To spend quality time in at least one area of every state. Quality time means exploring the area; rest stops, gas stations, airports or train stations do not count. The goal is to explore the natural and cultural environments of these regions. Each location visited has a story, pictures for my amateur hobby addiction, and maybe a piece of jewelry/art.

Posts may chronicle excursion research and planning, the trip and, of course, the post trip hang-over (i.e. picture review). I hope to share some stories, laughs and lessons. Most importantly, I wish for my stories to inspire others to get out and see this vast, diverse and beautiful country.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Fried Foods, Huge Veggies, Rides and New Kids = Delaware State Fair

It has been a few years since I have been to a state fair. In fact, the last one that I remember attending was the Alaska State Fair about 4 or 5 years ago. And it left quite the impression – how could it not with cabbages larger than a pre-teen? (Not kidding – I saw one that weighed in at 136 lbs) I have to say that the Delaware State Fair wasn’t even on my radar until the New Kids on the Block announced a stop there… and while it did not make sense to me at the time, I had to take it. Fair equal summer fun and everyone knows I love a good New Kids show!

Off I headed to Harrington, Delaware and its State Fair Grounds… in fact, this place looked oddly similar to the Pumpkin Chuckin location when I went to go see giant gourds flung through the air via air cannons and catapults. * Cue the jokes on Delaware being so small* (Poor DE)

As with any state fair, there is much to see and do. There were quite a few barns to house the animals – it is a requirement for any state fair to have cows, horses, ponies and other assorted domesticated farm animal on hand. And if we did not see them in the barns resting, we saw they in the arena show (horses), or at the races (hello, pig races). Straight out of a FX television show, there were side-freak shows – see the smallest horse on Earth, see the 2 headed lamb, and see the reptile woman (does that qualify as a human or animal?) Had to skip the bearded ladies, the tiny ladies, the snake ladies (wait, why were all these ladies?)

When you think of state fairs, you think of food… right? I think state fairs are synonymous with some of the worst sounding artery-clogging concoctions every dreamt up. I could never wrap my head about the fried stick of butter! I still refuse to try fried Twinkies. I have relented on fried pickles, only because I lived in the South for a very short while and I think I wasn’t allowed out without saying I liked them! Here, I stared at a sign for fried lemonade and ran… why, oh why, in the extreme heat of the day are you going to fry lemonade AND how does that work? In reality the only fried fair food I want is a funnel cake (or some Zeppolis). That funnel cake was fantastic, perfect to share and just enough. The entire day, we tried to make the best fair food choices we could. Barbeque, roasted corn, a roasted turkey leg, sausage sandwich , a fruit smoothie, plain iced teas… lots of tea. Did I say it was HOT? It was a scorcher. And soda was not going to quench our thirsts. Its not easy to avoid the corn dogs, fried gator, the fried Reeces, fried everything really…

You can’t eat all that and go on rides. And I wanted to ride some thrill rides. I was always the thrill seeker as a child; the crazier the ride the better it was. As I have grown up, I may not frequent Six Flags, the Boardwalk, fairs or other parks as often as I used to, but damn if I don’t go straight for them when there are in front of me! So after a sweet ride on the big ferris wheel, it was up the “Freefall” like attraction that dropped you ten stories. My evil laugh came out in full force as we fell; I think my date’s stomach is still up there somewhere! There was a boardwalk style rollercoaster that jerked you around in lady bug carts… a horrible horror house… some swings … and this contraption called the Scorpion that left even me dizzy (after this, my date was out)… spinning in three directions, I could not even “spot” to keep my head on straight. This ride is not for the weak! No more partner in crime after I climbed my way through a Grease style fun house singing “You’re the One That I Want” (you have to sing that as you work the moving stairs), nor when I rode yet another spinner! I can't get enough.

After all that twisting and turning, we headed towards the veggie houses to get out of the sun and into some AC. While there were no huge cabbages, we did see large watermelons, big eggplants and garlics that I would love to have in my kitchen. There were tables that looked like vitamin rainbows. Plates arranged in rows filled with green beans (yum), peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes stretched in rows at least 30 feet long. I was drawn to the beets that remind me of my nana, her garden and her wish for us to like them (I do now Nana, I swear). There was a cannery section where judges taste-tested so many jams, marmalades and gooey goops I am sure they didn’t need to eat for days. The flower sections were just as colorful full of beauty in sight and glorious scents. My eyes, nose, heart, mind (and skin) enjoyed the show and the much needed break from the sun.

The main event of the fair was the concert, held at the race track. I never tire of seeing these guys. And the show that night was no exception. It was the first time I ever had a date to a New Kids show. There is a first time for everything and this was honestly a blast. It was a concert, it was a party, it rained confetti. We danced, we laughed, we sang. How could this not be fun? And I got to watch a newbie marvel at the show, the sound, the energy … and to have someone that had rolled their eyes at your “favorite group” admit that they are amazing live and they had a great time– HA! I win! I never understand why this is a surprise to people. They are still putting out music and honestly, as adults, would I be subjecting myself to something bad and wasting my money? Please – New Kids rule! I made them a new fan – I deserve a hug, a #twug and maybe a dance… man, am I getting greedy!

All in all it was a fabulous day at the fair. Cows, Rides, Funnel Cakes and New Kids, oh my!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Off Montreal for my Birthday (sort of) & to See the New Kids

Every year since I finished law and grad school I try to keep my promise to myself… I want to see and do something new. Most of the time, that means travel. This year, that was going to be a rough promise to keep – I just came off my thorough trip though ND &MN and I have an upcoming trip to Iceland. I could not go nuts. I had toyed with the idea of playing Russian Roulette with the United weekend specials. I played with the idea of a road trip to a Southern locale. But in the end, New Kids and a good friend (and a decent airfare) saved me. Off I went to Montreal Canada!

I have not spent much time in the lands of our northern neighbors. I will be tackling many of her cities and sites once I finish my US state goal. It’s a crying shame I have never been to Toronto. My best friend is in Seattle, yet, we have yet to go to Vancouver. I have lived in and around DC for 15 years but I haven’t visited the Canadian capital of Ottawa. No Winnipeg, no Edmonton, and until this trip, I believed no Montreal. What I have seen of Canada consists of the Niagara Falls area, and St John (and that area above ND & MN – ha). So with a New Kids tour date, a girls trip with a few good friends, and a decent airfare, I hopped a plane to start my Canadian list a little early.

When planning this quick excursion, my mom informed me that I was in Montreal as a baby; I am not counting that! I don’t remember a thing about it. I don’t have pictures (lost to a fire). I am starting fresh. So with a quick internet search, I learned that sites in Montreal are spread out! There isn’t much you can do when you only have a day and a half in a major city… but anyone that knows me knows that I tried to see as much as possible.

My trip good fortune seeped into much of my trip. So while I was there for only a short while, there was much excitement to be had. My trip coincided with the US Womens Soccer Team’s semi-final match. I was there during a very special art exhibit at the Museum of Art, showcasing Rodin (of Thinker fame). My day in the city meant fitting all this in… after an evening out with the girls, we went for a fabulous French breakfast, of fruit and crepes and other yummy goodies. Following our 2 hour eating (and line waiting) extravaganza, we parted ways as I meandered the streets of downtown Montreal, with my trusty map and an IPhone to find some “culture.” With no time, I walked right past what looked to be the 5th Ave of Montreal – a shopper’s mecca. Nope – Keep walking Janine, you have art to stare at and some vibes to soak up. So I walked and come up to the 4 building complex of the Fine Art Museum – with some funky statues (haunted with “The Eye” with its hands for a face), a fantastic Chihuly red and yellow glass sculpture in front and a road maze on the street. Lovin it already! At check-in, I learn about “Metamorphoses: In Rodin’ s Studio” exhibit and how could I pass that up. Sign me up! So with my special pass, I took in hands, feet and limbs of all proportions. Saw Hell’s (Dante’s) Door, The Walking Man, saw the little ladies in the cups aka women in vessels(don’t start me on that), Eve and Meditation and the Thinker. Yeah, we have all seen reproductions of him, and maybe you saw him in Night at the Museum, but after looking at rooms of hands and feet, and limbs intertwined, seeing this enormous man striking that pose” is so grand. I circled the room at least 3 times to go back and see him again… he really looks alive. But the museum was more than Rodin, it was filled with a fantastic collection of Canadian art, a whole section on design, decorative arts & textiles (I loved the stuffed animal chair), and international contemporary art! I spent way too much time in the facility … but it was worth it. It’s a fantastic place with a great layout. The 4 interconnected building separate the collections providing a space between the art styles that allows you to feel each section individually.

Leaving the museum, I wandered the streets trying to figure out my next move. With a concert that evening, I couldn’t just take off free willy nilly… I needed to be sane with my choices. So while I wanted to head to the costume museum and the major city park, they were a 2 mile walk (each way) and it was already 4pm (told you I spent all day in the Art Museum). Instead, I wove around the streets, getting a feel for the city energy… and it was surprisingly American – HA, I stumbled across the bar hosting the USA rally for the World Cup. Flags, face paint, shirts, banners, and crazy head gear were everywhere. It was joyous. I swear team USA fans took over. After enjoying that scene I continued on only to weave some more and find Team USA’s hotel. I joined the crowds waiting for the ladies to board their bus and cheered “I Believe” as they left. So to anyone that thinks that women’s soccer doesn’t have fans, let me know, I have pictures of the blocked street, of hundreds of people lining up to bid them good luck, of little kids (boys and girls) screaming players names… this team were like rock stars to everyone there!

My journey through the streets took me around a mall, and into a city plaza and park. I got serenaded by an elaborate chime sequence, saw a domed cathedral and just missed the pouring rain (of course it rained, I was on a trip!)… I made it back to my hotel to change and head to the arena for the New Kids on the Block… my friends were there, but in the fancy seats… so I was solo concerting this round. Having seen this show a few times already, I knew what to expect, but was no less happy to be there. These guys put on one hell of a show. It’s full of energy, power, excitement, and sexiness. The only thing killing my mood was the strange area set-up and the strictest security I have ever seen. We could not move from our seat area. With a floor seat, I could not dance, nor could I move more than a few feet. There was absolutely no moving towards the stage when one of the guys reached out a hand. Boo-hiss! No worries, I still had an amazing view on the floor of a few key moments in the show, especially Joey’s Twisted dance and the Right Stuff head bob. And, of course, I had boogied my heart out at a few other shows ; they still sounded amazing here. After the show we all met up and went for much needed food (I had not eaten since brunch). On our high from seeing our favorite boy band croon to us for 2 hours, we were giddy… so we flirted unmercifully with the waiter turning him all sorts of shades of red. Poor guy had no idea what he was in for when we walked in. And while the morning was filled with sweets and fruits, dinner served us yummy yummy MEAT. Ribs, steaks and lobsters, oh my. We were not kidding with a fancy girls night out.

I stayed up all night with my friends because at 3:30 am, we left to take me to the airport. Ahh, the glories of a 6am flight… why do I do that? It is cruel and usual punishment. Good thing customs was a simple process because I know I was not working on all cylinders. Just hope that the picture from that machine for processing was destroyed after it was used… cuz, damn, did I look tired.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Lakes, Lake and More Lakes (and the Mississippi River)

I learned a really interesting fact about Minnesota while visiting Itasca State Park - the 10,000 lakes cover 5600 square miles, which means that there is 1 square mile of water for every 15 square miles of land. Indeed, water was everywhere in Minnesota, especially the northern 2/3rds of the state. Every day in the state incorporated water in one way or another - the Great Lake, smaller lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and even rain... it was a wet trip.

My days were so packed, I don't know how I could have seen anymore. I went into this trip planning to visit Voyageurs, the national park that shares boundary waters with Canada. I had hopes of driving up the Lake Superior coast line to learn what Grand Portage National Monument was all about. I had taken note of the headwaters on the Mississippi. And I knew I had to make one trip to southern Minnesota to visit Pipestone. What wasn't planned for was when I made constant detours to see things that were recommended or that I heard about on the way. Because while I was planning, I definitely did not hear about a few of these state parks, the bear sanctuary or Betty's Pies.

While planning my Minnesota trip, I had a few people tell me to skip the southern region. But in reading about Pipestone, I knew that it would be worth the 3 hour drive from Minneapolis. It is a place of spiritual importance to the Native Americans, specifically the Plains Indians. It is a place of peace, tranquility and of geologic importance. Taken directly from the name, the monument preserves the quarry lands of ceremonial pipestone (under layers and layers of quartzite). What I didn't realize was that this park also preserves the last 1% of tall grass prairie! And as you take the hike around a portion of the prairie and along the quartzite wall, you get a small sense of the serenity of the area. Winnewissa Falls roars and native elders faces are found in the stone walls (the Oracle and Old Stone Face). The falls stream down and into Winnewissa pond; song birds of brilliant colors fly around. If my cell phone had service, I would have been on my ornithology app, looking up all kinds of finches, because they were there in blue, greens, yellows, reds - colors reserved for tropical birds. Although I am not a birder by any stretch of the imagination, I was super excited to see some mud nests of the swallow (and the birds flying in and out). I understand that they are considered pests in residential communities of the area, but that it's just not a common site in DC!

My post North Dakota leg of my trip began with a visit to Itasca State Park. The park is beautiful - Itasca Lake is stunning. I wished I could have spent more time there then the 3 1/2 hours I did. I just wanted to walk in these woods along the water. I wanted to listen to the woodpeckers a bit longer (they always make me smile). I wanted to hear more cries from the loon. AND, I also wanted to swim in the Mississippi River. It was soooooooo clean. Frolicking in the waters flashed me back to growing up on the Musconetcong River and swimming in a small area near our home. I grew up with cold fresh water at my finger tips and I just wanted to dive in, cold be damned. It was amazing. Having seen the Mississippi River as it travels through many states, its Headwaters make it almost unrecognizable. It is so clean you can drink it (literally, there is a sign). You can wade in it and see your feet. You can just enjoy it as small fish swim past your toes and birds dip down for a drink. And as I walked across the river (just to say I did), I marveled that this tiny stream was the same body of water that that winds its way into New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico (that is to say that tiny stream plus 15,000 miles of waterway over 100 tributaries, traveling through 10 states, and draining from 31 states and 2 providences in Canada)!

I saw more than birds in Minnesota (and zoo animals), but birds tend to be prevalent where there is water. So I saw plenty of geese, cormorants, heron, ducks and even a few swans. By far the coolest water fowl siting I had was in Voyageurs National Park with the white pelican. Not only did it give me one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip, but it was my marker for my favorite day of the entire trip. I was lucky enough to have a guide to take me out on the water. Out of Arrowhead Lodge, Larry became by Voyageurs interpreter. He let me join a family from Iowa (thanks Patty!), on a tour of the key park sites off Lake Kabetogama. Boating around over 50 nautical miles, Larry kept Patty and I entertained with fun facts about the area and stories of living there in the frigid winters. We started out at Hoist Bay, where we visited what looked like a smaller version of camp but was in fact a summer get away for Midwestern families that would pack up and move to the lake for the summer. The story of the ice house truly drove home how ingenious families where that worked the area all year. I am way too modern of a person to picture life where you cut ice from the deeply frozen lake and store it for a year to keep your perishables from decaying. Larry then taught us about lake levels - the area's prime industries are logging and tourism. And in the past, the lake was used to transport logs to town... so, lake levels were controlled by 2 damns at Kettle Falls; today those damns are used to control water levels as the resorts and lakeside town does not flood. Kettle Falls also has an historic lodge rich with "fun" history of bootlegging, mob ties and as a bordello. And all of that makes sense when you think about the money in logging, the men that would have gone up to clearcut the forests and what they would have been looking for after hours... Just like any other remote mining town. The last stop on the lake tour was at Ellsworth Rock Garden - an amazing site that just makes you scratch your head and ask "why?". Here, in the middle of nowhere, Mr Ellsworth spent his days creating a sizable rock garden with cascading flowers... the rock formations were like looking at clouds. What do you see there? And on our way back to the lodge, Larry took us past a bald eagle nest so large, I swear I could live in it... well, except for the fact that I don't think the eagles would take kindly to visitors as they barely tolerated us floating past them. I have never been given the evil eye by a bird before, but I think I can check that off my list now.

When we finally docked again, we have spent about 6 hours on the water. Can't complain about that. It was a beautiful day. I had a small tour of this gorgeous water park, one that I did not think was possible as it was "preseason." And I met some great people. Larry sent me on my way towards Pelican Lake and a bear sanctuary and with an itinerary for the next few days. (I need to write him to tell him I saw all his recommendations)! I stopped in the town of Orr and walked around their Marsh Walk hoping for a glimpse of some marshy predatory plants... pitcher plants, sundews - they are creepy but also cool to photograph (and cool examples of plant mutations). Alas, no carnivorous plants, but I did get to see a few more woodpeckers, feed a few mosquitoes and take a few pictures that look like they belong in the Swamp Thing. And after wasting enough time, I headed to the bear area (it opened late). I am still not positive how I feel about this facility... yes, it is cool to see black bears up close, while being safe on platforms. And ye, I got to see babies climb trees while their mom fed. But that was the problem, this whole place existed because someone fed the bears pancakes regularly for years. The nonprofit came into existence because they can't stop after this guy's death. So now, they have better feeding practices than sourdough pancakes and they use the opportunity for study and research. Fun to see if I shut off my ecology brain for a while.

After bidding Patty and her family adieu (yes, I saw them at the bear facility too), I hit the road for Duluth. And it was then that I had the wildlife moment I had been missing forever - I saw my first wolf!!!! It happened in less then 5 seconds. It saw me, looked at me, turned its back and trotted away... but holy crap, my first wolf. In all my years in Alaska, I never saw one. In my week in Yellowstone, never saw one (heard them). In all my trips to Wyoming, nothing... yet here in Minnesota, I get one. And I didn't even have to visit Isle Royale for it to happen.

With 2 days in Duluth, I had time to explore. And I did A LOT! It was the end of my trip and there was still so much to see on the coast. I immediately took off running my first day, and I needed to run because that Lake Superior weather effect kicked in and the temperature dropped at least 40 degrees and the Scooby-doo fog rolled in. Brrrr! I headed to the Art Museum on the University of Minnesota campus. Was greeted by Cyrano de Bergerac and wandered the museum looking at great pottery and landscapes by Gilbert Munger (if you don't know him, look him up). They had a whole collection of them - at least 15 were out... they are almost as good as being there... but I had "there" to visit. So it was up the coastal highway for me.

I stopped by Gooseberry Falls. Partly to keep warm, partly to see the falls, and partly because I love to - I hiked the falls loop to see the three tiers, the splash zones and the washout areas. The falls are beautiful and this state park is easily accessible for anyone that wants to see a 3 tiered cascading waterfall. The highway bridge adds an arch at the top of it... just stunning. Hopping in and out of my car, I get out again at Split Rock Lighthouse. Built on a Cliffside over 100 feet above the water, the lighthouse marks the spot of tragedy -the Gales of November - boats crashed on the notoriously rocky Superior shoreline. And because Lake Superior is a beast (the largest, deepest, coldest Great Lake), this lighthouse also included a Fog House, where a horn would constantly blow during that "Scooby-doo" fog that were experienced that very day. The fog was so thick that it didn't make sense for me to hike down to the shore for the "view" up BUT it did mean I could continue north.

I was on a mission to get to Grand Portage but all these state parks were calling to me. The coast line was riddled with them. I took mental notes of places I wanted to stop, if I could, on the way back, and pushed through. Made it to the park only to discover that the main attraction there, the fur trading city, did not open until that weekend. Well, I was there, and I was going to learn what I could... The park movie and museum (and my trip to Voyageurs) taught me more about the fur trade then I ever learned in school. [There was this fantastic interactive exhibit that let your negotiate with a company man - was relieved to see my skills are still solid, I got a fair trade and fed my family - go me!!!] This park preserved the great trading town where Indians, company representatives, interpreters, and voyageurs would gather. Merriment was had, furs and goods were exchanged and it was all ruined by the boundary line battle in DC... once the line was redrawn, companies moved north a few miles to Canada and Grand Portage was history. I hiked a steep trail up the cliff to get a grand view of Grand Portage bay and the town... and with that you can see why this spot was chosen for so long. The bay provides protection from the rougher waters of the Lake and those views... wow.

Views continued when I drove the Canadian border to see the most beautiful waterfall outside of Niagara. Grand Portage State Park's High Falls is stunning. One waterfall, broken into 3 sections, like a braid... each section is different and pretty - together, I still swoon at the thought. After an easy hike, you get to stand in the mists, get soaked and just take it in. I don't know why this place does not get the notoriety of Gooseberry - it should. With the right combination of sun, mist, and wind, a huge rainbow forms over the river. Wow, just wow.

There was no way that I could top High Falls... and I didn't but I tried. On the way back to Duluth, I stopped by Cascade Falls State Park for another quick hike to see a punchbowl waterfall and for a beautiful view of the lake shore. By the time I made it to Schroeder, I was spent, so thank goodness the waterfall (a very rocky cascade) was literally on the side of the road.

This left me one full day in Duluth - good thing my hotel was near so much of what I wanted to see. I could see the Lift Bridge from my room, but up close was so much better. Quite honestly, the bridge is not that attractive until you see it "do its thing." The port of Duluth is extremely active and as boats come into the port, Lift Bridge literally lifts its road straight up. I was able to see it a few times from various angles as I meandered around Canal Park enjoying the fountains, the sculptures and the lighthouses. I walked over the bridge to visit city beach and dip my feet into Lake Superior (why, I don't know), and back again to hoof it to the Rose Garden (filled with tulips) and Leif Erikson Park. From there, I wandered the Great Lakes Aquarium, where I fed the trout, and got a lesson in the natural history of the area. Kudos to the facility for teaching visitors about their local surroundings - there is plenty to learn about the Great Lakes region and not everything can be about Nemo and Dory!

I finished by day with 2 foodies institutions - before I left the lake area, I stopped by Betty's Pies in Two Harbors because I was told that I "had to try one before I left." So I did- a Great Lakes Pie, full of berries - yum! Since I was up there, I quickly sopped by another lighthouse for one last bit of touristy goodness and was off to the big city in the pouring rain. After that drive back to Minneapolis, my New Kids concert Buddy took me out for a Juicy Lucy at 5*8 Club, because I "had to have one before I left." Apparently they have been on just about every foodie television show and contest found on the travel and food channels. Good burgers!

Minnesota is beautiful. After visiting, I can say I wish I would have visited sooner. I can't change that, but I can say I will be back. Those waters are calling! I will just have to pack the bug spray, hats, candles, eat tons of garlic before I visit and anything else that may work because I think I donated at least 2 pints of blood to those suckers. I feel better knowing I killed at least a million with my car as I drove around though - that rental car was gross and encrusted with bug corpses. Does that even things out?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Flickertail State, The Peace Garden State, The Rough Rider State

I have to admit (and I know that this won't be a huge shock), that my expectations for North Dakota were not that high. Let's be honest, how many of you out there really feel the "I want to travel to North Dakota" bug? In fact, I people constantly questioning my trip here; heck, I even had locals ask me "why?" That is never a good sign. My answer was always the same, that if I was going to see all the states properly, then I had to not just step foot over the line, but I had to explore it, I had to see something(s).

I did what I wanted. I saw stuff. I went to the cities. I went to the small towns. The parks. Saw roadside attractions. Got lost and drove randomly around on new roads being built at the speed of light. And heard "Don't you know" more times then I could count. I gave North Dakota a chance to wow me. I spent the better part of 4 days there. Not sure I would go back, but it was a nice journey.

I loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park is located in the western end of the state. It takes its name sake from our 26th president Teddy Roosevelt (that's 26 counting Cleveland 2x). These are the therapeutic lands where he went to heal after the death of his mother and his first wife. These are the lands that helped inspire his vision of a sustainable land, where his future legacy took hold. These lands helped create the legend. And for any National Parks lover, they are a "must see". They are not flashy and iconic like Yellowstone or Yosemite, or as green as the Everglades and Sequoia, or as wondrous as Grand Cannon and Arches... but these lands have a rugged beauty. They are a mix of Badlands and grasslands; a collision of topography. Painted landscapes of the forever changing clay hills of the badlands with the all surprises they release, and the gentle wave of the grass moving with the breeze. And after hiking over the badlands to get to the petrified forest, the solid footing of the grasslands is a wondrous feature. The forest is home to some of the largest stumps I have ever seen - taller than me and much wider than I can put my arms around. And the type of petrification is the kind seen in Florissant Fossil Beds, the kind where the tree looks like it was carved out of stone. It retains all of its wood-like characteristics, it is just cerement-like now. You can see bark, you can see tree slivers, or whole logs. It is like a sci-fi movie where the villain has the power to turn you to stone. But if you look closely enough on the trail, there are jeweled pieces, more like you see in Arizona. These pieces reflect the sun and scream "look at me"... in fact, I walked past one piece that looked like a geode with druzy quartz clumped in the center. It was dazzling and well worth the hike.

The upper unit of the park is slightly different. It is smaller, yes, but it is also the section that the Little Missouri cuts through. And here you see the impacts of the last ice age more... There are erratics in the grasslands (aka random large rocks that don't belong there). There are long-horn cattle roaming the grounds as a homage to the areas grazing past. Wildlife viewing is easier with wide open fields - buffalo roam these parts. The park is fenced off as to not intermix the wildlife with the domesticated cattle. Sight lines are impacted by oil drilling. But the best part is the story ... where Roosevelt hopped on a boat to track down thieves, and he brought them back to Dickinson for processing.

The gateway town to Teddy Roosevelt Park is tiny Medora. Locals kept mentioning the Medora Musical, and sadly it did not start until I left town. Celebrating its 50th anniversary, it looks back at the area's wild west history - and that history is not complete without Teddy... and you can visit his first cabin in Medora. Trust me, It is not White House like!

Small towns that dot the state make its cities look huge by comparison. I couldn't visit North Dakota without a visit to Fargo. Yes, I did ask around about the movie (it turns out that it was filmed in a suburb of Minneapolis). BUT, they do have a woodchipper at the visitor center. You have to embrace what makes you famous, even if its a gross scene in an insane Farley Brothers movie. And to fit that quirky style, I found a fun necklace in Zandbroz Variety (the shop with a little of everything - and an eclectic collection of accessories and housewares.) The shopkeepers loved my traveling story and sent me to dinner at the Blackbird for some fancy ND pizza (be still my NJ heart). I stand by my opinion that it was more like flatbread (no pizza has aioli on it). But hey, do as the Dakotians do, don't you know!

I also spent a night in Minot. I had originally planned for it to be a pass-through area, but something caught my eye - the Scandinavian Heritage Center. More specifically a gorgeous wooden structure. After driving past it for 4 blocks, I turned around and spent the next 1 1/2 hours wandering the grounds and talking to the interpreters. Turns out that wooden structure was a beautiful Norwegian church - a replica of a Gol Stave Church. This intricately-carved structure represents the Christian faith and represents a time where nordic culture moved away from their culture and joined the Catholic Church (forcefully or not). Religion not withstanding, the church is beautiful... and with that and the other fun pieces in the park, including the Dalla Horse, the sauna, the mosaic of the nordic region and the statues of Hans Christian Andersen & Leif Erikson - this was a side trip, well worth it!

The International Peace Gardens were just being planted for the season when I arrived. Never fear, there was still plenty to see in this park. There was the conservatory that housed a huge array of arid landscape plants... I am sure the dry heat in there feels wonderful for visitors in the winter. I loved how the horticulturalists displayed the succulents and cacti in sections of color- just beautiful. Outside, the trees were literally humming with bees. Skipperjacks were dancing around waving their "broken" wings to lead you away from their nesting grounds. And you could walk the border line between the US and Canada. The surrounding forest had a plowed line in the trees to designate the boundry - guess the moose, wolves and eagles need passports too (cuz that is all who would be using that area.) The Peace Garden is a tranquil place with a Peace Tower, Peace Chimes, a memorial and a Peace Chapel. Yep, there is a theme. Its a lovely idea, and one that is needed. The Gardens remind you of that too with the September 11th Memorial, with I-beams from the World Trade Center. After seeing that I needed the Peace Chapel to meditate (and read all the quotes regarding love, peace and harmony.) We can do better as people - we have to!

After my long walk around the Gardens I dipped my toes in the cold cold waters of Lake Metigoshe. It brought me flashes of the freezing cold waters for swimming lessons in NJ. It takes some truly high metabolism to stay in those waters... and as I stood with my feet in the water, talking to some locals about the area and my trip, I watched a few kids turn all sorts of shades of purple while diving into the water. I don't know why we as kids never want to get out, even when we are physically shivering, but I remember by mom calling for us to "get out now", just as these parents did to their blue kids. And I got a final laugh as a watched one "knock" his sister's flip-flop off the deck, so he would have to go back in... oh, the tricks never change!

There was a lot of roadside Americana in North Dakota. When planning my trip, I know I wanted to veer off the highway to see the Enchanted Highway. And if you are in the area, you should too. It is impressive. Gary Greff took it upon himself to create the largest metal art sculptures in the world - no joke... and from Gladstone to Regent, you can get out of your car and explore his creations, from fishing ponds to grouse, and a farming family to a collection of grasshoppers. I was enchanted! In Northern North Dakota, at the foothills, towns were more cheeky with their roadside art... Tommy the Turtle rides the local lakes on his jet ski and the another turtle is made of tire-wells. Don't know what it is, but I have to get out and see this crazy stuff... just like I had to stand in the center of North America in Rugby.

North Dakota, I think those winters are making you a bit crazy. Thanks for the laughs.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Twin Cities

With such an ambitious travel plan, I only allotted 2 days in the Twin Cities, which means I have to go back. But that does not mean that I did not cover plenty of ground this trip.

I made sure to see as many iconic sites, museums and images as possible. As soon as I landed, I headed to the Art Institute. It is their birthday, and as a gift, they had a Raphael's The Madonna of the Pinks on loan from London. What an amazing surprise, because even if it is not my favorite art movement, it is still a Raphael (and who doesn't want to see one of the Ninja Turtle namesakes?) The true wonder for me was the Contemporary and Pop Art collection in the museum. This was no small collection AND it was more than Warhol and Lichtenstein. It was filled with everything from a Japanese kimono made of dog tags, to "cute" sculptures of teddy bears, from ceiling projections of colliding asteroids to a giant acrylic dog. The gallery of American Expressionism held beautiful images of urban settings (Corcos's Macy's Parade) to Western Vistas (Hartley's An Evening Mountainscape). And the child in me rejoiced at the collection of old tin banks - the kind that moved and snapped your money into its belly. Happy 100th Birthday Art Institute.

From there, I headed outside to the famous Minneapolis Zoo. Sure, I was going to plenty of parks this trip, but I always like supporting the conservation & educational efforts of zoo and aquariums... and sometimes, I learn something new! This was one of those times. The zoo highlighted the Minnesota trail and all the fantastic critters that make the Land of Lakes their home. There were coyote, wolf, fox, porcupine, eagles, fish, otters, beaver, black bear, lynx, wolverine, and fishers! What is a fisher, you ask? Well, its one of the only critters in the animal kingdom that eat porcupine; they can digest quills. They are adorable - like a long weasely teddy bear but they are not to be messed with. The zoo has been successful in breeding and reintroducing these guys into the wild. In a completely different sections is introducing Hawaiian Monk Seals to its constituents... and already my last state is calling me.

Since I was already on the St Paul side of the city, I headed downtown to visit the Charles Schultz's Peanuts statues all around Rice Park and the Plaza. You can't miss them - Snoopy & Woodstock, Charlie Brown, Schroeder & Lucy , Linus & Sally, Peppermint Patty and Marcie. It was a great collection. And then New Kids hit me... not kidding really. I had not original intention of going to the concert. I have tickets for my home shows, but here they were, right in front of me and I could not help up. Off I went to the Excel Arena, bumped into Danny Wood's father, affectionately called the mayor of New Kids Land and was hooked up with 3rd row seats! It was insane EXCEPT I was still in my travel clothes that I have been power touring in... so I headed to my car and grabbed something new from my suitcase (because I had yet to check into my hotel) and changed at the restaurant while grabbing a meal. And at the concert, I met some awesome new Blockhead friends that I danced the night away with... by the time the show was over and I made it to Midtown Minneapolis - I was spent from my first night.

The next day was no less crazy. With an immediate trip to another midtown Walker Contemporary Art Museum and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, I spent the next few hours looking at all sorts of creations. Where else are you going to see the iconic Cherry on a Spoon fountain? Nestled right next to the sculpture garden, a sculpture garden mini-golf! I wished I had time to play a round but I wanted to look inside the museum... and I was glad I did. They were hosting an International Pop exhibit. Minneapolis truly loves their pop art. It's fantastic. The show was filled with even more color explosions. I fell for a piece by an Icelandic artist that captured American food consumerism - noting all of our choices and variety. (And yet again, another "soon to be" trip is calling me). The show was filled with the tongue in cheek art that is the Pop art message. Art is a commentary on life and Pop Art can highlight the fun, the freakish, the political and the ridiculous.

Before I left Midtown, I headed to Global Market to peruse the trinkets, support the local artist co-op and grab some needed food... The market is on the bottom level of an amazing art-deco building. The building still housed business or local government, as it filled with people in work clothes ready to eat and run. It made me a little jealous (okay, a lot) since we don't even have that kind of option were I work in DC... hey, the grass is always greener...

And speaking of green Minneapolis has over 170 parks. It is one of the greenest big cities out there... and one of its crown jewels is Minnehaha Park, housing Minnehaha Falls. The park (and surrounding parks) are filled with hiking and biking trails, an frisbee golf course, picnic areas and even a water feature of the kids. I took a few hours to soak up some sun on that gorgeous day, walk some trails along the river, take in some views and enjoy the sound of the roaring water pouring over the falls. I needed my strength because I was headed to the mecca of mall commerce...

The mythic Mall of America. I used to fantasize about this place as a kid. The idea of an indoor rollercoaster was too much for my thrill seeking brain to comprehend. And I think it would have exploded because I counted 4 roller coasters of various sizes. My one regret of this entire trip is that I didn't ride them... what was I thinking? Well, technically, I do know. My back was killing me. I had not expected to go hiking in Minnehaha and I didn't wear comfy shoes nor carried a backpack. Walking 4 plus miles in cute flats and carrying a heavy purse and camera will do it. So by the time I got to Mall of America and wandered through the Aquarium there (yep, the aquarium is in the mall), I was done. I walked through the amusement park to Best Buy to purchase a GPS. Yep, I had one. Yep, I did come prepared. And yep, it broke one day into the trip; it was 2 years old. And I needed one to get me through North Dakota, I was not going to have service. With a new GPS and some comfy walking sneaks (I needed them), I can now say I shopped at the Mall of America. I took it all in and headed downtown to crash at the Forshay.

The next morning it was on to more remote pastures!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Have Officially Completed States 48& 49!!

I am back!!!

I did it. 2950 miles in and around North Dakota and Minnesota. On that ten day trip I tackled: 2 National Parks, 2 National Monuments, 6 state parks, 3 city/regional parks, 3 art museums, 2 aquariums, 1 zoo, 1 amusement park in the mall (Mall of America), countless roadside Americana statues, stood at the center of the North America, toured a major city (and 2 smaller ones), crossed/almost crossed the Canadian border 3 times, and saw 1 New Kids concert! I dipped my toes (or more) into Lake Superior, Lake Metigoshe in North Dakota, Lake Itasca in north central Minnesota, Lake Kabetogoama in northern Minnesota and the headwaters of the Mississippi River. I probably hiked over 40 miles in total. I saw many gorgeous waterfalls. Visited a few lighthouses. And spotted some grand wildlife, including my first wild wolf! The weather was kind to me - with only 2 real days of rain that worked with my schedule (I was able to do what I wanted before it poured) and it only got truly cold 2 days while visited (damn that Lake Superior weather effect).

I have a thousand pictures to get through. I will post stories on each state separately... and might split Minnesota in to 2.

There was so much to see. As I say - It's a Big Country - Someone Has to See It! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Heading off to See Minnesota and North Dakota

My sights are set on states 48 & 49. I am finishing the Mid-west this holiday weekend with a long trip through the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes and the Peace Garden State. With this trip, I will see major cities (Minneapolis and Fargo [kinda]), plenty of museums, a few national parks (Theodore Roosevelt and Voyageurs National Parks), some quirky art (the Enchanted Highway), some small towns, plenty of water (Lake Superior and rivers) and lots and lots of road. I estimate that I will be driving over 2000 miles to weave my way around these states. It may be hard to believe that I am giddy, but I am... I have been actively working on this list for 15 years ... finishing the contigious United States has me excited. Stay tuned... bet you don't know many people this excited to see North Dakota!