Author Archives: Ed Heimel and Chris Klejbuk, MN travel bloggers

About Ed Heimel and Chris Klejbuk, MN travel bloggers

We are a husband and wife team living in St. Paul MN. Both of us retired by the end of 2012 and decided to travel and visit areas of the U.S. and Canada that we had not seen before. Most of the time we head out for 3-7 weeks; usually by driving, first in our 2001 Saturn and then when it hit 225,000 miles we traded it in for our 2016 Subaru Legacy . This travel blog is written to help us remember the great places we have visited and people we have met as well as to inform family and friends of our whereabouts. In 2013 we took the following trips: Trip 1-January--2 weeks in Florida to visit Orlando, St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Amelia Island. Trip 2-February and March-4 weeks in Hawaii, visiting the four major islands. Trip 3-March and April--several weeks in New Mexico visiting family followed by traveling cross-country to VA for VA Garden week. Trip 4-May and June--6-7 weeks driving to Las Vegas, the Sierra Nevada Mtns, Yosemite, Kings Canyon, Sequoia N.P, Salt Lake City, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Devils Tower and home. Trip 5-June- a quick trip to Boston to visit family. Trip 6-July and August-a 6-7 week trip to Calgary, Banff, Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens, Olympic N.P., North Cascades N.P., Victoria, Vancouver, Whistler, Revelstoke, Jasper, Yoho,Whitefish lake, Theodore Roosevelt N.P. Trip 7-August and September- our daughters wedding in MD and returning home through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Trip 8-October and November-3-4 weeks in the Ozarks, Arkansas, Missouri. Trip 9-December and January 2014-Christmas in Santa Fe and New Years in Flagstaff and points in between. In 2014 we took the following trips: Trip 1--a week in Ely MN, most of it dog-sledding in late Feb. Trip 2--6 weeks in the Deep South including LA, MS, AL, GA and FL in March and April. Trip 3--a trip to Boston to visit family Trip 4--May and June houseboating on Lake Powell followed by Monument Valley, Arches and Canyonlands N.P, Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P, San Juan Mtns of CO Trip 5--time spent in MN and the Midwest Trip 6--visiting Ontario, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec, the Adirondack Mtns of NY, our daughters wedding in CT and home through Philly and Ohio, 7 weeks in September and October. Trip 7--Southern California including Joshua Tree and Mojave Desert N.P, Anza Borrego Desert State Park, and then to Flagstaff for Thanskgiving for three weeks in November. In 2015, we took the following trips: Trip 1- 8 weeks traveling around FL in February and March, most of it on the panhandle, penninsula and Gulf Coast. Trips 2 and 4 to Boston in April and July. Trip 3 was to Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. Trip 5 was to southern MN. Trip 6 was to Voyageurs National Park and northwestern MN. Trip 7 was to the Great Smoky Mountains and neighboring areas. In 2016 Trip 1 was to Chicago IL. Trip 2 was to southwestern MN. Trip 3 was to Boston. Trip 4 was to southwestern United States. Trip 5 was to Lake Superior. Trip 6 was to Winona MN. Trip 7 to western Massachusetts (the Berkshire Mountains). Trip 8 to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Trip 9 to Boston and Rhode Island. In 2017, Trip 1 was to the Mississippi River Headwaters. Trip two will be a month long tour of Texas and another month traveling to and from Texas across the southern US. Image

2017 Trip Five: Northern MN: Aug. 3-4

The Iron Man memorial in Chisholm MN dedicated to the miners of the Iron Range. It is listed as the third largest free standing memorial in the world.

Grand Rapids, MN Aug. 4

If you scratch in the right location, most towns have some claim to fame. Just a few examples; back in June we were in Vining MN, population 78. A young woman born there has become a U.S. astronaut. During our March-April 2017 trip we were in the towns where Kool Aid and Dr. Pepper were invented. On this trip, we have been to Judy Garland’s hometown (Grand Rapids, MN); to the childhood home of Bob Dylan (Hibbing, MN) and the town where the Greyhound Bus Lines originated (Hibbing MN again). And, arguably, one could claim that we have spent time here on the Iron Range, the location that gave birth to the American industrial might. My arguments for that will be in today’s blog.

A chilly, rainy day drove us inside Thursday as we explored the manufacturing and immigrant side of the Iron Range. Our first stop was the UPM Blandin paper mill tour in Grand Rapids. This paper mill has existed for over one hundred years; one of its earliest products was the production of newsprint for the St. Paul MN Dispatch and Pioneer Press. The tour begins with a 30 minute video and personal explanation of the paper making process, along with the history of Blandin Paper Company. I have to admit I have a fondness for Blandin. The owner established a foundation in 1941 and in 1958 when the owner died, the foundation had one million dollars. Upon the sale of the company in 1977, $77,000,000 was added to the foundation. Currently it has over $350,000,000. Mr. Blandin focused the efforts of the foundation on rural Minnesota, with an emphasis on the Grand Rapids area. The Finnish company UPM now owns the company and the foundation is separate. Still, seeing a company where the needs of the community were important to the company owners is heart-warming. Mr. Blandin, besides being a successful entrepreneur, was far-seeing in the terms of his trust. He even required a court to review the foundation operations every three years.

After the video of the company and paper-making process, we donned safety glasses and head phones and headed for the mill across the street. Our tour guide was a former Blandin employee who explained the operations of the machinery we were viewing. The head phones provided protection from the noise of the machinery and a means for the guide to talk to us with radio attachments to the headphones. The paper making process keeps getting faster and more efficient. Today, the company produces twice the output with one-third of the employees that were previously employed here. The major line that we observed is an interconnected series of: an applicator of a wood pulp slurry to paper forming machines, de-waterers, rollers, heaters, quality inspection etc. that would cost one billion dollars to replace today. The paper is then coated, smoothed, and buffed to produce a high gloss paper used in magazines, advertising materials, flyers, etc. Blandin uses a mixture of three kinds of trees (aspen, balsam fir, and spruce) grown on land they own (187,000 acres of forest land) and from independent operators harvesting trees from their own land or under leases with public forests. 200,000 cords of wood per year are used to produce 400,000 tons of finished paper.

Bob Dylan’s childhood home in Hibbing MN

From Blandin in Grand Rapids, we drove to Hibbing MN and drove by the house where Bob Dylan lived from kindergarten through high school. Dylan, born Robert Zimmerman, is the musician who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”. There is no museum here, just stores selling T-shirts etc. with his name on them. Next stop: the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Mineview, an area and exhibit of the huge open-pit iron ore mines that mark the Iron Range of Minnesota.

I think at this point I need to give a brief overview of “The Range”. Many states have an area of the sate which is unique and described in a shorthand style, such as the UP of Michigan, the Hill Country of Texas. In Minnesota, this is the Iron Range. In the late 1800s, high-grade iron ore was found in the northeastern quadrant of Minnesota. The iron ore is found in four bands of ore called ranges, the Measbi, the Vermillion, the Cuyuna, and the Gunflint-although the Gunflint is primarily in Ontario.

One view of Hull-Rust-Mahoning mine

The ore was found as America was going through its industrialization phase. The large supplies, the high-grade of the ore, the ability to use open-pit mining, and the capacity to ship major quantities through the Great Lakes from ports like Duluth-Superior made the Minnesota Iron Range the primary producer of iron ore in America for decades. The ore here made the steel that built America’s skyscrapers, the rails that spread trains across the United States, and the armaments for WWI and WWII. Without this accessible ore, the development of America into a global powerhouse would arguably not have occurred. When high-grade ores ran out in the 40s, MN researchers developed the process to consolidate lower grade ore into taconite. This taconite mining continues today, although at a much lower quantity given that a high level of steel is now imported. Our stops on Thursday and Friday explored the history of Minnesota iron ore mining and the settlement of the area by immigrants.

Another view of the Hull-Rust-Mahoning mine

Four snaps indicating the size of the mining equipment

In Hibbing, we visited “Mineview”, an exhibit and viewing area above the Hull-Rust-Mahoning (HRM) mine. The HRM is the largest open-pit iron ore mine in the world. The HRM, at its maximum, is 800 feet deep, 8 miles long, and 3.5 miles wide, covering 5,000 acres. The mine is constantly changing as dirt overburden is removed to access the iron ore, the ore is removed, and roads and train tracks constructed. More dirt has been moved here than for the Panama Canal. The mines started out as numerous small claims. Consolidation occurred as eastern monetary interests became involved to provide the large sums of money necessary to operate the mines and to provide their factories with a steady supply of raw materials. Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Hill all became invested in the mines and the infrastructure to ship the ore to Cleveland, Pittsburgh, etc. Over 800 million tons of iron ore have been shipped from the HRM mine. The mine grew so steadily, it paid for the moving of the town of Hibbing. When the town was first constructed, it was close to the mines. As the mines expanded, they began to encroach on the town itself. Beginning in 1918, the town’s buildings were put on wheels and logs and rolled two miles to the south where you now find the businesses and homes located.

Moving the mine towards the Mineview viewing area

The mineview overlook allows one to look into the pit, watching the operation from the edge of the pit. This exhibit site will be moving next year as it is so close to the mining operation, that the ground underneath will be mined in 2018. We watched the construction of an access road from the depths of the mine up towards the mineview site. The mining process here consists of: the removal of overburden, the blasting of harder waste rock and ore into smaller chunks, the scooping of the ore into trucks to carry the ore to a crusher and grinders to create a fine concentrate, the pelletizing of the concentrate through dewatering and addition of bentonite clay, and then the pellets are rolled into 1/2″ balls and hardened by heating. The final pellet balls are then shipped by rail to loading docks on Lake Superior. In 1901 steam shovels dug rock with bucket capacity of 3/4 yard. Nowadays, the buckets can load 65 tons into trucks that haul 240 tons. Our pictures show out dated trucks from 20 years ago, but still huge by any standard.

From the HRM Mineview, we drove a short distance to the Greyhound Bus Lines Origin Museum. The museum is the effort of local people in Hibbing, particularly one Gino Nicolelli. It is not funded by Greyhound. Greyhound began in Hibbing, MN. As the mines spread out, residential areas developed in “locations”, areas where homes and boarding houses could be built. In the early days, the population on the Range was primarily single men. Even as families developed, the pay was not sufficient to allow people to build their own homes and have horses (or cars later) for transportation. A couple of miners got together and purchased a Hupmobile auto and began transporting miners to work and stores. Over time, the men added more vehicles and modified them in their own body ship to provide additional seating. The museum covers the men who began the transportation business and develops the story line of how it branched out, eventually buying out small competitors until it became nationwide.

One of the Greyhound buses on display

The museum has several buses demonstrating the various designs used over the years. There was a cute display of a passenger on a bus huddled up with a blanket around him. Early buses did not have heat but they did provide blankets. The museum displays start to peter out around 1970; it does not cover Greyhounds later history of strikes, bankruptcy, re-organization and eventual purchase by a British firm. Another notable omission is any mention of the role of inter-city buses, like Greyhound, during the desegregation efforts in the South. Our previous trip to Anniston Alabama included the site of a burning of a Greyhound bus.

We left Hibbing driving east to Chisholm and the Minnesota Discovery Center. While the Discovery Center began in 1977, it has been upgraded recently and includes a complex of 660 acres. We spent most of our time in the 33,000 s.f. museum which covers the Iron Range through exhibits on “The Land, The Mines, The People and The Work”. Our emphasis was on the people; the European immigrants from all over Europe who came here, creating a diverse spectrum of small, urban communities. Unlike much of Minnesota which was primarily rural and agricultural, the people concentrated in small towns.

One exhibit discusses the strikes of 1907 and 1916 which were broken by the use of company hired “security” forces and local sheriffs. After the 1907 strike, many participants were denied work in the mines. By 1916, the strike breakers hired in 1907 had come to the same conclusion as the workers in 1907 for the need to strike. Pay was low and graft common. Workers were only paid by the production of good ore. While this might seem reasonable, the more you produce, the more you earn; the consequences were that safety measures were ignored (no pay for that), people who argued were assigned to production areas with low-grade or low concentrations of ore (unless they bribed the foreman), and as mines expanded, travel time to further reaches of the mines were not compensated. Both strikes were broken and no union existed on the Range until the 1930s. The eastern financiers who invested money into the mines were handsomely rewarded, workers who toiled in harsh conditions had trouble just getting by.

Honoring Slovenians at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm

The Range went through periods of discrimination where the Swedes and Norwegians were “better” than the Finns, Italians, and Slavic people. Over time, intermarriage between ethnic groups occurred, and today there is more a “Ranger” identity versus the rest of Minnesota, rather than ethnic groups identifying against each other. The Range suffers economic cycles as lumbering and mining go through periods of expansion and contraction. As automation increases, the towns suffer the loss of younger people. The desire for good paying jobs creates a tension with people advocating environmental issues over all else. Part of that tension is occurring as new mining proposals put forth copper mining, which has a greater environmental impact than does iron ore mining.

The museum was an excellent source of information about the Iron Range, providing a background to the economic and political conditions on the Range today. As we headed back to the Green Heron B & B, we had dinner at the Cedars in the Sawmill Inn, a comfortable restaurant with style and great food. A better meal than Zorbaz the night before, but Zorbaz was a family, pizza style place. It served its purpose but Cedars was more enjoyable.

Snapshots from Bovey MN

Friday our only goal before heading home was the tour of the Hill Annex Mine. This is a closed mine, owned by the State of Minnesota and managed as a state park. Tours are currently offered only on Fridays and Saturdays. However, on our way to the tour, we made a stop in Bovey MN. Bovey’s claim to fame is that a local photographer snapped a well-known picture called “Grace”.  “Grace is a photograph by Eric Enstrom. It depicts an elderly man with hands folded, saying a prayer over a table with a simple meal. In 2002, an act of the Minnesota State Legislature established it as the state photograph. Wikipedia” It was created in 1918, so its fame now is more in the realm of senior citizens and certain religious groups who still market it. The book in the photo is actually a dictionary, although it is frequently erroneously credited as a Bible. Certainly the photographer is sending the message of the book as a Bible even though some photographic liberties were used in the shooting of the photo. In any event, we stopped at a small antiques store and looked for something interesting to buy. While nothing struck our fancy, we did discover their display of a speakeasy in the basement, with an escape tunnel through a tall chest of drawers.

The Hill Annex mine, with the water filling in the pit

From Bovey we drove to Calumet MN to visit the Hill Annex Mine State Park and take the 1.5 hour tour. The Hill Annex mine operated from 1913 to 1978 and was the sixth most productive mine in Minnesota. There are still piles of tailings and ore that could be productive depending on future demand and economics, although near term use is very unlikely.  When operating, the mine had to be pumped to keep water out. Once the mine closed, the pumps no longer operated and portions of the pit have become a lake.  The park has displays in the old mining clubhouse but our target was the tour.

Abandoned equipment at the Hill Annex mine

The tour is led by a former miner at the Hill Annex. We took a bus over the grounds, some reclamation areas with abandoned machinery, some top of the pile view points, and a spot close to the water now in the former pit.  The tour started in sunny weather but half way through a light drizzle came out. The drizzle made our journey up one of the hills a challenge as the bus was unable to gain full traction on the wet rocks. It took four tries before we made it up the hill. Our guide explained his work and the machinery.

This mine is named after James J Hill, who through the building of the Great Northern Railway, was truly instrumental in the development of the northwestern United States from Minnesota to Washington State. (In my volunteer work Saturday at the St. Anthony Falls visitor center for the Mississippi National River and Recreation area, two men from Seattle were visiting Minnesota and touring locations connected Hill. They understood the role he played in developing their state.) Hill and his sons purchased land and a small railroad in the range, primarily to obtain timber. Iron ore was known to be in the area, but Hill just lucked out into one of the most productive mines on the range. The full story is complicated, but the mining leases he set up, rather than operating the mine, provided his heirs and investment partners $500 million dollars in revenue through 2015 when the last of the leases ended.  Most people in Minnesota know of Hill’s railroad wealth, his mining wealth from the Hill Annex mine was hidden behind a little known trust.

From Calumet we drove home, stopping for lunch at a bar/restaurant in Carlton MN. This mini-vacation was a pleasant learning experience with great overnight accomodations.

Ed and Chris St. Paul Aug. 6

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2017 Trip Five: Northern MN, Aug. 1-2

McCarthy Beach State Park in Minnesota

Grand Rapids, MN August 1, 2017

Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Population 11,000 people and 1,000 lakes. Slightly smaller than last week’s city, Chicago, with 2.7 million. Chris and I are back on our hunt to visit all 76 Minnesota state parks. This trip will allow us to visit three more; our total will be 66.

It has been a gorgeous day. For those of you in hotter climes, the temperature reached a high of about 82, light breezes and mainly sunny skies. Low tonight of 55 degrees Fahrenheit. We spent part of the afternoon and evening sitting on the beach of Pokegama Lake, 6600 acres in size and about 110 feet deep at its greatest depth. Our beach front lodging is at the Green Heron Bed and Breakfast, an excellent facility Chris found on the Internet. While the B & B is named after the green heron found locally, once again it is the sound of the loon that says “Northern Minnesota lakes” to me.

Our drive up to Grand Rapids took us through small towns like Mora, population 3400 which is a county seat and home to the Vasaloppet, a cross-country ski touring event in Minnesota with ties to Sweden which is where many of the Mora European settlers originated. Another community was McGregor, population of about 350 people. We stopped in Mora and had a mid-morning break of pastries from the local bakery. Along the way, summer wildflowers lined the highways; maybe not as overwhelming as our time in Texas but still breathtaking. The latter portion of the drive frequently brought us into contact with the Mississippi River; shallower and slower moving up here than the sections we observed from the Empire Builder last week.

Looking down from the Continental Divide at Savanna Portage State Park

Savanna Portage State Park was our primary destination for the day. Lunch was in the park, next to one of the lakes. Savanna Portage has over 15,000 acres and is named after the Native Americans and the fur traders who used this area as a connective trail between Lake Superior and the Mississippi River. “Savanna” refers to the open grassland on the eastern portion of the trail. “Portage” refers to the process of carrying canoes across land areas between water routes.

From about 1760 to about 1830, fur traders were an important economic engine in this portion of the country. They used large canoes on the Great Lakes to bring the beaver pelts to Montreal from Minnesota and places west. To get the beaver pelts to the shores of Lake Superior, they used smaller birch bark canoes. The portage here began with poling the heavily laden canoes through 12 miles of a twisty, shallow river. Then a canal was dug for a portion of the journey, ending with the carrying of canoes across land. The portage took five days through “swamp, bog, blood-sucking insects, and severe weather.”

While the weather was nice today, we did encounter more flies than we wished to see and our hiking was shorter than usual. We made sure though to hike the trail of the Continental Divide. This divide separates rain water coursing eastward to Lake Superior and the Atlantic Ocean and rainwater coursing westward to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. (There is a third continental divide in Minnesota which sends water northward to Hudson’s Bay in Canada.)

View of Green Heron B & B from Pokegama Lake

We arrived early at the Green Heron, knowing we would be treated to refreshments and appetizers at 5 PM. The B & B is impressive and the hosts, Johnnie and Chris Fulton, friendly. Chris, my Chris, that is, is already discussing coming back here next summer, probably with daughters in tow. At various times, we enjoyed the view of the lake from chairs outside and from the screened in patio. I used the library to do most of my work on the blog.

Wednesday, August 2

Four and a half years ago when we started serious travel, I was not excited about staying at B & Bs, nor at the homes of Evergreen Club members. Since then I have come to enjoy the friendliness of the hosts and the breakfasts that vastly surpass those we prepare for ourselves at home. This morning’s breakfast of home-made muffins, bacon, home-made quiche, and a yogurt/granola/fruit dish exceeded the standard breakfast served at a Hampton Inn or Fairfield Inn or at the Heimel-Klejbuk Inn.

Well-fortified, we headed out for the day’s activities. It was going to be a slow pace; we decided bugs would be a problem at any park and we should not attempt long hikes where I would just be cursing (not that I ever curse!!). To be fair, the bug situation at the B & B and in towns has been no hassle.

Views along the Edge of Wilderness scenic byway from Grand Rapids to Effie MN

Driving the “Edge of the Wilderness” scenic byway was the first item on our agenda. The byway is 45 miles long. We last wrote about it in August 2015 as part of our Northwest MN journey. Chris enjoys the trip along a two lane road, winding through birch and fir trees nestled among numerous lakes. We detoured to several back roads, checking out resorts and homes located along the lakes. Like many other parts of northern MN, small resorts are still in business, although the competition from fancy places has got to be tough. We had to dodge a few logging trucks. Lumbering is still big business in the area with much of the cut timber headed for the Blandin Paper Mill in Grand Rapids. (We plan to tour it tomorrow, a likely rainy day.) This area is for people and families that want to enjoy nature and the outdoors; biking, canoeing, fishing, camping, hiking, etc.

Effie MN: mosquito and cowboy statues, Effie Cafe, and Edge of Wilderness sign

The scenic byway ends in the town of Effie, population 123. We had lunch in the Effie Cafe with a dozen locals. Our waitress (the only one) indicated the cafe had been hopping the weekend before due to the annual Effie Rodeo. This year’s rodeo was their 62nd annual.

From Effie we drove to our first state park of the day, McCarthy Beach State Park. The beach has been highly rated by Highways Magazine and we wanted to scope it out. The air temperature was just reaching 70 degrees Fahrenheit, so our bodies stayed on the shore. There were only a few people on the beach being mid-week and cool. The beach is not huge but probably ample enough, there is a kiddie’s section and an adult section. Trees surround the lake shore although private residences surpass the public park portion. The water is shallow and one can walk out for a great distance. The clarity was great. We felt relaxed just sitting and watching the day go by.

At the Edge of the Wilderness Visitor Center, there was a nice display discussing clarity of lakes. While swimmers may wish to have swimming lakes with really clear water, these clear lakes do not have enough nutrients to support a vibrant supply of fish. Swimming and fishing are not necessarily mutually compatible.

Mississippi RIver: top St. Paul our origination, middle at Schoolcraft State Park, bottom about fifty miles south of Grand Rapids

For our final stop, we drove an hour and a half to Schoolcraft State Park. Schoolcraft is small, only 225 acres. We only saw two other vehicles there. Schoolcraft is named after Henry Schoolcraft, the European explorer who was smart enough to ask Native Americans for assistance in finding the head of the Mississippi River. Other Europeans lumbered around on their own without finding it.

The Mississippi River flows through the park. It is not well-advertised but there are eight dams on the upper Mississippi River in this area to help control the flow of the Mississippi downstream to keep the 9′ shipping channel supplied with sufficient water during periods of low flow. The US Army Corps of Engineers did this in the late 1800s. Of course, no local permission was sought back then and numerous Native American villages, hunting grounds, and wild rice marshes were flooded.

At the southern end of the park, the Vermillion River flows into the Mississippi. There are at least three Vermillion Rivers in Minnesota. This one. One up by Lake Vermillion and Ely. Finally a Vermillion River close to St. Paul, running through the town of Hastings. Chris and I were canoeing on the Hastings Vermillion last Saturday. We might see the Ely Vermillion on our next Up North excursion in a few weeks. In contrast to the clarity of water at McCarthy Beach State Park, the Hastings Vermillion was cloudy but the fishing was great. We also observed three bald eagles and one great blue heron on that river.

We will head home Friday but the next two days are more likely to be spent viewing logging and mining locations.

Ed and Chris. Grand Rapids MN. August 2nd.

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2017 Trip Four: Chicago July 25-28

St. Paul, MN July 31, 2017

For this short trip to Chicago we traveled light; no iPad so no blog while traveling. This is our fourth trip to Chicago in the last ten years or so and for the second time in a row, we rode the Amtrak Empire Builder from St. Paul’s Union Depot. Overnight parking ranges from $49 to $64 per night and our plans for the visit did not require a car. The Amtrak round trip fare for two was $234; it seemed like an easy decision to train it. Amtrak seats are roomy and comfortable, you can walk around, there is scenery to observe, and plenty of people-watching and listening. Amtrak is always an adventure though; you can not plan on it being fully on time. I have a habit of checking to see how the Empire Builder is doing, time-wise. Often it is 15-30 minutes early (it waits in St. Paul to depart on time if it arrives early). It can also be late. When it is late, it can be hours late. Of course, our train was one of those. The engine for our train broke down in the mountains out west and the train had to wait for a BNSF freight engine to arrive and pull it the rest of the journey to Chicago. We knew it was going to be late, so we had breakfast at the Buttered Tin in downtown St Paul while we waited.

Crossing the Mississippi River on Amtrak going from Minnesota into Wisconsin

The Empire Builder arrived in St. Paul three hours late. The freight engine goes slower than the Amtrak engine and we arrived in Chicago four hours late, 8 PM instead of 4 PM. The Empire Builder usually stops on the northern side of the depot, ours went further into the southern portion of the station, providing a shorter walk for passengers trying to connect with other trains. The ride was smooth, the views scenic. Many moons ago Mark Twain described the view along the Mississippi River in grandiose words. His words may have been a little over the top but the view does make for a relaxing and enjoyable trip. Chris and I split our time between our coach seat and riding in the observation car.

Readers of this blog may recall that I have been a volunteer docent on the Amtrak Empire Builder as part of the Trails and Rails program jointly sponsored by Amtrak and the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area (MNRRA), a unit of the National Park Service. Unfortunately, this year the program is in on hold. MNRRA lost two rangers, one was the supervisor for this program, and with the federal freeze on hiring they did not have enough staff to oversee our program. Hopefully it will return in 2018. I felt a little weird riding the train, particularly when in the observation car where we did our presentations, and not speaking or being able to listen to any speaker. Most passengers did not know the difference. On this train, I did not recognize any of the conductors or car attendants. On our return trip on Friday I recognized a conductor and he did indicate some people had asked why the Trails and Rails program was not being presented.

Mural dating back to the days of the Chicago Motor Association in our Hampton Inn Chicago

In Chicago, we stayed at a Hampton Inn at Wacker and Michigan, one half block from the Chicago River. It was a very convenient location. The hotel building originally was the home for the Chicago Motor Association (AAA) but had been vacant for many years. The renovation retained the Art Deco feel of the original building. Like many hotels in large cities, the rooms were small. Of our four stays in Chicago, three have been Hamptons and all have been a good choice. We walked the mile to the hotel from Union Station, once again enjoying the architecture of the buildings along the way. Dinner was across the street at a Jamaican bar/restaurant.

The “Bean”

Wednesday, our major activity was a bus tour of Chicago Historical Neighborhoods run by the Architectural Association of Chicago. This group organizes numerous architectural tours; we have been on three others before this one. All are well done and reasonably priced. The tour did not begin until 11 so we wandered around Millennium Park beforehand. Millennium Park was a project of the second Mayor Daley to take the northern section of Grant Park, cover over numerous unused railroad yards and make it into a spectacular park to celebrate the year 2000. Well, typical of many projects it came in over budget, past its scheduled completion date but wildly successful. It is full of notable scenes; the “Bean”, a cascading waterfall, a new garden, a kids play area which is spectacular, and another outdoor amphitheater.

The Crown Fountain in daytime, at night the towers change colors

We have been to Millennium Park before but Lurie Garden and the Maggie Daley kids play area were new to us. Millennium Park cost almost 500 million dollars and was a combination of city and private funds. It is always a pleasure to stroll around, particularly in pleasant summer weather. People gather at the Bean (technically titled Cloud’s Gate), a shiny structure shaped like a bean, that reflects the views of the spectators as well as the background of the Chicago skyscrapers. Others splash in the reflecting pool of the Crown Fountain, situated between two fifty foot towers with changing faces of people on them. Periodically the mouth of the person opens up and directs a spray of water onto the people, usually children, waiting underneath.

Grant Park as a whole is over 300 acres, over 1.5 miles long, provides scenes of the lakefront, is home to several museums, fountains, sculptures, etc. It is the site of large gatherings, such as an outdoor Mass by Pope John Paul II, Barack Obama’s 2008 Election Day victory speech, the celebration for the Bulls and Cubs national championships, and a riot during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

But back to the tour. We were on a double-decker bus, with probably about 20 others. Many of the “Hop-on, Hop-off’ double decker buses that circulate around the downtown area were full. Our tour guide was a volunteer for the Architectural Association who was quite knowledgeable. We drove through Greektown, Little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown, and Bronzeville. Most of these neighborhoods have changed from their original ethnic roots, although the architectural style may still survive. The 1960s and 1970s were particularly destructive as freeways were constructed and universities and hospitals expanded. This “modernization” destroyed neighborhood cohesiveness and scattered residents to new neighborhoods or suburbs as large, new buildings were erected. For instance, Bronzeville was once home to a major African-American community, located here as informal segregation limited where they could live. When the Illinois Institute of Technology came in with its brutalist, concrete style of buildings, many residents had to move and much of the original housing stock destroyed. We were able to view remnants of the homes from that era.

One of the murals in Pilsen neighborhood

Pilsen was originally a Czech neighborhood. Now it is central to Chicago’s Mexican-American heritage, with numerous wall murals decorating the community. Chinatown is actually expanding, unlike many other “Chinatowns” around the country. Chicago’s Chinatown originally developed when the Chinese who immigrated to the U.S. faced discrimination and violence on the West Coast. Several neighborhoods had homes where the first floor was below street level. Evidently much of Chicago was built on swamp land which has settled. Unlike downtown Chicago where fill was added and building were physically raised, these residences settled without any city intervention. When we visited the Pullman National Monument in Chicago last year, we learned that George Pullman was one of the contractors hired to raise downtown buildings.

We were only able to view these buildings due to the skill of our bus driver. The downtown “Hop-on, Hop-off” buses drive down wide streets with few trees. Our bus traversed narrow streets with tree branches and wires frequently threatening the people on the upper deck of the bus-us. He did a fantastic job; I escaped without any scrapes or bruises and we did not hit any pedestrians or cars. On the tour we saw the outside of the National Mexican-American Art Museum and the National Hellenic Museum; we will have to put them on our list for the next trip.

At the Grant Park Orchestra performance

Wednesday evening we went back to Millennium Park. This time my cousin Sue picked us up with picnic food. We met two friends of hers at the Jay Pritzker amphitheater. The Grant Park orchestra was playing to a crowd of several thousand. Actually, I have no idea of the number of people. The crowd was not announced but it is a large area and people were spread out everywhere. It was a pleasant evening, the music was enjoyable, and we had several hours to chat. Honestly, our talking very quietly during the orchestra did not interrupt or bother other people. It is a setting where you can talk quietly and still enjoy the music as a standard part of the audience participation.

Thursday was projected to be a rainy day but the rain prediction disappeared and we changed our plans. We took a bus north to Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park is 1200 acres and includes the Zoo, Conservatory, History Museum, beaches, playing fields, numerous statues, and nature museum. In the morning, we visited the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum including its butterfly house, the Conservatory, and the lily ponds. At the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, we joined a throng of summer campers as the Nature Museum is free to residents of the state of Illinois on Thursday. Despite the kids, we were able to enjoy the exhibits and displays. Climate change is still alive there; displays showcased climate change, solar panels, green homes, purification of drinking water and the cleaning of waste water.

In Lincoln Park

Walking south, we encountered the conservatory with its glass domes and floral displays. The conservatory was not huge, probably no larger than the Como Park Conservatory here in St. Paul. We continued walking through the park, watching the maintenance crew repair the fountain, then we could observe the dogs and children play in the fountain. The flowers along the fountain area south of the conservatory were brilliant and well done. We even sat for a while and just enjoyed the view. Lunch was at a restaurant just 1/2 block west of the park.

In the Chicago History Museum

Our journey continued for several more blocks as we reached the Chicago History Museum. This was an excellently done. We spent several hours here until our bodies were tired of standing and reading and observing. One of their main exhibits is titled “Crossroads of America”. The displays highlight the role of Chicago in the development of the United States, touching on such topics as the stockyards, railroads, breweries, lumbering, medical advancements, etc. We spent probably two hours going through this one exhibit. The other exhibits we treated as more of a walk through for us since our energy was dwindling.

Walking down State Street

We decided to walk back to our hotel, choosing the quieter side street of State Street and Rush street. The first half of the walk was on quiet, tree-lined, flower-filled streets with probably expensive walk up residences intermingled among high-rise buildings. The final, more downtown section was still comparatively quiet as compared to Michigan Avenue just to our east. We congratulated the fact that we walked over 11 miles on Thursday with a stop at Ghiradelli Chocolate for some ice cream and sorbet refreshment.

Maggie Daley Park

Thursday evening we spent some more time at Maggie Daley park at Millennium Park. We were amazed at the variety, complexity, and beauty of the children’s play structures. There was even a climbing rock area, surrounded by a track where parents and children could rollerblade and ride on scooters. Even at 8 PM, there were a sizable crowd of parents and children utilizing the grounds and facilities.

As we returned towards the Pritzker amphitheater, we encountered the crowd for the live recording of the public radio show called “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me”. The crowd was even bigger than the group present Wednesday night for the Grant Park Orchestra. We managed to wend our way through the park before the crowd left the performance.

Driehaus Mansion Chicago

On Friday, our train was not scheduled to depart until 2:15 PM. We took a docent led tour of the Driehaus Mansion, a suggestion made to us by the friends of my cousin Sue who were with us at the Pritzker Wednesday evening. The mansion is one of the few remaining examples of the palatial homes erected by the wealthy of America’s Gilded Age. At its time, it was the largest private residence in Chicago. In the early 2000’s, it was purchased by a very wealthy investment manager (Richard Driehaus) in Chicago, renovated, and made available for tours. “The lavish interiors are complemented by stunning examples of furniture, decorative arts, stained glass, and period pieces selected from the Driehaus Collection.”

After the tour, it was time to walk over to Union Station to catch the Empire Builder home. The train left on time, but arrived ten minutes late due to slower speeds in areas of track construction work. We had an excellent dinner on the train. Our dinner companions were a couple spending several weeks touring the country, using the train to go from point to point. During our discussions we discovered we had been to many of the same places around the country, including lodging at the Duff Green B & B in Vicksburg. All in all, a pleasant journey.

Returning home along the Mississippi River Friday night

Ed and Chris, Saint Paul Minnesota July 31

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2017 Trip 3: West Central MN Lakes: June 8

June 9, St. Paul MN

American Pelicans on Minnesota lake

Thursday June 8 was our day to finish off the trip with one last state park and the drive to the Cities. Two new couples had joined us the evening before so there was new conversation around the breakfast table at Xanadu Island. Once again, breakfast was excellent; the fresh fruit was infused with a citrus flavor that nicely complemented the “Light as Air” pancakes, scrambled eggs, and sausage. Even the maple syrup was local.

We bid everyone goodbye and headed out to Lake Carlos State Park, north of Alexandria, MN. On the drive we passed lakes with American pelicans. Evidently more than 20% of all American pelicans nest in western Minnesota. In 1968 there were no reports of nesting pelicans in Minnesota, today it is estimated that there are 22,000 pairs of nesting pelicans in Minnesota.

Hiking around Hidden Lake at Lake Carlos State Park MN

Lake Carlos at 1154 acres is the 43rd largest of 67 state parks-there are also 9 state recreation areas. It is popular with horseback riders, but also has trails, swimming beaches, boat and kayak rentals and fishing. Hiking was our sole activity; the ranger on duty indicated which trail had a bald eagle nest on it so we chose that one. The weather continued its streak of warm days with sunshine predominating. The park office had some new kits to repel deer flies. I bought one but it turns out the deer flies were not out; tree worms were and were dropping onto the trail constantly.

Hike completed and 63rd state park stamp received and we were back on the road, taking the interstate to St. Paul. Modern reality intruded soon as we passed a helicopter with a guy sitting on the strut repairing electrical transmission lines.

Electrical utility work in Douglas County MN

Ed and Chris

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2017 Trip 3: West Central MN Lakes Area; June 6-7

Battle Lake MN June 7

Cataract Lake at Maplewood State Park in Minnesota

This area of Minnesota is still home to hundreds of small lake resorts although they are facing economic pressure from people who stop going to resorts and buy their own lake cabin, or from travel abroad, or from fancier and glitzier lake resorts. We made a good choice coming to Xanadu Island. Bubba and Margie Shivler run a handsome facility, provide an excellent breakfast, offer complimentary cookies and beverages 24 hours a day, and provide no-charge canoes, etc for use. The three restaurants in Battle Lake that we patronized offered great food.

Xanadu and Battle Lake are our home as we visit four parks and various small towns. Our car has a nice coat of dust from gravel roads although a brief shower this morning made the roads a little less dusty today. In some locations, it appears that the county oils the road in front of residences in order to reduce the amount of dust generated near homes-versus farms that are set back further from the road. I am not positive though, since there were a few homes without that service. Margie thought an owner had to agree to pay part of the fee prior to the county performing the work. I could not find anything on the county website but in a time of low tax, low services a partial pay system would be logical. Obviously not all roads are gravel but they make a nice reminder that there are differences between urban and rural areas.

A snapping turtle on the road to Xanadu

As we have driven around and through these small towns, we have tried to make unbiased comparisons to the towns we visited during March and April. The lakes and rivers are much cleaner although we know there are pollution issues here, primarily from agricultural dirt and fertilizer/pesticide run-off. The towns we saw have been prosperous enough and well-maintained. Instead of hearing frogs, we see turtles, including snapping turtles, crossing the roads.

It has been a wet spring and green is everywhere. The first hay crop has been cut while the planted crops like corn and soybeans are just starting to sprout. Bird songs are everywhere, although the haunting calls of the loons stand out from all of the rest. Wildflowers are scattered about although not as abundant as we saw in Texas. Oh yes, beverages, whether water or iced tea or pop, are served in much smaller glasses than the huge glasses down south. While serving people are friendly, you do not hear “Have a blessed day”, “Honey or Dearie”, etc.

Biking on the Glendalough Trail

Tuesday June 6 we visited Glendalough State Park, home to three lakes and a portion of a fourth. Once a private property and game farm of the owners of the Minneapolis newspaper, the Minneapolis Tribune, the park offers canoeing, kayaking, biking, trails, camping, fishing, etc. We chose to take a 1 3/4 hour bike ride, renting bikes from the park concessionaire. The trail runs by the lakes and into the town of Battle Lake. Like many other areas of MN, bike paths are being expanded and used as a tourist draw. The park concessionaire has bike rentals in Battle Lake also.

Chief Wenonga sculpture by Ken Nyberg in Battle Lake MN

Battle Lake was named by the French explorers and fur trappers. It had been the site of battles between the Dakota and Ojibwe with the Dakota eventually being the victors. We turned around at the statue of Chief Wenonga, a Dakota chief who steadfastly demanded that the U.S. government adhere to its commitments to provide him and his family with the amount of land promised. It took decades but he succeeded where most other Indians had given up and accepted the reduced portions.

Four of the Ken Nyberg sculptures in Vining MN

After the bike ride, we went back into Battle Lake and stopped at Art of the Lakes Studio. Nice art work. The studio has been around for fifty years and is cooperatively run by about a dozen artists. Then it was lunch at The Rusty Nail. Our next stop was in the town of Vining, home of a sculptor working in metal, Ken Nyberg. Vining, population 78, has an area next to a gas station that displays many of his whimsical works. The Nybergs’ daughter, Karen, was an U.S. astronaut who went into space in 2008 and 2013. There are numerous Ken Nyberg sculptures around the county, including Chief Wenonga in Battle Lake, and the Upper Midwest.

Chris and Ed at Inspiration Peak, Otter Tail County MN

Our final stop was at Inspiration Peak State Wayside Park, home to a peak 400 feet above the surrounding land. The elevation at the top is 1,750 feet above sea level. The peak is the result of glacial action. Remember that the glaciers were not just one movement, but a series of actions over millions of years. The final result is a series of hills spread across several of the counties in this area. Inspiration Peak is the tallest of the hills that remain from that glacial action. The hike is steep but relatively short, less than half a mile one-way. The view is pleasant; we shared it with two young men from Alexandria MN who, when we met them in the parking lot, seemed concerned whether we would be able to complete the hike. We may have been slower than they were, but we succeeded. The peak “inspired” Sinclair Lewis who described the view from the top: “there’s to be seen a glorious 20-mile circle of some 50 lakes scattered among fields and pastures, like sequins fallen on an old paisley shawl.”

The turtle races in Perham MN

Today, Wednesday, we started with turtle races. This is the 37th annual “running” of the turtles. Perham MN is a town of 3200 souls; home to manufacturers of candy, pet food, cheese, and snack food. The downtown has remained vibrant, able to appeal to visitors to the lakes in the region as well as locals. The turtle races are a summer staple, occurring every Wednesday morning at 10:30 AM.

Today’s races were the first of the summer. There were just under 100 contestants. One of the judges, who has been judging for 17 years, told us the races will draw 400-500 contestants for the early July races. The races are held in a small park downtown. There is a circle with an inner and outer ring. Ten contestants compete in a heat. The ten are within the inner circle; at the start, turtles are released and the first one to cross the outer circle is the winner. Contestants yell and bang pails to urge their turtle on to glory. We noticed there was a tendency for the turtles who faced the east side where there is a wall but no humans, to have a better chance of success. It was fun to watch the facial expressions of the kids and adults who competed. The ten heat winners compete for the final top three places. We never did discover the prizes for winning, but they exist.

We walked the downtown streets and stopped for ice cream and a few birthday gifts for people who have birthdays in June and later.

Loon on lake

Our next stop was in Dent, MN, population 182. The local restaurant is famous for its caramel and cinnamon rolls. By the time we arrived only the frosted cinnamon rolls were left. We had their daily lunch special and boxed up the roll to share back at Xanadu this evening. On our way to Dent, Chris asked if I knew where Nootzi’s (the restaurant) was. I said “no, but Chris, the town is less than 200 people. It will be easy.” Well of course “downtown” Dent is not on the main thoroughfare and there was no sign saying “Downtown this away” so of course I had to double back to find the downtown and Nootzi’s.

Our final stop of the day was for our third state park, Maplewood. We drove in and as usual, even though we have an annual park pass, we stopped at the office to talk to the park ranger, get Chris’s park book stamped, and see what items they have for sale. I (for a change) struck up the conversation with the Assistant Superintendent. It turns out he is from Pelican Rapids, which is nearby, and has been here since 1995. Our conversation turned to the August week in 2004 that Chris and I did a volunteer stint in Pelican Rapids with Global Volunteers. We had a pleasant discussion recalling people and incidents from Pelican Rapids. The park guy commented that small town Pelican Rapids has embraced new immigrants and its resulting diversity. The immigrants work primarily at a local turkey processing plant.

Chris found a creamer/maple syrup pourer made by Dineen Pottery of St. Paul. Dineen makes pottery souvenirs for numerous parks, This is the first purchase we have made of their product as we have plenty of mugs. Maplewood, besides being a great park for fall colors, also hosts a maple syrup making festival in the spring. They have a new Sugar Shack used for interpretations for school kids in the spring and then sell the syrup at their fall festival.

Looking north from Hallaway Hill Overlook at Maplewood State Park in Minnesota

At Maplewood, we climbed another observation peak. Hallaway Hill Overlook is not as tall as Inspiration Peak, nor as steep but the hike was longer and more pleasant as it wound its way through prairie and woods to the top. Our second hike was around Cataract Lake. A portion of this trail co-exists with the North Country Trail, an under development trail that will, when completed, stretch from eastern New York to central North Dakota.

Dinner was at Stub’s, whose motto is “The second best restaurant in Minnesota”. Conversation with our lodge mates and owners wrapped up the evening.

Sign above door at lodge at Glendalough State Park, Minnesota

Ed and Chris

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2017 Trip 3: West Central MN Lakes Area, June 5

Battle Lake, June 5, 2017

One of the over 1,000 lakes in Ottertail County Minnesota

Just a little three night trip to West Central Minnesota. Many people are familiar with one of Minnesota’s slogans; “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Technically there are 11,842 lakes here with each lake counted having a size of at least ten acres. We are at Xanadu Island B and B/resort on Elbow Lake in Ottertail County. Ottertail County, with its county seat at Fergus Falls, has over 1,000 lakes, so we see lakes around every bend in the road. Ottertail County has more lakes than any other county in the United States; quite a change from the dry lands of Texas, Kansas, etc that we drove through just weeks ago. Elbow Lake is a spring fed lake and the water is quite clear with a depth of about 55 feet at its deepest point. The vast, vast majority of lakes in Minnesota are natural from glacial action, not man-made by damming up rivers.

Xanadu Island B and B and Resort in Battle Lake MN

Xanadu Island was built in the 1920s by an attorney from St. Louis who built a summer fishing retreat for his family. His wife came from the J.P. Morgan family (the major financial house of the early 1900s). Over time it has been expanded and modified; now it has five rooms in the B and B portion and three cabins (originally servant quarters and the garage) on the property. Construction is heavily of stone and wood, it comes across very well.

Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota

Buffalo River State Park in Minnesota

Our plan is to visit four state parks between today and Thursday. The day started with a drive to Buffalo River State Park just 15 miles east of Moorhead MN-which is at the Minnesota-North Dakota border. Buffalo River has a sandy bottom swimming pond, hiking trails and a regional science center. The state park also butts up to the Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural area. Our hike went through the park and a portion of the SNA. We focused on the prairie portion, not the woods.

Evidently a number of birders have come to Buffalo River State Park recently. There was a reported sighting of a Western Wood Peewee; a bird not normally found this far east. We saw birds but none of the ones we saw distinctly appeared to be the bird of the hour.

After driving here and having a barbecue (Texas style) dinner in Battle Lake, we are relaxing, listening to the birds and feeling the slight breezes off the lake through the numerous windows in the main building. Ah, summer in Minnesota Lake Country.

Ed and Chris Monday June 5, 2017

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2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 29-30

Saint Paul, MN. May 1

At a Kansas rest stop

The last two days were driving in the rain, steady rainfall all day, frequently heavy. Saturday night we stopped in Kansas City, it is less than half the distance home but there are not many lodging options between KC and Des Moines.

This trip was 10,050 miles over 61 days. Thirteen states including Minnesota were included. Our primary goals were met successfully; spring migration of sandhill cranes, wildflowers in Texas, and Big Bend National Park.

No real negatives; lodging options were great, Evergreen hosts wonderful to meet. We were pleased with most of the museums we visited. The summer of 2017 will probably be short, regional trips. Next long trip is likely to be out East again; Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut.

Thoughts from Chris: As you all know, Ed is the main writer of this travel blog and does an incredible job sharing our travel adventures. After this last trip, I wanted to share some musings.

We are very thankful to God for our time, health and resources to have been able these past 4 plus years to explore the United States and Canada. The varied physical landscapes of our country, the welcoming of strangers, the humbling historical places of triumph and tragedy, the local “off-the beaten” road experiences have made our trips so very memorable.

I wanted to share some aspects of making our trips so successful.

1. We are planners. We enjoy the process of considering what trips we will take each year, the routes, the things we want to experience and visit and where we will stay. The research is fun and intriguing.

2. We have a budget. We know that if we want to “stay in the national park”, our lodging for those nights will be high and will need to be off-set with Evergreen stays ($20/night) or Hilton/Marriott properties where we get breakfast and points. Which nights will we need a laundry and which nights will we be coming in late after a long drive?

3. What special events may be happening in the area: a rodeo, concert, side trips, lectures? We get reservations, if needed, for these in advance. For this trip we identified several docent tours, the rodeo, bird watching excursions, rafting trip, jeep trip, star-gazing party.

4. We are not foodies, but tend to seek out the local “mom and pop” eating establishments and check to see if the area church/veterans club/etc. is having a community dinner/breakfast. We, however, also travel with granola bars and peanut butter and crackers which sometimes have become our lunch/dinner.

5. We enjoy visiting “niche” spots. We now have a better appreciation of tractors (after visiting the tractor testing site in Nebraska) and the work of Habitat for Humanity after seeing the home for International Habitat for Humanity in Georgia.

6. We enjoy visiting where something was started and/or now made: Kool Aid (Nebraska), Dr. Pepper (Texas), oil (Texas), Winnebago RVs (Iowa) among many.

7. We enjoy visiting our National Parks!

While we treasure our trips around the country, we know we are very, very blessed to live in St. Paul, Minnesota. We encourage all our readers to explore and enjoy what is in our own backyard. When was the last time you canoed the St. Croix River, biked Mississippi River Boulevard, went to one of our great art museums, hiked at Fort Snelling State Park, visited Como or the Arboretum, enjoyed a free outdoor concert in the area? We remember well when we were workaholics with a family, house and yard. We know that the Twin Cities’ area is the best in the country to have many options for outdoor and indoor learning and outdoor activities. “Staycations” in the Twin Cities are so close and affordable.

We are staying close to home for the next several months and are looking forward to enjoying what our area has to offer. There really is “no place like home”.

Chris and Ed

Ed and Chris
May 1, 2017
St. Paul MN

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2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 28

Oklahoma City, Friday April 28

Oklahoma City National Memorial: the chairs, the reflecting pool, and one of the gates.

Two Tragedies. Not the most positive way to start drawing our trip to a close but the travel geography dictated our stops during our drive today.

A crop duster plane near the Texas-Oklahoma border

We left Amarillo Texas and drove into Oklahoma. Most of today’s journey continued on two lane state roads; speeds around 70-75 mph on roads with no shoulders and narrow traffic lanes. We never exactly left oil country but instead of well pumps, we observed tanks and pipelines. The sight of railroad traffic returned as a portion of our journey paralleled the main tracks of the BNSF Railway. Scrub brush gave way, usually, to fields dedicated to growing wheat and cotton. Grain elevators started to appear. Large cattle ranching operations were more obvious. I am guessing, but I believe the better quality grass here allows for more concentration of cattle ranching than in the lower rainfall, desert area we just left.

We saw more wind turbines today than we had in all of our trip prior to this. Texas is the largest producer of wind power, much of that generated in West Texas. Evidently though, the four largest wind farms in Texas are in an area east of Odessa, a part of Texas we did not drive through. However, Iowa is the state with the highest percentage of its electricity produced by wind power.

As we left Texas and drove into the western section of Oklahoma, the countryside seemed greener. The land was less endlessly flat with rolling hills. The Washita River flows through this section of Oklahoma and we stopped at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site.

The Washita Battlefield site

In November 1868, the camp of Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle along the Washita River was attacked in the early morning hours by the 7th U.S.Cavalry under the direction of Lt. Col. George Custer. When the battle was over, 30-60 Cheyenne, including women and children, were dead. Another 53 women and children were taken into captivity. Over 800 horses were slaughtered. Most of the Indian braves were elsewhere; this camp was the winter home of primarily the women, children and elderly.

This incident was an almost unavoidable result of the western expansion of settlers, the taking of Indian land, the rapid extension of the railroads, the hostility and lack of trust between the Indians and the U.S., the string of broken treaties, and continued hostilities by Indian braves who were enraged by the Sand Creek massacre in Colorado four years before. The U.S. Army had adopted the policy of total warfare to drive the remaining Indians onto reservations. Ironically, Black Kettle was one of the chiefs who was cooperating and trying to convince his people to accept the inevitable. The result of capturing and killing women and children and slaughtering horses and burning possessions was a recognition by the Southern Plains Indians that they had no choice but to accept reservation life.

Eventually, even driving the Indians onto reservations did not satisfy the settlers. Surviving Indians from all over the country were forced into Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. But settlers were not satisfied and the Indians were forced onto small, individually owned parcels of land. The balance of the reservation was then sold or given to settlers, most notably during the Oklahoma Land Rush of April 22, 1989. The Oklahoma nickname “Sooners” stems from settler who disobeyed the law and entered the “Unassigned Lands” prior to the official entry time in order to claim prime land.

From Washita Battlefield we drove to Oklahoma City. We stopped at the Oklahoma City National Memorial. On April 19, 1995, the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was torn apart by a truck bomb that killed 168 people and more than 650 people were injured. Until 9/11, this was the worst case of terrorism in the U.S. The bomb blast was executed by an American with right-wing extreme hatred of the U.S. government. He set the federal building bombing for the two-year anniversary of the Branch Davidian compound inferno near Waco Texas.

The memorial has several parts. The location of the federal building is now a grassy site with 168 chairs representing the people who died; the children who died (they had been in a nursery program) are represented by smaller chairs.

There are two entry gates at each end of what had been Fifth Street in front of the building. At one end is recorded 9:01, at the other end 9:03. The bomb went off at 9:02, the gates represent the innocence before the attack and the healing after the attack. Fifth street is now a shallow reflecting pool with gently flowing waters.

The Survivor Tree

Across the street from the building had been an American Elm tree. After the bomb blast, only a portion of the trunk remained. It grew back and now is a full-size tree surrounded by a brick promontory wall. There is an orchard of new trees to represent the emergency responders enhanced by a wall of representative hand-painted tiles sent by children from around the world.

A chain link fence is still outside a portion of the site. Originally put up to keep people from encroaching on the crime scene, people left mementoes on the fence and it has been continually used for that purpose ever since. Finally, a small wall was the only remaining portion of the Murrah Building and has been retained with the names of survivors from the blast.

Ed and Chris.

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2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 27

Amarillo, Texas Friday April 27

A view of Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo Texas

The end is near. Today is day 58 of 61. Tomorrow we start the drive home although there are two sight-seeing stops planned. Our primary goal for today was the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.

Before Alibates though, we made a quick stop to one of those weird oddities that exist around the country. We have been here before, but thought a quick visit would provide a picture or two for the blog today.

Cadillac Ranch is a piece of land west of Amarillo with 10 Cadillacs buried half way into the ground and allowed to be graffiti painted. It has been around for over 40 years. Cars park along the frontage road of I-40 and people get out to gawk, to take photos, and to add some new graffiti. Frankly Graffiti Hill in Austin was more artistic but this is older. Chris and I don’t approve of graffiti but technically Cadillac Ranch and Graffiti are not illicit, but allowed and even encouraged, so these two pass the moral muster.

Then it was off to Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. The route took us through some new roads and we visited the town of Borger. Lo and Behold! Another oil town. In 1921 oil was discovered in Borger and Borger underwent a boom period accompanied by major crime that took the Texas Rangers to end. While this Panhandle oil area never reached the level of oil produced by the Permian Basin, it has been sufficient to keep the largest inland petrochemical plant in operation here. Borger has facilities producing carbon black, fertilizer, and plastics. The skyline here is not littered with well heads, we saw some but in a much less obtrusive manner than around Odessa.

Examples of flint pieces and rock; left here because it had some flaw we do not see.

But oil was not our goal. We were researching old practices of Native Americans. Going back as far as 13,000 years ago and as recently as 700 years ago by the Antelope Creek people, mining of flint occurred here. The area around the Canadian River 30 miles north of Amarillo produces an extremely hard flint that can be used for spears, arrows, knives, etc. Due to geologic conditions, ash from eruptions from the Yellowstone Caldera combined with dolomite rock to produce this flint that is rated as 7.5 on a scale of 10. (Quartz is ranked at 7, glass at 5.5.). The Indians here not only used the flint for themselves, but traded it to other Indians as far as 1,000 miles away.

A view from the top of the mesa at Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument where the flint is found

We had a 90 minute walk with a Park Ranger who discussed the history of this area and the amazing knowledges the natives brought to bear on their life. The plants here were like the bison, almost all parts of the plant had a use for their lives. They figured it out without computers. The flint “quarries” are just areas where the flint material appears close to the surface or at the edge of a cliff. When the dolomite erodes, which it does more slowly than the other rock in the area, it tumbles down the hill, revealing the flint inside the dolomite rock.

A volunteer was here demonstrating how flints produced knives, spear points, etc. Given the rules of leaving everything natural in place, he has to obtain his flint from other private sources. There are other flint “quarries” on private land in the area. As we left for our hike with the Ranger, a bus of 45 people traveling around to National Park sites was arriving.

Lake Meredith Reservoir at today’s water level, about 60% of its capacity.

The Canadian River that flows through the area has been dammed and produces Lake Meredith. Lake Meredith provides recreational use but also drinking water for Amarillo and Lubbock. The water depth at the dam crest could be as high as 111 feet. It currently is in the high 60s; in recent years it has been as low as 26 feet. The reservoir was designed to provide drinking water for Texas panhandle cities but due to recent droughts, those cities have begun digging their own wells and drawing down the aquifer in the area.

After the talk-walk, it was back to Amarillo for dinner and the hot tub. It will be interesting to see if Oklahoma will have as many donut stores as we have seen in Texas. I don’t mean Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donut but homegrown, small stores selling donuts-and staying in business.

Ed and Chris

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2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas April 26

Amarillo Texas Wednesday April 26

Palo Duro Canyon from the canyon floor

It was a day of contrasts as we journeyed from Odessa 260 miles north to Amarillo in the panhandle of Texas. The day was much cooler and windier, jackets were necessary as early morning temperatures labored to be in the mid-50s. Leaving Odessa-Midland, the dust was blowing everywhere. Somewhere north of Odessa, at a point lost in memory, the oil fields disappeared and agriculture and ranching operations dominated the horizon. This area of Texas is cotton farming area but the fields were generally plowed without any obvious crops yet growing. Flat horizon, I might add. Reminded us of Kansas and Nebraska with the endless flatness.

Driving from Odessa to Lubbock Texas

Some of the windmills outside at the American Wind Power Museum in Lubbock Texas

The journey was broken up three times, twice in Lubbock TX. Lubbock has a population of 240,000 people and several museums. We stopped at two of them. The American Wind Power museum was a pleasant surprise. It has a large facility and is dedicated to windmills.

The model train layout at American Wind Power Museum

Inside the museum, the first section has a few windmills but the focus is on a model train layout. The old-time trains ran on steam and without water those trains were going nowhere. The history of Teas has a strong component tied to the railroads’ ability to find a plentiful source of water. Windmills were the major power in bringing water up from underground wells so the tie-in between windmills and trains is realistic. The model layout had numerous model windmills along its path, including one that, in real-life, was over 125 feet tall in order to catch winds blowing across the canyon bluffs above the train tracks.

The miniature house display

Another exhibit was a tack-on, a series of miniature houses built by a local wife and husband couple. Interesting but not really central to the theme of the museum, although a few were incorporated into the train layout.

The next two exhibits were unexpected. One display case, from people in Wheaton Minnesota, was devoted to the weights used to balance and control the windmills. A second display consisted of millstones. Yes, those stones used in mills to grind flour, animal feed, etc. Did you now that the stones were “dressed” or cut in varying ways in order to facilitate the grinding of different types of materials? Neither did we, even though we have seen numerous mills in operation.

The inside display of windmills

Then we got to the exhibit of windmills. There were dozens of them, some complete with towers, some just with the windmill. Windmills from foreign countries and windmills from companies in America still making them, such as Aeromotor. If you were really in to them, you could read the history of the various models and companies. We just marveled at the variety and beauty on display. Many were working, even indoors.

Legacy of the Wind mural at American wind Power Museum in Lubbock Texas

The final indoor display was their event room where meetings, balls, weddings, etc. could be held. On the wall of the room was a humongous mural, the “Legacy of the Wind”. It is 200 feet long and 34 feet high. The theme is the history of wind power in America. It starts with the Dutch style windmills and moves on through the evolution of windmills that could survive the power of the American prairies.

The mural depicts authentic types of windmills incorporated into farm and town settings, as well as gradually moving into current times. Some of the settings include a Harvey House restaurant, a cotton farm, railroad sidings with the mill and water tank, dug-out sod house, and a modern farm with a John Deere tractor.

The replica 1621 windmill

Outside the building are arranged several dozen windmills in operation, including a replica of a 1621 windmill built near Jamestown VA. That windmill was believed to be the first constructed in America. The American Wind Power museum was a very pleasant and unusual surprise.

After lunch we visited the Buddy Holly museum. Buddy Holly was born in Lubbock and became an early pioneer in rock and roll music. The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones and Elton John all publicly stated that his style and innovations influenced their music. His death in a plane crash in Iowa when he was only 22 cemented his name into music history. The museum displays personal artifacts and the history of his career. I had not remembered that he had gotten married just several months before his death. He proposed to the woman on their first meeting and were married two months later.

Amarillo is another 120 miles from Lubbock but we made a third stop just outside of Amarillo. We have driven through Amarillo several times in past years but never before had we stopped at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro is considered the second largest canyon system in the United States after the Grand Canyon.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas

Palo Duro is 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. You are driving along the flat prairie land wondering where is this supposed canyon? Then you come upon it and it presents a great vista. We drove a loop road in the western section of the canyon and took several short hikes. There had been rain earlier in the day and some of the trails were still muddy. The canyon was formed by a fork of the Red River of the South. The state appears to have constructed all new bridges over the creek so while portions of the road had dried mud from today’s rain, the drive was still easy-going.

Looking toward the “Lighthouse” formation at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas

Palo Duro was home to several Native American tribes. When the U.S. Cavalry was forcibly moving the Indians from here to reservations in Oklahoma, one battle was fought here in which the cavalry captured over 1,000 Indian horses and slaughtered the horses to remove the Indian’s means of transportation. They had to surrender. An American rancher later opened up his ranch here and raised over 100,000 cattle.

Our home in Amarillo is at the Home2 Suites by Hilton. This is our first time in this specific brand of Hilton. It strikes us as themed for the millennial trade in its sleek lines. We will be staying at one in Oklahoma City also. It is spacious and well-laid out.

Ed and Chris.

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