Bonnie’s Deadly Deed

A recounting of a 10-year holiday memory…



Finally, the nasty weather had given way to a brisk and sunny Black Friday, and Bonnie was eager to shed her restlessness. Three weeks had passed since our last outing, and I could tell she needed a proper walk. Her telltale kitchen dance with paws clattering across the hardwood floor made it obvious to Leah and me.

Merely grabbing her leash had Bonnie running in tight circles after her stubby tail, making her difficult to collar. She strained against her leash, pulling me past the front door. She leapt into the cargo space of my SUV, and curled into a ball, completely satisfied with her preparation.

One of Bonnie’s favorite walks takes us through the fancy neighborhood of Mountain Lakes, NJ for a closer look at how all the Blue Buffalo stew-eaters live, so off we went to walk among the Mountain Lake estates.

Fortunately, the local shopping malls had swallowed most of the area’s cars, so the four- mile drive to Boulevard took little time, and parking was a breeze.

The moment Bonnie’s legs hit the pavement, she eagerly sniffed for a place to do her business. Naturally, Leah and I were prepared for this moment, so out came a baggie that’s perfect for scooping.

But carrying a used baggie so early in the walk can be a bit annoying; it spoils my walking rhythm, and besides, it smells!

I believed the durable construction of the Rubbermaid barrel by the side door of the yellow house on our right would provide an ideal resting place for Bonnie’s poop, so off I went to make a deposit. I crossed through a hole between two hedges, and dropped Bonnie’s dirty deed atop a pizza delivery box with a cartoon chef declaring, “We Are Pleased to Serve You.” It seemed so apropos.

I secured the lid and rejoined my girls just as the homeowner cracked the side door, craned his neck and asked, “Can I help you?”

“No thanks,” I answered, “I’m just doing an inspection of garbage cans in the neighborhood, and I’m happy to say that you’ve passed!” I waved good-bye as Leah shot me a look, and we continued our walk.

We turned onto a new block and climbed a steep hill. Just as we were enjoying the fresh air and the scenery, a cream-colored Lexus sedan sped by, and cut us off. The driver’s side door opened, and the burly-looking homeowner emerged holding Bonnie’s holdings, but now sealed within a heavy-duty double-lined zip-locked baggie.

“I think this belongs to you,” he said, extending his arm with a dour look on his face.

And then came his rant. “My wife is seriously allergic to this! Do you realize you could have killed my wife and the baby she’s carrying if she was exposed to this? After eight goddamn years of trying, and spending tens of thousands of dollars on IVF drugs and testing, she finally gets pregnant. So now she’s on bed rest with two months to go, and here you come with your dog shit, and you’re gonna fuck it up for all of us.”

The veins of his forehead were bulging under his DeMarco Sanitation cap. I wondered if he would hit me, so I instinctively felt for the keys in my pocket and gripped them between my fingers as a defensive measure.

“I’m sorry,” I stated in my most solemn voice. “I had no idea that Bonnie’s poop was so treacherous. She’s only a cockapoo, and she really doesn’t mean any harm. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us.” I graciously took the bag of shit with my left hand, withdrew my right hand from my pocket and reached to shake his hand. “No harm, no foul,” I offered.

What else could I do?

As if by magic, he immediately relaxed and we chatted for a few minutes, trading personal histories. He introduced himself as Jason, and pointing to his cap, informed me that he owned a local waste management and carting company. I took a half-step back from him, my mind brimming with comparisons of Tony Soprano.

Jason revealed that he recently moved to Mountain Lakes, and hoped to raise a family in a clean and peaceful neighborhood. I wished his family peace and cleanliness, and I reiterated my apology for my faux paws.

With Jason assuaged and his forgiveness assured, Leah, Bonnie and I continued our walk, but now with a bigger baggie and a familiar problem.

After reaching the top of the hill, we discovered a new mansion under construction. A large dumpster stood guard in the front yard. I checked around in all directions to make sure we were hidden from view.

“Don’t you dare!” Leah threatened.

But I was already committed. I tossed the baggie into the heart of the steel container, and quick-stepped away from the property. Glancing back, I casually surveyed the new architecture with the over-sized receptacle in the foreground–emblazoned with D-E-M-A-R-C-O in large, white, stenciled letters–and reflected on my full-circle achievement.



RIP, Bonnie!

Harriman Hikers

The four of us (Doug, Arlene, Leah and I) have been hiking together for nearly 15 years.

hikers (2)

We bonded as regulars of Harriman Hikers–a 45 year-old organization of singles from New York and New Jersey who continue to gather every Sunday, year-round, rain or shine at Ramapo College to hike Harriman State Park, along with other trails in Wawayanda State Park, Norvin Green State Forest, Ramapo Reservation and the southern Hudson Valley.

I met the Harriman Hikers through Leah just a few months into our courtship, and accepted an invitation to hike with her group. I felt confident that sufficient time had passed after rehabilitating a broken leg and torn knee caused by a Kamakazi snowboader 6 months earlier.

Big mistake! These were dedicated hikers who had mapped out a grueling 12-mile hike of steep ascents and descents, leaving me noticeably lame at the end of 6 hours in the woods. I thought that Leah might have to carry me out.

As time passed, my stamina improved, as did my personal relationships within the group. Over time, Leah and I strayed from the pack and blazed our own trail, hiking different destinations at our own convenience with Doug and Arlene, who initially met through Harriman Hikers and eventually married.

Since moving from New Jersey to St. Augustine, Leah and I have maintained a long distance relationship with Doug and Arlene, and we were eager to reprise our traditional Thanksgiving hike together…especially after over-eating with family the night before!

family table

It was time to return to Harriman. We arranged to meet at the Lake Skannatati parking lot located off Seven Lakes Drive. Fortunately, the temperature was more conducive to hiking than the prior year (see Becoming My Parents).

As always, it was great catching up with familiar faces in familiar places. We leisurely looped around the mounds of granite…

our route

…traveling 5.66 miles over 3:42:26,

Annotation 2019-12-01 205640

and reached the ridgeline approximately one hour into the hike. The wind was brisk at the clearing, but the view from the top of the hill was worthy of the chill.

Harriman ridgeline

And the warmth of our friendship carried us the rest of the way.

Harpers Ferry–Then and Now

One hundred and sixty years ago, John Brown and his abolitionist brigade played a pivotal role in American history by raiding the South’s largest federal armory in Harpers Ferry with the intention of fueling a rebellion of slaves from Virginia and North Carolina, and envisioning a subsequent society where all people–regardless of color–would be free and equal.

confluence

The initial siege caught U.S. soldiers off guard and the armory and munitions plant were captured with little resistance. Brown’s marauders took sixty townsfolk hostage (including the great grandnephew of George Washington), and slashed the telegraph wires in an attempt to isolate the town from outside communication.

barrels

However, a B&O passenger train, originally detained at the bridge, was allowed to continue its journey to Baltimore, where employees sounded the alarm and troops were immediately dispatched to quell the insurrection.

trestle

In another of Brown’s miscalculations, the local militia pinned down Brown’s insurgents inside the engine house while awaiting reinforcements,

militia

yet newly freed slaves never came to his rescue.

St. Peters

Ninety U.S. Marines under Colonel Robert E. Lee’s command arrived by train the next evening and successfully stormed the stronghold the following day. When the dust had settled, ten of Brown’s raiders were killed (including two of his sons),

Heyward Shepherd memorial.jpg

five had escaped, and seven were captured, including John Brown.

questioning after capture

John Brown was quickly tried and convicted of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia.

trial

Just before his hanging on December 2, 1859, Brown prophesied the coming of civil war: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.”

hanging

How right he was! To the North, Brown was a martyr; to the South, he was a traitor. To a fractured and fragile country, he was the first American to be sentenced and executed for treason.

John Brown (2)

John Brown’s raid and subsequent trial hardenened the separatism between the country’s abolitionist and pro-slavery factions,

Appalachian Trail

…and advanced the disparate and insurmountable ideologies of the North and the South, until only the Civil War could satisfy the issue and begin healing the nation.

stone stairs to heaven


The term treason has been loosely bandied about of late and with tremendous fanfare, albeit little distinction. It’s become a familiar talking point for Donald Trump, whose insulting language and hyperbolic demagoguery continue to rouse his supporters as it diminishes the civility of our national conversation.

Bold and courageous public servants and patriots who are honor bound to defend democracy have been branded as traitors and accused of treasonous behavior because they dare to speak out against corruption and wrongdoing inside the White House.

white house

And the implications are worrisome, for the stakes are high. In a country that values free speech, treason is not about displaced loyalties; it has nothing to do with political dissent; and it has no standing in speaking truth to power. Treason is about pledging allegiance to power and greed instead of American values, like diversity and unity.

As before, politics continues to polarize the nation,

church nave (2)

while our Legislative Branch of government seeks a constitutional remedy against the Executive Branch through an impeachment process. And once again, ideological differences have fostered veiled threats of civil war.

If history is to be our guide, then John Brown must be our beacon. During his sentencing he lamented, “…had I so interfered in behalf of the rich, the powerful, the intelligent, the so-called great, or in behalf of any of their friends…and suffered and sacrificed what I have in this interference, it would have been all right; and every man in this court would have deemed it an act worthy of reward rather than punishment.”

gravesite

Sounds remarkably familiar.

More than ever, we must steer through political currents, and find our way around deception, obfuscation and misdirection if our democracy is to stay afloat.

floating

Tent Rocks

Leah and I were yearning for a satisfying hike through the mountains of New Mexico that we’d yet to explore. While we were happy hiking the Tecolote Trail in the Sandia Mountains–which offered pleasant panoramas of the desert floor stretching nine miles to South Mountain, and views of Sandia Crest that had us wishing we could stay longer–

Sandia overlook (3)

…the whipping wind that swept across the overlook killed any notion of lingering along the mesa top to enjoy the spots of fall color that recently dotted the evergreen terrain.

Sandia overlook4 (3)

However, the following day, a stroll through Albuquerque’s Old Town…

San Felipe de Neri

brought us to a photography gallery that showcased Southwestern landscapes and introduced us to Tent Rocks.

Old Town

“That place looks cool. We should go there,” I asserted.

“I agree, but how do you know if we can even get there from here?” Leah questioned.

After consulting Google, I learned that Tent Rocks was a National Monument located within the Pueblo of Cochiti, only an hour north of Albuquerque.

The following day, riding north on NM-14 (part of the scenic and historic Turquise Trail National Scenic Byway), we took a left turn onto NM-301, a rutted, dusty road connecting to NM-22.

We approached the earthen wall of the Cochiti Dam, a controversial water management project approved by Congress in 1960, and finished in 1975 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Cochiti Lake.png

Stretching 5 miles across the desert, and rising 250 feet above the Rio Grande, the resultant lake flooded sacred lands and fields belonging to local tribes for centuries.

We continued west on NM-22 for two miles before arriving at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. We pulled up behind seven parked cars–each one waiting to pay five bucks to the BLM park ranger stretching his legs beside the fee station. Our SUV idled a minute or two, but the line was at a standstill.

The sign post beside us forecasted a 30-minute wait-time from our current position.

“I’m gonna take a walk,” and Leah was out of the car, working her way to the front of the line.

The news arrived in under a minute…offering a Trail Guide.

“All 94 parking spaces are taken,” Leah explains with a hint of exasperation. “They probably arrived when the gates opened at 8am.”

“Okay. So that was two hours ago,” I respond, admitting the obvious. “It says here on the map that the trail is 1.5 miles in and out, so hopefully, a lot of people should be on their way out by now.”

“How long do you think we’ll have to wait here?” asks Leah.

“According to the sign, it’s a 30-minute wait,” I assert.

“Smartass!” she hurls.

After 20 minutes of anticipation, I noticed movement in the ranks! Two cars in front gave up the wait and U-turned, leaving us in sixth place. 

Silly people. If only they had waited a few minutes longer. Soon after, a rash of cars passed us on the way out, and we were on our way, cruising through four miles of dip-after-dip, tribal land road, before reaching the parking zone.

While Leah and Carrie (Leah’s daughter) waited in line for the only outhouse in the vicinity, I caught up on my reading at the trailhead.

slot canyon info

History and Geology

Geologic treasure

volcanic activity

As interested as I was to learn about New Mexico’s volcanic eruptions and its pyroclastic flows, I was itching to get on the trail and weave through the slot canyon.

slot canyon

The canyon walls were so narrow in places, that only one person could navigate the labyrinth at a time.

slot canyon trail

It reminded me of the way that road crews monitor traffic on a one way road…

slot and boulder

…and it was vaguely reminiscent of a similar protocol at the fee station and toilet.

canyon walls

Of course, with so many early hikers already on the trail and now turning back, it made for several occasional stops, and many pleasant exchanges along the way.

However, when the canyon finally opened up, we were greeted with a greater appreciation of what seven million years had done to the place.

canyon trail

hoodoo cliff

hoodoo peaks

Leah and Carrie (2)

Even the trees seemed magical, managing to stand in the shadow of such uncertain footing. 

pine shadow

long root (2).jpg

Once we reached a clearing in the trail, we began our 630-foot ascent to the mesa top, giving us a better perspective of our lair,

peak towers

and freeing us from all obstructions,

canyon pan

until we could gaze across the Jemez Mountains,

Jemez Mountains (3)

and remind ourselves, once again, why it’s always a good idea to wait one’s turn in line.

Tent Rocks

High Time

While camping alongside the Airstream factory in Jackson Center (see Building Airstreams), Leah and I wondered how we would kill time during our weekend stopover. There wasn’t much to do in town, although we were within walking distance of the Elder Theatre, a one-screen cinema showcasing Dora and the Lost City of Gold and the Heidout Restaurant, serving bar food backed by a roadhouse jukebox.

We took a pass on both, and drove to Bellefontaine, 20 miles east of our location. How fortuitous, because high atop Campbell Hill–overlooking a scenic parking lot, and peaks of grasslands beyond, as far as the eye can see–

Campbell Hill panorama

sits the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center, a two-year career-technical high school campus that also doubles as the highest point in Ohio, at 1549 feet elevation.

Campbell Hill marker

Once upon a Cold War time, this site was home to Bellefontaine Air Force Station, providing radar surveillance to NORAD in the event of a Soviet invasion from the North Pole.

Remnants remain.

Hazmat Team

Leah and I were giddy with excitement. It could have been the altitude, but the notion that we were standing at the highest point in Ohio nearly took our breath away. 

highest point

However, we are seasoned travelers who have Airstreamed through most of America (see Top of the World), and we refused to be intimidated by the height of Campbell Hill.

Admittedly, we were weak-kneed.

We took a deep breath to clear our heads, and took a seat on a strategically placed bench by the geodetic survey marker.

Campbell Hill bench

After a snack to raise our blood sugar, we managed to trek to the parking lot a short distance away. As I regained my composure inside the F-150, I realized that we were brought here for a reason. I figured that given our vantage point and strategic positioning, the military may be interested in recommissioning this location as a secure listening post as we approach the 2020 presidential elections.

 

 

Looking Back in Pictures

Leah and I are winding down our Great Lakes circumnavigation 200 miles south of Lake Erie, where a hundred or more local and distant celebrants have gathered in Ligonier, PA to party with Tiff and Jim on their 25th wedding anniversary.

Appropriately, it was Ligonier and the surrounding Laurel Highlands where Leah and I broke our Airstream cherry. It was the cusp of winter/spring; it was the day after Leah’s 60ish birthday; and it was my first day of retirement.

We dug ourselves out of a major New Jersey snowstorm, and loaded up the Airstream and the F-150 with a year’s worth of gear and courage. Our maiden voyage left us white-knuckled as we precariously cruised the backroads to find Tiff and Jim’s country house in darkness. That was 29 months ago.

Today, we are seasoned road warriors who have grown in confidence, and somehow avoid repeating our original mistakes. Instead, we make new mistakes, which keeps us on our toes.

Circling back to Ligonier after three months of Great Lakes coastal roads has also given me time to reflect on the places I traveled, the things I’ve seen, and the moments I captured.

What follows is a snapshot retrospective along our route:

Niagara Falls ON
Niagara Falls, Ontario–Victoria Avenue
Wawa ON
Wawa, Ontario–Young’s General Store
St. Ignace MI
St. Ignace, Michigan–Castle Rock
Ft. Williams, ON
Fort William, Ontario–Mount McKay
Duluth MN
Duluth, Minnesota–Canal Park
Duluth MN (2)
Eldes Corner, Minnesota–Jay Cooke State Park
Carlton MN
Carlton, Minnesota–Buffalo Valley RV Campground
Cloquet MN
Esko, Minnesota–East Highway 61
Bayfield WI
Bayfield, Wisconsin–Howl Adventure Center
LaPointe WI
Bayfield, Wisconsin–1st Street
Musining MI
Munising, Michigan–The Dogpatch
Sturgeon Bay WI
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin–N. 3rd Avenue
Ellison Bay WI
Ellison Bay, Wisconsin–WI-42
Egg Harbor WI
Egg Harbor, Wisconsin–WI-42
Devil's Doorway, WI.jpg
Baraboo, Wisconsin–Devil’s Doorway, Devil’s Lake State Park
Baraboo, WI
Baraboo, Wisconsin–Circus World
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Wisconsin Dell, Wisconsin–Broadway
Plain, WI
Plain, Wisconsin–Ederer Dairy Supply
Milwaukee WI
Milwaukee, Wisconsin–Lakefront Brewery
Stay Puft
Highland Park, Illinois–Ravinia Festival
Niles IL
Niles, Illinois–Leaning Tower of Niles
Grand Rapids MI
Grand Rapids, Michigan–Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
Traverse City, MI
Traverse City, Michigan–Warehouse District
Dearborn, MI
Dearborn, Michigan–Ford Rouge Factory
Detroit, MI
Detroit, Michigan–Heidelberg Project
Detroit, MI1
Detroit, Michigan–Comerica Park
Long Live Rock Leah
Cleveland, Ohio–Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Bellefountaine, OH
Bellefontaine, Ohio–S. Main Street
Pittsburgh, PA 1
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–Andy Warhol Museum (Keith Haring)
Pittsburgh, PA
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–Mattress Factory (Yayoi Kusama)
Willie and Leah
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania–PNC Park (Willie “Pops” Stargell)
Ligonier PA
Ligonier, PA–Fort Ligonier

This is only the beginning for us. Stay tuned for more travel follies…

This is Motown

Leah and I were looking forward to touring Hitsville, USA after determining that a visit to Detroit was an essential part of our Great Lakes adventure.

Once we arrived at Motown Studios, I sensed a different kind of energy around me. Almost immediately, I found parking for the F-150 just beyond the funeral parlor’s yellow lines, and saw it as an omen of sorts for something good.

The scene around the house pulsed with enthusiasm and excitement. The crowd was as mixed as a casting call for Felinni’s Amarcord, yet everyone shared a common connection to the music, which made for instant bonding.

A like-minded gentleman of similar age joined me as I read the commemorative plaque, and I turned to him.

“Do you realize that we are the generation of those spider things?” I joked.

plaque a

“Tell me about it!” he shrugged. “I got memories fitting that thingagmajig into the record hole just so I could stack my 45’s on the record player.”

plaque b

“Amen!” I replied.

We shook hand and moved on.

Fans from across the country and around the world made the pilgrimage to celebrate the soundtrack to America’s social, political, and cultural consciousness.

Leah took a trip to the box office, while I attempted a portrait of Hitsville Chapel, all the while dodging families posing for selfies on the steps. 

Hitsville USA

Leah returned without tickets. To our disappointment, the 5pm tour was sold out…weeks ago. It never occurred to us to secure tickets beforehand.

“Let’s go inside,” I suggested. “We’ve come this far. Maybe there’s something to see, or something we can do to fix this fiasco.”

The front door opened to an overflowing gift shop doing brisk business, but we weren’t there to buy souvenirs (at least not right away). We were there to relive our childhoods.

I walked around the backside of the shop, where I found the exit to the exhibition. 

MLK

So close, yet so far…to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 173 miles east of us…

60 years
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame display

to catch up on nifty artifacts.

artifacts (2)
Stevie Wonder costume/Fan magazine (from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame collection)

“I think I can get us in,” Leah announced.

“Really!?” I mused. “And how are you gonnna manage that?”

“I think I can convince the guard to feel sorry for us, and he’ll let us in,” she boasted.

“Just like that!?” I laughed.

“You’ll see,” she insisted.

I think the security guard of 25 years has probably heard every sob story imaginable, except for Leah’s. To be expected, Leah’s story had little impact on his decision, but he must have been moved somewhat.

He withdrew a tattered writing pad from his shirt pocket. “Y’know, over the years, I collected the addresses of some Motown legends, and I don’t really show it aroun’, but I’m gonna make an exception in your case, ’cause you came all this way for nothin’.”

Notebook (2)

“And all these addresses are in Detroit?” I asked.

“Yup!” declared security.

Wanting clarification, “and they’re real?”

“Yup, but do me a favor and keep it on the QT, OK? I don’t want the neighbors hassled and all,” he advised.

Cool! While we had lost the grand prize, it seemed, at the very least, that we were leaving with parting gifts. With addresses in hand, Leah and I decided to regroup and return the following day to play “private investigator.”

When plotting addresses on GPS, it became clear to us that many of the homes were within a ten-mile range of each other, so off we went on our real estate scavanger hunt of once-lived-in homes of America’s greatest rhythm and blues, and soul singers.

We started our tour at Florence Ballard’s home in Detroit’s largest historic district, Russell Woods. Florence was a founding member of the Supremes, who passed in 1976.

Florence Banard

In her early years, Diana Ross lived with her family on the top floor of this duplex, just north of Arden Park.

Diana Ross

It turns out, it was only five miles away from Berry Gordy, Jr.’s home, until he sold it to Mavin Gaye in the ’70’s…

Marvin Gaye

and moved to a 10,500 sq ft Italianate mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison historic district with 10 bedrooms, 7 baths, a 4,000 sq ft pool house, and a 5-car carriage house.

Berry Gordy

Nearby, Gladys Knight lived in a 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath Tudor in Detroit’s Martin Park neighborhood.

Gladys Knight

Around the corner, lived Temptation’s co-founder and lead singer, Eddie Kendricks in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath 2,300 sq ft house.

Eddie Kendrick

And only a couple of miles away in the Bagley neighborhood lived Stevie Wonder in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath gabled house.

Stevie Wonder

By now, I was fading from driving through Detroit traffic; and I was losing interest in photographing the rest of the listings. Additionally, I considered that crawling to a stop in front of someone’s house, double-parking, and positioning a camera through the window probably looked suspicious and creepy to any onlookers.

The following afternoon, the day of our departure, a home in Detroit’s Chandler Park section exploded–14 miles east of our recent real estate sweep.

 

One firefighter was injured in the blast. The Fire Marshall determined that a gas leak was to blame, but arson investigators are on the scene.

“Y’think this was an omen, too?” Leah mused.

“Nah! Just a coincidence!” I answered.

(Or maybe the beginning of another impossibly flaky, half-baked conspiracy theory!)

 

 

 

 

A Sleeping Bear Dunes Ditty

Do not descend the dune.

Sleeping Bear Dune

A thousand feet of uphill sand could easily be your ruin.

Sleeping Bear

The Sleeping Bear will soon awake.

Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive

He’ll cause your arms and legs to ache.

climbing the dunes

You’ll wish you never saw the lake,

Glen Lake

for now you sing a sorry tune.

Warning

 

 

 

Wisconsin Dells

Long before kitsch and water parks ruled the region, visitors from around the world traveled to the Dells to marvel at the iconic sandstone formations carved by a glacier that plowed through Wisconsin approximately 15,000 years ago–leaving behind a 5-mile gorge struck from rock that’s older than anything on earth.

Cambrian Rock

Word of this discovery spread quickly, attracting Leroy Gates, a lumber rafter with a notion that promotion would bring tourism to the river he loved, and earn him a buck or two to boot. In 1856, Gates offered the first guided boat tours of the Dells of Wisconsin, and made sure everyone knew it.

Gates carving (2)

Supposedly, Gates and his associate guides would sit under umbrellas sipping lemonade, while the guests would paddle their boats up river to destined attractions…

Dells rowboat HH Bennett

until steamboats took over in 1873.

Escort 1892

Fortunately, landscape photographer H.H. Bennett was there to capture it all–taking souvenir photos of the tourists, and landing a place in history as “the man who made the Wisconsin Dells famous.”

HH Bennett plaque

Today, Dells Boat Tours continues the tradition on the river…

boat ride HQ

with a fleet of 17 vessels that carry half a million passengers year after year.

Dells Boat Tours

Captain Bob piloted our riverboat north through the Upper Dells,

Wisconsin River

while First Mate Abby called out the names of rock sculptures famously characterized by H. H. Bennett:

Blackhawk
Black Rock’s profile
Chimney rock
Chimney Rock
Lovers' Leap
High Rock
stacked rocks
Alligator Rocks
cliff
Romance Cliffs

After manuevering through the Devil’s Elbow…

Devil's Elbow (4)

Captain Bob turned into a slot canyon discovered–and affectionately named Witches Gulch by Bennett. Apparently, the name was intended to be sinister and provocative. His strategy was reinforced by similar names inside the canyon, such as:

Whirlpool Chambers
Whirlpool Chambers
Witches Window
Witches Window
Witches Bathtub and
Witches Bathtub and Witches Falls

Eventually, Bennett built a tie-up dock, threaded a boardwalk through the canyon walls, and created a photography concession at the terminus.  We were about to see why, as Captain Bob eased toward the mooring.

shallow river

Abby tied up the riverboat,

Wittches Gulch boat dock

and we walked the boards,

Witches Gulch

for a closer look at the beauty of ancient splittered sandstone turned emerald,

boardwalk

and the waves of light and darkness.

sculpted rock layers1

gradiant ridges

gatekeeper
The Winnebego Gatekeeper and His Dog

sedimentary formation (2)

Next, we cruised across the Wisconsin River to the western shoreline to visit the Dells’ most precious formation,

standing rock
Stand Rock

made famous by H.H. Bennett’s photograph of his 17-year old son, Ashley leaping onto the column from a neighboring cliff in 1886.

bennet-leap-2-e1563677024968.jpg
Leaping the Chasm

We gathered under the rock for an equally impressive demonstration by a trained German Shepherd from Juneau County…

5 ft 3 in

that jumped the 5-foot gap without hesitation.

leaping shepherd

We completed the trail back to the boat, passing other impressive formations along the way…

tower slices
Toadstool
vertical lips
Cave Lips
arch and cave
Three Tongue Cave

until it was time to reboard the Marquette and return to the tour operator’s dock. As we cruised back under sunny skies, boat traffic on the river had blossomed.

river activity

Locals were enjoying the river to beat the heat,

cooling off

which was way better than any water park would ever be.

The Key to Door County

Many in the tourism industry descibe Door County as the mid-western equivalent of Cape Cod, and they make a valid point. If Cape Cod is the crooked finger beckoning the Atlantic Ocean, then Door County is Wisconsin’s thumb poking the western side of Lake Michigan. Both peninsulas offer a laid-back vibe, with historic beachtown pearls bordering sandy, rocky beaches.

We began our tour by exploring our home base in Kewaunee, a southern border town below the county line.

Grandpa clock

We knew nothing about the clock, so it took us by surprise. At noon, it chimed over and over again, then played a “bell” rendition of Amazing Grace.

clock graphic

A short walk to the waterfront brought us to the Ludington. Retired in 1998, the tug saw action during the D-Day invasion at Normandy by pushing barges of ammunition across the English Channel, and later as a construction tow for the Army Corps of Engineers.

Ludington

Tug graphic

Like most newcomers, we got our coastal orientation by walking out to Pierhead Light, 

pierpoint light

but following the path was like a twisted game of minefield hopscotch.

shitty path

Ellis Street was closed to traffic for a smallish classic car show that appealed to locals, auto enthusiasts from Green Bay, and bloggers…

Main St. car show

Main St. Kewaunee

beep beep

with plenty of space for antique tractors and snowmobiles in the parking lot.

and tractors too

Further up the coast sits Algoma, a town with a Crescent Beach Boardwalk that parallels an arc of sand and polished stones, and the Algoma Pierhead light that welcomes hundreds of roosting gulls at any time.

Algoma Pierhead light

With so much ground to cover and little time to spare, we detoured along the coastal county roads to Sturgeon Bay, a town with a rich ship-building legacy and a lust for shopping. While not my favorite activity, we parked the F-150 and strolled the sidewalks, passing through galleries and home furnishing boutiques.

Local artists brought their imagination and decorating prowess to town, converting plain Adirondack-style chairs (or created a chair/bench of their own) for the inaugural CHAIRies, a public art project on display at most downtown corners, and a nod to the bountiful cherry groves scattered throughout the peninsula.

Sturgeon Bay.jpg

Continuing north, Jennifer (GPS) directed us to Cave Point County Park, the only county park within a state park (White Dunes State Natural Area).

Geologic History of Cave Point

Diving into Cave Point’s roiling water is a well-known proving ground and badge of courage for daring teenagers…

splash recovery

who are fortunate to clear the cliffs or avoid the crashing waves.

splat

wave cove

Riding north on WI-57, we cut through the middle of Door County’s thumbnail, and headed for Northport, known for ferry service to Washington Island at the tip of the peninsula. and the gateway to Death’s Door, a legendary passageway with a washing- machine turbulence that has shipwrecked many 19th century schooners.

Cormorant Island and Death's Door

We rushed along WI-42 from Northport down Green Bay’s sidelines, needing to reach the Airstream end zone after a long day of driving, but deliberately slowing around a bendy stretch of road nearby.

road prose

road to Northport

Then we were dodging and weaving our way through a variety of pedestian-rich towns at 10 mph, absorbing the downtown charm of Ellison Bay, Sister Bay, Ephraim, and Fish Creek from the front seat of our truck.

We vowed that we would return the following day for a glorious sunset dinner, as we settled on leftover pizza and samosas under a cloudy sky.

 

 

Ashland Walls and Trash Cans

While staying in Bayfield, Leah and I learned of Ashland’s Mural Walk. While only a half-hour from our camp site, we were so preoccupied with three full days of hiking, biking, and kayaking around the Apostle Islands, that time became a factor.

When asking around about the murals’ merits, someone local described the trip as “interesting”, so we decided to make an informed opinion for ourselves. Since Ashland was on our way from Bayfield to Munising, we boarded the Airstream, checked out of Apostle Island Area Campground, and followed GPS to Ashland Mural Walk. An actual POI pinged when I asked Jennifer (our GPS coach) for the route.

We had completed a previous mural walk in Palatka, Florida, also a county seat, and found it odd that their murals were in better shape than the town. We wondered if this was also the case in Ashland.

Ashland’s history dates to 1500, when the Ojibwe stayed on Chequamegon Point. A century later, they were followed by French fur trappers, European traders, and Jesuit missionaries. By mid-1800’s, Ashland’s first settlement was established, and the town prospered as a major quarry and port with rail service to Chicago.

Thanks to mural artists Kelly Meredith and Susan Prentice Martinsen, Ashland’s murals are a pleasant recapitulation of their proud history and their community spirit.

military service.jpg

women of influence

occupations

Main St.

landmarks

keepers

harbor vessels

gingerbread

Ashland Oredock

3 Waitresses

lifestyle.jpg

Corner mural

The murals have been beautifying downtown for twenty years. But Ashland wasn’t content to rest on its murals. Since 2017, decorative mosaic containers have been popping up on Main Street, turning trash to treasure.

mosaic 1

mosaic 2

mosaic 3

There are 18 murals located around an 8-block radius of Main Street’s business district.

Leah and I gave ourselves an hour to see as many as we could (we found 12), but a 4-hour drive to Musining still loomed large, so six were left undiscovered.

For additional information on mural titles, descriptions, and locations, or to see what we missed, a Mural Walk link is provided.

Northlanders

Seemingly, Duluthians have only two seasons: winter and summer. During the 2018- 2019 weather calendar, city residents shoveled snow from October 10 to May 9, breaking a record dating back to 1884. Temperatures were moderate for the remaining months of the year.

But when the last snow melted, the Northlanders traded their shovels and skis for bicycles and hiking shoes–eager to take advantage of the wealth of recreational resources in the vicinity.  Leah and I sampled some of the more popular options during our recent visit.

The 70-mile Hinkley-Duluth segment of the Munger State Trail offers hiking, biking, in-line skating and snowmobiling on a fully paved road, cut through a forested ridge that follows a busy railway.

Leah and I cycled a scenic 8-mile stretch from Buffalo Valley Camping (our temporary home) to the Carlton terminus,

Carlton

where the trail parallels Forbay Lake…

St. Louis River calm

until it crosses a nearby St. Louis River dam release.

St. Loius rapids

Flow beyond the bridge

Lunch at Magnolia Cafe in Carlton gave us the energy we needed to pedal back to camp. Kudos on the cold-brewed coffee and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

Leah and bike

With our energy restored, we drove to Duluth in search of craft beer. Despite a population center under 90,000, Duluth has earned a reputation as Minnesota’s capital of craft beer, boasting more than a dozen production facilities in the area that are eagerly taking advantage of Lake Superior’s pristine waters.

Fitger’s Brewhouse is the oldest and perhaps the most famous active brewery,

inside Fitger's

dating back to 1881…

boilers

with over 100 original recipes…

Fitger varieties

still brewed at its present location along the Lakewalk.

Fitgers (2)

For views of the city, nothing beats Enger Tower, the highest point in Duluth,

Enger Tower1

Enger plaque (2)

and no better place to see where the city opens up to the sea,

Superior Bay

while revealing its industrial underbelly.

grain silos



The following day, we were looking for a short but moderate morning hike. All internet indicators pointed to Ely’s Peak, a popular trail reached by following the abandoned Duluth, Winnipeg, and Pacific (DWP) railroad corridor to the entrance of a 1911 railroad tunnel.

railroad tunnel

The trail was named after Rev. Edmund Ely of Massachusetts,

tunnel

whose mission was converting the Fond Du Lac Native Americans during the mid-1800s.

graffiti

From the tunnel to the top and back is 1.8 miles. The loop takes hikers on a 300 ft. ascent offering far-reaching views of the Fond du Lac Reservation and beyond.

view from Ely's Peak

We spent the afternoon touring Glensheen, a 20,000 sq ft. Beaux-Arts-styled mansion surrounded by a 12-acre estate…

landscape plan

built beside Lake Superior between 1905 and 1908 by Clarence Johnston, Sr…

garden and boathouse

for Chester Adgate Congdon and family.

Congdon family tree

The 39-room historic mansion is reknown for its design and craftmanship of the day…

mansion front

mansion garden

and that almost nothing from William French’s orginal interior design has changed in 110 years–down to the furniture placement…

breakfast room

and the accessories that adorn the house.

drawing room

But the most unusual part of the tour was what Nick, our docent would not share with the group when asked about the murders of Elisabeth Congdon and her private nurse, Velma Pietila.

Instead, we were referred to a brochure card with a disclaimer and few details.

murder2 (2)

It was a brutal crime that was sensationalized by the media, and still remains unsolved.

Leah and I concluded our day sitting in stadium chairs by the Glensheen boathouse pier, noshing on local food truck fare while listening to Charlie Parr, a local folk singer performing an evening of Minnesota moonshine music to kick off the 5th season of Concerts on the Pier.

Glensheen armada

It was the perfect way to end the day:

enjoying the sunshine and the breeze coming off the lake;

meeting and appreciating new people around us;

watching a mish-mash of vessels manuevering through an ad hoc harbor;

and being interviewed by Ryan Juntti, for WDIO’s 6:00 PM News.

 

 

Have an enjoyable and safe weekend.

Wise Guys

Although it’s been two years since Leah and I visited Mt. Rushmore, what could be more American than re-posting this visit on Independence Day?


 

There’s no better way to celebrate the 4th of July, than a trip to Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. Sure, the crowds were large; that was to be expected. But once the cars were garaged, the pedestrian traffic was easy to negotiate. And with everyone looking up at the mountain, the Presidents’ faces and intentions were never obstructed.

GW

Jefferson

Roosevelt

Lincoln

It was also a time to celebrate family. There were plenty of kids riding in strollers, hanging from moms in carriers, or balancing on dads’ shoulders. Generations of families–many of them immigrants–had gathered to pay homage to the principles of freedom that make our country a beacon for the oppressed and downtrodden.

Seniors were being escorted through the Avenue of Flags by their grandchildren. Extended families organized group pictures at the Grand View Terrace, unified by their love of democracy and their reunion T-shirts.

All expressed awe at Gutzon Borglum’s grand vision and remarkable achievement–the transformation of a mountain into a national symbol visited by approximately 3 million people every year.

long shot

The 14-year process of carving the rock began with dimensionalizing the Presidents’ portraits through Plaster of Paris masks, on view at the sculptor’s studio-turned-museum.

Sculptor's Studio

Additional exhibits detail the construction of the memorial, and the tools used by workers, like the original Rand & Waring compressor, which powered the jackhammers for all the finishing work.

compressor

A little known fact is that Mt. Rushmore was once intended to be a tribute to the “Five Faces of Freedom,” but funding ran short when the Congressional appropriation approached $1 million during the Great Depression. Hence, the unfinished carving of the Great Ape to the right of Lincoln serves as a reminder that we are never far from our true ancestors.¹

Planet of the Apes

No less ambitious, and equally as impressive, the Crazy Horse Memorial is a work-in-progress located 16 miles away in the heart of the Black Hills–considered sacred land by the Lakota people.

Crazy Horse LS

Conceived by Korczak Ziolkowski in early 1940s,

crazy horse model (2)

the memorial, when completed will stand 563 ft. by 641 ft. across, and is expected to be the largest sculpture in the world. Already, the completed head of Crazy Horse measures 60 feet tall…

Crazy Horse CU

…twice the size of any of the presidents at Mt. Rushmore. While the first blast was conducted on the mountain in 1947, the current prospects for the memorial are to complete the outstretched arm during the next twelve years. There is no completion date available for the finished carving, which has been financed entirely by private funding since its inception.

Mt. Rushmore was created by a Danish American. Crazy Horse was created by a Polish American. And visitors to both destinations manifest the melting pot that has brought us all together as Americans. It’s our diversity that makes us strong, our ambition and determination that makes us great, and our compassion and sacrifice that make us whole.

These are the values reflected from the faces we’ve immortalized in stone. Yet, we would honor them more by living according to these principles.

Happy Birthday, America!

fireworks1

¹ Just kidding, but the photograph is real and has not been retouched.

Sunset over Agawa Bay

When the sun’s last rays warm Agawa Bay,

sun over the hill

the bugs attack without delay.

Agawa Bay

They make their way, prepared to stay

breaking at sunset

on a patch of skin, where they can win

lake and sky

to my chagrin, a forearm or a shin.

Stones and surf

Mosquitoes take top billing, and black flies are willing

colored pines

to make a killing from their drilling.

trees and sky

But I remain to snap a frame, and find it’s still fulfilling.

 

Duluth Cakewalk

After one month of travelling along Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior in Canada, we crossed the border into Grand Portage, Minnesota to continue our Great Lakes circumnavigation through the States. We made Duluth our first stop.

Our reservations, made months ago, took us to Jay Cooke State Park–about 10 miles south of Duluth– where we planned to camp five nights through July 4th, but not without sacrifices.

RV enthuthiasts would agree that a level pull-through site with electric, water, and sewer is the norm for comfortability. But a site that also offers cable TV service with highspeed internet is the Holy Grail. Sadly, Jay Cooke was offering us a back-in site with 30 amp service only…for three nights. The other two nights, we were assigned to a primitive site inside the park with no amenities. This was the best Jay Cooke State Park could offer, considering the popularity of the park and high demand for the holiday week.

Originally, we called around to other area campgrounds and RV parks hoping for better accomodations, but found no availability anywhere else. By default, we accepted our fate and placement at Jay Cooke, and considered ourselves fortunate to find any place at all to park our Airstream during Independence Day festivities.

St. Louis River

We crossed the border into Central Time, and surrendered an extra hour of daylight in exchange for arriving at the park office during operating hours, and giving Leah one last chance to modify our reservation.

Not a chance; the park was completely booked! We were directed to site 38 for three nights, and redirected to site 66 for the balance of our time.

After 40 minutes of queueing to fill our tank with fresh water, we eventually found site 38 down a very narrow access road lined with crowded spruce trees. No matter how many times I tried, and I tried, I couldn’t swing 28 feet of Airstream plus bicycles into a shallow site without sacrificing my truck to the evergreens. Simple physics wouldn’t allow it.

Leah sought a refund, while I investigated last-hope possibilities, nearby.

As if by magic, I called Darren at Buffalo Valley RV Camping, only a few miles away, who minutes ago received news of a cancellation. And just like that, we had a new address…with electricity AND water.

Leah and buffalo

The following day, Leah and I strolled along the first two miles of Duluth’s 7.5 mile Lakewalk, stretching from Canal Park through Leif Erikson Park to Lester Park.

Duluth skyline

Starting out at Canal Park, I was drawn to Duluth’s iconic Aerial Lift Bridge that guards the entrance to Superior Bay,

Aerial Bridge

supported by two sentry lighthouses that jet out to meet Lake Superior.

Lighthouses

Originally conceived as America’s first transporter bridge in 1905, passengers and freight were ferried across in a large gondola.

Aerial_bridge_car,_Duluth,_Minn._c1908

In 1930, the bridge was reimagined with a vertical lift,

bridge elevator

Aerial Lift Bridge

and continues to operate much the same way to date.

bridge details

The warm air prompted scores of beachcombers to scramble across the rocks in search of beach glass,

coastline enjoyment

beach combers

while a few brave souls channeled their inner polar bear by swimming out to “the cribs” in frigid water.

the cribs

We followed the Lakewalk to Fitgers with a few notable detours along the way.

Canal Road bas relief brickwork

Free samples were irresistable at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and star-gazing at Duluth Trading Company…

Duluth Trading

proved to be enriching…

bullpen

and eye-opening.

customer

More on Duluth…

 

Thunder Mountain

From a distance, Mt McKay is imposing, rising 1200 ft over Lake Superior and making it the largest of the Nor’Wester mountains. It gets its name from William Mackay, a Scottish fur trader from the mid-1800s, who lived for a time in the Fort William vicinity.

However, the Fort William First Nation, descendents of the Chippewa tribe, call the mountain Anemki Wajiw (ah-NIM-ih-key waw-JOO), meaning Thunder Mountain,

Thunder Mountain

and consider it sacred land.

In Honor of Our Ojibwa Elders

Mt McKay is a prominent landmark of the Fort Williams First Nation reserve, and offers sweeping views of Thunder Bay…

plane landing

from its boardwalk overlook on the eastern plateau…

boardwalk to overlook (2)

and beyond…

Fort William First Nation

Leah and I drove up Mission Road to a toll house, where a First Nation member collected $5.00. She advised us to hike the western trail to the flat cap for more commanding views, and encouraged us to return in 3 days to witness a powwow of the Lake Superior chapters. She also offered a menu and invited us to visit her lunch counter in town.

The trail was narrow, steep and challenging with shards of shale scattered over rocky formations. We took our time.

After a weary climb of 40 minutes, we welcomed the cooler air around us as we crossed onto a plate of volcanic rock formed over 1,100 million years ago.

Leah and me

The bright sun promised a crisp and dazzling vista,

Thunder Bay overlook

but it also seemed to energize the horse flies that soon regarded me as bait.

harbor view

That’s when I knew it was time to retreat to the bottom of the hill, oh-so-gingerly over long drops onto loose shale.

Once we landed at the trail head, I had decided (after checking with Leah) that we should attend the powwow on Satuday.



On the day of the powwow, we looked for news on the internet. and it was everywhere. The council was expecting over 5,000 attendees over two days with plenty of drumming and dancing. Food tents and crafts stalls would round out the affair. The rules were simple: No Alcohol. No Drugs. No hiking. Have a Safe Time.

We drove to Fort Williams First Nation ice arena, where we met a yellow school bus that shuttled us the rest of the way. Only three days ago, the area was empty and quiet, but today, it looked like a parking lot next to a fairground with fringe tents and trailer camping.

Participants were gathering inside the spirit circle and adjusting their costumes, while spectators were filling the grandstands, and the royalty was assembling in anticipation of the welcoming ceremony.

Welcome ceremony

It was a colorful and festive affair. A steady drum beat managed by eight drummers, accompanied a caterwauling chant of guttural highs and lows and occasional shrieks.

drum circle

After a prolonged opening procession and invocation, Chiefs and Elders presented flags,

Chiefs

and then it was time to drum and sing and dance again. Grass dancers followed Elders…

grass dancers

who were followed by family members…

procession

who also danced several times around the pavillion with their children…

father and son

tiny dancer

showing off their feathers,

eagle feathers

their elaborate ceremonial costumes…

teal man

red costume

blue costume

and their elaborate moves…

Little Bear 2

Little Bear

Little Bear 1

After a couple of hours, Leah and I returned to the boardwalk for a stroll to the memorial,

WW1 Indian memorial

where we discovered a trail to the right that hugged the cliff around the plateau. We hiked further along, scouting for poison ivy as we walked, and came to a clearing where three girls in training bras were sneaking cigarettes around a slab of concrete.

It was an amusing irony and signaled our time to return to the ice arena. The school bus that brought us circled the field–collecting passengers–and momentarily paused at a graphic display of Ojibwe insight and life lessons:

Ojibwe Code

They are good words to live by!

Neys Provincial Park

Dear Diary,

Today was unsettling, as nothing went as planned.

A high probability of intermittent rain had been forecasted throughout the day, which gave us very few options. Although we were snug in our pull-through campsite overlooking the northern boundary of Lake Superior from Neys Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, we were looking forward to exploring the stark coastal beauty of an area once known from 1941 to 1946 as Neys Camp 100–an internment facility for German POWs and Japanese Canadians.

detention sign

Prisoners arriving (2)
Kreigsmarine and Luftwaffe prisoners of war arriving at Neys, ca. 1941

Prevailing wind from the west had whipped up whitecaps across the water, and threatening skies promised to restrict our outdoor time, but we were determined to make the most of current conditions: buggy, chilly, yet dry.

Terrace Bay

A short walk to the Visitor’s Centre for sight-seeing suggestions proved useless since the door was locked–maybe from campground inactivity, I surmised. There was, however, an interesting park bench design overlooking the lake by Sean Randell. 

Trout bench Neys PP

With 144 sites covering 4 areas, Leah and I spotted less than a dozen occupied sites. Many of the seasonal campers left their trailer set-ups behind for greater comforts nearby. With electricity only provided at less than half the sites, we had the showers practically to ourselves.

We were determined to get a hike in, so we selected the 1 km Dune Trail loop for its brevity (in case of sudden rain), and our fascination with sand dunes by the lake. We followed each other single file through a skinny path snaking through a plantation of red pines and a forest floor of lichens, mosses, and herbs. But we never found the dunes–only rolling mounds of sand over soil. We began the hike with an interpretive trail guide corresponding to 7 markers, but mosquitoes quickly put an end to that. We found ourselves marching through the forest just to complete the loop. The roundtrip walk to the trailhead proved to be longer than the entire trail.

With a faint drizzle falling, we planned a 35-mile drive to Terrace Bay, following TransCanada Highway 17 west around the top of Lake Superior, but the truck refused to start. Earlier in the week, I was stuck in a parking lot under similar circumstances, but Leah located a Samaritan willing to give me a battery boost. Today, however, was a different mater. After shlepping a spare battery around America for tens of thousands of miles, I finally got a chance to use it.

The battery installation set us back half an hour. And then the sky opened up the moment I dropped the hood and climbed inside the cab. It was an auspicious moment in my life!

We finally arrived at Terrace Bay (pop. 1100) and descended an elaborate boardwalk to a high viewing platform that distanced us from Aquasabon Fall’s 100-ft. drop,

Aquasabon Falls

and the granite gorge that carries the spill water to Lake Superior.

Aquasabon Falls and Gorge

Back at the boardwalk entrance, I stood alongside a millennial male. We were studying an oversized graphic together about the geological properties and commercial significance of the Falls.

Falls and Gorge graphic

My neighbor had a cat perched on his shoulder wearing a harness with a leash. Suddenly, a light rain began to fall, spooking the cat. It leapt to the ground, surprising the host. He had control for a moment, but it squirmed out of his arms, and wriggled free of its harness. He dove for the hind legs, but the cat was too fast. It bolted 50 yards to the trees, and disappeared in the brush with his girlfriend chasing after it and screaming its name. We briefly watched in amusement, wondering if the cat would reconnect with its owners, but we had our doubts.

While in town, we filled the truck with $130 Canadian of gas, and searched for a lunch spot, but ended up at a Chinese Canadian restaurant in a strip mall just to use the internet. I had fried chicken balls (no joke), and Leah ordered dry-rubbed spare ribs. The food was as disappointing as a dead car battery and tasteless as a lost cat in the woods.

spare ribs

A stubby white lighthouse planted in front of the strip mall parking lot offered a view of Lake Superior. To Leah’s amazement, I passed on a picture of the tower and a view from the bridge. 

The ride back to Neys was rainswept and uninteresting except for a cow moose that galloped across TransCanada Highway 17, followed closely by two calves. They hurdled the guard rail and instantly disappeared into the forest. Maybe they’ll discover the cat.

 

Agawa Rock Pictographs

The trail was advertised as 0.5 km.

“It’s probably very steep,” Leah figures.

“How hard can it be?” I wonder, still a skeptic.

“It says so in the brochure,” she states. “I quote, ‘Caution is advised when venturing onto this rock ledge due to its slope and the unpredictable nature of Lake Superior and its wave action.'”

“Sounds like fun. We should see it,” I suggest. “This is ancient historical shit!”

“It sounds a lot like the petroglyphs that we saw in Nevada,” she offers.

“You mean the Atlatl Rock in Valley of Fire State Park,” I acknowledge.

“Exactly!” she states.

“But this one’s on the water, and not the desert,” I tease.

“I know that, smart ass, and it’s also harder to get to, so you need to be careful!” Leah lectures.

“Like I said, how hard can it be?” I reiterate.

We park the truck only minutes from our campsite at Agawa Bay, and enter the trailhead where we are met with a screaming red sign:

warning (2)

“Like I said…” drops Leah.

I deflect the dig. “Check it out.” I direct Leah’s attention to a different sign to our right–a red diamond hammered to a tree with a white arrow and 400 km on it.

“That’s where the trail begins. And according to that sign, we’ve already walked 20% of the trail!”

It’s true the trail is rugged and a scramble. The descent runs through a narrow chasm, over sharp boulders and bulging roots. But it’s only treacherous if wearing flip flops, which a student rangerette at the visitor’s center admits can be a problem with some hikers.

Halfway to our destination, a gash in the cliff exposes a 10 ft granite chunk mysteriously wedged between darkness and daylight.

split rock (2)

In 15 minutes we arrive at a clearing of flat rock where the sky opens up to the water. A colorful cliff 15 stories high looms above us, grabbing my attention.

Painted Rock

Leah is content holding onto a pipe rail that separates the adventurous from the cautious.

“Are you coming?” I ask.

“Down there? Not a chance!” Leah answers instinctively.

A short drop onto a wet ledge of granite sloping into Lake Superior takes added time, but planting my feet with measured steps is the best method for staying safe.

on a ledge
courtesy of Leah

Knotted ropes threaded through embedded pipes are there to assist the daredevils who spill into 50° F water.

from Picturegraph ledge

Once I get my footing, I can sidle across the ledge for a better look at the cliff face.

painted rockface

Venturing further out on the ledge, I meet Mishipeshu, the Great Lynx, who was empowered by the ancient Ojibways to control Lake Superior.

Mishibizhiw Great Lynx, who controlled Lake Superior

There are dozens of sacred drawings set in stone, dating back to the 17th century, but most are faded and nearly unrecognizable from eons of sun, water, ice and wind. Their message remains unknown, but experts reason that the pictographs depict historical events, and could signify manitous from shamanistic ceremonies.

I carefully manuever onto terra firma,

Agawa Rock Lake Superior (3)

and we hike back to the parking lot.

“That was amazing, down there,” I exclaim.

“It was alright,” notes Leah.

“But you never got to see the pictographs,” I mention.

“That’s OK. You did all the hard work for me. I’ll just have a look at your photographs,” she laughs.

 

 

 

Great Lakes Hyperbole

Of course, the Great Lakes are great; they constitute the world’s largest above-ground freshwater system in the world, containing about 18 percent of the world’s supply.

However, beyond its scale (larger than all the Eastern seaboard states combined), what about all the other awesome attractions that border its shorelines? Are they equally as great, or big, or best, or exclusive?

Let’s take a look:

Given the many possibilities for food around the Great Lakes, the area’s largest hamburger rests atop Burger King in Niagara Falls, ON.

Burger King

And the largest hotdog can be found in Mackinaw City at Wienerlicious.

Wienerlicious (2)

Both can be purchased with the world’s largest nickel…

biggest nickel

the brainchild of Dr. Ted Szilva,

Dr. Rred Szilva (2)

and on display at Sudbury’s Dynamic Earth.

Dynamic Earth

Only one mile away, Inco’s superstack–the tallest chimney in the western hemisphere–rises 1250 feet atop Vale Inco’s Copper Cliff processing facility–the largest nickel smelting operation in the world.

INCO Superstack

Nowhere as tall, Castle Rock (commonly referred to as Pontiac’s Lookout) is a natural 200-foot limestone sea chimney…

Castle Rock

overlooking Lake Huron and Interstate 75,

I-75

and considered the oldest lookout in St. Ignace, Michigan…until the Mackinac Bridge was built in 1957.

Mackinaw Suspension Bridge

Spanning the Straits of Mackinac, and connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, the Mackinac Bridge is hailed as the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere.

Building the bridge

Although less of an engineering feat, the upside-down house, built in Niagara Falls, measures up to 1200 square feet of topsy-turvy, making it Canada’s most unusual landmark.

upside down house

Nearby, at Niagara on the Lake, locals can tee up at Niagara Golf Club, the oldest existing golf course (albeit, nine holes) in North America.

Niagara Golf

In Midland, Ontario, a grain elevator looms over a Georgian Bay harbor, featuring North America’s largest historic outdoor mural created by Fred Lenz.

Midland mural

mural history

History also abounds at Colonial Michilimackinac–

Fort Michilimackinac

a reconstructed 18th century frontier fortress originally garrisoned by the French during 1715, and later controlled by the British.

3 British Stooges

After 60 years of excavation, valuable relics from fort living continue to be unearthed, making it the longest ongoing archeological dig in North America.

digger

One of the many buildings discovered and recreated inside the fort belonged to Ezekiel Solomon, a fur trader who has been celebrated as Michigan’s first Jewish settler.

Solomon House

Solomon plaque (2)

And then there’s Niagara Falls, a natural wonder that needs little hyperbole.

While not the highest, or the widest falls, its combined falls (Horseshoe Falls, American Falls, and Bridal Veil Falls) qualify Niagara Falls as the most powerful, forming the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America.

Niagara Falls horseshoe

While this “Great” list may not represent the best of all gilded attractions in the Great Lakes area to date, it’s the only list I’m likely to compile

…until the next one.