road trip

2017 Travel: Minnesota State Parks

Saint Paul, MN. October 2017

Belgrade Minnesota Memorial Park

Success! Two and one-half years ago, Chris had another travel idea. Join the Minnesota State Parks Passport Club with a goal of visiting all of the 76 Minnesota state parks. (Note: two parks have since been combined into one so there are now 75 state parks; you can waive four of the locations that are extremely remote, only accessible by water, or designed only for off-road vehicles.)

On April 12, 2015 we began the Passport Club by visiting Fort Snelling State Park. On Sunday, October 8, 2017 we visited park number 74, Glacial Lakes State Park. The only place we missed was Garden Island State Recreation Area, an island in the Northwest Angle of Minnesota that juts into Canada, north of International Falls. We set rules for ourselves; even if we had visited parks previously, we had to visit them again after April 12, 2015, and we had to take a hike of at least one mile in each park. Normally our hikes were much longer. There were two or three places where the bugs were too bad or the trails were lost in the snow that we did not hike a mile. During the last 2.5 years, we have documented in this blog a good number of the state parks as we have traveled around Minnesota.

What did we accomplish? Primarily, the Passport Club made us visit parts of Minnesota we had not seen before. In traveling to parks, we spent time driving on dirt roads, visiting very small towns, and talking to a wide range of people. We slept in B and B’s, in camper cabins at the parks, in small hotels, in a bunk house, at casinos and lake resorts. Note we are not campers; we do not own a tent or drive an RV and have no desire to do so. We ate at some nationally franchised restaurants but primarily at locally owned small town eateries.

Wildflowers at Nerstrand Big Woods State Park

We observed fields of blooming sunflowers; took factory tours, hiked up mountains (Minnesota sized), saw innumerable waterfalls, gloried in fall colors and colorful prairie flowers. Most parks were immaculate and a treasure to behold, a few were more ramshackle and in need of visitors and maintenance. Oh yes, we saw lakes. Lot and lots of lakes. While the lakes almost always presented clear water, we understand phosphorus and nitrogen can be unseen problems. Invasive species did not jump out and say “Here we are”.

I was generally impressed with the quality of the roads in outstate Minnesota (or Greater Minnesota as it is frequently termed). Farm equipment was frequently encountered; we were amazed at the size and heft of some of the machinery. During this two and one-half years, we bought a new car and found the new one gave a smoother ride-even on dirt roads. Inside the parks, while we usually hiked, bike trails are numerous and located all over the state. Several times we rented bikes locally to enjoy the bike trails. A few other times we rented canoes and enjoyed the views from the level of the water.

Moose and wolves hid from us but numerous small mammals and tons of birds were viewed. We are not birders, so we will not bore you with an attempted list of all that we saw. On occasion we observed more birds here in St. Paul along the Mississippi River than we did along birding trails. We do not fish so don’t inquire about the quality of the fishing. There were plenty of people fishing though so it must be at least reasonable.

Only two parks were visited during the dead of winter (not counting winter hiking locally at parks like Afton and Fort Snelling which we visit frequently). La Salle Lake State Recreation Area which was one of the ones for which we could not find a winter trail and Lake Itasca to observe the headwaters of the Mississippi River in the dead of winter-gorgeous!

Are we going to do it again? Not really in this form. Since there are some parks that really were not that great, we expect to frequent parks that greatly appealed to us or which have sections we did not visit on our first time there. The list of parks to visit again is much longer now than I would have expected.

We agreed when this was over we would each make a list of the top 10% of the parks (seven each) that we enjoyed. The criteria are nebulous and changing, at least for me. I made myself limit the list to only one North Shore park, otherwise the waterfalls along Lake Superior would put every one of those parks on my short list. Surprisingly, our lists were quite different.

Chris: not in any particular order
Big Bog
Forestville/Mystery Cave
Red River
Hill Annex Mine
Nerstrand Big Woods
Tettegouche
Crow Wing

Ed: again not in any particular order
Big Bog
Judge C.R. Magney
Frontenac
Tower Soudan (and Lake Vermillion as combined park)
Blue Mounds
Interstate
Fort Snelling

To reach our final three parks, we left Saturday morning Oct. 7th under gray, rainy skies. As we drove west through Minnesota agricultural land, the skies cleared and the temperature hit the high 60s. On the drive we went through Cosmos MN, a new town for us. As its name implies, all of the streets have cosmic names-Mars, Vega, Libra, etc. We drove by a winery with music Sunday afternoons that we made a note of. We passed by the official location to obtain the stamp for Greenleaf State Recreation Area and we got our stamp. Actual visit will be on Sunday.

Monson Lake State Park

First real stop Monson Lake, a small state park dedicated to the memory of several European immigrants killed in the Dakota War of 1862. A story told before in our blogs, but this park was the site of the deaths of 13 members of two families. There is a small marker here. Fishing and camping are the highest uses here, not a memorable spot for our type of park activity. We drove the short distance to New London MN and had lunch at a downtown restaurant, McKale’s Family Restaurant.

View from Mount Tom at Sibley State Park

Sibley State Park was next, a park we had visited in the past. Notable for Mount Tom, a high point in the surrounding area, this park offers a fuller range of activities. As we went to the top with its viewpoint, we discovered biting bugs of some nature were out. Sunday when we visited Glacial Lakes, only fifty miles away and with the same weather, no biting bugs were encountered.This park offers nice hikes and the beach along the shore of Andrew Lake provides a pleasant respite to sit and watch the lake.The park was busy. The ranger signed our Passport Club book and filled out the paperwork for our plaque. She wanted to chat a bit more to congratulate us on completing the visit of parks but we did not want to slow down the campers waiting in line. (Technically we did not have to visit the park on Sunday to complete our Pasport Club Book, Sibley would have completed the requirements.)

While at Sibley, I saw this guy taking pictures of the bathrooms (from the outside) and he said I was probably wondering why he was doing so. I was. He organizes the Tour of Minnesota Bike Ride; as they state: “Welcome to the Tour of Minnesota formerly the Klobuchar Bike Ride. The Tour of Minnesota is in our 44th year and the ride will be June 15th – 22nd, 2018. We will start in Willmar, ride to Morris, Fergus Falls, Alexandria with a day off in Alexandria, Little Falls, St. Cloud and back to Willmar. We will meet on June 15th at the Willmar Civic Center. I would estimate the daily mileage will range from 45 miles to about 70 miles with an average daily mileage of about 55 miles even though the route is not complete.” He was at Sibley to plan the 2018 trip and the pictures become part of the tour guide to help him and riders know where they will be riding and what they will encounter. Chris and I are more recreational riders but any of you who might be interested should check out their website for the 2018 ride. http://www.tourofminnesota.com

Spicer MN was the site of our night’s lodging at a newly constructed Hampton Inn which offers bike rentals to its guests. Good information for next time. Both New London and Spicer were well-kept communities with a population of about 1200-1400. We have friends from our college days living in Spicer and had dinner at their home. They had previously been living in St. Paul but after retirement decided to move to Spicer; both have family connections in the area.

Sunday our destination was Glacial Lakes State Park. On our way there, we passed through Belgrade Minnesota and our attention was grabbed by a large statue of a crow. The Middle Fork of the Crow River rises near Belgrade and the town has constructed a memorial park to honor “who we are, what we are doing, and where we are going”. Each state’s flag flies, the picnic tables fly the flags of the seven countries (Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Poland, and Czechoslovakia) sending early settlers to this area, and then the flags of Canada and local civic groups such as the Lions and VFW are flown. The walls have bricks memorializing local residents as well as school superintendents, local pastors, veterans, county road crew members, scouts, etc. The crow is 18 feet high and weighs 3,000 pounds.

Glacial Lakes State Park

Normally when I think of Minnesota lakes, I think “Up North”, that area generally north of a line drawn through St. Cloud. However, this area of west-central Minnesota is south of that line and yet is well populated with numerous lakes, generally created by glacial action. The ranger at Glacial Lakes was not as busy and took our picture. I complained to her about the new MN DNR maps/descriptive handouts for each park that while providing larger and easier type to read, have deleted most of the background information about the park-its history, geology, wildlife, etc. They have dumbed down the information. Their new publication listing all MN State Parks is in a different format also. Rather than the 4″ x 9″ folded booklet, there is a large map with the location and list of the parks. I think it is a mistake, the map is difficult to read easily and again, has less information about each park on it. Oh, if I was in charge everything would be perfect. We hiked around a lake, noting kame (cone-shaped hills), kettles (water-filled depressions), and eskers (“a long ridge of gravel and other sediment, typically having a winding course, deposited by meltwater from a retreating glacier or ice sheet).

Fall foliage has been relatively poor. The greatest color has come from shrubbery. A few trees were brilliant, most had not changed or were a dull color. Once again, we are seeing better fall foliage here in the Twin Cities. Last weekend we visited Nerstrand State Park (not for the first time) and the colors there were blah. The brilliant colors at the heading for this blog were taken last fall in St. Paul.

Greenleaf State Recreation Area

After Glacial Lakes, we visited Greenleaf State Recreation Area. Greenleaf was authorized in 2003 but the property is small and development has been spotty due to low funding. It is only a day use area with no facilities but six other people were at the lake access area, more than we have seen sometimes at small state parks. We left Greenleaf in time to visit Crow Wing Winery just east of Hutchinson (14,000 people). The winery is heavy into Minnesota grapes; grapes developed by the University of Minnesota to fare well in our colder climate. A guitarist was playing and we had onion rings and a great pizza to go with our pop. Our final stop was at the Apple House affiliated with the University of Minnesota Arboretum. We picked up an apple pie to bake at home; I was not in the mood to make another apple crisp-maybe later this week.

At Glacial Lakes State Park

Another good journey and a successful conclusion to our 2.5 year odyssey to visit all MN state parks. We would highly recommend the experience to others.

Ed and Chris October 10, 2017

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2017 Trip Seven: Acadia and Cape Cod: Sept. 25-26

Barnstable, MA. Tuesday Sept. 26

Cape Cod National Seashore

We left Mattapoisett at 9:30 Monday morning, able to miss any rush hour traffic. The Salt Pond Visitor Center of the Cape Cod National Seashore was our initial destination. The park is normally jammed in summer months, and just busy in the fall. The park itself is long and narrow, extending over much of the eastern coast line. Like Acadia, the park intermingles publicly owned land among private parcels or whole towns. Cape Cod though is about four times the size of Mount Desert Island; while the Cape Cod National Seashore is about 15% smaller than Acadia National Park. So, the national seashore has less of an impact on the Cape than Acadia has on Mount Desert Island.

Part of the marsh area of Cape Cod National Seashore

The visitor center offers several short videos which provided a background to the geology and history of the cape. (Until 1914, Cape Cod was physically attached to the mainland. In 1914 the Cape Cod canal was created to aid shipping in avoiding the storms around the Cape which took thousands of ships in storms over the years.) Cape Cod is a product of the Glacial Ages, which over years of advancement and retreat formed the higher elevation which still exists today. One of the park rangers was kind enough to provide me with a few written handouts providing greater detail on several topics so that my comments here would be completely accurate. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced them.

Cliffs and beach at Cape Cod National Seashore

Before hiking, we had lunch at an ice cream/fish stand, Arnold’s, in existence for 40 years. The cliffs and surf attracted us after lunch. There were some people at the beach, just relaxing. The surf was running well, although a heavy mist/fog limited the view out to sea. The location is historically important. The international transatlantic telegraph cable was first completed here. The small wood building where the messages were received is still standing at the top of the cliff although the cable buried in the ocean is no longer used.

Another hike took us through the woods at the top of the cliff to a marker noting the location of the first housing site of the seven families who in 1644 moved from Plimouth Plantation to Nauset on Cape Cod.

Sandy Neck Beach

Sandy Neck Beach

Our Evergreen hosts for Monday and Tuesday nights suggested we might also enjoy visiting the local coast. The Sandy Neck Beach at Barnstable had great sand beaches and sand dunes. We hiked along both as the sun was just starting to set. This beach offers the opportunity to drive vehicles on the sand which we did not chance with a rental car. Dinner at a Barnstable restaurant offered excellent clam chowder soup.

Some scenes from around Cape Cod

Tuesday morning we headed back to Salt Pond via the two lane, curvy back roads through little towns. We stopped at a local park to photograph an 18th century windmill located next to the last remaining primitive one room house on the Cape. Before we made it to Salt Pond, we saw another windmill-the first windmill erected in Cape Cod in 1680.

At the visitor center we listened to a part-time ranger regale us with stories from his youth on Cape Cod. His family goes back 12 generations on the cape on both sides of his parents.

We had debated how to spend the rest of the day. Monday we stopped at a bike shop and got quotes and a map of local bike trails. If we return to Cape Cod, I would not mind spending a day or more biking. However, a tour of a local organic cranberry bog won out. Cranberries are a native fruit, introduced to the European settlers by the Native Americans. Wisconsin is the largest producer of cranberries and I comment on them when volunteering on the Amtrak Empire Builder for the National Park Service.

The Cape Farm Supply and Cranberry Farm is the largest organic cranberry grower in the East. There were 18 of us on the tour which utilized a small bus to take us around the farm. The narrator is the wife/co-owner of the farm. Her story line revolves around the activities necessary during each month of the year to keep the cranberry farm operating.

Organic cranberry farm

A few of the comments made during the tour included: A.) Cranberries grow in a mixture of sand and water. The sand needs to be replenished every two to three years which occurs by spreading sand over ice in winter, or if the winter weather does not cooperate with enough ice, by spreading dry sand in April and then irrigating the sand.

B.) Dry picking uses a machine to comb through the vines for fresh, whole berries which are sold in stores, generally for home cooking. Wet harvesting results in the harvest of fruit used for juice, jams, etc. The bog is flooded and a machine agitates the vines to release the berries which float to the top and are scooped up.

C.) Since this is an organic farm, she noted the positive impact of birds, bees, and bats to pollinate the plants and to reduce harmful pests.

After the bog tour, we visited a bookstore at the western end of Cape Cod. It is owned by a friend of our daughter Sarah. I picked up a book for the airplane ride home. We walked the downtown Main Street of Falmouth and had a freshly made brownie to share at the local bakery. The visitor center had mentioned a light house in Falmouth for us to visit. Turns out the lighthouse is being repaired and was wrapped in white sheets.

The drive back to Barnstable was through congested traffic, summer time must be a real bear. Dinner was in Barnstable Village again, this time instead of the Barnstable Tavern, we ate at the Dolphin. Both of them have excellent clam chowder soup.

The evening finished with another period of conversation with our Evergreen hosts. When Chris and I started using Evergreen five years ago, I was quite hesitant. Now it is one important and interesting component of our travels.

Wednesday we fly back to Saint Paul Minnesota. We should be just in time to check out the fall colors on the trees. The header picture at the top of the blog was taken in the fall of 2016 and is of the Mississippi River Gorge, looking at Minneapolis from the Saint Paul side.

Ed and Chris. Sept. 26

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2017 Trip Seven: Acadia and Cape Cod: Sept. 23-24

Mattapoisett, MA Sunday Sept. 24

Sunday morning sunrise over Buzzard Bay

Saturday morning the wind and rain ended but the day remained cloudy and wet giving us another good reason to relax and take life easy. Since we live 1200 miles from Deb and Rebecca, these relaxed days provide an opportunity to just spend time together rather than continue our hectic touring pace.

Our home and its view

Relaxing on a rainy day

Our rented house is in Mattapoisett,MA, not a touristy town. The home is located on Buzzards Bay, directly across from Falmouth and Woods Hole on Cape Cod. The location offers quick access to and from the Boston area while we have vistas of the bay, birds, and boats from the numerous windows and porches of the home. Like most of New England, sandy beaches are far and few between. We explored the beach of our house and discovered it has the standard shoreline with a marshy, rocky beach.

Ned’s Point Lighthouse Mattapoisett MA

We ventured out and visited a lighthouse in Mattapoisett that we can see at night. The back seat riders had eagle eyes and spotted Oxford Creamery, a local ice cream and short order restaurant that has been operating for 85 years in Mattapoisett. Yes, we stopped and enjoyed several of their many flavors.

After church, Rebecca’s parents and sister arrived from Connecticut and brought dinner. We spent a delightful evening touching base on current happenings with each family.

Chris and Deb out walking at West Island Town Beach

West Island Town Beach

Sunday morning the sunrise was beautiful and was an accurate harbinger of the day’s weather. Chris had managed to find a sandy beach only half an hour away. We arrived before the crowds and enjoyed 90 minutes strolling on the beach and/or just enjoying the sun. It was enough time to satisfy the beach desire.

The four of us

Deb and Rebecca left in late afternoon to head back to Boston. Chris and I will spend the last evening here alone and Monday drive an hour over to Cape Cod and start visiting the national seashore there.

Ed and Chris. Sept.24.

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2017 Trip Seven: Acadia and Cape Cod: Sept.21-22

Mattapoisett, MA. Friday Sept. 22

Just arriving at Mattapoisett at our AirBnb location

In no way am I seeking sympathy.

We have been watching 24 hours so far of rain and winds ranging between 20-45 mph, an effect of tropical storm Jose. We were without power or water for two hours in a strongly built house. What the experience demonstrated in a personal way was a faint feeling of what others in the South and in the Caribbean have experienced over the last few weeks.

Our wind was strong but probably more like a melodic CD featuring ocean sounds, waterfalls and bird calls compared to the hurricane levels they went through. We only saw one tree branch down on our drive to dinner compared to roofs missing and homes destroyed. Our refrigerated food stayed cold with only a two hour power outage. And while our water is a well system relying on an electric pump, we had a decent supply of bottled water. There were candles in the house and we had the small flashlights we take with us on our trips.

We can sit inside and read and be amazed at the power of the wind and waves. Birds flap their wings and get nowhere or, if flying with the wind, travel maybe three times their normal speed. Even during the night, we could watch the two lighthouses flash on a regular basis. Inconvenienced a bit, but suffering, no. Let us all say a prayer, donate time and material, or give money to those in great need today.

Thursday was a travel day. Today, Friday, we are spending the day reading, doing puzzles, and playing games. An easy way to spend a rainy, windy day which in five years of travel is probably the longest continuous spell of bad weather we have encountered.

Wind and rain video

Ed and Chris. Sept. 22

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2017 Trip Seven: Acadia and Cape Cod: Sept. 20

Ellsworth. Maine Wednesday Sept. 20

Schoodic Point

The sun came out today, briefly, and weakly. But that did not matter to us. We accomplished two priorities: Schoodic Peninsula and Cadillac Mountain.

Schoodic Point

High tide was at 11:30 AM. Tropical storm Jose was expected to increase the height and power of the normal waves. We thought, a Ranger confirmed, that the Schoodic Peninsula would be a good place with smaller crowds to observe the waves. Schoodic Peninsula is about an hour from Ellsworth. Its name probably derives from an Indian name meaning end point or end of land.

Schoodic Point

The Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park has an interesting origination. A wealthy Maine resident who moved to New York and made a fortune in the telegraph business and banking bought property in this area. His money also bought influence in the United States Senate under conditions that today would be considered corruption and bribery. He wanted to develop the area on the Schoodic Peninsula in a manner similar to that of Bar Harbor. While he was able to amass property and lots of money, he died before his development desires in Schoodic came to fruition. His widow and daughters wanted to get rid of the 2000 acres of land and spend their time in New York and Europe. George Dorr, one of the originators of what was then called Lafayette National Park, worked out a deal changing the name from the French based Lafayette National Monument Park to Acadia National Park. The Moore daughters loved the British but disliked the French and the land donation was confirmed.

Two further arrangements added to Schoodic Peninsula park land. The first involved another land swap whereby a US naval facility used for listening to telegraph traffic on shipping in the Atlantic was transferred from the Bar Harbor area where it was in the way of John D Rockefeller’s plans for Acadia National Park to Schoodic Peninsula. That facility has since been decommissioned and is now park property.

The second arrangement occurred in the 2000s when a developer proposed to build a 3200 acre resort community directly north of the Schoodic Peninsula park property. An anonymous donor bought the property, built a modern campground, developed biking and hiking trails, built a visitor center and then donated everything to the NPS to be added to the Schoodic Peninsula park portion of Acadia National Park. This new section just opened two years ago.

Blueberry Hill and its cobble stones

Okay, enough with the history. We arrived at Schoodic Point at 9:30 AM, early enough to obtain a parking spot. Waves were crashing and surf coming in. We took pictures, listened to the waves, and then moved on to Blueberry Hill. Blueberry Hill was unique; the waves here pick up cobble stones-rounded stones between the size of an apple and a basketball. The stones make a tinkling sound as the waves move them off and on the shore. The waves today were most effective in doing this. I made a video but the wave and wind sound hides the sound of the cobble stones. Sorry.

Bunker’s Harbor where we had lunch

Schoodic Peninsula has a one-way loop road similar to the main Acadia Park. We left Blueberry Hill and returned to Schoodic Point to watch the waves some more. When we left at 11:45, the line to get in to the parking area was several blocks long. Slackers. We went to Bunkers Wharf for lunch where we split a fish and chips dinner which guaranteed us room for dessert, chocolate hazelnut mousse and pumpkin cake.

View from Cadillac Mountain

A little shopping in the small town of Winter Harbor followed but nothing grabbed our eyes. By now it was 1:30 PM, and the skies were getting lighter and no fog was present. We decided to take a chance and head to Cadillac Mountain. It took us 75 minutes to get there and the sky changed frequently. As we ascended the mountain, the skies were clear. When we reached the top, the fog and clouds had gathered; yet there was enough visibility to see a partial vista from the top. We submit them as proof that we made it to Cadillac Mountain and actually saw something.

We are back at the hotel, doing laundry and getting ready to spend Thursday driving to the Cape Cod area.

Ed and Chris Wednesday Sept. 20

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2017 Trip Seven: Acadia and Cape Cod, Sept. 19

Ellsworth Maine, Wednesday Sept. 19

A carriage road bridge in Acadia National Park.

A shorter day today. After hiking 11 miles Sunday and 8 miles Monday, we only hiked 7 miles today. We returned to the carriage trails, looking for two bridges that were close to each other. Along the way, we conversed with some people who not only had lived in Minnesota, but one had worked with our first landlord in Minneapolis when we had just gotten married. All of the carriage road hikers we talked to were a pleasant, convivial bunch.

During the morning walk at Acadia National Park

One of the bridges was a recent addition, not designed by John Rockefeller and completed in 1995. It spanned a creek with a waterfall that was only trickling. It has been dry lately in Maine. The morning drizzle did not add much moisture.

Walking at Eagle Lake before the rains came

Walking at Eagle Lake before the rains came

We had lunch at the Asticou Inn, fresh popovers, seafood chowder and salad. Aren’t we the nutritious ones though? After lunch we went to Eagle Lake to hike along more carriage roads. Hah, we thought the lake walk would be flat. It had enough inclines to remind us that we have walked a good distance the last three days. About 2.5 miles, the drizzle turned to rain. We had to decide to walk back the 2.5 miles, complete the loop by walking 3.7 miles, or take a chance on the island shuttle bus service about which we knew nothing except we were close to a shuttle stop and our car was parked by a different shuttle stop. My legs and Chris’ concern about getting wet and cold dictated the shuttle bus option.

The Island Explorer shuttle is subsidized by L.L. Bean. There are 10 different routes and after Labor Day it operates on a less frequent schedule than during the summer. With help from friendly bus drivers and volunteer bus coordinators, we survived three bus rides to arrive dry and relaxed at our car probably only thirty minutes longer than walking. Choosing the shuttle had a bonus. I talked with a ranger who provided tips about how and where to watch the surf tomorrow at Schoodic Peninsula, a section of Acadia separate from Mount Desert Island and over an hour away.

We warmed up and relaxed at the hot tub at the Hampton and the extra time allowed me to finish blog posts for two days.

Ed and Chris. Tuesday September 19

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2017 Trip Seven: Acadia and Cape Cod: Sept. 16-17

Ellsworth, Maine Sunday Sept. 17

Cruising around Acadia NP and the Cranberry Islands with a fog bank

What happens when travelers wake up at 5 AM? Well, they are waiting for the breakfast doors to open at 6 AM; they are one of the first to shop at the grocery store when it opens at 7 AM; and they “squeeze” in a 2.75 hour boat ride along with hiking 11 miles by dusk. Oh, and they have Maine lobster for lunch and Maine blueberry pie for an afternoon snack. All in all, a fulfilling day although by the end of the last hike, I think a turtle would be walking faster than I was.

Chris and I are in New England for a twelve day adventure. We get to see Deb and Rebecca for four of those days. Saturday was the travel day; we had decided to fly and rent a car versus one of our usual multi-week driving tours. No hassle flying. Driving a rental car is less fun now that we own a newer vehicle. I miss the compass, the back-up camera, the adjustable cruise-control, the quieter door lock sound, etc.

Driving from Boston’s Logan airport, I had left an “avoid tolls” feature in the Google maps driving directions. When we got to the New Hampshire line, we took a thirty minute extra drive and were able to observe a running race, a craft festival, and lots of back roads of New Hampshire. Not a problem though as we had just enough time to have a quick dinner and make it to 5:30 PM church in Kittery Maine. Chris accepted the invitation to bring up the gifts at the Offertory so everybody in church got to wonder who were these strange folks. We made it to the Hampton Inn Ellsworth at 10 PM and crashed.

Asticou Azalea Garden in Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island Maine

As you know from paragraph one, we got up early. Our boat cruise was scheduled for 10 AM (please arrive at 9:30 AM they had requested) so we had two hours available to drive a thirty minute trip. Our first stop was at the Asticou Azalea Gardens, only a little over 2 acres in size but wonderfully laid out even when azaleas and rhododendrons are not blooming. A person was out sweeping away gathered leaves so the dirt paths were immaculate. We were impressed with the juxtaposition of plants and shrubs; everywhere one looked was another stunning layout. We should not have been surprised, the Gardens are part of the Mount Desert Land & Garden Preserve, a total of 1,165 acres of gardens, lawns and trails set up decades ago by the Rockefellers to preserve the land for all to enjoy.

our first carriage road hike in Acadia National Park

After the gardens, we took our first hike along one of the famous carriage roads of Acadia National Park. The 45 miles of carriage roads were built between 1913 and 1940 when John D Rockefeller and his family built motor-free byways for horse and carriage to travel around Mount Desert Island. The carriage roads are an example of attention to detail; Rockefeller oversaw much of the work. The road has a deep base with a heavy crown to drain water away. The roads follow the contour of the land, using native granite for the stone and accenting the roadway with native vegetation. Bridges received particular attention; using bridges in New York City’s Central Park for inspiration. While the bridges are steel-reinforced concrete they are faced with native stone.

Upper Hadlock Pond viewed from a carriage road

The walk was pleasant; the roadway smooth and the trees line both sides with overhanging arches. Few people were out. We turned around before making our hoped for destination, one of the bridges based on a bridge in Central Park. We wanted to make sure we were at the cruise docks on time. Of course, we were early. The cruise boat was about the size of the boat we had taken two years ago to Isle Royale National Park, and even though it was not fancy, it was much nicer than the Isle Royale one. It holds about 50 people, we had maybe thirty plus two Park Rangers and two crew-one of whom was a retired park ranger.

Harbor at Hortheast Harbor

The boat ride lasted for two hours and forty-five minutes around the Cranberry Islands, a series of five islands just off Northeast Harbor. Forty five minutes of that was at the town of Isleford, a community of year-round residents, most of whom still fish, and summer residents, who take the daily mail ferry back and forth to the mainland as necessary. Isleford is on Little Cranberry Island. The Cranberrys were named after the fruit which is native to the area. The Native Americans introduced the Europeans to the berry.

Little Cranberry Island has a museum dedicated to the history of the European people who moved here, with fishing being the primary reason to settle here. Maine was settled relatively late; the English and French were contesting the area. After the 1763 Treaty of Paris resolved the issue, settlers came here in greater numbers. They were attracted by the offer of land from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Maine remained part of Massachusetts until 1820 when it split off and became a separate state as part of the Missouri Compromise.

lobster pots at Isleford

Lobster buoys in the water

In Maine, logging and fishing were early commercial activity. Fishing is good due to the currents of Arctic cold water that flows in here, above the Gulf Stream warm waters. Cod was the early fish caught here, salted and shipped around the world. Cod was over-fished and fishermen here who normally go back generations remember that and have taken precautions to keep the lobster fishing from repeating that mistake.

On Little Cranberry, I observed stacks of lobster pots and buoys. Each fisherman has a buoy that is distinctively painted to identify his buoys. The buoys are tied by rope to the pots on the bottom of the ocean; normally several pots are tied together. The fisherman will check the pots once every one to three days and can have several hundreds pots of his own. They may place their pots as far as 20 miles out to sea, or right next to the shore. On our cruise we saw numerous buoys in the water, with the variety of colors a remarkable occurrence.

On Somes Sound looking toward Cadillac Mountain (on the right)

The rangers staffed the museum at Isleford and narrated our trip through the water. We saw cormorants, loons, harbor seals, eagles,etc. The fog removed the chance to view much, but not all, of the shoreline and coast. No matter, the fog presented unique photographic opportunities.

After the boat trip, we had a lobster lunch in Northeast Harbor. Chris and I split a lobster roll and a lobster salad. Both were good but we preferred the lobster salad. Then we headed back to the carriage roads and trails, finishing our trip to Hadlock Pond where we examined one of the 17 bridges Rockefeller had built; this one was specifically modeled after a bridge over the lake at 59th Street in Central Park.

Food for the day

Two separate hikes to the coast followed, the Wonderland hike and Ship Harbor hike. But before hiking, we fortified ourselves with fresh blueberry pie and ice cream at a small, roadside stand in Southwest Harbor. We could have had a lobster dinner at this place too. We also made a quick visit to a lighthouse which could have been skipped.

The Wonderland hike

The Ship Harbor hike

Each hike traveled through the woods leading to the ocean, with the path alternating on rocky ledges and on soft forest paths. It was low tide with minor waves. The Ship Harbor hike was more interesting, longer, and more varied. Fog was intensifying again and daylight starting to lessen so we headed for the hotel and a cheese pizza before we collapsed for the night. It was a long but extremely fulfilling day; it was not until the next day that we realized how truly peaceful and quiet our day had been.

Ed and Chris. Ellsworth Maine. Sept. 18

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2017 Trip Six: Summer Camp for Seniors: Aug. 24

Britt, MN. August 24, 2017

We played hookey from summer camp today. The lesson on loons and on lake ecology were well recommended but one of our goals for this trip was to visit two state parks: Bear Head Lake State Park and Lake Vermillion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Bear Head is a popular destination, despite its distance from the Twin Cities. It was a 60 minute drive for us from the Laurentian Environmental Center. The geology of the park reflects the glacial action ending about 12,000 years ago to form hills, lakes, and rocky landscape over the 4,000 acres of the park.

The Norberg Trail at Bear Head Lake State Park in northern Minnesota

Chris and I hiked the Norbert Lake Trail, a 3.5 mile loop that traversed numerous hiking terrains. We started out on a smooth, wide, well-marked trail with soft pine needles on the trail. The trail switched to a narrower, grassy trail under birch trees. But, the last two-thirds of the trail was on rocky, hilly ground that slowed us considerably. Those rocks translated into a hike of 1.75 hours to traverse 3.5 miles.

Seen along the Norberg Lake Trail at Bear Head Lake State Park in northern Minnesota

We passed two lakes, Norberg and Bear Head. Some of the red and white pines were quite tall; they were too small to cut in the late 1800s when wholesale logging decimated the area and have had 140 years to grow. Small bushes, ferns and flowers occupied the undergrowth. Deciduous trees are starting to fill in.

Lunch was at the “Good Ol’ Days Bar and Grill” in Tower MN. Food was quite tasty but Chris was a little nervous as it took a while for the food to be served and we had a 2 PM tour at the Soudan Underground Mine. But we were able to enjoy the meal and drive to the mine with plenty of time before the tour started. The bar has been in business for 13 years but its roots pre-date Prohibition. They have a little paper “broadsheet” that re-publishes old news tidbits from the Tower Soudan area. The old newspapers seemed to delight in listing the mis-deeds of local Finns.

The mine tour was excellent; while the young man never worked here, he has conducted local research to go along with his geology degree. The mine is in Soudan, the town of Tower was the business-residential center for the area. Together their current population is less than 1,000. (The broadsheet listed above reprinted one article from 1893 that enumerated 22 bars in Tower.)

Soudan was named after the African country Sudan as being the opposite (heat) from the extreme cold of the Tower-Soudan area. Tower was named after Charlemagne Tower, a Pennsylvania industrialist who financed the initial prospecting and mining here. Tower’s accumulation of land seems to have been fraught with illegalities, particularly in regard to the acquiring of small plots of land owned by Native Americans. Eventually he sold out to eastern steel interests leading to ownership by U.S. Steel.

The tower hoist above the Soudan Mine shaft

The Soudan mine is considered the oldest, the deepest, and the richest in Minnesota. Its best days were in the late 1800s as its ore was extremely rich in iron and could be used directly in steel furnaces. However, it was expensive to mine given that its ore seams have to be mined underground, and its use lessened but did not die out until 1962. The iron ore here had a percentage of oxygen in it that was crucial to the operation of Bessemer blast furnaces. As the last Bessemer furnace was closed in 1962, so was this iron ore mine. The Mesabi region of Minnesota, south of here around Hibbing, which utilizes open-pit mining of low-grade ore to convert into taconite pellets, surpassed the output of the Soudan mine in the early 1900s and continues to be the largest U.S. source of iron ore.

Charlemagne Tower, despite the questionable land purchases, innovated in that he paid his first workers twice the wages they were making in Michigan mines, promoted home ownership over company rented housing, and encouraged local shopping over company stores, all grievances held by miners prior to this time. The Soudan mine is located in extremely hard rock that provided safer working environments for underground mines with low rates of water infiltration. These circumstances led to high miner loyalty and good wages; not perfect conditions but better than that found in comparable mines of the day.

Our carriage awaited us 2,341 feet below the ground at Soudan Mine

Our day included going underground in two steel cages, down to a depth of 2341 feet below the surface, over 700 feet below sea level. Our cages descended at a rate of close to ten miles per hour. Once down at stage 27, we rode 3/4 of a mile in a tracked car that resembled a Disney ride with sharp turns and minimal lighting. At the end of the ride, we walked and climbed around the mining area as it was when it closed in 1962. Another part of the tour described the working conditions of the late 1800s when candle light was used–after the workers walked the 3/4 mile to the work area in pitch blackness.

Our canoe ride on Arrowhead Lake in northern Minnesota

After the tour we returned to summer camp and went for a half hour canoe ride before dinner. The weather was perfect; calm, sunny, 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Dinner was tater tot hot dish. After dinner was a presentation on bats; it seems currently there is an effort around the U.S. to educate people about the positive benefits of bats.

Ed and Chris. Aug. 25

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2017 Trip Six: Summer Camp for the Senior Crowd: Aug. 22-23

Britt, MN. Wednesday August 23

Looking at Laurentian Environmental Center across Arrowhead Lake

After lunch on Tuesday, most of the participants gathered to take a hike to the “Meteorite Site”. With 25-35 hikers, with a mix of hiking speeds, it took us a while to hike through the forest to the site. What is the “Meteorite Site” you ask? Well, it is a hole in the ground, 60′ deep, and 300′ around. The people here have been researching the hole for over twenty years; with no special funding the research has been piecemeal and dependent on the goodwill of various research groups.

Three theories exist. One, a meteor crashed here. Two, glacial action created the hole. Three, mining activity resulted in this round depression. Our guide discussed each theory in detail and the research undertaken in an effort to support it. For theory one, scientists calculate a meteor the size of a softball would have been required to generate a hole the size of this one. But, there is no obvious residue that would be associated with a meteor.

The large group hiking to the Meteorite Site on Tuesday afternoon

For theory two, since the bottom of the hole is uniformly dry, glacial action would have also created an outlet for the water that falls in the depression. Searching over numerous years has revealed no outwash from the depression. For theory three, the size of the trees indicates that mining activity would have had to have occurred by Paleo-Indians and again, there are no remnants of copper mining and the depression would likely have had a more gradual exit from the pit rather than the uniformly steep sides that exist.

So the conclusion is no conclusion. No scientific evidence exists, so far, to back any of the three theories. We all hiked back in time for dinner of pork bar b que, potato salad, etc with home-made cookies for desert. After dinner, one of the participants made a slide show presentation about owls. He covered each of the owls found in Minnesota with pictures and audio of the sound they make.

Chris and I debated an evening canoe trip but the on again-off again drizzle discouraged us until the weather is definitely clear. Instead, I played cribbage with two other women. I won one game and lost one game.

Paper birch trees: several tall ones on the right; on the left stumps. Paper birch last about 70 years, then they start to rot and frequently the top of the tree falls off.

[The following sections may be a little confusing in style as Chris and I took turns writing about the activities we each undertook separately.]

Wednesday morning breakfast was French toast sticks and bacon. After breakfast, Chris and I split. Chris went to a popular presentation on dream interpretation. The morning talk was presented by a retired ER doc from the Twin Cities. While I (Chris) went more to support a fellow camper, I found her talk rather interesting. A comment made by a member of the group was “we all dream, so there must be a reason”. So true. She talked about how to remember dreams (put them in a notebook), to having a dream buddy to share your dreams with. She talked about how to analyze dreams (are they symbols, represent feelings, point to emotional/physical issues now). She talked about how to “program” your dreams and how to ‘confront” your nightmares (turn to the demon and ask “what do you want).

The group session Ed skipped to go hiking worked on cleaning apples. The end result was a very tasty apple crisp to go with our lunch.

After lunch we split up again with Chris going to a talk on fire ecology and Ed joining an art project. The fire ecology talk focused on the three elements needed for fire (heat, fuel, and oxygen) and how these elements are found in our world and sometimes work against successful fire suppression. It, too, proved an excellent talk by a member of the Center’s staff that had great discussion as we answered the question “are fires good?”

Ed’s art tile creations

I (Ed) went on a solo walk in the morning, able to set my own pace. I learnt less than on the group walk but enjoyed the time to myself. As Chris mentioned in the two paragraphs above, the afternoon was a real role reversal. Art made by me would not be my first choice and while fire ecology seemed interesting, I chose the less obvious path to make some personalized art tiles. Store bought ceramic tiles were covered by sharpie pens in our design and then sprayed with isopropyl alcohol which allows the colors to melt and blend. When dried they are covered with a clear spray enamel to protect them. The eight tiles I produced may not win any awards but now we have eight more drink coasters.

The second afternoon session again saw us separate. Chris was with the group that had a demonstration on how to make deep dish pizza. While she said that it seemed ‘doable”, I will not be holding my breath to have this anytime soon. The work done by the group led to the preparation of several varieties of pizza which we had for dinner-along with salad, canned pears, cut veggies, etc.

Pineapple Mushroom

My second group afternoon activity was another walk. This one was planned to be faster with less interpretation. It was although the small group of six people still asked questions of our leader and pointed out numerous plants along the way-including a nice specimen of pineapple mushrooms. Our trek went out into the Superior National Forest and did create a little nervousness on our return as the path disappeared and we had to bushwhack through the underbrush until we landed back on the trail. All in all, I hiked over eight miles today.

After dinner, we had a sing along in the lodge, led by one of our participants who had brought along his guitar. The group of participants interact well together which makes for a very pleasant experience. Chris is already laying plans for next year. I am enjoying myself but would be more interested in spending this time next year continuing our explorations of areas of the U.S. we have not yet enjoyed.

Ed and Chris Wednesday Aug. 23, 8:30 PM

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2017 Trip Six: Summer Camp for the Senior Crowd: Aug. 20-22

Britt, MN Monday August 21

Arrowhead Lake at Laurentian Environmental Center, Britt MN

Summer Camp for the Senior Crowd. My preferred title was going to be Summer Camp for Geezers but Chris tells me Geezer normally refers to men. My title succinctly describes what Chris and I will be doing for the next five days. We are at the Laurentian Environmental Center (LEC), a 30 acre property run by the Community Education Department of the Mounds View MN School District. The property is leased from the state of MN. It is located on what is called Section 16 land; land dedicated by the Land Ordinance of 1785 to provide for the use and benefit of public education. We are about 15 miles north of Virginia MN, about 50 miles south of the Canadian border, in the Superior National Forest, nestled in the Minnesota Iron Range.

Our bunk space at LEC

The LEC offers educational programs for school kids from Mounds View and numerous other school districts around the state. One week of each year, in late August, a program for senior citizens is offered. The official title is something like “Young at Heart” or “Summer Camp for Seniors”. Room and board are included in the fee; we are sleeping in bunk beds in the Cedar Lodge along with about 10 other couples. We can spread out, we are not lodged right on top of each other. We have our own bathroom and share a shower. There are other cabins for single women and single men. There are probably about 50 people here “at camp”. The oldest person is 87, down to about low 50s. There is a roughly 2/3-1/3 division between women and men.

During the five days we are here, there is a mix of loosely scheduled pre-set programs and activities and of free time and/or programs chosen/organized by the participants. In addition, if you really want, you can just take off and explore the broader Iron Range area. For instance, we are planning to visit both Bear Head Lake State Park and Tower-Soudan Underground Iron Mine during the time we are here.

Enger Tower, Duluth MN

View of Duluth Harbor and Lift Bridge

We arrived here around 11 AM today. We drove up north Sunday, stopping in Duluth MN to eat lunch at the Thompson Hill overlook rest stop providing a grand view of the St. Louis River emptying into Lake Superior. We made a visit to Enger Park and Tower, a city park in Duluth also contributing a view of Lake Superior and Duluth, this time from the top of an 80 foot tower on top of the bluffs overlooking the lake. Enger Park was a tip from Chris’ sister. It was our first visit to this park, despite numerous visits to Duluth. We spent the night with friends in Babbit MN. They live on Birch Lake, a quiet lake bracketed by a high percentage of land owned by the state or feds.

After checking in, we unloaded our stuff, picking out a section of the Cedar Lodge that seemed to provide a bit more privacy. Checking in early was a good idea; this year there are more participants than usual. We were allowed to pick our own location in Cedar Lodge; later arrivals discovered some couples spread out a bit more than the program had expected and the later arrivals had to be accommodated in cabins other than Cedar Lodge. Not a big deal, but some expectations had to be adjusted.

(A side note. Today is solar eclipse day. We did not get excited about it. We are at a location with only 75% coverage and we had cloud cover all day. If you are looking for fantastic news and photos of the solar eclipse, look elsewhere.)

Evening bonfire, Community lodge, our bunkhouse

Lunch was simple but good. Wild rice soup, sandwiches, cut veggies and grapes and pumpkin cake. They even had milk. We made name badges and spent time introducing ourselves. Chris and I did not know anyone but numerous connections are evident. This was the first year Mounds View advertised this program in the St. Paul Community Education booklet and numerous attendees have a St. Paul connection. I can overhear other conversations discussing topics and people who would allow me to chip in comments, but that would be rude. This appears to be the first time here for about one half of the people. The other half have been here three to 20 times. Some are returning after 15 or 20 years, bringing friends or siblings. The five staff have tenure ranging from 27 years to only three years.

Two programs were offered for the afternoon after intros. Chris chose a session of Night Sky which covered new and old information. She came away determined to sign up for a notification service that projects when the aurora borealis should be highly visible. If we see an upcoming night, we might just hop in the car and head north.

I took the outdoor class on phenology–the study of cyclic and seasonal natural phenomena, especially in relation to changes in climate and plant and animal life. For two hours the group went walking around the property learning about various topics. One participant had brought a cage with monarch butterflies in various stages of growth; releasing one of them to begin its long journey to Mexico. From that beginning we found milkweed plants and our instructor plucked a milkweed pod. The pod is at a time when the seeds are tasty even for us to eat, the pod and seeds could be tossed into a cooking pot and would taste like cashews.

Release of the Monarch butterfly

On our walk, it was evident the participants had a range of knowledge. Some people were able to educate the instructor on specific topics, others were more interested in watching the solar eclipse on their smart phones. We saw (and some were able to sample) choke cherries, hazelnuts, raspberries, and serviceberries. Serviceberries, also called June berries, were named serviceberries (according to our guide) since when people died in the winter, they could not be buried in the frozen earth. When the June berries blossomed the ground was soft enough to bury people and have their funeral service.

Our guide mentioned that northern Minnesota has not had the frequency of -40° weather that it needs to kill harmful insects. This has resulted in an increase in the number of wood ticks. One result that is still being verified is that the increase in wood ticks makes the moose population scratch their bodies more frequently against tree trunks, reducing the amount of fur they have on their bodies, leaving them less able to survive the winter. Our guide has seen his first raccoon in his 27 years up here due to the warmer weather.

Dinner was sloppy joes, corn, cut vegetables, etc. After dinner we had some down time in which I worked on this blog. A bonfire gathered many of us around 8 PM while others worked on puzzle, played cribbage and other games, or just talked. It is an easy group to set up conversations; and yes, daughters, even I did some talking although not as much as other people.

We were in bed by 9 but not asleep until after 10. Our neighbors spent an hour in conversation and lights out was not until 10 PM-we share a light switch controlling the lights in each of our bunk pods. We did not hear major snoring, just a loud clock going tick-tock-tick-tock all night. Neither of us hit our heads on the upper bunk. I slept no worse than at home, I was just lacking the ability to wander anywhere so I just tossed and turned in the bottom bunk.

Tuesday morning dawned cloudy and cool but we did have several hours of mixed sun during the morning. Breakfast was sausage, scrambled eggs, muffins, yogurt, and fresh fruit. Chris and I split up again for the morning session. Chris went to gourd making; a highly popular activity. The instructor was one of our participants and started with a 45 minute slide presentation about the art of gourd decorating. Participants would choose their gourd, cut and shape it if desired, and then decorate it. Chris stuck to a small gourd she only had to decorate.

Stuffed wolf at our morning class Tuesday.

I went to the session on Minnesota mammals held in one of the classrooms filled with skins, bones, stuffed animals, etc. The instructor began asking us to identify the four identifying traits of mammals–we could not. (Fur/hair; live birth, warm-blooded, and milk feeding of young) Then we progressed to examining the specimens and we were asked to identify the four mammals in the display not native to Minnesota and the three specimens that were not mammals. We did not complete the task until the very end of the 2.5 hours as our group digressed unto multiple topics, ranging from mammals, mining, bogs, etc. Some of the discussion involved simple questions I thought anyone should know, other conversation went to current scientific research, to personal experience with environmental and scientific travels we had undertaken, etc.

Before lunch,some people, Chris included, participated in a stretching yoga session on the lawn. Lunch was salad, sphaghetti, garlic bread, watermelon and chocolate cake.

End of first blog on Summer Camp for the Senior Crowd. More to follow.

Ed and Chris
Britt,MN. Aug. 22

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