T/Blues: 08/22/2012

September 30, 2012

Ojibway Heritage Center – fountain in early morning light

While awaiting Arnold’s Ferry to Mackinac Island, stroll along St Ignace’s waterfront: a curious amalgam of tourist shops and eateries priced for differing wallet sizes. (Do LOVE seaside towns  in the quietude of early morning: sunlight plays, jewel-like, on water’s surfaces and and its ambient light paints buildings in glowing colors).

A surly Arnold’s Ferry ticket-seller’s “Whaddaya want?” tempts a reply of “give me price on a baby dinosaur”, but would skew hopes for the day.

Harbor view from Ft Mackinac

A short ferry ride has us rounding a marker buoy and slipping into Mackinac Island’s port: a bustling reminder of how ports used to be more chaotic: a frenzy of taxis, hotel shuttles, horse-drawn (aromatic) carriages, bicycle vendors, etc. Pick up a park ticket, then wander island’s busy, commercial, tourist-driven Main St. Continue past early 20th-century resort hotels, and onto island’s West Side, with bed-and-breakfasts which were once rich people’s homes.


Grand Hotel

Cross back behind Main Street and discover a Little Stone Church and a magnificent Grand Hotel. No photos have ever done justice to Grand’s grounds, golf course and glory. Not on MY budget, but would be lying to pretend being part of the one-percent is never appealing.


Brigadoon Inn/Resort

Out along the East Side’s churches, inns and resorts, for al fresco lunch at Mission Point Bistro. Excellent food and service help calm a sense that people of color visit this island more for economic sustenance than for pleasure, as compared with “us” in themed La Coste polo shirts or mother-daughters “anchor’-themed dresses.


Finally, past Jesuit-inspired Bark Chapel, head up into Fort Mackinac in time for a display of riflery. Considering how long it took to load and fire, it’s hard not to imagine ammunition lasted for a long time. Wandered along palisades, block houses, sentinel stations, and officer or family quarters. Paused to enjoy a glass of wine on a terrace overlooking a rich expanse of blue sky and blue-gray lake. A “clarion call” creates crowd attracted to cannon firing: a short, humor-laced description of “process” capped with a noisy explosion which seems surprising to onlookers.

(For more Ft Mackinac Island photos, see “page”: 2012/08/22 – Mackinac Island)


T/Blues: 08/21/2012

September 30, 2012

Ludington Park: Marine Museum’s Sand Point Lighthouse

In Escanaba/MI, downtown contains a number of low-rise businesses. Pick-up truck accumulations suggest which are exemplary eating places. Ludington Park, at the edge of downtown, extends charm along Little Bay de Noc; and, in early morning, is quiet except for a few joggers, bicylists and dog-walkers. Sadly, it’s a bit too early for the Marine Museum and Sand Point Lighthouse to open. More’s the pity.


Schoolcraft Museum’s Water Tower

Continue thru a series of small towns, through brightening Hiawatha and Lake Superior National Forests, until, passing through Manistique, notice an unusual tower. Intrigued, meander over to Schoolcraft Museum and its associated water tower. Walking through tiny downtown, realize, except for signage, little has changed, probably, since World War II. Pausing temporarily at their Chamber of Commerce,, set in a Lake Michigan shoreline “parklet”, notice youngsters swimming without a need for wetsuits. However tempting, remind myself, that at their age, cold water didn’t seem quite so cold.

Gradually make my way to St Ignace… a jumping off place for a visit to Mackinac Island.

At Thunderbird Motel, a youngish woman with two pre-school kids noisy in the background, apologizes that their TV reception is “out” and recommends a “History Walk”.

At Ojibway Cultural Canter, a middle-aged woman descibes her cultural history and weaves a tale of how this area supported early tribes through their summer encampment. Then, an older couple, dressed in centuries-old style lead a group of about 20, recreating a series of historical scenarios spanning pre-European times through near-modern changes.

History Walk leaders

T/Blues: 08/20/2012

September 29, 2012

After technology failure at my motel, wandered downtown to an amazing array of murals: history; seasons; Coast Guard, and military… and, big, long murals, too. As Ashland rests alongside a bay, their lakefront park’s bandshell offers audiences a splendid nautical view at each performance.

As our high school class reunion sets us into the 1950s, a couple murals on outside walls at Buddie’s held a promise of spots where we used to spend our time and money. Alas, just “Buddie” in a setting of Elvis and Corvette posters: all those cute, pony-tailed girls behind a soda fountain are now historical memories.

Back onto US-2 and into Ironwood/MI, where a couple blocks of South Marquette offers a variety of churches: Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran.

T/Blues: 08/18-19/2012

September 24, 2012

Find Duluth much more appealing than expected (admittedly, it IS Summer, so snow aversion is easy). Its airport seems to be on TOP of a low mountain range, so coming in, get a birds-eye view of Lake Superior.


For Dylan, a “way out”?

As it’s Saturday, traffic seems light, and downtown quite uncluttered. Local hospital offers free parking, so am able to just “dump” my van, and “hoof it” around downtown.

There’s not really a whole bunch to see. (Well, there IS a Bob Dylan street sign.)

Downtown has some old buildings, but not much vitality. Most pedestrians seem to be those too poor to own cars. (There does seem to be a thriving drug trade, saw no hooker action… though maybe they’re still asleep).


Old Lighthouse

Lunch in busy Zitger Brewhouse, then step outside and take a long, lovely walk in warm sunshine back to Canal Park. Surprise an older, grandparental couple, by offering to play photographer which allows a full, three-generation family picture. Ditto for a young Asian couple and their kids, on their way to a colorful lighthouse.

Library: there are large print books, and then there are LARGE print books!

Up early next morning, discover a very modern library is closed, but a marvelous old train station has become multiple museums. Entering its “waiting room” realize some “do” has people preparing and, within half-an-hour, a full-fledged “No H8” campaign supporting gay marriage is in full swing. Big find was a guy with a small cart selling Nathan’s Coney Island hot dogs. (My objective of losing weight cannot be doing well!)

Yes, Virginia, this bridge DOES raise and lower the entire roadbed

Cross bridge over to Superior/WI, and have a splendid tour of lakefront Fairlawn Mansion and Museum. Say what we will about the 1%, they DID know how to live in grand style. Am also blown away (as this is NOT a BIG city) at magnificent Cathedral of Christ the King. Definitely on a European scale.


“Fairlawn” (lakefront) Mansion/Museum: “If ya got it, flaunt it!”


Cathedral of Christ the King

Pause in a small “family” motel which promises Wi-Fi, but am never able to get it working.

Ah, sweet mysteries of Life…

T/Blues: 8/15-17/2012

September 24, 2012

St John the Divine… love the scale

Drive across Red River into Moorhead/MN. Discover it’s home to American Sugar Crystal Company (am often surprised when “big name” companies have a presence in out-of-the-way places.) Maybe it’s just that it’s a gray day, but, excepting charming architecture of St John the Divine Church & bustling Minnesota State U, am barely attracted.


Lake Itasca SP: Mississippi River headwaters?

Press on, along US-10, past a series of small/medium-sized towns interspersed between long stretches of  forest, farms, fields, ponds, lakes and rivers. In Park Rapids, “reality” catches up as a “monsoon” allows me to crawl up US-71 to Itasca’s Lake Itasca State Park at about 35 mph.

“Why Itasca?” you might ask? Well, it is one of many spots which claim to be headwaters of “the Mighty Mississippi” river. (Sure don’t look so big, here). Manage to get a campsite with a clear view of rain pummeling this small lake, but “raindrops keep falling on my (roof)” provides a nice lullaby.

Paul & Babe… as outsized as their stories

On a day as gloriously clear as yesterday’s gray, head back up to US-2 and head into Bemidji. (Vaguely remember a “Paul Bunyan and His Ox, Babe” statue from an Illinois National Guard excursion in 1954… though, admittedly, my most vivid memories were of mosquitoes the size of fighter planes).

Paul and Babe are still there (looking AWAY from the lake for some reason) and enduring an endless parade of phototakers.

“We all live in a yellow submarine”

Bemidji itself, charms. Not any one special thing, just a nice balance between old and new: civic buildings tend toward modern utilitarian architecture (their lovely library turns out to be a delightful exception), but small, single/double-story buildings house most small businesses.

Did delight in a couple “little” things: a “yellow submarine” (named “Sally”) at a strip mall, and a cute, kid-sized railroad locomotive at what was once Bemidji’s train depot. Plus a sidewalk sculpture bust of “Chief Stone Eagle”; or a “Music” mural on an exterior wall of a small coffee shop.

(For more photos of Bemidji/MN, check out “post” for 2012/08/16 – Bemidji/MN)

Get into Grand Rapids in time for dinner… but pickin’s are slim. Settle for a place called “Ground Round” and dine on a remarkably good “Chef’s Special” NY steak. Alas, just around the corner of the bar, two middle-aged, blue-collar guys play “can you top this” with stories which probably bore THEM.

Central School Heritage Center: “Lumbering mural

Next morning, head over to Central School. Once scheduled for demolition, townspeople “saved” it, but it struggles… a wonderful, if tiny, bakery; a quilt shop, an arts/crafts salesroom; a couple small businesses; and a Historical Museum. As you can imagine, there’s a fair-sized Gumm Family exhibit which allows watching “caterpillar” Judy Gumm morph into “butterfly” Judy Garland. Central’s most surprising feature turns out to be oversize nature/history murals on each landing of their staircase.

In that Grand Rapids also lays claim to Mississippi River headwater, walk along a riverfront Blandin Park which even Huck Finn could love. Intrusions are there… but modestly so.


Children’s Museum: Judy Garland Exhibit – a “Life” quilt

Finally, head out to view Judy Garland exhibit at Children’s Museum, and am surprised and enthused to find it possible to leisurely stroll through Gumm’s pre-Hollywood home. Except for an old Victrola (for you young folks – it’s a kinda old-fashioned MP3 music player) and a grand piano, it has a Midwest practical plainness which makes the Gumm trek to California just that much more difficult to understand.

(For more photos of Grand Rapids/MN, check out “post” for 2012/08/17 – Grand Rapids/MN)

Though late in the day, figure can make it to Duluth before sunset. Do OK, except all local camping options are full, so opt for airport!

T/Blues: 08/14/2012

September 18, 2012

After watching that old film, who could NOT like “Fargo”.

That said, is has a look of most medium-sized American cities: prerequisite churches, movie house, shopping malls, boutiques, etc. Fargo IS a bit unusual in having TWO railroad lines (so, if you fail to get stuck for a Burlington Northern freight train, chances are you’ll wait for a Great Northern train just up the street).


Island Park’s “cool pool”

A couple nice features: at the edge of downtown, an old WPA-built arena facade, long-ago demolished, fronts for a glorious outdoor pool complex, at the edge of long, verdant Island Park. On a hot, mid-August day, just the ticket to overcome heat fatigue.

Personally, a most vivid memory is chasing out to a shopping mall to view a Roger Maris exhibit. (They call it a museum, but, it’s not that deserving). There is a continuous video of his all-to-short life, and a collection of memorabilia. Not exactly Cooperstown, but, for any family with a child in Little League, deserving of attention.

Roger Maris Exhibit

Roger Maris Exhibit

T/Blues: 08/12/2012

September 18, 2012

Spend a rather fascinating morning touring Mandan/ND’s Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.


Ft Abraham Lincoln SP: Commandant Custer Home

Tour General Custer’s house (he was Commandant here before journeying out to Montana’s Little Big Horn). (In that his wife had more money than good sense, Custer “embellished” standard Army issue housing with larger rooms, many more stylish architectural “flourishes”, and a great deal of furniture rarely found on military posts. Though whether this constituted “The Good Life” remains open to question.).


Ft Abraham Lincoln SP: On-Slant Mandan Indian Village

On-Slant Village is a reconstructed “earthworks” Mandan Indian village. Unlike our “tipi” image, these were not simply “dugouts”, but large, complex, above-ground homes, meeting places, storage locations etc. A central motif was a large “campfire”, around which everyone slept on chilly nights: its hierarchy being young children closest to the fire (if they got up during the night they would likely wake an elder before getting out of the enclosure… how COULD we apply this to teenagers today?) and adults farther away. Personal foodstuffs were often buried under its dirt floor. (A bit of chauvinism though: guys laid around telling war stories; women did all the work… our indigenous docents suggest this is no longer the case).


Cathedral of the Holy Spirit

Then off to state capitol Bismarck, to peek at their modern, yet beautiful cathedral, wander around Ft Cannon Historic Park (an old US Weather Station; an old church; and an old railroad engine), and, finally dine at Blarney Stone Irish Pub.

Realize this is curmudgeonry at its worst, but shouldn’s SOMEONE working in this pub know WHAT the Blarney Stone IS? (My waitress assumed it is “a big rock in Ireland”).