Category Archives: Midwest

Travel 2020 in the age of COVID-19

 

Michigan Island lighthouses: Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

My Husband and I just returned from a “mini vacation”, only 3 days, from a lovely state park relatively close to us and also the beautiful Apostle Islands on Lake Superior.  Like many people at this time, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on our spirits and we certainly did not expect the current situation to last as long as it has.  Yet we carry on and keep on hoping for the situation to improve…and I am optimistic that YES it will. Eventually.

But in the mean time, we all have to be gentle with ourselves and do things to help our mental health and keep us going.  I have a great love of travel and the great outdoors, so I thought this would be a terrific way for some rejuvenation. It was a great trip, but it was so different in so many ways. Just like many things in 2020, it will be remembered as a time period when radical changes in our lifestyles happened almost overnight.  Time will tell how history will remember this time period, but as the people who have lived through it….we will remember it in a multitude of ways-both good and bad.

On our trip we noticed what has become commonplace across this country: The Magic Three to fight COVID-19:

  1. ) Mask usage
  2. ) Hand washing and liberal use of hand sanitizer
  3. ) Required social distancing

We followed the rules, as best we could, I have no complaints there. I know doing these things are what we do as a community to help stop the spread. Yet, what is most disturbing to me is how utilizing these guardians of our physical health most certainly change our behavior and our mental health. We know it’s the “right thing to do”, but some of the behaviors that we are expected to follow feel foreign to most people, especially those of us that crave human interaction with our fellow human beings.

Probably the best illustration of this is how awkward it can become to maintain that recommended 6 foot distance in a “touristy” area. When we were walking out and about, enjoying the sights with our fellow travelers, people tried really hard to avoid getting too close to others. This is a good thing at this juncture, but normally when you are visiting an interesting city or park, it’s part of the experience to share observations with others. You probably will never see these people again, but for the moment you are immersed in the mutual experience together. So during this pandemic it just feels so odd to avoid eye contact with people and walk on the curb or even in the street to avoid sharing the sidewalk. As I said, people were trying to do the right thing, but it just feels odd and in my opinion distracts from the joy of the trip.

At the state park people frequently avoided even making eye contact with others. It was just weird, not how I remember a beautiful walk in the woods is supposed to be with fellow hikers. Granted,  I am not discounting the extreme importance of the social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.  We all need to do our part…and many people, myself included, are trying their hardest to do what is best for everyone to stop this horrible virus. I’m just saying it feels so weird right now.  And when you go on “vacation”, you would think you can take a “vacation” from reality…but in this circumstance- NO. Because for awhile anyway, this is our new reality.

Masks have become standard uniform when going out into the world and we are learning to adjust, but sometimes it is hard to read people’s body language with half their face covered. As it has been said: Eyes are the Mirrors of the Soul. This is true now more than ever. Sometimes we can smile with our eyes if people can’t see our mouth. Try it right now as you read these words…it’s good practice because it’s nice to smile with your eyes in appreciation if you have a mask on. We had a waitress on this past trip that was so lovely and she had perfected the art of smiling with her eyes and her mask was intact the whole time. It also helps to talk with your hands a bit more. Almost everyone can appreciate an encouraging thumbs up like this little fellow.

Vacations are always a break from our routine, and this one was too. This trip, by car,  was just the tip of the travel iceberg; I can’t even image air travel yet….not sure what that will be like. However, some say this may be the best time to fly because airlines are very meticulous with sanitation and not overbooking flights. We shall see, but I personally don’t plan on flying anytime soon.  We enjoyed our short car trip and enjoyed the opportunity to see some new places, take lots of fun photos and have the fun of trying new restaurants. Something as simple as a walk in the woods made me realize we can all benefit from being gentle with ourselves and doing something special to survive 2020. As many companies have stated, in one way or another, “We are all in this together” (but 6 feet apart…Ha-Ha) Stay Safe, Stay Happy.  Put Your traveling shoes on! Thumbs Up!  Julie E. Smith

 

 

Romance in the Everyday: The Bridges of Madison County

A light at the end of the tunnel: the Holliwell Bridge. Built in 1880, it spans 110 ft.

“There are images that lie within my heart…images with the power to recall the warmth of a summer’s night, the stillness before a storm. Reminding me of the first time I ever saw him…there was nowhere else to go except towards love.”  Meryl Streep as Francesa in The Bridges of Madison County.

When I hear these words spoken in the movie I just get chills. So incredibly romantic. It was filmed among the fertile farmlands and rolling hills of southern Iowa as a backdrop.  One of the underlying themes of the film is that romance can flourish suddenly in everyday moments.  If you have not seen the film, or read the novel, this is a timeless love story filmed in Winterset Iowa  including the historic and iconic covered bridges located throughout…you guessed it: Madison County.

The peaceful view of a quiet countryside: Holliwell Bridge

I am an Iowa girl, born and raised in Des Moines. After moving away from Iowa, I always come back to visit, but had never journeyed to Winterset (very close to Des Moines) to see the covered bridges until recently. I went on a delightful day trip there with my Mom, aunt and cousin. We discovered that there are six covered bridges in Madison County. That is the highest concentration of covered bridges, in one area,  west of the Mississippi River.  It’s interesting to note that the eastern state of Pennsylvania boasts the most covered bridges of any state with the a whooping total of 219 covered bridges.  Now that’s an incredible amount of history preserved; if only those bridges could talk….imagine the tales they would reveal.

The practice of covering bridges developed out of a need to protect the interior wooden trusses and floor boards, which deteriorated quickly in the severe weather of the plains.  It was easier, and more economical, to replace boards and roofing then the interior trusses. Many of the bridges were lost to floods, ice jams, fires and just the procession of progress.   Starting in 1884, many of the older bridges were replaced with steel. In 1933, the Madison County Historical Society began a campaign to save the remaining bridges. Of the original 19 bridges than spanned across the county, six iconic bridges remain. The bridges have been lovingly restored, maintained and span across creeks and streams in the county.  They dot the landscape as an architectural reminder of a by-gone era.

Our first stop was at the Madison County Welcome Center (Chamber of Commerce).  It is easy to find: right across the street from the impressive and quite tall courthouse in the town square of Winterset, Iowa. The address of the center is 73 Jefferson Street.  The folks are so helpful there and it is a terrific place to get your bearings and the complete back story about this interesting community. Come to find out, Winterset is also the birthplace of John Wayne. There is a museum with an impressive bronze statute of the famous cowboy and also a small home designated as his birthplace.  When we were there, there were no true John Wayne fans in the car, so we drove on to see the bridges.

Cutler-Donahoe Bridge, built in 1870

One of the easiest bridges to find is located right inside their city park: Cutler-Donahoe.  The bridge was built in 1870 over the North River in Bevington, but was moved to the city park location in 1970. This was the very first bridge we saw and it does have a “wow” factor. Even though it is not very long, it is beautifully built and it easy to allow yourself the time to become immersed in admiring the craftsmanship.

The Holliwell Bridge spans across the Middle River and was featured in the movie. It is the longest of the bridges spanning 110 feet. It was exciting to see this particular bridge and then see it featured in the film. It’s so delightful to have one of those “Oo, Oo! I have been there!” moments. Out of the six bridges in Madison County only two were featured in the film, however the entire film was filmed locally, so many Winterset locations are recognizable. The town square, Northside Cafe and the Pheasant Run Tavern were all sites in the movie.

Imes Bridge, Built in 1871

The oldest of the remaining bridges is the Imes Bridge. It was built in 1871. Like all of the Madison County bridges, it has been placed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can understand why this is the case, admiring the covered bridges brings a certain sense of nostalgia. As you walk thru the bridges the sturdy timbers under your feet are worn yet strong. The cross beams not only support the walls and roof , but create a unique, cross hatch design element characteristic of these timely structures. No wonder they were used for the back drop of a romantic love story. Sometimes it’s the simple beauty in everyday things that warms our hearts. If you are in the Des Moines area…I highly recommend a trip to Winterset. Put your traveling shoes on.  Julie E. Smith

A Cultural Icon: Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Throughout Wisconsin, there are approximately 260 supper clubs…give or take. The number is frequently changing because the clubs change hands and/or close and re-open again later. The restaurant business is fluid and subject to change. Our neighbor to the west, Minnesota, also has supper clubs….but not nearly as prevalent or pervasive on the landscape as Wisconsin.

Cozy, Table for Two- Indianhead Supper Club, Balsam Lake, WI.

So  herein begs the question that keeps on popping up: “So what is a Supper Club, anyway?…just another restaurant? Oh Nooooo! Don’t speak of such blasemphy. It is hard to explain, and I had this discussion with my son. We discussed the history of prohibition, the establishment of the speak- easy and how supper clubs, to some extent anyway fit in that part of history. I believe that you just have to experience supper club dining to appreciate them and to know the difference. My son and I did however come to the conclusion that: “A Supper club is a restaurant, but not every restaurant qualifies as a supper club.” Kind of simplistic in nature, but I think it helps to drive the point home: Supper Clubs are in a category of their own.

I was prompted to write about the uniqueness of Wisconsin supper clubs after attending a fund raiser dinner and presentation by our local historical society: The Polk County Historical Society. The event was entitled: Celebrate Wisconsin Supper Clubs and celebrate I did!  I really enjoyed learning about the diversity and amazing history behind  this fabric that makes up the Wisconsin landscapes and in many ways is the pride of many a Wisconsinite.  The two presenters at the event helped to expand those definitions and help to explain what makes a supper club a supper club?…and not just another restaurant?

Mary Bergin, a Midwest features writer, discussed the inspirations that led her to publish a cookbook of over 60 recipes from 40 different supper clubs. Mary is the author of several books, many of which focus on adventures in Wisconsin. The cookbook she published is entitled: “Wisconsin Supper Club Cookbook”. The book includes not only tasty recipes, but also interesting tidbits of historical content about particular clubs and why loyal customers help to create each supper club as a local treasure. She explained that the popularity of the supper club has sustained because of their predictability; you know you can expect great service and food when you walk through the door. That predictability gives them lasting quality. Some may call it “stuck in a rut”, but others view it as the comfort of tradition.  Her books are currently available on Amazon and you can follow Mary on some of her adventures at: www.roadstraveled.com

Holly L. DeRuyter, a documentary filmmaker, presented her video entitled: “Old Fashioned-The Story of the Wisconsin Supper Club”. The film took a delightful tour of several clubs at locations throughout the state and portrayed why these iconic clubs have remained popular and a staple in many Wisconsin communities. The video not only highlighted the supper club “culture”, but also helped the viewer to grapple with the continuing question of how a supper club differs from a restaurant. The supper club patron is welcomed to a slower pace where one can relax and connect with family and friends. One of the club owners summed it up well by stating: “ Dine Leisurely, Dine Well.”  Most supper clubs are in rural places and usually open for dinner only. The supper club includes a bar and a separate dining room. Even after prohibition was repealed, many women felt uncomfortable going to a tavern for a drink. (Some taverns were considered “seedy” and not the place for a lady…) However, women felt more comfortable having drinks if the bar was located inside a supper club. This helped to make all the patrons feel comfortable for both eating and having cocktails together. For more information on Holly’s film, you can check out her web site at: http://OldFashionedTheMovie.com

The “Brandy Old Fashioned” a staple cocktail in Wisconsin Supper Clubs

Speaking of cocktails, the classic cocktail of the supper club is the Old Fashioned. The drink itself dates back to the 1700’s, but was revived during the Prohibition days. With the preponderance of “rot gut liquors” and “bathtub gin”, these tonics were made more palatable with the addition of fruit slices and/or cherries to garnish the drink. A taste for something sweet just evolved the Old Fashioned into a staple cocktail at many of the supper clubs.

Another staple of the supper club is the Friday Night Fish Fry. Wisconsin is the perfect place for the popularity and success of a Friday Night Fish Fry. First, the fact that Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes filled with delicious perch, walleye and trout to provide an abundance of fresh and local fare. Second, there are many religions that abstain from eating meat on Fridays, so the Friday Night Fish Fry quickly became a family tradition for many Wisconsin families.

One of my favorite books…..right there on the bar at Indianhead Supper Club

When I first moved to Wisconsin, my realtor gave us a wonderful gift to welcome us to Wisconsin: a book about Wisconsin Supper Clubs. It is entitled: Wisconsin Supper Clubs, An Old Fashioned Experience by Ron Faiola.  It became a great resource and also soon evolved into a journal for documenting my trips to the many supper clubs in the state. Since there are so many, I added my own entries and photos for the clubs that were not listed. It has been fun to document the memories of special meals, but also makes me feel a little like a restaurant critic. Yet, most of the things I document are good food and great experiences. I rarely have negative criticisms. Imagine my surprise when a copy of “my” book was there on the bar when I visited a supper club close to us. As you can imagine, that club had “made the cut” and was featured in the book.  Good job guys.

Put your Traveling shoes on. Julie E. Smith

 

The Timeless Retreat of Mackinac Island

Aerial view of Mackinac Island, Michigan

The scenic Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron nestled in between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It is sometimes considered the “crowning jewel” of the state of Michigan. A visit to Mackinac Island today carries on a long held tradition of pursuing rest and respite on this lovely island retreat. Tourism became the dominant industry on the Island in the years following the Civil War and today during the spring and summer months, the ferry boats bring flocks of tourists seeking to capture the beauty of the island. Access to Mackinac Island is through two “point of entries” via either St. Ignace, Michigan from the northwest or from Mackinaw City to the south, or “lower peninsula” of Michigan. Traveling from northern Wisconsin, we made a bee line across the state on Highway 8 and into St. Ignace. Ferry services operate to the island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.  The ferry ride itself is great to get an overall view of the island and of course a view of the Infamous Mackinac Bridge! That famous bridge is a whole topic in and of itself: check out my June 8 blog: Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge

Carriage rides awaiting their next customer.

Part of the nostalgic charm of the island is the fact that automobiles were banned from the island in 1898. No smelly exhaust, traffic jams or car crashes. Getting around the island is done on foot, bicycles or by horse-drawn carriages. Both bicycles and carriage ride tours are available for rental, making easy accessibility to the entire island; the perimeter is relatively small: only eight miles. While there, my husband and I enjoyed one of the Carriage Ride tours; which not only gave us a great view of the Island, but was also very educational. The drivers give you terrific history lessons as well as many comic insights. Also available are horse drawn taxis and horseback riding for the more seasoned equestrian. I was glad that we choose the carriage ride, otherwise it might have been just a bit too much walking and/or biking. I was amazed to find out that on this island, where “the horse is king”, the general population of horses working on the island is around 400. During the peak of the tourist season the group of working horses on the island is expanded to about 600. That’s a massive amount of horsepower!

Our Trusty Team

Most of the horses are draft horses and capable of pulling quite a bit of weight. Alot of horsepower and frankly alot of horse poop. When the wind is just right , you do smell it in the air, but it is not too overpowering. The folks that work on the island try very hard to keep the streets clean of any ahhh….er…”residue” from that large population of horses. Frankly I was impressed at how well they kept up with the old boys. Also, it’s probably important to note that although these horses are accustomed to being around people, they are NOT pets. Also they are working, not socializing. As tempted as I was to reach out and pet them, as tourists and travelers, it is wise to refrain from that. You could talk to the driver first if you really wanted to pet them, but every horse has different temperaments. I will say, however, I am sure they don’t mind a bit having their picture taken. Probably happens several times a day. (Stupid Tourists….) “Say cheese!”

 

A culinary delight that the island has become synonymous with is the famous Mackinac Island Fudge. What traveler doesn’t like to treat themselves to a melt in your mouth delight! The merchants on the island have known this for decades and began enticing tourists to the island with their treats, some starting back as early as 1887. The  early, early days of Mackinac Island (1820’s) the island become a very important market for the fur trade industry and then became important for commercial fishing.  After the Civil War the tourism boom to the island began and with it the need of treats for the tourists. Of course, I could not leave the island without a purchase of several different types of fudge. Good thing I shared it with family and cousins, because I think I bought way too much. There are just so many choices! (Is there really such a thing as too much fudge? I think not.) I think it is interesting to note that the locals have developed a term of endearment for the tourists coming to the Island: “Fudgies” Well, I think that fits. There are worse things one could be called.

Historic Fort Mackinac

Prior to all the tourism coming to the island, Fort Mackinac was established as a military outpost for British  soldiers and later, American soldiers from 1780 to 1895. Every building on the premises is original and was built by soldiers more than 100 years ago. The fort has been maintained and preserved to recreate life at the fort. Tours are available, with some of the historic events recreated by costumed guides. In addition to the historic Fort Mackinac, there are nine other museums on the island highlighting a variety of topics from art history to horse carriages.

Another intriguing part of history about Mackinac Island history that many don’t realize is that it held the title of a national park for twenty years. Yellowstone was named our first National Park (1872), then in 1875 Mackinac National Park was established. It operated as a national park from 1875 to 1895.  By 1894, Fort Mackinac was not an active military post.  Several US government officials decided to revise the fort and the park and turn it over to the state of Michigan. Then in 1895, the state of Michigan established their first state park: Mackinac Island State Park. With all the beautiful state Parks established subsequently in the state of Michigan, it’s compelling that Mackinac Island State Park is Michigan’s first.

The Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island

During the time period of its tenure as a national park, one of the most recognizable and historic buildings was built: the Grand Hotel.  It was opened in 1887 and helped to meet the needs of the growing tourism industry on the island with 393 rooms. It has been named a National Historical Landmark and boasts the title of the world’s longest porch. It really is an amazing and grand site to behold. I did not stay there, but it is a very beautiful building with an impressive history. It faces the water welcoming incoming travelers to the adventures and beauty at Mackinac Island.

For more information on planning a trip there, a good place to start is with their  Tourism  board: https://www.mackinacisland.org/  Put your traveling shoes on. JES

 

Facing My Fears: Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge spanning the Straits of Mackinac (photo from Wikipedia)

This incredibly beautiful, albeit slightly terrifying bridge, spans 5 miles across the chilly waters of the Straits of Mackinac. It connects the upper peninsula of Michigan to the lower portion of the state.  Many of the locals refer to it as the “Mighty Mac”, very fitting: the two towers of the bridge rise an impressive 550 feet high making them easily visible from many sites in the vicinity. Quite impressive yet to many folks, myself included, it’s an intimidating and scary bridge to cross. Maybe I have “Gephyrophobia” (pronounced Jeff-ee-ro-pho-bia), the fear of crossing bridges or going through tunnels. For me it is not a debilitating phobia, but definitely an anxiety that causes a tense muscled trip across big bridges and white knuckles on the steering wheel. A recent trip to Mackinac Island required us to go across this stunning bridge. I also found out from the helpful ladies at our hotel desk that many people, mostly tourists, are so intimidated by this bridge that the Port Authority offers a service to drive your car across for you if needed. I guess I am not alone in feeling this way.  My husband became my knight in shining armor when he agreed to drive across. You would think I could relax and enjoy the view. Unfortunately that was not really the case. I tried….I remembered to breathe…then snapped a few photos along the way. You can tell by the photo below, not a great one, that I was just thinking eyes forward and lets get to the other side.  Nevertheless, I am very glad he was driving. And I live to tell the tale…amazing.

My view from the passenger side…

Another interesting feature about the bridge is that below one of the towers is the shipwreck Minneapolis, a combination steam and sail vessel that went down during an ice storm in 1894. This is not the only shipwreck in this area, the Straits of Mackinac are legendary for their severe storms and 25 known shipwrecks have been recorded in the area. I would imagine that if you went diving in the area there would be lots of intriguing discoveries. Our ferry boat trip to the island provided great views of both the Mackinac Bridge and several quaint lighthouses in the area, but no shipwreck sightings. Perhaps part of the reason that wrecks are not readily visible is the fact that at its deepest part the water in the Straits is 295 feet deep. That’s WAY far down for a ship to lay in its watery grave. Maybe that’s another reason big bridges like this one give me the heebie geebies. Nevertheless, we survived and had a wonderful day at Mackinac Island: the topic of my next post….Put your traveling shoes on. JES

The Diversity of the Apostle Islands

“Sea stack” in the Apostle Islands

Sea Caves, Lighthouses, Shipwrecks and breathtaking Sunsets…..all these amazing attributes are found among the 22 islands above the northern tip of Wisconsin in the chilly waters of Lake Superior. These unique islands were sculpted out of sandstone and formed towards the end of the glacial period 10,000 years ago. The amazing colored agates and rocks found in the area were deposited as the glaciers melted.

Many stories surround how the Apostle Islands got their names, but the commonly agreed upon one, involves the biblical parallel to the 12 Apostles.  Early explorers to the area were missionaries and tended to name new areas based on Biblical names. Counting the islands loosely, many believed that there were only 12, so the name: the Twelve Apostle Islands seemed appropriate.  Even though there are 22, the name Apostle Islands remained.

It’s interesting that there are only four areas protected by the National Park Service as “national lakeshores” and the Apostle Islands is one of them. President Nixon signed the bill establishing the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in 1970. There are 22 islands in the Apostle Islands, but one is omitted from the inclusion in the National Park protection: Madeline Island. This island is the largest of the islands and was omitted due to extensive residential and commercial development already existing on the island.

NPS Visitors Center

When visiting a National Park, my mantra has always been: “Let’s go to the Visitor’s Center first!” A visit to these islands is no exception to that rule. The Visitors Center is in an old courthouse; a historic building in it’s own right, but gives you a real overview of the islands and any information you my need while visiting.  The Visitors Center Park Headquarters is found at 415 Washington Ave. in Bayfield,  north from WI. 13 near 5th street. It resides in an old courthouse building that has been beautifully restored.  It was constructed from Brownstone mined from the Apostle Islands. Inside the center, are numerous displays of historical and also present day features of the park. The folks that work at the information desk have an abundance of information to help with any questions and suggestions about the surrounding area and lakeshore.  There is also a terrific film, 20 minutes long, explaining both the geology and human history of the area surrounding the Apostles entitled: “On the edge of Gichi Gami, Voices of the Apostle Islands.” Most people are familiar with Longfellow’s spelling of Gitche Gumee from his Hiawatha poem (1855). However, today in Ojibwe language class, you are more likely to see gichi-gami, gitchi-gami or kitchi-gami for Lake Superior. Loosely, it does indeed mean “Big Sea” or “Huge Water,” but just about always refers to Lake Superior.

Bayfield Wisconsin is a lovely town right on the south shore of Lake Superior and hails itself as the gateway to the Apostle Islands. Bayfield is the smallest incorporated city in Wisconsin, but it is brimming over with activity near the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding hillsides. The area is known for an abundance of recreational pursuits like hiking, kayaking and of course sailing.  When we were there, the town was host to a sailing race. Many of the sailing teams congregating at the local restaurants…you could just tell by the snippets of overheard conversations. Some of the sailing terminology that was bantered about is completely foreign to me, but the great thing is you could tell they were having a terrific time sailing among these beautiful islands.  Also, fruit and apple crops are abundant in this climate and area restaurants highlight locally grown produce. The Bayfield Apple Festival, always starting on the first Friday in October, is a weekend filled with farmers markets, fish fry and culminating with a parade. It’s quite the event in Bayfield. For more info. about Bayfield, check out: http://Bayfield.org

Lights of the Apostle Islands

Having an interest in lighthouses, I really came to the right place: The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has a larger concentration of lighthouses than any other National Park Service site. There are six lighthouses within the Apostle Islands, but there are even more in that area of Lake Superior, including Ashland Harbor. On the map here, you can see how the lighthouses are positioned among the islands. We only viewed the Raspberry and Devil’s Island lights, so perhaps another trip would be warranted.  After speaking with boat tour personnel and others, I found out that those two lighthouses are perhaps the most photographed and visited of all the lights.  Perhaps due in part to their easier accessibility to the mainland, but they are also possess their own unique characteristics. The building of the lighthouses between 1857 and 1915 ushered in the rise of modern shipping on Lake Superior.

Devil’s Island

Devil’s Island light opened in 1901 and sits atop the island that is the northernmost point of land in Wisconsin. I thought that alone was an interesting bit of trivia! This lighthouse is an impressive 80 feet high and is found above the beautiful sea caves that undercut the shoreline. The sandstone cliffs make a picturesque view with hardwood forests as the back drop. The incredibly rocky and treacherous shorelines, especially by Devil’s Island, make one realize why the lighthouses marking the way were so very important to the early mariners.

Raspberry Island Lighthouse

The Raspberry Island Lighthouse opened in 1862 with a height of 42 feet. The light was installed to mark the west channel in the islands. It is said to be one of the few remaining wood framed lighthouses on Lake Superior. Even though it is rather large, by lighthouses standards, it has a certain charm to it and has been lovingly restored in recent years. The property includes the attached lighthouse keeper quarters, a fog signal building, barn, brick oil house, two boathouses, two outhouses and a dock. When we were there, we saw a few people ascending the huge staircase from the shoreline and dock to the top landing: wow there’s your workout for the day.

There is so much beauty in the Apostle Islands to experience that one visit there will not suffice…looking forward to my next trip there. Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Interstate Park: a shared View

View of the St. Croix- Wisconsin Interstate Park

Atop the glacial formed cliffs towering by the St. Croix river, are two beautiful parks: one on the Minnesota side and one on the Wisconsin side. They share the “Interstate” name and they share similar terrain, however they are operated independently by each state. For over 100 years, visitors have come to this area to view the rugged cliffs, unique glacial formations and the forested hills surrounding the scenic St. Croix River. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the area is perfect for a number of recreational pursuits include hiking, camping, fishing and boating.

In 1895, the Minnesota Interstate Park was established to help preserve the scenic beauty and geologic wonders found in the area. Wisconsin followed suit in 1900 by establishing Interstate Park at the southern edge of St. Croix Falls, directly across from the Minnesota Park.  Wisconsin’s Interstate Park is the oldest established Park in the state.  When originally conceived in the early 1900’s , the Parks were run with a certain degree of reciprocity between the two states.  However, with changes in administration of the Parks, after 2003 the Parks became independent of each other and are operated by their respective states. Even though the administration is separate, the ideology and shared vision of protecting this unique and beautiful glacial land is reciprocal.

Old Man of the Dalles (photo by: thestcroixvalley.com)

Wisconsin Interstate Park is Wisconsin’s oldest state park and boasts incredible land forms and hiking trails with breathtaking view of the St. Croix River. Interesting geological formations in the park called “potholes” can be viewed in several locations throughout the park. Not the kind of potholes we usually think of that afflict the roadways for motorists, these potholes were formed when sand and rocks were trapped in glacial whirlpools and drilled deep potholes into solid rock. Another feature of the rock formations can be found by the cliffs rising from the riverbeds. Some of the cliffs rise up to 200 feet high above the river. One of the most unusual rock formation is the “Old Man of the Dalles”, with an uncanny look of an old man looking out over the St. Croix River. It makes one think of the man-made stone work of Mt. Rushmore, but it is truly amazing that this visage was totally crafted by natural forces.

Another interesting feature of this Wisconsin Park, is that it also has an affiliation with the National Park Service by virtue of the fact that this park is on the western edge of the Ice Age Trail.  The effects of the glacial period are readily seen across the state of Wisconsin and better preserved than almost any other area of the country. The Interstate Park Visitor newsletter reports: “In 1964, legislation was passed by Congress to preserve and protect this heritage of the Ice Age in Wisconsin. This legislation created the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.  The Reserve consists of nine separate units located across the state from Lake Michigan on the east to the St. Croix River on the Wisconsin-Minnesota border on the west.”

The Ice Age Interpretive center, close to the entrance of the park, has informative displays on the effects of glacial activity and a 25 minute video entitled “Mammoths & Moraines”.  Additionally they have a book store and gift store in this same facility.  The staff there can help with any questions about the area and what your needs are when visiting the park. For example, which trails would be suited for my hiking ability? Some trails are much “trickier” and steep than others.  If canoeing or boating, there are boat launches available on the St. Croix River and Lake O’ the Dalles.  Campers can take their pick from 82 beautiful wooded sites. Camping is  available May 1- October 1.  The Interstate Park of Wisconsin encompasses 1,330 acres with an abundance of land to explore.

Taylors Falls Scenic Boat Tours

The Minnesota Interstate Park is smaller, at 293 acres, but also has an abundance of interesting terrain and activities. The views of the river provide different outlooks from the western side. When I was there, several brave souls were climbing the steep faces of the rocky cliffs. (With several safety harnesses, luckily….sorry, just not my cup of tea.) Another activity, only available on the Minnesota side of the river, are boat rides on the St. Croix on those old, quaint paddle boats.  I must clarify that the boat tours are not affiliated with Minnesota Interstate Park, they just happen to be right next to the park. Both the Park and the boat tours are in Taylors Falls and both on the riverfront. When you are hiking in the park, it is common to see several of these tour boats going up and down through the Dalles. You gotta love those huge paddle wheels churning up the water. (Cue: “Mississippi Queen…You know what I Mean….”) Boats have been touring up and down this river since 1906.  For more information on the Scenic Boat Tours, you can check out their website at: http://www.taylorsfallsboat.com

Exploring both of the parks can be very rewarding.  They share a border and also share the same vision of protecting a beautiful part of our Midwestern landscape.

Information on Wisconsin’s Interstate Park can be found at:http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/interstate/

Information on Minnesota’s Interstate Park can be found at: http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/interstate/

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

Preserving a Legacy: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

View of the St. Croix from one of the viewing platforms at the Visitor’s Center of the SCNCR.

Sometimes it is easy to make assumptions, frequently incorrect, based on common knowledge and not first hand experience.  It can be an eye-opening experience when you learn something new, that turns your previous assumption upside down. That happened to me recently with an updated geography lesson about the upper Midwest. Growing up in Iowa, the Mighty Mississippi, was the grand daddy of all rivers and forms the eastern Iowa border.  Sure,  I had heard of the St. Croix River, but just knew it was “up north” somewhere.  I didn’t realize that a large portion of the Wisconsin and Minnesota borders are defined by the St. Croix River, which joins the Mississippi further south, almost to the Iowa border in Prescott, Wisconsin.  So many “flatlanders” like myself, just make the assumption that it is mostly the Mississippi that carves out the pathways in the Midwest. Yes, this is true, but the St. Croix has an impressive presence north of the 45th degree latitude.

A visit to the National Park Service Visitor Center of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is a great way to learn how the St. Croix and the Namekagon rivers have had an incredible influence on this area of the upper Midwest.  In addition to learning about the fascinating geologic and historical information of the area, one can also get information here on hiking, canoeing and fishing these beautiful waters. The rivers have provided commerce, recreation and also abundant resources to support a diversity of wildlife.  The rivers of the St.Croix and Namekagon together make up 252 miles of protected waterway in the St. Croix National Scenic Waterway.

NPS photo, St. Croix river (circa early 1900’s) Logging with Wannigan house

The geologic history of the area began millions of  years ago when the glaciers carved out the river valleys and rugged bluffs overlooking the flowing rivers.  The first human inhabitants of the rivers  were the Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwe (Chippewa) that found this area to have plentiful resources for an abundant life.  The next to explore this area were the French and later the English fur trappers. The logging industry in the area took the St. Croix river valley by storm and the pique of the logging industry was the 1890’s. Log jams in the river frequently occurred, not only hindering the progress of lumber to the mills, but also damaging the fragile ecosytems of the rivers.  The life of the lumberjacks was challenging on the river, to say the least, and many lost their lives in this profession. They built small shanties that floated in the river to help carry supplies and were sometimes used to sleep in as they were “steering” the lumber downstream. The shanty was called a Wannigan as shown is this photo. The last major log drive was in 1914.  It is interesting that in St. Croix Falls, WI.  and Taylors Falls, MN. the lumber industry and the rich heritage of the river  is still celebrated today with “Wannigan Days”.  Now that is neat! I learned that new tidbit of trivia when moving to this area….I bet not that many people know what a Wannigan is, well know you know.

500 gallon Freshwater aquarium

When at the Visitor’s Center, be sure to check out the 500 gallon freshwater aquarium. It is stocked with great examples of the kinds of fish that anglers in the area are fishing for. The displays are great in learning all about the wildlife and the plant life near the river. Be sure to take a few minutes (only about 20) to view the film about the rivers and how the National Park Service established protection of this waterway thru the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Map of the Namekagon and St. Croix Rivers

The Visitor’s Center is also a great source of information for planning camping, canoeing and/or fishing trips.  They can provide maps, educational materials and answer any questions about the area. The St.Croix River Visitor Center is easily found at 401 N. Hamilton Street, St. Croix Falls, Wi. It is just off the main road (87), 2 blocks north of the St. Croix Overlook Deck.

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

A Tribute to a true lover of the Parks: Theodore Roosevelt.

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park– South entrance near Medora, N.D.

As  one drives through the rugged terrain of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you appreciate the beauty of the rugged cliffs and eerie colors formed by the diversity of minerals found in this land. Land that has remained untouched by plows or backhoes for centuries, only modified by the wind, the sun and torrential rains. Included within the park are a diversity of landscapes and geological formations, such as the Petrified Forest and Painted Canyon.  The park consists of three separate units: the South unit (right off I-94), the North Unit and Elkhorn Ranch Unit.  Each portion of the park offers an abundance of  things to explore and opportunities for viewing wildlife.  Since the South unit is easily accessible (Exit #24 and #27 from I-94) near Medora, ND and also has two Visitor’s Center to help plan your adventure within the Park, it has a tendency to be the more frequently visited area of the Park.  The Visitor’s Center also has a really interesting museum about the man, the legends and some of the “naked truths” about this fascinating man who became our  26th President.  I was saddened to learn that Roosevelt lost both his mother and his wife on the same day: Valentines Day, 1884.  I can’t imagine the overwhelming grief.  He did seek solace in the lands that he so loved in the hills of North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located on the western side of North Dakota, is a more low-key National Park and does not boast huge mountains or erupting geysers, but nevertheless it is an amazing landscape that has been called “The Badlands of the North”.  Not only does it help to protect this unique area of land, it also pays homage to a man who played a huge role in the development of the National Park Service that we know today.quote-i-have-always-said-i-would-not-have-been-president-had-it-not-been-for-my-experience-theodore-roosevelt-105-74-46 It is fitting that North Dakota was chosen as the site for Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  This land truly inspired him and helped him grow and toughen his resolve, both physically and mentally. He first came to North Dakota in 1883 to “bag a buffalo” and later become involved in ranching.  Through a series of both bad luck and severe weather killing the majority of his livestock, he gave up the ranching life. However, the lessons he learned in the wilderness and with cattle ranching helped to strengthen his resolve and also helped to solidify his conservation ethic. He was quoted as saying: “I have always said I would not have been President had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.”

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Roosevelt and John Muir at Yosemite

Theodore Roosevelt was sometimes referred to as the “conservation President”.  He was responsible for establishing five National Parks and also created a system for the President to preserve lands and monuments by the creation of  The Antiquities Act of 1906. Roosevelt signed the act into law, which gives the President of the United States the authority to, by presidential proclamation,  create national monuments, protect public lands and to protect significant natural, cultural, or scientific features. Roosevelt’s first use of the Antiquities Act was to declare the unique feature of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming a National Monument. The Act has been used over a hundred times since its passage. Its use occasionally creates significant controversy, usually instigated by differences of opinion between Congress and the President.

Recently, President Obama used his Presidential power through The Antiquities Act to proclaim  87,000 acres in Maine as a National Monument in north-central Maine. The area has been christened as: the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.  I believe that you can’t help but be inspired and uplifted viewing this video and thinking of the preservation of this beautiful tract of land in Maine.

 

So here’s to those that help to preserve the beauty of our America and hopefully we can all get out there and  “Find your Park”.  For more information on the Find Your Park program, check out the National Park Service website at: https://www.nps.gov/index.htm

Put your traveling shoes on. JES

A Midwestern “Gem” of National Parks

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Brandywine Falls~ Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Many people don’t realize it, but there is a beautiful “gem” of a National Park in the heart of the Midwest, just south of Cleveland Ohio: Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  From the Native Americans word for “crooked river”, it is pronounced “Ka-uh-ogh-ha”. It is a beautiful park with waterfalls, cliffs and valleys, and a rich history about life in the mid-western states. When people think of National Parks, they frequently think of the “classics”: Yellowstone, Acadia, the Grand Canyon. Yet this park in Ohio is a beautiful representation of our National Parks system: preservation of natural beauty and also a link to the past. Looking at timelines, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is very young as a member of the National Park service. It was established as a National Recreation Area in 1974, then became a National Park in 2000. The fact that it is a relatively young National Park is very evident as one drives through the park and sees many residential areas throughout the park that were “grandfathered” in and allowed to remain within the park boundaries. These private residences do not distract from the beauty of the park, however sometimes seem odd from what people consider a “National Park” should be like. There are so many roads that go in and out of the park, and of course the residents that live there have easy access in and out.  It sometimes blurs the definition of the park boundaries.

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Bridal Veil Falls

The park itself preserves 33,000 acres along the Cuyahoga river valley between Cleveland and Akron, Ohio. The natural beauty of the park includes deep gorges, waterfalls, cliffs and century old majestic trees that rise high in the skyline. Most of the trees are typical of the Midwest and the deciduous seem to outnumber the pines.  With the abundance of Maples, I would imagine this would be a wonderful place to visit in the Fall to see all the changing colors. A diversity of beautiful wildflowers can be found throughout the park and more than 100 bird species nest in the valley. The many trails within the park are perfect for both hiking and biking. Many cyclists make use of the fantastic “towpath trails” that follow the canal paths throughout the park. Some of the canals have all but disappeared except for a low trench, but others still have water in them and still seem “usable”.  The towpaths where the mules were used to tow boats along the canal, have all been resurfaced and make fantastic bike paths.

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Canal boats pulled by Mules

In additional to the natural features, the park has a fascinating history about the use of the canals. The “canal era” from roughly 1825 to 1913, was a period of time that Americans relied heavily on the use of the canal system for economical transportation of both products and passengers. The Ohio-Erie Canal was built in 1825 and served to connect Lake Erie all the way south to the Ohio River. It helped to provide transportation and increase commerce from 1827 to 1913.  In 1913, a devastating flood occurred that  did extensive damage to the canals. At this time the railroads were also expanding into a major form of transportation and beginning to replace the widespread use of canals. The railroads soon became the primary source of transportation and life on the canal boats became a distant memory. When visiting Cuyahoga Valley National Park, be sure to visit the Canal Visitor Center, in the northern part of the park with some fascinating displays and some really interesting historical information about river commerce and lifestyles of the hardworking people who depended on the canals.

Another aspect of the park rich in history, but also providing an adventurous way to get back and forth throughout the park is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. The train ticket gives you an all day pass and you can get off at any stop and get back on to explore several areas within the park.  The train also offers meals onboard and “tastings” of beer or wine.  With your tasting, you receive a CVSR commemorative tasting glass! Cyclists can also board the train, with their bikes.  They have the option to bike the towpath trail one direction then take the train the other.  Considering how many lengthy trails there are in the park, this is a terrific option for cyclists if you just run out of steam. Bear in mind that the train does not run 7 days a week.  Unfortunately when I was there it was not running. Generally they run Wednesday through Sunday, but be sure to check their web-site for more detailed information and ticket prices: http://www.cvsr.com

Like many National Parks, the park rangers are so interesting to talk with and have a wealth of information about the attributes of their park and also the area of the country they live in.  I would like to give a “shout out” to Ranger Jan at Cuyahoga Valley National Park~ she was a delight to talk with and shared so much information and history with us.  We ran into her at two different Visitors Centers; so much fun chatting with her! So Hi Jan! We will have to go back again one day, and maybe that time we can catch the train! Put your traveling shoes on. JES