Gwen's mom, Artilla, had been in town for about a week when Marshall had to journey across town and drag Sam, Marshall's good buddy from Montana, out of the Whiskey Junction Bar. No, it wasn't Sam's intention to wind up in a bar on the south side of downtown Minneapolis, the night before our little journey; he was just following Gwen's directions and was led slightly astray. He was supposed to get off in northwest Minneapolis; oops! After getting directions as to Sam's whereabouts, from a friendly barmaid, Marshall journeyed into unexplored parts of the City of Lakes and saved Sam from being ravaged by the friendly young lady. Marshall is sure that Sam will be forever grateful for his rescue and thank him many years into the future. After a winding journey across town the wandering two were forced to stop at a red light. Sam hollered at Marshall, "Hey buddy, I'm right on your ass" in a rather threatening tone. The guy in the car next to Sam, with the lights, badges and other assorted cop stuff, wanted to know why he was right on Marshall's ass. Sam explained his lost status and that he was following me home and all was well. Sam makes friends every where he goes! On arriving at the house, Sam made a grand entrance and surprised the heck out of Artilla. The two have known each other for many years and we had all vacationed, for a short period last year, in Yellowstone and had a wonderful time. Marshall congratulated the grand kids, Alan and Amber, for keeping the surprise. They had been sworn to secrecy and upheld their end of the deal very well. Seeing as it was now near eleven, every one bedded down with visions of vacation and good food dancing through their dreams.
Marshall, the slave driving Fun Master, rolled the adults out of bed at five thirty on Friday morning and declared that the fun had begun. Since this was still B.C. (before coffee), there was not a second to this motion so the beginning of fun was tabled until after coffee. The kids were awoken and transferred into Artilla's mini-van and instructed to have fun. They went back to sleep instead. This fun stuff is hard work! The van was loaded with bodies and tunes were placed in the cd player. We rolled through the neighborhood with Canned Heat's "Going Up the Country" blaring from the speakers. "Going up the country where the water tastes like wine...". We were more interested in the pursuit of fun and food!
We rolled north out of Minneapolis and on up to Duluth, birthplace of Robert Zimmerman; better known these days as Bob Dylan. We stopped at the park overlooking Lake Superior for a little R&R and leg stretching. After a few minutes wandering around we headed on downtown with the intention of going to the new Great Lakes Aquarium. After seeing that the rest of Minnesota was already there and standing in line we decided to alter our plans and instead hit the Maritime Museum. Marshall and the kids love this place and never tire of visiting it. After wandering around a while we decided to roll out to Park Point and check out the sand and water of Lake Superior. Instead of going for a walk though, everyone opted to first attack the food box. Well why not? It was already ten o'clock and everyone was ready to eat. This should have been a warning but no one seemed to catch the significance of this action. After munching out we did manage to stroll along the beach and check out the crystal clear, cool water of the lake.
We loaded back up and headed on up the north shore of Lake Superior to check out the historic Split Rock Lighthouse. We first headed off into the park adjacent to the lighthouse for a little hike and some photos of the lighthouse from a distance. That little hike seemed to have perked up everyone's appetite so we drug out the food box and attacked it once again. This time we really went at it. Sandwiches, fruit, chips & dips, raw veggies and other assorted goodies. After eating we headed up to the museum for a nice 30 minute film about the history of the lighthouse. It was very difficult for Sam
and Marshall to keep their eyes open after having indulged in large quantities of food. In fact I think there were a couple of snorts here and there in the movie. The audience probably assumed that these were the foghorns that were in the film. Maybe not. After the lights came on and woke up the slumbering ones we all headed out to the lighthouse for a little tour. We checked out the grounds, the fog horns, and then wandered up the circular staircase to see the light itself. What to you mean that the thing was lit by a lantern and magnified by the lens? No electric lights? I guess not since there was not even a road to the place when it was built. Lantern light seen 20 to 60 miles away? Dang bright lantern, that one. We also toured the lighthouse keepers quarters before piling back into the fun bus and heading on north up the shore.
We enjoyed the natural beauty that is the north shore of Superior while we listened to Michael Monroe's wonderful cd "As Far As I Can See". The song "From My Backyard" seemed rather fitting since this is Michael's current backyard and one heck of a great song to boot. He recorded the whole thing in his cabin, here on the north shore, and all with solar power. The first solar powered cd! You have the forest and hills to your left and the bluffs, rocks, and Lake Superior to your right. Far in the distance to the south you can see the Wisconsin shoreline. To the east you see nothing but water; a large volume of fresh water as far as the eye can see. We all enjoyed the scenery as we laughed our way up to the Canadian border at Sam and Marshall's continuous stream of wise cracks and funny stories. Sam informed us that he grew up so poor that his mother had to cut holes in the pockets of his pants so that he would have something to play with. Marshall was under the distinct impression that Sam may have really been the one doing the cutting!
When we reached the border of Ontario Canada we met a fine young fellow who was very interested in our health. He wanted to know if we were carrying any tobacco, alcohol, or guns. After playing 20 questions and getting all of the answers correct, "Do you have reservations? Yes? Where at? etc.", he wished us a pleasant stay in his fine country and sent us on our way. We drove on up to Thunder Bay observing the road signs that warned us of moose on the road. We all know from previous trips that these signs are all bogus because we drove all the way around Lake Superior a few years ago and never once saw a moose. We did see lots of road signs with moose on them though.
We arrived in Thunder Bay in time for dinner. We unloaded the van and then headed for "The Keg". Sam and Artilla had been regaled with stories of the fantastic food here all the way from Minneapolis. Alan and Amber love the place, too. We had to wait in the bar for about 45 minutes before we could eat. Sam and Marshall spotted some material that had previously covered a cow, leather, that was now just as tightly fitted to a young lady. That both agreed that that was one cow who had given it's life for a good cause! We were then led off to the dinning room to gorge ourselves on FINE food. Steak and lobster, escargot stuffed mushroom caps, French onion soup to die for, salads, and other assorted goodies. We all ate like pigs and stuffed ourselves to the point of misery. These folks know how to cook! I also had to change my opinion about reserved Canadians. This was Friday night and these folks were unwinding rather loudly. We warned Dave, our waiter, that we would be back tomorrow. We headed back to the hotel to collapse and lay around in misery. Marshall noticed that his clock and the hotel clock were an hour different. Oh yeah, for some strange reason, Thunder Bay is on Eastern Time.
The next morning we headed to Robin's Donuts and pigged out on pastry and coffee. The kiddos substituted hot chocolate for coffee. We were running a bit late this morning but no one really seemed to care. There was no schedule to follow.
We headed on over to "Old Fort William" and a trip back in time. We stepped out into the North West Company's inland headquarters in the year of 1815. We were in the day of the fur trade complete with voyageurs, clerks, shareholders, Native Ojibwa, free Canadians and tradesmen. We checked out the native encampment where they were smoking fish and drying furs. We chatted with the voyageurs camped outside of the main compound and discussed what they were going to have for lunch. Mmmm food! They invited us to stop back later and sample their lunch of wild rice and vegetables. We all agreed that we would. We entered the compound and quickly lost Alan. Seeing as how you are out of town and a ten minute walk out in the woods and then inside a fenced compound, there is not much to worry about. Alan promptly made himself at home and began participating in every activity in sight. The whole place is extremely kid friendly. Amber promptly joined in making necklaces from reeds and beads.
The rest of us wondered off to check out the fur trade. We entered the Indian store and Sam got into a bartering battle with the proprietor. Sam was informed that he would need 7 beaver hides to purchase the blanket that he was looking at. Sam asked the man if he had any idea how much work it was for him to trap and skin 7 beaver to trade for one measly blanket. The conversation went back and forth until Sam told the man that he had heard that the fur trading companies were known to screw the fur trappers every chance the got. At that the trader informed Sam that he could go trade with those crooks at Hudson Bay Company but the folks at North West were not like that. Sam said he would keep his beaver and trade else where. After a round of laughter and hand shakes we moved on to see who else we could find to harass.
We went next door to the fur stores and checked out the furs. Hundreds and hundreds of furs hanging from the rafters. We found a pleasant young man who was only to happy to tell us what any fur was that we could not figure out. He would also find specific furs for us to feel. The whole fort is based upon "hands on" experience. You can pick up anything that you see and in fact you are encouraged to. This is the reason that we love coming here. We found Alan outside observing the cleaning and skinning of a rabbit. We also had a conversation with a lady about tanning the deerskin she had with her. Artilla pitched in and helped scrape the hair from the hide. Hands on folks! They had another hide that was hair free and had been soaking. Gwen pitched in with this one and helped stretch the hide.
We checked out the wares of the Ojibwa and found some exquisite jewelry very reasonably priced. Amber got a very pretty inlaid barrette. We continued wondering around checking out the building of birch bark canoes; some of these were over 30 feet long!
Into the Great Hall, where the meals were served, we went. Marshall got into a conversation about the meals served and who sat where. The rich folks sat at the front table and it tapered on off to the back where the riff-raff sat. Marshall promptly took up a seat in the back row.
Alan was out playing La Crosse prior to heading into the canoe shed and helping out the canoe builders.
We crossed the saw yard where timbers were being made from trees. A trip by the blacksmith shop was very entertaining. A couple of gentlemen were making cups and other utensils used at the fort. Marshall took Amber and explained to her what a "Gaol" was. When the door closed and all she could see through was a tiny barred square, it suddenly dawned on her that "Gaol" and "Jail" are the same thing. When she got out she could hear a voice a few doors down. "Hey! Let me out of here!" "I have friends in Montreal you know" "Contact them and let them know I'm here" and on and on and on... It takes you a few minutes to realize that it is a recording.
We toured the stock yard and visited the various animals around; horses, chickens, cows and pigs. We wondered back past the bakery where fresh bread was cooling. Wow! A smell that has always made me hungry. We stepped outside and were offered a taste of a strawberry drink made from fresh strawberries. Tasty stuff. We sauntered into the kitchen to check out today's meal. Roast and a stew cooking over an open fire. There was a rather ingenious spit rigged up with a clock works. It kept the meat rotating over the fire.
We wondered back into the square and munched out on hamburgers. 1815 be danged! The main square was alive with activity including a bagpipe player. Marshall has always had a weakness for bagpipes and that hauntingly eerie sound. The Ojibwa drums had fired up and pounding out their rhythms. After a few demonstration dances by the Ojibwa, the audience was invited to join in some intertribal dancing. Gwen and Artilla, both of Navajo ancestry, joined in the dances along with others. Amber thought they were both silly.
We picked up a few things on the way out. Marshall found a beaver carving to add to his collection of western carvings and art. After wondering around a while longer we headed into town and a drive around the area. After cruising we headed back to The Keg to gorge ourselves again. Dave had thought that we were kidding about coming back but he agreed to wait on us again since Alan and Amber requested him. Steak, crab legs, shrimp, calamari, more French onion soup and salads and other assorted goodies. Alan went for an 8 ounce medium rare steak which he ate with his eyes rolled back in his head. The boy knows good food when he tastes it. During some kidding with Dave he told Marshall that he could have the meal free if he could beat him to the front door. Marshall glanced over his shoulder to see if he could get a head start by going over the tables behind and below him. Instead he informed Dave that if it had been 30 years ago, the race would have been on. Instead Marshall tipped Dave handsomely and waddled to the front door.
The group then wandered around until they found the bay front and went for a nice little walk at a park. We headed back to the rooms and once again died. The kids went for a swim while Marshall and Sam went for a snooze.
The next morning we found the Hoito; a restaurant in the Finnish part of town that Dave, good ole Dave, had recommended. After stuffing ourselves on bacon, sausage, eggs and Finnish pancakes (very thin and the size of your plate) we started the days activity.
Our first stop was the amethyst Panorama Mine. This is the largest amethyst deposit in North America and it is commercially mined in an above ground vein. The tailings are hauled out and scattered over a wide area and you can dig for your own pieces. You always find lots of stone and occasionally you find some nice crystals. Alan found a nice piece and Sam and Marshall found several nice clusters and individual pieces. After checking prices in the store, they determined that they had found about thirty dollars with of stones. It cost you two bucks a pound to keep them and the spent about four bucks. Not too bad. After a discussion with the owners it was discovered that you can bring shovels and other tools if you wish. We immediately began planning next years dig.
We headed on down the road after a few hours and hunted up Ouimet Canyon. Our first order of business was to have a picnic. More food! After pigging out once again, we took a nice little walk to the canyon. We walked over a narrow bridge spanning a gorge and thought that was nice but not much of a canyon. Walking on a ways further we found an overlook. When you look over the edge it is a mere 800 feet to the bottom. That will sure make your head swim! The plants living in the bottom of the canyon never see daylight and are the same as the plants that grow hundreds of miles north in the tundra. We wandered along the trails enjoying the wildflowers and large pines. Nice country.
Leaving there we headed over to Sleeping Giant. This is a peninsula that resembles a giant lying on his back with his arms crossed, from downtown Thunder Bay. We drove down a dirt road until we found a very secluded overlook. This one was about 600 feet down to the water of Thunder Bay. In fact we could see a bald eagle in a tree below us. The city of Thunder Bay could be seen FAR in the distance. As we left here we saw a fox who entertained us for quite a while.
Back to Thunder Bay we headed for more food. We ate at a family restaurant with a very nice waitress. The TV's were on and Tiger Woods was embattled in a three hole playoff. The waitress had a bet with here husband against Tiger. She lost.
The next day we had breakfast at the hotel and then rolled out of town to a little drizzle. We rolled down some very deserted and beautiful highway. There were small piles of rocks on the sides of the road.? Some were very creative and were piled in the shapes of animals. They were entertaining. We stopped in International Falls, Minnesota to convert money and pick up some goodies at Border Bob's. Gwen found a nice bear painted on a feather. Sam found a pair of humping bears for his sweetie. I think he was trying to send her a coded message. We stopped again to refuel on food.
Down the road we rolled. Our next stop was in Bemidji; home of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. After a brief stroll and a few photos we moved on.
We drove on down to Itasca State Park to check out the river. This is where the Mississippi begins it's long journey to the Gulf of Mexico. A mere 2552 river miles away at a drop of 1475 feet. After taking the obligatory pictures of everyone standing in the river we headed on back to the house. We took a slow drive through the park to wrap up our trip. We did have to stop on more time for food though. After this trip no one wanted to see anything to eat for several days. Yeah, right!
~ The End ~