Sitting here at the campground at Grahams Island State Park actually on an island in Devils Lake, the largest freshwater lake in North Dakota. We pulled in on Wednesday for a luxurious four night stay on Site #154 with full hookups and a very easy walk to the boat ramp and along the lakeshore. This place definitely caters to fishermen and from our spot we can watch fishing boats come and go and successful fishermen cleaning their catch at a state of the art cleaning station. Yesterday we enjoyed a trip to town to visit the laundromat and the grocery. Then last evening on a lovely walk through the campgrounds we had a chance to make friends with some fellow T@B travelers from Holland MI. This morning however we’re hunkered down inside our T@B 400 totally enjoying the comfort of this lovely shelter as rain pours down. Our Accuweather app promises the rain will continue for hours to come. Life is good and the adventures we’d planned for today can wait for the rain to pass.
Visiting the Geographical Center of North America Monument wasn’t the magnet that drew us to the heart of Rugby, North Dakota but was a definite bonus. We headed here to visit the Prairie Village Museum, a Harvest Hosts site and an amazing collection of Americana dating back to the 1880’s and chronicling life on the prairie from the late Nineteenth into the Twentieth Century. It’s a self guided walking tour of the twenty buildings and four exhibit halls that comprise the museum, from an 1885 log cabin to the 1930’s city home of a successful businessman, from a one room 1906 schoolhouse to a two story school building that served the community into the 1960’s, and so much more. Besides the geographical center monument, two of the museum’s exhibits rate mention on the Roadside America website: the world’s tallest man, and Queen Victoria’s gown.
In 1997 East Grand Forks, Minnesota, and its big sister city, Grand Forks, North Dakota were devastated by a major flood of the Red River of the North. Nearly every home was damaged and whole neighborhoods were wiped out. One local told us that everyone in the area speaks of time in terms of before the flood, or after the flood. One of those neighborhoods, Sherlock Park, has been turned into the Red River State Recreation Campground, immediately adjacent to downtown. That’s where we parked our T@B 400 on Site #1 for a mere two nights. We definitely could have stayed longer. We loved the short walk into downtown and although there was a huge number of inviting eateries within range we got hooked on The Blue Moose which offers some delicious dark beers and yummy burgers. We also took advantage of the opportunity to run some errands since we’re in a bigger community. We crossed the river into North Dakota to get a haircut for Steve, then back on the Minnesota side we checked out the Local Ace Hardware store for a cutoff valve for our shower head and a caddy for our shampoos and conditioners. At Cabela’s we found some bear spray and Thermacell cartridges that we hope to continue not needing. The best part of the whole stay though was an invitation to visit with Doc and Sue. We met her when she offered some excellent expertise while we were shopping at the hardware store. In the course of the conversation she mentioned a unique jewelry box that Doc had made for her and we asked her to send us a picture of it. Instead she invited us to visit and see it in person. We got so much more. The jewelry chest will inspire us to devise a display of Steve’s handiwork at home but we will particularly treasure the friendship offered to us that evening. It just helps to underline our belief that good people are everywhere.
Besides short travel days and longer stays, this trip is also remarkable in that we don’t have a destination. It’s about exploration especially of the small towns scattered across the country. And we’re finding a lot of city park campgrounds often located within easy walking distance of the town center. Such is the case with Timber Mill Campground, on Tourist Park Avenue, just off SR-11, in Baudette, Minnesota. When we called City Hall to see if we could get a reservation and found that none were available, it was suggested that since they had several First Come sites, we’d almost certainly be able to find a spot especially since we’d be arriving early on a Thursday. That’s exactly what happened. We chose Site #13 and in fact it was a lucky choice since a ferocious storm came through on Friday night into Saturday morning and a sizable tree came down across the site next to us, one we almost chose. We’ve had some delightful experiences here in Baudette, the home of Willie the Walleye, starting with a trip to Wash n Go Liquors, a business several miles north of town that offers hot showers and a laundromat! Friday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Alice’s Restaurant, no it’s not the Stockbridge eatery commemorated in the Arlo Guthrie song, but it is near the railroad tracks, and we were able to order Cheese Omelettes with Sausage and Mushrooms although they were not on the menu. The food was great and the service quite friendly. Another adventure was the Lake of the Woods History Museum where we were asked to not take photos but where we got a feel for this community founded around the logging and commercial fishing industries, devastated by fire in 1910, and rebuilt. We were both especially fascinated by the history of Rowell Pharmaceuticals founded in 1929 here in Baudette. We also sipped some great hot brew at Caribou Coffee before replenishing our pantry at Lake of the Woods Foods.
When we first arrived at Arnold’s Campground RV Park in International Falls, Minnesota, we learned Amanda had arrived just minutes before us. Set up was minimal, just plug into shore power and put down stabilizers before setting up our chairs in the shade. Right away we began comparing notes on what foods we’d brought and what meals we’d make for each other. We started off with setting up the Camp Chef and together crafting a feast of Angus Ribeye Steaks with Sauteed Onions, Peppers, and Zucchini alongside Sliced Fresh Tomatoes garnished with Goat Cheese. That was the last campground meal of the stay. The next fabulous meal was incredible Omelettes at Sandy’s Place in town. Wow! And the friendliness of the service really topped it off. Then after a few hours of park exploration near Rainy Lake Visitor Center we headed to Sha Sha Resort at the eastern end of MN Hwy 11. Cold brews and a series of appetizers, Walleye Nuggetts, Fried Cheese Curds, and Boneless Buffalo Wings topped off by friendly conversation with our server and other guests. Wednesday morning we couldn’t help ourselves. We returned to Sandy’s, to the same table, the same omelettes orders, and even better conversation with the staff. This time we did top our breakfast off with pie. Sandy’s homemade Wild Blueberry Pie ala mode was superceded only by her homemade Cherry Rhubarb Pie ala mode. Both still warm from the oven! It can’t get better than this. Then after more rambles in the park near the Ash River Visitor Center, we got five o’clock reservations for Rainy Lake Grill in Rainier, Minnesota. Their craft cocktails and their calamari and guacamole appetizers were extraordinary. We loved their Garbage Pizza on a Cauliflower Crust and the opportunity to sample Walleye and some Minnesota Wild Rice. All of this and we’ve hardly scraped the surface of the culinary opportunities here in the International Falls/Rainy Lake area in northern Minnesota. It’s obvious that another visit here is in our future!
This has been an amazing introduction to an incredible place. We successfully managed to rendezvous with our dear friend Amanda on her journey east from Washington State as we were making our way west. Actually we’d both departed from Ohio in mid-June, so her trip to meet up with us involved considerably more miles. The planning for this visit took place over just the past few weeks and curiously we arrived at Arnold’s Campground in International Falls, Minnesota within minutes of each other. Voyageurs National Park in the extreme northeast part of Minnesota is the only national park named after a group of people, the French Fur Traders who plied these waters as part of the supply chain providing beaver pelts for European fashion markets in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Since 1975 it’s been Minnesota’s only national park. Since forty percent of the surface area of the park is comprised of lakes, having access to a boat is a definite asset. We’d counted on being able to book a tour once we arrived but the official park tours were cancelled mid-season due to a mishap and the local guides were booked two weeks out. We briefly considered breaking out our inflatable kayaks then decided instead to concentrate on hiking and save the boat trip for next visit. That’s an excellent reason to return. Over the course of the two full days we had together we spent quite a bit of time talking to rangers, checking out the displays in the Rainy Lake and Ash River Visitor Centers, learning about the natural and cultural history of the area, drinking in the fabulous land and waterscapes, and getting hints about how to make our next visit even more exciting.
This week has been a dream come true for Karen. Ever since 1962 when she not only became best friends with Ann, the new girl at school, who later became a college roommate, but developed a friendship with her whole family, Karen has dreamt of visiting two small towns in northeastern Minnesota. Tower in the early sixties boasted a population of nearly nine hundred but today it’s about five hundred. While we stayed at Hoodoo Point Campground on the southern shore of Lake Vermillion right next to Tower for seven nights, we explored this part of St Louis County. We learned more about the succession of native peoples that have called this area home for seven thousand years, the fur traders, the prospectors that flocked to this area with the 1865 Vermillion Gold Rush, the establishment of an iron mine as well as the arrival of the railroad in 1884 to transport the ore to the port of Duluth. Apparently Tower was at its population zenith at about 1900 fueled by iron mining and declined especially with the closing of the mine in late 1962. We enjoyed talking with a volunteer at the Tower-Soudan Historical Society Museum at the Historic Train Depot and checking out vintage train cars and the local museum there. Another evening we returned to check out the local farmers market. One afternoon we patronized Tiny Bubbles, the local laundromat and Good Ol’ Days, the immediately adjoining bar and grill before walking across the street to Zup’s, a great little family owned supermarket. The other town is Buyck, where Ann’s immigrant grandparents farmed a homestead claim. Once famous for it’s roadside town sign in the 1960’s sporting a bicycle on top to represent the correct pronunciation (“bike”) but also the caption “Population 9” it’s an area of Portage Township with a strong identity and proud history. On Friday we drove north into the deep woods of Minnesota first to checkout the Echo Lake campground in Superior National Forest but more importantly to stop at Echo Trail Tavern to sit at the bar, enjoy a good meal, and to hobnob with a couple of folks that today call Buyck home.
After purchasing our tickets online yesterday we headed this morning over to the state park just east of Tower, Minnesota for the Soudan Underground Mine Tour where we had the privilege of riding in a crowded cage down to Level 27, the deepest level worked before the mine closed in December 1962. We then took an electric train another half mile where we disembarked and climbed a 36 step spiral staircase up to the stoup, the area where the miners worked in near darkness lit only by candles, then carbide, and finally battery head lamps. The cut and fill process they used here involved blasting rock from the ceiling, removing the ore, and using the waste rock to raise the level of the floor. Although it produced 15.5 million tons of high quality iron ore over it’s eighty years, this “Cadillac of Mines” eventually fell victim to new technologies in which it was more cost effective to use lower quality ores obtained from open pit mines in the production of steel. Shortly after it closed the mine, US Steel sold the mine and surrounding property to the State of Minnesota and by 1965 the state park had opened with tours to share the history of this part of the Industrial Revolution with all of us who are interested. Another part of the history of the mine is that it is the site of a former University of Minnesota underground physics laboratory. We didn’t take the opportunity to tour the lab todaynbecause we always have to save something for the next time, but we did do some of the self-guided surface tour as well as go in search of a geocache that led us to some gorgeous banded iron formation rock on the surface.
After settling into our home for the week at HooDoo Point Campground on the shore of Vermillion Lake near Tower, Minnesota Monday, we drove the ten miles around Pike Bay to the Bois Forte Heritage Center today. It’d have been a two mile flight from our campsite if we were crows. This “Atisokanigamig”, or Legend House, was founded by the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa to tell the story of their people. At the beginning of our journey through the museum we paused at the very impressive mural that illustrates the five hundred year migration of the Anishenaabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa) from the east coast of North America, near the St Laurence River to the Great Lakes region. Painted by renowned Ojibwe artist Carl Gawboy and drawing upon the legends of his people it speaks to their long history prior to written record which began with the arrival of Europeans in the Seventeenth Century. From there the story continues with their traditional lifestyle, the fur trade, a brief gold rush in the area, treaties with the US government, Indian Schools, on to examples of beautiful beaded and birchbark crafts, and the people today. But just as valuable to us was the conversation with the gentleman at the front desk. As his infant child slept he spoke at length with us about his people and his own interest in learning more about the them. He also helped us with the pronunciation of Anishenaabe and Bois Forte (boys fort) as well as the meanings of the three names used to identify his people. “Anishenaabe” means “original or first man” and is the name they used to describe themselves. “Ojibwe” means “rabbit choker” and was a derogatory name given them by native enemies, and finally “Chippewa” is a French version of “Ojibwe”. He seemed a bit impressed with our little bit of knowledge but challenged us to learn more and even offered to quiz us about things we learned in the museum in exchange for a discount on our purchases in the gift shop. Our personal journey with the Ojibwe began with our visit to The Museum of Ojibwa Culture in St Ignace in 2019 and has continued since. We’ve definitely come away today, from one of the places where they have settled, with even more appreciation for these people and their culture.
A few days ago we made a reservation at Red Pine Campground in Saginaw, Minnesota, just west of Duluth, for tonight. This afternoon we pulled in, walked into the office, and discovered that they had no reservation in our name. Oops! We checked our email and discovered that we’d reserved for Friday night. No problem, they had room for us tonight, in fact a lakefront site. So other than some embarrassment and an extra night’s rental expense, all is well. The lesson is to check, then double check. Probably the fact that we’ve been making back to back to back reservations for months on end plays into this. Just hope it’s a one time event and we can keep our schedule straight from here on out.