Day 231 – Great River Road (Part 2)

Day 231 – Great River Road, August 4, 2011

Since Hastings was only about twenty miles from
Minneapolis/St. Paul, I took a detour for a simple drive by as I had never been
there.  I had Gina, my GPS, take me to the
city hall of each town, that way I would at least get a glimpse of
downtown.  I crossed over a few bridges,
passed by several office buildings connected by skywalks, and even spotted a
few historic churches in the mix before I ended at Mall of the America’s.  While I can’t think of anything I like about
shopping, I figured I had to at least see the largest mall in America.

After our detour, we returned south and made a handful of
stops in Red Wing, our first at Memorial Park which provides a superb view of
the Mississippi and the city below.
During the ice ages, with four major cycles of glaciers melting, floods
of meltwater eroded the Mississippi 200 feet deeper than the present
channel.  Because the tributary streams
carried less water than the main river, they were unable to cut down the
terrain as rapidly, resulting in steeper slopes.  As the meltwater diminished, the velocity of
the main river was reduced and it was no longer able to remove the sediment
deposited from the tributaries.  Thus,
the valley today was filled to its present level and exhibits a series of
meanders, oxbow lakes, side channels, sloughs, swamps, and tillable land.

From the park, we curved back down the steep, winding road
and visited Barn Bluff.  This was a
really neat place.  I felt like I was in
Missouri again, walking beneath a canopy of trees and past walls of rock and
quarries to catch a few peaks of the Mississippi in the rare open spaces.  Before even climbing the stairs, each inscribed
with a benefactor’s name in block letters, to reach the path that ascends atop
the bluff we took a short walk to an old kiln.

The G.A. Carlson Lime Kiln, built in 1882, was once one of
thirty such kilns operated between 1870 and 1908 in the Red Wing area.  The kiln was used for the transformation of
Barn Bluff’s raw material into commercial lime, quick lime, or unslaked lime
for the use in mortar and plaster.  The
wood fired kiln was heated to temperatures of 2,000 degrees to burn the
limestone.  One ton of limestone produced
1,000 pounds of quick lime.  The kiln
ceased operation after forty years of quarrying when the limestone industry
began weakening.

After visiting the kiln, which was also an earth cache, we
meandered along the bluff, also an earth cache. 
The bluff towers 343 feet above the City of Red Wing and is one of the
best known natural features along the Mississippi.  It was climbed by many of Minnesota’s early
tourists including Henry David Thoreau.

We continued south, paralleling the Mississippi River as
well as the Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, a network of
wetlands, islands, forest and prairie that extends 260 miles through four
states.  We stopped at a roadside rest
area for a tranquil view of clouds reflecting in the glassy Mississippi waters.

As we continued along the river past towns such as Winona
and La Crescent, we crossed into Iowa where we attempted to visit Effigy Mounds
National Monument.  The park is home to
over 200 Indian burial pits topped with low, rounded earthen mounds.  We got there at 6:15, fifteen minutes too
late!

Given the time, we carried on through a few more towns where
houses on stilts lined the edge of the river and claimed a campsite at Pike
Peak State Park.  Yes, the park is named
for General Zebulon Pike, the explorer who sited a bluff in Iowa a year before
reaching the more famous Pike’s Peak in Colorado.

After snagging a camping spot for only eleven dollars and
getting a free shower out of it, I drove back to McGregor, a quaint old town
with a handful of restaurants and B&B’s.
I tried going to one bar type place, but as soon as I arrived at the
intersection, a train stopped, blocking my way.
I almost opted for homemade pizza, when I decided it would be nicer if
Petey could join me instead of being left in VANilla on this muggy day, so with
much trepidation I chose a Mexican food restaurant that had a patio.

I ordered safely, a fajita chicken salad.  While the chips seemed slightly affected by
the humidity, the restaurant carried Dos Equis Amber (my favorite) and served
up a tasty salad, though not all toppings listed on the menu were included (a
pet peeve of mine).  Regardless, I was
pleasantly surprised, not only by dinner but by the brilliant sunset!  ETB

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Day 216 – North Shore Drive – Part 2

Day 216 – North Shore Drive, Wednesday July 20, 2011

The storm was so incredible when the lightning and thunder
hit at once, VANilla shook.  I forgot I
left the small roof hatch tilted up to release as much hot air as possible last
night only to find the dog bed soaked this morning.  Oh well, it could be worse I guess…the bed
could have been wet and dirty instead of wet and clean.  I should have known it was going to
rain.  It never fails that once I finish
my laundry, it rains.

I wasn’t sold on walking around in the rain today, so I
somewhat reluctantly skipped Judge C.R. Magney State Park to the north as it
sounded like it was going to be pretty and headed south a bit to Cascade River
State Park known for five separate waterfalls as the Cascade River stairsteps
down to Lake Superior.  The root beer
colored water that foams as it tumbles through the Cascade River Gorge is the
result of the water that drains from swamps and bogs.  Organic matter in the swamps decays and
creates humic acid which colors the water brown.  The thought of seeing five separate waterfalls
lured me into the forest with Petey.  The
lovely dirt path followed the river through thick vegetation weighed down from
the recent rain.

The weather was still a bit gloomy as we reached Tofte, so I
opted to take a scenic drive inland through Superior National Forest to Sawbill
Trail in hopes to spot a few moose…no luck!
We took the dirt road almost 25 miles past a variety of wildflowers,
birch and evergreens to areas that appeared to be a haven for canoers.  Every car except VANilla had a canoe strapped
to it.  About half into the out and back
drive, the skies cleared resulting in a sunny and HUMID day.

As we continued south along the shore we stopped at yet
another state park, Tettegouche…at least I’m saving some day use fees!  I met a couple from Minnesota in North Dakota
and they mentioned this was one of their favorite parks, so I certainly
couldn’t pass it by.  The park
encompasses four lake, groves of northern hardwoods, and 70-foot falls of the
Baptism River.  The hike to the falls was
a 3 mile roundtrip through the forest.
The thick vegetation blocked any breeze. My T-shirt was soaked
in sweat as we walked toward the falls.  About a mile
into the hike and having drug Petey with words of encouragement most the way,
we found Twin Falls which became our final destination.  He was not interested in going any further.

The afternoon was sweltering.  I decided it would be a good time to get an
oil change and take advantage of air conditioning as VANilla’s isn’t the
best.  Petey was overjoyed for our car
maintenance stop as he cooled down in the lounge at Foreign Affairs (Firestone
didn’t have the proper filter).  While
parked on the side street before heading toward Wisconsin, a giant tree limb
landed on VANilla.  Poor VANilla, it got
backed into with a trailer hitch a few days ago as well.

Before finding a campground for the night, I took Wisconsin
Point Road along a mile-long sandspit to the lighthouse at the end.  Superiod Entry is the only natural opening through the longest fresh water sand bar in the world.  The Entry, first charted in 1861, was 1,500 feet wide and 4-16 feet deep.  The US Corp of Engineers completed the concrete, 1,500 foot piers in 1909 and now maintains a channel 500 feet wide and 32 feet deep. Today the Entry serves one of the busiest ports in the United States. I arrived just in time to complete an earth cache and watch a giant
freighter entering the harbor while Petey, looking like he’d been injected with mad cow disease, spun in circles snapping at the relentless flies.  I’m not sure why they were bothering him and not me, but I know what it is like to be pestered by them, so we turned back toward VANilla and camped at Amnicon Falls State Park for the evening.  ETB

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Day 215 – North Shore Drive

Day 215 – North Shore Drive

Despite the thermometer in VANilla reading 82 degrees at
midnight, today was remarkably better than yesterday.  We had a busy day traveling Minnesota’s North
Shore.  Upon exiting Duluth, I snapped a
quick photo through VANilla’s bug spattered windshield of the City’s aerial
lift bridge which rises vertically to allow ships to pass by.  I hope to get a better view of the bridge
upon my return.

Our first stop along the shore was Two Harbors.  Petey joined me for a walk around Agate Bay where
we admired an old tugboat, watched the ore shipping process, and searched for
geocaches around the lighthouse.

Agate Bay, was the site of the first shipment of iron ore
from Minnesota in 1884.  Today, three of
six docks remain and 10,000,000 tons of taconite or iron ore is shipped
annually through the world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Superior.  The original wood docks were replaced by
steel in the 1920’s.  Dock #1 is over
1,300 feet long and is about seven stories tall.

The Edna G., built in 1896 by the Cleveland Ship Building
Company and named for the daughter of the President of the Duluth & Iron
Range Railroad, was the last steam driven tugboat on the Great Lakes when it
was retired in 1981.

The Two Harbor Light Station was completed in 1892 to aid
the growing number of ships (50 to 75 per week) visiting Agate Bay by the turn
of the century. The light is still active, stands 80 feet above lake levels,
and operates 24 hours a day.

We only found one of three caches due to muggles and laziness,
but it was enough to say I have marked Minnesota off the list!  Given my good cell coverage, I expected I’d
have additional opportunities along my way up the coast.  I was right, the falls at Gooseberry Falls
State Park was an earth cache.

Due to the budget disagreement in Minnesota, all
non-essential services were shutdown which included all state parks and rest
areas.  The entrances to the parks were
barricaded and water as well as restroom and campground services were
shutdown.  Day use of the parks was
discouraged, yet allowed, thus several parked along the highway and walked
through the park entrances.  Without park
maps, it made for a bit of a challenge, everyone seemed to ask each other which
way to the falls.  My GPS helped me
out.  The upper and lower falls tumbled
30 and 60 feet over a reddish-brown granite.

The north shore of Minnesota is peppered with state
parks.  We continued approximately seven
miles up the state’s busiest highway to the next park, Split Rock Lighthouse
State Park.  This park’s entry proved a
bit more challenging.  A posted sign
claimed the lighthouse was a quarter mile down the path.  Another family and I that didn’t seem to know
where we were going certainly walked farther than a quarter mile.  We wound along the paved pathway past
wildflowers, pines, and birch trees, crossed a bridge and eventually cut
through the forest to the lake to get a view of the lighthouse perched on the
cliff.  I overheard the other family
saying the Split Rock Lighthouse looked like the one in the movie Shutter
Island.  I never saw the movie, so
someone else will have to weigh in.  Due
to the state’s budgetary constraints, the path to the lighthouse and the
lighthouse itself were closed, so after marking down an earth cache here, we
moved on to Temperance River State Park.

I took the short walk from the highway parking area to the
bridge that crossed the Temperance River and watched a few kids jump off the
cliff where the mouth of the river and Lake Superior intersect.  If I knew I could find a shower (I had to
resort to a bathing suit shower in the forest from the sprayer on the back of
VANilla while fending off flies and skeeters), I would have joined in the
fun.  The thought of smelling like
river/lake water that had the appearance of rootbeer was not appealing.  It was entertaining, however, to watch the
teenage girl jump off the cliff, swim to shore, climb back up and jump off
again all while the young man stood there working up the courage.

After one more stop at an overlook in Silver Bay where I found a cache, I decided to drive to the
northern most point and catch a few more stops on the way back down the coast
tomorrow.  We reached Grand Portage where
the Chippewa Indians historic headquarters have been reconstructed here as a
national monument.  This area served as a
trading post where “North Men” traded their valuable pelts for goods and money.

We ended the day returning to Grand Marais where we found a
fish market that offered fish and chips: fried walleye and french fries…quite
tasty.  I washed it down with a local red
lager before finding a 24 hour laundromat where I spent the evening washing
clothes.  ETB

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Day 214 – Northern Minnesota Circle

Day 214 – Northern Minnesota Circle, Monday, July 18, 2011

I began with a great start to my morning.  My coffee from the shop was served in a paper
cup with the question, “What keeps you awake?” printed on the side with a
variety of answers from local patrons.
My personal favorites were “Extra innings and overtime” and “When I hear
my three-year old ask, ‘Mommy, what letter does “s” start with?’”

After my morning Joe, I have to say things went a little
downhill from there.  This may qualify as
a do over day.  I headed northwest out of
Grand Rapids on 2 and was suppose to turn north on 48 and didn’t manage to
notice that for a while.  I backtracked
to Deer River and went the way I was supposed to Avenue of Pines Scenic Byway
that cuts through Chippewa National Forest.

I finally arrived at Cut Foot Sioux Visitor Center, which is
closed on Monday, where I had planned to take a 20-mile scenic loop drive which
was supposed to start from the center.  I
didn’t see a sign for the scenic loop, so I decided to just take a walk along
the lovely trails through the woods to the lake.  I figured I’d geocache along the way.  At first, I took the single-track dirt trail,
but the flies and mosquitoes were such a nuisance, I turned around and headed
for the wider, paved trail.  We made a
brief stop at the lake, took care not to frighten the geese, and then attempted
a geocache.  After trouncing through the
waist high brush for a bit, the bugs got the best of me; I gave up and B-lined
for VANilla.

I had considered walking a half mile to a 1908 log cabin
that was once used as a ranger station.
Instead, I opted to drive to the secluded cabin tucked in the
woods.  The original ranger station is
the oldest in the North Central Region.
There was a cache hidden nearby here as well, but my GPS was taking me
to the tall reeds beside the lake and maybe it’s from living in Texas, but I
didn’t have a desire to encounter any type of water snake, so I was 0 for 2.

I continued the drive past several more lakes and across the
Laurentian Divide, a rise in the land that determines whether the water runs
into the Gulf of Mexico or the Hudson Bay.
Sadly, I didn’t really notice the divide while I was there, but I did
notice a handful of bald eagle nests; two were occupied, but picture taking
options were less than favorable.

Eventually I returned to Grand Rapids where I attempted to
visit the Judy Garland museum…anything to get out of the heat!  My GPS directed me to an unusual spot, so I
ditched that idea and just rested at a city park for a bit before I turned
toward a Wal-Mart in Duluth, which turns out does not allow overnight
parking!  I continued farther south to
Superior for the night and plan on heading up the coast of Lake Superior
tomorrow.  ETB

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Day 213 – Travel Day

An uneventful day for me…I drove from Bismarck to Fargo…watched part of the Women’s World Cup at a sports cafe on mute and decided it was more exciting to listen to the English announcers on the ESPN radio, so I spent the next several hours listening to the heartbreaking game while driving through the pouring rain to Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  I missed the call for a couple of the penalty kicks because a tornado warning interrupted the broadcast.  Unfortunately, I didn’t know what county I was in relative to the tornado, so I just kept my eyes open for a funnel cloud as I passed the overflowing lakes.  I’m told due to budget disagreements, the state parks are shut down, so the next few days may be interesting.  Not to mention the forescast calls for 90 degrees and thunderstorms.  This evening in VANilla has been nothing short of a steam room! ETB

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