lydamorehouse: (Default)
 Today is our last full day of vacation. Tomorrow, we hit the road and make our way back to the Twin Cities and home, sweet home.  We decided not to try to do "too much" on our last day, so we went to Itasca State Park to see the Mississippi headwaters (or one of them, if you're feeling persnickety) and do a little light hiking.

We may have hiked a little more than we planned, but that's another story.

We could not have arrived at the headwaters at a better time. It was just as the gift shop/ interpretive center opened at 10 am. We got a prime spot in the parking lot, and, more importantly, we were way ahead of the crowds.

The Mississippi headwaters, looks like a pile of rocks.

Classically, Mason and I walked across the rocks:

Intrepid explorers on slippery rocks

Admittedly, I made it less than three more steps in before it got too slick for me. I was wearing my all-terrain shoes, which should have given me good traction, but I am old and unsteady.  Shawn helped me into the shallow, non-rocky bits.  You can't really see in this picture, but I forgot to change into shorts.  My jeans got very soaked... though they ended up drying out after our several mile hike(s).

The headwaters site started to get busy, so we discovered a looping trail that I thought would take us past a pioneer cemetery.  Alas, we were on the right trail, but on the wrong side of the lake for the cemetery.  Still, we got to see some fairly spectacular wilderness.

blue sky through pin trees

We have seen a lot of very good trees on this trip. Many wonderful trees. Mason was pretty tired at the end of this hike, but when I made sad noises he said that he would PROBABLY be up for one more hike of this size (about a mile) before we left the park for good.  

After this, we all piled in the car and did the "Wilderness Drive" which is an 8 mile stretch of paved road for cars (and bicycles) that winds through some amazing views.  It was a nice meander that took us to the famous Douglas Lodge, where we had lunch.

Interior shot of Douglas Lodge, lots of dark pine beams

I had tater tot hot dish for lunch. It was a little peppery (as in green pepper) for me, but I quite enjoyed it. Shawn had the walleye sandwich and Mason had Canadian bluefish.  We were all very happy with our meals and we shared a piece of chocolate brownie cheese cake for desert. Perfect!

Afterwards, we looked at the park map and decided that the best last trail for Mason and I might be right here at the lodge, a circle loop called "Dr. Robert's trail." We set off thinking that it would be an easy mile. It was a fairly rough TWO miles. But, I finally got a bit of a bog walk and I don't think Mason will actually hate me FOREVER... only until his feet stop aching.

Mason, angry hiking in the woods.

And thus ends the vacation part of our trip. We will probably be stopping at a few road side attractions on the way home, but this was our last woodsy adventure.  I got a little sad about it all, so Shawn bought me a guide to all of Minnesota's State Parks.  Hooray! I can go home and plan the next angry hike!

lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
 The title of today's journal entry is curtesy of Mason, who spent much of the day in the back seat as we were driving around, reading. Occasionally, he would look up and wonder what we were doing.  We also spent a surprising amount of today on dirt roads... only once were we terribly, terribly lost.

But, I get ahead of the story.

We left Grand Rapids, Minnesota, today in gray, overcast weather.  Our first stop was Deer River a town that "roadside attractions" told us would have a giant statue of a northern pike.  We even knew that this supposedly large fish was supposed to be at the intersection of highway 2 and "Division Street." We circled that town three times.  Finally, giving up, we turned up Highway 6 and lo, and behold! Highway 6 WAS DIVISION STREET.  We found our fish (which, for reasons of goofy driver syndrome, I called a 'duck' and several other animals instead of fish.)

giant statue of norther pike (fish) in Deer River, MN

Because the only thing we had to do today was get from Grand Rapids to Bemidji, we decided to do a lot of scenic touring.  Shawn had picked up a brochure in the National Forrest Center on highway 38 near Marcell. It advertised a "self-guided auto tour" of the Chippewa National Forrest. The directions take you in a loop from Highway 38, down a few county roads, and then some very narrow forrest roads. It was TOTALLY WORTH IT.  

For one, all of the "spots of interest" were extremely well marked. Our first stop promised wildlife, and it actually delivered. Not only did we see a beaver swimming in the pond (our fifth of this trip), but we also saw four ducklings making their way back to their parent.  On the other side of the road was reported to be an osprey nest.

It was there... complete with osprey.

osprey nest with nesting osprey

All the stops were fairly interesting, but I think my family's second favorite part was when we turned down a section of Forrest Road 2182 (the brochure warned: "this road is narrow. Proceed with caution" and they weren't kidding!). The location site was entitled "Tunnel of Trees" and it was really quite amazing. At several points we were driving under a dark canopy. The road was so narrow that it took us over a plank bridge that was really not much more than a few planks set at tire width.  VERY NARROW. 

My family likes to say "Might be worth a detour!" and this one really was.

The next place we headed towards was an area called "The Lost 40" because it really was lost at one point. A surveyor back in 1882 flaked. He and his crew left this section of woods off the map. They accidentally plotted "Coddington Lake nearly one half mile northwest of its actual location," and thus, when it came time for logging companies to divvy up the land, they missed 144 acres of virgin pine.  These are some of the oldest white and red pine trees in Minnesota.

There was another self-guided trail, this one a walking trail, for the Lost 40. Since we had such good luck with the scenic byway, we marched into the woods with confidence.

It was spectacular.

A long shot up a very, very tall pine tree.

We also took the classic shot--hugging the ancient tree, to show how thick the trunk of some of the trees in this forrest were.

My family of tree huggers hugging an ancient pine

Then we got terribly lost.  There were large informational markers on the trail, but the trail itself was not terribly well marked. This is somewhat problematic as pine forests (as you can see from the picture of my tree huggers) tends to be barren and thanks to the pine needles. But, we only went off-course a bit, accidentally going to the trail's end at Moose River. We were able to turn back and reconnect with the walk... but my "indoorsy" family was getting hot and sweaty.  The weather was cool, but we had our hoods up on our hoodies to try to mitigate a very serious mosquito situation.  At one point, when it looked like our informational markers were out of order, Shawn let out a disparaging sigh and said, "Okay, but if we're going in the wrong direction, you will have to CARRY me out of this forrest, because I am DONE."

But, did I mention how gorgeous it was?

It was really f*cking gorgeous.

Mason's red hoodie as a stark contrast to the massive stands of pines

After this, we probably should have headed directly to Bemidji, but we had planned to eat lunch in Blackduck, Minnesota.  Before we left the wifi at the Grand Rapids hotel, Shawn had found us a diner that looked pretty good. It was actually fairly amazing. It was Restaurant 71 in Blackduck and I don't know if it was so good because we were all so exhausted, but I may never have EVER had a better California burger in my ENTIRE LIFETIME.

We also took a picture of one of the two black ducks in Blackduck, MN, because we are totally the people who take pictures of all the cheesy statues.

A black duck statue in Blackduck, MN

We tried another scenic byway, this one called "Lady Slipper Scenic Byway."  A lot of our byways have been under construction this trip. As I told my friend Dorian on Facebook, it's the old Minnesota joke: "there are two seasons in Minnesota: winter and road construction."  The ranger at the information center told me that, despite the gravel bits, the road was open. It was, though, what she neglected to mention was that a lot of the "sites" were actually fairly far drives from the actual scenic byway. I had given up doing a bog walk on our earlier Chippewa Forrest scenic byway, because I was more hopeful that the bog walk advertised as part of the Webster Lake Campground would have showy lady slippers, which is a flower I have never seen in the wild.

But, WOW did we get lost trying to find Webster Lake Campground. It was here that Mason poked his head up and wondered, "Why are we on a dirt road AGAIN?"

We ended up having to abandon our search for that bog walk, but a few clicks down the road we saw a pull-out that said it was a "Lady Slipper Interpretative Site."

There was a tiny boardwalk there, but the lady slippers were fairly amazing.

lady slippers growing wild

I don't seem to have much luck with bog walks. We're spending a day here in Bemidji and Shawn found me a brochure advertising a bog walk in Bemidji State Park. We'll see if I actually make it there tomorrow.  The big thing we want to be sure to do is hit the Mississippi headwaters in Itasca State Park, but other than that we've got no plans. 

After that, we head home to see if the kitties are still alive and if the house is still standing (pretty sure our cat sitter, Mr. Murphy, is doing a great job, but you know how you worry when you've been gone a long time.)

So far, it's been a wonderful vacation. There has been, as Mason has said, a lot of "looking at trees," but they have been very good trees, indeed.
lydamorehouse: (Default)
 I didn't write much while we were at Bearskin for reasons of poor internet.  The Lodge at Bearskin _has_ wifi, but they encourage you to only be on briefly as it does not have a huge amount of bandwidth and, even if it did, you're up on the Gunflint Trail, for gods sake, why are you on-line!!??

Instead, we spent many days doing this: 

Canoer's back and vista of a calm northwoods lake.

We did go on a couple of new-to-us hikes, while up at Bearskin, however. One day, Mason and I decided to drive to the end of one of the roads and hike up to Ruby Lake.  From where we parked it was only about a mile to the lake, so that was just about the perfect distance for our "indoorsy" family. There was a rowboat there with a sign that suggested we could take it out for a fee, but there was no place to pay and no oars. Possibly, we were supposed to get such at some lodge or other? Our Bearskin front desk person had made it sound like if we brought money along, getting the row boat out would be self-evident.  Alas, no. But, we enjoyed the scenery at any rate.

A different view of a north woods lake, with a profile of Mason in his sun hat.

You can see what kind of weather we've been having from both these shots, which is to say: SUNNY.  This was possibly the most ideal weather we have ever had up at Bearskin (this is our fourth year going to Cabin 1.)  

The second hike that we did involved a LOOOOOOONG drive to the end of the Gunflint Trail.  The drive itself was both beautiful and... unexpected. We were up early-ish, around 8 or 9 am, and the roads were packed with tourists.  I like to meander on the Gunflint Trail, not going more than 50 and always obeying signs that suggest that hairpin turns should be taken at 25 mph, etc., so that meant that several times I had to pull over into a cutout to let faster traffic get around me.  

Plus, we drove through a huge swath of countryside that had been devastated by the 2007 Ham Lake Fire. Shawn always has a very visceral reaction to burned landscape, even when it has had years of regrowth. She did not like the sections of Yellowstone that had been burned, either. I don't have the same reaction, but I can understand it. The forrest looks 'wrong.' 

We stopped at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center and did a bit of hiking on their "trails." I put trails in quotes because honestly? Some of them looked like we had taken off down deer trails until we hit signage that marked the names of the various trails.  A couple of the trails took us to nice vista where you can see how the fire affected the area.

Mason siting on a bald rock overlooking a sparse vista.

Mason is in his hoodie because the weather was also very mild. Today, here in Grand Rapids, I overheard one of the servers at our hotel say that the high was going to be 67 F / 19 C.

After six full days at Bearskin, we packed up and headed off for the second leg of our grand summer vacation: the slow meander home/north woods road trip.  

Last year, after our monumental road trip to Yellowstone National Park and back again, my family discovered that we LOVE road trips. Plus, leaving Bearskin is really hard, so for the last few years we've always extended our vacation with mini trips to somewhere vaguely civilized, but new to us.  A few years ago, we tried out Thunder Bay (which led to the experience of being several hundred miles into the trip and Shawn realizing we forgot our passports.)  The last time we stayed a few extra days in Duluth.  This time, we are exploring some classic Minnesota spots like Ely and Bemidji, with a special trip to visit the headwaters of the Mississippi.  Because Shawn is from Grand Rapids, MN, we are staying here a few days to check out some of her old haunts and to use this hotel as a launching off point for other adventures.

Yesterday we drove from Bearskin back down the Gunflint trail to Grand Marais and Highway 61.  From 61, we veered back north for Highway 1 and Ely.  Highway 1 should have been idyllic, but there was a LOT of construction and somewhere just before Ely we hit our first batch of bad weather since leaving for Bearskin.  Plus, there always seems to have to be "that one town" where we all arrive hangry and grouchy. This trip it was Ely. I was made especially mad by the fact that my family was starving and so wanted to JUST STOP AT A SUBWAY.  I wanted a nice sit-down meal at a cute place in Ely.  My family won out, because even I was too famished to really enjoy driving around trying to guess which place would be good to stop at.  And, of course, literally the moment we stepped into the Subway an ENTIRE TROOP OF BOY SCOUTS got in line in front of me. I kid you not, and I could have screamed.  But, food helped and soon enough we were stopping at Ely's International Wolf Center for a close-up at the Ambassador wolves.
The wolves were nice and, for once, Shawn enjoyed a museum.  Shawn isn't exactly a museum connoisseur, but she is the State Archivist of Minnesota and, thus, has a few standards. Let me tell you, the museum at Chik-Wauk did NOT meet them.  The wolf center? Yes. Though we all agreed that the entry fee ($13 a person) was a little steep considering what you got out of it. Though we did not stay for any of the demonstrations, which might have made it worthwhile.

The wolves were hanging out near the observation window, though, to snooze out of the rain. The white wolf, Greyson, got up and shifted to a new position and I got this picture of a very sleepy doggo.

the white wolf (not bucky barnes)

It was funny because as Mason and I were returning the canoe to Bearskin Lodge, someone's husky came bounding around the corner at speeds and my honest first reaction was to grab Mason's arm because I thought we were being rushed by a wolf. Though it only took a second to sense the happy-puppy vibe off the husky AND to notice that it wore a harness.  But, yeah, for a brief moment I thought, "HOLY SH*T, WOLF" and, yeah, looking at this fellow, you can see the resemblance.

The rain stopped by the time we were leaving the wolf center and so we made our way down to Grand Rapids with only a few roadside attraction stops. This is the other thing about my family. We are all about the roadside attractions. Last year, our go-to phrase was "might be worth a detour!" and we still live by that. (That, and "the destination *is* the journey.") So, we stopped to see the world's largest floating loon in Virginia, MN as well as the "Iron Man" (but not Tony Stark) statue in Chisholm, MN.

a floating loon sculpture. Yep. Looks just like a big loon on a lake.

Shawn and Mason in front of Iron Man (who is, sadly, not Tony Stark) in Chisholm. He's just some random 1880s miner. Much disappoint.

After that we collapsed in our hotel room. 

This morning we got up moderately early and attempted to drive the "Edge of the Wilderness" Scenic Byway (aka Highway 38). But, we discovered less than halfway up the byway that it was CLOSED. It's very rare that the entire highway is closed, but this was both lanes blocked, giant signs reading DETOUR, ROAD CLOSED.  Undeterred, my family followed the detour through Leech Lake Indian Reservation and reconnected with the scenic byway in Marcell, MN.

Our favorite was a stop to hike the Trout Lake and Joyce Estate site. There were nicely maintained (wide and "easy," aka no steep grades) trails that took us into the woods. If we had known we were going to hit the closed highway, we might have lingered longer here and explored more. On the other hand, my family is rarely up for hikes of more than a mile or two roundtrip, so we probably did just enough.  

Shawn on a park bench in the woods. It was kind of funny to come across a park bench so we thought someone should sit on it.

We did eventually get reconnected with Highway 35 and we went to the trail's end at Effie, MN.  Effie apparently sports Minnesota's largest open air rodeo and a metal sculpture of a mosquito, jokingly known as Minnesota's state bird.  Mason really wanted to pose by the mosquito giving it the finger (mosquitos consider our son an all-you-can-eat buffet and always have, when he was little we some times called him 'Skeet Rounds, because he was covered from head to toe in mosquito bites), but Shawn managed to keep him from doing it.

Shawn and Mason under a metal sculpture of a mosquito. Mason's middle finger is starting to raise, but  Shawn shushes him.

We are still on the road for two more full days. Tomorrow, we head to Bemidji where we'll spend a night. Then, it's off to the headwaters and home.  If the wifi is good in Bemidji, I will try to do another write-up.


lydamorehouse: (Default)
Luck is a funny thing to determine.

In the pouring rain, as we headed out to our family vacation on the Gunflint Trail, I found a penny. There’s a saying that goes: “Find a penny, pick it up; all day long, have good luck.” As a kid, I also understood that there was an unspoken corollary, it’s only REALLY good luck, if you find it face-up. The one I found was showing tails. What I have done since I was ten, is flip it over while it’s still touching the ground, and then pick it up.

Is that good luck or not?

We had rain most of the way to Duluth. Because it was Grandma’s Marathon, we decided to go up a kind of back way that involved highway 61 and a bunch of meandering. Other than the persistent rain that dogged us, it was a pleasant drive.

In Duluth, while trying to skirt around downtown the car started making A NOISE. No one ever likes hearing car NOISES, but when you’re on the very first leg of a two-week trip that’s going to involve a lot of driving? We pulled over and considered our options. Luckily, Shawn has a lot of data on her phone, so we were able to discover a repair place that was open… several miles back.

With much reluctance and a lot of holding back tears of despair (and a couple of wrong turns), we found the repair place. Miraculously, it was attached to a Ford dealership and not at all busy. They said they could perform a break check (which is what the creaking NOISE initially sounded like) in fifteen minutes.

The repair shop was across the parking lot from a DSW and a Barnes & Noble. Seeing that, I sent my wife and son off to their two favorite shopping experiences and sat down in the ‘lounge’ to watch Disney’s “Hunchback of Notre Dame” which was playing on the TV, a show I have never seen, because I tend to avoid all musicals like the plague.

Minutes later, we get the prognosis: sorry, lady, your instincts are wrong. It’s not the breaks. The breaks are in great shape.

Even though that was good news, in a way, I was still leery of driving into the ‘no services’ great north woods with an unidentified undercarriage creak. I asked them if they wouldn’t mind a quick check of the underside. They were happy to.

More singing hunchbacks.

After they drove the car themselves, they determined, particularly given how loaded down with supplies our car was, it was probably struts. Bad news, since that’s a big, many hour repair; good news, because none of the mechanics thought that the NOISE was that bad and were willing to recommend that we could drive many hundreds of miles before we needed to have the work done. In other news, we could go on our way, so long as we took the car in at our earliest convenience.

They charged us nothing. Zero dollars and no cents.

Good luck or bad luck?

We’d called ahead to let Bearskin Lodge know that were were on our way, but delayed. They said they’d leave the door to our cabin open and we could come in any time, even after midnight, and we could check in in the morning.

With the time crunch gone and, even though we all felt a little frazzled from the unexpected repair detour, we were determined to enjoy the rest of the trip north.

As soon as we left Duluth, the sun came out.

Superior kicked up a ton of fog/mist, but, in large patches, we had brilliant weather. We have a favorite agate hunting beach, Flood Bay, and we stopped to do a little rock sifting. Both Shawn and Mason found agates, something none of us has ever done on this beach, despite it being famous for its agates.

two people rock hunting

We also stopped at Gooseberry Falls, which we tend to stop at every year. I discovered that they sold international stamps--and then later realized I forgot ALL my international addresses. Another good luck/bad luck moment.

gooseberry falls

Another first for this trip: Split Rock Lighthouse! Shawn, being the state archivist of Minnesota, was able to get us in free, which made the experience even better. The view was fantastic.

At this point, however, we started to get a little anxious about arriving before dark, so we skipped several of our usual favorites and headed straight for Grand Marais and the Gunflint Trail.

We saw a ton of deer this trip. At least one turkey hen crossed the road in front of us.

Was it a lucky trip? Yeah, I’d say, in the end, it was.
lydamorehouse: (Default)
 ...or always, depending on your personality.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, my Canadian pen pal is arriving from Toronto tomorrow morning.  I really hope we get along, because I am planning some of the most awesome things... including a play based on Chuck Tingle's dinosaur erotica.

She's staying out in a northern suburb (Brooklyn Park) that I'm not terribly familiar with, so I asked my Facebook friends for some recommendations. I got the most amazing article sent to me about the authentic Vietnamese restaurants that are cropping up all over Brooklyn Park and a special note that one of the restaurants reviewed in the article, MT Noodles, is a quick ten minute drive from the hotel.  I was able to send this to her and she was very enthusiastic about trying the place out.  My friend, I should note, is a very adventurous eater, so this was EXACTLY the sort of thing she was hoping for.  We have a plan, later in the weekend (possibly that same night) to catch hotpot at Little Szechuan.

She'd noted in a few letters that she was excited to see the Mississippi River and is a fan of thrift shops, so I thought that I might send her off on her own for a bit while I collect Shawn and Mason to the area around 7th Street and my favorite coffee shop, Claddagh. There's both a thrift store and an antique store right on that same block and she's within walking distance of the river... provided the weather is nice and she has a GPS (though she could also amuse herself with all the antique stores on 7th until I can come collect her again.)

If we do anything organized that night, we might see what's happening in Lowertown and elsewhere for the St. Paul Art Crawl.  

I don't remember when I'm picking her up again in the morning, but I also just found out that Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day and there are a ton of activities all around the various bookstores in town.  Then, Saturday night is the Tingle play which will either be a great topper on a fun, if exhausting, weekend or an awkward ending with a lot of uncomfortable silence.

I will take many photos and give you all run down of any of the fun things we manage to see and do!
lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
 Guess who called at 9 am? Work.  The branch manager at Roseville wanted me to come in for the day.  I said no, because I wanted part of the weekend to myself, but the ironic thing? I HATED SAYING "NO." I _love_ working at Roseville. A full day at Roseville, feels like a half day anywhere else. The people there are legitimately my favorite. And, of course, we could always use the money.

In other news, I'm excited because one of my self-selected pen friends ("the Canadian") is coming to town!  Her mother goes, every year, to a yarning event here in the outer Twin Cities. She decided to tag along. So, near the end of April, I get to play tourist.  As I just wrote to her, I actually love traveling.  You might have guessed that from the random road trips Mason and I have taken over the years.  I would love to travel more and greater distances, but speaking of money, we just can't afford it.  Plus, my wife HATES airplanes.  

I tend to sublimate by being a tourist at home whenever possible.  Last couple of summers that Mason has had off from school, I've taken out travel guides to the Twin Cities and tried to find local places we haven't already been to explore.  So, I'm really excited to get to do this with someone who hasn't already been to all the classic spots.  She's never seen the giant spoon and cherry!  She's never been to Dinkytown. She's never even EVER seen the Mississippi, not to mention all of our local lakes.

She confessed when I started bombarding her with all the options in terms of museums that she really loves coffee, and the idea of seeing a thing and then getting coffee, and seeing another thing, and having coffee, and then lunch... is more her speed.  So, I'm going to try to see if I can find fun coffee shops near some typical destinations. I only have a single weekend with her, so it'll be hard to narrow down the best of the best (most likely to impress.) I really want her to have fun and want to come back again. 

So, if you have ideas about good places--local folks can chime in, but I'd also love to hear from people who have visited here, but don't live here. What impressed you the most (if anything did)?

lydamorehouse: (??!!)
 I would apologize for not posting here in a while, but we've had a house full of guests.  Before that, I was cleaning like a fiend to be ready for them.

Thanksgiving has become my all-time favorite holiday.  I don't even quite know how it happened that Shawn and I decided that Thanksgiving belonged to friends, made-family, rather than our families of origin, as it were, but it was by far, the smartest thing we ever did. 

I feel so sad when I hear people talking about how they dread Thanksgiving because it means Yet-Another-Family-Gathering where they're not accepted for who they are, or where they have to suffer through crazy, drunk uncle Bob's horrible racist/homophobic/misogynist politics. I wish I could give them all the fortitude or means or whatever it would take to say, "So, don't do it. Make this ONE holiday yours." After all, it's not like so many of these same people aren't going to end up having to go back to the same awful situation a month later for Christmas.  And even if your family doesn't celebrate Christmas there's usually some other 'can't miss' holiday that's basically required family gathering.  So, why give them Thanksgiving too?

I absolutely love having my house filled, once a year, with the people Shawn and I picked--our friends and their family.  I love cooking them a huge meal, even if, this year, I had to figure out how to make a bunch of my staples vegan.  I love putting together the puzzles, having the competitive board gaming, etc., etc., etc.  I even love that my crazy guests always make a pilgrimage out to the Mall of America for Black Friday. (Hey, you know, if I were in Dublin for some uniquely Irish Cultural Event, I'd want to participate in it too. Even if my native friends were like, "Nope. No way.") 

So that's the sappy way of saying, I had a great Thanksgiving.  Our friends and their family are now coming from both ends of the U.S. and Ireland (one is in Oregon at Reed College, two are in Virginia at William & Mary, and two live in Dublin.)  They all arrived en masse on Wednesday.  Luckily, they were able to find an Air BnB just up University.  They've stayed in a downtown hotel before, but that isn't nearly as homey--and this was very convenient (I picked some of them up there on Saturday to take them to the airport.)  Funny story about that, though. I was given the wrong address at first and so I ended up knocking on a door two doors down. Thank GOD no one answered, though I did spend a lot of time wondering why no one was letting me in.... this is where cell phone are actually a GOOD thing.

Anyway, we ordered pizza from Pizza Luché because they have tons of vegan options, and even make an in-house vegan cheese, while also serving plenty of delicious carnivorous options as well. I think we were off to a good start with the vegans since at least one of them was actually a little overwhelmed by all the choices... since, more often than not, restaurants have only one or two.  

Turkey day itself went very well. It took a bit of planning to have vegan options and/or adapt existing recipes. I'll be honest. A big part of my secret skill as a chef is that I'll put bacon drippings and cream in ANYTHING, given half the chance.  But, we managed to find a good butter substitute and we'd been trying out various dressing recipes for months. Shawn even made a vegan pumpkin pie (as well as two types of cookies and a vegan cranberry-orange sweet bread), and, after several trips to a number of different stores, I managed to find a commercially produced vegan soy whip as an alternative to my homemade whipped cream. It was a lot of work for two out of eight eaters, but, in the end, we could feel good about our hosting skills.  In exchange, I heard no complaints about the dead bird on the table and there were no attempts to proselytize about the vegan lifestyle's superiority. So, I think that was a fair trade.  ;-)

On Black Friday, they all went about their separate ways, but took Mason along.  That meant Shawn and I had a chance to physically recover (I napped... A LOT! I'd feel bad, but it's a full day in the kitchen, since I get up early to make French bread from scratch) and, according to Mason, they all checked out the Herbivorous Butcher for lunch. We had a little snafu about whether or not we were going to brave the Black Friday Mall of America traffic, but in the end everyone hopped on the light rail (Mason always carries his Go-To pass, so he flipped the bill.)  So, it all worked out, plus our Irish guest got to check out what passes as public transportation in Minneapolis/St. Paul. (He and I actually extolled the virtues of trains.)

Saturday, people started drifting off to various airports, though we kept our Oregon guest at our place one extra night. That day was spent playing with the Nintendo Switch and he's ONLY a vegetarian, so cooking for him was much easier. I made my favorite broccoli-curry soup, which I will type out below because another friend has asked for it:

From the Ovens of Brittany Cookbook by Terese Allan:

6 tablespoons of butter, divided
1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 cups of coarsely chopped broccoli stems and tops
1 teaspoon basil
1 (or more) teaspoon of curry powder (I use Penzey's "sweet" curry)
1/2 teaspoon of paprika
1/2 teaspoon of thyme
1/2 teaspoon of celery salt
1 cup of milk
1 cup half-and-half
2 1/2 cups of vegetable (or chicken) stock
1/4 teaspoon of ground white pepper (though black will do in a pinch)

They want you to make a roux with three tablespoons of the butter, heated, to which the flour is added.  I've found you can do this, their method is not that hard, but if the idea scares you, you can just skip the extra butter and mix flour with a little water to make a paste and add it in place of the roux.  Both methods work equally well, IMHO.

Melt remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy pot. Add onions, celery, and carrots. Cook until tender.  Add broccoli and spices and cook a little longer. Add the stock to the vegetables, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, add milk and half-and-half. Once that's warmed add the roux (or flour mixture).  Simmer until thickened and the flavors have mingled, but the broccoli is not overdone--10-20 minutes.  Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

You can see why the vegetarian can eat this, but not the vegans.

On Sunday, we shuffled our last house guest off to the airport, and the had Mason's GF over for our traditional post-Thanksgiving wild rice soup. Of course, she's also a vegetarian, so she got the same soup, only minus the shredded turkey bits.  I made popovers.  It was wonderful.

But, oh my gosh. I'm not normally the sort of person who needs a vacation after a vacation, but this might be an exception. However, I wouldn't have traded a minute of it. Such a good time was had.

lydamorehouse: (Bazz-B)
Yesterday was a lot of driving. I didn't end up posting anything last night because we didn't stumble in the door until after 8:30 pm (we left Rapid City at 7:30 am. Now, there is a time change in there where we lose an hour, but still that's a LOT of hours on the road.)

We did some classic stuff. We stopped both at Wall Drug and the Corn Palace.

the corn palace

goofy people

We started to see a few more families on the road at Wall Drug, but Mitchell could have been a ghost town. Shawn and I both remarked at how several store fronts were closed and/or empty in Mitchell. It's June. This should be the beginning of the tourist season for them, I'd have thought. We were there right at noon and I had a BLT from the one place we found to eat. That was the other thing, the 'historic' downtown didn't have a lot of places to get food. You'd think it would be more like the other tourist towns we travelled through, like Cody, which is just lined with diners and burger joints and pizza places. Something for everyone, as they say. All of that interspersed with trinket shops.... but no, they seemed to have department stores and... furniture? Not something you're going to haul the rest of the way across country with you.

This actually made me wonder if the over-the-road tourism is down in this part of the country. Okay, well, a quick Google tells me that my anecdotal sense is WAY OFF. Apparently, tourism numbers are up, according to the South Dakota Tourism Industry Information for 2016.

Maybe we were just lucky? Because we planned this trip so early into summer vacation?

I don't know. Interestingly, Wikipedia tells me that the largest draw to South Dakota is actually the Sturgis Motorcycle rally. Maybe that's the thing that's shifted? The demographics of the people traveling across country? We certainly saw a ton of motorcycles all throughout our visit both to South Dakota and to Yellowstone.

Also, I'm super curious why so many of my fellow travelers were white. It wasn't 100%--but there was a shocking sea of white faces waiting for the geysers to blow. Why is that, I wonder? Or is this another anecdotal misinterpretation of mine? I couldn't easily find a demographic statistic for the visitors to Yellowstone, though I did see that 2016 was a record-breaking year for them. So what do I know?

We did stop at the Minute Man Missile Site (Delta-09). That was kind of spooky cool. There was a fence around the site that had this sign:

cows out of missile site

It says, "Help us keep cows from entering this area. Please close chain as you enter and exit." There's a lovely little center icon of a big red no symbol over a cow.  

One of the missiles is preserved:

missile in launch pad

As a kid of the 1980s, I found this very chilling, frankly.  Mason looked at us and said, "And how do you think I feel, knowing that 45 has the launch codes?"  


Right.  So, that left us all feeling a bit... freaked out.

Otherwise, I have to say that the thing I'm noticing now that we're home is that I still have my tourist eye on everything.  I kind of wished that I'd had my camera this morning when I went for coffee because I had a sudden yen to photograph the neat old houses that are in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood. Maybe this is something I'll have to start doing as an antidote for all the depressing politics.

I thought about going out to Pride today but I just couldn't muster the thought of fighting crowds after all of the fighting crowds at Yellowstone and whatnot. Good news: I'll be gay all year 'round.

lydamorehouse: (ichigo hot)
 Originally, we'd planned to spend three days here in South Dakota, using Rapid City as our "home base." We decided today to cut it short. Our family is just plain tired of the road.  There's a ton to see here, but today proved that we're pretty close to saturated with "scenery."  Tomorrow will be our last full day here, then we will do the huge drive home.

This morning we let ourselves sleep in. With the time zone difference (we're in Mountain Time)  that really only meant until about 7:30 or so. Then, after fueling up on the hotel breakfast, we headed down 79 for Hot Springs and the Mammoth Site.  79 is not the most scenic, but Shawn snapped a picture.  You can't tell from this picture, but it really looked like it was going to rain on us.  A huge dark cloud loomed in the west.  

South Dakota hills

However, when we got to the Mammoth Site, we had a great time.  The site itself is interesting because it's a working paleontology dig.  When we were there, in fact, we saw people excavating.  At first, we thought it was going to be a bust because we had to buy a ticket for a tour that didn't start right away and they told us to "enjoy the gift shop." By the time the tour started, Mason was muttering about capitalism.  But, we had an amazing tour guide. He could not have been more than 12? Maybe 13?  He looked younger than Mason, but he did a phenomenal job. He was incredibly knowledgable.  

Plus, we got to see mammoth bones!

mammoth skull with tusks

I learned that there are actually mammoths other than woolly mammoths.  Apparently, the majority of those found at this site are of a kind known as Columbian mammoths.  Also, we aren't supposed to call these fossils because they have not turned to stone.  They're actually just dried bone.

There were also a ton of other animals that were discovered in this sinkhole, including another extinct mega-fauna, the short-faced bear.

short-faced bear skeleton

I have to admit that since Mason was very much focused on the Cambrian Period, I never learned that much about the age of mammals. I didn't know that llama used to roam here, as well as some kind of now extinct camel, something called a camelop. That's pretty cool stuff. 

We left the museum pretty enthused for the rest of our day.  I have to say, too, though we didn't get any pictures of it, Hot Springs seemed like a  neat town. I sort of regret not exploring it a bit more. There was a Pioneer Museum that we could have checked out, and a very cute downtown made mostly out of red sandstone.

Instead we drove up 385 toward Wind Cave National Park.  We didn't have any intention of actually going into Wind Cave.  What I wanted from the park was prairie dogs!  I love prairie dogs.  If I had a fursona, I think it would be a prairie dog. I mean, look at them. They fat, sort of cute, a bit territorial, social, and enthusiastic.

prairie dog town!

I literally could have spent the rest of the day watching the prairie dogs popping around, zipping from hole to hole, and chirping at things that annoy them.


As we were cruising through the park at low-speed and my family was getting really tired of me happily chirping, "Oh! More prairie dogs! Let's stop!!" we spotted a group of pronghorns on the side of the road.  Perhaps you already know this, but I was able to wow my family by telling the that the "antelope" of the song, "Home on the Range" with the line "where the deer and the antelope play" is actually referring to the pronghorn.

pronghorns, America's antelope

I really did not expect to see pronghorns in the wild on this trip.  Just as I did not expect bears.  We also saw what we figure was a marmot sitting on a fence post in Wyoming. 

From this park, we'd hoped to cross over into Pringle and head up towards Custer, but... we were caught in a time loop and could not escape the buffalo.  Seriously, we must have circled the interpretive center three times trying to find our way out.  However, we did see this lovely buffalo a lot:

buffalo in wind cave national park

Thanks to the compass that is built into our car and a very helpful park ranger in the interpretative center we managed to escape the gravity well of Wind Cave.

Custer, of course, is a tourist trap of a town.  We got out there, though, because we were all getting really kind of hangry and I needed to pee. Shawn was really, really, REALLY done with crowds, though, so finding a place to eat that wasn't wall-to-wall tourists was hard.  We managed to find a sit-down place that had decent food and we were all in a much better mood after chatting with our server, Joseph, who was from Tennessee originally and sort of found himself stuck in Custer, having been brought here as an army brat.

Besides getting food into our stomachs, the smartest thing we did was peel off 385 and head down Sheridan Lake Road toward Rapid City. Hardly anyone was on that road and it was GORGEOUS.

black hills with rocks and trees

Having seen pronghorn, however, we started to really hope for elk.  At one point, our entire family spontaneously attempted an elk call, which was sort of a terrifying bellowing groan in our estimation.  :-)

Sheridan Lake Road

As we were driving along here, we spotted a pullout and decided that what this burnt out family really needed was an hour in the woods just sitting and reading and exploring.  There was a small pat that led us to a stream that had a ton of small fish and crawdads.  

Mason dipping his toes in the stream

my big fat butt in the river

I managed to drop my phone in the water.  Ironically, I'd been very careful and taken it out of my pocket and set it in my shoes, but when I sat down to put my shoes back on... bam! It tumbled into the water.


However, I managed to turn it off right away and it's apart, drying right now. I have faith it will recover. Otherwise, Tracfones are cheap. This is why no one buys me a smartphone. :-)

Tomorrow, we're going to hop up early to see Mount Rushmore before the crowds and then do the wildlife circle in Custer State Park.  Then, finally, we shall head for the home fires!
lydamorehouse: (??!!)
One thing we've been noticing as we've been going along is how few families seem to still do this whole road trip thing. We seem to be throwbacks, dragging our child across the country. Do people still do this?

I should say, clearly, people still do, but they all seem to be retirees, no children. There were hardly any groups that included children, unless they were Native American. We saw several Native American families all traveling together.  (Also, the majority of tourists in these places seem to be white.)

Today, however, was one of the few days I regretted this idea. We saw some pretty amazing things, which I'll get to in a moment, but we spent a lot of time on the road. Worse, we kept hitting road construction that was more than a slowdown through some orange cones. We'd come to a full stop and then have to wait for a "Follow Me: Pilot Vehicle." This was frustrating as heck, though occasionally it meant that I had time to frame a kind of lovely-in-its-starkness photo.

fence post in Wyoming

I call this, "Lonely Fence Post."

We also legitimately came across sections of road in Wyoming that had been sloppily paved over and a road sign that read, "Road Damage." My family and I spent some quality time trying to figure out if it was more expensive to print up the sign and mark the road or to actually fix it. Obviously, Wyoming Department of Transportation figured the signs were cheaper.

The interstate driving was really, really dull through much of the state. I kept saying, "Well, there are some horses. We must still be in Wyoming." A lot of it looked like this, only more desolate:

Wyoming never ends

The nice surprise was the Big Horn Mountains. Shawn had done some research (naturally) and found us a highway that was rated safe for RVs. Shawn had found a blog and a video of people in an RV driving over one of these stretches (maybe Beartooth?) and we kept repeating what the blogger had said anytime we went down any grade as steep as 7 percent, which was, "My wife was on the floor... crying." (Their experience was apparently much steeper and their brakes were burning out.) We didn't have anything like that, but it was pretty exciting driving through this:

Big Horn Mountains

We would pass signs that would tell us which era of rocks were exposed. There was a lot of "Pre-Cambrian" and "Lower Cretaceous." At one point, after a particularly long and arduous "Follow Me" truck construction zone, we decided to stop at a roadside diner called "The Meadowlark Resort," just outside of the town of Ten Sleep. The diner had a poster of Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire from the TV show Longmire/books by Craig Johnson. Apparently, the nearby town of Buffalo was an inspiration for the novelist. The only reason that was particularly striking to us is that Shawn and I, who loved the show, had started thinking about the fact that the landscape must be very similar to the faux Absaroka County that Longmire is the supposed sheriff of.

Big Horn Mountains

It was good to sit and have a real meal, something we've been neglecting this whole trip. We've been subsisting on road food and things we've packed like trail mix, chips, beef jerky, and granola bars. A real omelet made by an actual short order cook was just the ticket. It probably added a half hour to our day, but I regret nothing.

Except all that interstate driving. The interstate was hideously boring. I kind of wanted to claw my eyes out after driving for hours and hours along the interstate. The only good thing about the interstate was that the speed limit was 80.

Eventually, we got to Devil's Tower. Or, at least the turn off for Devil's Tower. Devil's Tower was made famous for my entire generation by the mashed potato scene in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." There was, of course, another "Follow Me" truck on the way to Devil's Tower. Also, the guidebooks lie. This is not a quick jaunt off the highway, this is a legitimate detour WAY THE HECK OUT. However, it is classic:

Devil's Tower

The gift store would sell you aliens.

Also, because I could no longer take the Interstate, I insisted on a detour through "ANYTHING PRETTY." So we took off on 14-A towards the Black Hills National Forest. This also took us through Sundance, Sturgis, Leads, and Deadwood.

Sundance City Limits sign

The Black Hills National Forest was really amazing, but Mason was starting to lose it in the back and said, "OMG, it's just more rocks and trees. Shoot me now!"

Black Hills

As you can see, he's not wrong. We were getting pretty punchy by this point, too, and Shawn was snapping photos by sticking the camera out of our sunroof.  We got some surprisingly good shots that way.

Then, finally, we made it to the hotel!  I was super-ready to be here. Our only concern at this point is, do we really want to spend the next several days DRIVING AROUND???!!  Ask me tonight and my answer would be: no $%!@ing way.  I'm going to guess that tomorrow, I'll be all, "Pack up the car, we're on the road!"

We have to AT LEAST see Mount Rushmore.
lydamorehouse: (temporary incoherent rage)
 Shawn dragged us out of bed at 5:30 in the morning because she read that it's best to hit Yellowstone early in order to avoid the crowds.  Turns out there was another bonus, which was, morning is when the animals are the most active.  We've been staying at AmericInns the whole way and they have continental breakfast that isn't horrible. Cody, like Beulah, sports two coffee shops (possibly more, but two were easily seen from the main drag) and so I went out at 6 am to try to find a decent brew. I found someone who would make me a latte, but it was fairly awful. Tomorrow, I will try the Mudd Shack or whatever it was called.

It's about an hours drive between Cody and the east gate entrance to Yellowstone. We passed through mountain tunnels, which is always cool.  This is the reservoir made by the Buffalo Bill Dam.

on the way to yellowstone

The landscape up to Yellowstone was very similar to a lot of what we'd seen in Montana.  No trees and a lot of scrub leading up to rocky outcroppings.  Shawn and I both confessed that this was pretty much what we were afraid all of Yellowstone would look like (oh boy, were we WRONG.)  In fact, once we got to "cruising altitude," as it were, things looked a lot more like the landscape around Bearskin. Shawn said, looking out at all the pine trees lined up along the roadside, "This looks like home." (Grand Rapids, MN.)

Are we in Montana or Wyoming?

But this is Wyoming/Montana: scrubby.

We passed a lot of horse ranches, too.  I joked that where in North Dakota it was all, "I found a cow!" in Wyoming it's "I found a horse!"

Shawn had made a big deal about finding us a hotel room at all in Cody this time of year, and so any time we saw a "vacancy" sign on any of the dude ranch/hotels, we teased her saying, "Oh, sure, you couldn't find anything open! We could have stayed here and had pony rides!" Luckily, she's a good sport and used to us ribbing her.

Even before the official gate, we saw people pulled off to the side of the road.  This is what's known in the Yellowstone area as a "bear jam," aka the kind of traffic jam that happens whenever wildlife is spotted.

Here's what everyone was looking at:

buffalo in sage grass

I really love the contrast here between the brown/black of the buffalo and the silvery green of the sage brush.  This shot seems almost stereotypically Wyoming, don't you think? At first I worried that this big guy was sick being so far from a herd, but Shawn read that male buffalo are loners. Mason said he clearly saw that this fellow was male.

The flowers were really lovely.  There were pearly everlastings growing here too (which remind me of deep woods northern Minnesota):

pearly everlastings

One we were in Yellowstone proper, the road grade started getting significantly steeper.  I worried a lot about our new/used car, but it performed like a beauty.  Pretty soon there were snow caps in the distance.  We had to pull over to take a picture. (We tried selfies, but we kind of suck at them.)

Shawn and Mason with snow-capped mountains in the background.

We took a ton of pictures as we moved higher and higher into the mountains.  But here are a few of the more interesting shots we got:

Slyvin Lake

snow capped mountains at Yellowstone

top of the world

Then came the most amazing thing. We saw a traffic jam ahead and I jokingly said, "Hey, maybe there will be bears at this bear jam."  GUESS WHAT??!! THERE WERE BEARS.


A pretty good shot considering that Shawn (being non-suicidal) took this picture from inside the car, the window rolled down, with telephoto.  There were many more morons who were out of their cars, setting up tripods, and milling around.  It is possibly not obvious, but these two are GRIZZY BEAR CUBS.  The one in the foregrounds still has a bit of white baby fuzz.  There is a mama grizzly somewhere near and, unlike the stupids, we were long gone before she showed up.

We saw dumber people, though.

There was a whole contingent of stupid walking across a grassy plane towards a giant herd of buffalo.  Buffalo can run 30 mph.  People can not.  There were idiots with children doing that.


It does make me wonder how many people die from wildlife every year.  Especially since you can get great shots from inside your car. Like this:


And this:

buffalo herd

Then, we did what every tourist to Yellowstone must do. We went to visit "Old Faithful."  OMG. The visitor center near "Old Faithful" is a massive complex and it is ENTIRELY JAMMED WITH HUMAN BEINGS. I don't normally mind crowds, but I do not like being elbow-to-elbow with that many sweaty, impatient people.  Mason had the right idea. He put on his Moose Hat (which he picked up at the first gift shop) and read:

moose hat

But we didn't have to wait that long for the big eruption.  For all that, the actual geyser was nifty.  Mason and I managed to score some good seats right next to the walkway's edge.

old faithful erupting.

But our stop here was one of those times when no one knows what to do--should we try to eat here? Do we just grab cereal at the convenience store? Get in the car again and subsist on potato chips?--and we were all h-angry and hot.  Luckily, I had an epiphany in the bathroom and that was that when the guidebooks told us we needed to practice patience, they didn't mean on the road, they meant with each other.  So, we suffered through the long lines and got some real food. (Actually, I made my family find a seat and I waded through the food lines).  After that, we felt much better getting out of there and getting back in the car.  

We did decide, though, that if someone wanted a cheap version of Old Faithful, you could crush into the bathroom, let someone like me who has stinky farts let out a good gassy one, turn on the hot water faucet, and then everyone cheers. Because that's something that's never in any guidebooks: geysers STINK. They smell like sulfur, like rotten eggs. In fact, the whole "clean pine forest" smell up in Yellowstone has a whole undercurrent of "who farted?"

At any rate, after all that hassle, we decided, in fact, that we didn't need to see any more geysers. If there were a lot of people gathered to see a "site" that wasn't wildlife, we would just pass that site right on by, in fact.

I think we made a good choice. We did see these "painted pots" however:

painted pots

After that we mostly just pulled out in spots where there were hardly any people.  Thus, Mason got some time to contemplate nature on the Summer Solstice:

Mason and Yellowstone

The very last thing we did was look at the giant falls... that I've forgotten the name of.  Because you know what else I wasn't prepared for in Yellowstone? How BAD the signs are... and the maps.  I think a lot of tourists would be a lot less cranky if there were better signs directing people to places. But, we had to do a complete 180 at one point otherwise we would have missed these.  And, they were pretty darned spectacular, too:


That was Yellowstone.  From here, we turn east towards Mount Rushmore and home.... though it will still be a few more days on the road.

Right now, I'm off to avail myself of the hot tub. My shoulders are aching after all that white knuckle driving on the roads.  Going up had me worried about the engine, going down had me freaking out about the breaks.  I could use a massage, honestly.

Tomorrow? MORE DRIVING.  We go from here to Rapid City, hopefully going past Devil's Tower. 
lydamorehouse: (nic & coffee)
We got up bright and early this morning and headed west. Today was a day of heavy driving, not a lot of stopping, though we did manage a few. I made Shawn stop and take a picture of cows on our way out of Beulah, though. It was such a familiar sight that I had to have it immortalized.

cows on the hill (ND)

That's North Dakota to me, right there.

Ww stopped at a rest stop that overlooked Theodore Roosevelt National Park, aka the North Dakota Badlands. After we left that rest stop we lamented not taking a picture of the picture of the buffalo wandering around in front of the Interpretative Center. We did see a giant cow pie on the grounds, so we know that it was accurate that buffalo occasionally invaded the rest stop.

ND badlands

This picture doesn't really do the badlands justice. They're such weird places, actually.

As we entered Montana, we discovered that Shawn really does not like the landscape of Montana. "Alien," was what she categorized it as, and, "Dead." As the driver, I have to disagree. I found Montana fascinating. The colors are so different, everything is legitimately sage colored and the trees are replaced by scrub. It seems flat and uninteresting, but when you're driving, you become hyperaware that you're constantly going UP at a fairly steep incline.

But there's not a lot to look at, that's for sure. Here's typical landscape:

flat of Montana

You can see why they call it "Big Sky Country," though.

My family and I had a long discussion about "Big Sky" and what other mottos Montana could have used. Pretty much all of us were in agreement that really, if it were us, we'd advertise the fact that there are DINOSAURS bones everywhere. I'd have put "The Land of Dinosaurs!" on the license plates, but that's just me. When we were arguing about whether the landscape was interesting or ugly, I muttered, "Well, it's prettier than Indiana" and Mason thought that would make a good state motto, too: "Better than Indiana."

The thing about Montana is that for all the weird, scrubby flat stuff, occasionally stuff like this will randomly jut up out of the ground:

random rocks of Montana

This is Makoshika State Park. We stopped for the Interpretive Center which had some dinosaur bones in it. We wandered around a little bit, and I was kind of tempted to drive around in the rocks, but the woman in the center said there was only a couple of miles of paved road before it became unpaved switchbacks. So, yeah, no. Not with our car.

Mostly we didn't stop except to pee, but all the the rest stops there was this helpful sign:

sign for rattlesnakes

The only place we spent any really amount of time was at Pompey's Pillar. This is where Clark left some graffiti on a rock. There was a really nice set of stairs we climbed to see it and there was an elder tour bus there, so we didn't have to feel badly when we had to stop a lot to take rests. Pretty much at every perch were some nice older folks who admired Mason's hair and asked us where were from.  

Clark's graffiti

Here's a shot from above:

pompey's pillar

Then there was more driving... we saw mountains in the distance, but happy stayed between the pass all the way to Cody.

Tomorrow, Yellowstone!
lydamorehouse: (I love homos)
We planned one more day in Beulah, ND, mostly because we had hoped to get flieschkuekchle from the deli at the Beulah grocery store for dinner tonight. So we decided to bum around the area to see what could be seen. Plus, one of Shawn's relatives told us that there was actually a road up to Salem Sue and Mason got it in his head that if we'd touched Dakota Thunder (the giant buffalo), we ought to be able to say we'd also touched Salem Sue.

Looking at the map, we thought we planned ourselves a pretty decent day of it, and so we headed off bright and early to Lake Sakakawea. The trip took us back to Hazen, and, because the map didn't have a name marked on the road that looked like it took us to the lake, I stopped and asked for directions from the gas station employee. I asked him the best way and he said, "Head back toward Beulah at the next gas station and turn north." I showed him the map and said, "Here? But it has no name." He gave me a funny look and said, "Just go north. You'll hit the lake."

Apparently, roads don't need names if they go to the lake.

As we turned down that road, we discovered the Hazen cemetery, where some of Shawn's relatives are buried. We stopped to look around and Mason found a shed snake skin, from the size of it, it was probably a rattlesnake.

snake skin in the cemetery

He's holding it up, in the wind. It was a Very Blustery Day, as A. A. Milne might say. We actually decided to take the snake skin with us, and so we stuck it in a plastic baggy. It's the sort of thing that will go nicely on our altar.

On the road there, we had to stop for a family of ducks that made their way across the two lane highway. It was the first of many times that I hit the brakes suddenly for critters crossing the road. A TON of gophers dashed across the road (and one lost its life under our wheel, alas, despite my best efforts.) But, most of the things trying to cross made it. I made sure of that as best as I could.

The lake was fairly spectacular.

Lake Sakakawea

Floating in the breeze we saw a pelican. We also drove down to the boat landing and stuck our hands in the lake, just to say we had.

Then it was back on the road for the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site. This is where I started pointing out cows. There are, in case you were wondering, a LOT of cows in North Dakota. In fact, in one of the brochures Shawn picked up at the Knife River site, we learned that for every one person, there are three cows. Pretty soon this became a running joke and I'd say, "Hey, everybody, guess what? I found some cows!" Many of the cows had calves, so part of the game (for me, at least) was looking for the babies.

I needed a game, because we drove around a lot.

We got out and walked around a lot at the Knife River Site, though. They have an interpreter center there with some history of the site. The village is notable because it's where Louis and Clark picked up Sakakawea, actually.  All that's left right now are depressions in the earth where the earth lodges once stood.  They had a reconstructed earth lodge out front:

earthen lodge at Knife River

There were miles of trails, but we took a short hike down to the water's edge.  The sun was bright and the air smelled AMAZING, mostly wild clover, I think. I told Shawn that I thought it smelled a little like laundry detergent, and I suspect that's not a coincidence.

ND fields

Knife River (ND)

From here we made a return trip to Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein. We found the road in this time and drove up a very narrow, winding hill.  It was actually fairly busy at the top of the hill, which made me wonder what people did if they met another car coming the other direction on that gravel road. Luckily we never found out.  The cow was there. She's still delightful.  I have no idea why this giant cow has charmed my family so much, but it totally did.

There was also a heckuva a view from up there.

Shawn in ND

I was also impressed with the scrubby wild roses growing on the hill around Salem Sue.  They reminded me of the roses I'd find growing near the railroad tracks in LaCrosse, WI, where I grew up.

wild roses

The next "destination" was the Enchanted Highway. When we planned this trip, I looked at the map and said, "Wait, The Enchanted Highway just stops? That seems dumb. Shouldn't we find a way so that we can come up it on our way home from somewhere?" Oh, good idea, Lyda.  TOO BAD IT MEANT HOURS OF DRIVING THROUGH PRETTY MUCH NOWHERE.  

We kept having to tell ourselves as we drove through towns like Mott ("Mott, the spot that god forgot" as Shawn's dad just to call the town he was born in), that our secondary motto this trip is, "The journey *is* the destination."  But, OMFG, I was tired of driving by the time we finally hit the beginning (or end) of the Enchanted Highway.  But, the bizarre statues were worth it in my opinion.

Interestingly, the only place we saw real, live pheasants crossing the road, was right before this statue:

giant pheasants on the Enchanted Highway in ND

(Mason is there for scale)

Weird fish sculpture

world's largest grasshopper

Some ominous weather started dogging us here at the giant grasshopper statue, but we managed to outrun it, by heading north. 

eye of saurian or geese in flight?

The official name for this one is "Geese in Flight" but I kept calling it the Eye of Sauron.  I think it looks like a giant eye on a hill.

The rest of the drive back to the hotel was a lot of me saying, "Hey, look, I found some cows."  We did, however, see a runaway llama, though. As we were headed along 200, I saw something galloping on the hill. I started to say, "Hey, a cow," but then my brain said, "No, not cow, horse? No... LLAMA!"  The llama was clearly on an unscheduled walkabout since it was being herded by a pick-up truck with its hazards flashing and an ATV.  That woke us up.  

This was outside of a town called "Zap," which made it all the more surreal and hilarious. 

We were pretty road punchy by the time we made it back to the hotel.  We'd hoped to catch that fleischkuekchle at the deli, but it turned out that it was closed. Worse, the only other restaurant in town that served them was also closed. Damn you, Sunday in a small town!  But we met up with Shawn's brother Keven (who was also in town for the reunion) at the DQ for dinner instead. A far cry from fleischkuekchle, but I was so hungry at that point (having only really eaten the road food we'd packed, which consisted of things like beef jerky and trail mix) I was happy with ANYTHING.

Now I'm going to collapse into bed and rest up for another long drive across the country to Cody, Wyoming!
lydamorehouse: (crazy eyed Renji)
How I know my spouse loves me?  Shawn researched all the coffeeshops near the hotels we'll be staying at during this trip.

Of course knowing where they are and knowing what they'll be like are two different things.  I went out this morning and checked out Javalicious, which I was originally excited to find because their Facebook page shows something that looks like it could be real espresso, complete with espresso art.  However, when I found Main Street Beulah, the coffee shop was closed.

main street, downtown Beulah, North Dakota

A very lonely street.  

A very sad and caffeine-deprived Lyda.

Luckily, Beulah has a surfeit of coffee shops, having a second one on 19th Avenue.  I set off for that down Central Avenue, mostly because I wanted to admire the town.  When Mason first saw Beulah, his impression was "suburb." He's got a point in that there's something about Beulah that doesn't feel terribly... established? The houses all look like the kinds of ramblers that were popular in the Midwest in the 1950s-1960s.  The lawns are wide and the houses all have the kind of suburban distances between them--which isn't terribly descriptive if you aren't familiar with American suburbs, but think: wide and open. Driveways that lead to two-car garages.  That kind of place.

It seems pleasant enough, though I'd never want to live here.

For one, the second coffee shop looks like this:

a shack that serves coffee

They also don't open on a Saturday until 9 am. They're not open at all on Sunday.  And their coffee was.... well, it was a step up from the hotel coffee, which is what I subsisted on until we headed to Hazen for the family shindig.  But, it was really only *one* step up. 

Sadly, I will have to be satisfied with this for another full day.

(And who knows what Cody, Wyoming will bring in terms of coffee!)

Our room at this hotel comes with an in-room jacuzzi-tub which I tried out this morning. It was... interesting.  For one, those things take FOREVER to fill (and I'm not terribly patient), and second, it turns out that if you don't fill it at least a full inch over the little nozzles, they will spray you IN THE FACE. Okay, that last part might have been dumb luck, but I swear the tub was out to get me.  

Then I spent a ton of time trying to figure out what to wear. Shawn had packed me a nice shirt, but when I put it on, it just felt... *shakes head*... it just wasn't right. Plus, I wanted to make a good impression on these people. I was pretty sure I was going to be the only lesbian they were ever going to knowingly meet, so I kind of felt like I had to represent. Luckily, I had packed a plaid shirt.  I mean right? If you're going to be the only lesbian they know, you might as well embrace at least one of the stereotypes!  

Honestly, I was pretty worried about how all this was going to go.  We had hours and hours we were going to be spending with these people and (I'm not making this up, I checked Wikipedia,) Hazen is 97.7% white. This is not a place comfortable with "diversity," you know?

But, well, if they judged us, they did it the classic Midwestern way: quietly and behind our backs. To our faces, everyone was nice.

That worked out, because what we were there for was for Shawn to reconnect to her mother's extended family.  The reunion was based around her uncle Bobby and his wife Chris's 60th wedding anniversary. The food was... well, it was free, so I probably shouldn't complain about it, but let's put it this way: the event took place in a literal church basement. Macaroni salad featured prominently. 

We have one more day here. We wanted to stay long enough to be sure to have the Hazen supermarket's fleischkeuckle and so we're going to spend the day tomorrow seeing some of the nearby sites, which include Lake Sakakawea, Garrison Dam, Dickinson Dinosaur Museum, and Knife River Indian Historic Site.  We will may also see a few of the sculptures on  Enchanted Highways, so that should be fun.
lydamorehouse: (writer??)
We took off from Saint Paul this morning around 8:30 am. The directions to Beulah, ND are as follows: take I-94 West, turn right at the sign for Beulah. I think for a lot of people this drive can be done in 8 hours, however, you have to factor into this that my family LIVES for roadside attractions.

LIVES for them.

We also stop at every single rest stop between here and there, just because. The very first rest stop we came to had a very unusual name:

Despite the name, this was a fine place to use the bathroom. It was also the first time we ran into a group that would follow us much of our trek out west: the Mission Possible people. They were a large group of teenagers, all in matching tee-shirts, and we can only assume they were probably some kind of church group. But, pretty much if we stopped, they were there (or were there shortly after we arrived.)

The next place we stopped was Fergus Falls, MN, at the Continental Divide marker. This is not THE Continental Divide, though it is a point that "separates water that flows into the Mississippi watershed with the one that goes into Hudson's Bay." There's a giant surveyor's telescope statue, a little open-air interpretive center (which happened to be inhabited by a family of barn swallows and their fledglings), and a huge tee-pee type structure:

mason at Fergus Falls, MN

Oh, as a bonus you can see Mason's new hair color.  Yeah, so that happened.  Mason wanted to do something radical before the trip, I think precisely because we're headed into Trump Country.  I think he wanted to make it absolutely clear that he was One of Those People. Anyway, I think he looks super-cool and was happy to pay for it.  

There was a really pretty bush there, though I'm not sure what it was: sweet pea?

flowering bush

The next place we stopped was Rothsay, MN.  Why Rothsay, you ask?  Well, it's the home of the world's largest booming prairie chicken.

booming chicken and Mason

Directly across the park, which you can see a hint of in this picture, is the Rothsay Public School, home of the... Tigers? I mean, I guess I can see why you might not want to name your high school team the "prairie chickens" because 'chicken' has bad connotations, but why not the "Boomers"?  Honestly, I could hire myself out to these people. 

Once we headed into North Dakota proper, we discovered a few things. The first of which is that there are NO SERVICES off any of the exits. Normally, on these kinds of road trips, one depends on getting gas at some station just off the exit.  Wisconsin is great for this. Anytime you see an exit, you're pretty much guaranteed gas, a toilet, possibly a McDonald's, as well. North Dakota? NOTHING. Worse, the roadside rests became fewer and further between. In Minnesota, you'd see a sign at each rest stop saying, "Next Rest Stop in ___ miles" and most of the time, it'd be 30 miles. We crossed the border into North Dakota, and suddenly the signs read, "Next Rest Stop in 69 miles."  

Which is how we ended up in Valley City, ND.

Because we pulled into the first rest stop we saw (which was in the center of the highway, so a left exit) and it was closed.  All the Mission Possible kids were there eating lunch, but we really, really needed to pee. I did snap off a picture of how FLAT North Dakota is, however:

flat with flat sauce

The very next town was Valley City, so we pulled in.  We thought our best luck for a place to pee was the Visitor's Center, which was quite a distance into to town.  It was a very weird little winding road that took us past a John Deere shop and several industrial looking places before we hit main street and this:

military plane?

Not exactly a friendly entryway to town... and then the signs to the Visitor Center seemed to point us into an empty parking lot next to a gas station.  In fact, I drove in and then drove back out again because it didn't seem right, but there was a sign saying "Visitor's Center" on a small little depot-like building off on the other side of the dusty parking lot.  Turns out the Center also doubled as the town's Department of Motor Vehicles. The parking lot was also kind of... odd. Someone had spay painted a very rough outline of where you should park with a helpful scrawl of "park here." I should have taken a picture of this because it was very amateur hour meets "Pennywise," if you know what I mean.  

But, the actual Visitor's Center was quite pleasant. They had a toilet, so I would have loved them even if they were terrifying. They had a little train history display and the carriage car of the Northern Pacific's superintendent (?), supposedly the only one still intact.They had a gift shop, so I bought a few postcards there to send to my various international friends.

Shawn's back has been hurting, so we decided to a little more walking around.  Just across the street was a little walking bridge over the river and so we strolled across that and back again.  

walk bridge

Back in the car, we watched a whole lot of nothing and NO SERVICES pass us by.  

Shawn confessed to really loving scanning the dial for music. No surprise we found a lot of country music, but then Shawn and I are actually fans of country & western so we were kind of happy when we came across 104.7 DUKE FM. We heard "Stand By Your Man" and "Vaya Con Dios, My Darling" and just a ton of "wow, I can't believe they're playing THAT." We passed many miles singing cheesy country songs. 

The next place of interest we were headed for was Jamestown, ND, home of the world's largest buffalo statue.  Shawn had previously only ever driven past the buffalo, which is visible from I-94, but since I accidentally turned into the first exit to Jamestown (in search of a toilet, what else?) we ended up checking out not only the buffalo itself, but also this tourist trap "frontier town."

world's largest buffalo

Shawn is 6'1" for scale.  

Also, for reasons known only to its sculptor, the buffalo is anatomically correct:
buffalo balls

I guess this is important to some.  Also, note the placement of the park bench. How many teenagers do you think take pictures touching the buffalo balls every year? Thousands, I'd bet.

In the field beyond is a buffalo preserve. We never saw the herd, which is a shame because there is (or, apparently, was) a very rare albino buffalo that's part of the herd called "White Cloud." It's unclear if her albino offspring or the other spontaneously born white buffalo is still there, but we saw no buffalo at all, so it didn't really matter.  Shawn has it on her trip bucket list to see buffalo in the wild. We did see a buffalo farm just outside of the Twin Cities, but Shawn claims that "doesn't count" because they were on a farm. 

Then there was more driving.  Lots an lots of driving.  

The next place we stopped was North Dakota's capitol, Bismarck. Shawn suggested that the capitol building itself was a must-see.  It totally was. Oh, and I forgot to mention that we dubbed this entire trip's motto:  "Might Be Worth a Detour"  If you can stop, stop!  That's what we figure.
capitol at Bismark

We went inside and took a look at the senate chambers.

senate chambers, bismarck ND

There were all sorts of cool art deco features, including these little seating nooks:
seating nooks in Bismarck capitol building

We hit a traffic jam outside of Bismarck that delayed us, which was frustrating because the next planned stop was OUR HOTEL ROOM in Beulah, ND.  We're spending the weekend here for Shawn's family's family reunion/wedding anniversary.  We'd hoped to make it in time to eat dinner at "the house," but between that construction and the construction delay we hit coming up the highway to Beulah, there was no way.

Oh, actually, we had to make a stop to see Salem Sue, the world's largest cow statue:

salem sue at a distance
Salem Sue close-up

As we waited for the construction delay, we did get to see the spectacular sight of a rainstorm coming across the great plains:

rain on the plains

Heckuva start to the trip, wouldn't you say?  From here it's a few days here in Beulah and then ON TO YELLOWSTONE.  Expect many, many more photos.

lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
I was really hoping to catalogue our trip to Washington, DC with photos, but the picture editor/attacher mechanism over here on LJ is still busted.  Your best bet to see all the pictures is going to be to scroll through:, which you should be able to do without being signed-up (though I don't know that for sure.)

Many apologizes.

It was a great trip, all and all.  While Shawn was stuck in endless meetings, Mason and I were power-tourists.  Our hotel was within walking distance of the zoo, so that was one of our first stops.  We spent two days exploring the museums on the Mall (our favorite was the Natural History Museum), took in a show at the Kennedy Center, saw the Library of Congress (Mason wept to think of 35 million books), the National Archives (where we saw the Constitution, etc.,) waved to the empty White House (apparently Mr. Obama has been on vacation too), saw all the various monuments, went all the way out the National Arboretum, attempted to kayak the Potomac (we couldn't find the boat rental), went to the Spy Museum, ate out, and generally learned to navigate the Metro like pros.

All in five days.

I'm pooped now and ready to be home and back to my usual things.

While we were away my Bloggin' for Books book arrived.  I ordered a book about how to become a comic book artist called Comic Book Art: Fundamental Tools and Techniques for Sequential Artists by John Paul Lowe, which I've pawed through and it's made me feel like the worst artist in the history of art.  I've been contemplating how to blog about this visceral and emotional reaction to what is essentially a text book. I wrote something up, but I'm not sure if it's a review or a whine about my life.  The sad thing is that I can't order another book until I review this one, so I'm going to have to figure something out.

Also a check came from my agent.  I'm apparently selling like gangbusters over at  The entire Garnet Lacey series is there and available, and, for whatever mysterious and awesome reason, is selling REALLY well.  Here's the first one:  You can listen to a sample for free.

On the flip side, I also got a rejection for a writing job I applied for.  It was for a game company called Choice of Games: They were looking for writers to write Choose Your Own Adventure style story games for them.  Technically, I failed to be good enough to pitch them, which I guess makes me even more of a doofus.  But, I blame myself.  They were looking for a 3 - 5 page sample of writing and I sent them the very first story I ever sold, "Irish Blood," because it's one of the few stories that's actually short enough for me to send them something complete.  I'm still immensely proud of that story and I thought it best to show something with a beginning, middle, and ending.  I still think the story is awesome.  It was awesome enough to be reprinted in the Best of Dreams of Decadence not that long ago, after all.  But, it's about a fairy and a vampire, and it's possible the gaming folks felt that kind of story was very 'been there, done that.'

Who knows.

It would have been an interesting gig, had I gotten it.  But, it also would have been a LOT of work.  A friend of mine who applied with me is still in the running and I'll be curious how the process goes if she makes it past this hurtle.  (Fingers crossed!)  I have to admit I'm fascinated by the directions in which writing and writer/reader interactions are headed.  I'm starting to have real fun over at WattPad, and I see this fan-fiction model as a really fascinating experiment in continuing writing outside and beyond traditional New York publishing houses.  What is writing going to be like in the future?  I suspect it's going to be much more like this, because most people look for writing on-line these days.

A blog just won a Hugo, after all.
lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
When my nephew Jonathan was younger he tried to convince us that Canada didn't exist. It as a running gag for him forever--the kind where occasionally, I'd be, like, "Are you joking?" and he'd continue his serious rant about how it's all a government plot.

I, however, now have photo documentation that Canada exists.

Because, seriously, who would doctor a photo to make it seem like the highway signs all wear crowns.


Honestly, Shawn and I were actually unaccountably charmed by the royal highway signs and spent a significant part of our trip to Thunder Bay cooing over them. I also pointed out to her that if I robbed her, I was pretty sure that would make me a highwayman (well, highwaywoman, but the Roaches never sang about that.)

I also apparently am the worst at answering border patrol questions. I've been long schooled by the thought (something I saw on some cop show or other a zillion years ago) that if someone asks you if you have a watch, you look at your wrist and answer the question actually asked, i.e., "Yes/No, I [don't] own a watch," full stop, despite the inclination of most people to offer the time.

Shawn says that makes me sound suspicious. And it probably does. But, the border patrol let us through, anyhow, since I'm both suspicious and silly. Where did you come from?" "St. Paul." "Where are you headed?" "Thunder Bay." "How long will you be there?" "Overnight." "You came all the way from St. Paul to visit Thunder Bay for one day?" (he asked incredulously.) Shawn said at this point she was attempted to lie and point out that we felt there was a SIGN telling us to go (because OMG the Thunder Bay attraction billboards on 35 before Duluth were LEGION, though we do have them to thank for remembering to go back for our passports,) but I ended up mentioning that we just kind of wanted to go to Canada, a foreign country, as part of our honeymoon. This, of course, made the border guard shake his head like we were insane. I kind of wished I'd added, "Because, you know, we can't afford Paris. So Thunder Bay seemed like a good alternative."

Because he would have laughed.

I have to admit that we enjoyed the trip up to Thunder Bay more than the town itself. We ended up going to a Tim Robbins for breakfast on the day we left. I'd been hoping to go back to the Starbucks we spotted on the way in, but Shawn saw the Tim Robbins and told me she'd always wanted to go to one after reading about them in a Canadian murder mystery series. I can't deny a request like that, can I? The coffee was awful, but the donuts were fantastic.

We spent much of our time in Canada being ugly Americans. I was also inordinately charmed by the money. I'd gotten a 20 Canadian dollar bill at the bank before we left for Bearskin, and we broke that at the hotel's front desk so we could buy a bunch of Canadian candies in the vending machine. Having loonies in my pocket always amuses me far more than it should.

I also chatted up our hotel waiter about the World Cup. He, of course, was far more of a hockey fan, and didn't actually know if Canada was playing in the Cup (they're not.) But I kept telling Shawn that the way we knew we were in a foreign country was that people actually had the World Cup on the big screen TV in the main lounge. This would never happen in the US. It'd be Fox News or something awful.

We also saw Canadian Canada Geese, which also tickled me unaccountably.

Yes, I really am this easy.

On the way up, we stopped at Pigeon Falls/Grand Portage to look at the waterfall:


It was drizzling this day so the path to the waterfall was a little treacherous because they'd built a wheelchair accessible one that had nice wooden bridges and such... but they got really slippery in the light rain. At any rate, it was amazing.

The trip back home was also drizzly and Lake Superior put on quite the show for us with crashing waves and white caps. I tied to get a picture of its majesty, but this doesn't do the lake justice:

lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
As I alluded to, there was really only one day that we were rained-out. I'm sure it would not have been a debilitating day for any of the read outdoorsy folks who were deep into the BWCA. But, for us it meant a day camped out in front of the fire, reading, and playing Monopoly.

We'd brought a couple of games of our own, but the Lodge had Monopoly. Mason had never played, so we did. We played a kind of, pardon the pun, CHEAP version of Monopoly, which was to go until the first person couldn't pay a rent (without going into mortgage.) This meant that the games lasted reasonably long, but weren't several hours long. I have to admit I'm much fonder of Monopoly when it doesn't go on forever. We still had all the classic moments: slum lords building hotels on Baltic and Mediterranean, under-the-table deals for railroad and utility deeds, and, of course, much speculation as to why the BANKER was in jail (general opinion: embezzlement.)

We did take a picture off the dock that morning, because it was haunted and misty looking:

I also read an entire book. Not a manga, mind. A full, grown-up tome. I do this on occasion, but, you know, some books need uninterrupted TIME. I brought up a book like that. Yep, you major reader-types.

Just. One Book.

Look, part of it is my dyslexia. The other part is my restless nature. I'm not actually proud of it. (It does make packing less stressful, though!) But truthfully, I find it deeply embarrassing....

At any rate, I read THE LIKENESS by Tana French. It's a police procedural-ish type mystery that takes place in Dublin, Ireland (as opposed to Dublin, Pennsylvania or elsewhere).

I'd read and enjoyed the sequel, FAITHFUL PLACE, and Shawn said this one was her favorite (though we both agreed that Frank was hottest in his own novel, FAITHFUL PLACE.) I liked it tremendously, though it stretched my suspenders occasionally. I ultimately bought into the scenario, but I spent a lot of time asking Shawn questions like, "Wouldn't it be almost impossible to do this?" Not to spoil, but it's an undercover job where a woman attempts to replace someone who's died. The dead woman was living under an assumed name (one actually that our heroine herself had created for a previous undercover job.) They were dead ringers for each other. The "Likeness," as it were, takes an opportunity to steal the fake identity. There a lot to swallow in terms of coincidences, but like I said, in the end, I found it more enjoyable than anything else.

The writing was rich, dense and very... atmospheric. The commune that our heroine goes undercover into is full of fascinating quirky characters. I probably could have kept on living there, as it were. A perfect book to spend curled up with in front of a fire.

Mason and Shawn probably read a dozen books in the time it took me to finish that one.

So, let's see, what else? Well, before we leave Bearskin I should put up a couple of more pictures. As I mentioned previously, this year there were a a bunch more more kids' events so Mason also went to the sand castle building and paddleboat racing:


Here's them trying to steer the paddle boat. There were, coincidentally a lot more kids staying there than I've ever seen before (huh... just occurred to me that they'd have known that and probably made up these events to accommodate us all... d'oh.) So Mason was in a boat full of brothers, and then other boat is a family. A dad, mom, and two VERY LITTLE girls. The little girls won. (Weird, huh?) Though, tbf, Mason and crew gave it a valiant effort.


Okay, up next? Our trip into Canada!
lydamorehouse: (more renji art)
While at Bearskin, we woke up one morning feeling adventurous, so we decided to take an actual honest-to-goodness hike into the BWCA. We asked at the front desk and Bob, bless his soul, took a look at us and said, "FOR YOU, I suggest Caribou Rock...."

For us, it turned out because there were spectacular views within a mile or so of the trailhead. We could go as far as we liked (the whole of the trail apparently takes you to the border and can be done as a 4 day hiking trip,) but there was a very fast (if moderately challenging in terms of steepness) reward for people LIKE US who were amateur hikers who just wanted to see some woodsy stuff.

Here's the view:

We also attempted a camera-timer "selfie":


I should take a moment to discuss the mosquito situation. The mosquitos were out in full-force nearly the entire time we were there (on the dock and in the canoe, however, we'd often get a reprieve because of the wind.) Some days were buggier than others, though. The day right before the one day of rain we got was, by far, the worst.

What I found interesting about the mosquitos is that they clearly favored Mason. There may be a couple of reasons for this. First, he's always been very warm-bodied. We often call him our hot-tot, because if you snuggle up to him, he seems to radiate heat. So the mosquitos probably could sense that and made a... well, not a bee-line, but a mosquito-line for him.

They seemed equally attracted to Shawn, however, and she is one of those people who sometimes, when you hold their hand, you think, "Wow, your skin is so chilly!"

Mosquitos mostly avoided me. We wondered aloud about this phenomenon a lot during our vacation. (Mostly because it made Mason mad. "Why don't they go after YOU, Ima?!??") We eventually concluded that the reason the mosquitos liked me the least was because of my sushi habit. I east sushi fairly regularly for lunch and I know for a fact that consumption of raw fish changes your body odor. So, it very well could have been that the mosquitos just didn't register me as tasty. Or at least a second choice to the more strictly carnivores in my family (because I also have a tendency to eat a lot more veggies than either Shawn or Mason.)

This time Bearskin also offered a number of kids' activities. Normally, we're not joiners, but Mason saw the list and wanted to try out slack lining, so we went to the demo. The demo was led by Andrea. We kept running into Andrea though out our stay. She seemed to be the children's events coordinator, but she was also the only one to introduce herself to us when we went to the wine and cheese mixer. (At which we tried Gunflint Trail wine and had... Colby and cheddar cheese. Not a fancy do, but very... erm, authentically "Fargo" if you know what I mean.)

At any rate, here's Mason on the slack line with Andrea and I spotting:

IMG_9105 copy

I even tried it, but you know, with me on the line, it dipped pretty close to the ground....

And this was the day that the mosquitos were at their absolute WORST. So we stayed long enough to enjoy it, but were eventually driven away and back out into the canoe to escape the bloodthirsty hoards.

The mosquitos also chased us away from our beloved "Moose Viewing Trail," where last time we were up we actually saw several moose. This time not only did the mosquitos dog us the whole way to the marsh and back, but there was really nothing to see there once we got there. Except, of course, the mysterious buried car...

This year, apparently, we didn't take a photo of the weird car in the woods, but it is there. It's very mysterious, being several miles off the road, and, well, having a boulder in the trunk. But you can clearly see the roof, the engine block and actually pull on the door handle which is fully-buried in the ground. (Which is also odd, because it kind of seems.., off, like maybe somehow the car was dropped with enough force to have bent the doors so that they lay parallel to the ground.... as if dropped by... aliens???)

Very mysterious.

We probably didn't get a picture because all you would have seen was the massive swarm of mosquitos....

In other news, my Loft class has ended and I'm reading no.6 a new manga I discovered on Saturday, when I worked at the Maplewood Library. I've written a review which I'll probably link back here once I get it up.

And.... here's the review:
lydamorehouse: (Default)
(WARNING: spider picture follows!)

Bearskin Lodge is conscientious because they only charge you for the things you use. We decided ahead of time that we wanted to have a canoe every day. Our family is, for the most part, dock-sitters, but occasionally, as I said, I get antsy and want to do All The Things. So it's nice for me to be able to hop into a canoe and tool around the Lodge end of East Bearskin Lake.

I'm not an expert canoer by any stretch of imagination.

I've been in a canoe plenty, but in the world of self-propelled watercraft, I'm probably best at a kayak. It was particularly noticeable this time how much I kind of suck at canoe. This time we had some days when the wind really pushed me around. Even with Mason sitting in the front, we'd get pushed so hard that the canoe would just go in a circle or slam up against the shore. Probably this had a lot to do with the fact that I'm crap at steering (we discovered on the last day, of course, that Mason is a natural!) but, regardless, it was both upsetting and hilarious.

As a bonus, we're pretty sure that the Bearskin web cam caught some of our antics.

Here's the view from the canoe:


We pulled off on a little island to tromp around a bit. Here's the wild explorer, Mason:


The views of the lake were spectacular:


Here's us heading off:


Plus, it turns out? If you sit on the dock all day, you might encounter one of these:


This is what Andy called a 'dock spider' which he gleefully announced, gets bigger--much bigger. The size of dinner plates by August, he said. To which Shawn replied, "That's why we come in May."

Apparently they're a a type of dolomites, a fishing spider. That's right... they can sometimes catch and eat small fish. Mostly they eat water skaters, though, which I saw plenty of, which is, I suppose, how our dock could support TWO of these beasts.

We kept seeing a snake around near our dock too, and according to Wikipedia, snakes and birds are dock spiders' main predators.

Ah, nature!

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