Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #26

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

I’m growing older but not up
My metabolic rate is pleasantly stuck
Let those winds of time blow over my head
I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead
 

Jimmy Buffett

Monday, May 16, 2011-Grand Marais, Minnesota:  What a great town!  We decided to spend an additional night here to really get a sampling of all this area has to offer.

To begin with we set up in a very nice municipal campground right on Grand Marais Bay.

Kit and I have encountered more and more coastal Lake Superior towns that have taken a portion of their municipal property and created campgrounds for travellers, tourists and locals alike.  The Grand Marais Campground features a nice in town RV Park located on the public beach and right next to the town marina.

The neat thing about these facilities is that the local citizenry continues to have access to the waterfront.  They enjoy all the campground amenities along with the camping visitors who pay into the towns coffers.  Sounds like a win-win to us.

There are a few park model type trailers in the campground and other sites that appear to indicate seasonal use.  In talking to the manager we discovered that about half their summer population normally resides in southern states and camp here to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Kinda like reverse Snowbirds…..or Hotandhumid Birds.

As an added bonus this campground is within walking distance of the town center which contains many unique gift shops, bait suppliers, restaurants and outdoor outfitters.

While Kit shopped in the gift joints I took a walk out to Grand Marais Point and along the breakwater that protects Grand Marais form the “Gales of November”.

The cold water is crystal clear; I was able to peer down to the bottom some 15 feet or so.

The information on water quality of Lake Superior claims that this 31,000 square mile fresh water pool has up to 60 feet of underwater visibility.  The water is so pure that some locals consume it directly from the lake.

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world and combined with its Great Lakes neighbors contains one fifth of the world’s fresh water.  These massive lakes are large enough to have an Oceanic Climate effect on its coastal communities keeping them warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer than town’s further inland.

The shoreline continues to resemble our home state of Maine, with rugged landscapes that merge with the cobalt blue water.

However the thing that strikes us time after time is how this Maine looking scenery lacks the fragrance of the Maine salt air.

After meeting Kit for lunch I walk back to the campground.  I’m anxious to get on the water as I want to use the outgoing tide to assist my paddle out of the bay.

Unloading the kayak I carrying it down the beach and put in for a nice relaxing three hour paddle.

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon to be on the lake.  Making my way out to the breakwater I enjoyed a unique view of the village and the light station that guides mariners in and out of Grand Marais Harbor.

Beyond the breakwater the glassy smooth lake looked like an ocean.

If I kept paddling in this direction I would eventually hit Silver City, Michigan some forty miles away.  Deciding that would be a little long for an afternoon’s paddle and that the lake probably won’t stay this calm and that Kit is expecting me back in time to cook dinner, I turned around and started to explore the rugged shoreline.

There are many places where you can paddle into narrow channels until you actually start hitting your paddle blades on the opposing walls.

Below is another example of just how incredibly clear this lake’s water is.  The sun making shadows on the lake bottom created an unusual visual experience.  One I had not experienced since the 1960’s.

It might be nice and sunny but this water is cold…..about 40 degrees on average.  Because of this I was wearing a “spray skirt” which kept me pretty dry.  However the paddle drips made my hands wet and therefore very cold.  After a few hours paddling I decided to ride the incoming tide back to shore.

Back at camp Kit hadn’t yet returned so I decided to use the wide beach and consistent breeze to fly my kites for a few hours.  After Kit returned to the camper laden down with her newly purchased treasures we fixed a couple of cocktails and sat down to admire this incredibly beautiful place.

With two of our closest neighbors intently watching the snacks we were consuming.

Oh, by the way…..you’re right…..there is no true tidal effect on a lake!  You didn’t fall for that, did you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011:  Up early and after a nice breakfast, which included Snicker Doodle Coffee purchased from the local Boundary Waters Coffee Company, we enjoyed a stroll along the beach.

Reluctantly leaving Grand Marais we moved back on MN-61 and continued our way northeast.  Soon we came to Grand Portage, the last town in Minnesota before arriving in Canada.  Stopping to see if we could pick up an English to Canadian translation book we noticed the Grand Portage National Monument Visitors Center.

Grand Portage was a historically important location.  As the key fur trade port to Indian trapping grounds, Grand Portage was a rendezvous point for canoeing voyageurs to meet their inland counterparts.

As the working class of the fur trade the primarily French-Canadian voyageurs paddled 36 foot canoes from Montreal to Grand Portage.  There the loads of store bought tools, blankets, tobacco and liquor were transferred to the northern voyageurs.  They in turn would portage the goods inland eight and a half miles to the Pigeon River where they paddled smaller canoes northwest to live and trade amongst the Indians.

The North West Company, unlike the better known Hudson Bay Company, actually went into the northern territories to seek out the Chippewa Indians to trade with.  This strategy worked well as by the year 1800 the Grand Portage was a virtual highway of thousands of men carrying multi 90 pound bundles of trade goods.

After the trading was complete the furs and pelts, mainly beaver, would be hauled back to Grand Portage and once again loaded on the larger canoes for the trip back to Montreal and shipment to points throughout the world.

This trade kept going to fill the insatiable desire for quality Beaver Felt for fashionable, and waterproof, clothing.  As the beaver population diminished the Indian trappers and their associated voyageurs would push further north.  Soon the animal became quite scarce and the trafficking in beaver pelts diminished. Grand Portage then became just another small village on the shore of Lake Superior.

Back on highway 61 we crossed the Canadian border into the province of Ontario at 1400.  There we connected with Highway 17, The Trans Canadian Highway, through Thunder Bay and to points northeast.

As in Minnesota, the coastal highway affords many places to stop and enjoy the views.  This particular spot was just west of Marathon, Ontario.

  Also in driving along we noticed a number of intriguing parallel roads so we decided to explore.  Most were dirt but very well maintained.

Rounding a bend we came upon this little fella playing in the road.

He waddled into the roadside underbrush as we crept closer.  Not sure where mom or dad were but decided to move along.

In the small town of Nipigon we stopped for the night at the Stillwater RV Park, a nice family run campground run by a young couple from British Columbia.  We chose a site and settled in for the night.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011:  Up and on the road by 0950 under sunny skies and temperatures in the 60’s.  Back on CN-17 we trundled forward toward the east.  Highway 17 is primarily a two lane road with passing lanes provided every 15 miles or so.  The speed limit is 90 KPH which affords us the luxury to move along at our preferred speed of 55 MPH without inconveniencing anyone too much.

Near the town of Scribner we pulled off the highway onto a secondary road and came to this nice spot for a break.

I took the opportunity of the nice background to use the camera’s self-timing feature and snap a photo of Kit and me.

After a few more hours driving and a nice snooze (by Kit) we entered the mining town of Wawa and pulled into the Wawa Campground.  Once again we were able to have our choice of sites.

After a nice meal and a walk in the woods surrounding the campground we turned in for the night.  Tomorrow we explore the town of Wawa…..and finally discover what a Wawa actually is!  Stay tuned.

Kit’s Sixteen Cents Worth:  Discovering the little town of Grand Marais has turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip this year.  It’s a quaint little town right on the shore of Lake Superior.  There were lots of nice shops to browse in and many nice people to chat with.  Having parked the camper in the town camp ground was perfect, as I could walk to town while Bill enjoyed playing with his toys.  He’s not keen on browsing through shops and frankly, he turns into a real pain after the first 10 minutes.  So, this was a win-win stop for us!    

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #25

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

 How does it feel to be on your own, with no direction home, 

like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone? 

Robert Zimmerman


Friday, May 13, 2011: Well…..its Friday the 13th, sounds like a good day to travel with a high profile vehicle along a narrow two lane road perched on rugged cliffs above an ice cold lake in gusty winds.

So we got underway at 1115 and chose MN-61 the scenic highway that follows the north shore of Lake Superior.  This is the road that Duluth native, Bob Dylan referred to in the song Highway 61 Revisited.  It is a spectacular artery with many turn outs to enjoy the views.

Entering into the coastal town of Two Harbors we stopped at the small visitor’s center to take a break.  In talking to the host we discovered there was a municipal campground less than a mile away so off we went to locate it.

After checking into the Burlington Bay Campground we decided to drive truck and trailer to the center of town and take a walking tour of the area.

Two Harbors is a town of 4,000 hardy folks.  It is situated on a natural safe harbor which has been enhanced by a cement breakwater which was built in 1897.

This feature made it ideal for bulk freighters or, “Lakers” as they are called, to seek shelter in bad weather.  The town contains one the many lighthouses that dot the Lake Superior shoreline.

Two Harbors light, built in 1892, is the oldest operating light along Lake Superior’s shoreline.  The original Forth Order Fresnel Lens has been replaced by a more modern 24 inch, 1000 Watt beacon and is a functioning aid to navigation to this day.

An interesting historical fact of this relatively small town relates to the huge corporation 3M.  Minnesota, Mining and Manufacturing was established here by five friends in a small unimposing building.

 

The company was founded in 1902 on a mistake.  Apparently the five partners believed they had located a reliable source of corundum.  They realized that this mineral could be used for making grinding wheels and sandpaper for the fledgling automobile industry.

After mining, processing and manufacturing their first order of sandpaper they were informed that the mineral they thought was corundum was actually a low grade of Anorthosite, a worthless mineral for making abrasives.

Undaunted the partners drifted into other ventures and today this global leader in many diverse products employs 80,000 people worldwide……including my father for many years.

In our tour of Two Harbors we wandered into many stores and public offices.  One place I hung out in for a while was the headquarters for the Superior Hiking Trail.  The SHT (honest—that’s what it’s called) is a meandering 275 mile footpath that follows the Lake Superior shoreline from Duluth to the Canadian border.  This “long trail”, modeled after the Appalachian Trail, was built in the 1980’s.

There were also a number of rock shops in town.  The gemstone, Agate is found in abundance along the Lake Superior beaches and is collected, cut, and polished in order to make a number of beautiful decorative objects.  The highly sought after “Banded Agate’s” are the rarest and gave birth to the phrase “Hard Rock Band”.

OK, I made that last sentence up, however the “hunting” of Agates has become a tourist pursuit and there are many books on where to look and what to look for…..in addition there is a good market for high quality Agate stones.  So, inspired to become an Agate Magnate I was anxious to return to the campground and start collecting my wealth.  This is what an Agate looks like in its natural state.  Can you spot the valuable gems?

Good…..then my vast Agate collection, and fortune, is safe!

Once again, being early in the camping season we had our pick of many premium sites so we chose this one right on the beach.

A note of observation, not a complaint, just something we have discovered after many nights in many different campgrounds.  As you may be able to tell by the above photo, our water connection was some distance from the designated site.  Even with two lengths of 25 foot hose we just barely made it.  In addition, our sewer connection was about 10 feet away in the other direction.  I suppose separating the water and sewer connections is prudent…..but fifty plus feet seems a bit excessive.  This situation is not unique to this great campground.  It isn’t real common but it happens enough that I wonder if the folks that lay out these campgrounds are even campers.

Saturday, May 14, 2011:  Woke to cloudy skies and a temperature of 44 degrees.  Following a “Bill Breakfast” (recipes available) we are back on MN-61 continuing up the Lake Superior shoreline.

Highway 61 features some of Minnesota’s nicest state parks.  One beautiful place we came across was Gooseberry Falls.

Now, I don’t know what a “Goose Berry” is but if I see any lying about I’m gonna be sure not to taste one.

This CCC constructed park was very nice with hiking trails to the three featured waterfalls and others connecting to the SHT path (I get a kick out of that acronym).

At the Gooseberry Falls visitors center there was an informative video presentation on the history and sights of the area.  Unfortunately some clown sitting in front of the projector kept making shadow puppets on the screen.

Kit say’s, that at times, I’m an embarrassment.  What…..where did that come from?!?!

Midafternoon and tired of eating our own cooking we stopped at the highly recommended Rustic Inn, just north of Two Harbors.  The fried Walleye was incredible but the homemade pies are what bring folks from miles around.

This crumbly Apple Pie Alley Mode was simply the best I had ever experienced (sorry Moody’s).

Back on MN-61 and a few short miles down the road we pulled in for the night at Tettagouche State Park.  We set up in their remote campground at a site of our choice.

This park has many hiking trails as well and a number of them leave from the campground.  One such trail leads to the falls on the Baptism River.

This area is also transited by the SHT track (chuckle) and a hiker’s bridge has been constructed to allow safe crossing of the river.

It is a “swinging” bridge, similar to the one back home.  With each footstep the thing undulates up and down and sways side to side.  Felt like walking on one of those carnival bridges.  The sights and sounds of this remarkable place can’t adequately be described in words or pictures.  So I made an attempt to video the river…..check it out at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n6CXA9bQw0Y.

Sunday, May 15, 2011:  Happy Birthday, Joe!

Beautiful morning…..sunny and warm.  By 1015 we were off, continuing our trek north on scenic highway 61.

This area of Minnesota looks a lot like the coast of Maine, without the salt air smell…..or Massachusetts tourists.  In fact, other than us, there were very few tourists at all.

I think I even spotted a number of Lobster Buoy’s as we skirted the shoreline.  And there are even Seagulls (Lakegull’s?) whirling about.

Entering the village of Grand Marais we were struck by this quaint town.  Even though we have only traveled a total of 110 miles in the past three days, we decided to stay in Grand Marais a few days and explore this intriguing area.

Stay tuned and hang in there…..we are almost done.

Kit’s Fifteen Cents Worth:  Driving up Hwy 61 is a lot like driving up the coast of Maine.  Some towns have gone all out to entice tourists, while others seem to prefer their privacy.  Also, driving along the coast of Lake Superior is much like either the Atlantic or Pacific, without the salt air smell.  While I didn’t dare go into the water, it sure is beautiful.  Plus, this time of year is great since tourists are just beginning to trickle in.  All the standard tourist places are just beginning to “wake up” for the season.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #24

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.”

Gordon Lightfoot

 

Note:  Please left click on any photo that you would like to view in full resolution.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011:  After a nice breakfast featuring homemade sweet rolls we pulled up stakes and reluctantly departed Billy and Char’s place.

Choosing highway US 65 we headed north toward Duluth, Minnesota.  It was cloudy with temperatures in the 60’s once again.  What a difference a day makes!

The further north we traveled the more the scenery resembled New England…..a nice mix of hardwoods and softwoods with some granite bluffs to spice things up.

Nearing the town of Duluth we noticed signs for the Indian Point Municipal Campground so pulled in to see if we could score a spot for the night.  Can you pick us out in the sea of campers?

Turns out we were the only folks there.  We have finally headed far enough north that even hardy Minnesota folks think it’s too early to start the camping season.

With a similar name of our camp back in Maine, this Indian Point sits on the Saint Louis River that leads to Duluth Harbor and eventually Lake Superior.

Since it was early in the day we disconnected the truck and headed into town to poke around.  Duluth is 2,300 miles from salt water but is the Atlantic Oceans westernmost deep water port.  As such, Duluth plays an important role in maritime commerce, moving many goods to and from worldwide ports.

We decided to explore Minnesota Point at the end of a 7 mile long sandbar, the longest freshwater sandbar in the world.  Nearing the tip I noticed a large float plane coming in for a landing and decided to stick around and see where it would tie up.

As luck would have it we were near the Sky Harbor Seaplane Base.  Standing outside the fence, taking pictures a gentleman invited me to come around and get a better view.  Turns out the fellow was the FBO manager and was getting ready to haul this beautifully restored 1954 Beech 18 onto its mooring dolly.

I got to talk to the pilot and learned that the plane belonged to a local businessman and he used it to fly friends and clients into his northern Canadian lodge.  In addition he said it was one of four remaining Beech 18 with full floats that remained in operation.  The sound of those twin radial engines was amazing!

Thursday, May 12, 2011-Duluth, Minnesota:  Decided to take a down day and stay in Duluth an additional day.  Kit recalled her parent’s honeymooned in the city back in 1947 and she wanted to poke around a bit.

We drove into town and stopped at Canal Park, a nice municipal park and commercial area on the Duluth Canal.

There we enjoyed exploring the Lake Superior Maritime Museum which contained lots of information about Duluth’s shipping history.  There was an extensive display on the SS Edmund Fitzgerald as this is the port she departed from on that fateful day in 1975.

The Fitz is the largest ship of the 62 ships that have foundered on “The Lake”, as it is called locally.  The largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior acts more like an ocean with its own winds, climate and moods.  Couple that with the rugged shoreline and The Lake remains a peril to any ship that transits her.

In order for large vessels to navigate the Duluth Canal they must sail under an Aerial Life Bridge, which is similar in design to the old Carlton Bridge that spans the Kennebec River in Bath, Maine.

I rejoined Kit for a nice meal and we poked around in the various shops lining the waterfront.  One such local establishment was the flagship store for the Duluth Pack Company.

A regional pack maker and outdoor outfitter, Duluth packs are legendary in the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  The store was filled with anything one would need when heading into the wilderness of Northern Minnesota.

Back at camp we spent the remainder of the afternoon just oz’ing around.

Kit’s Thirteen Cents Worth:  We enjoyed our brief tour of Duluth.  I had always wanted to go there.  It’s a lot bigger than I envisioned.  We spent all of our time there near the waterfront.  The town has grown up over the big hills.  Next time, we will explore more.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #23

Latitude:Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

“Too often I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.”

Louis L’Amour

Monday, May 9, 2011:  Pulled out of Lebanon Hills County Park in Apple Valley, Minnesota at noon.  It was cool, cloudy, windy and rainy.  And what do we do?  Why, head further north of course.  Trundled down Johnny Cake Road to highway MN-17 around the cities and on up toward Blaine, Minnesota. We often stay in folks dooryards and are grateful for their hospitality.  However generally we park in their driveway, side yard or along an access road.  Well for the first time in three years, we actually camped in a “dooryard’!

Yep…..parked right on their manicured lawn and ran an electrical cord to the garage.  With the main window and the door facing their house it felt like a family compound. The owners of this nice home in a nice neighborhood who allowed us to homestead on their front lawn are Billy, Kit’s cousin, and his wife Char.

 Being experienced RV’rs themselves they knew the value of a quiet, level and secure place to camp.  Their home backs up on a farmer’s field and there are no shortages of wild critters that come to visit including this red fox they have named Beggar.

His frequent appearance might have something to do with the food Billy leaves out by the fence daily.  In addition many birds were about including Red Tail Hawk’s that kept a vigil from above.

 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011-Blaine, Minnesota:  Today dawned with temperatures rising rapidly.  Kit and Char enjoyed their morning coffee on the front porch.

We had intended to only stay the night but they persuaded us to make it two and we are glad that they did.  It was great visiting with them and catching up on each other’s lives.  As a thank you, we treated them to a meal at their favorite local restaurant.

The service was outstanding and the excellent food, served family style, just kept coming.  It’s one of those secret places one usually doesn’t get to experience unless one has an in.  Waddling out of the place we looked for a place to walk off some of the thousands of calories we had consumed.  Since the temperature had already hit 84 degrees, Billy suggested Como Park in Saint Paul and off we went.

This historic and well maintained city park is very nice and features walking paths that meander throughout the park.  In addition there is a zoo, fishing pond, golf course and an incredible arboretum.  Taking refuge in the arboretum was nice on this warm day but would be a welcome refuge in the colder months as well.

The trees, plant and flowers were in full display.  Here is a small sampling of the incredible gardens contained in the massive glass structure.

We spent a few hours walking amongst the trees, palms, bamboo and of course the hundreds of flower displays. 

There was also a large fish pond that featured underwater viewing.

Back outside we noticed a large round building with the sound of a calliope emanating from it.  On closer examination we discovered a fully restored 1914 Merry-go-round.

Our inner child surfaced (well, mine is always on the surface anyway) and off we went to purchase tickets.  We had a blast riding up and down on those historic hand carved wooden horses.

Back home Char made an excellent meal and invited Billy’s daughter Jill over to join us.  We hadn’t seen Jill in many years……she’s all grown up, works as a project manager for a marketing firm and drives a nifty sports car.

Sitting around after dinner we noticed that the sky had turned ominously dark with threatening clouds, high wind and rumbles of thunder.  Soon after the municipal warning sirens went off indicating that severe weather was eminent.  Looking off to the west we spotted this rather troubling sight.

Turning on the news there was a report of severe weather heading in the direction of the twin cities.  In fact the Minnesota Twins baseball game was halted and the 29,000 fans were told to seek shelter.  Even though there were tornado cells detected on radar we experienced nothing other than thunder, lightning and heavy rain.  Although Kit occupied her time running from window to window looking for Dorothy and Toto.  The storm moved out as rapidly as it had arrived and the sky cleared once again.

Kit’s Thirteen Cents Worth:  We had a great time in Blaine with my cousin Billy and his wife Char.  It’s always nice to visit with them and share what’s going on with our families.  Also nice to remember old times when Billy and I were kids and hung out during the spring and summer my family spent in Hudson, WI which was 1958.  Great seeing Jill, we hadn’t seen her in about 10 years.  She’s quite a gal!

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #22

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

Proceed as the way opens

Quaker Proverb

Tuesday, April 26, 2011:  Up early and broke camp in order to continue our trek.  Larry invited us to join him at an in-town hangout for an excellent country breakfast.  Our bellies full, we got on the road at 1015 under clear skies and cool temperatures.

Before leaving town of Cherokee, we did a drive by of the municipal park that features a pond and RV campground.  It would be a nice camping opportunity, but not as nice as Larry’s farm.

On highway IA-3 heading east we drove through the pleasant little town of Storm Lake which is the home of Buena Vista College.  Touring the lakeside we enjoyed viewing some very nice waterfront homes and cabins.

Needing fuel we stopped at a local gas station.  Now, as you know, the cost of gas has gone up over the past few months.  Apparently the economic law of supply and demand has been replaced by the political law of fear monger and gouge.  At this particular station 87 octane regular was $3.85 per gallon.  However there was also 89 octane “super regular” for only $3.05…..however it was E85, or 85% Ethanol, which is heavily subsidized here in corn country.  Unfortunately our truck can’t burn E85, so the subsidy does us no good.

Oh, In case you’re curious, there are “pointy roads” in Iowa as well.

Nearing Milford, Iowa we came across Gull Point State Park and noticed that it featured many recreational opportunities including a campground.

Actually the anchor on the lawn caught my eye so we pulled in, self-registered and chose a nice sit in the sparsely populated campground.

A short walk down the campground access road we came to a CCC built lodge on Lake Okoboji.

It was closed until summer but peering through the windows it looked like a great place for a large gathering.

Next to the lodge was a smaller CCC built building used by the State Park and Lake Patrol staff.

Returning to the campsite we enjoyed a nice meal and settled in for the evening.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011:  Well…..apparently we outran spring.  This morning it was 35 degrees and overcast so we took our time to get underway.  After a brisk walk around the facility, we pulled out of the campground at noon.  We drove highway IA-86 heading north crossing into Minnesota at 1215.  Arriving in the town of Lakefield, MN we moved over to MN-60 and once again proceeded easterly.

At midafternoon we pulled into Saint James, MN and stopped at their lakeside municipal park for lunch.  The park was on Saint James Lake and featured a number of waterside full hookup campsites.  We were tempted to stay the night as the rates were very reasonable.  However, it was too early in the afternoon and the wind off the lake was quite strong, severely buffeting the trailer, so we continued on.

I write these journals using notes that Kit keeps in a notebook as we motor on.  Unfortunately Kit likes to take afternoon “truck naps” so I have no clue what we did next or where we went…..the rest of Wednesday’s page was blank…..except for some dried drool.  All I do know is that we camped for the night at Mineopa State Park just west of Mankato, Minnesota.  At least that is where the next day’s truck log said we woke.

Thursday, April 28, 2011:  Woke early to cloudy skies and temperatures in the 40’s.  I took a walk around Mineopa State Park campground and noticed we were one of only three other campers in the 61 site facility.  We did have a nice site however…..right near the banks of the Minnesota River.

Since we were only 75 miles from out next destination we poked around Mineopa State Park a bit.  Leaving the campsite with trailer in tow, we drove on a dirt road through the tall prairie grass and soon came to a grist mill built by a Mr. Louis Seppman in 1862.

Mr. Seppman, a stone mason by trade, discovered the need for a grist mill to accommodate the farmers in the area.  He built his mill without any plans modeling it after ones he had seen in his native Germany.  All the wooden parts were cut by his hand, including the giant cogs.  Not being a farmer he had no idea how to operate the thing so he hired a mill worker from a neighboring town.  Finally ready for operation there was little wind for over 5 weeks.  On the verge of giving up the wind arrived one Sunday morning.  A devoutly religious man he hesitated to work on the Sabbath but took the sudden arrival of sustained winds as a holy sign and started to work.  The mill was in operation eventually grinding up to 150 bushels of wheat a day into flour until a tornado destroyed the sails in 1880.

The next stop on our tour of the area was Mineopa Falls.  The word Mineopa means “water falling twice” in the Dakota Indian language and actually consists of two falls.  The more dramatic lower falls pours over a shelf of harder rock that undercuts the underlying softer sandstone.  This unusual erosion process provides a pool behind the falls that must be fun to swim in on a hot summer day.

At 1215 we departed Minoepa State Park and drove on highway MN-60 then moved over to US-169 heading north toward the Twin Cities.

Our intention was to stay at the very nice Lebanon Hills County Park in Apple Valley, Minnesota for the week.  However the campground does not open until Monday so we found our way to East Saint Paul RV Park for a few days stay instead.

Once again, no neighbors…..we’re starting to get a complex.

It truly is a bit early for camping…..even for the hardy folks who live in Minnesota.  The weather for the next few days would be overcast and cool with temperatures rarely reaching 50 degrees.  However, we didn’t come to this area at this time of the year to enjoy the weather; we came to visit relatives, including my father and his friend Henrietta (Hank).

They live in a very nice home in Inver Grove Heights.  My father has been battling some serious health issues of late so we decided to focus on him and Hank for the duration of our stay.  We spent many hours visiting, helping out, reminiscing and eating some fabulous home cooked meals.  In addition we made sure to patronize the many fine restaurants in the area.

They have a menagerie of animals living with them; the biggest character is Gracie…..an 8 ounce spitfire.

Dad and Hank’s place backs up on county parkland and they have no shortage of wild animals and birds that visit them.  This guy was grazing right out their sunroom window.

Friday, April 29, 2011 through Sunday, May 8, 2011, The Twin Cities area of Minnesota:  On Monday we pulled up stakes and headed for the hills, Lebanon Hills State Park, that is.  Since it was opening day we had our choice of campsites and chose this nice spot on the edge of the forest.

The weather was getting better, sunny and temperatures approaching 70 degrees…..It’s shorts time once again, folks!  And the wet weather coupled with the warm sun has caused the grass and trees to bust out in green.

One day we drove into the city to visit Kit’s Aunt Viola.

Aunt Vi who is 92 lives independently in a nice senior apartment.

She was very excited to see Kit and talk of earlier times.  She is a delightful woman with an interesting past and it was a pleasure visiting with her.

Aunt Vi’s son, David lives nearby and was able to join us that evening at a nice Italian restaurant called Buca di Beppo.

This restaurant is a chain of 87 stores spread around the US.  The food and atmosphere was incredible……check it out at http://www.bucadibeppo.com/.  We highly recommend visiting one in your area.

Dave is an accountant but his hobby is working with wood.  He has constructed some beautiful pieces of furniture over the years using antique tools, methods and materials.  He has recently turned (no pun intended) his wood lathe skill toward working with the stone, Alabaster.  Below is a sample of his recent work that he brought along.

Enjoying our food and drink and the great company we pert near closed the place down and didn’t return to the camper until midnight.

Speaking of food, we ate very well during our stay.  Here is a list of restaurants we visited:

  1. Buca di Beppo
  2. California Pizza Kitchen
  3. Culver’s
  4. Bakers Square
  5. Applebee’s
  6. Acapulco Mexican
  7. Culver’s (again)

So why did we visit Culver’s twice?  And just what is a Culver’s anyway.  Well think back to the best hamburger you have ever tasted, and multiply that taste by 200%!  It’s that good…..honest!  Up till now we thought In and Out Burger had the best meal but in our opinion Culver’s beats them hands down!

Here is what you have been missing:

After eating so much each day, we usually found a shopping center to walk it off.  Kit had a blast visiting the thousands (?) of shops and I enjoyed walking around watching other folks.  I did find a nice bike shop to spend some time at however.  Erik’s Bikes is a Twin Cities institution and the largest bike shop I have ever seen.  Even larger than Mellow Johnny’s, Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, in Austin.  Since it was midday on a week day I was able to monopolize the sales persons time and talk bikes.  I even got to take a high end road bike for a 45 minute spin.  Kit witnessed me ride by the yarn shop she was in and pert near had a heart attack.  It’s an amazing experience to ride a bike that cost’s more than my first new car!

Speaking of bikes (notice the multiple Segway’s?).  Lebanon Hills County Park has an incredible Mountain Bike Park which was closed due to muddy trails until a few days before we left.  I rode this extensive trail system two years ago and enjoyed riding them again this time.

They are very well designed and maintained.  Even though there is little elevation in this part of Minnesota the trail builders made the most of it with berms and bridges.

I could ride this 10 mile Mountain Bike Park often and never get tired of it.

Returning from a ride, (another Segway!), I came upon this fellow slowly crossing the road.

In order to gain more Karma Points I turned around and relocated the little road hazard to the other side which led to a pond.

Not sure he really appreciated my sacrifice but riding by a while later I noticed he was happily wading around in the water.

On another day, we drove down to Pepin, Wisconsin to visit Kits Mother’s Cousin Wilma.

Wilma at age 91 still lives, independently, in the home she was born in.  She has never been on a plane and has never traveled more than 65 miles from her home…..in the past 91 years!  She is a hoot; sharp as a tack, and has some incredible family stories…..some of which I was able to capture on video and are of “You Tube” caliber.

While in Wisconsin, we also visited Hudson, the hometown of Kit’s maternal grandparents and other family members.  We rode past everyone’s home and Kit reports that the places still look as they did 55 years ago.

Hudson sits on the banks of the Saint Croix River which feeds the Mississippi.  This spring all the rivers in this area are above flood stage.

Standing on a curb, I was able to capture the following photo of a White Goose paddling around a submerged parking lot.

We really enjoyed our stay in the Twin Cities but tomorrow we continue our trek north.

Thanks Hank for taking such good care of Dad and for being so gracious to us…..we love you both very much.

Kit’s Twelve Cents Worth:  We had a wonderful time in Minnesota, my home state.  It’s quite similar to Maine, and I always enjoy seeing my relatives as well as places I remember as a child.  It was good to spend time with Bill’s dad and Henrietta.  We also met her daughter Faye this time through, which was great.  We feel very much at home visiting with all of them.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #21

Latitude: Wherever ••• Longitude: Who Cares

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Bill Bryson

Sunday, April 24, 2011 and Monday April 25, 2011:  Cherokee, Iowa:  Spent a great couple of days with an old Navy buddy.

 Larry was my Chief Petty Officer when I was a young sailor on an old beat up destroyer out of San Diego.  He was firm but fair and taught me a lot about leadership as well as the technical aspects of my job.

When we were transferred to Norfolk it turned out that Larry and Janice had been transferred there as well.  We became neighbors in Virginia Beach and rekindled our friendship by frequently getting together for holidays and family events.  Here is a photo taken in December of 1976.  Can you spot Kim, Joe and Suzie?

After we retired from the Navy we lost track of each other only to reconnect a few years ago.  Visiting Larry, Janice and their family became a goal of this year’s trip.

While in Cherokee, Janice invited us all over for a great Easter dinner where we greeted their daughter, Beth and met her son, Brandon.

Their other daughter, Lora and her family live in Aurora, Colorado and were unable to attend.

Larry and Janice grew up on family farms in the area and after a twenty year Navy career, they returned to farming.  At 70 years old, Larry is still tending to this fourth generation family farm.

However most of his 220 acres is rented to his neighbor down the road and the rest Larry uses to raise sheep.  In addition he uses some pasture land to graze his mules and donkey.

Larry is a member of the American Mountain Men, a primitive living history group that gathers for frequent Rendezvous.  Here they live and hunt only with items that existed prior to the year 1840.  He uses his mules for transportation and has handmade most of his tack, clothes, tents, bedding and weapons.

An avid hunter, Larry has harvested a deer each season with his black powder firearms.  In addition he is an accurate tomahawk thrower, winning many competitions.

While not off on Rendezvous’ or tending to his animals, Larry has restored the family farm house and graciously offered us a room for our stay.

 However, as usual, we preferred to stay in our camper asking for only an electrical connection.

 We actually prefer to sleep in the camper as it contains all we need and we are used to the bed.  In addition, we believe it makes us very low impact when visiting the many folks along the way.  Our mode of operation has been to treat our host to a meal at a local restaurant of their choice as a thank you for allowing us to camp in their dooryard.  Being in the center of beef cattle country we all enjoyed an excellent steak dinner at a local establishment.  From farm to dinner plate is usually a very short distance, ensuring the freshest possible meat.

As I mentioned, Larry keeps his hand in farming and enjoys raising sheep for wool as well as marketing their offspring.

As a city kid, I was fascinated by the farming operation and asked Larry to let me tag along on his daily chores and put me to work.  At 0530 he was up feeding the sheep and checking on their welfare…..I scrambled to get dressed and down to the barn.

Since it was “lambing season”, there was the added chore of checking on the expectant mom’s and standing by in case any of the infants had to be “pulled”, a rather messy job of assisted delivery.  Fortunately all the births while we were visiting where normal.  The photo below shows one proud momma with her two new offspring…..as usual; daddy was off smoking a cigar somewhere.

Both lambs were just minutes old, the one on the right came out last.  Yep, most sheep have twins…..however Larry reports that on occasion, triplets or even quad’s can arrive.  However the average “yield” for a season is 200% due to some Lamb mortality.  Larry mentioned it is bad luck to name the Lambs, but I couldn’t resist.  The little fella on the left I named Chop and the one on the right; Legof.

According to Larry, most farm animals know instinctively what to do and when to do it when their babies are due.  The momma sheep breathed rapidly then held her breath and pushed…..out slid the little Lamb.  No prenatal Lamaze training needed here!

After a healthy birth, the next concern is whether mom will accept the newborns and whether the young lambs can suckle.  If the lambs do not take to their mom, then they are bottle fed until they can accept normal feed.  Fortunately these two youngster’s fed like old pros.  Here is mom calling one of them to lunch.

And young Chop came running to enjoy a meal.  Apparently in Iowa breast feeding in public is common…..as well it should be; right Suzie?

Another chore I helped him with was installing a fence to allow the pasturing of the sheep.  They feed on corn and grain during the winter but since spring was producing growth in the yard he allows them to free range and forage for their food.  The area we fenced is between the sheep barn and his machinery shed.  Usually he would have to mow this area to keep the field in check…..however by creating this “summer pasture” he feeds the animals and they trim, and feed, the pasture.  A win-win-win arrangement!

I spaced out the fence poles and held them in place until he was able to place the tractors bucket on them.  Then I stood aside as he used hydraulics to push the metal poles into the soil.  Worked pretty slick…..we had the entire fence in place in about 90 minutes.

Larry’s farm is organic…..always has been.  He gets a kick out of all the hype surrounding the “organic food” movement.  He claims that most family farms use natural methods to grow corn, wheat and livestock.  Why? Because it works and is a lot less expensive.

As I mentioned, Larry is an avid hunter.  He converted an old grain wagon into a mobile hunting blind complete with dropdown windows and built in benches.

If the blinds location proves unproductive, he just hooks it to the tractor and moves it to a new location.

Larry’s nearest neighbor is about a mile down the road.

Nate, an Iraq combat veteran with two tours in “The Sandbox”, and his father run a beef cattle operation and lease some of Larry’s land.

One morning Larry and I drove over there so he could introduce me to these two fine American farmers.  They were busy getting the morning chores accomplished but still made time to answer my incessant questions.  This morning they were mixing silage (corn, corn stocks, and wheat) with Distillers Grain (a byproduct from making ethanol) in a large automatic grain wagon and then ran the fence line to feed the animals.

Returning from the upper feed lot, Nate asked if I wanted to ride along down to the lower one.

Of course I jumped at the chance.  What a great experience for this city kid!

This cattle operation wouldn’t work without the help from their roundup dogs, a pack of Blue Heelers.  Here one of them is chasing mom and son into the feed lot.

Speaking of dogs…..Larry has a farm dog as well.  Lena is a very well behaved and loyal black lab.  Kit made an instant friend with a few scratches behind the ear.  Oh by the way…..that works for me as well.

A great time on the farm with some great folks.  Cherokee Iowa is on our list of must stops for future Excellent Adventure trips.  Thanks Jan and Larry!

Kit’s Eleven Cents Worth:  We had a most enjoyable time with Larry and Jan in Iowa.  Since we had not seen them for about 35 years, it was a very emotional reunion.  We had spent quite a bit of time together when we were younger, both in San Diego and Virginia Beach, when our kids were very young.  As with many military families, when Dad was gone and Mom was holding down the fort, we shared good times and bad – depending on each other for support during the rough times.  As I have always felt, being a military family, we often depended more on our friends than family for support, thus becoming very close with friends.  This reunion visit with Larry, Jan, Beth and Brandon has been wonderful.  They were so accommodating and it was very hard to leave to continue on our journey.  Next time through, we will definitely stop to visit them again.  And, maybe, they will make it up to Maine one of these days so we can share our little corner of the world with them.  Thank you, Larry, Jan, Beth and Brandon for such a wonderful time.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #20

 

Bill and Kit’s 2011 Excellent Adventure-Journal #20

“Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.”

Paul Theroux


Sunday, April 17, 2011:  Sad to be leaving Zion…..happy to be continuing our trek home.  At 1000 this morning it is sunny and 60 degrees as we hit the road.  Thought of heading more easterly up and over the Rocky Mountains into Denver.  However the weather at 11,000 foot Loveland Pass was predicted to be in the twenty’s with snow and ice.  So we headed due north instead.  Yea…..we don’t know from day to day where we are going, nor do we necessarily care.

We traveled west on UT-9 then moved over to UT-17 heading north.  Arriving at Cedar City, Utah we stopped for fuel and noticed a Staples store down the street.  Even though I still have a good 24 hours to mail my taxes in I hate to wait until the last minute.  So after printing off copies at Staples in the mail they went.  Done…..and unusually early for us!

Soon we neared the flanks of the Wasatch Mountains which, at 12,000 feet are the “foothills” of the western Rocky Mountains.

Seeing snow at the various summit’s as we paralleled this 160 mile mountain range reinforced our decision to travel more northerly.

As the day wore on the westerly wind picked up considerably.  The trailer started showing some effect from the strong broadside winds so we decided to pull off the highway and tighten up the trailer sway control.  Continuing north on I-15 we passed a large billboard that had been blown down by the wind and, even with the sway control adjustment there was considerable buffeting of the trailer.  We decided to slow down to 40 MPH and the wind effect was moderated.

As we neared Salt Lake City we enjoyed this rather imposing sight.

Locating Hill Air Force Base, we settled into a nice site in their RV Park.

Monday, April 18 and Tuesday, April 19, 2011:  Hill AFB, Salt Lake City, UT:  Decided to stay a few days to resupply and see some of the sights in the Salt Lake area.

Surprisingly there is a very nice Air Force Museum right outside the north gate that I “had” to see.  It was constructed and staffed primarily by volunteers, many of them Air Force retirees that settled in the area.

The space was small but the collection was quite extensive.

Outside the museum we came across this tree in full bloom.

Ah, spring has sprung.  Well…..at least at this elevation.

And this regal representative from the Avian American community.

Later in the day we toured Antelope Island State Park.  This unique facility is located in the middle of the Great Salt Lake; the largest closed basin lake in the western hemisphere.  The size of the Great Salt Lake fluctuates due to rainfall and evaporation so that the water surface area of this very shallow lake can vary between 950 and 3,300 square miles.

Not much here but the visitors center just happened to be staffed by two retired Navy guys.  Had a nice time sharing old Navy stories and swapping lies.  I guess the high salinity of this landlocked lake drew them to the predominantly Air Force community.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011:  Pulled out of the RV Park at Hill AFB around 0900 under cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 40’s.  Heading east on I-84 toward the northern terminus of the Wasatch Mountain range this was our view.

Might get a bit interesting up in those clouds!

We soon joined I-80, the nation’s first Interstate Highway, and continued east.  Climbing the Wasatch Mountains we passed Devils Slide, a unique geological formation that features a natural channel 40 feet deep running vertically down the mountainside.

At 6,840 feet and a temperature of 38 degrees we topped out and were fortunate to encounter a break in the cloud cover.  The scenes were very bucolic with small farms dotting the high plains.

Crossing into Wyoming at midday we motored on toward Cheyenne.

Began to notice a few Elk herds alongside the highway and encountered some “road kill” as well.  One such unfortunate animal looked to be a rather large Grey Wolf.

We crossed the Continental Divide at 6,930 feet and then crossed it again 30 minutes later at 7,100 feet…..not sure why?

Around 1600 we encountered snow flurries and the temperature had dropped to 31 degrees.  We are now at 8,689 feet and just passed the Lincoln Monument.  No, not that one…..we frequently get lost, but not that bad!  This monument marks the highest point on I-80 and commemorates the original Lincoln Highway that preceded the Interstate in this area.

Pulling into Cheyenne we found our way to Warren Air Force Base and self-registered at the sparsely populated RV Park.

Thursday, April 21, 2011:  Happy 40th Birthday Suzie.  OMG (Old Maine Goats)…..all of our kids are now in their 40’s!  How in the heck did that happen!!

 Decided to take a down day to see some of the Cheyenne sights.  The first stop was Sierra Trading Post, the online outdoor retailer that I have ordered from on occasion.  This place is like a Marden’s for outdoor gear. The huge warehouse featured a retail outlet where we picked up some pretty good deals.

We drove downtown and walked around the state capital complex.  Very stately (no pun intended) and very western.

After a nice lunch at the PX Bar-B-Que shack we returned to the trailer where we chatted with our neighbor, one of only three folks staying at the RV Park this early in the season.  Marti was a single lady and a Sargent Major in the Army with 32 years on active duty.  She has many tours in the gulf region and is one of very few women Army Snipers.  She was an interesting lady;  an avid hunter she has been hired to support a big game hunt in Africa this summer for a well-heeled client.

Friday, April 22, 2011:  We were back on I-80E heading east at 0810…..honest!  It is 42 degrees, overcast and very windy.  Predicted to be 30 MPH sustained winds and gusts to 50 MPH!  Fortunately the winds are from the west.

Earlier on this trip we had some fierce headwinds and our MPG dropped to 6.7.  So resetting the MPG calculator on the truck I was really curious to see what a 30 knot tailwind would do while traveling at 60 MPH…..19.9 MPG!  And pretty much sustained that rate throughout the day!  In fact our “Miles to go until Empty” readout barely moved.  We were saving so much gas I was afraid the tank would overflow and create a hazard.

At 0903 we crossed into Nebraska, the self-proclaimed Home of Arbor Day.  Which is kind of ironic in that today is Earth Day and looking around the landscape there were very few trees?  However there were miles and miles of um, well…..miles and miles.

Passing Sydney, Nebraska we noticed the world headquarters for Cabela’s.  Decided not to stop at the huge flagship retail store as we wanted to make some mileage today.

Near the town of Kearney, Nebraska we passed under the North Platte Gateway Arch which commemorates the pioneers that trekked west to settle the frontier. Makes one wonder if anyone bothered to explore and settle the backtier?  It kind of looked like a New England covered bridge to nowhere.

With the strong winds we kept encountering tumbleweeds blowing across the highway.  Some just passed beneath the truck and trailer and some got hung up for a while.  I bet we hit a hundred of them!  Cheap entertainment in a rather desolate region of the US.

Tired of traveling the interstate we pulled off near Hershey, Nebraska and moved onto NE-80 and continued east.

A little after 1500 we passed into the Central Time Zone and lost a whole hour.

Nearing Omaha we decided to head east on NE-40 and then north on US-81 where we came to a nice, clean, inexpensive, full hook-up, roadside campground called the Highway 81 RV Park in Columbus, Nebraska…..pretty original name, huh?  The owner lived in a nice home next door but there was no office or staff.  Registration and payment was by the honor system.  This is common for National and State Parks but very unusual for a private campground.

Saturday, April 23, 2011:  Up at 0600 (well some of us were) and noticed that the winds had subsided overnight.  Breaking camp we hit the road at 0940 under overcast skies and temperatures in the mid 40’s.

You know, returning from our winter trips we try to follow spring as it slowly meanders north.  I think this year we plumb outran it!  It has been downright cold the past few nights.  We would venture south in search of spring once again but they are dealing with horrible storms.  I think we will just deal with the cold.

Continuing on US-81N we soon came to this rather interesting sight.

So we pulled over to take a look.

This is the second time on this trip that we just stumbled on a windmill display such as this.  Earlier we were impressed by a large collection in Texas.  This place, however, had some very unusual windmills that were designed for the strong winds that frequent the western plains.

Believe it or not this incredible display of restored antique windmills is the work of the fellow that owns the local landfill.

Back on US-81N we picked up US-20E toward Sioux City where we crossed into Iowa at 1305.  We then moved over to IA-31 near Holstein and headed northeast.

In the town of Correctionville, Iowa we pulled off on a town road and stopped at the local park for lunch.  Walking around the muddy shore of the Little Sioux River I came across these tracks.

Any of you hunter folk know what made this print?  It was about 3 inches across and pretty deep.  Not being sure where we might fit in the Food Chain, we decided to eat our baloney sandwiches in the trailer.

Back on the road we soon came to US-59 and headed north into the small farming town of Cherokee, Iowa and a long anticipated reunion with an old Navy buddy.

Stay tuned for Bill and Kit’s Great Farm Adventure.

Kit’s Ten Cents Worth:  A long trip through Wyoming and Nebraska.  Wish we could have stopped at a few of the towns rather than zip along the highway.  It’s mostly prairie land out there but the towns would have been more interesting, I think.  We were very much looking forward to seeing our old friends Larry & Jan in Iowa.

Love, Dad/Bill/Poppy and Mom/Kit/Guma