Mystery Cave – the ocean’s basement

I’m constantly working hard to earn “wifepoints,” a recognition system invented by my husband that determines whether I earn his “Wife of the Year” award. I get points for thoughtful gestures like buying treats at the grocery store or bringing a beer to him on the couch. So far, I’ve always won the award, and though I’m the only one in the running, I don’t want to chance it by slacking off. Huzzbot has often talked about visiting Mystery Cave State Park in Preston, MN. He’s been weirdly fixated on it. I knew I’d earn a heap of wifepoints if I planned a road trip that included the cave.

Kolache from Daube'sNaturally, I mapped bakeries along the way. On our way south, we stopped in Rochester at one of Daube’s Bakery’s two locations. Daube’s has been around since 1987 and is known for their cakes – notably the carrot cake – fritters, cake donuts and kolaches. They also have irresistable, chunky loaves of rustic bread. I tested the chocolate covered cake donut and poppyseed kolache. I’m going to pause on the kolache convo because I have plans to explore this much more in the months to come. Huzzbot had a fresh demi baguette with butter and jam which made him miss our European breakfasts. Soon enough…

We were fueled, on the road and ready to get into these crazy caves. As I peeked at the map, I noticed we weren’t far from Spring Valley – another town on my bakery spreadsheet. I bet if you took a picture of downtown Spring Valley fifty years ago and compared it to the downtown of today, it would look pretty much the same. One of the unchanging fixtures is Spring Valley Bakery which has lived in the same building since 1879. It’s a family business. The current owners have been running it for 34 years. He and his wife inherited it from his father who owned it for 32 years. Only two families owned it before that time.

From the minute you approach the bakery, you can tell it’s rooted in tradition. Not much has changed, and why would you mess with a good thing? Everything is made from scratch and from the same recipes used in the 1950s. The bakery’s look and decor is also from the era. I loved the authentically vintage, small-town vibe, which is refreshingly homey. You simply cannot manufacture this kind of honest, unpretentious ambiance.

There really aren’t full-retail bakeries around, so people come from all over to eat the famed cake donuts and buy fresh bread. According to the owner, it’s a destination based in nostalgia. “People bring their kids and grandkids because they grew up on it.”IMG_6003

Obviously, I had to try a donut, I mean, look at these things. And where can you get a donut for 45 cents? We also grabbed a bag of famous garlic toast. These are small slices of crunchy french bread that have been bathed in butter, garlic and seasoning. They’ve been supplying the Branding Iron Supper Club in nearby Preston with these for 30 years, and they’ve developed a following. While the toasts are probably a perfect accompaniment to a supper-club dinner, we enjoyed snacking on them straight from the bag. (They’ll come into play later, too.)IMG_6408

We meandered out of Spring Valley, toward Mystery Cave, to make Huzzbot’s dreams come true. Visiting southern Minnesota’s bluff country makes my head spin. There’s too much Ice Age and glacier talk. I can’t grasp a time that long ago and ice chunks so powerful they shaped our entire geography. I understand the concept in theory. I paid attention in fourth-grade geography class. It’s not like it’s new information. But I spent most of the cave tour trying to reconcile how the ceiling of the cave is really the underside of what was once an ocean floor. It’s like we were walking around in the ocean’s basement. Then I tried to imagine life underneath the Pacific Ocean, and it blew my mind. It’s too deep to comprehend. I’m not sure I listened to anything the tour guide said due to being caught up in the immensity of it all.

Do you know what helps ease the mind? Wine. Luckily, in addition to layers of geological marvels, southern Minnesota is sprinkled with vineyards and wineries to help you forget the Ice Age for awhile. We popped IMG_6397into Riverview Vineyard & Winery, near La Crescent. We were ready to enjoy a local bottle of wine and eat some picnic snacks. Ron, who was holding down the fort while his son was out, gave us a tasting of five or six wines, and we landed on the River Boat Blush. Sweet but not sickeningly so.

The winery had just opened for the day and we were the first two patrons to arrive. Ron was getting things in order and threw some flamenco mood-music on the CD player. There are several tables on the patio high on the hill overlooking the Mississippi River. It is a gorgeous spot for an afternoon picnic or bottle of wine with Garlic Toasts with cheese, tomato and pizza fishfriends. With just the two of us there however, it made for an experience a little too quiet and intimate for my liking. So much so, that after a glass of wine I was struck with an unrelenting giggle fit. Everything was funny, and attempting to stifle my laughter made it worse. I felt silly that we were the only two dining on this patio with this intense music in the background. What amplified my giggles was the collection of food we ended up with. Remember the garlic toasts? We covered them in spreadable Laughing Cow cheese and topped them with pizza-flavored Goldfish. Nothing but class for the Gypsy fam.

Wifepoints!I was able to shake my glacier worries for awhile, and we made some fun memories over the bottle of wine while watching the majestic river do its thing in the distance. Wondering what Huzzbot thought of Mystery Cave? “The information was interesting, but the payoff was a little weak compared to other caves I’ve been to,” he admitted. At least we can check it off the list. And I was able to rack up some serious wifepoints along the way.

 

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