Summer Vacation to the Upper Midwest

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North America » United States » Minnesota
July 28th 2001
Published: July 8th 2011
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Over Spring Break 2001 we visited my sister Sue, husband Rob, and their kids Alyssa and Brendan, in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. We went to Sanibel Island and then to Disney World and Universal Studios. As summer approached we didn’t have any vacation plans. We had sworn off road trips, but as I contemplated the map of the U.S. I realized that we had been to every state except for Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Alaska. This would mean at least one more road trip; but we decided to cater to the kids activities and not stay at B&Bs. So we decided to go camping and stay at nice hotels with swimming pools. I check the internet and made reservations for the campground at Bear Head Lake State Park, near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

28 July 2001 Saturday. We set off for our longest daily drive of the trip…all interstate, better to get it behind us…to Midland, Michigan, right in the middle of the Lower Peninsula. We stayed at the Marriott Hotel with a large pool. We had a great dinner at their dining room and then the kids got to swim while Linda and I relaxed.

29 July 2001 Sunday. We drove the scenic route to the Great Bear Dunes National Seashore for some pictures and a short hike before continuing north along the shore of Lake Michigan to Traverse City for lunch. Then we stopped in Charlevoix where an eccentric architect had built a community of homes out of rocks and slate that looked like hobbit homes. We crossed the Mackinac Straits Bridge, a five mile long suspension bridge, to the Upper Peninsula. The kids were afraid of the crossing, especially as a thunderstorm was quickly approaching.

We arrived in Sault Ste Marie and immediately crossed into Canada so the kids could buy Kindereggs, their favorite candy in Belgium, which wasn’t available in the States. We stayed at another nice hotel with a pool.

30 July 2001 Monday. We drove west along the north shore of the Upper Peninsula, stopping at the Painted Rocks National Lakeshore and then lunch in Marquette. We arrived at our hotel in Superior, Wisconsin at 5:30 pm in stormy weather. We ate at a Perkins and the service was terrible. I wasn’t served until everyone else had finished eating. No tip! The hotel had a business room with internet so we checked our email and then went swimming.

31 July 2001 Tuesday. We were confronted with continuing strong rains, which didn’t bode well for us as we would be camping the next few days. I hate setting up a tent in the rain…almost as bad as taking one down in the rain! We drove through Duluth and along the north shore of Lake Superior stopping at Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse…which was privately owned so we couldn’t get near it.

Meanwhile, the weather was raining off and on…mostly on. We continued to the campground where mercifully the rain stopped long enough for us to erect the tent. The moment it was set up the rain continued. We drove back to Ely, about 18 miles back in the direction we had come from, where we had seen a Pizza Hut and had a late lunch and did some grocery shopping.

We returned to camp late afternoon by which time the rain had stopped, allowing us to start a campfire and cook dinner. After dinner the kids started to explore the campgrounds and make friends. We turned in late. Our sleeping bags kept us quite warm as outside the rain had started again and it was cold.

1 August 2001 Wednesday. The rain continued so rather than spending the day huddled up in our tent we decided to drive to International Falls and Fort Francis, Ontario, Canada. The kids had eaten their Kindereggs and wanted more. We had lunch at a local diner in Fort Francis, and then drove back by way of Voyageurs National Park which is just a big lake.

We were able to get a fire going back at camp as the rain stopped. Our kids had made many friends so we didn’t have to worry about them. That night as we were sleeping the rain really came down. Rosanna woke up and told Linda the tent was leaking. Linda told her to move her sleeping bag to were it wasn’t leaking. We soon discovered our tent was full of water and only our air mattresses kept us afloat. The rest of the night was wet and cold.

2 August 2001 Thursday. The storms from last night had passed and the weather was perfect. We immediately drove to Tower, the nearest town with a laundromat to dry out our sleeping bags, towels, and clothes.

After lunch we returned to camp where I rented an electric motor boat. It went so slow that the kids soon lost interest and joined their friends swimming. Linda wanted to stay in camp to organize and relax, so I took the boat across the lake. The wind soon picked up and blew me to the far shore. When I turned around to head back to the dock, the headwinds were too strong for the underpowered motor to make any headway. I had to hug the shore out of the strongest winds to make any progress. Finally one of the other dads saw my plight and climbed into the boat to help me row the boat back to the dock. Bad experience! That evening we had a pleasant time around the campfire. The smoke and citronella kept the mosquitoes away.

3 August 2001 Friday. We rented a canoe for the day, but took a break at noon to drive into Ely for lunch and shopping. The canoe was much better than the boat, although some skill is required to keep the canoe pointed in the right direction when encountering headwinds.

The kids didn’t have the patience for such a slow moving vessel so they joined their friends. Linda and I explored the for lakeshore, where we found an eagle in its nest, and paddled up streams feeding the lake. We returned to camp just as it was getting dark. The kids were playing happily with their friends so Linda and I just sat on the shore watching the moon rise. We were surrounded by the North Woods, with our senses hearing the murmured conversations of other campers and feeling the cool breeze, and smelling the smoke from hamburgers and hot dogs roasting over the campfires. It was so peaceful and beautiful, more than making up for the bad weather we had earlier. The days were in the 70’s and the nights in the 40’s. The kids wanted to stay forever but we had to head for North Dakota the next day.

4 August 2001 Saturday. We broke camp to sunny weather, emptying the tent of critters, and were on the road by 9 am. We stopped in Hibbing to see the giant pit of the iron mine. Then we stopped briefly in Bena to see where my Aunt Jean used to
Linda searching for shells in Lake SuperiorLinda searching for shells in Lake SuperiorLinda searching for shells in Lake Superior

Are there shells in fresh water lakes?
live. We swung by Bemidji to see the statue of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Ox. We stopped at Lake Itasca State Park to see the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Linda and Will took their shoes off and waded the first hundred yards of the river, which was knee deep and a dozen feet wide at that point.

We continued west and when I filled up the gas in Detroit Lakes I noticed the temperature was warmer so we turned on the air conditioner. When we arrived in Fargo, North Dakota at 6 pm, a bank electronic sign recorded the temperature at 96 degrees. I rolled the window down, and confirmed that it was hot outside! The radio said that the temperatures for the next few days were going to be very hot. I didn’t think we could survive the next two nights in a tent at Fort Ransom State Park, and fell asleep not knowing what we would do for the next two days.

5 August 2001 Sunday. Linda woke up early and did laundry and talked to some Somali women who cleaned the hotel. We were in no hurry as we didn’t know what to do. We finally decided to swing by Fort Ransom just to see what we would be missing should we decide to continue with the rest of our schedule.

We drove west on I-94. Trucks were pulled over due to overheating as swarms of butterflies clogged up the front of the radiators. We had lunch in Valley City and then swung south along the Sheyenne River, which was recessed into the plains. We arrived at Fort Ransom State Park about 2 pm. The girl at the entrance gate was fanning herself to keep from getting heat stroke, but was so nice. She convinced us to stay at least one night, which we did.

We set up our camp, which was a very nice site, but it was over 100 degrees. We got into our air conditioned car and drove to Fort Ransom, the town of 100 people, and then to Kathryn, a small Norwegian immigrant farming community for dinner at a small family restaurant. The food was cheap and tasty. We returned to our camp to start a fire, but the mosquitoes drove us away.

We decided to rent two canoes. They drove us up river about 4 miles and launched us. We had from 6:30 to 8:30 pm to get back. Tamara, Rosanna, and Linda had one canoe and Will and I had the other. The river had a strong current, but with many fallen trees that had to be dodged. I could steer ok, but the girls were always getting hung up in the braches of fallen trees. I heard some cows hidden behind the trees which made grunting sounds. I told Will it was a bear. He paddled as fast as he could to get away.

We made it back to camp on time. We lit a fire, but nothing kept the mosquitoes away. They must have been hungrier than Minnesota mosquitoes. So we spent the evening in our tent; raising all the flaps to get whatever prairie breeze we could catch. During the night green frogs and dragon flies found their way into the tent. Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep that night so cancelled the second night’s reservation.

6 August 2001 Monday. We broke camp early. We saw another storm front approaching from the west and wanted to to stay ahead of it as we drove east in the direction of home. We caught I-94 in the direction of Minneapolis, and stopped for lunch in Sauk Center, the home of author Sinclair Lewis and Garrison Keilor of Lake Wobegon fame.

We arrived at the gigantic Mall of America south of Minneapolis about 3 pm and let the kids ride the amusement rides. After dinner we turned in early because we were all tired from the night before.

7 August 2001 Tuesday. We didn’t have to drive far today as we had gained a day after cancelling the second night at Fort Ransom. We drove to Stillwater, a quaint river town with many antique stores. We drove down the Mississippi River and crossed at Red Wing into Wisconsin to visit Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods; where her family lived before moving to the Little House on the Prairie.

We arrived at our final destination for that day at 2:30 pm, the Anderson House. We wanted to stay here because not only was it the oldest hotel in Minnesota, they also provided their guests with cats to keep them company in their rooms. We had two rooms so the kids picked out two cats;
Tamara, Bob, Will, and Linda sitting around the camp fireTamara, Bob, Will, and Linda sitting around the camp fireTamara, Bob, Will, and Linda sitting around the camp fire

It was so wet my camera lens fogged up
each with instructions as to what they liked. The air conditioning system couldn’t keep up with the heat so we changed rooms. Dinner at the hotel was delicious. They didn’t have a swimming pool, but the kids were happy playing with the cats.

8 August 2001 Wednesday. This would be a long day, but we didn’t want to cut anything out. We drove along the River Road to Effigy Mounds National Monument where the mound Indians had built massive mounds. It was too hot to hike around all the mounds, but the visitor center was air conditioned and informative.

Next stop was Dyersville, Iowa to visit the Field of Dreams. I bought Will a baseball and he pitched me a few. Next was the historic river town of Galena, Illinois, the home of President Grant. Then it was a long drive across Illinois around Chicago, to Indiana where we arrived at our hotel about 10 pm, enough time for the kids to get in an hour of swimming before the pool closed.

9 August 2001 Thursday. We took the scenic route for the first hour past Amish farms, then took I-80 across Ohio and I-76 and 70 across Pennsylvania and Maryland, finally arriving home late afternoon. Next year Alaska!

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