From Prairies to Corn Fields to Riverboats and Back Again

Southern Saskatchewan is very flat. This picture was taken on the outskirts of Weyburn, SK.

In September, my dad and I took a road trip home to the Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, Area. I grew up in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, but I haven’t lived there for almost ten years. This trip was my first time home in four years, so I was excited to see family and friends.

An old barn in Minnesota.

I’d never traveled through most of this part of the US, so I was also enthusiastic about the road trip itself. I didn’t mind the long drive at all or anticipate getting bored. With a few books in my backpack, how could I? I actually didn’t do a whole lot of reading on the four day trip down to Cincinnati; I think I finished one book and started another one. I was too busy watching the changing landscape and taking pictures of it.

I did think that Saskatchewan and the US Mid-West would be one uninteresting, flat expanse of fields, but I was wrong. Yes, there were a lot of farms, but the countryside changed considerably from one region to another. We went from bushy central Saskatchewan to flat (and I mean flat) southern Saskatchewan to the valleys with few trees of North Dakota. We saw forests and well kept farms in Minnesota and great expanses of corn fields and rolling hills in Iowa. When we crossed the Mississippi River, the landscape of Illinois was more familiar to me as it resembled, to a large extent, the flat farmland of central Ohio. Yet, in southern Indiana, the landscape changed to lush, tree covered hills. Finally, we arrived at our destination. By the time we got there, I was antsy, ready to get out of the car, and anxious to see my family.

Birds rising out of an Iowa corn field.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Most of the trip was filled with visiting family and friends, but we did get to do a little sight-seeing. When you are from a place, you aren’t necessarily interested in “seeing the sights,” but I was keen on visiting two different ones while I was home. First, we went to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a spectacular museum. The museum details the history the Underground Railroad, and Cincinnati was a site on it. This museum was opened after I moved away from the city. I really wanted to visit it, and it was definitely worth the trip. We were only able to see the film, Suite for Freedom, and walk through less than half of “From Slavery to Freedom” which detailed the history of slavery and its eradication in America. We just weren’t able to take in all the information jam packed into the exhibit. Other exhibits were also open in the museum, and I would have liked to have had several days to explore them all. If you ever visit Cincinnati, I would highly recommend it.

Me with my sasparilla in front of the Rabbit Hash General Store.

Yes, the mayor of Rabbit Hash is a dog.

We also were able to visit Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, a small village on the Ohio River. The Greater Cincinnati Area is filled with people and traffic, and it was nice to get away to this village. It’s a bit of a tourist attraction because it’s quirky, but it’s not overrun by tourists, either (at least it wasn’t when we were there). Why is it quirky, you might ask? Well, it has an old-fashioned general store, a pig crossing, and… a dog as its mayor. Her name is Lucy Lou, and we got to see her when we visited. It’s also right on the River and has great views of Rising Sun, Indiana, on the other side of it. I definitely recommend a visit, and if you go to the general store, buy some sasparilla; it tastes good and has a cool name.

The Ohio River taken from Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, with Rising Sun, Indiana, on the left bank.

Cincinnati, Ohio, seen from Newport, Kentucky, at sunset.

As mentioned, an escape to Rabbit Hash was needed, because I was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of traffic and urban sprawl in the Greater Cincinnati Area. Since leaving the region, I’ve lived in a small town and cities of various sizes, and I haven’t traveled to suburbs all that much. It’s a different way of life from the one I’ve led in the last nine years, and the huge amounts of cars on the roads disconcerted me. Yet, there were times when I was taken off guard by the beauty of Cincinnati. At one point,  in Newport, Kentucky, I saw a river boat passing by the skyscrapers of Downtown Cincinnati on the other side of the River as the sun set. When you grow up in a place, you don’t always recognize its beauty, and the lush, tree covered hills of the Ohio River can be breath taking.

Prairie grasses, shrubs, and trees at a rest stop in Illinois.

The dugout display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum.

A map of most of Laura Ingalls Wilder's moves throughout her life at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We couldn’t stay forever, though, and we had to make the four day drive back to Saskatchewan. On the way back, we were able to visit Walnut Grove, Minnesota, a very small town close to the original site where Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Ingalls family lived, and see the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum. When I was little, I read some of her books and watched Little House on the Prairie, and even now when I’m in a sappy, nostalgic mood and want something comforting, I’ll watch it. On the way to Cincinnati, I noticed that we were passing through Redwood Falls, and I saw that Mankato and Sleepy Eye, all place names I recognized from the TV show, were relatively close by, too. I, then, looked for Walnut Grove, and sure enough, it was not that far out of our way. When we got to the hotel that night, through the Internet, I found out that a museum about Laura Ingalls Wilder existed in Walunt Grove. My very kind father agreed that we could stop there on the way back to Saskatchewan, and I was really excited.  It was not a fancy museum, but it gave me an idea of what it was like for the first settlers on the Prairies. The museum’s dugout display impressed upon me how limited their means really were and how little space they had.

Cattle grazing in South Dakota.

The RCMP Heritage Centre in Regina, SK.

We soon had to leave Walnut Grove, and we traveled through South Dakota and North Dakota. Next, we crossed the Canadian border into Saskatchewan. When we arrived in Regina, the capital of Saskatchewan, we visited the RCMP Heritage Centre. It is one of the best museums I’ve ever visited, and I encourage anyone who ever goes to Regina to see it. The displays were well done with plenty of information but not an overwhelming amount. There was enough there to keep us occupied for a few hours but not so much that days were required to see it all. I appreciate big museums like the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but ones that have just the right amount of information exhibited really impress me, especially since I had a terrible time editing my papers when I was in university. The displays covered such things as the history of the RCMP in Canada, how to become a member of the Mounted Police, and how the RCMP solves crimes today using modern technology. It was definitely worth the visit.

The RCMP Moose and I at the RCMP Heritage Centre.

Finally, we made our way back to Prince Albert. It was now early October, and we had experienced an amazing trip through the Mid-Western US and Saskatchewan, not one that I will forget anytime soon.

Empty railway cars in southern Saskatchewan.

© Virginia Wilmhoff 2011

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2 Responses to From Prairies to Corn Fields to Riverboats and Back Again

  1. bookssnob says:

    Oh, Virginia, you have no idea what pleasure this post gave me! You have shown me the prairies and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, and an adorable general store, and such beautiful views! My friends and I back home in London always used to fantasise about taking a trip across America and sitting outside general stores and drinking ice tea and running around on the prairies…your photos have convinced me that we have to do it! I don’t see much of the ‘real America’ here in New York and there are so many states I long to see…thank you for showing some of the joys America has to offer! I am so jealous that you saw the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum…I want to get out to that so badly!

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post, Rachel! I wouldn’t say that you aren’t seeing the real America in New York; I’ve never been, but I would say that every part of the States is a small slice of it. Every part just shows a different aspect of its character. I was glad to see such a big slice of it on this trip. On this trip in the States, I saw the Mid-West, which is one region, with a small dip into the South in Kentucky, but I was surprised at how diverse it is landscape wise. I highly recommend a road trip because you can see so much and chose where you want to stop.

      In regards to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, I did a search on Google.ca, and there seems to be more than one. This website (http://www.lauraingallswilder.com/homesites.asp) seems to have a list of the homesites. I would look into which one looks the best before choosing which one to visit. The one we went to was nothing fancy, though okay for a small museum in a very small town. Don’t get me wrong; it was okay for a museum in a small town. I would just check to see if there was a better one out there if I was going to make a special trip.

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