Thursday, July 31, 2008
Fort Mackinac was established during the American Revolutionary War by the British to protect the area from attack by Americans. However, the fort was not attacked and the area was officially acquired by the U.S. through the Treaty of Paris in 1783. The fort was the scene of two battles during the War of 1812 and the British won both battles. Despite this outcome, the British were forced to return the island and surrounding mainland to the U.S. In 1815 by the Treaty of Ghent. The fort was closed in 1895 as it no longer had any strategic purpose. It has been restored to its late 19th century appearance.
Much of the island has undergone extensive historical preservation and today the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. The only way to get to the island is by boat (private or ferry) or small aircraft and during the winter – by snowmobile.
Motorized vehicles are banned on the island and everyone gets around on foot, by bicycle or in horse drawn carriages.
The island has a year-round population of about 500. During the summer season the island hosts as many as 15,000 visitors per day.
Like many historic places in the Great Lakes region, Mackinac Island's name derives from a Native American language. Native Americans in the Straits of Mackinac region likened the shape of the island to that of a turtle. Therefore, they named it "Mitchimakinak" (Ojibwe mishi-mikinaak)meaning "big turtle". The French used a version of the original pronunciation: Michilimackinac. However, the English shortened it to the present name: "Mackinac – pronounced Mackinaw, the last c being silent.
The Round Island Lighthouse is located just south on the small, uninhabited Round Island. The light was built in 1894 and automated in 1924. In 1947, the Round Island Lighthouse was abandoned, replaced by a functional but unattractive light closer to Mackinac Island.
We did not get away from the touristy downtown area but still enjoyed our visit to Mackinac Island.
The Mackinac Bridge is the third longest suspension bridge in the world and we expected to be wowed. We had heard that it was pretty scary to drive across – 5 miles long and 200 feet above the water at the mid point of the bridge. So scary in fact that there are people stationed at each end of the bridge that will drive you across if you cannot do it yourself. Well, let's just say that we were somewhat underwhelmed. Yes, that says underwhelmed. No doubt it is a cool bridge but for our taste not nearly as amazing as say the Sunshine Skyway in Tampa or the Coronado Bay Bridge in San Diego.
The first day of our stay in Mackinaw City (by the way, Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw) we did a tour of Fort Michilimackinac.
Fort Michilimackinac was founded in 1715 by the French as a fur-trading village. The fort was taken over by the British in 1761 following their victory over the French in the French and Indian War. In June 1763, a group of Ojibwe Indians led by Pontiac gained entrance to the fort and killed most of the British inhabitants and held the fort for a year before it was retaken by the British – not through force but by offering more and better gifts to the Indians. In 1781 the British built Fort Mackinac on nearby Mackinac Island. The buildings at Michilimackinac were dismantled and moved piece by piece over water in the summer and ice in the winter and rebuilt in the new fort.
The remains of the old fort were burned. What is seen today is the result of many years of archaeological excavation, research and rebuilding. Each year from late June through August a team of archaeologists is on site continuing to uncover the fort's secrets. The fort today is seen as it was in the 1770's.
From the fort we moved on to the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. Erected in 1892, the lighthouse served the Straits for more than 60 years. The lights on the Mackinac Bridge made the lighthouse unnecessary, and it was decommissioned in 1957. The castle-like structure, whose design is unique in the Great Lakes, has been restored to its 1910 appearance.
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Bemidji, Minnesota – home of Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox and the Mighty Mississippi River.
Bemidji, MN is located on the shore of Lake Bemidji. Lore has it that the lake was formed in a footprint left by Paul Bunyan. If you look at an aerial picture of the lake, it certainly does look like a footprint. Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox welcome visitors to Bemidji. Paul Bunyan is a mythological lumberjack who appears in tall tales of American folklore. If you are not familiar with these stories just Google Paul Bunyan and read all about him and his exploits.
Just south of Bemidji is Lake Itasca. The Mississippi River begins it's journey of over 2,500 miles to the Gulf of Mexico by overflowing the edge of a picturesque little lake, Lake Itasca. The Gulf of Mexico is due south, but the Mississippi, in contrary fashion, embarks on its trek by flowing due north. It flows north to Lake Bemidji and then east to Lake Cass and on through numerous other bodies of water getting larger and gathering strength all the time until it becomes what we think of as the Mighty Mississippi. We find it interesting that at the beginning of this trip we were in New Orleans close to the mouth of the Mississippi and now we are at the head waters of that river.
Bemidji is also home to the 2006 Olympic Curling teams. We hoped to watch some curling at the Bemidji Curling Club and to take some amazing video footage for the blog but apparently it is just a winter sport so - with heavy hearts we leave without witnessing this captivating sport.
One of the biggest surprises of the trip was when we came upon the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. Much of it can be seen from the highway so we did not stop and drive into the park. The area is very reminiscent of the South Dakota Bad Lands but with more trees.
Little did we know that once we left there, we would see very few tree for the rest of our time in North Dakota and most of the trees we would see were planted in rows as wind breaks. One city even had a sign boasting that it had more tree wind breaks than any other city in the world. Guess when you live up here, any claim to fame is better than none.
Our next stop was in Minot, ND. We camped at Minot Air Force Base. It is a nice, small, base that is loaded with B-52s and missile launchers.
Minot proved to be an interesting stop.
The first place we visited was the Scandinavian Heritage Center. Here we toured the Gol Stave Church. This is an exact replica of the Gol Stave church in Norway. A stave church is a medieval wooden church with a post and beam construction related to timber framing. The wall frames are filled with vertical planks. The load-bearing posts (staves) have lent their name to the building technique. It is not very often that you see a church adorned on the outside with dragons.
There was also a Dala Horse which is the national symbol of Sweden.
While we are still on the subject of Scandinavian heritage – almost everyone in this area speaks with a distinct Scandinavian accent.
Our next stop this day was at the North Dakota State Fair. Yes, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time - it was State Fair Week in Minot. And we will just let the pictures speak for themselves.
As we left Minot, we were extremely lucky as we passed by the geographical center of North America in Rugby, ND.
Spent the night in Spearfish and the next morning we were up and out to visit the historic D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery.
Established in 1896, D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, formerly Spearfish National Fish Hatchery, is one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the country dedicated to fish culture and resource management. The hatchery was constructed to propagate, stock, and establish trout populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. After a very successful fish production history, the hatchery ceased operations in the mid-80's and reopened with a new mission and partnerships to help preserve the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's historic and cultural heritage.
Today, D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery serves as a living fishery museum to the public and many organizations. Still rearing trout for the Black Hills through a cooperative effort with the State, the hatchery also serves to protect and preserve fishery records and artifacts for educational, research, and historic purposes, and provide interpretive and educational programs for the public.
Immediately adjacent to the fish hatchery is the Spearfish City Park and it just so happened that the day we were there was the day of their annual Art in the Park festival. So we spent some time wandering though the arts and crafts displays and found it to be very different from what we would see in Florida. Most of the art was western themed and thank goodness that Shelley could not take any with her otherwise she could have gone on a buying spree. (Again no pictures).
We push on north to Alaska – or, er, rather North Dakota.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
The rest of Thursday was spent hanging out with Tom, his wife Marsha and their daughter (our niece) Kelly.
Friday, Monte, Shelley and Tom were up and out of the house early and en route to Golden, CO. Tom had set us up with a VIP tour of the Coors brewery, now known as Miller-Coors. We were joined on the tour by Barbie, Jerry, and Barbie's son Jeremy.
Tom had not seen Jerry in 12 years or so and had not seen Barbie since, well since they were children and obviously Tom had never met Jeremy before. Needless to say – it was a wonderful reunion. Just all being together was fun and the tour just added to the fun.
During the tour we learned bits of information like Coors brews 1.5 million gallons of beer per DAY and uses 14 million cans per day. They told us how many rail cars and semi tractor trailers leave full of Coors each week but I don't remember how many. What I do remember was that if you took one rail car full of beer, and drank one six pack per day out of that rail car, it would take you over 88 years to drink all of the beer. Personally, I think it would be skunky beer long before the end of the 88 years.
They did not give us a rail car of beer but we did get to do a tasting. They allow each person 3, 10 oz draft beers of their choice. I think most of us had Blue Moon, Honey Moon, and the new Coors Super Cold – which is just Coors Light served right at freezing temp. It was a tasty tasting.
(In all fairness, Jerry had one beer and Monte stuck with non-alcoholic beer)
After the tastings we found a nice little cafe in Golden and had lunch after which we parted ways with Monte and Shelley going back to Tom's and the rest of the gang going back to Centennial to Barbie's.
We collapsed back at Tom's and spent the evening with his family which is something that we just do not get to do very often – maybe twice a year if we are lucky. It looks like niece Kelly will be transferring to finish college in Tallahassee so that will be nice as we will get to see her more often assuming that she can fit us into her hectic social schedule.
Shelley does not know how she managed to do it but – she failed to take any pictures at Tom's house so there are no pix of Marsha and Kelly for the blog. My apologies to all.
This is our last night in Colorado. That fact just breaks my heart. We both love it here but it is time to move on up and out.