Midwest National Parks – Part 3

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

We then made our way to Minneapolis, Minnesota to the visitors center for Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.  There were several areas along the river we could have visited, but we unfortunately did not have enough time.  We took a very short walk along the river, and spent some time in the visitors center, reading the literature and chatting with the rangers there.  Then we headed to an icon of Minneapolis culture, The Mall of America, where we marveled at the rides in the center of the mall and I managed to collect several new smashed pennies.  We managed to make room for another great meal, at Hard Times Cafe.  I had the seitan Philly sub, and Anthony had biscuits, sausage, scramble, and hash browns covered in gravy.  My mouth is watering now just thinking about it!

Pipestone National Monument

Pipestone National Monument

The next morning we drove all the way across the state of Minnesota in order to go to Pipestone National Monument.  Another small, yet really interesting, site, the unique topography of Pipestone really engaged us during our visit.  Pipestone was created in order to protect the ancient quarries of rock, that are still mined today by members of various tribes who claim connection to this land.  In the visitor center, we were able to chat with one of the men who still carves the pipes while watching him work.  Once outside again, we walked the circle trail, which leads visitors through some of the quarries and to Winnewissa Falls.  The pink quartzite and redder pipestone are prevalent among the restored prairie grasses.  A beautiful walk, we managed to finish up just as rain drops began to fall.

The following day, we began at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa.  We were pleasantly surprised by just how beautiful this spot was.  We arrived early in the morning, and after visiting the visitors center and watching the introductory film, we hiked to Fire Point to check out the mounds.  Strangely, many Indian tribes have ties to the area, but the reasoning behind the mounds is lost in the mist of history.  The mounds are best seen from the air, but from the ground they are pretty amazing too.  From Fire Point and Eagle Rock, we had beautiful, unobstructed views of the Mississippi River.  With the early morning fog still lifting, and our elevation, we had a stunning view across the water.  That was our favorite part of the short hike.

Future birthplace of James T. Kirk

Future birthplace of James T. Kirk

Next we visited Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.  In West Branch, Iowa, Hoover grew up in what he claimed was an idyllic town.  Quiet and perfect for young children, he felt a great sense of community within his Quaker upbringing.  He held fast to the American Dream, and followed his success as a mining engineer all over the world, before he became the 31st president.  As well as visiting his birthplace, and several other restored buildings, we were able to visit his presidential library.  The museum there contains tons of exhibits detailing his life and political career.  We learned much more about Herbert Hoover and his wife Lou.  Their humanitarian efforts impressed us the most, both before and after his presidency.  Our last stop for the day was Riverside, Iowa to visit the future birthplace of James T. Kirk.  For those of you who are not Star Trek fans (myself included), he is a major character in the TV and movie series.  The town has capitalized on this and we posed by the sign marking the spot and by a recreation of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

The following day we drove to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, on the very southern tip of Lake Michigan, in Indiana.  This is a strange park.  It seems that the idea was driven by citizens who were concerned when proposals arose for a Port of Indiana in the sand dunes.  The arguments escalated between both sides until JFK proposed creating both the port and the national park in 1963.  So now, the dunes are surrounded by industry and mills, with the port in the middle of the park.  It’s a strange set up.  It’s wonderful that they managed to preserve the dunes, but a lot of the park acreage is actually marschland and though much of the lakeshore is preserved, the land directly across from the water is often not.  That meant that we could drive on Lakefront Drive, for example, but were constantly reminded by insistent signs that we could not park anywhere on the road, except for one small parking lot.  Also, the signage in the park wasn’t that great, the map in the brochure didn’t show all the roads and there signage we did see wasn’t always intuitive.  That being said, we enjoyed walking around inland at the Chellberg Farm and the Bailly Homestead.  Also, the Lakefront Drive was very pretty and we could get out at the parking lot and walk around on the beach.  In either direction though, we could see what looked like industrial buildings.  Chicago was visible across the water too – which was really neat.  We also really enjoyed seeing the 1933 Century of Progress Homes.  Nothing was said about them in the brochure, though they appear on the map and the park website, but they are from the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair and were built to showcase modern architecture.

Dinner that night was in Phoenix, IL, south of Chicago at Daisy’s Catering Cafe.  The decor and surrounding neighborhood weren’t all that fabulous, but the food more than made up for it.  Up there as one of the best vegan meals we’ve ever eaten, we stuffed ourselves with tasty sandwiches, battered tofu bits, and BBQ tofu bites.  Upon the recommendation of another customer, I had the P.L.T. (protein, lettuce, and tomato).  It was amazing.  Everyone who came in was friendly, and seemed to know each other.  We chatted with several other customers while there.  We left very happily stuffed.

The following day (which was our three year wedding anniversary!), our first stop was Lincoln Home National Historic Site.  You have to be on a tour to see the inside of the house, so our first stop was the visitors center to get free tickets.  While we waited for our tour to begin, we viewed a movie in the theater, telling us about Lincoln’s life in Springfield, Illinois.  This is the home that he and his wife bought and lived in until he left for Washington D.C. and the presidency.  Many of the original belongings of the Lincolns are no longer in the home, because they either put them in storage when they left or brought them to the White House.  Sadly, the Lincolns never lived there again, and it was maintained as a rental property until turned over to the people as a monument.  The tour was lively and I learned that fashion of the times dictated that the inside of the home be decorated in clashing fabrics to represent the frivolity of the colors in nature.  They considered it bringing nature indoors, and each fabric had differing patterns that always included a touch of either leaves, animals, or flowers.

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

After an Indian buffet lunch, we turned for St. Louis and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, better known as the St. Louis Arch.  We declined to go up in the arch (tickets were sold out, though we could have reserved them ahead of time), but man made heights like that bother me to an extent anyway.  We spent our time there wandering the grassy park surrounding the arch and perusing all the exhibits in the museum underground.  The museum is quite impressive, with tons of material and information about Indian and new American conflicts and treaties, as well as information about the Civil War and other aspects of American History.  We also had a little time to check out the exhibits in the Old Courthouse, which focused on the Dred Scott case.

Our anniversary dinner was at Lulu’s Local Eatery, a vegan counter service restaurant with a really cute sitting area.  I think we both enjoyed the tater tots that came with our sandwiches the most!

Since we arrived early the next morning at Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site just south of St. Louis in Missouri, we were the only ones on our tour of his home.  It is actually the childhood home of Grant’s wife, Julia Dent.  Once the two were married, they settled in the Dent family home, which was a farm that utilized slave labor.  Apparently, Grant and his father in law had heated debates often about slavery, since they were on opposing sides of the issue.  Poor Julia must have had some fun with that.  Julia wanted to stay in the house with her family, since Grant was gone so often with the army, but although they did live other places throughout their marriage, they always called this “home”.  The house is beautiful and painted bright green – which was apparently very fashionable at the time.

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

George Rogers Clark National Historical Park

We then went to George Rogers Clark National Historical Park in Indiana.  An historical figure we knew nothing about before our visit, Clark was instrumental in opening the midwest to settlers during the Revolutionary War.  The story of the march he and his men made during the cold winter in order to defeat the British and their Indian allies west of the Appalachians, is one of fortitude and perseverance.  Wading through icy waters up to the their necks for days, while starving, this small band of men managed to take a much larger force down and open up American expansion to the west.  The monument itself is very large and imposing.  Inside, we were able to listen to a recording describing all of the seven murals of George Rogers Clark.

Before returning home the next day, we stopped at our last NPS site of our trip – Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial.  This is where Abraham Lincoln grew up, and where his mother died.  According to historians, this is where he learned to work hard, study literature, and love his family – all traits he carried throughout his entire life.  At the site, we were able to watch a film, wander through the small museum, marvel at the sculpted panels on the outside of the memorial depicting places that Lincoln lived, and walk out to the site of his cabin.  After this, it was home to Asheville!

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Midwest National Parks – Part 2

Keweenaw National Historical Park

Keweenaw National Historical Park

The next day we drove to Keweenaw National Historical Park.  A park site that we really knew nothing about, besides a cursory glance at the website when we planned the trip, as always we were pleasantly surprised by how informative and interesting this site was.  We began our trip at the Quincy Unit where we visited the Quincy Mine and Hoist.  There were tours through the mine itself, but we wanted to get to the Calumet Unit, and unfortunately did not have time for both.  We did have time to wander around the grounds of the Quincy Mine.  At the Calumet Unit Visitors Center, there was a great museum that we spent over an hour wandering through.  The rangers have done a wonderful job restoring the building that houses the museum, as well as setting up the exhibits.  There were so many informative pieces of literature to read about the mines, which mainly worked with copper, and the history of the people of the town.  The story of the Italian Hall Disaster was especially striking.  Many of the miners were striking in 1913, and in a room full of protesters, someone falsely yelled “fire”.  In the ensuing melee, 73 people were trampled.  Woody Gutherie even wrote a song about it; “1913 Massacre”.  When the Italian Hall was demolished in 1984, the people of Calumet and the surrounding area, especially those who had a history in mining, decided to band together to preserve the unique history of the area, which led to the creation of the National Historical Park.  It’s always great when a group of citizens are the impetus for the creation of an NPS site.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

That afternoon we drove to Bayfield, Wisconsin and camped in a town campground right on the shore of Lake Superior.  Bayfield was an adorable small town, set on a hill, with a marina at the base.  The Victorian homes were charming and the downtown area was compact and eclectic.  I’m sure that it doesn’t look so charming in the winter under several feet of snow, but during the warm summer evening, it appeared idyllic.  In the morning, we woke up to go to Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Apostle Islands was all over the news this past winter because the lake froze deeply enough to allow access to the ice caves for the first time in years.  As amazing as those would have been to see, I was glad it was much warmer for our visit.  Because almost all of the park is on the islands, and we don’t have kayaks, we were unable to see most of it.  Another for our list to go back to.  We were able to visit both visitors centers and hike a short trail from Meyers Beach to see the sea caves.  Though very cool, I am sure they look so much better from the water, and we will definitely have to go back to explore the islands.  Almost all of them have camping, and trails to trace along the beaches and through inland.

That night we spent in Duluth, Minnesota.  Duluth recently beat out Asheville in Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Live in America Poll.  We couldn’t believe it.  Though we only spent one night in Duluth, we didn’t get the same amazing vibe we get from Asheville.  Granted we didn’t spend enough time there to be fair judges, but we weren’t feeling it.  We did eat out at Pizza Luce, which caters to vegans with vegan cheeses and meats, and was delicious.  The next morning, I went for a quick run on the Duluth Lakewalk.  It was all along the lakeshore and absolutely beautiful.  Early in the morning, there were scores of people out, riding bikes to work, walking and running the paved path, or exercising in groups on the grass.  For the most part, we noticed that this section of the midwest had tons of running/riding trails.  Many of them double as snowmobiling trails in the winter, but there were miles of trails wherever we went.

Grand Portage National Monument

Grand Portage National Monument

Next, we drove even farther north to go to Grand Portage National Monument.  Tucked away in northern Minnesota, almost on the Canadian border, this was another park site that we really enjoyed and really knew nothing about before visiting.  This is where we learned the most about beavers.  The Grand Portage, and the Voyageurs who traveled it, were all based on the fur trade of the late 1700’s.  Apparently, beaver fur hats were all the rage in Europe and the North West Company, owned by Scottish citizens, capitalized on this.  They built the largest trading post in the center of the continent, and traded with the Ojibwe Indians.  The Voyageurs were the men who carried these furs along the trail from the traders to the waterfront post.  Now, there is a recreation of the trading post and interpreter volunteers acting the traditional roles of the trading post – including the Ojibwe Indians.  This site was one of the first that I have been to, that tells a peaceful story of relations between Indians and new Americans.  They traded together and lived in harmony in the area together.  The relationship was mutually successful for both peoples.  Unfortunately, the post was relocated 1803 because the property lines between Canada forced them to go further north onto Canadian soil.  We wandered through the exhibits in the visitor center and walked down to the recreated post – observing interpreters build canoes, manipulate baskets, and make food in the kitchen before watching some brave local children jump into icy Lake Superior.

Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park

That night we camped out in the Superior National Forest, and weathered an extremely nasty thunder and lightning storm during the night.  The next morning we decided to drive into Ely, Minnesota to wander around.  The town is based on the Boundary Waters nearby, and boasts several outfitters and outdoor stores.  We happily browsed the shops and had a Thai lunch before starting our drive to Voyageurs National Park.  Another park best seen by boat, we did the best we could on foot.  We checked in first at the Kabetogama Lake Visitor Center, disappointed to find out that the canoe trip tour for the following day was already full.  We definitely should have made reservations ahead of time.  After checking out the Ash River area, and getting our stamps at the visitor center, we set up our tent at the Woodenfrog State Forest Campground.  We also took a brief walk to overlook a beaver pond.

The next day we checked out the Rainy Lake area.  We tried to take a hike, but the trail was flooded – as is a lot of the park.  Much of the water is above its usual level.  After lunch in International Falls, we started driving south again.  Our stop for the night was in Iron Mountain, where we eschewed a normal dinner and instead ate popcorn at the movie theater while watching Planes.  Since Anthony is a wildland firefighter, this movie was especially poignant for us.  We both enjoyed it very much.

The following morning I went for a run on the Mesabi Trail, a fantastic paved path which was unfortunately full of biting flies.  They only served to make me run faster, so that we could get on with our packed day.  After driving for some time, our next stop was St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  Again, if we had boats, we would have been able to enjoy this park site even more.  We visited the visitor center and were able to see the Dalles from the riverbank.  The Dalles were created by water blasting through the rock during the formation of the river, and they rise above the waterline creating a gorge.  While driving through the town of St. Croix Falls, we happened to spot a sign advertising vegan food.  We hadn’t even looked online beforehand because we didn’t expect there to be anything in such a small town.  We were very mistaken.  The Vegetarian, an Indian restaurant, offered up perhaps one of the best meals of our entire trip.  We left completely full and happy.

To be continued…

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