One seven-hour drive later, and I’m home. Well, staying with my friend Loralee until I find a place to move into, but you know what I mean.
Across southern Washington, through more brown hills to the Tri-Cities, where I picked up I-82 to Yakima, where I turned west on U.S. 12, over White Pass to the little town of Morton, where I turned north on U.S. 7, which eventually turns into the Mountain Highway, which leads to Tacoma.
15,500 miles in almost four months (it would have been four months exactly next Tuesday). Which I’d have thought have been farther, given that in 1999, I was only gone two and a half months, and racked up 14,000 miles before I rolled my car in California. But that’s what Merlin’s odometer says, and I believe it [g].
Part of me is glad to be here, I think. Part of me wishes I just could have kept going, but well…
Thanks to everyone who stuck with me through all this! It’s been fun writing the posts, and I’m looking forward to the next time I get to hit the road.
I love Lolo Pass. I’ve only driven over it once before, but I just love the lazy, sweeping curves along the river on the Idaho side. Hence the swooping [g].
I headed west then south into what passes for Missoula, Montana’s morning rush hour, then west again up the thirty or so miles to the top of Lolo Pass. This is where Lewis and Clark finally made it over the Rockies back in 1804. It’s also where the Nez Perce fled across the mountains in the other direction on their way to Yellowstone to encounter the tourists before they (the Nez Perce) almost made it to Canada. So, a lot of history here, and a nice visitor center staffed by a fellow who apparently didn’t have enough tourists to talk to, because he all but followed me into the exhibit room and kept talking when all I really wanted to do was look at the exhibits. Oh, well. I know I’ve done more than my share of talking the ears off of people when I’ve been on my own for too long, too.
The road down the west side of the pass into Idaho (the border between Idaho and Montana runs along the ridge line, and so does the line between Mountain and Pacific time) swoops down next to the Clearwater River through a deep canyon, curving gently back and forth and back and forth, for almost a hundred miles. It’s just so much fun to drive, almost like some sort of carnival ride or something. I’m not doing it justice at all, but that’s life.
About seventy miles on from the pass, I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Lowell, Idaho, for lunch in a cute little café. Those were the first buildings I saw after the border, so this is seriously wild country.
When the canyon finally opens out, it’s into a lot of warm brown hills (at least they’re brown this time of year) and then out into what I thought would be the southeastern edge of the Palouse, but the road cuts show basalt, not deep soil, so no, not Palouse.
I crossed a big chunk of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation to get to the Washington state line, then stopped for the night in the town of Clarkston, which is directly across the Snake River from the Idaho town of Lewiston. Gee, I wonder where those names came from [g].
Because I’ve driven it at least a dozen times in the last seventeen years. But it’s really the only logical route from Yellowstone to Missoula, so that’s okay. And it is pretty.
Up along Earthquake Lake, which is the only lake I’m familiar with that was created by natural forces in my lifetime [g]. The Hebgen Lake earthquake, which happened on August 17, 1959, caused a landslide that dammed the Madison River, killed over 25 people, and, incidentally and not at all disrespectfully, was part of what sent Charley McManis back in time to 1877.
Over the natural dam and down the river to the long, wide valley west of the Gallatin Mountains, which weren’t terribly visible today due to the weather – I’d harbored thoughts of going back down to the park and spending a second day, then camping at Baker’s Hole again tonight, but when I saw the rain coming down I changed my mind. I have spent time tromping around the Upper Geyser Basin in the rain, but I have to say the thought wasn’t all that appealing this morning.
So on I went, down the valley through the town of Ennis, which is a fly-fishing hub on the Madison River, where I discovered, much to my delight, that the local Town Pump (Montana’s answer to the usual convenience store/gas station combo) sold unsweetened iced tea. No lemon, but that’s what the juice in my cooler is for [g].
I got back to I-90 about 11:30, and reached Butte about noon. I had my mouth set for another pasty (Butte used to have a lot of Cornish miners the way Michigan’s Upper Peninsula did, and I’ve eaten them here before), but I couldn’t find anywhere to sell me one, so I ended up with a hamburger, alas.
And so on northwestward to Missoula, where I am for the night. In the rain. Which is okay, since I’m indoors.
I had an idea this afternoon, too. I haven’t driven over Lolo Pass (about which more tomorrow) in a long, long time. Not since I was researching Repeating History and went to the Nez Perce National Historic Site in Idaho at least ten years ago. So I’m going to do that again, probably spend tomorrow night somewhere around Walla Walla or the Tri-Cities, and drive on in to Tacoma from there. Why not, right? One more day won’t hurt…
I need to quit showing up at Yellowstone for a couple of days at the end of trips, and devote a whole trip there again one of these days. With adequate advance planning so that where I’ll stay isn’t an issue. Because if I could have found a place to stay for less than $100 a night in West tonight I probably would have stayed there before camping some more, but oh, well. I was thinking about it on my way out of the park this afternoon, and the last time I spent more than three days here at a time by myself was in 2005. I’ve spent a whole week at a time here several times since then, but always with a friend. I want to spend more time wandering around geyser basins waiting for things to erupt.
Anyway. At least I got to do that today. I got up at the crack of dawn this morning (it wasn’t even good light when I pulled out of my campsite) and drove into the park. One advantage of doing that is that there is no line at the entrance station, very little traffic, and I get my choice of spots in the ginormous parking lot at Old Faithful. Yes, it’s still pretty crowded here, even in late September.
I packed up my day pack with all the stuff I might need for the day – water, lunch, camera, Kindle (for the inevitable waits), etc., etc., etc. – doused myself in sunscreen, and went to the visitor center to check on predicted eruption times.
Two strokes of luck later – Riverside was due around 11:30 and Grand somewhere between 11:45 and 3:45 so not too late in the afternoon – I headed over to the lodge to get some hot tea, then watched an eruption of Old Faithful before I headed out. And an eruption of Lion, off in the distance. A good start to the morning.
I strolled slowly down to Morning Glory Pool (about a mile and a half), stopping to see several more geysers along the way. Castle wasn’t due till about suppertime, alas, so I didn’t get to see it erupt, but I saw Sawmill, which is one of my favorite little (as in about 25 feet high max) geysers, as well as Tardy, which is sort of Sawmill’s little brother.
On down a piece, I saw that Grotto, aka the phallic geyser (look at the photo and tell me I’m wrong) was erupting, as was its neighbor Grotto Fountain, the latter of which, to the best of my knowledge, I’d never seen erupt before. Any day is a great day when I see a geyser I’ve never seen before. Trust me.
Then it was on to Riverside Geyser, which is pretty much the most regular geyser in the park (yes, more regular than Old Faithful), and by far one of the most graceful. I took video of it – the first time I’ve ever taken video of a geyser (I didn’t know how to do video until last year, and I haven’t been to the park since year before last). By the time Riverside’s half hour eruption was over, it was time to head over to Grand.
Oh, Grand. It has a four hour eruption window (that is, 90% of the eruptions happen within that window), and today was one of the 10% of times it was late. While I was waiting, out there in the sun (thank goodness it was only in the low 70s today and breezy), I read, and chatted with my fellow geyser gazers (yes, that’s what we’re called – go check out the Geyser Observation and Study Association – gosa.org – website, if you don’t believe me) and helped explain the Grand’s logic puzzle of a prediction cycle to the newbies (more in a bit), and ate my lunch, and was patient along with everybody else [g].
The Grand finally went off just before 4 pm, two lovely, fantastic, beautiful bursts, and it was, as always, worth every minute of the wait, and every bit of the, okay, the pool’s overflowing, are there waves yet? there goes Turban (Grand only goes off just before or after Turban starts), oh, ptui, there goes West Triplet again (if West Triplet goes off while Turban’s doing one of its every twenty minute eruptions, then Grand won’t go off until at least the next Turban cycle), etc., etc., etc.
It always reminds me of those kinds of puzzles where Mr. Smith lives in the blue house and Mr. Gray is the plumber, but the green house is next to Mr. Jones, so who lives in the yellow house sort of thing.
Oh, and I got video footage of Grand, which makes me very happy (my comments on the audio portion of the thing are kind of embarrassing, I was so excited, but that’s okay).
After that I needed to hit the road, because the only relatively reasonably priced place I could find to stay tonight (I needed a place with a shower) was 25 miles outside of West Yellowstone, which in turn is 30 miles from Old Faithful, through animal jams and so forth.
I’m in a cute little cabin (with no wifi and no TV, alas, but that’s okay) up by Hebgen Lake, which is rather nice, and it’s on my way home (I still can’t believe I’ll probably be home the day after tomorrow), so that’s worked out for the best. But I do need to plan a whole vacation around the park again soon. I will. Maybe next year.
Back to Red Lodge’s information center this morning, where I was informed that the pass was open today! According to the lady at the desk, there wasn’t even any ice up there. So off I went.
Dear godlings. I will never drive over Beartooth Pass again. Ever. It wasn’t bad at first, and the scenery was lovely, but that didn’t last long. Oh, the scenery did, what I saw of it while I was hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life, but I am not fond of narrow roads climbing up the sides of 11,000 foot mountains with 1000+ feet straight up on one side and 2000+ feet straight down on the other, with a multitude of hairpin switchbacks and no guard rails! Well above tree line for miles, so there was nothing to stop the howling wind that caught Merlin like a sail, to the point where I was scared to pull over in the turnouts hanging over the edges of the cliffs to take photos for fear he’d get blown down the mountain. Or that I would if I opened the car door.
At least it wasn’t snowing since it was in the forties at the top (10,979 feet), not counting windchill. But criminy. That was terrifying. And I don’t scare easily when it comes to that sort of thing.
But that’s the main reason I don’t have a lot of photos. There was just no way.
Once I got down on the other side of the pass, back below the tree line, I did manage some good photos, but I’ll be honest. Yes, the Beartooth Highway is beautiful, but give me U.S. 12 between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef in Utah any day. It was much prettier, and a lot less scary.
I entered Yellowstone National Park at the northeast entrance, to discover that this was actually a really good thing because the road between Mammoth and Norris is closed early for the season for construction, so I would have had to go way out of my way to get to West Yellowstone. Which was really my only choice at this point. The first thing I saw after I entered the park was a sign listing all the campgrounds and their status for the day. Half of them are already closed for the season, and the rest were already full for the night.
It’s always difficult to do Yellowstone as a last-minute thing, and I knew that going in. The lodging in the park gets reserved well over a year in advance (the reservations for each year open on May 1st of the previous year, and they’re usually all taken by June, although I have been lucky to get a cancellation with a couple of weeks’ notice in the past). I didn’t think the campgrounds would be such an issue, though – I’ve arrived in the park and gotten a campsite on the spot before. But not this time.
So it was on the 90 miles (Yellowstone is a big park – over 3000 square miles) to the town of West Yellowstone. I didn’t stop much along the way because I figured the earlier I got to West, as the locals call it, the more likely I was to find a place for the night. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to West until about three, and when I stopped at the tourist office, I was told it would be almost impossible to find a motel (also that the average room in West goes for $250 a night – eep! – that’s gone way up in the last few years). So I said what about campgrounds? And she said, there’s a nice forest service campground about three miles north of town, and they have some sites left. So I drove up, and here I am.
Tomorrow I will get up early and go wander around the geyser basins and hopefully catch an eruption of Grand Geyser, then drive on out of the park late in the afternoon. I have a reservation for tomorrow night for a cabin at Hebgen Lake, about 25 miles northwest of West, in the direction I’d have been heading, anyway. I wish I could spend more time here, but logistically it’s just not going to work. It’s time to head home. I’ve probably got two more nights on the road after this one, if all goes according to plan. The cabin at Hebgen Lake, and probably the campground about ten miles west of Missoula where I’ve stayed before. That’s a day’s drive from home.
I can’t believe the trip’s almost over. I’ve got some seriously ambivalent feelings about it. Part of me wants to keep on going, even though it’s getting late in the season and if I did I’d have to head south again, and part of me knows I really do need to settle back down again. At least for now.
Er, Merlin. I’m sure he’ll forgive me the LotR quotation. Anyway. Today I saw Real Mountains [tm] for the first time since June 12th, back in Colorado. I knew I’d missed them, but I hadn’t realized quite how much.
I drove west from Billings a few more miles before I turned southwest on U.S. 212, aka the Beartooth Highway. Well, not quite yet. It’s a bit over forty miles to the town of Red Lodge where the highway actually starts. But I started seeing mountains almost immediately, which made me so happy.
That whole drive was lovely, actually. I’d gotten a really late start, knowing I wasn’t going to go all that far today (I’d figured on camping in one of the half dozen or so forest service campgrounds between Red Lodge and the pass), and I got to Red Lodge just about lunchtime. I stopped at the tourist information center looking for a restroom, only to hear the lady at the desk tell someone else that the pass was closed! Apparently, even though it was in the sixties in Red Lodge, it was snowing up there!
So that threw a serious monkey wrench in my machinery. It was either wait till tomorrow to see if things would get better, or turn around and go back to I-90 and across to Livingston, where I could drive down to Gardiner and the northern entrance to the park. I really didn’t want to do that. And Red Lodge has a laundromat, so I decided to do laundry and wait. If worse came to worst, I’d drive back to I-90 tomorrow.
My clothes all clean, I went looking for a campground. Fortunately, there’s a very nice one just four miles up the road from Red Lodge, so I had a pleasant, quiet rest of my afternoon. It is getting cold out there, though, and it’s been spitting rain a bit. This does not bode well for tomorrow, alas.
I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.
I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.
From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.
I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.
I don’t know what time the rain quit hammering on Merlin’s roof last night, because it was still going strong when I fell asleep. But I woke to bright sunshine and only a few fair-weather clouds, which made me very happy. It was cold, though. Not quite as cold as that night in the Colorado Rockies where it frosted on me at 9600 feet, but I’m pretty sure it got down into the forties last night after the clouds cleared off. Thank goodness for warm sleeping bags.
I got to do something this morning that I didn’t think I’d ever get back here to do. I drove the entire fourteen miles of the scenic drive at the north unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I think I mentioned that the last (and only, or so I thought at the time – I mean, how often does one go to North Dakota?) time I was here, the road was closed about six miles in due to slumping. Well, this morning it was open, and I drove all the way to the end. Lots of pretty scenery, and the CCC made its presence known again, and bison! A couple of lone bulls, and a small herd of females and half-grown youngsters. So that was fun.
By the time I left the north unit and drove the sixty miles back down to I-94, it was getting on towards lunchtime, so after I strolled along the walk at the Painted Hills overlook, which is the only cross between an Interstate rest area and a national park visitor center that I’m aware of, I stopped in the rather self-consciously Old West town of Medora and ate lunch in the saloon (the second saloon I’ve eaten in on this trip, the first one having been in Virginia City, Nevada, way back in early June).
Then I headed into the south unit of TRNP, and took its scenic drive. The last time I was here, in June, 2012, it was 100dF, and blowing about 70 mph. Which is why I didn’t camp in the park the last time I was here. Today it’s been in the mid-60s, and the breeze has never been higher than pleasant. So I had a much better time than last time. I saw more bison (actually, where I saw more bison was at the Painted Hills rest stop, right along the freeway, which was kind of bizarre). I saw several prairie dog shows [g]. There are three huge prairie dog towns in the park – watching them scuttle around and make their incredibly loud chirps (I can hear them inside Merlin with all the windows closed and the engine running) is great fun. And for the first time in my life, I saw wild horses! Two different groups of them (are they herds if there’s only half a dozen or so individuals?), one of which crossed the road directly in front of me. Such absolutely gorgeous animals. I’ve seen wild burros before, in South Dakota’s Black Hills, but never wild horses. It was amazing.
I’d been sort of debating about whether to camp here or drive on to Glendive or Miles City, Montana (I’m only about 25 miles east of the Montana state line, and Glendive’s about thirty or forty miles on beyond that), for the night, but the Cottonwood campground here in the south unit looked so pleasant that I decided to stay here.
I’ll drive on to Billings (about 300 miles) tomorrow, and then we’ll see what we’ll see. It did occur to me that, coming from the northeast as I am, I could approach Yellowstone over the Beartooth Highway, which I’ve never driven the entire length of. That is if it’s still open for the season. It goes up over 10,000 feet, and is closed most of the year due to snow. It’s supposed to be one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S., though, and if it’s still open I’ll probably do it. I’ll check online tomorrow night in Billings.
It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.
To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.
It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…
It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].
The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.
See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.
So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).
It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].
I found the World’s Biggest Bison this morning before I left Jamestown. It is a big bison, I’ll give it credit, but I saw the skull of an extinct bison this afternoon that I bet was bigger than that.
This was at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is another name for state history museum [g]. After driving the hundred miles, give or take, to Bismarck, North Dakota, the cute little state capitol, population a bit over 67,000, so it’s actually bigger than Olympia, my state capitol, which is just under 50,000. The difference, of course, is that Bismarck is the second largest city in North Dakota, and Olympia – isn’t.
Anyway, I think I lost control of my sentence there, and I’m not going to fix it. I’m just going to say that after lunch I spent over two hours at the museum, which was just renovated completely a couple of years ago, and the shiny new is wonderful. There’s a whole huge room on the pre-man history, dinosaurs and glaciers and all, and a whole huge room on the dozen or so tribes of Native Americans, with these neat audios of people speaking in their own languages, and a huge room on the history since the Europeans showed up. Which they did way earlier than I thought – a French explorer made it to what’s now North Dakota in the 1730s, although the story really didn’t pick up till Lewis and Clark in the first decade of the 1800s, and after that didn’t get real steam till after the Civil War.
Interesting stuff, though. Lots of stuff about homesteading and the railroads, among other things, and populism and farmers vs. the big city and so forth.
After I finally dragged myself out of there, I drove past the strangest-looking state capitol I’ve ever seen. It looks like a condo building from LA or something, and its nickname is the Skyscraper of the Plains (it’s by far the tallest building in Bismarck, I’ll give it credit for that). Then I drove seven miles south of the town of Mandan (sort of Moorhead to Bismarck’s Fargo, except Mandan’s on the west side of the river) to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.
Fort Lincoln was George Armstrong Custer’s last post before he headed off to the Little Bighorn and got himself and a bunch of his troops killed. It’s where his wife was when she found out he was dead, too. They’ve reconstructed his house there, but really, the most interesting part of Fort Lincoln State Park is the partial reconstruction of a 500-year-old Mandan Indian village. Five round houses (as opposed to tipis) on a slope near the Missouri River, two of which have exhibits inside them. The village was abandoned in the 17th century after the first of a number of smallpox epidemics basically wiped out 4/5ths of the population.
The houses are made of the same log and sod construction that the early pioneers built their houses from. Only the shape is different.
Oh, and there’s a wonderful, built-in-the-30s-by-the-CCC visitor center, too, with good exhibits.
By that point it was getting late, and I needed to find a place to sleep and hit a grocery store. I thought about camping at Fort Lincoln, but I hadn’t gone to the grocery store first, and it was awfully windy out there, too.
Maybe tomorrow night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If I get that far. I’m going about thirty miles north of here to Fort Mandan and the Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site first, because that’s where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter on the road (so to speak) and I’m curious.
What a pretty day. Seriously. My first stop of the day was at Detroit Lake, which is the centerpiece of the eponymously named town of Detroit Lakes (no, I didn’t see the other lakes, but that’s okay).
I’m still seeing wildflowers even in September in this climate, too, which makes me happy.
I reached Moorhead, Minnesota, on the North Dakota line, around noon, and went looking for [googles to get the spelling right] the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, which is nominally the local historical society, but in fact is the home of two enormous fascinating artifacts. The first is a sort of Thor-Heyerdahl-in-reverse authentic Viking ship reproduction that was built nearby, then sailed from Duluth, Minnesota, to Oslo, Norway, back in the early 1980s. I was a fan of Heyerdahl when I was a kid, so the story of Robert Asp and his dream becoming a reality was fascinating to me, and the ship was impressive, if difficult to photograph.
The other huge artifact is a reproduction stave (pronounced, to my surprise, as STAHV, not STAYV) church. It’s an exact copy, made by another local man, Guy Paulsen, of the Hopperstad Stave Church, built during the 12th and 13th centuries in the backwoods of Norway. I’d always wanted to see a stave church, after seeing pictures and film of them, and since I’ll be lucky if I ever get to any part of Scandinavia in this lifetime, well, I jumped at the chance to see this one.
The museum has the usual local history exhibits, too, but aside from the church and the ship, the temporary exhibits were what caught my eye. One was a traveling exhibit about the history of the education of the blind, and the other was about the history of liquor in the area. Apparently because North Dakota’s liquor laws were much stricter than Minnesota’s, and due to its proximity to non-Prohibitioned Canada, Moorhead was a very exciting place to be in the early decades of this century [g].
The museum’s café sells a mean bowl of vegetable beef soup with homemade noodles, too. No lutefisk, though, thank goodness.
There wasn’t really anything I wanted to see in Fargo itself (as opposed to Moorhead), so I drove on through and out onto the Great Plains. I’m back in, “Oh, god, don’t anything step on my van! It’s really not a bug even though it looks as small as one!” country, and I am so happy about that. Oh, my gosh, I love the prairies. They’re so gorgeous.
And I got an interesting history lesson when I stopped at a rest area on my way to my stop for the night in Jamestown, too. I knew a little about tree claims, from reading my Laura Ingalls Wilder, but not this much. Too cool.
Jamestown’s claim to fame is the world’s largest statue of a bison. I’ll go see if I can find it tomorrow morning.
According to the weather forecaster on a local Fargo, North Dakota, newscast (I’m almost 70 miles southeast of there tonight), the average first frost date is September 18th. And the forecast is for frost over the next couple of nights, with a high in the fifties F tomorrow. My word. According to the Geyser Gazers FB group, it’s snowing in Yellowstone. I’m starting to feel the need to get back over the Rockies soon, for some strange reason…
Oh, and I didn’t get a photo of it, but my habit of reading road signs the way I used to read cereal boxes and mayonnaise jars as a kid (when I ran out of any other reading material) paid off today. An adopt-a-highway sign was claimed by Wreck-A-Mended, a car collision repair company [g].
I got a late start this morning, and after a couple of errands that included picking up maps at AAA for my revised route, finally left Duluth a bit berfore eleven. It was interesting watching the thick forest gradually change to prairie with the only trees at low spots and along waterways, the farther west I went across Minnesota.
Other than that, and hitting a patch of mizzle (to use a Pacific Northwest term for a combination of mist and drizzle) this afternoon, that was pretty much the day. Well, and passing lake after lake after lake. This is Minnesota, the land of ten thousand lakes, after all. Although the AAA book says it’s more like fifteen thousand, and I have no problem believing that.
It was gray gloomy all day, which was fine (I didn’t have to fight my sunglasses [wry g]), and I stopped for the night here in the small town of Perham, Minnesota. A small town with an enormous quilt shop, actually, so that was fun. I suspect they do at least 75% of their business online, because Perham itself is only about 2500 people, and even if they attract a regional customer base, it’s still pretty huge for a place like this. I was good and bought only one fabric panel, a two-thirds yard-sized photo-like image of a double row of fall-foliaged trees.
Speaking of fall foliage, I saw a lot of birches just beginning to turn yellow today.
As of yesterday, Merlin has 14,000 miles on him, and I’ve been on the road for three and a half months. I suspect I’ll be home about the time I hit four months.
And the cold is improving. Or rather, I am. I’ve even got most of my voice back!
It does occur to me that I should bring this up to speed, being sick aside [wry g].
I woke up on Manitoulin Island the morning of the 8th to a misty, moisty morning. It rained on me off and on as I drove north to the swinging bridge, which is the only other way, aside from the ferry, off the island. It’s called the swinging bridge because that’s what it does to let boat traffic through. Not a drawbridge, but a swinging bridge, which supposedly is closed for fifteen minutes every hour on the hour for this very purpose, but I got there right on the hour, and it wasn’t closed. Then again, there weren’t any boats in the passage, either, and it would have been silly of them to open it if no one was waiting.
Rocks and trees and trees and rocks [g]. At least three different people described the scenery in western Ontario to me using this phrase, and I have to admit they’re right. It’s still pretty, though, and I stopped to enjoy a little cascade called the Serpent River Falls, and to note the glacial marks on the rocks nearby.
I was getting tired much sooner than normal by the time I reached Sault Ste. Marie, so I found a motel and holed up for the rest of the afternoon. The following morning was worse, so I paid for a second night, and the only time I got out that day was to go get food and hit a drug store for some meds and vitamin C and more tissue.
The next morning, September 10th, I was feeling enough better (and stir crazy) that I wanted to go ahead, so I crossed the border back into the States, where the only thing the pleasant customs officer asked me was if I’d bought anything to bring home over the past month. I told him about the cross-stitch patterns and the quilt fabric and the kitchen magnets and the three prints, and he smiled and waved me on through. Which was a good thing because getting the receipts out would have slowed things down considerably, since they were stowed away in one of the bins under my bed in the back.
It’s actually sort of a relief to be back in the land of miles and Fahrenheit again, if only because now I don’t have to peer down at my speedometer (I can’t read the kilometer part without taking my sunglasses off, which has been really annoying), and, more importantly, do all these calculations in my head all the time (exchange rate, too — I can’t seem to help myself [wry g]). I love Canada, but it is just enough of an uncanny valley for me that I don’t feel quite “right” there – I’m not explaining it well, but anyway. Like I said, I probably should have done it as the first part of the trip, when I wasn’t so worn out.
Anyway. I drove about halfway across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the absolutely pouring rain yesterday. I actually had to pull over once because the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with it and I couldn’t see where I was going. Fortunately, the really hard rain didn’t last long, but it did rain all day long.
I spent the night just outside of Marquette, Michigan, in the little, rather oddly-named town of Ishpeming. I’ve been through this part of Michigan before, which was why I had originally had my heart set on driving up and around through western Ontario in spite of the drive being longer, but oh, well. I ate a pasty for dinner. I had vividly good memories of one I’d eaten in Marquette the last time I was here, but this one wasn’t as good, alas. A pasty is a meat pocket (hand-held) pie, filled with beef and potatoes, and, I think, turnips, and they can be delicious. This one wasn’t bad, just not as good as I remembered.
I actually overslept this morning, which was wonderful since I hadn’t really slept all that well for a few nights, and I am feeling better, although I still don’t have my voice back (why, oh, why do I always get laryngitis when I catch a cold???). Which is great fun when you have to communicate, especially with strangers. “Why are you whispering? What did you say?” Laryngitis isn’t painful, at least not for me, but it’s really annoying.
Anyway, I drove the rest of the way across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and all the way across the top of Wisconsin to Duluth, which is just across the river in Minnesota. Not really as far as it sounds, maybe 150 miles? I got here in time to watch my Seattle Seahawks (actual Jeopardy question from a few years ago: What’s the only NFL team whose name starts with the same three letters as their city?) win their season opener against the Miami Dolphins at the last moment by the skin of their teeth (final score: 12-10).
I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do tomorrow, or for the rest of the trip, for that matter. I guess I’ll see how I feel in the morning, but I suspect I’m back in the States for good. We’ll see.
One of the weirdest and most unpredicted (at least by me) things about blogging this trip has been that I’ve felt reluctant to change my plans for fear of disappointing people, which is really stupid. About the only really big change I’ve made so far was to not go to Newfoundland, and even then I felt like I had to explain why [wry g].
Anyway. I’m not feeling a whole lot better today, and when I took my temperature early this morning (I have a thermometer in my first aid kit), I was running a slight temperature. Which seems to have gone down since then, thank goodness, but still.That said, the last time I had symptoms like this, they got worse and worse instead of better (thanks to a nurse practitioner who insisted I was just getting over a cold) and I ended up in the hospital with pneumonia (just about two years ago, actually). The other thing is that as an American, going to the doctor in Canada is an expensive proposition, even with travel insurance. And the other thing is, I’m at the last border crossing where there’s a city on both sides of the border for a long, long way. As in over 1000 miles, at least. The next border crossing, period, is at Thunder Bay, which is almost 450 miles away on the other end of Lake Superior. Also, from Sault Ste. Marie to Kenora, ON, on my original route, is actually a few miles shorter going through Michigan than around through Ontario.
Also, I’m starting to get to the point (and was, before I got sick) where I’m ready to start heading home. If there’s one thing I regret about this trip, it’s that I didn’t start it in Canada and come back home across the U.S. (I’ve been saying that practically since I hit California, alas). But there’s not much to be done about it now. On the bright side, my passport is good for eight more years and my Canadian national parks pass is good until August 2018 [g].
Anyway, I’m going to cross the border this morning, go across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and see how I feel about the time I get to Duluth, Minnesota. That way, if I need a doctor, I can hit a doc-in-the-box (aka urgent care) and get antibiotics before it gets worse. If I’m feeling better and ready to explore more, then I’ll cross back over in Minnesota, head for Kenora, and continue on with my original plans. If not, then I’ll head on home.
I’ve ridden ferries in Virginia, Maryland, and now Ontario. This one was by far the longest ride, though, almost two hours.
I got a late start this morning, and was eating breakfast at the picnic table at my campsite when I heard a soft rat-a-tat-a-tat. I looked up, and saw a woodpecker. Bigger than a downy, considerably smaller than a pileated, I’m assuming he’s a hairy woodpecker, but I’d love confirmation (hint, hint, Katrina [g]). Anyway, he was a brave little fellow, and just looked back at me as I walked over to get a better look at him. A nice way to start the day.
I went back to Tobermory, looking for somewhere to go out of the humidity, and also looking for wifi because I wasn’t sure if I was going to end up somewhere that had it tonight. The librarians at the Tobermory library were very nice about letting me charge my computer and use their wifi, so I sat and scribbled for a while, then uploaded blog posts. Then I walked over to the local bookstore just around the corner, and bought another fridge magnet as well as perusing the books.
By that point it was time to get in line for the ferry. There were rather a lot of us crossing over to Manitoulin Island. The ferry holds 143 vehicles and I’m pretty sure it was full. The boarding process was smooth, if a bit slow, and we pulled away pretty much on time.
The beginning and end of the ride are dotted with islands, but for at least an hour the view is nothing but lake. I am told it can get pretty interesting during a storm, but today the ferry was gliding across still water, which made me very happy. And the views, even when it was just water, were so pretty.
We arrived on Manitoulin Island right on time, unloaded much more quickly than we loaded, and off I went up Highway 6 towards the tiny hamlet of Manitowaning, where I found a motel room for the night. Showers and wifi and TV [g]. The desk clerk/owner directed me to the only place serving cooked food in town, a place called Loco Beans, which mostly serves coffee, but which served me a chicken veggie wrap and a butter tart, so I’ve now eaten one (they’re pretty tasty, and not as much like a pecan-less pecan pie than I thought they’d be) and can officially cross the border into Manitoba when I get there without getting in trouble [g].
I haven’t decided how much dawdling I want to do here, vs. heading on west. We’ll have to see how I feel about it in the morning.
Otherwise known as a national park named after a Shakespeare quote (it’s from The Tempest), which has got to be one of the coolest things ever. Unlike the weather. The whole time I was at the Forbers’, the weather was relatively cool and dry and lovely. Today we’re back to heat and humidity, but not nearly as bad as some of what I’ve been through on this trip, at least.
This morning I drove down to the Bruce Peninsula/ Full Fathom Five National Parks visitor center, which had one of the best national park visitor center museums I’ve seen in a while. Too bad I wasn’t here in June to see the forty different kinds of orchids that grow here, but I did get to learn more about the Niagara Escarpment, which is a huge land formation that runs from Wisconsin way up into Ontario and then back down to New York State. Niagara Falls is a result of that escarpment. Also, the Bruce Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in Canada, follows the top of it from that visitor center to within a few miles of Niagara Falls, almost 600 miles long.
I also learned that the fisher is the only real predator of porcupines, and that the way they catch them is to bite them in the face and flip them over so that they can eat from the spineless stomach and avoid a mouthful of quills.
After that I went into the tiny town of Tobermory on the very tip of the peninsula to find lunch – which was basically a choice between fish and chips or fish and chips, but that was okay. Then I went back to the visitor center and walked a trail to the water’s edge, which was lovely. Heavily wooded all the way to the end, and a nice little deck above the water with the obligatory Adirondack/Muskoka chairs (Ross, I was told in the Maritimes that calling them Muskoka chairs is an Ontario-centric thing).
I also went to a place called the Singing Sands, which was a lovely little beach, but the sand didn’t sing today, at least not so that I could hear it.
Then I came back to the campground and kicked back for the evening, and here I am.
Tomorrow is a two-hour ferry ride! And the biggest freshwater island in the world, apparently, with at least one lake on the island that has islands of its own.
This morning I left Christine’s, after a wonderful four days of visiting and sightseeing, (and a chance to catch up with practical stuff before heading on, which was also much appreciated). Thank you for a great time, all four Forbers. I hope that you, like the other folks who have been so hospitable towards me on this trip, get a chance to come out to Washington so I can show you around!
There are two ways to get to the top of the Great Lakes in order to continue west. Well, the third one is to duck down into the U.S., which would have been going through territory I covered pretty well on my last Long Trip, so that wasn’t going to happen. First, you can drive due north and go around the east side of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, or second, you can drive northwest to and up the Bruce Peninsula to the very tip, then take a ferry ride across the mouth of Georgian Bay (a bay that’s probably half the size of Lake Huron proper) to Manitoulin Island, from which there’s a bridge to the north shore of the lake. Having decided to do the latter several days ago, I’d gone online to make reservations for the ferry. They’re for Wednesday afternoon (today’s Monday) to give me plenty of time to explore on the way.
So I drove northwest across southern Ontario, and wound up in the town of Owen Sound, on the southern shore of Huron, at lunchtime. I like Owen Sound. Yes, there’s a body of water called Owen Sound, too, but it’s not very big. The town itself is small, used to be much bigger, and, according to the local historical museum (which was great fun), was once a hotbed of vice and iniquity [g]. Bootlegging and counterfeiting and prostitution, among other things. The museum also has a couple of nifty outdoor exhibits, and is right along a very pretty waterfront walking trail.
I decided, after I left Owen Sound, to drive north along the lakeshore rather than take the direct highway to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. This turned out to be a good idea, as there were quite a few water views, and the inland part was pretty, too. The drive met back up with the highway about halfway up the peninsula, and I drove on to the Bruce Peninsula and Full Fathom Five National Parks (they appear to be joint the way Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks in California are). The Bruce Peninsula sort of reminds me of Cape Cod, only without all the crowds, which was really nice, and the national park has a terrific (and reasonably priced, for once) campground. I’m settled in for the evening, knowing that I have all day tomorrow to explore the parks before I catch the ferry on Wednesday.
It was in the van, and Christine drove us. Anyway, this morning, Christine and I went to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, which had been on her “I want to get there” list and which, especially after the Turquoise Mountain exhibit in DC, sounded right up my alley. It’s a museum of Arabic art, with a heavy dose of history to help interpret it, and it was one of those things that I’d never have seen on my own because I’d not have known it existed (it only opened a couple of years ago, and it’s not in any of my guidebooks – I checked). The art was gobsmacking. Even the lobby art – which was this huge gold-on-red rug-looking thing that was hanging from the ceiling. It looked very finely stitched, and Christine and I were both admiring it, when the fellow who took our tickets said, go around and look at the backside. It wasn’t stitched. Each one of those thousands of “stitches” was a tiny brass straight pin, and the backside looked like it was furry, there were so many pins so close together. It was incredible. And gorgeous.
Then we went inside to the exhibits, which were full of antique pottery and metalwork and painting and stitchery and all sorts of gorgeous things, including pictures of animals that were like those paintings of clouds or mountains or trees, which, when you look at them closely, have faces in them. These animals were filled with other animals. Huge rugs, and candlesticks that must have had six-inch diameter candles in them, and at the very beginning of the exhibit, a film projection on the wall sort of like the credits at the beginning of the movie Mulan, where the art is being drawn in front of your eyes. Which made it so much more interesting to look at the art itself.
And then there was the history that went right along with it, Iranian and Egyptian and Moorish and all the others, giving the art context. That’s my kind of art museum. The kind that actually tells the stories, and doesn’t just hang the pieces up to admire.
The rest of the day was part resting and part practicalities — grocery shopping, among other things, since Monday is a federal holiday in Canada (Labour Day, just like the U.S., except that they actually close all their stores down). And chatting, and enjoying the company of all four Forbers, which I did, very much.
So, Fannish Night was a great deal of fun. I met Marna, and Ian, and Lorayne, and Cat, and the six of us (including Elizabeth and me) ate chicken and veggies and fruit and dessert, and watched a really funny movie called Bon Cop, Bad Cop, which is a buddy cop movie with a very Canadian twist. Well, a couple of them. Let’s just say that after six days in Quebec, floundering with my non-existent French, the whole French vs. English thing in the movie made things make a whole lot more sense. And there was hockey, of course. And there was Rick Mercer doing his Don Cherry imitation. It was laugh out loud funny.
When Elizabeth and I went out to the car afterwards, however, it was to find a parking ticket under Merlin’s windshield wiper. Since I’d not seen any no parking signs anywhere, that was a bit disconcerting. Also, when I tried to go online to pay it the next morning, neither the website nor the automated phone thingy would recognize the ticket number, and there was no way to talk to a human that I could find. I suspect it just wasn’t in the system yet, and I will try to remember to check it again before I leave Toronto, if I don’t lose the darned thing in the meantime. Anyway, it was more than a bit frustrating.
Elizabeth had a genealogy project (that’s part of what she does for a living) due yesterday afternoon, so I went ahead and left Ottawa yesterday morning, after stopping at an optician’s office that my friend Christine looked up for me. That was the other thing that went wrong this week. Continuing our theme of being nibbled to death by ducks, I lost my sunglasses the other day. I’m 99% sure they’re still in the van somewhere, but I can’t find them for love or money. They’re magnetic, made to fit my prescription glasses, and my prescription glasses are very small (I wear the absolute smallest adult frame size), so I hadn’t been able to find a clip-on pair to fit them (I find Fitovers very uncomfortable). Well, the ones the optician sold me are just a bit too big, but they work, and now I won’t get a headache driving the 3000 miles (not counting dawdling around) I still have to go to get home. Speaking of which, Merlin turned over 13,000 miles today.
Somehow I ended up on the wrong freeway headed west out of Ottawa, which actually turned out to be a good thing, because the drive was scenic, and it was six of one, half a dozen of the other which way would be faster to go to the provincial park I was aiming for that night, anyway. I like Ontario. I particularly like the fact that I can read the road signs [wry g]. But the scenery is lovely. Lots of rockfaces and woods and rolling hills and lakes. The provincial park was pretty, too, and the campground was very nice. Somehow, however, the only three photos I managed to take that day were of clouds, and none of them are post-worthy.
This morning, I drove down to the main highway across southern Ontario, and then promptly got off it again to take a drive down along the lakeshore, on an island or a peninsula, the map wasn’t all that clear. Whatever it was, it was called Prince Edward, and it was peaceful and bucolic and pretty, and it was nice to see Lake Ontario.
Then it was lunchtime, and time to get to and through Toronto before rush hour. I was headed for Bujold listee and needlework friend Christine’s house in Mississauga, a western suburb of Toronto, and, she tells me, the sixth largest city in Canada in its own right.
Toronto has freeways like Crocodile Dundee has a knife. The one I was on had two sets in each direction, each set about six lanes wide. One set is express lanes, and the other has the exits, and they intertwine back and forth every couple of kilometers so you can get to the exits from the express lanes and vice versa. It’s very impressive. And I’m saying that as someone who grew up in Southern California. The traffic could have been much worse than it was, too.
I found Christine’s house without any trouble, and I’ll be here for several nights before I head north, and then on west again. We’re going to go to Niagara Falls among other things while I’m here, and it ought to be interesting!