Northern Minnesota and North Dakota – National Parks Road Trip – Day 4 – Fargo

Our trip west continued with much cooler weather after the previous night’s storms. This was a day to mainly make good time, but find sights along the way – a real Roadside America kind of day, which Northern Minnesota seems to specialize in.

These included  a Giant Muskie and Bald Eagle in Floodwood; a yard full of cement sculptures (Wolf, dog on a leash, cow by a barn, eagle, bison, and more) in someone’s yard in Jacobson, and a giant statue of Paul Bunyan as well as another giant Muskie in Ankeley)

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Along the way we crossed a small creek, or rather the Mississippi River. The Mississippi begins north at this point and is not very wide at the point of our locale.

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Arriving in Moorehead, Minnesota we went to the Norwegian Heritage Center. The highlight of the Center is a replica of a Viking Hjemkomst ship. The ship was built by Bob Asp who dreamt of sailing an ancient ship to Norway. He and his family built the 76 foot replica based on a Viking ship excavated in Norway. Asp died before the ship was completed so his family finished its construction. Then the ship was sent to Duluth, Minnesota so that it can sail from Lake Superior to Norway. The ship is stationed inside the Center.

Also at the center is a replica of a Norwegian church, the church had no pews, worshippers had to stand. The roof is made of wood staves, with the church being made of white pine with expertly carved designs of dragons made of California Redwood and were skillfully carved by Guy Paulson. On the side the church had a leper window, which allowed the infected to attend service and receive a blessing from the reverend without infecting the rest of the congregation.

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Moorehead is just across the river from Fargo, North Dakota. After crossing into Fargo we stopped for lunch at the Old Broadway Restaurant. The building that housed the restaurant was nicely renovated and the food was good.

After lunch we toured downtown Fargo a bit, as well as making a stop at the Fargo Tourist Center to see the wood chipper from the movie “Fargo.” A leg juts out from the hopper of the wood chipper, which I had to pose with!

The Visitor Center has a club for anyone who visits North Dakota as their 50th state. North Dakota is usually the last or least visited so the Center makes a big deal when someone mentions it is the 50th state for them. The Center presents a T-shirt, magnet and certificate, all saying “Best for Last Club,” emblazoned with a silhouette of North Dakota then entered into the book with other members of the special 50th club. North Dakota for me however was number 46.

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In Bismarck, the state capital, we walked around the grounds since the capitol building was closed for the Labor Day holiday. We were able to get into the North Dakota Cultural Heritage Museum for the last fifteen minutes before closing for the day. The museum had fossils that were real and also casted skeletons of dinosaurs. We also saw native history displays. After cruising through town and ate dinner at the Olive Garden. Our meal was not that great but it was the best option available.

Michigan UP, Wisconsin and Minnesota – National Parks Road Trip – Day 3 – Abandonded Air Force Base, Marquette, MI and Duluth, MN

We started our day in Marquette, Michigan at the abandoned Sawyer Air Force base. There are literally hundreds of vacant buildings scattered about, with a few in use. We went past entire apartment complexes boarded up after the military left in the 1990s. It looks like it could double for Chernobyl.

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Interestingly though, as a tourist attraction, are a number of jet airplanes parked around town. They seem to be in good shape, just parked in fields and parking lots. At the edge of town is a new, small terminal that is used for the Marquette International Airport. We walked in to check it out and the board has one destination written permanently, ‘Detroit’.

It was about a 15 minute drive into the middle of Marquette, the largest town in the U.P It is also home to Northern Michigan University. Given the tough weather, over 200″ of snow per year, they have a domed stadium, the Superior Dome, however theirs is unique in that it is made of Douglas Fir beams and fir decking. This geodesic dome arena is the world’s largest wooden dome and is in the Guinness Book of World Records.

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We made our way inside the Wildcat football arena, walking onto the cushioned Astroturf, with a beautiful smell of wood used to build the arena. The ceiling was stained wood inside and had white panels for the exterior designed in a sloping fashion to funnel snow off the domed stadium into large wells positioned on the ground at points around the structure. We saw another amazing item in the arena. It is the World’s Tallest Trophy at 22 ft 6.5 inches tall given for the largest skateboard parade and this trophy is also in the Guinness Book of World Records.

Along the Marquette Harbor we stopped at the Marquette Maritime Museum but it was closed, however there was a torpedo stationed outside that was perfect for sitting on and waving my arms as if I were Slim Pickens in the movie Dr. Strangelove while I had my photo taken. Just across the parking lot is the Marquette Bay Park, with a massive abandon ore dock.

We met a person in the parking lot of the park who told us how it was used; there was a massive train bridge that spanned across downtown Marquette, crossing overtop the buildings, and onto the ore dock. Trains would pull in with loads of ore, and dump them directly into the boats headed down the lakes. Given the fact we were along the Lake Superior shore at an ore dock brought to mind the Edmund Fitzgerald disaster, along with the accompanying song.

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Leaving Marquette we stopped in Ishpeming to see the U. S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, but it was closed. The building was designed with a steep roof modeled as a ski slope. An old ski lift chair provided seating in front of the building and international flags and an Olympic torch stood in front outside to complete the scene. We checked out the items outside the building and the well painted murals on a nearby bridge.

Also in Ishpeming is Da Yoopers Tourist Trap, a store I found on the Roadside America website. Large strange and unusual contraptions were placed on the store property along the road, including an 18 foot long chain saw called Big Gus. Another ‘feature’ was an old pick-up truck with a rifle mounted to the bed that stuck up over the cab of the truck and extended about 8 feet beyond the front of the truck. Amazingly both the chain saw and the gun actually work.

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Lower Michigan becomes the butt of humor due to the dislike from Da Yoopers of Upper Michigan which is seen in many of the items for sale. Some items emphasized a local affection for beer and pasties- pronounced with a short “a” sound not long “a”. Pasties are dough sandwiches stuffed with beef, rutabagas, or other vegetables, not what I was expecting when I first saw the signs.

Our route this day took us across the western half of the U.P. across the M28. As was our goal we tried to find something interesting to stop for every hour or two, including Agate Falls Park, located in southeastern Ontonagon County, Michigan. What appears to be a basic roadside rest is actually the park for this 39′ high waterfalls, coupled with a classic old highway bridge crossing just above.

Wakefield, Michigan was our next stop to see the Peter Toth carved Native American. We were disappointed to see that the carved head of a Native American was only half the size and not as intricately carved as a similar wooden statue in front of the Judith Resnik Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio.

We continued on through Bessemer, Michigan to find the giant ski bum noted on Roadside America. The Ski bum was at the entrance to a ski resort called Big Powderhorn that claimed to be the Ski Capital of the Midwest. Finally we arrived in Ironwood in the early afternoon, and found the railroad station built in 1893 listed on the National Historical Places. In front of the depot is a memorial carved of three miners from an old tree. This town also has a mural painted the length of a downtown building of every miner with his name and the name of the mine he worked.

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In addition, this town boasts the “World’s Tallest Indian” as is noted at the foot of a 52 foot tall Hiawatha. The statue is made of fiberglass and erected at the top of Suffolk Street next to a neighborhood. This statue towers over the houses. You really cannot miss it even though we asked someone where to find it.

Just across the border into Wisonsin we found another Roadside America classic, a giant large corkscrew in Hurley, Wisconsin. Appropriately it stands in front of a liquor store. Thank goodness Roadside America kept us entertained with oddball items like this to see along the way. You may interpret this mishmash of oddity as rambling fun, weird education, or just plain stupidity to fight boredom.

Ashland, Wisconsin was our next stop, to see the murals on buildings throughout the town. There are murals painted on the sides of downtown buildings on most of the blocks. The murals paint life of downtown businesses and life through the decades. Nearly all the murals depict people who were residents of the town.

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Just outside of town we visited the Northern Great Lakes Center. The center displayed dioramas and murals of native tribes, wildlife, geology and life history of the area. It also exhibited professional photographs of Apostle Islands and Pictured Rocks. It was interesting to see these photos of Pictured Rocks which hung here in the Center because these photos were taken at different times of day and season to show so many beautiful captured scenes of the same landscape that we photographed while on our cruise. The winter scenes of Pictured Rocks and Apostle Island were especially outstanding.

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Dark clouds appeared with expected storms so we made our way to Superior, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the accordion museum there was closed and so we moved on to Duluth, Minnesota.

We drove around Duluth and were surprised to find steep hills within the city, which of course we headed up. I had read there was an overlook but I was having trouble finding it.Eventually in one of my efforts to find it I ended up in a parking lot of a Catholic Church where there was some guy just hanging out in his dingy old mini van. When I asked him where it was he said ‘follow me, I will take you there’. Knowing this violates every rule of every slasher movie, we did follow him, far enough I knew where it was and I turned and took off the other way, leaving Freddy Kreuger to himself.

The overlook was at Engel Park, with a 80′ tower at the top. The view from the top was spectacular, with a 360 degree view of the city, bay and lake. We spent quite  bit of time watching an ore boat leave the harbor under the lift bridge, as well as many ore docks, some still in use. On the Superior, WI side there were massive grain elevators.

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Our hotel was near the harbor in a restored area with restaurants and parks. Returning we walked to one of the more popular ones, Grandma’s Saloon & Grill (that is really the name of the restaurant) then walked through town and later walked the boardwalk along Lake Superior for amazing photos of the incoming storm, before retreating to the cover of the large porch of our hotel to watch the storm blow through. Afterwards we walked again for more great photos trying to capture lightning and ships through the fog. We got some great photos to end our day here.

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Minneapolis – 2012 Road Trip – Day 15

Friday the 13th found us still in downtown Minneapolis. Our first stop was the Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens, one of the largest urban sculpture gardens in the country. The centerpiece of the garden is the Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain as well as the Cowles Conservatory, which has more flora and sculpture inside.

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Leaving downtown we went to an area of older neighborhoods surrounding Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriot, even stopping at an estate sale in a great old house. The views across the lakes towards downtown were nice, as was the residential and commercial districts of the area.

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Going back to the center of downtown we spent a few hours wandering through all of the buildings and walkways that allow you to go between them in the wintertime without freezing your ass off.

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Of all the public art in Minneapolis the most unusual must be the statue of Mary Tyler Moore, doing her signature move that was in the opening of a 1970s TV show set in Minneapolis.

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A work colleague of mine has lived in Minneapolis, and invited us meet with them when we were in town.   We decided to go out to dinner, then attend a Minnesota Twins baseball game at Target Field. They chose a restaurant called Bar La Grassa in a restored warehouse district just north of the stadium. Clearly Minneapolis is a very trendy city.

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After dinner we walked over to the stadium for the game. Target Field was completed in 2010. The architectural design firm, tried to avoid creating a replica of the old-style brick Camden Yards or modern urban design of the new Nationals Park, instead, the design for the stadium employs local limestone, heated viewing areas and a heated field. The stadium is integrated with a light rail train station.

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While the stadium faces some of downtown, and you have views of skyscrapers it does not have the same dramatic view as stadiums like PNC Park in Pittsburgh Nevertheless it is a nice stadium, it was a comfortable night, and we enjoyed spending the evening with them.

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Minnesota – 2012 Road Trip – Day 14 – Across the State

The following morning we crossed over into Minnesota taking a more or less direct route to Minneapolis/St Paul. This route took us through a small town called New Ulm, a town very proud of their German heritage. We stopped at a small restaurant for lunch, which was ok, but nothing memorable, so much so I don’t even recall the name of the restaurant.

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After a brief stop in a St Paul suburb of Hastings to tour a historic house, we headed into the middle of the city.

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While in St Paul we stopped and toured the Minnesota State Capital, as well as the park grounds, which had a Lindbergh statue.

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Having seen well over 20 state capitals at this point, the Minnesota one looks pretty much like all the others, although they did have some nice gold statues on the outside.

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Leaving St Paul we drove along the Mississippi River road through the neighborhoods into Minneapolis. This route took us into the University of Minnesota campus. The area had a feel much like Ohio State, as it is in a large city, but still maintains a distinct college campus feel.

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Closer to downtown we stopped in a neighborhood of refurbished flour factories and other post industrial chic type of places. Being directly on the river across from downtown it has a very hipster vibe to it.

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Connecting it to downtown is a footbridge called the Stone Arch Bridge, is a former railroad bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of Mississippi River, and also the second oldest next to Eads Bridge, which we saw in St Louis at the beginning of the trip.

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Returning to our car, we drove across the river and cruised around downtown, passing Target Field, the Metrodome, and other landmarks. Again crossing the river on the Washington Avenue Bridge. The bridge has two decks, with the lower deck designated for cars and light rail trains and the upper deck used for pedestrians and bicycles.

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