Having witnessed the beginning, we tried to follow the Mississippi as it wound its way between the Minnesota and Wisconsin borders. We wondered when we'd start to see river traffic, but for many miles the river was simply a shallow, rocky creek-like affair, with not even enough water to support a fisherman. The Lego store in Camp Snoopy is built out of supersize Lego blocks Lego store

By Little Falls, we got our first answer. The dam at Little Falls covers the entire breadth of the river, with no possibility for boats to get around it. Below, however, it began to broaden out, and by Minneapolis-St. Paul we had ourselves a gorgeous flat river visibly moving south. But the only boats seemed to be small pleasure craft, until at Saint Paul we saw barges lined up.

Here in Onalaska, Minnesota, we removed the hard drive from our laptop and packed it up to go to The Depot for repairs, not quite believing the technical support people who reassured us it would be back again in about a week. We decided it was time for serious distraction, so we visited The Mall of America, just south of Minneapolis.

This is supposed to be the largest enclosed shopping mall in the United States. Having seen its big sister in Edmonton, Alberta, two years before, we were prepared to disparage it, but we found it quite appealing and quite different from the Canadian version. Taken from a balcony, the photo shows three neat rows of scrapbookers participating in a workshop Scrapbooking workshop

There are five stories of stores, arranged in a rectangle around the central entertainment court, the newly opened Camp Snoopy. We visited during a weekday in the first week of school, so we didn't get the full effect of the rides, but their structures are wondrous to see. The roller coaster track twists like a Moebius strip -- it's a wonder the cars don't fall off! There's a log ride and more up and down rides, and in one corner a LEGO store includes play tables and plenty of blocks to experiment with.

The big excitement on the day of our visit was the culmination of the National Scrapbooking Convention. We have become so digitally-oriented that we had to look twice to see what was happening. Many hundreds of Scrapbookers, about 99 percent of them women, had come together to exhibit their scrapbooks and techniques, exchange hints and tips, and pick up new supplies. It seems that not only the individual photos in an album, but The Mississippi river lock number 5 is filled with water waiting for downstream traffic Mississippi Lock Number 5 also the album itself, can be decorated with everything from ribbons to lace to glittery and shiny paper; we watched the beginning of a workshop which took place in the center of the mall, then passed by a Scrapbook Supply Store where the line simply to go in and shop ran out the door and past several neighboring stores.

Leaving Minneapolis and heading southeast toward LaCrosse, Wisconsin, we found the junction of the St. Croix and Mississippi. Now our river was truly mature: below the meeting point, we began to see locks and dams, while pleasure boats and commercial barges became more and more frequent. Near the river, wherever there was enough flat land to farm, corn and beans and occasional fields of sunflowers were just about ready for harvest. We decided that the farms of Minnesota and Wisconsin are just about the most handsome farms we've seen.

On the Wisconsin side of the river, small riverfront towns appear every few miles. Their main streets run from the highway down to the river, as they did a century or more ago, Many of the old wooden buildings, with shops on the first floor and dwellings above, still stand and are still occupied. A log cabin built to resemble the Ingalls cabin The Little House

Pepin, Wisconsin, is just down the hill from the spot where Charles Ingalls built the cabin in which his daughters Mary and Laura were born. The Little House in the Big Woods, a replica rebuilt and maintained by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Society, can be found at the end of a twisting road which climbs past farms and forests; we were impressed to find it clean, open and absolutely deserted. It is unfurnished except for one table, so visitors can walk in and imagine or remember scenes from the Little House books. Back in town, the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum contains pioneer artifacts, souvenirs like the corn cob doll Laura loved, and Little House books and paper dolls and coloring books and posters.

A little farther south, the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge provided a quiet late afternoon loop road featuring different ecological areas: prairie, forest, wetland. Back at the entrance, two wild turkeys provided a visual treat for the end of the day.