We had two aims on our family trip to the USA and planned everything around them. The first aim (and the whole point, really) was to see my brother and family in New York state, a 5 hour drive north of New York. The second aim was to see the total eclipse on Monday 21st August and we had a choice of locations for that. We had been saving KLM/Delta frequent flyer points for the last ten years to do this trip, so our travel was always going to be dictated by the airline route map.
We flew into New York and it seemed a good opportunity to see the city for a few days. Then we rented a car in Manhattan on a one-way arrangement to drive up to see my brother’s family. They’re not far from Niagara Falls so of course we didn’t want to miss a chance to see that too. We dropped the car at Buffalo Niagara airport, and the one-way charge wasn’t too expensive as it’s still within New York state.
Picking a Midwest Location
From there we had choices. The eclipse ran on a line through Oregon in the north west, through many Midwest states down to South Carolina in the south east. Good options included Wyoming for country and Nashville for culture. However there was a high risk of cloud in Nashville, and Wyoming had sky high prices. Oregon was too far many other places had higher risk of cloud. We picked Nebraska in the Midwest, which we could reach in a six hour drive from the Delta airlines hub of Minneapolis. M was quite keen to show us the Mall of America which he has been to before.
Airline Booking Tricks
We booked our return flight to the UK to start in Niagara (Buffalo airport) and it was routed via Minneapolis as the big Delta airlines hub. We simply stopped our return journey for ten days in Minneapolis before continuing back to the UK. It meant that on paper we had one inbound and one outbound journey which made it cheaper. Otherwise we would have had to pay extra for our internal flight from Buffalo to Minneapolis. I should point out that it was the KLM desk at Schipol who thought up this booking arrangement, and very clever of them too!
We flew from Buffalo to Minneapolis on the Saturday before the eclipse, hired a car and drove six hours south and west to Lincoln, Nebraska. That was a long day! Everyone managed a nap in the car at some point so we survived alright. We had one free day, then the eclipse day, then checked out. With only six nights left in the USA and plans to visit Mall of America, we didn’t have time to go far.
Finding the Caboose
I began to research Midwest tourist attractions and national parks in the area between Nebraska and Minneapolis. I didn’t find a lot but I did discover that Iowa is renowned for its leisure bike paths. We love a family bike ride on our holidays so I researched a few routes and checked they had bike rental locally. Then I searched Airbnb for accommodation nearby. That’s when I found this absolute gem.
This is a “Caboose” or an American railway guard’s carriage. It’s been converted into holiday accommodation on a farm near Decorah, Iowa. To me, this is peak Airbnb. It’s a vacation rental which is just not run-of-the-mill. Also, my husband and daughters love railways and are making an elaborate N-gauge model at home. The beds were so comfortable, the details were original, the fittings were high quality. Outside, wild west ponies cantered in front of the sunset as we watched from the deck. We landed on our feet with this one and took the opportunity to relax and read books.
Trout Trail Bike Path
We did cycle the Trout Trail around Decorah and it was a slightly tricky route. Despite the name we rarely saw the river and it’s a very hilly trail with some sharp and fast corners. It is an especially laid track with some good benches and a few picnic spots. The wildlife was colourful, we definitely needed bug spray and the crickets were deafening. The best sights were the bald eagles, deer, huge butterflies the size of our hands, 15mm long ants, caterpillars the size of my thumb and a red and orange snake (perhaps a garter snake). I failed to get photos of the scampering and swooping wildlife but the wild flower meadows were abundant and beautiful. For $20 per bike I think it was an expensive day out, but a unique experience.
After three nights in the Caboose we drove up to Minneapolis for our last three nights in the Midwest and a chance to tour the Mall of America. It was a two and a half hour trip and we stopped on the way to see the Spam Museum. There are some museums for odd things in this world and I am certain that the Spam Museum is one of the most slick, glitzy and entertaining. It’s free to enter and we amused ourselves there for a good hour. I think the pictures speak for themselves. It’s just a pity we couldn’t bring some unusual Spam flavours home to the UK, but customs rules forbid it.
More Midwest Ideas
Researching the Midwest region of the USA led me to find things that most British people don’t normally visit. If you yearn for a more unusual trip to the USA perhaps also consider these places which we couldn’t fit in for time: Mount Rushmore in South Dakota; Rapid City for cowboys and hoedowns; the northern Wisconsin coast on lake Superior for boating; Okoboji for a relaxing Lakeside resort with facilities and nearby theme park; the covered bridges of Madison County in Iowa; the Wisconsin Dells for family waterpark resorts; Car Henge (like Stonehenge but made of cars) and the covered wagon destination of Scott’s Bluff in western Nebraska. And don’t forget that Minnesota is the state of ten thousand lakes, so all the water sports are covered!
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