Sunday, August 22, 2010

Great American Road Trip, Part III: Walnut Grove, MN

After a picnic lunch at Jeffers Petroglyphs, we headed back to Highway 14 and continued westward on the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historical Highway.

The highway follows roughly the same route the Ingalls family followed in the 1870s when they were moving around the country.


When my husband and I lived in Minnesota in the early 1990s, we traveled to see the Laura sites from our home in the Twin Cities. We planned to see Walnut Grove, but something had happened at that time, maybe a storm or a flood, or maybe road construction, or possibly a combination of all of those things. Whatever the problem was, every highway going to Walnut Grove was impassable, so I didn't get to see the setting of On the Banks of Plum Creek, which was always one of my favorite books in the series. Missing Walnut Grove was a huge disappointment.


This year we had no trouble getting to Walnut Grove (and the roads were in such fine shape that I wondered what on earth could have made getting there so impossible in 1991!). We went to the museum in town first. It was a bit of a letdown. The focus of the museum is mostly on the 1970s TV show Little House on the Prairie. I watched the show faithfully when I was a child, and even though I enjoyed it, in my heart it never held a candle to the books. It was sort of sad to see the displays at the museum: photos from when Dynamite Magazine featured the TV show, photos of the actors, then and now, who portrayed the characters. They had a few of the props from the TV show on display, but nothing really extraordinary, and even the pioneer things on display were only "similar" to what Laura would have owned. We were given a map of town, marking the locations where Laura's school and church had stood, but those buildings are long gone, and it's just a nondescript residential neighborhood now.However, a mile or so outside of town, Laura followers can see the site of the dugout where she lived with her family, as well as Plum Creek . Those sites are all on private property, but the landowners, who live in a lovely farmhouse near the road, graciously allow visitors to spend some time.



We put $4 in the box and drove down the road. There were no other visitors at that moment. My heart was thumping.



This was where Laura actually lived and played! It still seemed undeveloped to my suburban eye (although I'm sure Pa would argue with me about that!).


The air was heavy with humidity and the song of the cicadas. My daughter and I stood on the banks of Plum Creek and said to each other "We're on the banks of Plum Creek!" Tears welled up in my eyes. My daughter is too young to feel nostalgic, but I felt like I had found a long-lost friend, like I had just uncovered some lost and precious object from my childhood. We took off our shoes and waded in the creek. The water felt nice and cool, and the creek had a nice sandy bottom. We didn't find leeches, or an old crab.



We still hadn't seen the dugout site, so when we had our fill of wading, we put on our shoes and went to find it.


We walked over a bridge (just like Laura did in the book!).






And there it was. It's all caved in, so it's just a little depression in the land, but it was situated just like Laura had described in the story I'd read over and over again when I was a child. A little downhill path led to where the front door would have been.





When we stood near where the roof would have been, we had a nice view of the table land.


It was peaceful.



Walnut Grove is definitely worth the trip to see Plum Creek. Thank you very much to the current owners who permit Laura Lovers to come see it for themselves.