Monthly Archives: October 2017

Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.


Father Baraga’s Cross


Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.


Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater


Grand Marais Light


Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.


Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right


Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.



Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.



Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument



View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center


But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.


Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge


Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.


The Warehouse


Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal


Entrance to the Buildings Complex


The Great Hall


Pelts in the Great Hall


Birchbark Canoe


The Great Hall


Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.


Turn to Come By Chance


Cabins at Come By Chance


Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.


Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.


Kakabeka Falls, Ontario


Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.


We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.



Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario



The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.























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Great Lakes Road Trip (GLRT) 2017: Day 1

We first glimpsed Lake Superior in the background as we approached Duluth, Minnesota in the early afternoon on day 1 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.


Duluth, MN on Lake Superior

Just 290 miles (467 km) from home, we regarded Duluth as the gateway to the Great Lakes where we would revisit some of our favorite sights in the fourth largest city in Minnesota. We first headed straight to the Aerial Lift Bridge and found free parking on the other side.


We parked on this gravel road just across the Aerial Lift Bridge in Duluth

Just as we walked onto to the bridge, we heard the announcement that the bridge was about to raise. Rather than hurry across, we retraced our steps and watched from the far side.

The landmark opened in 1905 and was modified in 1929. It raises an average of 26 times per day to a clearance of 138 ft. to accommodate large ships, pleasure craft, and sailboats entering the harbor. It’s really quite a sight to watch the bridge raise and lower.

Having now checked off the number one sight on our list for Duluth, we proceeded across the bridge to Canal Park where lighthouse lovers can view not one but a lighthouse trifecta.  Lighthouses have long fascinated me so, of course, I was drawn like a moth to the flame.


Duluth South Breakwater Inner Lighthouse with the other 2 in the background


Duluth South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse


Duluth Harbor North Pier Lighthouse

We have fond memories of the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center in Canal Park and made for the museum after a walk out to the South Breakwater Outer Lighthouse. Here we were reminded Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes and contains more water than all the other Great Lakes combined. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake containing 10% of all the earth’s fresh water. In addition to information about Lake Superior and regional history, this little gem also displays photos and artifacts from maritime disasters and recovery efforts. And, admission is free.


Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN


Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN


Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, Duluth, MN


Canal Park, Duluth, MN


Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth, MN

There are many other attractions in Duluth including a great aquarium, Glennsheen Mansion, and the 7.5-mile Lakewalk among others but we were anxious to commence our drive along Lake Superior. Near Brighton Beach just outside Duluth where Minnesota State Highway 61 splits from old 61, we continued along the old scenic highway following the lake more closely and captured views like this.


Brighton Beach on Lake Superior

I remarked over and over that I’ve never seen Lake Superior as calm as it was on this lovely day in September. Jim, however, has seen it like this but he used to drive along the lake every year on his way to Canada for the family fishing trip.

We stopped at every historical marker we spotted and the site where the town of Buchanan, named after President Buchanan, once stood intrigued us. Laid out in 1856, the town existed until the land office was removed in 1859 when it disappeared.


View from the site where the town of Buchanan once existed 


Selfie at Buchanan on Lake Superior

Old 61 rejoins the new highway just outside Two Harbors, MN and 12 miles further we pulled into Gooseberry Falls State Park. With easy paved trails, this park is very accessible and gets lots of visitors in the summer but we shared it with few other tourists late in the afternoon in September.


Middle Falls at Gooseberry Falls State Park


Upper Gooseberry Falls


Lower Gooseberry Falls

Our final stop on day 1 at Split Rock Lighthouse is one of my favorites and many must agree with me because it’s one of the most photographed sites in Minnesota. We’ve been there before but this time we paid $10 for the tour and access to the restored lighthouse and keeper’s home.


Split Rock Lighthouse from inside the visitor center

Built in response to a terrible storm in 1905 that damaged or destroyed 29 ships, construction of Split Rock Lighthouse was an engineering challenge with no roads to this remote location. Materials, supplies, and workers were delivered by boat and lifted to the top of the 110 ft cliffside using a steam-powered hoist and derrick.  Commissioned in 1910, it would be 20 years before a road reached the lighthouse.


Split Rock Lighthouse with keeper in period costume out front


Beacon inside Split Rock Lighthouse


Stairwell inside lighthouse

The lighthouse keeper and two assistant keepers lived on-site from May to December in three identical houses. Families typically stayed during the summer months until children had to return to school. One of the homes is open for visits.


Light Keeper’s House at Split Rock Lighthouse


Interior of restored Keeper’s home


Interior of Keeper’s home

Our tour guide told us we could take the path down to the shoreline after visiting the lighthouse and the keeper’s home. As we hiked down the trail, I spotted the stairs in the photo below and thought maybe it was a shortcut. About halfway down, I saw a sign explaining this was the site of the tramway that was built in 1916 to transport supplies up to the lighthouse. I decided maybe the path led somewhere else and not wanting to get lost, I retraced my steps and took the path to the shore. At the bottom, we saw the stairs and climbed them for our return trip. Unless you’re craving a workout, I would suggest other visitors do this in reverse–take the stairs down and walk the gently sloping trail to go back up. 😬


Stairway where tram once stood

The views of the lighthouse from the shore were sublime and the light at this time of day was perfect.


Split Rock Lighthouse


Split Rock Lighthouse



We spent the night at a nice hotel, AmericInn, in the town of Silver Bay which struck me as mostly industrial and we ate a disappointing meal at an unnamed restaurant. I wanted local fish which wasn’t offered and Jim ordered a half chicken that was so small I said it had to be a Cornish hen. Nevertheless, it was a busy and fulfilling first day and we were looking forward to day 2 with enthusiasm.


Based on events from September 2017.









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Great Lakes Road Trip 2017

We like to take a road trip in the fall. The kids are back in school so there are fewer tourists competing for views, roads, hotels, etc. The weather is usually pleasant. We try to plan our trip around our anniversary in September but we also have to work around home football games at Iowa State where we’ve held season tickets for over 30 years. We had planned to circle the Great Lakes in late September 2016 but when a good deal on a river cruise in France came up, we canceled the Great Lakes trip. We rescheduled the Great Lakes for 2017 when we had a 2-week window of opportunity in September.

I’m normally a careful trip planner but frankly, very little advance planning went into this trip. Here’s what we knew: we would begin by heading north to Duluth; we wanted to see all five Great Lakes; we wanted to drive along the lakes whenever possible; we wanted to stop at Jim’s former fishing spot in Canada and visit Niagra Falls and Mackinac Island; we wanted to avoid Toronto having read about the traffic; we also wanted to avoid Chicago traffic. Beyond those parameters, we had no plan. We weren’t sure how far we would travel each day or how many stops we’d make so we didn’t want to reserve lodging ahead and we had not even plotted the route.

With maps, AAA Tour Books, and my smartphone, we planned as we went. We didn’t use my phone for the internet while driving in Canada, however, because data charges through my provider are high. (We did have wifi in hotels at night.) While Jim drove, we watched signs and I studied the AAA books or internet to find places of interest and we stopped at anything that struck our fancy. When we were tired or just felt like stopping, we found a hotel for the night.

How did it turn out? We visited the places on our list, we discovered some amazing places, and we missed a few due to lack of advance planning. We saw all five Great Lakes, we have a new appreciation for them, and we definitely want to return to some areas for further exploration. We got off the beaten path and drove a lot of two-lane roads with little traffic, beautiful views, and road construction. One night we did have a problem finding lodging but we’d brought an air mattress and sleeping bag in case we had to sleep in the car and didn’t use them in the end. Not having internet access in the car while in Canada was a mistake I’ll not repeat. We have these and many more stories to tell about our experience so watch this space.

Would we do it again? Absolutely! The sense of adventure and freedom it gave us was priceless.



Embarking on our road trip


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Our route




Based on events from September 2017.



Categories: Canada, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , | 9 Comments

American Gothic Visited

Tiny Eldon, Iowa (population 916) is home to the backdrop of one of America’s most famous paintings. The artist, Grant Wood, visited the town in 1930 and sketched the Dibble farmhouse which would later appear in the painting, American Gothic. Today the original painting resides at the Art Institute of Chicago but Eldon is worth a visit to see the inspiration that led Grant Wood to create this iconic piece.

We’ve passed nearby many times on our way to and from St. Louis via Des Moines. Eldon is just 6 miles off highway 34 between Ottumwa and Fairfield. Once you reach Eldon, signs direct you quite easily to the American Gothic House.

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The center contains an informative collection of exhibits about the house, Grant Wood, and Art Regionalism. Charles and Catherine Dibble built the house in 1881-1882. The style, called Carpenter Gothic, used somewhat incongruous fancy details on a plain farmhouse. The gothic windows in the gables of the house would normally be used in a church but were chosen from the Sears catalog to grace the Dibble home. Incidentally, my husband’s mother’s maiden name was Dibble and the Dibbles came from New York state as did my mother-in-law’s relatives. That, however, is a subject for future research and possibly another blog post.



American Gothic House


According to information at the center, the couple never posed together for the painting and didn’t actually meet until 12 years later when the photograph below was taken. The woman was Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, and the man was his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby. The artist assured them they wouldn’t be recognized in his painting but that turned out to be incorrect and caused some hard feelings especially with his dentist.

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Photograph of Nan Wood Graham and Dr. B.H. McKeeby at the American Gothic House Center



This is our dour look


Grant Wood was an Iowa native, born in 1891 on a farm outside Anamosa where he lived until his father died when he was 10. His mother then moved the family to Cedar Rapids where he won third place in his first art contest at the age of 14. Following graduation, he spent a short time studying art in Minneapolis but returned to the Cedar Rapids area to teach school and lived in that area most of his short life. During a trip to Munich, he came to the realization that he needed to paint from his own experience. In 1929, he painted a portrait of his mother called Woman with Plants, launching his new style and taking his place in the Regionalist movement. The following year he painted American Gothic and, as they say, the rest is history.


Except for one more interesting side note: Grant Wood spent the summer of 1941 painting in Clear Lake, Iowa (which is 8 miles west of our home). I found this article in our local paper written in 2008 about the artist’s stay in Clear Lake.

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Information at American Gothic House Center

Grant Wood died the following February of cancer at the age of 50.





References: All information was found in displays at the American Gothic House Center.

Based on events from July 2017.

Categories: Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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