Travel

Algonquin Provincial Park and More

Day 6 of our Great Lakes Road Trip dawned warm and sunny, a pleasant surprise since we packed for chilly weather in Ontario, Canada in mid-September. Excited to hike in Algonquin, we departed from our hotel bright and early and soon spotted what all the tourists come for in autumn.

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As we entered the park, we pulled over to the West Gate to pay our fee. King’s Highway 60 through the park doesn’t require a permit unless you plan to stop along the 56 km (35 mi) roadway inside the park. We planned to take our time, explore, and hike a few trails so we gladly paid the $20 daily fee.

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Established in 1893, Algonquin Park is the oldest and most well-known of Canada’s provincial parks. Comprising 7630 square km (2946 sq mi), the park attracts nearly one million visitors each year who come to experience its forests, lakes, and wildlife.  We stopped several times for photo opportunities like this.

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Canoe Lake

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Canoe Lake

When we reached the Algonquin Visitor Center, we had no idea we would spend so much time there. The views were amazing, the exhibits superb, and the wi-fi connection surprisingly good.

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Panorama View from Algonquin Visitor Center

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Algonquin Visitor Center

I would love to have seen bears, moose, and wolves in the wild but, since we didn’t, these exhibits were a special treat.

 

A highlight of our visit, the hike to Beaver Pond over rugged terrain was strenuous enough to seem longer than just 2 km but so well-marked we never lost our way.

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Beaver Meadow

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With 4500 beaver colonies within the park, I was surprised we didn’t see even one of the furry creatures. While we didn’t spot them at work, signs of their presence surrounded us and the result of their labor was impressive.

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Beaver dam

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Our last stop in the park, the Algonquin Logging Museum consisted of a reception building where we viewed an audiovisual program to introduce us to logging in the park and a trail of less than a mile with 20 outdoor exhibits. At one time, over half of the men in Canada worked in logging camps in the winter. Particularly for farmers, it was an opportunity to earn additional income after harvest, albeit a dangerous occupation.

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Camboose shanty where men were housed

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Inside the camboose, 52 men slept two to a bunk

Throughout the 1800’s, felled red and white pine were squared using only axes. The notches on the tree below show how deep to cut to square that side of the log. This process was repeated on each side. The result was a log that was easier to stack on a raft for transport and the log was ready to cut into boards at its destination.

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To transport the logs to the raft, they had to be loaded onto a sleigh using a jammer, a wooden crane powered by horses.

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Jammer

On a steep descent, the sleigh could quickly speed out of control killing the horses in front so sandpipers lined the trail to throw hot sand in the path to slow the sleigh. The invention of the Barrienger brake in the photo below solved this problem

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Barrienger brake

Once the logs arrived at the river, the danger was not past. The invention of the log chute assisted loggers in transporting the logs through the water.

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Log Chute

This is just a small sample of the information we learned about the history of logging in the area. Logging continues today in over 50% of the park according to scientific guidelines in the Park Management Plan.

As we left the park, I took the photo below. We were delighted to get over 56 mpg (23.8 kpl) regularly on this trip. Traveling at slower speeds on two-lane roads through Canada and using unleaded fuel rather than gasohol each contributed to our excellent gas mileage. Also, note the temperature on September 17 was 82 degrees (28 C).

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Successfully escaping Toronto traffic, we headed south for our first look at Lake Ontario, our third of the five Great Lakes and to spend the night in Kingston, Ontario. Rather than taking the freeway at Belleville, we opted to drive along the coast as much as possible.

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My paper map showed a bridge at Glenora but Google maps on my phone didn’t show a bridge. I was concerned that we’d end up backtracking but we were delighted to find a ferry when we arrived and it was free. After a short wait, we enjoyed a pleasant crossing to Adolphustown where we continued our drive along the lake to Kingston.

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Glenora Ferry Dock

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Glenora Ferry

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Our Prius on the ferry

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Lake Ontario

We asked at our hotel in Kingston for a restaurant recommendation and headed downtown to Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse. Located near the waterfront, we explored the area a bit before dinner. The AAA Tour Book confirmed Kingston was founded in 1673 as a fur trading post and strategic military base. With a population today just under 130,000, it’s also home to over 24,000 students at Queen’s University.    IMG_7194

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Sitting outside at Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse, we could hardly believe our good fortune to have such a pleasant evening. Jim ordered the pork carnitas and I decided on the seafood poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian classic consisting of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Dianne’s seafood poutine, however, was made with fries, coconut green curry, shrimp, haddock, calamari, mussels, and queso fresco. Yum!

 

After a quick stroll to the water following dinner for another lighthouse photo, we returned to our hotel for the evening.

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Kingston, located where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River, was a good place to begin our drive the next morning to explore the Thousand Islands. Come back to read all about it.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Lake Huron on Day 5

Every day on a road trip doesn’t have to be remarkable. Some days just entail driving from point A to point B. Day 5 of our Great Lakes Road Trip was a point A to point B kind of day with one notable exception. We were excited by our first peek at the second Great Lake on our trip, Lake Huron, along the North Channel at the town of Bruce Mines, Ontario.

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North Channel of Lake Huron

We stopped again in nearby Thessalon for another look.

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Okay, so we stopped again a third time in Blind River.

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At Blind River, we struck up a conversation with a couple from New York headed the opposite direction and a man from Ontario. All agreed we should definitely avoid Toronto traffic on the 400 if we didn’t plan to visit the city. We decided right then to avoid Toronto by continuing east to North Bay, then south to Huntsville for the night. The following morning we would drive through Algonquin Provincial Park, Canada’s oldest and most famous provincial park.

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I called several hotels from the car to reserve a room for the night and found the rates were high for a town of fewer than 20,000 inhabitants in rural Canada. I finally asked one hotel why the rates were so high and she told me the following weekend was the Huntsville Fall Fair and rates were always high in the fall when people came to visit Algonquin Provincial Park to see the autumn color. Besides that, she said the weather had been beautiful and wasn’t expected to last much longer. Convinced, I reserved a room at the Comfort Inn Huntsville for nearly $200.

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We arrived in Huntsville a week too early for the Fall Fair but the next week we probably wouldn’t have found an available room at all. It was a charming town, reminiscent of small resort towns in New England or Wisconsin and I’m sure they attract a huge crowd for the Fall Fair.

After dining on chips and salsa in our hotel room the previous evening, we were anticipating an outstanding meal at the highly recommended 3 Guys and a Stove.

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We arrived early and requested a table outside which, as you can see, was easy to accommodate. I think we may have been the first diners to arrive. Our table was upstairs and the view through the trees was especially lovely.

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Looking at the menu, we experienced sticker shock. Is that a thing for menus? The entrees cost $30+ and a salad was an additional $9-$14. Fortunately for us, our server told us the special that evening was a BBQ dinner with three meats (brisket, ribs, and chicken), potato salad, and mediterranean salad for $33.95 which he said was plenty of food for two. We ordered it and quite honestly, it wasn’t exceptional in taste or adequate in quantity. Including my glass of wine, our bill was nearly $51CAD. In US dollars, that was $42 for essentially one meal. A little pricy but the setting was pleasant and the weather was perfect for outdoor dining.

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We returned to our hotel immediately following dinner to make it an early night in preparation for our visit to Algonquin Provincial Park the next morning. Stop back next time to read all about it. I promise the next post will be more interesting than this one.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

All Aboard the Agawa Canyon Tour Train

We enjoy sightseeing by train so when I read the listing for the Agawa Canyon Tour Train in the AAA Tour Book for Ontario, we were keen to experience the 114 mile journey from Sault Ste. Marie to the Agawa Canyon. We also hoped to spot some autumn color along the way even though we realized mid-September was early in the season.

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I reserved seats for 8:00 on the morning of September 15, day 4 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, for $91.15 each ($81.42 for seniors). Fortunately for us, the front desk staff at our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express, recommended we pick up our tickets ahead of time to skip standing in line the next morning. The train station was just down the street and we stopped by on our way to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site. No lines and no waiting.

After an early breakfast the following morning at the hotel with many others who were likely taking the same train, we walked to the station.  After a short wait, the train arrived and we boarded our assigned car, the Montreal River.

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Passengers await as the Agawa Canyon Tour Train arrives

We set off with high hopes that the fog would soon lift to reveal a blaze of color. The fog was slow to dissipate but we did see hints of color, nevertheless, as we rolled along.

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A gps-triggered recorded commentary on the train forewarned us of upcoming points of interest and educated us about the history of the area as well as the geology. Breakfast and lunch were available in the dining car but after our ample breakfast, we chose to stick with the snacks we brought with us.

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And we finally viewed blue skies and bright crimson and gold leaves which we appreciated all the more for the wait and anticipation.

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At mile 102 we began the 500 foot descent through granite walls to the floor of the canyon.

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Finally at mile 114, we reached our destination, Agawa Canyon Wilderness Park, accessible only by train and hiking trail. We arrived at the park around 12:30 and were told to be back at 2:00 pm for our return trip. We spent the next hour and a half hiking the trails and exploring the sights, including the Agawa River and waterfalls. To beat the crowd, we headed first to Lookout Trail that climbs 250 feet by trail and over 300 stairs to a panoramic view of the river and canyon.

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Stairs to Lookout View

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Panorama view of Agawa Canyon from the Lookout

Our next priority was the waterfalls and with limited time, we hurried first to Black Beaver Falls, then to South Black Beaver Falls.

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Selfie at Black Beaver Falls

On the trail to Bridal Veil Falls, we spotted bear scat but no bears. We were pretty excited about the evidence, however.  IMG_6842

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Agawa River with Bridal Veil Falls in the background

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Bridal Veil Falls

A bit of fog was settling into the valley but the views were still spectacular. I was so enamored by the reflection of the trees and foliage in the water I took literally hundreds of photos but none quite captured their stunning beauty.

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We managed to see everything in the park and return to the train on time.

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On the return trip, I got my best photo of autumn color of the day in spite of the window glare. I’m sure a week or two later the foliage would be at its peak but we found the color to be breathtaking.

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We returned to Sault Ste. Marie around 6:00 pm, tired but satisfied and happy with our experience. In fact, we were so tired we didn’t even go out for dinner but settled instead for chips and salsa in our hotel room. I’m glad I hadn’t read the reviews of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train on TripAdvisor before our excursion because some were so negative they may have adversely influenced our decision to take this trip. It would be a shame to miss such an enjoyable day.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Sault Ste. Marie on Day 3

With a takeaway decaf coffee from Robin’s Donuts in hand, we left Villa Bianca Inn early in the morning on day 3 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017. We weren’t driving far but I was anxious to depart our 2.5-star accommodations. Our goal for the day was to reach Sault Ste. Marie, a mere 308 miles away, but who knew what adventures we might find along the way?

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Our first stop at Aguasabon River Gorge, where we discovered our third waterfall in as many days, convinced us this trip would be as much about waterfalls as it was about the Great Lakes. We would soon also add lighthouses to our list of highlights.

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Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The walk to the viewing platform provided us with gorgeous views of autumn color just beginning to appear. The walkway is wheelchair accessible to allow people with mobility issues to enjoy this beautiful place, too.

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Walkway to Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The Trans-Canada Highway, Provincial Hwy 17, offers stunning panoramas of Lake Superior along this stretch from Schreiber to Sault Ste. Marie. We didn’t pull over at every opportunity but we looked forward to every spectacular view like the one below.

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View of Lake Superior

At our next stop at Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park, I tried a panorama photo to capture the size of this bay with limited success. I’ll have to practice this feature on my iPhone more to achieve mastery.

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Old Woman Bay

As Jim drove on, I read in my AAA Ontario Tour Book about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train which departs from Sault Ste. Marie to tour this area. They strongly recommended advance reservations so I called on my smartphone to reserve for the following day. At $1 per minute through AT&T while traveling internationally, I was anxiously watching the minutes fly by as I sat on hold. I finally reached a customer service person and provided all the required information and then the call failed. I called back to discover I had to repeat all the information I had previously provided. I figured our tickets cost about $12 extra for the phone call, but we finally had a reservation for the following morning.

We arrived in Sault Ste. Marie around 3 pm and found a Holiday Inn Express right downtown across the street from the mall and close to St. Mary’s River Boardwalk. We immediately loved this hotel and planned to stay for two nights. The customer service was terrific and because we had to wait briefly for a room, they gave us an upgrade to a suite.

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Kitchenette through the doorway

The Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site was within walking distance from our hotel and we had plenty of time to explore St. Mary’s River Boardwalk and the locks before dusk. The boardwalk is a mile long scenic walkway following the river and leading to the historic site.

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St. Mary’s River Boardwalk

Built in 1895 to connect Lake Huron to Lake Superior, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal completed an all Canadian waterway from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canadian canal became necessary when a ship transporting British troops was denied passage on the US side. When opened, it was the world’s longest lock and the first to operate by use of electricity which incidentally was generated on-site. Today, the world’s only remaining swing bridge dam is located here. The swing bridge dam is located upstream and can be deployed to protect the lock in the event of an accident. It was used once and worked successfully.

The visitor’s center is currently in a temporary building and while it was nearly closing time, the Park ranger stayed and visited with us, providing a wealth of information. She was obviously very knowledgeable and engaged in her position.

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The old Administration Building at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

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The lock at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site

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The Canadian lock with the International Bridge linking Canada and the US

Today the lock is used primarily for recreational craft. I remember visiting the canal with my family as a kid in the 60’s. At the time, I didn’t understand why the adults were so interested in the lock but today I understand their enthusiasm. It really is an engineering marvel.

Following our visit to the canal, I asked the staff at our hotel where I could get local fish for dinner and was directed just down the street to Gliss Steak and Seafood. After sub-standard meals the previous two nights, we felt we’d finally hit pay dirt. We were both satisfied with our choices.

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First course: Greek salad for me and garden salad for Jim

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Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding with sweet potato fries

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Local white fish with sweet potato fries and veggies

 

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Day 3 successfully completed

Satisfied with day 3, we looked forward to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train tour the following morning. Come back to see and hear all about it.

 

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

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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.

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Father Baraga’s Cross

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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.

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Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater

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Grand Marais Light

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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.

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Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right

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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.

 

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Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

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

 

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Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument

 

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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.

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Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge

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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.

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The Warehouse

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Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal

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Entrance to the Buildings Complex

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The Great Hall

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Pelts in the Great Hall

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Birchbark Canoe

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The Great Hall

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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.

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Turn to Come By Chance

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Cabins at Come By Chance

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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.

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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.

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

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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.

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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.

 

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Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario

 

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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 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.

 

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Embarking on our road trip

 

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Our route

 

 

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

Categories: Canada, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , | 4 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.

 

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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

Based on events from July 2017.

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

Cruising the Tasman Sea

I know this post is long overdue. Honestly, I’ve had a hard time writing about this trip because it was so traumatic. My husband counseled me to skip it and just move on but I felt a need to finish writing about it for closure. If you just wandered into my blog, my mother died early into this cruise and you can read about it here. Anyway, here’s my feeble attempt to wrap things up.

We’ve always enjoyed days at sea while on a cruise. In fact, Jim has been keen to book a repositioning cruise because they include more days at sea than in port but we haven’t found one yet that fits our schedule. We departed from the Bay of Islands in New Zealand at the end of day-2 of our 19-day cruise to sail 1300 mi (2100 km) across the Tasman Sea to Sydney, Australia. We would spend three nights and two full days at sea before our arrival in Sydney, where we left the cruise early to fly home.

The first evening we went to dinner at Cagney’s, one of the specialty restaurants which charge extra. We wouldn’t normally pay extra for a restaurant but we’ve attained platinum status on Norwegian which provides some perqs like waiving the cover charge at specialty restaurants. The food was very good but I’m not enough of a foodie to tell you whether it would be worth the extra cost. The young couple seated at the next table, Derek and Emma from Australia, were delightful company, too.

 

While I may not have the most discriminating palate, I definitely knew our experience another evening at Moderno Churrascaria was a cut above. This specialty restaurant, modeled after a traditional Brazilian steakhouse, showcases meat. Diners are given a card with a red side and a green side. If your card is green side up, the waiter will continue to bring more meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and chicken, until you change it to red. Incidentally, the buffet of cheeses, salads, and vegetables was equally impressive.

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Cheese and vegetable buffet

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My selection from the buffet

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The star of the show

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Green side up

It’s always fun to meet people when traveling and this trip was no exception. One evening we had dinner with the two couples we met while working through the visa debacle which occurred when we boarded the ship. I love the fact that we’ve since connected on Facebook and can keep up with one another’s travels.

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Jim and me with Dale, Michelle, Debbie, and Jerry

And in case you haven’t yet figured out that food plays a central role in any cruise, you can even watch the food as it’s prepared on deck. I especially enjoyed watching the preparation of this seafood dish for lunch poolside.

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My share–Yum!

I tried to walk off some of the abundant food each morning on the promenade deck and encountered many others doing the same. Admittedly, we didn’t use the fitness center this time but on most cruises we do.

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Promenade deck

Lots of activities keep cruisers busy during a day at sea. Fitness and dance classes attract many of the women and cooking demonstrations are popular, too. Or relaxation is also an option, whether reading or simply sunning on the deck.

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Jim reading on deck

If you forgot to bring a book, you can find one in the library. And if sunshine and warmth on deck don’t suit you, you can find a seat in the library, too.

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The library

I’m not a much of a swimmer but the hot tub beckons to me every time. Soothing away all that stress, the hot tub is almost as good as therapy.

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The Norwegian Star is an attractive ship and it’s a pleasure to explore the public areas. While I didn’t take as many photos on this trip, here are a couple of the atrium to give you an idea.

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And since this post is titled “Cruising the Tasman Sea,” a photo of the sea is required.

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Tasman Sea

We arrived in Sydney, Australia early on day-5 of our cruise. We were packed and ready to disembark so we watched our arrival on deck beginning at dawn. The views were outstanding.

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Sydney Harbour at dawn

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Sydney, Australia at dawn

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Sydney Opera House with a cruise ship behind

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Sydney Opera House

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Our last view of the Sydney Opera House as we disembarked from the Norwegian Star

Although this trip ended in tragedy, we are travelers at heart. We will return to Australia and one day visit the other ports we missed on this itinerary.  Life is short; travel like you mean it.

 

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Named Bay of Islands by Captain Cook in 1769 for its 144 islands, this archipelago was previously discovered in the 10th century by the Polynesian explorer, Kupe, who named it Aotearoa.  Inhabited by the Maori when Europeans arrived, today the area is known as the birthplace of the nation for the treaty signed by Maori chiefs and the British.

When our cruise ship, the Norwegian Star, anchored around 8 a.m., we were on the first tender boat to Waitangi Pier. We were especially keen to see the town of Russell, so we immediately took the complimentary shuttle from Waitangi Pier to Paihia Wharf where we caught the ferry to Russell. The map below shows where cruise ships anchor, Waitangi Pier, and the towns of Paihia and Russell.

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Map of Waitangi, Paihia, and Russell

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Paihia Wharf

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View of Paihia from the wharf

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View from the ferry to Russell

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Norwegian Star from the ferry

Once called the ‘hell hole of the Pacific,” it’s hard to imagine the drinking, brawling, and prostitution which were commonplace in historic Russell, the largest whaling port in the southern hemisphere and the first capital of New Zealand. Today, little of its wicked past is evident in this charming seaside town.

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Approach to Russell

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Russell, NZ

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Because it’s flightless, the national bird is threatened especially by dogs

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Russell Wharf from the Strand

The Duke of Marlborough Hotel was the first licensed bar in New Zealand. I’m sure the old Victorian has many stories to tell.

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Jim at the Duke of Marlborough Hotel

Next to the hotel is the former Customs House and Police Station, today a private home.

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This majestic Morton Bay Fig Tree was planted by E.B. Laing, the first customs collector who served from 1870 to 1886.

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The oldest remaining church in New Zealand, Christ Church, built in 1836, still holds services every Sunday and since we arrived just as services began, we attended.

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Interior of Christ Church

A bullet hole from the Maori Wars is still evident on the exterior of the church.

 

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Remnant of Maori Wars

 

We strolled around town; I shopped for a Christmas ornament as a souvenir; and we stopped at Sally’s for coffee.

 

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Sally’s

 

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Cannon at Russell

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When we headed back to catch the return ferry to Paihia, I spied these two fishing from the pier. We also watched young people jumping off the pier into the water for a swim causing me to wonder whether they scared away all the fish. I guess that’s why they call it fishing rather than catching.

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Ferry that runs from Paihia to Russell

 

On the short ride back to Paihia, we enjoyed more beautiful views of the islands dotting the turquoise waters.

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Back in Paihia, we wandered around a bit. A local art and craft show briefly attracted my attention but Jim, not much of a shopper, stayed seated while people watching…and bird watching. A sign announced the red-billed gull as the most photographed bird in the sea bird capital of the world (New Zealand) so of course, I had to take several photos. Normally a prolific species, the gull has suffered a decline of over 50% in recent years. The sign admonished, “Love them. Protect them.” Okay.

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Red-billed gull

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Sculpture at Paihia

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Water view from Paihia

We hopped on the complimentary shuttle back to Waitangi for a stop at the treaty grounds. It was here the Maori chiefs and the British signed the Treaty of Waitangi establishing New Zealand as a British colony in 1840. Interestingly, the Maori version and the English version contain different language. The English text gives Britain sovereignty but the Maori text translates to governance which the Maori interpreted to allow self-determination. Both texts are currently used to make present-day decisions.

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds

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Copy of the treaty which is now housed in Wellington

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Waitangi Treaty Grounds

As we walked back to the pier to catch a tender boat back to our ship, I took a few more photos of this incredible paradise.

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View from Waitangi

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View from Waitangi

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Photo from our tender boat, Bay of Islands, NZ

 

Based on events from February 2017.

 

 

 

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The Great American Eclipse

I first heard about the eclipse from my 11-year-old niece while we were visiting my brother’s family in May of this year. She told me a full solar eclipse would occur in August, it could be seen from her town, and her school was giving all the kids special glasses to view it. That sounded pretty cool to me.

As the date, August 21, approached, more and more information appeared about this eclipse and before I knew it, I had eclipse fever. And since my brother lives in the zone of totality, I had a destination in mind to view the event. Once he confirmed we were welcome, I began to plan in earnest. I found viewing glasses online at Amazon and ordered a dozen just to be sure I had a sufficient supply for family and friends.

But as the event drew closer, warnings began to appear. I’m pretty much a scaredy cat, never much of a risk taker, so the warnings got me worried. “Don’t look at the sun without proper eye protection or you’ll go blind.” Amazon issued a recall on unsafe glasses–not the ones I had purchased but that got me more worried. I read compulsively all the safety tips and forwarded everything I read to my adult children cautioning them to be careful and not to go blind. In response to my Facebook post with cautionary information from an optometrist, a friend of mine wrote, “I remember the eclipse of my childhood (July 20, 1963, central Illinois). My grandmother kept me safely in the house while yelling “you’re going to go blind! You’re going to go blind!” at my grandfather who was in the yard with black glass looking at the eclipse.” Honestly, I have plenty in common with her grandmother.

I took my eclipse glasses to my eye doctor’s office seeking reassurance about their safety. My glasses contained the proper ISO numbers and were issued by American Paper Optics, one of the approved companies but I wanted an expert to calm my fears. They were fairly noncommittal at the clinic, probably not wanting to be liable for my safety. One of the optometrists told me not to look continuously at the sun even with the glasses so at least I felt better armed with more information. I passed this information to my adult children as well.  One of them told me the warnings were similar to dentists saying if you don’t floss, your teeth will fall out. The other told me he would close one eye so his blindness would be limited to the other eye. See what I put up with?

The news informing us all the hotels in the zone of totality would be full and the traffic was expected to be horrible, added another element of worry. We left for my brother’s in the St. Louis area on the 20th and the traffic on the Avenue of the Saints looked like this. My first concern was thus alleviated.

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Eclipse Day -1: Avenue of the Saints on August 20, 2017

My friend, Lori, who accompanied us worried about the weather. My worry plate was already full so that one didn’t affect me but the next morning luckily dawned clear but HOT. In fact by 11:48, when the partial eclipse began, it was over 90 degrees.

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My nephew and niece before school on Eclipse Day

My sister-in-law, Sarah, asked where we wanted to view the eclipse and offered their yard, the golf course where they live, or the school the kids attend. My brother couldn’t join us since he was headed to Milwaukee. We decided we’d volunteer to help at the school and we all later agreed it was a good decision. We enjoyed the excitement of the kids and appreciated the information shared by the teachers.

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Armed and ready

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Our ride to the school on Eclipse Day

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Outside the school ready for the eclipse

What did we see? My photos certainly don’t capture well what we viewed which was truly amazing. The first sliver disappeared from the upper right corner of the sun at 11:48. Through our glasses, the sun appeared orange against a black sky. With the glasses held up to cover the lens on my phone, this is what I got, but no sliver is missing.

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Partial Eclipse

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Jim and Lori with the kids at the school

One of the third-grade teachers showed us how to see the eclipse shadow on white paper by making a waffle with our fingers.

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Shadow of the eclipse

I’d read shadows were darker and more distinct during the eclipse and that seemed true to me. Look at the shadows of the trees below.

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By this time, it was 92 degrees. I was a hot mess.

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My sister-in-law’s photo of my niece with her friends

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Another of Sarah’s photos

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Sarah’s photo of Jim, Lori, and me with my nephew

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Sarah’s photo of me, my s-i-l and nephew

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My best effort at the partial eclipse

I can’t tell you whether the cicadas went silent at totality because the kids didn’t. Their noisy excitement grew as totality approached and continued while we viewed it. It didn’t get as dark as I expected but the street lights did come on. We saw Venus, a rainbow, and the diamond ring. The experience of seeing the corona is unforgettable.

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Jim looking at the sun at total eclipse

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The sun with Venus

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Total eclipse

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Total eclipse

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Total eclipse

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My total eclipse photo enlarged

As totality ended, the kids went quiet and I again noticed the sound of the cicadas.

Several times in the night I woke up and was grateful my vision was still intact. The next morning I said to my 9-year-old nephew, “How’s your sight this morning, Buddy?” “Fine”, he responded, “but my hearing’s kind of messed up.”

 

 

Categories: Family, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 2 Comments

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