Saturday, August 28, 2010

2010-29 Minnesota Rambling

Detroit Lakes

Campground:  Country Campground, Detroit Lakes.  $15, ½ off Passport America.  Full hookups, gorgeous grassy sites with scattering of trees in a park like setting.  Boarders a large corn field on one site and railroad tracks on the other side of the street.  Train has not been a problem for sleeping.

Campground:  Shooting Star Casino, Mahnomen Minn.  $20 with Casino card.  $5 bonus casino $$. Nice paved sites with grass in-between each site.  Very quiet at night.

axle realignment

I finished up my projects in the Duluth area.  The campers tires are back in alignment.  Many Rv dealers will try and tell you that a trailer or 5th wheel doesn’t need aligning, but they are wrong.  You will need to go to a professional truck company for alignment of the axles and tires on a trailer/5th wheel camper.  I’ve had to have mine done twice.  The most recent was more than likely due to all the permafrost roads traveled on last year.  Or it could be something as simple and running over a curb or rough spot on the road.   Another note, your tires on your camper should be balanced or they will wear unevenly if they are not.

 My Verizon phone has been replaced and it probably was the touch screen that had gone bad.  I’ve really grown to love that Droid phone.  It’s my GPS, phone and internet access point all wrapped up into one.

Droid Phone tip:  When ever I need an address for directions, I look up the place on the internet, then cut/copy/ and paste it into a new Contact in my Google/G-mail acct.  It’s then accessible instantly on my Droid phone for calling or GPS directions.
In the hand of a big man...

Minnesota has lots of flies.  I can’t tell you how many I’ve killed in the camper as they sneak in every time I open the door.  They are also in all the stores and restaurants.  A minor annoyance but one that I’m sure the locals are not thrilled with.  I unrolled my awning the other day and there were about 50 flies hiding in the folds.  Yuck.

In the Detroit Lakes area alone there are over 400 lakes in the county.  They have a large music festival the end of July with over 70,000+ in attendance.  Kind of glad I missed that one.  I understand it’s a lot of people in the area and lots of drinking and debauchery.  I don’t know how I would fit in… I’m really only passing through the area so not much to report on the area.  There are also lots of rails-to-trails bike paths throughout the region for some great exercise opportunities.  I met a couple in their 60’s who come down into Minnesota from Winnipeg to take advantage of  all the nice bike trails.

I moved up the road about 38 miles to the small rural community of Mahnomen (Rice in the Chippewa language).  It’s on the White Earth Reservation in Northern Minnesota.  I moved from forest to rich wind swept prairie farmland.  The community has about 1200 residences.

And today I drove around some of those country roads trying to capture some of the local scenery and farms.  Darn if I wasn’t a bit brave, even driving right up to some of the farms and asking if I could take some pictures of their barns and out buildings.  The two I stopped at and talked to the owners, I discovered were living on farms that were 4 and 5 generation homes and farms.  The first one, the owners had built a new home next to the old farm house which they now rent out to a wild rice harvester.

the horse with bullet holes
One of the owners pointed out the weather vane , with a horse on it and lighting rods on the barn.  He said “look closely, can you see the bullet holes in the horse?“  Sure could.  As he said, the farm has been here since 1918 and there has been a lot of time for folks to use it for marksmanship.  The second owners, Dave and Lois are also retired.  Dave does a college teaching course online and his wife is a painter.  She doesn’t have to leave her farm to get inspiration.  Paints on old roof shingles and has captured many of the scenes I came to take picture of.  Their farm as well as the others I took pictures of are all immaculately maintained with small vegetable and flower gardens.

What a fun way to spend a morning.
More photo's on my Picasa Site. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

2010-28 The Judy Garland Museum (A bonus Report) Minnesota


Grand Rapid Minnesota

Six Degrees of Separation

Every now and then my travels bring me on a journey that wraps around and comes full circle.  While in the Duluth area taking care of business, things like making an appointment to have my 5th wheel campers axle checked out (possible bent axle), replacing my Droid phone (under warranty so not a problem) and attempting to get over a bought of Thunder Bay (Montezuma’s) Revenge from either the water or maybe the two egg whites I had for breakfast one day, I actually had time to take in a tour item.

Now was that a long sentence or what?  And did you notice all the parentheses in there.  Kind of like some of my journeys, long and winding with pauses to notice something along the way.

So I was looking at a couple of brochures of the area and noted that in Grand Rapids Minnesota, not the one in Michigan, that they have a Judy Garland Museum.  Hmm, might be worth checking out.  Especially since it includes the original house that her parents lived in for 12 years and Judy for the first four years of her life.  And I love looking in homes.

It was a long boring drive of about an hour an a half and I didn’t think I’d ever get there.  Pretty much a straight shot heading west on hwy 2 past evergreen forests, lakes, swamps the occasional farm land and maybe two whistle stops along the way.

Judy Garland grew up with the name “Frances Ethel Gumm” but was always called “Baby” as she was the youngest of three sisters.  Her Mother and Father were always into show business and performing some type of Vaudeville act which included the kids usually in a singing role.

The museum contains some wonderful artifacts from the Wizard of Oz especially the carriage drawn by “a horse of a different color”.  But what makes it even more special is that the carriage was once owned by President Abraham Lincoln back in 1863.  Now even though the carriage was roped off, I just had to touch it.  Imagine, I touched a piece of our countries history and came within touching distance of where President Lincoln might have placed his own hand and the carriage that was in the Wizard of Oz. Talk about 6 degrees of separation, that was like two degrees of separation.

I guess I should explain the phrase, “Six Degrees of Separation” in case you’ve never heard of it before.  It basically refers to the concept that everyone is within six people of knowing anyone else in the world.  Say you would like to meet the Queen of England.  You know someone who has been to England.  They in turn have met friends or relatives there.  That person has a friend who works in the palace, and that person has spoken to the Queen Mother herself.  But my previous example with the carriage is not my 6 degrees of separation experience.  That will follow.

Judy came back to see the house she grew up in and even performed at the Minnesota State Fair for their 100 year celebration.  It was all the rage at the time you know.  Back in Hollywood, the story goes that Judy got her last name from an MGM studio executive who looked up at the ceiling and saw Garland strung around the room and gave Judy her name, Garland.

So after touring the museum part of the exhibits, I walk through a breezeway to the original house the
Gumm family lived in.  What an astonishing home.  Simple yet beautiful in design and function.  So much so that Architectural Digest has taken extensive photos and plans a large spread on the home as soon as the economy picks up and they have more advertisers to pay for the multi-page spread on the house.  So be on the lookout for it in Architectural Digest one of these days.  But you won’t have to wait, because I’ve taken quite a few pictures and you can get a sneak peak through my eyes.

Now for my story on the 6 degrees of separation.  While I was a young boy growing up in Houghton Michigan, my across the street neighbor, Jackie Weber had grown up and was getting ready to move to New York to make his mark.  He ended up in Greenwich Village playing the piano.  I remember being about  10 years old and hearing him play the upright piano in the basement of their home.  He played a rowdy honky-tonk tune and I just loved it.

Well now, a couple years later, he came back on a visit and told us about the time he was playing his piano in a night club in the Village and in walks Judy Garland.  She sits down at his piano and orders a drink and starts to talk to him.  He’s blown away of course with the famous Judy Garland sitting there at his piano.  She asks him if he knows any of the songs she sings and of course he knows every one.  She stays there and sings an entire set with Jack playing the piano in perfect sync with Judy.

Now that’s like two degrees of separation from the famous Judy Garland and that’s what I call coming full circle in life.  Kind of puts a tingle up and down my spine just thinking about it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

2010-27 Grand Marais Minnesota to Thunder Bay Canada


Grand Marais Minnesota
Thunder Bay, Canada

Campground:  Grand Marais Municipal campground.  $35 full hookups w/cable TV.  Sites are close together.  Some with Lake Superior views and of the town and lighthouse.  Walking and biking path boarder the park and easy walk into town.  Note: over my budget but for a few days it has worked out well.

Campground:  Trowbridge Falls Park and campground (Canada).  $25, Elect & water.  Nice forest setting.  Limited big rig sites.  Northeastern end of Thunder Bay.

Grand Marais, Minn.

One of the nice things about camping is that I get to have different locations throughout the country.  From Forested sites miles away from anything to the one I have in Grand Marais which is a city park.  It’s right on the bay and Lake Superior and theirs a nice bike/walking path leading into town.  Being only a few blocks from town and close to seafood restaurants is a real plus.

I’ve already enjoyed many walks into the small tourist town but not in the gaudy way so many tourist town can be.  Instead is has curved peddle beaches and a protected bay.  Shops tucked in old main street buildings and sail boats and fishing boats bob up and down as they are anchored off shore.  I probably should have gotten the bike off it’s rack but decided I needed the walking and would get more out of it than riding the bike.  Well after a couple of days of walking, my legs are stiff and tired.  Whew, should have taken the bike out.

The walking path is filled with folks coming to and from town and everyone is eager to say a hello and how’s your day going greetings.

Along with enjoying this wonderful scenery in NE Minnesota I’ve been enjoying some awesome weather.  It’s usually foggy over the water early in the morning with temps around the 65 degree mark.  As the sun begins to peak out through the fog and clouds the day gradually heats up to the 70’s and occasionally reaches into the low 80’s for a few hours.  Pleasant breezes flow of the great lake and create bursts of cool refreshing air.

The fog horn blows throughout the night so if your in a tent as many of the campers are, it can keep you awake for many hours.  My camper is well insulated and I barely hear it.

Oh an interesting note, while heading through Minnesota on hwy 61 along Lake Superior, I happened to see another of the Peter Toth Indian statues.  How cool is that?  That makes at least three I’ve seen in the past year.

Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada

On Wednesday I traveled the remaining 38 miles to the boarder crossing.  No lines, a nice boarder guard asking a few questions and then I was on my way.  Another 30 miles and I was in Thunder Bay, Ontario Canada.  Stunning mountains crop up on either side before reaching the city of 110,000.  A few farms leading into the city and then your in Thunder Bay.  I finally had a stop where I could get to a decent tire shop to have a few worn tires replaced (I’ve put a lot of miles on the truck and camper in the past year).  And I brought the camper to another shop to have them check the axles as one of the camper tires continues to wear unevenly.  Hopefully they fixed the problem, which I’ll monitor closely to see if it did.

I arrived at Trowbridge Falls Park and campground.  After quickly setting up, I called my Canadian friends  Gary and Elaine from a pay phone to let them know I had no cell phone service, as Verizon hadn’t set it up correctly and after what seemed like hours on the phone with them, we were unable to fix the problem.

Gary and Elaine and one daughter Trish live in the most idyllic cabin perched on rocks overlooking a bay and Lake Superior during the summers.  Wild flowers and a vegetable garden along with kayaking the bay keep them busy throughout the summer.  

The Canadian dollar is on par with the U.S. dollar at this time, so it’s a good bargain for Canadians coming to the U.S.  and not a bad deal for U.S. citizens as our dollar goes about the same as in the U.S.  Better than going to Europe or many other countries where the U.S. dollar doesn‘t go very far.

How exciting to be traveling in another country.  The scenery changes quickly after passing the boarder.  How do they know to place a boarder between states and countries right where there’s a change in scenery?  From gallons to liters, miles to kilometers, Tim Horton’s coffee shops, Canadian Tire instead of Goodyear.

And visiting my friends Elaine and Gary along with their daughter Trish has been a most enriching experience.  Gary and Trish have taken me on a tour of some outlying areas like Silver Islet.  A coastal mining town at one time where a mine was dug deep into a small island off shore.  Tons of silver was excavated from this small island out in Lake Superior.  The mine ran out of fuel.  The water pumps stopped and the mine filled with water, never to be reopened.  They say there is still a lot of silver down in the mine.  Even pillars of silver remain that were used to hold up the ceiling.

The riches continue on shore where locals and a few folks from the states have purchased the old mining homes built on the base of steep rock walls overlooking the bay and Lake Superior.  Many still retain their historical character from the late 1800’s.  Log cabins with large bands of chinking between the wood logs.  Beautiful 4 paned windows with white curtains or old fashioned blinds.  And a curved sandy beach at one end of the inlet.  There is no electricity to these homes and all have either solar panels or wind power.

We hike some of the paths along Sleeping Giant Provincial Park.  Down old gravel roads, winding our way through forests of cedar and spruce, over boulders and  rock outcroppings to views of the rugged shoreline of Lake Superior.  Breathtaking views of the rugged Superior shore line.

Elaine has been a perfect hostess making us dinner every evening.  Ham one evening, fish from Lake Superior , green beans from the garden.  Brown and wild rice which grows throughout Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and here in Ontario and the Thunder Bay region.  Topped off with a decadent desert of Brown Apple Betty crumble and ice-cream.  I’ve been spoiled by their Canadian charm.  We sit on their raised deck overlooking a shallow protected bay.  Surrounded by wilderness, wildflowers and water views.  Chipmunks scurry over the rocks and through the wild flowers, searching out treats left by Trish who feeds all the small critters.  A bear came by the other night and helped himself to some of the bird feed that Elaine and Gary forgot to put away for the evening.  Bees and humming birds buzz from flower to flower.

And like so many places around the globe there are unique and special sites.  Like the weeping Madonna of Lords.   Thunder Bay is no exception.  At  the Locker home, they have the “Weeping loo of Thunder Bay”.  A “water closet” that actually weeps water.  Now Gary tells me it’s because the water is so cold it caused the porcelain to sweat.  I think it’s a special sign from the water gods.  Though I don’t know what they are trying to convey.  Perhaps, a cry to save the Great Lakes or something grand like that.  Gary does tell me the lake is down about a foot… Hmmmm.

The whole family went into town and we ate at the Finish restaurant, Hoito, where we walked down into the basement of the Finlandia Club.  The walls were all light wood panels vanished many times over.  We all had the Finish pancakes that are so thin they are almost crepes and so large round they fill the entire plate.

A quick tour of the largest Finish community in the Americas with all it’s shops containing the very best of finish glassware, art objects and fabrics. And then we were off to see an art exhibit at the university where Gary was the head of the Engineering Department and then on to Kakabeka Falls.

Busy days and evenings filled with home cooked dinners and good conversation surrounded by primal forests and overlooking Lake Superior.  Could anyone ask for a better way to explore Thunder Bay.  I’m going to have to get back on the road just to be able to rest up after such an eventful week.

Day five without my Verizon Cell phone service.  No cell phone, no GPS for directions, no internet access.  And at least two more days before I get into cell service.  Yikkes, I really am in wilderness country.  I’m back in the states, after a very serious U.S. customs officer/homeland security asked me where I’d been, where I was going.  Where I lived (I’m a full timer)… but where do you live?  A check of all the drawers and medicine cabinet in the bedroom (he couldn’t get in the living area with the slides in).  And finally, have a nice day.  Said in such a staid voice I almost saluted him.

I’m just over the boarder in Grand Portage on Indian Reservation land.  I was able to enjoy the last day of the Ojibwe Rendezvous.  A number of tribes in the area get together for a pow-wow and the public is welcome.  Rhythmic drums beat out a steady beat.  Silver and pewter bells on the women’s dresses as well as the large sleigh bells around the ankles of the men ring out a constant staccato metal beat.  Singers add another dimension as the various tribes dance around the circular stadium.  Colorful costumes and headdresses add to the festive atmosphere.  Photos are permitted when spiritual performances are not being performed.  A heavy breeze cools the summer air and puffy clouds skitter across the sky.

Just another day in the north country.

more photos on Picasa

Saturday, August 7, 2010

2010-26 Houghton Michigan, Keweenaw Peninsula

Leaving the U.P.
Ashland Wisconsin.

Campground:  Bad River Casino.  Elect and Water.  Free.  Parking lot type sites with a nice view out back and there‘s a paved bike path too.  Free $5 play at casino.

I left the Keweenaw Peninsula with some sadness.  The time flew by so quickly, I feel I only spent a few days there rather than the two weeks I was actually there.  My sister Ann was a joy to be with as she has a most happy constitution.  As we were driving around town one day, I looked at the large wall that faces the road leading into Hancock.  I asked Ann if she remembered the time when we three kids, around 12,13 and 14, were walking over to Hancock and just as we reached the high wall, a pigeon plopped a big one, right on her head.  Dorothy and I did everything we could not to laugh, as we knew how pissed off she would be.  But a few good chuckles escaped and Ann, in a heated tizzy,  insisted we walk all the way back home.  Across the bridge, through Houghton and up the two blocks back to our house.  After hearing the story, Ann said she didn’t remember it, but we finally had a really good laugh over it.  She couldn’t wait to share it with all her friends.

Her partner Jim was taken to the hospital emergency room on the last day of my stay there, having felt under the weather for a number of days, but he is recovering from the chest pains and headaches.  He’ll be in the hospital a few more days for tests before going back home.

Schlepping around the old home town, driving through the countryside, noticing the small changes along the way and photographing old mining buildings and some scenery was a highlight.  Amazing how the eye can see things differently each time I go back to a familiar place.  Though the same old brown buildings remain, houses with torn and worn siding that has weathered too many winters, heavy sandstone buildings in town with minor face lifts that never quite make it to the 21st century.  And gad the miles and miles of trees.  You know, Michigan is covered with about 80% forests owned by State, Federal or mining concerns.

On my way up from Munising the other week I stopped in the Yooper Tourist Trap, a fun gift shop with everything Yooper (Upper Michigan).  From T-shirts to license plates that say, “Yooper, by Da grace of God” and T-shirts with sayings like, “God made beer on the 10th day so the Yoopers wouldn’t take over the world” and “Not born a Yooper, but I got up here as fast as I could”.  Yup, the U.P. is a most unusual place.  My friend Ron and I were talking about the character of the people which is often described by the Finish (?)phrase, Sisu.  A hard word to define in the English language as it sort of means  gutsy, resilience or strength but never in a boastful way, or fortitude perhaps.  Maybe an old phrase, keep on keeping on, but that’s not it either.  These people are proud to be Yoopers, to have endured and become the people they are.  And a new character up here,  an openness to saying hello.  My neighbors at the campground were stunned walking downtown Houghton, and  folks just came up to them and saying a howdy and how are you today greetings.

I’ll miss the Yooper dialog, the cool days (70’s to 80 a few days) to the cool cool evenings, great sleeping weather.  The stunning Lake Superior views and beaches.  Not for swimming of course unless your in your teens and still haven’t figured out that 56 degree water is friggin cold.  Of course there are many inland lakes that are much warmer for swimming.  Wonder why more Rv’ers haven’t discovered this ideal country 100 miles north of no where.  Especially during those hot summer days further on south.  It generally stays so pleasant temperature wise, that most locals have no a/c and even many stores have none either.  If they do have a/c it’s usually in only one room of the house.  Michigan Tech has grown enormously since I was last here, looking like a small compact high rise city in the middle of the North country and bordering the edge of Houghton.

Oh and before I forget, here’s a link to some Pasty recipes.  If you’ve never had one, they are an entire meal inside of a pastry shell.  Very popular in the U.P.  They were brought down into the mines and heated over the miners lamp for a hot meal while in the mines.

But it’s once again time to head on down the road, through the tiniest of towns and hamlets with names like Atlantic Mine, South Range, Trimountain, Champion Mine, Toivola, and Donken.  Skirting the Western shores of Lake Superior and the Pine Mountain ski areas.  Thick masses of yellow wildflowers, light lavender to purple colored fire weed and  miles and miles of Queen Ann Lace boarder the county roads and rural fields.  Mysterious rivers and creeks cross under the road disappearing into thick forests and marshlands covered with cattails.

Before heading out of Michigan, I passed through Wakefield, where I took a few pictures of a Peter Toth Indian statue carved out of a large tree.  Peter carved Indian statues in all 50 states as a tribute and reminder of the misdeeds done to the American Indian.   You might recall the one I took pictures of in Valdez Alaska.

I didn’t mean to ramble on so about my visit to my home state of Michigan, but it’s a place that I hold dear to my heart.  Until the next rambling saga, have a super day where ever the sunshine finds you

And as always, lots more photos on the Picasa Photo site.