Spring Green Minivacation - Day 3

(This post is part of a series on a short vacation that I took with my partner Diana Rajchel at the beginning of July 2011)

Fortunately, after a couple of days in Spring Green, Wisconsin, finally it looked like the weather was going to turn into something more like comfortable vacation weather. Unfortunately, half of our vacation was over. After waking up for the second day in a row without an alarm clock and completely rested in the Usonian Inn’s lovely Room 11, we had a day of actual touristy things ahead of us for our last full day.

The first thing we needed to sort was breakfast though. We went into town and stopped by a coffee and pastry shop that we had tried to stop by on yesterday’s walk through the town. It was closed when we had stopped before because we showed up at around 12:30 and the owner was on his siesta. He was in, and so were a couple of locals. We got some coffee and donuts for the breakfast and sat down. The locals wanted to know if we were in town for Taliesin, which we had considered going to but hadn’t yet. I had two donuts, both of which were very nice and obviously made in the bakery. Diana chatted up the locals a bit and some left and others appeared while we tried to get online via the tethering on Diana’s phone. It worked to an extent, more in the coffee shop than it did in the hotel room because there is slightly better reception in the town.

After breakfast, I had at least one thing planned, but there was no real schedule for the day, which is something that I really like to have while on these kinds of relaxing vacations that are not really to a touristy place, but are really a getaway from everyday stresses for a while. I wanted to head to the Cave of the Mounds and do a tour, along with a short drive because it was about half an hour away. While on our way there, there was a scenic overlook which we stopped at because we didn’t have any particular time table - it was looking basically straight at the House on the Rock which was an option for later in the day if we had time. We also stopped to get some more supplies at the Walmart in Dodgeville. Cave of the Mounds was a decent drive from Spring Green, but it was not too long, only about half an hour. That’s about the maximum that I would go while on vacation to see something - I feel like that if it’s an hour away by car, then we should have stayed in a different location. We did spot a couple of hotels that we might try out if/when we came into town again - one being the Don Q Inn which has a plane parked out front and a big Q mowed into the lawn.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Cave of the Mounds, because I hadn’t been there before. I had been to other caves as a child on family vacation trips, but I was thinking that a lot of caves can be very different and this one might not be as impressive as the one that I was at as a child because of either my less-than-fantastic memory of the cave and also the fact that this seemed to be a tourist location in Wisconsin, which isn’t exactly known for it’s caves. I was pleasantly surprised at how wonderful it was to be guided on a short tour of a relatively small cave. I got a lot of pictures with my cameraphone, although not all of them came out great. Diana got a bunch of photos with the much better camera which I haven’t seen all of, but what the picture above is taken from. There were some areas where the guide takes you through some narrow patches and you go up and down almost 70 feet in the cave while you are walking around. I correctly remembered before that you shouldn’t touch almost anything in caves because the oil from hands will prevent the further growth of the stalactites and stalagmites. There was a short section where there was natural phosphorous as well, which they activated with a bright lamp and then let us see it give off it’s glow. One thing that I remember from the child trip to a cave which was very different in this trip, and probably will be different for all time now, is that there was a section of the tour where the guide plunges you into complete darkness, the kind where there is no light and your eyes will never adjust to the darkness. I remember being amazed at the time when I couldn’t even see the hand in front of my own face. Alas, that won’t ever happen again probably - when the guide tried it in this tour, a bunch of light sources came out in the group, mostly from cell phones and LCD displays from cameras. The tour was really fun and Diana enjoyed herself too, so I think we might go see some other caves if we visit areas of the US where there are some, or if we are on a road trip and see some as a roadside attraction.

After the cave, we drove back into Dodgeville to check out a place that we had driven by before, but it was closed the last time. It is a small coffee shop and bistro called Cook’s Room. At that point in time we were pretty hungry because the breakfast that we had acquired before wasn’t exactly the strong breakfast that we got used to on vacation (how quickly do we get used to large breakfast), so we decided to get something for lunch. They had a menu which was filled with some great panini and other cafe like things, and they had thankfully a great selection from the coffee shop as well. I had another iced coffee, which I hadn’t had basically ever before this trip, but is growing on me quite strongly as a regular drink. It has the right amount of bitterness and sweet if you add the cream in the correct portion. I had a fairly wonderful chicken panini with some pesto and mozzarella and Diana had a similar panini with some Italian sausages in it.

Before the end of our journey for the day, we had time for one other attraction to see that day. I was very enamoured with the idea of seeing the Taliesin school, so Diana indulged my thoughts even though she was leaning towards seeing the House on the Rock. When we return to Spring Green, I think that we will be going to House on the Rock, but it was not in the cards for this tour. Taliesin is the school that Frank Lloyd Wright started at the end of his career and is an architectural school that’s still in use today as students learn the stylings that he has introduced. The tour of the main house was far too long for our tastes, so we took a tour of the hillside studio where the students stay and they are even working while we were there. The building itself is quite unique - there are, in typical style, a lot of sharp angles, but it does not feel like it is a boxed in space at all. One of the reasons that I like the architecture of Wright is that he has different angles than most traditional buildings. I also learned that he is a major advocate of only using material which you can find locally in the area of the structure being built, which is quite interesting. Inside the building, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. I snapped a few shots outside of the buildings, one of which is viewable above.

While on the tour, I got a bit uncomfortable with some of the other tourists that were with us as well as slightly with the tour guide, because it seemed like there was quite a bit of hero worship going on. I definitely admire the works of a great architect, but I don’t really think anyone deserves the type of undying praise that these people were giving to the person. There were definitely a lot of great rooms and interesting things to see there, but he was not without his faults. Most of his buildings had flat roofs, even in areas like Wisconsin where there is a lot of snow and that was a horrible idea because the melting and freezing would cause them to be quite leaky. Also the studio that we walked through had a strong smell of mold throughout the whole area, almost to the point where we thought the whole “preservation” thing might have been taken a bit too far for a building where people are meant to actually be there continually. All in all, it was a nifty experience though, and I was glad to have been on the tour to see the building.

We went and took a rest at the hotel, and then back to the Taliesin visitor center to have dinner at the restaurant which is situated there. I was happy to get reservations for earlier in the day and we had a nice meal while overlooking the river there as well as a bunch of people who were playing in the river after a hot day across the way. The visitor center was designed by Wright as well, and I can’t imagine having it as a home but it works very well for stunning views of the river. I had some lovely local pork and asparagus, with a dessert of Lemon Meringue pie which was a real treat. Diana had some badgerberry pie, which was a berry that I hadn’t heard of before, but tasted just as lovely and sweet.

It was our final full day in Spring Green, but we were tired from a full day’s worth of visiting places and seeing new things. I always enjoy having a vacation with Diana because she is such a wonderful travelling companion. On Sunday we drove home, and it was mostly uneventful, but I’ll write about it separately soon. Until then.