Travel

On the Road Again (Part 2)

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As I mentioned at the end of part 1, when I think of North Dakota, I think of flat plains and endless winters and not much of interest besides hockey. But Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a new find for us and that became our next destination. While Theodore Roosevelt was not the first president to establish a national park, he spent a lot of time hunting bison in this part of the country and that along with his commitment to conservation, is the reason for its existence. This is the only national park named for a president and although it has been around since 1978, we had never heard of it.

The park is divided into two parts. We arrived in the northern section in the afternoon and followed the winding road through the park.

We had arrived when the light was just right for showing off the varigated layers of rock caused by millions of years of erosion. The Little Missouri River flows through the park, and at one lookout we realized we could see a large herd of bison along the edge of the river in the distance.

We had learned somewhere along the way that there are no buffalo in the United States; instead, they are all bison. Buffalo are native only to Africa and Asia but bison are found in both North America and Europe. Bob insists that Buffalo, New York, should be renamed Bison.

We spent the night in Dickinson, North Dakota, a college town of about 25,000, and then returned to the southern section of the park the next day. The landscape in this part was much different from what we had viewed the day before. Here the erosion had still created a lot of interesting formations but the road was flatter. We found ourselves in the middle of a traffic jam created by a herd of very slow moving bison crossing the road in front of us. In another location, a bison appeared just off the side of the road. The animals were so close that I didn’t need the zoom on my camera.

And we continued to see other wildlife as well. There are several sites along the drive in the southern section labeled Prairie Dog Town. And the prairie dogs stood up and posed for my camera.

According to the park literature, there was a horse roundup in 1954 after the park had been fenced, and the horses were removed. But a few escaped the roundup, and these horses live free-range in the park making it one of the few national parks where we can actually see free-roaming horses.

Because this national park is off the beaten path, we didn’t encounter crowds. It was definitely the highlight of our trip back east.

We went on to make a brief stop in Bismark, another capital we hadn’t seen. The capitol building struck us as unusual.

We then continued on to Minot. I read about the town’s history of illegal drugs and its connection to Al Capone’s bootlegging activities during Prohibition, leading to the town’s nickname, “Little Chicago.” But because Bob is Swedish and I am Danish, it was the Scandinavian Heritage Center we wanted to see. Here the state’s immigrants from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland are honored. The morning we visited was in the middle 90s so we spent a short time touring the grounds and seeing the highlights including the replica stave church. Then after a stop in the gift shop, we headed on.

We spent the night in Grand Forks and even though we’d been there before, we still had to take a second look at their nifty ice arena. Since our previous visit, they’d had a name change from the North Dakota Fighting Sioux to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks.

We had hoped the Canadian border would be open by the middle of the month but that didn’t happen so instead we decided to spend a week in Duluth, Minnesota, a port city on the shore of Lake Superior. We had traveled the never ending Great Plains across eastern Montana, all of North Dakota and now we were in western Minnesota. We continue to be amazed by the number and length of the trains we see.

Again in Duluth the only place I could find to stay for the week was a hotel. This one also had a separate room with a kitchenette and couch. In the lobby they even had a small bar area, almost like a closet, with a delightful host. In the middle of one afternoon as we were playing cribbage in the lobby, she plied us with cheese, summer sausage and crackers as well popcorn to go with our beverages.

On a sunny day we decided to drive part way up the scenic trail following the Lake Superior shore. We passed through many small towns with indications we were in the land of deer and winter activities.

There were spots to pull off with views of the lake and ships. We also stopped at Gooseberry Falls which even with less water than usual was still a pretty sight.

We also happened on Bridgemans, a restaurant that we knew when we lived in northern Wisconsin more than 40 years ago! Its specialty is ice cream so of course we had to have dessert, just to ensure their treats were just as good as we remembered. They definitely were!

We made a return stop at the Mayo Clinic for Bob to get his pacemaker checked. The Mayo brothers believed that the arts have a healing aspect and that exposure to them improves the quality of the experience for their patients. Throughout the buildings there is much to take in: Chihuly glass exhibits, a Rodin model of the Burghers of Calais, silk screen prints by Warhol, among others. There are grand pianos placed throughout the clinic with signs inviting folks to sit down and play. It all creates a peaceful and contemplative environment. In our case Bob’s visit was all about technology, and everything checked out perfectly. This was his three month check. We were surprised to learn he doesn’t have to have another in-person check for five years!

While we were definitely disappointed that we hadn’t been able to return east via Canada, we had learned a lot on our trek across northern United States. And we had one last stop: Milwaukee. We had invited our good friends of more than 40 years, the Terwalls from Kenosha, to come visit. How fun to be able to pick up with friends right where we left off last. We visited the Mitchell Park Botanical Domes which turned out to be a great spot to escape the continued heat.

Two more days of driving and we would arrive in DC. We stopped for a quick lunch meeting up with my friend Rita in Pittsburgh. Then finally, we arrived at our Airbnb for August, near our kids in Rockville and our son in DC. Since we left Seattle, the Delta variant has continued to grow in severity and we’re now back to wearing masks inside and even outside where we are in close proximity to others. But it’s been a year since we’ve met up with our youngest grandkids and we were definitely in need of some hugs!

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