones of pig-like peccaries, bears and birds as well as claw marks from the Ice Age have been found. A trail and subterranean boat ride transport visitors to a breathtaking waterfall. Above ground, there’s an amusement park with attractions like the Bat Chaser, a combination zip-line/rail-coaster ride. h At Squire Boone Caverns in Mauckport, underground streams collect in shallow pools created by rimstone dams made of mineral deposits, visible from lighted walkways and steel bridges. h Marengo Cave is known for sensational stalactites, stalagmites and mineral formations. Designated as a National Natural Landmark, the cave once was used for local meetings and church services. It was also selected as a U.S. civil defense shelter to hold hundreds of people in case of nuclear attack during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Those four locations make up the Indiana Cave Trail, stretching 75 miles in

ABOVE: Indiana Caverns in Corydon is one of the longest cave systems in the country. Fossils believed to be tens of thousands of years old have been found in the caverns. GARY BERDEAUX

LEFT: Visitors to Bluespring Caverns in Bedford can ride down a river located hundreds of feet beneath the surface. The cave systems under southern Indiana were formed by water dissolving the limestone bedrock. JIM RICHARDS AND SAM FRUSHOUR

the southwest part of the state. Separately, the undeveloped Wolf Cave lies below McCormick Creek State Park, where water has carved out underground passageways. Unlike the grander caverns, Wolf Cave is described as a tight squeeze for spelunkers. The park is located in Spencer, about an hour’s drive

southwest from Indianapolis. Be prepared: It’s chilly in the caves, with temperatures in the mid-50s Fahrenheit year-round. Some cave attractions in Indiana are closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and those that are open have added protective measures like mask requirements and social distancing. Call ahead or check online for any restrictions.







The highlight of this trip is having no light at all Way up north, far from the glow of civilization, are skies so dark they’re dazzling

Lisa Meyers McClintick Special to USA TODAY

Adventurers have been escaping to the remote campsites and trails of the northeastern Minnesota wilderness since long before the pandemic made solitude a more coveted commodity. They canoe and fi sh in more than 1,100 lakes, hike rugged trails past some of the planet’s oldest exposed rocks and watch for wildlife that make this boreal forest

home. As their campfi res settle into embers, they know that the pristine scenery doesn’t disappear when the sun sinks in a golden fl ourish. Stars that may glitter like pinpricks in a countryside sky will multiply and blaze into dizzying depths in this newly designated Dark Sky region fi ve hours from the Twin Cities and three hours from Duluth along Lake Superior. Continued on page 48

Stars of the Milky Way set the sky ablaze at Voyageurs National Park. ERIK FREMSTAD/VOYAGEURS CONSERVANCY

If you go Unless you visit in winter when ice roads are plowed, Voyageurs National Park is best enjoyed by boat or watercraft, which are required to reach the 147 campsites. There are car-camping sites on nearby forest lands, local resorts and houseboat rentals (nps.gov/voya). You’ll need backcountry camping and portaging skills for the 1,500 miles of canoe routes and 2,200 campsites within the non-motorized Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. There are close to 70 entry points, but most are near Ely and along the Gunflint Trail west of Grand Marais. Permits are required (recreation.gov).





Continued from page 46

“These are some of the darkest skies in the Lower 48 states,” says Bob DeGross, superintendent at Voyageurs National Park, where most of the almost 150 boat-in campsites perch on hundreds of islands and on 650 miles of shoreline for wide-open celestial shows. The Arizona-based International Dark Sky Association accepted Voyageurs as a Dark Sky Park and the adjacent Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness as a Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2020. Together, the two areas stretch about 250 miles along the Canadian border, where they merge with Ontario’s Quetico Provincial Park, a new Dark Sky destination as of this year. The non-profi t Dark Sky Association estimates that about 80% of the United States cannot see the Milky Way in the night sky due to light pollution. The association’s eff orts to improve visibility often include encouraging light fi xtures that focus light downward rather than spreading it in all directions. The National Park Service has a Natural Sounds and Night Skies division, and Voyageurs joins 61 other U.S. park service sites with dark-sky designations. It has the added attraction of surround sound — such as loons fi ring up a nighttime chorus that echoes across the lakes and waterways that make up 40% of the park’s 218,000 acres. “Hearing wolves howling at night while you’re experiencing the night sky is pretty cool,” DeGross says. Lucky visitors also may spot the unpredictable but spectacular northern lights. Those who brave winter temperatures can drive onto lakes following the park’s famed ice roads for the clearest night-sky views. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness covers more than a million acres and joins other exceptional darksky areas such as New Zealand’s Great Barrier Island and Utah’s Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Grand Marais, Minnesota-based photographer Bryan Hansel has spent about 15 years with his camera aimed at the night skies and often teaches sold-out workshops to photographers from around the country and beyond. He recalls one calm night in particular when he walked to the end of a dock on the edge of the Boundary Waters and was astonished how well the lake mirrored the sky. “The refl ection of the stars in the water was so perfect,” he says. “I actually got vertigo.” Some of his favorite photos show the Milky Way blazing through the sky like a backlit canyon carved into the stars. “Anywhere you can shoot the Milky Way over the water is the perfect spot.”

Other Dark Sky sites to explore this summer Here’s a sampling of additional Dark-Sky-designated spots in the Midwest.

Headlands International Dark Sky Park, Michigan This 600-acre spot of old-growth forest near the Straits of Mackinac (where lower and upper Michigan meet) was the sixth U.S. Dark Sky Park when established in 2011 (midarkskypark.org).

Newport State Park, Wisconsin This park sits near Ellison Bay close to the tip of Wisconsin’s scenic Door County peninsula, which thrusts like a thumb into Lake Michigan (dnr.wisconsin.gov).

Geauga Observatory Park, Ohio With the onsite Nassau Observatory and astronomy-themed exhibits and programs, this spot offers an education about planets, stars and other elements of the night sky (geaugaparkdistrict.org).






GO ESCAPE Diana Lambdin Meyer Special to USA TODAY

To learn about life beneath the surface of Missouri’s rivers — as well as waters worldwide — visit the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. The Confl uence Gallery focuses specifi cally on the ecosystem of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, which merge about 15 miles north of the spot. (You’ll totally fall in love with the playful nature of river otters.) Other galleries at the aquarium take you to rivers of South America, Africa and Southeast Asia. And of course there is an Oceans Gallery fi lled with sharks, jellyfi sh and sea dragons. Admission is $25 for adults and $18 for children 3-12, but you can get an education at the St. Louis Aquarium without paying a penny. The Aquarium Foundation operates a conservation gallery just outside the paid admission area that teaches about rain gardens and the Mississippi watershed, among other things. While nothing can truly replace an inperson learning experience, the aquarium developed a number of at-home activities during the pandemic that include junior biology kits, craft kits and more. Follow the aquarium on Facebook for live videos. For more information: stlouis aquarium.com or call 314-923-3900.

Reef education in Branson Coral reefs are a major focus of the Aquarium at the Boardwalk in Branson, Missouri. No, coral reefs are not found in Missouri, but they are a necessity for healthy oceans, and healthy oceans are a necessity for life on Earth. That’s one lesson shared at the aquarium, which opened in December with more than 10,000 creatures inside and a sight to behold outside: a 55-foot stainless-steel octopus that has redefi ned the 76 Entertainment Strip. With two touch pools fi lled with rays, sharks, anemones and starfi sh, the aquarium helps visitors better understand how these creatures contribute to our world. The Aquarium at the Boardwalk has also partnered with the Coral Reef Restoration Foundation, the world’s largest non-profi t organization dedicated to coral reefs. For more information, visit aquariumattheboardwalk.com or call 417-335-3474. Visitors to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station watch a ray glide past. AARON FUHRMAN, MISSOURI DIVISION OF TOURISM


Immerse yourself at these aquariums







SAY CHEESE Holey cow: Turns out the Buckeye State is Swiss cheese central

Matt Alderton Special to USA TODAY

Do you dream of dairy? If you want a vacation experience that’s rich, creamy and good for your bones, there’s a lactose paradise waiting for you. And no, we’re not talking about Wisconsin. This is Ohio. “Wherever you are in Ohio, you’re just a few minutes away from the countryside where farms are producing milk,” says Scott Higgins, CEO of American Dairy

Association Mideast, a trade association representing Ohio dairy farmers. “That’s what makes Ohio unique: If you want to see where your food comes from, you don’t have to go very far.” With 1,650 dairy farms, Ohio ranks 10th in the nation for cheese production — and fi rst for Swiss cheese. In fact, nearly half of all Swiss cheese produced in the United States comes from Ohio. For that, Buckeyes can thank their Swiss ancestors, says second-generation cheesemaker Richard Guggisberg, presi-

dent of Guggisberg Cheese, based in Millersburg. His father immigrated to Ohio from Switzerland after World War II and in the 1960s invented Baby Swiss, which has smaller holes, a softer texture and a milder fl avor than traditional Swiss. “Ohio had a big infl ux of Swiss immigrants back in the 1800s, many of who became farmers,” Guggisberg says, adding that almost every cheese factory in Ohio was started by a Swiss immigrant. “Because they were far away from the big cities on the East Coast, they had to fi nd a way to get

their milk to market without refrigeration. Cheese was the best way to do that.” Today’s Ohio cheesemakers produce not only delicious snacks for consumers, but also delicious experiences for tourists, who can sample Baby Swiss and more by following the Ohio Cheese Guild’s Ohio Cheese Trail (ohiocheese guild.org), which includes two dozen dairies, creameries and markets. Read on for a few stops worth visiting. Continued on page 54

Above: Pearl Valley Cheese has been making Swiss cheese in Fresno, Ohio, since 1928. PEARL VALLEY CHEESE





Blue Jacket Dairy Blue Jacket Dairy (bluejacketdairy.com) in Bellefontaine has been making artisan cheeses since 2008. Its signature offerings include fresh cheese curds in flavors like ranch and horseradish, and Gretna, a grilling cheese that’s made for browning in a sizzling skillet. Cheesemaker and co-owner Angel King strives to make cheeses that are as educational as they are delicious. “I’m really passionate about Ohio history, so I’ve taken the time to research and choose cheese names that mean something to our region,” King says. “For example, Israel Ludlow was a famous surveyor when Ohio was being plotted out in the Northwest Territory. One of the major reference points he used in his survey is located about 2 miles from us, so we named one of our cheeses Ludlow.”

Blue Jacket calls its aged goat’s-milk cheese “Houtz,” named for the founder of a historic area mill. BLUE JACKET DAIRY

Guggisberg Cheese bills itself as “Home of the Original Baby Swiss.” The mild variety was developed by company founder Alfred Guggisberg. GUGGISBERG CHEESE Continued from page 52

Guggisberg Cheese At its original cheese plant in Millersburg, Ohio, Guggisberg Cheese (babyswiss.com) showcases its signature Baby Swiss and more than 60 other varieties. Adjacent to the factory is a retail store where you can sample, shop and watch cheese in the making through a giant window that overlooks the factory floor. There’s also a seasonal restaurant whose specialty is traditional Swiss fondue. While you’re in the area, explore Ohio’s Amish Country. “This part of Ohio has the largest Amish population in the country, so there are lots of Amish shops, restaurants and family farms where you can immerse yourself in the local culture,” Richard Guggisberg says.

Pearl Valley Cheese Pearl Valley Cheese has been making Swiss cheese in Fresno, in east-central Ohio, since 1928. Established by Swiss immigrants, the family-owned business (pearlvalleycheese.com) is now in its fourth generation and specializes in Swiss and Colby cheeses. There’s a retail store with observation windows for watching cheese being made, a playground for kids and tours inside the factory (when public health allows). After your visit, company president Chuck Ellis recommends visiting nearby Sugarcreek for its Amish-meets-Swiss restaurants, shops and attractions. “Sugarcreek is a small village that’s known as ‘The Little Switzerland of Ohio,’ ” says Ellis, who says the best time to visit is the fi rst weekend in October. “That’s when they have the Ohio Swiss Festival, where there’s cheese sampling and judging, a cheese eating contest and a cheese auction.”

“Every cheese has a story, and that’s what makes it fun,” says Kent Rand, the resident cheesemonger at Weiland's Market in Columbus. WEILAND'S MARKET

Weiland’s Market Experience a multitude of Ohio cheeses in one convenient location at Weiland’s Market (weilandsmarket.com) in Columbus. Established in 1961, the family-owned store is a foodie’s playground with 18,000 square feet of gourmet groceries — including a massive cheese department with more than 200 artisan varieties, many of which are Ohio-made. To fi nd your favorite, consult cheesemonger Kent Rand, who makes mozzarella by hand onsite and teaches others how to do it in classes on Saturday mornings from late May through early September. Chuck Ellis of Pearl Valley Cheese. The company makes multiple varieties of Swiss as well as “a full line of Colby style deli-horns.” PEARL VALLEY CHEESE

“Several times a year I also do Ohio cheese pairing classes — Ohio cheese and chocolate, for example, or Ohio cheese and wine,” says Rand, who promises to help visitors not only taste local cheese, but also learn about it. “Every cheese has a story, and that’s what makes it fun.”



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Learn, explore, honor

Bear Butte rises from the South Dakota landscape near Sturgis. The site is considered sacred by Native Americans in the region. Worshipers commonly leave offerings.

Lisa Meyers McClintick

Special to USA TODAY

The sound of a native fl ute and a hint of wild-harvested sage welcome visitors as they step into the Prairie Edge Trading Co. in downtown Rapid City, South Dakota. On the fi rst fl oor, they can touch and admire the work of longtime Dakota and Lakota artists who do Smithsonian-worthy traditional works of soft leather clothing, cradle boards and accessories embellished with glass beads and dyed porcupine quills. “There’s a comforting sense of going back in time,” says store manager Dan Tribby. “We’ve been doing this for almost 40 years,” which means some of the 200 contributors might be second- or third-generation native artists. Prairie Edge’s wealth of traditional and modern native art, ceremonial music, and powwow and regalia craft supplies, as well as its vast book collection, make it a good fi rst stop in learning about the state’s Native American population, estimated at 71,000 and including nine reservations. Tribby has even coached visitors on how leave an off ering of tobacco or sage on Bear Butte, which the Dakota call Mato Paha and consider a sacred place. “It’s a mountain that invites you to come up and leave your burden there,” he said of the site near Sturgis. “It has this unbelievable eff ect on people that keeps pulling them back.”

Experience more Dakota and Lakota culture h Akta Lakota (“To Honor the People”) Museum and Cultural Center in Chamberlain colorfully illustrates Lakota culture, artifacts, values and struggles, along with art and poignant stories (aktalakota.stjo.org).


h Watch for Dignity of Earth and Sky, a 50-foottall steel statue of a Native American woman holding a prairie star quilt, at the I-90 Chamberlain rest area overlooking the Missouri River as it scenically carves its way across the Great Plains.

h Travelers who go beyond the better-known North Unit of Badlands National Park can learn more about Lakota history at the seasonal White River Visitor Center in the South Unit, which on Oglala Sioux tribal lands (nps.gov/badl). Stop in for a road conditions and weather report before venturing up rugged Sheep’s Mountain Table Road for sweeping views at 3,282 feet.

h Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer honors the famed Lakota leader. His face alone rises about nine stories high. His horse’s head, which will be 22 stories tall, is still being blasted from the mountain. The site hosts a seasonal laser show and welcomes guests to the Indian Museum of North America and Native American Cultural Center (crazyhorse.org). h The Journey Museum and Learning Center in Rapid City features some of the country’s most historic and rare Lakota items from the 1800s, showing how artistry adorned practical and ceremonial objects from attire and pipestones to parfleches ( journeymuseum.org). h The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School offers more than 10,000 works of historical and contemporary art plus a year-round gift shop featuring Lakota artwork that supports Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the most economically disadvantaged areas in the United States. The summertime Red Cloud Indian Art Show draws top native artists (redcloudschool.org).






Pizza lovers can dine alfresco at Suncrest Gardens Farm, located in western Wisconsin near the Mississippi River and the Minnesota border. SUNCREST GARDENS FARM


These farms grow pizza Gourmet pies dot the countryside

Sarah Sekula

Special to USA TODAY

When people think of Wisconsin, a few things come immediately to mind: cheese, the Green Bay Packers and cheese. Gourmet pizza might not — not yet, at least. But as popular “pizza farms” pop up all over the state, getting a pipinghot pie is quickly making the to-do list for a trip to America’s Dairyland. The concept is said to have gotten its start in 1998 at AtoZ Produce and Bakery, an 80-acre community-supported agriculture operation in Stockholm, Wisconsin, where Tuesday night became pizza night. It has been spreading ever since

with an appeal driven by local ingredients, a unique outdoor dining experience — and an opportunity to help small farms survive and thrive. It gives a whole new meaning to the term “farm to table.” At a typical pizza farm, you can listen to live music, order a craft beer produced by a local brewery and relax in the gardens while your pizza is prepared. Bring your own picnic blankets or lawn chairs so you can while away the afternoon. “To me, the secret to really tasty pizza has to do with featuring what the land you live on best creates,” says Tony Continued on page 60





Continued from page 58

Schultz, owner of Stoney Acres Farm (stoneyacresfarm.net), a third-generation certifi ed organic family farm in central Wisconsin. “The French call this terrior, or fl avor of place. Pizza on the farm tastes great because the ingredients used are literally a stone’s throw away, harvested at the peak of its fl avorful expression in the morning, prepared in the afternoon and put on your pizza for dinner. It is what the farm can produce, with world-class cheese from my neighbors.” He bakes his pizzas in brick ovens with dried hardwood stoking the thousand-degree heat with chunks of apple and cherry. Go for the Bleu Oyster Cult, which is topped with Stoney sausage, green garlic sauce, Nasonville mozzarella, oyster mushrooms and Carr Valley Glacier Penta Crème blue cheese. Or treat yourself to a classic margherita pizza with San Marzano sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil pesto drizzle and fresh heirloom tomatoes. Also hard to beat is the Ramona the Pesto: “It fi nishes with roasted cherry tomatoes, micro arugula and Parmesan from Harmony Dairy in Stratford to perfectly express the aesthetic beauty of food in season from its source,” Schultz says. In Yaeger Valley, in hills of western Wisconsin, you’ll fi nd Suncrest Gardens Farm (suncrestgardensfarm.com), a 16acre operation focused on growing food without chemicals. “We grow and preserve all of our own onions, garlic, sweet peppers, tomatoes and herbs,” says Heather Secrist, the owner. Not to mention a long list of other produce like lettuce, butternut squash and radishes. Plus, the farm raises all-natural meats including pork, lamb and chicken. One popular specialty is the Thai Chicken Pizza. What makes it special? For starters, the dough is made using a blend of fl ours, some of which are stone ground from the neighboring mill. The crust is slathered with homemade peanut sauce and topped with gourmet mozzarella, farm-raised chicken, slow roasted sweet onions and sweet chili sauce and topped with fresh pea shoots and crunchy peanuts. “We prefer to source off -farm ingredients locally if possible with a commitment to quality,” Secrist says. “The most important sourced item for our pizza is cheese. Wisconsin makes half of the nation’s specialty cheese, so the options are bountiful. Grande Cheese is the featured cheese on our pizzas, as its premium Italian mozzarella helps bind together all the farm-grown goodness on each pie. Odyssey Feta is another one of our favorite cheeses due to its delightful tangy taste that beautifully off sets the sa-

For 2021, Suncrest Gardens plans on holding “pizza farm” events on Fridays and Saturdays from May 1 to Sept. 25, plus pop-up events in October, weather permitting. No reservations needed. See suncrestgardensfarm.com. SUNCREST GARDENS FARM

Pizza night can turn into a whole pizza weekend at Farm to Fork Retreat, which has a lodge, several cabins and wooded campsites. Pizza nights in 2021 are scheduled from May 7 to Sept. 25. See farmtoforkretreat.com. FARM TO FORK RETREAT

“Pizza farms” are typically working farms that welcome diners for freshly prepared gourmet pizzas during the warmer months. You can often pair your pie with a local craft beer or glass of wine, listen to live music and just settle in and relax. SUNCREST GARDENS FARM

vory richness of a pizza while complimenting fresh items such as our delicious vine-ripened tomatoes.” In Galesville, you’ll fi nd Winghaven Pizza Farm (winghavenpizzafarm.com), which has been in the Grover family

have extra time, plan an overnighter at the Farm to Fork Retreat in Mondovi (farmtoforkretreat.com), where you can stay in a refurbished horse barn, eat pizza and s’mores and grab beverages from the Milk-House Bar.

since 1852. Sit a spell and enjoy a stonefi red thin-crust pizza and a regional craft beer or glass of wine, while listening to live music (if you’re there on the weekend). Extend the fun at nearby Pearl Street Brewery or Elmaro Winery. If you





Best view of KCK is from the Taco Trail Diana Lambdin Meyer Special to USA TODAY

With a colorful scattering of cilantro and onion, followed by a squirt of fresh lime juice, one of KCK’s mouth-watering delights is ready for consumption. KCK is Kansas City, Kansas, the lesscelebrated but no-less-inviting member of the twin cities of the K.C. metroplex. The KCK Taco Trail is a collection of more than 50 authentic Mexican taquerias, markets and food trucks that provides one of the the yummiest reasons to hit the road this summer. Actually, it’s never been hard to fi nd interesting food in KCK. The city of 150,000 is widely recognized as one of the most diverse communities in the country. Latinos make up more than 30% of the city population, according to the Census Bureau; African Americans are about one-quarter; and there are notable Hmong, Slavic, Burmese, Chinese, Somali, Swahili and Native American communities as well. Each culture is represented by restaurants and grocery stores off ering traditional foods. But it is the authentic taqueria that has risen to the top. Many KCK residents hail from the central Mexican state of Michoacán. Carnitas, basically braised pork, originated in Michoacán, though KCK taquerias off er nearly 20 types of tacos. And because this is Kansas City, one of the four major barbecue regions of the U.S., you’ll fi nd burnt-end tacos. It’s a Kansas City thing you have to try at least once, and Slap’s is the best place for that. But don’t limit your foodie experience to tacos. The Taco Trail includes grocery stores where you will fi nd authentic Mexican foods not typically found in mainstream supermarkets. Then there are the bakeries. Bonito Michoacan on Minnesota Avenue has the largest selection.


Before you go h Brush up on your Spanish skills. Many employees speak limited English. h Register for the KCK Taco Trail at visitkck.com. When you check in at each restaurant, you score points toward free taco sauce, T-shirts, flags and getting your name on the Taco Wall of Fame. A combo plate — chorizo taco and fi sh taco — served with an ice-cold Jarritos lime soft drink is part of the authentic experience on the KCK Taco Trail. BRUCE N. MEYER