May 20 2013
Perusing Facebook on a Friday evening recently, I noticed a friend’s status: “4-H field trip to Red Wing/Wabasha tomorrow; we still have room for 4-6 people. Anyone interested?” With an open Saturday on the calendar and a husband busy planting corn, my kids and I were quick to respond, “Yes!”
I had done a similar trip thirteen years ago with a Home Extension group of women, all my elders by 20+ years, and enjoyed it then. I was interested to see if our stops would be as interesting for kids.
Red Wing Pottery Store and Museum, Red Wing, MN
Our first stop was the Red Wing Pottery Store, where a potter provided a demonstration of how the collectible yet useful pottery is made.
Kids gathered around the demonstration area as he worked the clay, making it look easy to put on the signature lines and forms of uniformly-sized hand-made pottery. He said that experienced potters can make 40-50 pieces per hour, and that each piece has a potter’s signature. After the demonstration, we had time to look around the shop area, which included not only a wide variety of Red Wing pottery items, but also Fiestaware and kitchen gadgets, a gift gallery, and a candy store.
Then we walked across the street to “Pottery Place,” where the Red Wing Pottery Museum is located on the second floor of this factory-turned-mall.
The free, self-guided museum displays the history of Red Wing Pottery, including some limited-run pieces. I was surprised at the variety of designs and types of pottery the company has made in the past.
Though there are no hands-on activities or child-centered displays, my kids were excited to see a big crock just like one we have at home, and they had fun taking pictures of the various pottery pieces.
Red Wing Shoe Store and Museum and World’s Largest Boot, Red Wing, MN
Next we were off on a short drive to see my highlight for the day: the world’s largest boot.
It’s found at the Red Wing Shoe Store right on Highway 61 in downtown Red Wing. At 16 feet high and 2300 pounds, this size 638.5 shoe is hard to miss when you walk in the door. Little hands are allowed to touch, but no climbing on the shoe is allowed.
Up the staircase on the second floor, there’s a small museum that showcases the history of the company and its products, and shows how the famous Red Wing boots are made.
The kids loved the dress-up corner that showcased some of the professions that use Red Wing shoes. Everyone’s favorite was the construction scene. Did you know that Red Wing makes special boot treads for those workers who walk on construction beams high above the ground?
The main floor and lower level offer retail and factory-direct items, including Red Wing shoes and memorabilia relating to the company and the big boot. Even the rest rooms are uniquely decorated.
National Eagle Center, Wabasha, MN
Leaving Red Wing, we drove along the Great River Road south through Lake City (where water-skiing was invented) to Wabasha (home of Grumpy Old Men), where the National Eagle Center is located on the banks of the Mississippi River. Our family had visited the National Eagle Center four years ago, and when we drove up, my kids exclaimed happily, “Oh! THIS place!” We had about 45 minutes before the next educational presentation was to begin, so the kids spread out to check out the exhibits.
Here, the first-floor exhibit area is hands-on and geared to kids, who can sit in an eagle’s nest, test their eagle-eye vision, and more.
The second floor contains more exhibits and displays, as well as an outdoor observation deck overlooking the river, where eagles and their nests are frequently seen. Perhaps the most popular area is the room where visitors can see and learn about the center’s resident eagles, all of which are permanently disabled and cannot be rehabilitated.
Interesting trivia we learned was that the bald eagle pictured on Minnesota’s “Support our Troops” license plates is Harriet, one of the eagles at the National Eagle Center.
In the rotunda, individuals and groups can have their photo taken with a real live bald eagle.
The highlight, however, of the National Eagle Center is the educational program.
Led by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff member, visitors learn about the lives of eagles and the National Eagle Center and its history and mission; then it’s time for an eagle to be brought out for feeding time. It was fascinating to watch the regal bird tear apart a large piece of fish with its strong beak and make short work of its daily feast.
After the 45-minute presentation, we returned to the exhibits until we realized that we were parked in a two-hour parking zone and had overspent our time. (I read later on the brochure that the National Eagle Center can validate an additional two hours of parking for visitors in the city’s two-hour spots.)
At this point, the official 4-H tour was over, but a friend and I decided to add one more stop before our vehicles headed for home.
LARK Toys, Kellogg, MN
Just ten minutes south of Wabasha in the little town of Kellogg is one of the best toy stores anywhere. LARK Toys is a good old-fashioned toy store and more. Here you won’t find battery-operated toys, but you will find unique games, imaginative toys, and books, with several toy-testing stations throughout the retail area.
The “and more” of LARK Toys includes a museum of vintage toys in display cases along the hallways. (One of my friends wasn’t happy that the toys we played with as children are now in a museum.)
Our visit to southeast Minnesota included a beautiful spring drive on country roads, history, roadside attractions, geography, learning about a national symbol, and a stop at a big toy store. Was it as good a trip with kids as it was with adults? Yes. If you make this trip with kids, start out bright and early–try to be to Red Wing by 9 a.m. and the National Eagle Center around noon so you’ll have time to fit in a round of mini-golf and ride the carousel and check out the toy store before the end of the day. This was a fun and educational trip, and I’m thankful that our local 4-H club put out the call for visitors to tag along.