Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca - Headwaters of The Mississippi
Thursday, September 29, 2011

Falling and blowing leaves hit the roof of the Sprinter all night – at least the time or two I woke up- then toward morning the rain began. Nice to hear on the metal roof but we had hoped to leave the rain behind for a few days!  But this was a restful day so we just slept in – ate breakfast – turned on the heater to take the chill off and read. I am trying out a Nook from our library to see if I am going to like electronic reading…so far it is OK – I am not in love with it but sure does save space! 

Breakfast was great – toast with the bread cheese from Carr’s. Instructions said to heat cubes in the microwave for 30 seconds and spread on bread with honey or jam. Strawberry jam it was – very tasty.

Late morning the rain stopped but not the wind – we bundled up and took off on a walk along the lake. The woods is beautiful with the fall color and the trail follows along the lake shore for miles.  We walked about a mile and then returned to camp. Biking is very popular here as is canoeing. Both can be rented a ways down the trail.  

 Trail along lake
Trail continues

After lunch – hot soup – the sun came out and we gott our second wind. While the sun was out we wanted to see the headwaters area and get a few photos!  You could drive to about ½ mile from the headwaters. The short hike led to the outlet from Lake Itasca. Much controversy and a variety of explorers finally selected this location as the true beginning of the Mississippi.  It is Lake Itasca one minute and the Mississippi River the next. The beginning is about 30 feet wide and 18 inches deep. Rocks are placed strategically so you can walk across the river.  The rocks were somewhat slippery but we managed to make it across with 1 wet shoe (Ben) and one skinned ankle (Jane) as the only casualties.  Photos taken we chose to walk back across the 12” wide flat log the park officials had placed for those not wishing to try the rocks.  The flow of the water was rapid probably due to all the rain in this area the past week. 

 We made it across the headwaters
Headwaters rock crossing in back, other bridge in foreground

This park is the first in the Minnesota Park System – organized in 1891. There was as might have been expected friction between the officials who were preserving the land around the headwaters and the businessmen who were out to make lots of money logging the land.  As almost always happened; there were a few “champions” who made the park happen.  This park had the first woman park commissioner in North America. Only in her 20’s when her father died as park commissioner, Mary Gibbs became the commissioner. Holding the position for less than a year, she and the MN government had a significant confrontation with loggers who were building an illegal dam at the headwaters to enable their logging operations. 

We visited the Visitor Center for a post card for Daniel and a couple other remembrances.  We then took a 10 mile one-way scenic drive through the wilderness sanctuary. The red and white pine trees were huge and the maples, aspen, oak and birch were beautiful. The colors are at their peak and the skies clear and brilliant blue.   
 Beaver Lodge along scenic drive
Beautiful fall foliage

The drive ended near the over 100 year old Douglas Lodge that continues to house visitors. While not nearly as large as the lodges built around that same era at the parks in the west.The lobby was small but very welcoming. 
 Lobby of Douglas Lodge

Back at camp we continued our restful day by discovering we had internet so I posted the blog and read some emails.  Photos of the bathrooms is not something I normally post but the bathhouse here was quite remarkable. First knotty pine bathhouse I have ever seen. Most of the buildings here were built by the CCC and these have been very nicely maintained. 

Knotty Pine Bath House
I cooked supper and awaited the sunset – alas no great colors tonight. We have met several interesting folks here at the campground. None seem to be starting on the adventure to the gulf. One couple had been as far south on the Great River Road (GRR) as Hannibal MO.   

The weather prediction is for 36 tonight so we will turn the heater on the lowest setting…last night we did not turn it on and were very comfortable. The cooler weather means few if any mosquitoes – so if I have to choose I choose the cooler temperature! Tomorrow we start down the GRR and plan to go as far as the Charles Lindburg State Park.

Tomah WI to Lake Itsaca MN
Wednesday September 28, 2011

We left Tomah about 8:30 and asked Mr. Brit to find Warrens MN and the Cranberry Discovery Center.  I had read about the cranberry industry in Wisconsin but had determined it was too far from the Great River Road for us to take the side trip…and here we were 7 miles from the center!  The fog was to lift by 9:00 but no such luck as the fog was thick when we went in the Discovery Center and still thick when we left about an hour later. We saw the process of planting and harvesting on a video; and saw actual cranberry plants they had brought into the center for their festival this past weekend.  The small town of Warrens must have been covered up in people for the festival.  They had had over 100 vendors and lots of entertainment. The population was around 1,500. One remnant was these  huge jack-o-lanterns that someone had carved.

 Cranberry plant in the Discovery Center

60% of the US Cranberry crop comes from Wisconsin. We drove down to one of the farms and observed the huge cranberry bogs.  The center usually knew when various growers nearby would be harvesting but they did not know of anyone today so we photographed the bogs and headed west as we had lot's of miles to cover to reach Lake Itsaca State Park  tonight.  

 Ben surveys a cranberry bog ready for harvest

We had heard weather reports indicating the rain was to stop and clear skies would follow.  Heavy rain followed the fog so we were not very hopeful but just before we reached the Minnesota state line the sun and blue skies broke through!  We crossed the St. Croix River and drove about 10 miles to the Welcome Center to stop for a picnic lunch.  We were anxious to open our bread and cheese from the Wisconsin Cheese Shop – Carr’s Cheese was great !

The trees continue to be beautiful in all the fall colors. They are interspersed with deep green pine which made for a very pleasant palate.  Mr. Brit took us around St. Paul and Minneapolis with no problems – traffic was not bad at all and we were on Rt 94 headed northwest towards our destination.  We were pleased to discover we would be taking a different route today than we would follow south from the Headwaters of the Mississippi. Today was probably the most direct route.  The farms in MN seem to be smaller than the ones we saw throughout IN, IL, and WI,  As we headed further north we noticed the trees seemed to be primarily yellow birch and something that looked like aspen but will take a little investigation to be sure.  There continued to be oranges and reds but in fewer numbers than yesterday.

We went from an interstate to a 4 lane state road to a two lane state road to finally a 2 lane park road for the last 5 miles. It is beautiful with leaves underfoot as well as on the trees. We did not arrive until 5:30 so did not have time to explore the park today.  We will stay here two nights so tomorrow will be a down day for exploring the park. We have a nice level campsite with electricity and the bathhouse and water nearby. We are happy to be camping again – our first trip since October 2010.

Ben relaxes at our campsite
After dinner we discovered we had 3G on the i-phone!  This was a surprise since we only had 3G around Minneapolis since we left the Madison area in Wisconsin yesterday.   Who am I to complain!
I just made it down to the lake to get a photo of a beautiful sunset…so here we are in the middle of the MN wilderness – me typing the blog I will probably not get to post for a few days and Ben is watching some TV show he had recorded on his computer before we left home….

 Sunset over Lake Itsaca
Tomorrow we explore the headwaters of the Mississippi and prepare to begin our adventure down the Great River Road!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Lafayette IN to Tomah WI

Tuesday September 27

Our day started with searching for a post office and an Indiana post card.  This is not as easy as I had thought it would far Walgreens seems to be the most reliable source for post cards.  We needed to find a post office to buy 1 cent stamps. Seems our post card stamps were a little short.  The post office was right where the motel staff had told us so we were on the road in short order. 

We finally made it to Central Time. Well we really went back and forth a few times yesterday in Indiana but did not change our watches until we were past Chicago. I will restate from yesterday that the worst roads we have driven on so far are in Indiana...surprised me as usually West Virginia takes that prize!  The day started gray and rainy and stayed that way most all day. We did see blue skies try to peak through the clouds a time or two but never for more than a few minutes.

 Wind turbines in a field of corn

 The farms were still primarily growing corn with occasional wheat fields and cattle. Several times we saw large fields of wind turbines among the fields of corn. Our primary goal for the morning was to avoid Chicago. We drove directly north to Gary Indiana and then turned west on I 80 until we were far enough west to miss Chicago and turned north on I39 straight to Rockford IL and then into Janesville WI. Mr. Brit - the GPS did not like our route until I put in the two intersecting interstates and then he was happy...

Our stops for the day were first at a rest stop where we walked through an oak forested park with huge acorns covering the ground. Strange acorns with caps that were very spiny. The squirrels were going to be very fat around there!

Next we stopped at an Iron Skillet near Rockford IL for a great breakfast for lunch. They also filled the bill for buying an Illinois post card and mailing it to Dan! The hot breakfast food hit the spot on a cold dreary day.

We had another interesting rest stop after we entered Wisconsin where they had several monuments to Medal of Honor soldiers from Wisconsin. One for each of the wars the US has fought listing all those awarded a  Medal of Honor from Wisconsin.  As we continued north the farms changed to primarily dairy farms and we began looking for a cheese shop. We had seen "cheese curds" at the Iron Skillet and wondered about them. They are cheese with the whey still in it and the curds some larger than large curd cottage cheese, but much dryer than cottage cheese. They are rather chewy and not a texture we were crazy about. We did however buy some great 5 year cheddar, some swiss, and something called breakfast cheese that you melt on bread.

After we past Madison and the Wisconsin Dells the trees suddenly turned brilliant reds, yellows and oranges with the colors absolutely beautiful. The skies were a little bit blue and then it began raining again. Fall was definitely here in this area..

Our stop for the night was in Tomah WI which was a small town in the right place. It was a little larger than Ben had thought it would be with 4 or 5 motels. After searching restaurants we selected the Burnstadts European Restaurant and Market and Bakery and Women's Clothes and Hooch Hut....yes they sold lots of things and had been in business since 1944.  It was definitely local and excellent food at a reasonable price. We also got some good looking bread to have with our cheese for lunches.  We looked around at the clothes and hooch but did not buy.   We did get a piece of sour cream raisin pie "to go" and having just eaten my half it also got an excellent review!.

Last weekend was the Cranberry Fest here in Tomah. The hotel is glad all the people are GONE. We are hoping to find they are still harvesting some cranberries at the Cranberry Center a few miles north of here. We will visit tomorrow before hearing further west into Minnesota.

There is no 3G on our phones here. First time for that in a town since we left home.  Several times no 3G in remote areas but fine in urban areas - guess this is not very urban!! 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hurricane WVa to Lafayette IN

Monday September 26

Day 2 of our marathon drive to the headwaters of the Mississippi and the beginning of the Great River Road is now behind us.  The day began with an interesting interface between us and Mr. Brit - our GPS.  Ben had downloaded updates just before we left TN so the fact that we were driving in the middle of nowhere on a very new 4 lane hiway was a surprise. For about 15 miles we followed a river on the new road with Mr. Brit constantly saying recalculating - drive to the correct road!  Finally we made it to the end of the new road and Mr. Brit was content.

GPS Shows us driving to nowhere

Nice New Road to somewhere

West Virginia surprised us - in this part of the state very nice farms along the river bottom as we drove north on US35 to Point Pleasant. There we would cross the Ohio River into Ohio. The farms had huge fields of corn, soybeans, and tobacco and most had nice barns, outbuildings, and farm equipment.  As we came close to Point Pleasant and the Ohio River there were numerous coal barges transporting coal to the power plants along the Ohio.
 Crossing into Ohio

The farms continued into Ohio and continued to be well maintained with all the fields planted with much the same crops - seems we saw less tobacco than we had seen in West Va.  There was also lush growth of New York Iron Weed,  Ragweed, and New England Asters - these and other wild flowers were abundant along the roadways and in the fields not cultivated.

The first Ohio town was Chillicothe where we had an unexpected treat for Ben - the discovery of the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park - one of the side interests along the Great River Road was to be visiting several Indian Mound sites - and here was another one !  We stopped, watched the film, viewed the museum exhibits and looked over the mounds from the visitor center. Light rain kept us from hiking among the mounds. These Hopewell Indians were quite the artisans with carvings and metal work of very high quality.  There were numerous earthworks at several sites along the rivers in this part of Ohio.

  Ben Reviews the Mounds area

 The Hopewell lived in this area because it gave them access to both flat lands and the more mountainous hills for hunting....and as we left Chillicothe we did indeed leave the hills and mountains of eastern Ohio and West Va and enter the flat farmlands of the mid-west.

  Corn and Soybeans

Back on US 35 we continued to Dayton where we picked up an interstate to take us to Indianapolis. These three days of driving 350 - 400 miles a day are not our preferred travel pace but will get us to MN in 4 days. Then we will slow down and enjoy. Stopping for a quick lunch and two good walks kept us functioning. Somewhere around Indianapolis our crime solving book was over -this 9 disc book had taken us through almost 3 days of travel!  
We did experience some closed Rest Areas in Indiana and some of the roads had less than perfect patches - these were the only signs of budget issues we have observed so far. 

About 50 miles north of Indianapolis was Lafayette IN where we planned to stay the night. Ben had picked motels at random at approximately the right mileage - this one was perfect we walked to an Olive Garden for a spaghetti dinner and to Wal-Mart for a couple things. Not having to get back in the Sprinter after a long driving day was really nice. Plus the short walks were good for us...and we have enough leftover spaghetti for lunch tomorrow! 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Durham NC to Hurricane WVa

Sunday September 25

After a great breakfast and some last minute construction play we left Durham headed back east across NC and north into VA. The weather was certainly an improvement over Friday but we still had rain off and on and heavy rain and fog as we cross the mountains on I77. Good thing we have an interesting book for entertainment. A new activity for this trip will be sending Daniel a post card so he can track our travel through the numerous states we will visit. I think our stamps are a penny or two short so will have to find some additional postage to add come Monday!

 Fog and Rain as we cross the mountains

In Wytheville we stopped for gas, lunch,and found a post card all at one place! From Wytheville we headed north towards West Virginia on I77.  We were hoping we might see some leaves turning and they were just beginning to turn in VA. A very nice rest area in provided a lovely walking location and the photo below of leaves. 

VA Rest Area on I 77

As you continue north on I77 two tunnels make the drive much less difficult than it would have been some years before as the area traverses a remote area.

First of Two Tunnels on I 77
After the second tunnel we entered West Virginia, the WV Turnpike and $6 in tolls between the state line near Beckley and Charleston. The drive was pleasant without too much traffic. It was obvious WV is very much a coal mining state. Many billboards in support of clean coal , opposed to new EPA regulations, lots of coal trucks parked here and there (it is Sunday) and even barges carrying coal down the Kanawa River.

The State Capital building in Charleston was bright gold and certainly stood out among the rest of the rather drab buildings that made up the city wedged between the mountain/interstate highway and the river.

WV State Capital in Charleston

Continuing on to Hurricane about 30 miles west of Charleston we found our planned stop about 3:30. It was a bit earlier than we usually stop but with the first portion of our trip behind us we stopped, caught up on the internet and straightened up the Sprinter. Traveling and stopping in motels will be our plan for these first few days of our trip. When we reach MN we will begin our camping adventure and slow down the pace significantly. Dinner was at the China Chef - the #1 rated restaurant in was a good Chinese buffet with a variety of entrees and a very reasonable cost of $10.  We drove into the town of Hurricane very surprised at the new construction and nice homes. Not what we had expected. We found a Walgreens for a post card and the post office. Then Jane had to relearn posting the blog as the site has been upgraded since our last trip... after learning the new procedures it is MUCH more user friendly and easier to post the photos.

Kingsport to Durham NC

Friday September 23 and Saturday September 24

We are off on another adventure! We will be exploring the Great River Road along the Mississippi River from the headwaters in MN to the Gulf of Mexico. But before we head north and west we are going east for a couple days. We had a quick visit with our son's family in Durham NC and attended a reunion with Ben's NC State college friends.  Unexpectedly we had hard rain most of the 4 hour drive from Kingsport to Durham with heavy fog over the mountains.

Pilot Mountain is hiding in the fog!

We stopped in Kernersville for some BBQ for lunch. The BBQ was not as great as we had remembered it but the hush puppies were great!

 Prissy Polly's BBQ in Kernersville NC

We had a great visit with Jeff, Robin, and Daniel. Building with Lego's and Tinker Toys, and eating some great food. It is always interesting to see a 5 year old change from one visit to the next.

Dan and Grandad discuss where we will be traveling and I try to read him an old comic book,

The reunion was fun and we had the pleasure of observing cotton fields with the cotton in all the stages from bud, to blooms, to the boll forming, and finally the cotton puffed open. Since it had rained for two days the usually puffy cotton was a little droopy but it was still very interesting to see all the stages of its development.

 The bud
 Bloom is white when it opens
Bud turns dark pink as it dies
The pink flower turns into the brown boll (lower) and 
then the cotton pops out (upper)

The reunion was held on a farm near Wilson NC; where the family had been farming the land for over 150 years.  It is always great to hear these guys who spent time living together in the 60's retell their college adventures! They have enjoyed a get together each year for the past 10+ years and seem to enjoy them more as each year passes.