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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!