Tuesday, August 28, 2007

(27) St Cloud, Duluty Minnesota, Apostle Islands Wisconsin

St Cloud, Minn.

Duluth, Minn.

Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

Lake Superior

A new time zone and a new state. Temp in the mid to high 70’s. This evening it got down to 49 degrees.

When I travel, I try to observe the surroundings and notice small changes especially between states, which in many cases can be quite dramatic. South Dakota, except for the Black Hills and Bad Lands to the West is all prairie. But it changes very subtly from prairie grasses out west, to gradually more cultivated wheat and grain farms going east, to finally corn fields, sunflowers and other rich farm lands nourished by regular rains. Big sky where you can see thunder storms rolling in from miles away.

The changes into Minnesota, it’s western edge ending the prairie landscape, moves into some of the most lush farmlands I’ve seen all year. Finding a jazz station on the radio, far out from any large or even small towns, providing some good music that seems perfect with this pastoral scenery. Small rural communities along hwy 23, some with as few as 114 pop. And right on the final edge of the prairie, with it’s constant winds, I come across a huge Wind Farm. Those massive three bladed windmills producing tons of free electricity for their communities, spread out from the N.W. to the S.E along the tops of gentle rolling farm lands.
Each farm with it’s silos, barns, farmhouse and outbuildings all congregated together, usually all painted or accented in the same colors of straw yellow, powder blues or shades of green and the more typical barn red of course. Trimmed in crisp white or against the brushed weathered aluminum of the silos or the gray concrete. One in particular was done in an historic tan, white trim and the grayish metal of the aluminum and looked striking against the deep rich green trees and fields. These are some of the best maintained and healthy farm lands I’ve seen in three years of travels. I also noticed that virtually all of the homes are well maintained as well, very rarely seeing a mobile home anywhere. Actually there are, but they are manufactured homes with regular siding and all are on permanent foundations, many I’m sure with basements.

Ponds and lakes are dotted evenly throughout the state and I’ve seen many signs for “resorts” along the lake frontage. The entire state is cottage country, where so many folks have a camp next to a lake, many times just 20 miles from their home. But much of my travel through the state has been a bit on the edge, since my truck has been giving me problems again. A slight hesitation, feeling that one or more of the spark plugs are miss firing and a loss of over 1-2 miles per gallon. So I had Settled into St. Cloud MN, in the very center of the state, so that I could bring it in for a check up and repairs. A Chevy dealer in town, Gilleland’s, was able to get me in first thing in the morning. Good thing because stuff like this are the few things that give me sleepless nights. They ended up giving the truck a fuel injection and piston cleaning and I’m pretty sure that did the trick. Something I understand they recommend being done every 15,000 miles and my truck has 86,000 miles on it. Opps.

Heading north north east on the road to Duluth, the farms in this area have not had the good luck of the southern portion of the state, having little rain, most of their crops already lost. The farms are smaller as well, with more woods growing around them as the scenery changes to full northern forest. The type of country I grew up in. Rock outcroppings over much of the land, some rocks with moss growing on them in the shade of the maple trees that will turn those vibrant fall colors in only a little over a months time.

Hwy 23 ends at hwy 35 which will carry me north into Duluth and finally the roads smooth out. Gloriously smooth asphalt. I exit 4 miles before entering Duluth to get to the campground on Spirit Mountain. I’m camping on top of a ski resort. If it weren’t for the trees I’d have a splendid view of Duluth with it’s shipping harbor and Lake Superior. The largest of the great lakes. Containing 10% of the worlds fresh water and at it‘s deepest, 1,333 feet deep. Jump in, the water about 40 degrees on average.

Entering Duluth from the south end on hwy 35, I get an awesome view of the city below. Descending down the gentle curving highway, I’m able to see both Duluth and Superior Wisconsin on the other side. Deep forested hillsides, bridges spanning the busy waterway, with train depots and ship yards surrounding the bay and Lake superior with it’s deep blue waters reaching out to the northern horizon with Canada invisible on the other side.

My new friend, Paulie, who joined the Roving Reports through a mutual friend of mine from work, Nancy, has been forwarding my reports on up to Paulie in Duluth. Paulie and I went on a short tour of Duluth to get me acquainted with the area. I was also to meet Paulie’s daughter, Amanda and her friend Stephanie the next day for brunch at Amazing Grace. A cool diner in the basement of a hip downtown shopping area. Right on the water and their famous lift bridge. We timed it right, and we were able to see one of the massive ore boats coming in off the Lake Superior. They are huge massive ships transporting all the raw materials like coal, iron ore and grain in the fall, vie the inland seas of the Great lakes. Paulie has a relative who worked on the ore freighters and she has actually been on them out at sea. Isn’t that just too cool.

Now you have to watch those Duluth drivers…. Paulie, who actually lives across the river in Superior Wisconsin, went through a red light in the heart of downtown … Actually it was partially my fault, since we were both talking up a storm. Oh, and when I met up with Stephanie and Amanda the following day, did I mention they are both Classical Ballet Dancers! Can you imagine, I was escorted around town by two beautiful, and thin, (how to make someone feel fat), young professionals living an artistic life in this mix of both an industrial town, shipping center, and a cosmopolitan town all rolled into one. Amanda was super kind to treat us to brunch and then we all walked around their wonderful Lake side promenade. Passing more shops and restaurants (Fitger‘s renovated brewery), a rose garden that is very spectacular, a grassy park overlooking the lake where they set up an inflatable movie screen and have free movies at night, past the Leafe Erickson ship (currently shrink wrapped for protection) and a statue of Leafe as well. I even got to see the historic Grain Stock Exchange, where the Ballet Company currently resides.

There are just a ton of touristy things to see and do and I will not begin to be able to get to all of them. They have two Train rides one can take as well as a Train museum, a couple of boat tours, aquariums (don’t waste your time on this one… only lake fish are in the aquariums), a zoo and tons of museums to visit. A couple of historic mansions, including one that has a scandalous death involved with it. Who knew Duluth could have such interesting things to see and do.

I visited the William A Irvin freighter today. A huge 600 ft freighter (the new ones are 1,000 ft) that once hauled coal and ire ore. One of the tourists, a woman who had just had knee surgery a week earlier and was climbing up and down all those ladder steps, was there because her father worked on ships like this for 40 years, working up from cabin boy all the way to becoming the ships captain. Her father also was on the maiden voyage of the Edmond Fitzgerald. The freighter that sank during a violent storm on Lake Superior.

A Hidden Undiscovered place.

My last day in Duluth ended up being cut short, as the campground I was in had my campsite reserved for someone else and they had asked me to move. But when I packed up to move, there was someone on the other campsite as well. So I decided to head out a short distance over into Wisconsin and go to the Apostle Islands area. Most people don’t even realize that Wisconsin has lake shore on both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior and the northern Superior end is a true hidden gem.
The Apostle Islands (20 islands in all) is one of the newest National parks, as of 1970 and an additional island was added in 1986. I think it just popped up out of the lake.
To let you know how undiscovered this area is, Paulie, my guide in Duluth was not even aware that there were tour boats going out to the islands. She thought the only way to get to them was by kayak. And I’ve got to tell you, this is a true boaters paradise. One can kayak through the island chain, camp out on many of the islands and explore sea caves and 6 light houses. I took the scenic narrated cruise which went past the recently renovated Raspberry Island Lighthouse and a fish camp on one of the other islands. It was a two hour cruise, the one I really wanted to go on was a 4 hour sunset cruise that went by a couple more lighthouses and the sea caves. There are cruises that stop on Raspberry Island so you can tour the lighthouse as well as others that leave you on one of the island for a couple of hours of hiking and adventure or overnight for camping. Or you can take a ferry over to the only island that’s inhabited and visit their museum and see what it‘s like to live on an island out in Lake Superior. There are even private sail boats that will take you on a more individualized tour. What fun.

I will definitely come back and explore this area when I have more time. The small towns on the peninsula, Washburn, where I’m staying at one of two city campgrounds and Bayfield where the boats go out to the islands are charming. Bayfield has lots of B&B’s, houses for rent as well as quaint hotels and churches all nestled along the forested hills overlooking the Apostle Islands and the marina. Bayfield in particular looks like an undiscovered seaside village. Well, not exactly undiscovered, we tourist do fill up the town with our cars.

Now this is really something too. In between the two main towns, is The Big Top Chautauqua Tent on Mt. Ashwabay, where they have summer music performances from July through August. Almost every night of the week! Of course a couple of big performers like Willie Nelson and the Garrison Keillor show perform here. I have got to come back. A number of radio stations broadcast the shows and their on the internet as well.

Note to campers, the two city parks in Washburn charge $20 a night for elect. And cable T.V. $15 a night w/ no hookups. Cheaper rates are available for weekly and seasonal stays. Chequamegon Natl. Forest has numerous campgrounds as well. Bayfield also has a couple of campgrounds, one on a cliff overlooking the islands, but I didn’t check them out.

Final note, if you’re a lighthouse lover, you simply must take a circle tour of Lake Superior or all of the great lakes if you have the time.

Whew,,,, I almost burned up the keyboard on this report.

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