Thursday, August 07, 2008

An underground adventure

There isn't much that could get my family to don jeans and sweatshirts on the first day of August in the Midwest, yet we did on a trip to Harmony, Minnesota, where we explored Niagara Cave. Whether the temps are sweltering or freezing, this cave is a constant 48 degrees all year—a nice change in the summer!

My parents, the girls, and I traveled to this sprawling, natural limestone cave—rated one of the top ten in the country—and took an interesting one-hour tour. The girls led the group with the guide (Lauren was nearly holding his hand) as we navigated hundreds of stairs into the cave's depths and saw a stalactite room, calcite flowstone, an echo chamber (very cool!), and ancient fossils. There was an active stream in the cave and a 130-foot rock-vaulted dome with a 60-foot waterfall that we saw from a bridge high above the floor of the cave. (Admittedly I did not last long on this bridge; my fear of heights is alive and well.)

After our tour of the cave we drove across the Minnesota/Iowa border for a quick peek at cornfields (and to add a state to the girls' list) and then headed back into Harmony. Traveling in this part of southeast Minnesota is a bit like stepping back in time; we saw pretty little towns and farms amidst green, rolling hills. The charming downtowns sport bed-and-breakfasts, unique gift shops, and cafes that tout hearty dishes and homemade pies (we had a delicious lunch—pie included—in Harmony). Additionally, the county is home to the state's largest Amish population. We saw several Old Order Amish families traveling by horse-drawn buggies and a few Amish people in town as well.

We drove through the Root River Valley on the way home and saw plenty of people tubing through the water that cuts through the bluffs. Oh, and I can't forget to mention that we stopped at the Aroma Pie Shop in tiny Whalan, Minnesota (population 64) to pick up a homemade caramel apple pie we took back to Wisconsin. Yum!

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