Tuesday, September 11, 2018


This summer, we took our semi-annual road trip.  We booked a tour to the Canadian Rockies, starting in Calgary, Alberta.  But first we had to get there.  About 35 people were on the tour, and they all flew to Calgary, either from Chicago or the Twin Cities, except us.  We could save $1000 on the tour if we didn't fly.  Of course, it cost more than the $1000 for gas and hotel rooms for 8 days and 6 nights.  Be we did it for the adventure.  Here is what we learned.


Driving in Northwest Wisconsin, we stopped at a rest area containing an exhibit remembering the passenger pigeon, an extinct bird which filled the sky by the billions back in the 19th Century.  The famed ornithologist and painter John James Audubon described the experience, writing that an enormous flock of pigeons would darken the sky and could take hours to pass over.  Of course you didn't want to stand underneath while they were passing over.  The birds were noisy also.  Their cacophony would cause horses to bolt.  In the forest where they would perch and eat acorns and beechnuts, the dung on the forest floor could be a foot thick.  That left large bare areas on the ground.

In the 1800's people would shoot them for sport and sometimes eat them.  The birds often flew low enough that they could be brought down with a stick.  A single shotgun blast could being down 10 birds.   The birds did have natural predators, hawks, weasels and the like.  But the sheer number of the birds protected their population from decimation--until the European settlers came along.  After the Civil War, the extension of the telegraph and the railroad brought hunters out to bag the birds commercially.  They didn't just shoot down the flocks.  They disrupted the nesting grounds.  By 1890, the birds were pretty much gone in the wild.  The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914.

The bird got its name from the French word passager which means passing by.   The birds' habitat comprised all of North America east of the Rockies.  The nesting grounds in Wisconsin where we visited covered 850 square miles, larger than the Chicagoland area.   The nesting grounds!   According to one naturalist, this area had 136 million breeding adult birds. 


Nearby Ellsworth is the Cheese Curd Capitol of Wisconsin.  That is saying something!   Ellsworth is a town of 3000, about 40 miles from St. Paul, MN.  Every year in June, they celebrate the Cheese Curd Festival where you can try cheese curds prepared 20 different ways.  They are usually served beer-battered with dipping sauce. 

The cheese curds are made at the Ellsworth Co-op Creamery.  We stopped in Ellsworth for lunch at a local bar and grill.  It was a friendly place.  Several people were playing pool.  Everyone seemed to know each other.  There are not many restaurants in Ellsworth.  We had sandwiches and breaded deep fried cheddar cheese curds with a touch of garlic.  They were delicious.  At a nearby A & W, they put the curds on the menu and they quickly proved  to be more popular than the French fries. 


Little Falls is in fact little, compared to Minneapolis for example.  But it is a prosperous town and attracts many tourists for camping and fishing at nearby Charles A. Lindbergh State Park.  Surprisingly, the state park was not named after the famed aviator.  It was named after his father who was a Minnesota congressman.

The restored 1906 house was the boyhood home of the more famous son.  The house is on high wooded ground next to the Mississippi River.  The falls on the river give the town its name. 

Lindbergh (the son), of course became a hero as a young man, being the first pilot to fly solo nonstop from New York to Paris in 1927.  He won a cash prize for that.  But he was not the first to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.  Actually 81 people did that before Lindbergh.  

The first was Lt. Commander Albert C. Read who also won a prize when he flew from New York to Lisbon in a Navy Curtiss NC-4 flying boat in 1919.  The plane developed engine trouble on the way, and Read had to spend 10 days in the Azores. But he completed the trip.

A few weeks later, a pair of Brits, Capt. John Alcock and Lt. Arthur Brown took off from St. Johns, Newfoundland in a Vickers Night Bomber.  They crash landed in a peat bog in Ireland and walked away unscathed.  They were knighted by the King.  Their average speed was 118 mph.   In 1924, two Americans, Lt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. Eric H. Nelson flew around the world from Seattle to Seattle, covering over 26,000 miles.   The point I'm making is that the Lindbergh flight was closely covered by the media and the others weren't.  Lindbergh became the world's first mass media hero.

Several years later, Lindbergh lent his name and fame to some questionable causes, enough that President F. Roosevelt called him "the most dangerous man in America."   Many people still idolized Lindbergh, so he had influence with a lot of followers.  Lindbergh became enamored with Nazi Germany because of their wacky racial theories, and even accepted an award from Hitler.   While married to the author Anne Morrow, Lindbergh fathered children with two European mistresses, one German.  Recently two German men claimed they were Lindbergh's children and DNA tests proved them correct.

In the late 1930's, Lindbergh became a leader in the America First movement because he was concerned that America was being overrun by "brown, yellow, black and Jewish people".  In that regard, his view was that the U.S. and Nazi Germany had much in common.  He supported an accommodation with Nazi Germany, even after it overran Europe in 1940.  That movement eventually fizzled in late 1941 when Germany declared war on the U.S.  Lindbergh faded into well deserved obscurity. 


Our road trip continued up the center of Minnesota to Lake Itasca State Park which is the source of the Mississippi River.  We first visited it about 20 years ago, and it looks pretty much the same today except they have added the Mary Gibbs Mississippi Headwaters Center, built in 2005 with a shelter, bathrooms and a gift shop.  It also features a small scale mock up of the Mississippi River all the way to New Orleans.  They charge 7 bucks a carload to enter the park.  It was worth it.

Mary Gibbs was an early environmentalist.  She became Park Commissioner (succeeding her father) in 1903 when she was 24.  At the time, a logging company was constructing a dam a quarter mile downstream which would create a lake and also destroy old growth trees.  In her main accomplishment as commissioner, she confronted the loggers and had her life threatened.  She ultimately prevailed, survived, and live to age 104. 

The lake itself is only about 2 square miles in area and is 1475 feet above sea level.  In other words, the water flows downhill 1475 feet over the next 2552 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico.  It was "discovered" by Henry Schoolcraft, an early explorer who, in 1832, correctly identified the lake as the primary source of the river.  Actually, two other streams empty into the lake from the other side.  One originates in nearby Elk Lake, about 7 miles upstream and 100 feet higher in elevation.  This was controversial, and finally in 1891, Jacob Brower, a surveyor and President of the Minnesota Historical Society, decreed that the lakes and streams further south of Lake Itasca were not the true source because they were "too small".  He successfully lobbied the state legislature to make Lake Itasca a state park to protect it from logging.  The bill passed by one vote. As the "Father of Lake Itasca", Jacob Brower was honored when the 1905 Visitor's Center was named after him.

Schoolcraft got to name the lake.  He disregarded the local Indian name which was translated to "Elk Lake".  Instead he chose a combination of the Latin words "verITAS" and "CAput" (truth and head).

The lake flows out over large stone rapids which most visitors step over to walk across the river.  It is approximately 15 feet across.  The first 30 feet or so of the river is a pond in which many visitors jump in the water and swim on warm days.   I was dismayed to learn from Wikipedia that the channel in that area was bulldozed by the government to create a more "pleasant experience" for visitors.  The Civilian Conservation Corps drained the swamp, dug a new channel and installed the stone rapids and the pond.  Above the rapids, the lake today is covered by lily pads.  A few hundred yards downstream is a small stone and wood truss pedestrian bridge crossing the Mississippi River.  Wooden steps lead down to the water, and we watched many people and their dogs wade across, just for the experience.


We crossed into Canada in Saskatchewan at the Port of Entry on U.S. 52 in western North Dakota.  Gas is expensive in Canada.  It is measured by the liter rather than the gallon. A gallon is about 3.8 liters.  At $1.54 per liter, gas is about $5.82 per gallon (Canadian).  Discount that by about 25% to get American money, and it is still well over $4,30 per gallon.  On our return trip from Calgary, we drove south from Lethbridge, Alberta with just about enough gas to get to the border.  Our fuel gauge was down to 9 miles left in the tank when we got to the U.S. border and filled up the car.


Several years ago, the Canadian satirist Bruce McCall did a 2001 TV special "Talking to Americans" to expose the ignorance of most Americans toward Canada.   Comedian Rick Mercer asked New Yorkers on the street, "Should American be bombing Saskatchewan?'  The responses were "Absolutely" and "If that's what they're going to have to do, that's what they're going to have to do." and "Bomb those Commie bastards." 

Actually Saskatchewan was bombed--by the Japanese toward the end of World War II.  Japan launched 10,000 balloon bombs intended to reach North America and cause panic.  A few forest fires broke out and a few people were even killed, but by and large, the bombs caused little damage.  News of this was censored until after the war ended. 

Driving Saskatchewan is a long and sometimes monotonous drive through endless canola and wheat fields.  Saskatchewan is the size of Texas and is the only province to not have any natural boundaries (i.e. rivers, mountains, etc.).  It is just a large rectangle.  The canola fields have beautiful yellow flowers stretched as far as you can see.  Canola is used to make low cholesterol cooking oil.  The name is a contraction from "Canada" and "oil". 

Eventually we drove into Moose Jaw where we spent the night at a Comfort Inn down the street from the giant moose statue.  Moose Jaw, a city of 33,000 people, is one of only 3 or 4 significant cities in Saskatchewan.  The others are Regina and Saskatoon.  Moose Jaw is often called "Little Chicago" and there's a story behind that.  To attract tourists, it declared itself as the Chicago of Western Canada, and probably not in a good way.

the most popular attraction is Tunnels of Moose Jaw, where history comes alive underground.  Apparently, during Prohibition, the Capone Mob set up an operation there to supply liquor to thirsty Americans.  Pictures of old newspapers with screaming headlines like "CHICAGO MOBSTERS SPOTTED IN MOOSE JAW"  as it appeared in the Moose Jaw Examiner.   The police were shocked, SHOCKED to find gambling and liquor abounding.   The whiskey was hidden beneath the train station.  "CITY POLICE DENY BEING ON THE TAKE".   Where have I heard that before?  The article has a mugshot of Al Capone who is like George Washington--everyone wants to claim he slept there.   We once visited Al Capone's HAT exhibited in St. Pierre and Miquelon. 

In Moose Jaw, you can see performers in The Chicago Connection, and they charge money for that.
I grew up in Chicago, and I could see that for free.   The other attraction performance in the Tunnels of Moose Jaw is Passage to Fortune which describes the history of Chinese immigrants to Canada who were recruited to work for the railroad.     They lived underground, in deplorable conditions, but ultimately overcame their hardships and now send their kids to Harvard. 


Another city, known mostly to hockey fans, is Medicine Hat, a city of 63,000.  It is also known as "the Gas City".  With some trepidation, we ate lunch there.  I'm not sure if the locals are proud of that name or not, but it got that moniker when a large natural gas field was discovered nearby in 1883.  The Gas City Rollers is the local roller derby team.  The City of Medicine Hat got its name from the native Blackfoot Indian word "saamis", loosely translated as "medicine man's hat". 

According to the Medicine Hat Tourism Board, the deal was that one winter the tribe was suffering from famine and hardship.  They chose a young brave to save the tribe from starvation.  He walked for days and made camp by an opening in the ice on the South Saskatchewan River.  There he summoned the spirits who appeared in the form of a talking snake which told him where to find a bag containing medicines and a saamis (holy bonnet).   He could wear the hat only in war but it would insure victory.   In the Canadian version of the Kerward Derby, with the magic of the saamis, the young brave found plentiful game to save the tribe from hunger.  He became a great Medicine Man.  The first Medicine Hat was a symbol of leadership, prowess and mysticism.

The ultimate symbol of Medicine Hat is the Saamis Tepee, a 215 foot metal tepee towering over the Queen Elizabeth Highway.  It was hard to miss, so we visited the tepee.  On the outside are ten hand painted storyboards interpreting and retelling the history of the various First Nations (Indians) of the area up until the present.  The tepee was originally built for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary and later moved to Medicine hat. 


We spent a nice evening in Great Falls, Montana which, until the 1970's was the largest city in the state.  Then it was surpassed by Billings and Missoula.  Great Falls was notable for the dinner we ate there.  The manager at our hotel recommended Jakers Bar & Grill, several blocks down the street.  The restaurant promotes itself as the Best Happy Hour in Great Falls.  It was moderately priced, and we had a feast.

The first thing we saw was the huge salad and soup bar.  To limit our intake of food, we elected not to use it.  Instead we ordered off the menu.  They started off with scones and honey butter.  They served several choices of soup, but the lobster bisque caught my eye.  It turned out to be the best I've ever tasted, and I've had it at many expensive restaurants.    The bisque didn't skimp on the lobster--it was  chock full. I've never seen that before. 

The menu had half pound burgers with many varieties of toppings.   Even with salad on top, the burger is probably fattening.  Also on the menu was prime rib and salmon, prepared the right way.
I elected to have parmesan encrusted walleye.  Instead of fries, they serve Jakers Bakers which are baked potatoes with everything, and I mean everything on them.   But if you want fries, you can try gorgonzola waffle fries.  This was unbelievable!  As it turns out, Jakers had 6 locations in Idaho and Montana.  If they're not coming to Chicago, we'll have to go back to Montana.


Crook County, Wyoming,  perhaps illustrates the truth in advertising concept.  It is reputed that early settlers were politicians from Washington.  Despite popular belief, Chicago is in Cook County, not Crook County.    Crook County is located in rural Wyoming.  There is also a Crook County in Oregon, but we didn't visit.   The main attraction, other than their politicians is the imposing Devils Tower National Monument, made famous by the movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which was filmed there.  We visited it before, and they encourage you to get out as quickly as possible with the 80 mph speed limit.  We sailed through Crook County at close to 100 mph.


I basked in front of a 15 foot obelisk in Rugby, North Dakota which claims to be the geographic center of North America.  I had some questions about that.  Wikipedia points out that North America includes Central America, the West Indies, the Aleutian Islands, and even Bermuda.   It wasn't clear if all of those were factored into the Rugby location.  Also, it is not clear why that would even be important except to allow a small town to promote tourism.

By all accounts, that obelisk isn't really at the center of North America.  The U.S. Geographical Survey, established in 1931 that the geographic center is actually about 15 miles south of Rugby.   That was close enough for the town of Rugby to seize the day.  The USGS further stated that "No marked or monumented point has been established by any government agency as the geographic center of either the 50 states, the coterminous United States, or the North American continent."

Recently it was reported that the actual geographic center of North America is in another (appropriately named) town, Center, North Dakota, located about 145 miles southwest of Rugby.. A professor at the University of Buffalo named Peter Rogerson decided to precisely calculate the center using a computer program called an azimuthal equidistant projection which considered the curvature of the Earth.  Before the computer age, the USGS had calculated it using cardboard cutouts--they cut out the shape of the continent from a sheet of cardboard and then balanced it on a small point.   In most cases of measuring the center of anything, the difference in distances is small, usually less than 2 miles. 

The U.S. has two geographic centers.  The center of the continental U.S. is near Lebanon, Kansas, but if you include Alaska and Hawaii, the center moves up to near Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  We drove through there, unaware of its geographical significance.


Passing the signs pointing to Mount Rushmore, we rolled into Sturgis, South Dakota which is the foremost biker town in the country.  Especially during the Sturgis Rally.  Sturgis is not very big, only 6600 people, but during the 10 day Rally, they claim that 1 million people attend this extravaganza. 
That 1 million was the "official" count in 2015, when they celebrated the 75th Rally, although others say it was only 740,000.  Be that as it may, even in an off year, they get 500,000 visitors.  The first Rally was in 1938 and has been held every year except during World War II (gas rationing).

We showed up a week early, but the merchants were already gearing up for the 2018 Rally.  I bought a t-shirt promoting the Rally.  Huge banners were already strung over the streets.  Hundreds of motorcycles of early arrivals were parked in the middle of the wide streets.  According to the Chamber of Commerce, over 1000 vendors set up displays, selling accessories, food, tattoos and body piercings, and t-shirts.  The town obviously can't accommodate the throngs of people, and over 60 nearby campgrounds serve the bikers. 

The schedule listed 197 concerts at the various venues.  Most of the music was County and Western and Southern Rock.  Some of the bigger names in town included Foreigner, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins, the Marshall Tucker Band, Eric Church and Kid Rock.  Based on a casual observation, there were probably very few Progressives in attendance.   President Trump is popular in Sturgis, and his picture adorns t-shirts all over town. 

We visited the Motorcycle Museum and Hall of Fame located in an old post office building on the main street in Sturgis.  It was founded in 2001 to honor those who had a long term positive effect on the motorcycle community and lifestyle.  The Hall of Fame has plaques honoring approximately 180 inductees including some well known people as well as others known only to those in the biker culture.  There is William S. Harley, as well as Arthur Davidson and several other Davidsons.  Politicians include former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell and former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson.   Other familiar names ware Peter Fonda and Jay Leno, as well as Evel Knievel and his son Robbie, and even Malcolm Forbes, the magazine guy who once ran for President. 

The museum displays over 100 classic motorcycles dating back to 1905, such as vintage Indians (motorcycles, not people) which they haven't made since 1953, Harleys, Triumphs and other makes.  The guy who founded the museum, Pappy Hoel, was in the ice business in town until the widespread use of refrigerators put him out of business.  He liked to ride, and in 1936, he applied for and became the local dealer for the Indian Motorcycle Company.  With fellow bikers, Hoel started a group called the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club.  Hoel and his buddies promoted the initial Rally in 1938, partly to increase his business.  It was held in his backyard, and his wife Pearl provided sandwiches and coffee for about 200 attendees.    Today he would need a really, really big backyard.


The little town of Wall is a monument to self promotion in rural South Dakota, 60 miles from Mount Rushmore.  Years ago, it decided to re-invent itself as a tourist trap.  A Nebraska pharmacist named Ted Hustead purchased the small drugstore in 1931.  The town had 231 people but had a Catholic church which sealed the deal for Hustead.    Business was slow until Mrs. Hustead decided to advertise free ice water to weary travelers headed to Mount Rushmore.  The rest is history.

Today Wall attracts 2 million tourists annually.  It is a Western themed shopping mall with restaurants, gift shops, and of course, the drug store, all owned by the same owner. If that isn't enough, it has a Western art museum with original oils by world class artists.  But wait, there's more--an 80 foot brontosaurus and a mini Mount Rushmore.

Driving down Interstate 90 from Minneapolis to Billings, Montana one can see hundreds of billboards promoting Wall Drug.  For further promotion, they hand out free bumper stickers.  We didn't take one. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018



After a 1500 mile drive, we arrived in Calgary two days before our scheduled tour.  Calgary is a dynamic, growing city of 1.5 million.   It is famous for the Calgary Stampede, the "Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth".  Essentially, it's a Western show with concerts, rodeos, cowboys, etc.  Even chuck wagon races.  For 10 days in July, everyone in town gets in on the act, donning Stetson hats and cowboy boots.  We missed it by a week.      

We had a free day in Calgary.  What should we do?  We perused the brochures and decided to visit Heritage Park.  This is a theme park focusing on several periods in Calgary's history, from the 1860's to the 1920's.  It contains over 180 attractions and exhibits.  It is not an amusement park, but rather a historical theme park.  You start with an overview by riding a steam train around the perimeter of the park. 

Near the entrance of the park, the first thing you see is Gasoline Alley.  We old folks remember that as a long gone comic strip going back to the 1920's.  This is a large building on three levels displaying vintage cars, gas pumps and signs, mostly from oil companies.

Adults and even school kids dressed in period dress.  The kids were in day camps and encouraged to dress up, and they eagerly did so.  Many of the girls wore long dresses and little hats as they would dress if they grew up on the prairies.  Heritage Park is the Canadian Williamsburg.

The Canadians relocated old wooden houses and stores from all over Canada and brought them to the park.  One unexpected find was the one room prairie synagogue.  Jews from Eastern Europe came to the prairies to become farmers.  They weren't allowed to own land in Europe, so this was a new opportunity. 

The Canadian dollar is relatively weak compared to the American dollar, so we found the park and other Canadian attractions to be affordable.  In Canada, take 25% off the stated price to convert the cost to American dollars. 

When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.  We did go shopping on a warm July morning before we were scheduled to meet our tour.  We drove to the huge indoor 250 store Chinook Mall. I sought out Hudson Bay Co., a Canadian department store which is now owned by the same company as Lord & Taylor.  The Hudson Bay Co. is the oldest company in Canada, dating back to about 1600.  It used to own at least half of the land in Canada.    As a kid, I always wanted a colorful yellow, green, black, red and white striped Hudson Bay wool blanket.  The weather was very warm, and we didn't want to schlep around a large blanket.  The $170 (Canadian) cost was reasonable--we saw the same blanket for far more in the Canadian Rockies.  I instead purchased a brightly colored striped scarf which I can wear next winter.  Scarfs and blankets are popular in Canada where the temperature gets down to -40 in the winter.

We met our tour group at the Calgary Airport (YYC).  We were the only ones of 35 people on the tour to drive.  We parked at the Hampton Inn, where we stayed,  near the airport and boarded a comfortable motor coach driven by our Canadian driver, Duane.  Not all the seats on the bus were occupied, so we could stretch out. 

The bus took us on a tour of Calgary, mainly in the downtown area.  Downtown Calgary is vibrant with modern skyscrapers.  These high rises are architecturally unique modernistic structures, many with all glass exteriors.  Vacant land everywhere is being developed.  We found the city to be very clean.  We were told it was safe to walk around.

We visited the beautiful Peace Bridge spanning the Bow River.  The 428 foot pedestrian and cyclist bridge resembles a finger trap puzzle with interlinking metal chains.  The unique thing about the bridge is that it has no piers in the water--for ecological reasons.  The bridge was built in Spain, shipped to Calgary, and assembled, apparently by a puzzle enthusiast.  It was opened in 2012.

On the first night of the tour, we stayed at the International Hotel in downtown Calgary where we were given an opportunity to walk around the city.  In July in the far North, the sun doesn't set until almost 10 P.M.

Our room at the International was a capacious 3 room suite with a dining room table and 6 chairs.  The bathroom, on the other hand, was about the size of a broom closet.  The 3 creaky elevators were ancient and small.  We had to wait in line to use them.   


Cardston was originally settled by Mormons from Utah led by Charles O. Card who named the town after himself.  The Mormons erected a huge temple in town.  Cardston is also the home of the extraordinary Remington Carriage Museum.  We didn't expect much, but the museum was a pleasant surprise.  The 63,000 square foot museum possesses the largest collection of horse drawn vehicles in North America.  We're talking carriages, wagons, buggies and sleighs.  Hansoms, landaus, broughams, buggies and cabriolets, 270 of them.  The museum restoration shop is constantly busy restoring vehicles not only for the museum but for other carriage enthusiasts.

The carriages were collected by Don Remington who began his collection in 1954.  He donated them to the Province of Alberta in 1987.  They needed a suitable building to house all this stuff, so the Province agreed to build the museum in 1993.  They added vehicles from other collections also.

Horse drawn carriages dominated the era before horseless carriages.  The most valuable vehicle displayed was the handsome hansom carriage once owned by Alfred G. Vanderbilt.  The reason it is so valuable is that the Vanderbilt family offered to buy the thing back and offered something north of $500,000. 

The two most prominent carriage makers of the era were McLaughlin and Studebaker.  Studebaker went on to build cars that looked like rocket ships in the late '40's and 50's.  I once owned a Studebaker Lark convertible which was a great car.  It was a compact car but the driver's seat was relative high so one could see the road very well.  I used to drive like a cab driver, so that car was handy.  McLaughlin later merged with Buick.  The early models were called McLaughlin Buicks, but the McLaughlin name was eventually dropped.

In the late 1800's and early 1900's before cars were widespread, carriages were pulled by horses.  The problem with carriages was that in big cities, horse manure tended to pile up on the streets.  They had to plow the stuff to the curbs where it was piled high.  Disease was prevalent.  Cars won out because they were considered cleaner than horses. 

Two formerly famous people hailed from Cardston.  On the main street, we passed the Fay Wray Fountain.  I couldn't get a photo because the bus was going too fast.  Fay Wray, from Cardston, was the female star in the original King Kong movie.  The fountain was built to commemorate Ms. Wray's return to Cardston in 1962.  A large metal plaque honoring (?) King Kong was installed in 1993 on the 60th anniversary of the film.  Wray was one of the first Hollywood "scream queens". Other than King Kong, she appeared in about 80 more films, most of them horror films.  She was offered the role of the elderly Rose Dawson, played in her younger life by Kate Winslet, in James Cameron's Titanic, but she turned it down.   Ms. Wray died in 2004 at age 96.

The other famous person was George Woolf, and the museum has a good sized exhibit honoring him. In case you don't remember Woolf, he was the jockey who in 1938 rode Seabiscuit to many victories.  He was called the "Ice Man".  In the movie Seabiscuit, Woolf was played by Gary Stevens, a currently active jockey who regularly rides in the Kentucky Derby.  Both Woolf and Stevens are in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.  Woolf died young at age 35 when he fell off a horse during a race.  He suffered from Type 1 diabetes, and it appears he became dizzy and lost his balance.


In Fort MacLeod, on the way to Waterton National Park, we were treated to a horse show in a large outdoor arena next to the log fort.  The fort is a reproduction of a Royal Canadian Mounted Police post, so visitors can see what it was like.   The original fort, called Fort Whoop-Up, was built in 1874, shortly after the RCMP was formed.  It lies next to the strangely named Oldman River which flows through town.  This river has nothing to do with the song from Show Boat; it was named after a guy named Oldman.   But it does keep rolling along, eventually draining into Hudson Bay.

If you've ever seen the Lipizzan horses in Wadsworth, IL, this show has many similar features.  The horses are ridden by high school and college kids wearing scarlet Mountie uniforms demonstrating their horsemanship on quarter horses. 

Next to the arena is the Mountie museum.  We learned all we needed to know about the history of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  The Mounties always get their man--well usually.  There are also exhibits honoring the First Nations (known as Indians in the U.S.) and Metis who were of mixed race.  A question was asked:  "When did the Metis come to the area?"  The answer:  "Nine months after the Europeans arrived."


On the outskirts of Waterton National Park is the magnificent Prince of Wales Hotel, located on a windswept bluff overlooking the beautiful Waterton Lake.  On our trip through the Rockies, we were to see several such blue glacier fed lakes.  The hotel is a classic from a bygone era.  We went outside to see the lake better and walked into a tornado--or so it seemed.  My hat blew off, and I foolishly chased it into the tall grass.  In retrospect, I could have severely injured myself running downhill--at my age.  But I recovered the hat.

The area around the hotel is famous for its wind.  Winds of 75 mph are fairly common.  This was a major challenge when they were constructing the hotel back in 1927.  The roof blew off while they were building it.  Although the weather was sunny when we visited, the wind gusts were extreme.  I've experience that kind of wind at two places, Mt. Washington, NH where they once had 231 mph winds, and at Cape Horn in South America where I had to cling to the mast of the ship to avoid being blown away. 

We stayed two nights at a hotel in the Village of Waterton.  Waterton is a fairly small town with an active night life.  There are only about three commercial blocks.  I counted 4 ice cream shops in a 2 block stretch.  We ate at Zums, a restaurant recommended by Duane, our bus driver.  Zums claims to have the best fried chicken in the world.   I wouldn't go that far, but it was very good.  The promise of good fried chicken was enough to get us inside.  The mozzarella sticks were delicious also. 


Waterton and Glacier Parks are contiguous to each other.  The parks together are called Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.  We learned that there are other peace parks.  A couple years ago, we visited the one north of Botteneau, North Dakota, adjoining Manitoba.  You can stand on the U.S.-Canada border and nobody will ask for your passport.  However, on this trip, we entered the U.S. on the main road at the port of entry, and the customs officer boarded the bus and examined everybody's passports.   On the Canada side there are big signs prohibiting transporting firewood from the U.S. (to limit the spread of Dutch elm disease).

The scenery, of course, is spectacular.  We saw snow capped mountains and blue lakes.  Forest fires had devastated the park last year, and extensive areas are covered with dead trees standing bare.  From an ecological standpoint, forest fires aren't necessarily bad, at least in the long run.  The fires give new life to smaller plants which take over the ecological niche and eventually give way to new trees.

The main predators in the park are the grizzly bears which largely keep out of sight.  If a hiker encounters one, it is recommended that he make loud noises or carry bells.  You can't outrun a grizzly--they can run as fast as a racehorse.  Grizzlies are more dangerous than black bears.  The ranger told us that if you see bear tracks, look for its droppings.  The difference in poop between a black bear and a grizzly is that the grizzly poop has bells in it. 

On the "jammer bus", we drove up on the Going to the Sun Highway to Logan Pass on the Continental Divide.  Triple Divide Peak, near Logan Pass is the unusual situation of the Continental Divide, divided three ways.  On one side, the rivers flow to the Pacific, one side to the Atlantic, and the third side to Hudson Bay. 

To cut down on the traffic, they encourage tourists to board the "jammer" buses  which hold about 20 people.  We tried to do that ride a couple years ago in June, but the road was closed by drifting snow.  Glacier Park has many glaciers, but not like farther north in Canada.    The ranger explained it is important to distinguish between a glacier and a snow field.  Generally glaciers are on mountain sides and the gradually move down and are replenished at the top by more snow.  By definition, glaciers cover at least 25 acres.  As you can imagine, they don't move very fast--about the speed of Congress, maybe a few feet each year.  Many of the glaciers at Glacier Park are gone (melted) or greatly reduced because of climate change. 

Back in Waterton, we took a boat ride on the glacial Waterton Lake which straddles the U.S.-Canada border.  The border is well marked by a strip of land on the 49th Parallel.  A treaty between the two countries requires that that strip be cleared of trees.  We crossed the border on the boat, but there was no passport check.   The guide pointed out an eagle perched on the top of a tall tree.  It didn't move, so I was not sure if was a real eagle or just a prop.  We never found out.

The parkland is considered sacred to the Blackfeet, Salish and Kootenai tribes


On the way to Banff, we spent several hours and ate lunch at Bar U Ranch National Historic Site.  We learned about the history of ranching in Alberta in the early 1900's in the wide open spaces.  This is a working ranch.  They raise horses and even have a herd of bison.  The friendly guides wore cowboy clothes.  We visited the barn, the blacksmith shop, the leather making shop, and even watched them churning butter.  

Nearby is the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, an appropriately named World Heritage Site. The First Nation tribesmen were somewhat hesitant to hunt buffalo directly using only spears.  Getting up close and personal with a 2000 pound bison is dangerous.  The Indians were clever.  Over a period of time, the tribesmen would herd a few animals until they had the number they wanted.   Then they would stampede them over a cliff.  The rest of the tribe was stationed at the bottom of the cliff where they would skin the dead buffalo and gather the meat and skins to provide for the tribe.  Other tribes in the West did the same.  We later saw sites in Montana and Wyoming used for the same purpose.   


We stayed the next 3 nights in the City of Banff at the High Country Inn, on the main street.  Banff got its name from Banffshire in Scotland, the ancestral home of the head of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  Banff looks like many other tourist towns.   In the commercial area, one can find many t-shirt shops, ice cream stores, art galleries, etc.  We've been to Jackson Hole, Gatlinburg, Bar Harbor, etc. and the towns look exactly the same except for the surrounding scenery.

Banff has about 8000 permanent residents.  They won't let you move there unless you have a job and a place to live.  You don't see panhandlers on the street. 

Overlooking the town is the massive Fairmont Banff Springs hotel which is impressive indeed.  It was originally built by the railroad in the 1890's to lure tourists.  The hotel is a labyrinthine maze of rooms and halls on 17 levels on a mountainside.  We ate dinner at the Italian restaurant at the hotel.  The waiter handed us a dinner menu with three choices.  The choices were wild boar cannelloni,  grilled vegetable polenta stack or smoked halibut Tagliatelle.  None of them sounded appetizing, and each was about 35 bucks.  It was downhill from there.   Soup or salad was extra.  We asked for a more comprehensive menu, and the waiter brought us one for our table of 6.   We passed the menu around and ordered off the menu.  .  The food was expensive and reasonably good, but probably not worth $50 per person.  But we're talking Canadian dollars, so maybe it wasn't that bad. 

The railroad advertised heavily to induce Eastern folks to take the train and have a place to stay in a thinly populated area of the country.  The National Park was established in 1885 but was mostly wilderness for 30 years or more until roads were built.   The roads were constructed during World War I by immigrants (POW's?) from enemy countries, Austria, Hungary, Germany and Ukraine who were held in internment camps.

The scenery in Banff is spectacular.  The bus drove up the Icefields Parkway alongside the Continental Divide, so we were looking at rugged mountains, numerous glaciers and icefields.   The melt from Bow Glacier flows into a beautiful blue lake which is the source of the Bow River which flows through Calgary.  We didn't see a lot of wildlife other than small animals like squirrels and chipmunks.  The larger animals were taking the day off.  The government built several wildlife crossings over the superhighway.  These appear as attractive overpasses with trees and grass on top.  I'm not sure how they steer the animals to use them.  I see them as necessary, as we almost got hit by a grizzly bear crossing the road in Colorado a few years ago. 


Athabasca Glacier in Jasper National Park is the most visited glacier in North America.  We gathered at the visitor center to ride a Sno-Coach to the glacier, about a mile away.  This large bus with oversized tires creeps up and down the road to the glacier.   The gravel road has a very steep 18 degree incline--try that in the snow.   The ice is 1000 feet thick, and you can drink the melting water. The glacier is almost 4 miles long and covers more than 2 square miles.  Because of a warming climate, it is receding at about 16 feet per year.  In the past 125 years, it has receded almost a mile.

Walking on a glacier is like wading through a Big Slushy from 7-11.  It is very slippery although I didn't see anyone fall.  But people do.  Because the surface is slushy, you might not get hurt, but you'll be wet.  You do have to watch out for crevasses which can be 20 feet deep.  People have fallen in and had to be rescued.


Lake Louise is a world class ski resort, and we got to ride the ski lift to the top of the mountain, about 3000 feet above the valley floor.   In the summer, everything is green.  On the way up, we saw a grizzly bear foraging in the meadow.  The bear sighting was unexpected, and I didn't get a good picture.  Near the top of the mountain, it started raining and then sleeting.  When the sun came out, we had a breathtaking view of the beautiful Lake Louise far below in the distance.


The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise is another grand resort hotel built by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It was originally built in 1890, but after a couple of fires, the current building was built in 1911.  Lake Louise, with its blue green waters was called by the local Stoney Indians, "the Lake of Little Fishes" in their native tongue.  The surveyor working for the railroad, Thomas Wilson named the lake Emerald Lake.  He was later overruled by the authorities who named it Lake Louise after Queen Victoria's fourth daughter (she had 5 girls and 4 boys), Princess Louise Caroline Alberta. Fortunately, her last name wasn't Saskatchewan.  Overlooking the lake is Mount Victoria and Victoria Glacier.

The water in this glacial lake is very cold.  We shivered as we watched crowds of kids as well as a Labrador Retriever, oblivious to the cold, frolicking in the 38 degree water.

The hotel was and is a magnet for the rich and powerful.  Hollywood shot several feature films there including Springtime in the Rockies, starring Betty Grable and Carmen Miranda.  Betty Grable was famous for her cheesecake, or so we were told.  Despite her Carmen Miranda warnings, we once visited her museum in Rio de Janiero.  Other stars who flocked to the hotel included Alfred Hitchcock, Marilyn Monroe, Christopher Reeve and Angie Dickinson, as well as Queen Elizabeth, Queen Margrethe of Denmark and King Hussein of Jordan.  King Kong was not invited.

There are posted signs instructing the throngs of tourists not to enter the hotel unless you're a guest, especially to use the bathrooms.  We disregarded them because we wanted to see the inside of the hotel and maybe do some shopping.  Heck, I've been kicked out of classier places than that.

One notable shop we visited in the hotel was Art of Man, selling Native American art works, carvings and sculptures.  A carved jade grizzly bear was tagged as $95,500.  It hadn't gone on sale yet.  That's Canadian money, so its much cheaper--maybe $70,000 American.  I asked the manager if I could get a discount if I buy two.  Show me the money! 


Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics.  The facility has been converted to essentially an amusement park where you can do a slo-mo version of Olympic downhill events.   In the summer, the park offers mountain biking, zip-lining and snow-free versions of the bobsleigh and the luge.  The chair lift brings you to the top.

The luge is a 5900 foot downhill ride with 50 twists and turns.  Unlike the Olympic version, you can use the brakes and steering mechanisms.  You won't be careening downhill 80 mph on your back, but it's a fun ride anyway.   Those pesky insurance companies don't want anybody getting hurt.  You can buy tickets for the luge for $16 for one ride or $24 for 3 rides.  They also have family packages.

The 1988 Winter Olympics were notable for several reasons.  For one thing, the weather didn't always cooperate.  Calgary can get bitterly cold or it can be warm in the winter.  In 1988, they experienced Chinook winds coming down the mountain, raising the temperatures to a mild 63F.  Skiing is supposed to be in cold weather.  It was the first Olympics where they had to make artificial snow.

It was also notable for showcasing the popular, myopic British downhill skier, Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards.  They even made a movie about him.  Edwards was a regular guy who was working as a plasterer making about 6000 British pounds a year.  He barely knew how to ski.  He came in last by a wide margin.  The public gave him an A for effort.  Average people could relate to him, and his income went up to 10,000 British pounds per hour for a personal appearance. 

They had to change the rules because of him.  Previously, every country had the right to send at least one athlete, but the athlete didn't have to exhibit any prowess in the event.  To avoid embarrassment in the future, athletes must now meet certain minimum competition standards to participate.   At least the Jamaican bobsled team put in a respectable performance--the two man team finished 30th out of 41 competitors.  They made a movie about that also.

NEXT:  Road Trip to Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat--Highlights of Saskatchewan     

Thursday, May 24, 2018


Prominent on my bucket list is the Channeled Scablands of Eastern Washington state.  Before you have me committed, let me explain.  This was the scene of perhaps the greatest flood in world history, the Biblical Flood, if you will.  Planetary scientists are interested in this area because the dry channels resemble those on Mars.  

Near the end of the last Ice Age, a wall of water up to 1000 feet high came pouring down the Columbia River basin at a speed of 65 mph.  The flood carved out the Grand Coulee valley and thoroughly cleaned up Washington (which wasn't called that at the time).  It created enormous potholes and ripples as much as 50 feet high which becomes evident when you view the landscape. 

There have been several theories of how this happened.  The most generally accepted one today was proposed by the geologist J. Harlan Bretz about 100 years ago.  For many years, scientists in the geology establishment thought the guy was nuts.   For the establishment, the accepted orthodoxy was uniformitarian--that all changes in geology occurred slowly, over many eons.  Bretz turned this theory on its head. 

Bretz worked diligently compiling evidence, and eventually he won over most of the non believers.  By 1979, Bretz was mainstream, if you will.  For his achievements, he was awarded the prestigious Penrose Medal, the highest award of the Geological Society of America.  

The scenery in this area west of Spokane is certainly unusual.  Once can see enormous boulders weighing many tons strewn around the area like they were thrown out there.  They do not match the rock types that surround them.  These rocks are called glacial erratics, foreign to the area.  Erratics can be transported hundreds of miles by glaciers, or in this case by ice-rafting from the flood.

In most areas the topsoil was stripped from the land.  The underlying rock is volcanic basalt which is easily chipped away by the action of water.  The U-shaped valley is framed by thousand foot cliffs on either side.  In some areas there is a small stream in the middle. In other areas, the valley is completely dry.  The stream could not have created that valley.

Bretz's theory is that during the last Ice Age, an ice dam blocked off the ancient Lake Missoula in present day Montana.  The lake contained as much water as Lake Michigan.  The climate got warmer; the ice melted; the ice dam broke, and, of course, all hell broke loose.   According to Bretz, "the channels run uphill and downhill, they unite and they divide, they head on the back-slopes and cut through the summit; they could not be more erratically and impossibly designed."

The less accepted theory was propounded by author Graham Hancock who believes that the ice sheet was hit by a large meteorite (asteroid) which caused a sudden melting of a large area of ice.  Now it's possible that both theories can be true because new evidence shows there have been many such floods in the area.  That would indicate that the ice dam broke on several occasions. 

We saw evidence of this on our visit to Dry Falls, south of the Grand Coulee Dam, where the cliffs were terraced.  That indicated that slabs of basalt were stripped off at different times by different floods.   For several weeks, approximately 12,000 years ago, Dry Falls was as spectacular as Niagara Falls. 

This area is off the beaten path, and you won't see busloads of tourists blocking your view.  The starkly beautiful scenery is worth the trip. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018



You think I'm making this up, but I got in trouble with the police while looking for Dick Putz.   There's a story behind it.

Dianne and I took our annual road trip last year, this time to California for our grand-daughter's graduation.  We left Chicago on Friday morning and made it to St. Cloud, Minnesota by dinnertime.  We checked into the local Holiday Inn, and I leafed through the tourist magazines to determine if anything in St. Cloud was worth seeing.

The article on Dick Putz Field  caught my eye.  With a name like that, I wanted to see it.  You may recall the movie Grumpy Old Men with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Matthau's character said over and over to Lemmon's character, "You're a putz". 

Dick Putz Field, built in 1971, is a historic baseball diamond once home to the St. Cloud Rox of the Class C Northern League.  When that league folded, it became home to the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League, a college development league.   This place is deep in the bush leagues, but we were determined to find it.

Dick Putz himself was a legend in town.  He was a long time sports official and booster of amateur baseball in Minnesota.  He had his own weekly radio show, the Dick Putz Show (of course), in which he provided a roundup of the day's scores and highlights.   Among his achievements were his service as president of the Minnesota Baseball Association Board and a member of the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame and the Minnesota Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.  He died in 1990 at age 61. 

We drove around town (never asking for directions) to visit the field and get a picture of the sign.  As it turns out, there isn't one.  Naturally, we got lost.

I needed to make a U-turn and got impatient at a long red light.  There was no oncoming traffic, so I just made the turn.  The squad car was right behind me, and the officer probably couldn't believe his good fortune.  He turned on his flashing lights.  I was guilty as hell.  The young officer came up to my car and asked where we were going.  I told him "Dick Putz Field", but I can't seem to find it.  If I had said that to a cop on New York or Chicago, I would have been taken to the slammer.

The officer took my license and went back to his car to check if I was wanted for anything.  He came back and said he appreciated my honesty and let me off with a warning.  He also gave me directions to Dick Putz Field.  Dusk was settling in, and I wanted to get there quickly.  We went by the field a couple times but weren't sure it was the right place because there was no sign.  So I never did get that photo.


No, I'm not talking about the football team.  In Alexandria, Minnesota is a giant Viking statue and also a museum containing a Viking runestone dating back to 1362.It is called the Kensington Runestone. This is a great story.

An expedition of Vikings came to Minnesota long before Columbus, and while part of the group went off hunting, ten of their comrades were attacked by Indians (they were not called that at the time) and massacred.  The hunters came back and found the carnage and carved this runestone commemorating their fallen comrades. 

"Eight Gotalanders (Goths) and 22 Northmen on (this) acquisition journey from Vinland far to the west.  We had a camp by two (shelters) one day's journey north from this stone.   We were fishing one day.  After we came home, found 10 men red from blood and dead.  Ave Maria save from evil.  There are 10 men by the inland sea to look after our ships fourteen days journey from this peninsula (or island).  Year 1362

The farmer who owned the land, a Swedish immigrant named Olof Ohman discovered the 202 pound stone while plowing his field in 1898.  The writing on the stone was Medieval Norse.  The farmer took the stone to the authorities, and for many years, everyone thought it was a hoax.  The farmer had only gone to school for a few weeks and could barely read English, Norwegian, or any language, let alone Norse Code.   If proven genuine, the stone is worth millions.  Ohman sold the stone for 10 bucks to a historian in 1911. 

The farmer and his family were ridiculed by their neighbors for many years.  Gradually over a long period of time the poor farmer's family was vindicated, and today many scholars believe the runestone is genuine.  However intense controversy still remains among archaeologists and Norse scholars.  The Smithsonian Institution in Washington displayed the stone for several years in the 1950's, but removed it from public display amid the controversy. 

My nagging question was that if the Vikings were settled in Newfoundland, how did they wind up in Minnesota, over a thousand miles away?  The museum showed a  documentary film describing how the expedition from Norway came down Hudson Bay and down through Lake Winnepeg in present day Manitoba.  Minnesota is not that far away.

Whatever the case, the runestone is an interesting exhibit, but the controversy probably won't go away anytime soon.

Sunday, March 11, 2018



In our quest to seek out the best fried chicken in the country, we rolled into Forrest City, Arkansas just in time for lunch. We're not food critics or gourmets, but we know fried chicken when we taste it.  We left Chicago early in the afternoon the day before, a frigid January 9th.  The temperature hovered just above zero.  We were happy to head South, anywhere South.

We've been to Forrest City once before, last year, and it was memorable enough to return.  The restaurant is the Old Sawmill Inn, located in a sprawling shopping center which had passed its prime 20 years ago.  From the looks of it, maybe it was a Cracker Barrel in its previously life.  It is located a block or two from Interstate 40, about 50 miles west of Memphis.

Forrest City is named for Confederate General Nathaniel Bedford Forrest who built a railroad depot there after the Civil War.  It you watched Forrest Gump, you would also know that General Forrest also founded the Ku Klux Klan and was the Grand Wizard , or whatever you call the top dog there.  There is no statue of him in Forrest City although there is still a 25 foot statue in Nashville on privately owned land.  That statue has been repeatedly defaced and shot at, but always repaired.  The statue of Forrest in Memphis was removed in December, 2017.

The lunch is served boo-fay style, with the juicy legs, thighs, breasts and wings piled high in a stainless steel pan.  Nearby, you can help yourself to mashed potatoes with delicious white chicken gravy.  Oh, they have other stuff on the buffet, but I wouldn't drive miles out of the way to eat it.

Several weeks later, on the way home, we ate a late lunch at the Dixie Truckers Home, a truck stop in McLean, Illinois, about 50 miles north of Springfield, on Interstate 55.  We hadn't eaten there since last August when we drove down to Red Bud, Illinois to view the solar eclipse.   Every time we drive to St. Louis or beyond, we make an effort to eat their world class fried chicken.

The best we ever had was about 25 years ago at a road house near Paducah, Kentucky, but we've never been able to find the place again. There is a website listing the best fried chicken in each of the 50 states, but the panel and I have our disagreements.  On our next road trip, we'll try to hit some of these restaurants.   In Illinois, the website likes Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket in Willowbrook, IL., southwest of Chicago.  We'll have to try it.

Our immediate objective was to drive to Del Rio, Texas, on the Mexican border  to visit my old college buddy, Ron.    He has a factory on the Mexican side, in Ciudad Acuna, and he gave us the grand tour.  We crossed the border a couple times and drove along the border wall, a high fence stretching for miles.  These are workingmen's cities, and there really aren't any decent restaurants in the area.   Del Rio was the home of Judge Roy Bean, the law West of the Pecos.  We visited his grave inside the Western frontier park devoted to his life and times.

On the way to Texas, we stayed in Hampton Inns--Marion, IL, Sulphur Springs, TX, Del Rio, and later Alpine, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Yuma, AZ.  Hampton Inns  are part of Hilton Hotels, and by our accumulating points, we can stay in a Waldorf Astoria for a few days, as we did a couple years ago in China.  Hampton Inns are nice; they serve warm cookies when you check in, and they give you bottles of water or chips and then a free breakfast the next morning. 

After leaving Del Rio our next objectives on the road were Phoenix, AZ, and then Los Angeles to meet our cruise ship to Hawaii.   I'll describe below some of the interesting places we visited on the way and back. 


Driving through the desert in California on the way home, we were running low on gas.  Gasoline is expensive in California, and we were trying to make it to Arizona or Nevada before we ran out.  We were about 20 miles to empty on the gas gauge, and there are not a lot of gas stations on that stretch of Interstate 10.  Finally, in Essex, CA, in the Mohave Desert, we saw a large sign advertising gas.  We exited and pulled into the station.  Regular gas was $4.99 per gallon, more than double the price in most of the other states we visited.  The deal was PAY FIRST INSIDE THE STATION.  They posted a big sign explaining that it cost a lot of money to bring gas out to this remote area, so don't complain.  Apparently many people thought they were being gouged and did complain.  Hence, the sign.  I bought 20 bucks worth--4 gallons, enough to get us to Nevada.  Even in Barstow, a fairly large town, the gas is well over 4 bucks a gallon.   The only place we saw in California with reasonable gas prices was on an Indian Reservation about 10 miles west of Palm Springs.  Apparently, the Indians are not subject to California taxes.    One other thing, Arco stations do not take credit cards, only debit cards or cash.    I don't use debit cards. 


On Old U.S. 66 in San Bernardino is a McDonald's museum which is not recognized by the McDonald's Corp.  The reason is that it was founded by Dick and Maurice (Mac) McDonald who, when they sold the company to Ray Kroc, neglected to include the original location in the deal.  This free museum is a historical treasure. 

The McDonald Bros. purchased this location in 1940 when they opened McDonald's Barbecue Restaurant which featured 20 female carhops and a menu serving barbecued ribs, beef and pork sandwiches.  Hamburgers were secondary, but after a few years, the brothers discovered that 80% of their sales were burgers and fries.   In 1948, they took a huge gamble and closed the barbecue joint and remodeled the kitchen to cook only hamburgers and fries.  They pioneered fast food with the "Speedy Service System".  They reopened December 12, 1948, serving 15 cent burgers and 10 cent fries.  It started slowly when customers drove up looking for the carhops, but eventually, the crowds returned and the store started doing a land office business.   They sold huge volumes of milkshakes to wash down the burgers.  That prompted the brothers to purchase Multi Mixer machines from Ray Kroc. 

A few days later, on the cruise ship, we saw the Michael Keaton movie, The Founder, and we came to the realization that each side was trying to screw the other.    In 1961, Kroc gave the brothers a handshake agreement that he would pay them 1% of the profits in perpetuity, a deal that would come to be worth billions and maybe even trillions.  Of course he didn't pay.  After the written contract was signed, Kroc discovered to his chagrin that the original location was not included.  Kroc made the brothers change the name of the restaurant.  It became the "Big M", a name without the same pizazz. The furious Kroc then opened up a McDonald's store down the block, specifically to put the McDonald brothers out of business.  The original building on the site was demolished in 1972, but concerned neighbors prevented the wreckers from tearing down the sign.

The museum today is owned by a guy named Albert Okura who purchased the structure at a foreclosure sale in 1998.  His office is in the same building.  Okura owns 25 Mexican chicken restaurants and also the town of Amboy, California, population 20 , in the desert on Old 66.

You can't miss the place--in front is the huge McDonald's sign built in 1948.  Over one million sold. 
Inside, you'll find the Multi Mixer sold by Ray Kroc to the brothers.  Hundreds of vintage photos and memorabilia make this a destination worth visiting.

An artist was painting a mural on the outside wall of the building.  He is a Mexican guy from the South Side of Chicago, and we talked about the old neighborhood.  The mural has been a work in progress for quite a few years, and many guest artists have weighed in.  The walls have cartoon characters like Archie and Jughead, the Simpsons, the Peanuts characters, Bugs Bunny, etc.  The cartoonists all know each other, and this artist is friends with them.

I bought a new t-shirt and wore it out of the store. 


About 6 miles south of Old Route 66 and Interstate 40 in Arizona is the meteor crater.  It is located about halfway between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. We've visited it twice in the past, the last time about 20 years ago.  But recently they built a new museum next to it.  The museum includes the Astronauts Hall of Fame which lists, in chronological order, all the U.S. astronauts going back to the early 1960's.  Starting in 1964, the U.S. Geological Survey and NASA have conducted astronaut training in the crater, which resembles the moon topographically.  Scientists knew that  the moon was pockmarked with millions of craters from meteorites, asteroids and comet impacts.  They were interested in what materials would lay on and beneath the lunar surface.  When the astronauts landed on the moon, they could collect material on ejecta blankets similar to the area around the Meteor Crater.

The age of the crater is estimated at 50,000 years, and you wouldn't want to be standing there when the meteorite hit.  We're talking about a large iron-nickel meteorite about 150 feet across, weighing hundreds of thousands of tons, hurtling though space at 26,000 miles per hour.  Within seconds, it created a crater 700 feet deep and almost a mile across, ejecting millions of tons of rock (ejecta) all over the desert for miles around.  You can see the outcroppings to this day along the access road.

There are other smaller fragments scattered around the area.  These had split off when the meteorite passed through the atmosphere.  The meteorite itself does not exist--it was vaporized or melted from the heat of the impact.

The Native Americans in the area, of course, were familiar with the crater, but the first written report was made in 1871 by a guy named Franklin who was a scout for General Custer.  For years it was called "Franklin's Hole".  Nobody was sure what it was, and the chief geologist of the U.S. Geological Survey did some field work and concluded it was volcanic in origin. 

In 1902, Daniel Barringer, a Philadelphia mining engineer became interested in the site as a source of iron.  He became convinced that a meteorite was buried there.  He purchased the land containing the crater from the government.  He then spent the next 27 years digging, in a quest to find the giant iron meteorite.  He drilled down over 1300 feet to no avail.  The drill bit broke.  The project ran out of money, and they finally gave up that exploration in 1929.

The Barringer Family still owns the land  but negotiated a long term lease with a local rancher to manage the site to attract tourists and research scientists.  The rancher formed a corporation, Meteor Crater Enterprises, Inc. for that purpose.  Modern techniques have pinned down a fairly accurate age of the crater, 50,000 years.  Dr. Eugene Shoemaker, the former Chief of Astrogeology at the U.S. Geological Survey in Flagstaff, AZ. proved beyond any doubt that the crater was indeed the result of a giant impact event, and he calculated the size and speed of the object.    Dr. Shoemaker is a respected astronomer who has several comets named after him. 

We walked around on the rim, but didn't go down into the crater.  At my age, climbing back up a 700 foot wall is a very bad idea.   The crater is very beautiful in a surreal way, as the late afternoon shadows fell over the walls.    We inside to watch a movie called Impact! The Mystery of Meteor Crater, and we absorbed all we needed to know.   Then, after 20 years, I finally got my t-shirt. 


Dianne always wanted to take the Beverly Hills tour of the movie stars' homes, so we signed up for it.  We spent the night at the Best Western Hollywood which is an experience in itself.  The walls are festooned with movie posters and autographed photos of movie stars.  I got a nice selfie of me with Marilyn Monroe who still looks good at age 91.  Her large poster is on the wall of the elevator along with John Wayne and James Dean.   We ate dinner and then breakfast in the hotel coffee shop where many of the patrons look familiar, but I don't know who they are. 

The tour began behind Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  It is next door to the Dolby Theater where the Academy Awards are held.   We rode in an open van up Mulholland Drive where we got a good view of the iconic Hollywood sign on the mountain.  The sign, built in 1923, originally read "Hollywoodland" which was a real estate development there.  In 1949, the last 4 letters were taken down by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to promote the city, not the real estate development.  The letters are 45 feet high and 31-39 feet wide.  It was originally built to last a couple of years, but by 1978, it had deteriorated and had to be restored to its former glory. 

The Walk of Fame starts in front of the Grauman's Chinese Theater and now consists of 2600 stars on the walkway, now stretching for several blocks.  New stars are being added periodically.  Many of the people honored I've never heard of.  The honorees come from the entertainment industry--the five categories are radio, television, movies, live performances and recording. 

To get a star with your name on it, you have to be nominated, and the sponsor must pay $40,000.   That weeds out schleppers like me.  The individual must be connected with the entertainment industry.   For some, the connection is pretty tenuous.  As you'll see, it doesn't have to be a real person.    The honoree is required to make a public appearance at the dedication.  Some stars don't want the obligation and choose not to comply.  For example, George Clooney, Clint Eastwood and Julia Roberts have declined to be so honored. 

Some people I wouldn't expect have stars, like Paderewski, Pavarotti, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, two presidents, Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump, Governor Schwarzenegger, and Princess Grace (Kelly).  .  Lassie and Rin Tin Tin have stars and even Godzilla, but not King Kong (his creator has a star).    Thomas Edison is honored, but not Philo Farnsworth who invented television.  There are two Harrison Fords--one was a silent film actor.

A lot of people have two stars, one for radio and one for television.  Jack Benny and Tennessee Ernie Ford have three.  So does Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin  and about 30 others.  Heck, Gene Autry has five, one for each category. 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, some knucklehead defaced the Trump star with a  swastika, using a magic marker.  He drew it backwards which was not the German Nazi symbol but rather an ancient American Indian symbol.  I expect the perpetrator didn't know that.  It was cleaned off by the time I saw the Donald Trump star.  Prior to that, a guy named Otis who claimed to be an heir to the Otis Elevator Co. tried to remove the Trump star with a sledge hammer and pickaxe.   There are cameras all around, so they got pictures of him.  He didn't know that the star weighs about 400 pounds.  He was charged with a felony and got 3 years probation. 

Once the star is there they won't remove it.   So Bill Cosby's star is still there.  Same for Kevin Spacey.  Harvey Weinstein and O.J. Simpson weren't on there to begin with. 


Taliesin West, on the outskirts of Scottsdale, Arizona, was the winter home of the famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959).    He purchased it in 1937 and lived there until his death.  It is the campus of the School of Architecture and the headquarters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation.  The school awards Masters Degrees in architecture.  In the summer months, the school meets at Taliesin East, or rather just Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisconsin.   We have visited both.

The Wright family was of Welsh descent, and they named the home after Taliesin, a musician, poet and priest in Welsh mythology. 

We took the guided tour of the house.  They have another tour of the outside grounds which covers 620 acres of desert, but we chose not to take that also.   Maybe next time.

The house was built in Wright style to blend in with the desert environment, using local rocks and other materials.  The site is a National Historic Landmark, and is on the list to maybe become a Unesco World Heritage Site.   It is maintained by the architecture students living there.  They do all the work and eat together in a communal life style. 

Wright was a feisty guy.  In the 1940's the government decided to install overhead power lines in the area which would be visible from the house.   Wright complained, on aesthetic grounds to no avail.  He went so far as to call President Truman to intervene.  That didn't work either, so Wright moved the entrance to the rear of the building. 

Wright's personal life was an example of truth being strange than fiction.  In social mores, he was about 75 years ahead of his time.  His first wife, Catherine, or Kitty, bore him 6 children until he deserted her in 1903.  He ran off with their neighbor Mamah Cheney.  Cheney's husband had hired Wright to design their house.  Wright saw Mrs. Cheney and said "Mamah Mia!"  She said "Mr. Wright is Mr. Right."  Shortly thereafter, the two departed for Europe to live in sin.  In those days, divorces were difficult to obtain.  Mrs. Cheney had to stay in Europe for two years before her husband would grant the divorce on the grounds of desertion.  Wright's wife was not impressed, and she never did grant him the divorce.

Then came the

fire.  In 1914, a male servant from Barbados, Julian Carlton, killed 7 people with an axe and burned down the living quarters of the Wisconsin home.  Among the victims were Mrs. Cheney and her two children.  Carlton tried to kill himself by drinking acid, but he lingered on for several weeks at the jail hospital.

Wright finally got his divorce in 1923, but was required to wait a year before marrying his mistress Miriam Noel.  That marriage failed within a year when he discovered that Noel was addicted to morphine.  Then came the Russian connection.

While still married to Noel, he met Olga Hinzenburg at a Petrograd Ballet performance in Chicago where she performed as a dancer.   Within a year, she and her daughter Svetlana moved in with Wright in Wisconsin, and in 1925 the couple had another daughter, Iovanna.  Meanwhile, in 1925, Taliesin burned down again, this time because of crossed wiring.  Wright had it re-built as Taliesin III. 

In 1926, Hinzenburg's ex-husband sought custody of his daughter, Svetlana.  He went to the authorities, and the cops arrested Wright and Hinzenburg for violating the Mann Act (transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes).  Remember, he was still married to Miriam Noel.  The charges were later dropped, Noel granted the divorce and Wright married Olga in 1928.  They remained married until his death.

Olga's daughter, Svetlana, married William Wesley Peters who lived at Taliesin and was later its director.  Unfortunately, she was killed in an auto accident in 1946.  Peters later married another Svetlana,  the only daughter of the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin.  Peters was Svetlana's fourth husband.  Her first lover got 10 years in a labor camp in Siberia.  Despite this, young men kept coming around to court her.    She married her first husband despite Stalin's disapproval.  Stalin refused to ever meet him, but at least the guy didn't wind up in Siberia.  Fortunately for the later husbands, Stalin died in 1952.

Svetlana No. 2 called herself Lana Peters and moved into the Taliesin Fellowship with Peters and their daughter Olga.  After awhile, communal living didn't agree with Svetlana 2.  Believe it or not, she detested the "communist" lifestyle at Taliesin and ultimately she and Olga left Peters, beginning their personal odyssey.   The two moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, then to Russia, then back to her ancestral home in Tbilisi, Georgia (hint:  it's not near Atlanta), then to England and finally back to Wisconsin where Svetlana died in 2011.


Many of the people from our cruise took this opportunity to visit the Pearl Harbor memorials.  All of those excursions were cancelled earlier in the week when the politicians shut down the U.S. government, but they worked things out and the memorials opened again.   We have visited the memorial once before, so we didn't book an excursion.

We walked around Honolulu from the harbor to the government complex.  Honolulu is the capital of Hawaii.  The traditional capitol building is the Iolani Palace which is now a museum of Hawaiian history.  It was replaced as the capitol by the new, modernistic, capitol building in 1969, located next door.    The Iolani Palace is one of two Royal Palaces in the U.S.  The other is also in Hawaii, the Hulihe'e Palace in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.   The iconic Iolani Palace was built in 1879 in American Florentine architecture.  Aside from being a museum of history, the building has a lot of history in itself.  The last Queen of Hawaii was imprisoned there in 1893 when the monarch was overthrown.  When the U.S. took over in 1898, the building became the state capitol.

In Hawaii, we explored museums and learned much about Hawaiian history.  The British explorer James Cook "discovered" the islands in 1778.  He named them the Sandwich Islands after his sponsor, John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich.   Captain Cook got embroiled  in a dispute when the locals "borrowed" one of his boats, and got himself killed by the natives.  Several years later, the Hawaiians, led by King Kamehameha I, used European style weapons to unify the islands under one rule.  Up to that point, each island had its own king.  The islands became prosperous because of their
agriculture and strategic position in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.   


Our cruise visited Oahu, Maui, and Kauai.  Our last stop was Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii.  It is pronounced "hee-lo", not "high-low" like the grocery store.  We were whisked from the harbor in a van to the airport where each person was WEIGHED.  In a 7 person helicopter, they have to distribute the weight evenly.  Then a computer determines where each person will sit.  There is no first class.  If you weigh over 270, there is a $100 surcharge.  Fortunately, we were OK.  Two people sat next to the pilot in the front row, and 4 of us sat in the back row.  Dianne sat by the window, and I sat next to her.  The pilot was experienced.  He had flown combat HUEY's in Viet Nam. 

The chopper took off and flew over the vast lava fields at an altitude of less than 1000 feet.  I could clearly read the control dials on the dashboard.  Essentially, the entire island is lava fields, but the recent ones are more pronounced because they are not covered with vegetation.  We flew over the National Park.  We had signed up for the chopper ride because we had concerns whether the  government would shut down the park after the experience on Oahu.   By now, it was, of course, open. 

We flew in low over the active Kilauea Volcano where the lava in the crater glowed bright orange.  The chopper came in at a 45 degree angle to the ground.   It was scary, but exhilerating at the same time. 

The big island of Hawaii is the youngest of the Hawaiian Islands and the only one with active volcanoes.   The other islands are also volcanic,  but due to drift of the Earth's mantle, are no longer sitting over the hotspot in the Earth's crust.  The oldest is Kure Atoll, 1500 miles to the Northwest.  Mauna Loa volcano is considered the  tallest mountain on Earth when measured from the ocean floor to the peak.  The mountain is several thousand feet higher than Mount Everest. 

Then there is Loihi, an active volcano about 22 miles Southeast of the big island of Hawaii  It has been erupting fairly constantly for about 400,000 years, and it causes swarms of earthquakes which are felt on the big island.   The summit of Loihi is 10,000 feet above the sea floor but 3200 feet below the level of the ocean.  In another hundred thousand years or so, it will emerge as another Hawaiian island. 

Loihi is being closely studied by scientists worldwide  An amazing discovery is that the superhot vents (over 200C) of the volcano, 4000 feet below the surface, are the home to millions of microorganisms, especially iron oxidizing bacteria.  Scientists are researching these archaea extremophiles to determine if any lessons can be drawn.


After our helicopter ride, we leafed through the Chamber of Commerce literature in Hilo.   We came upon the Pacific Tsunami Museum. We found that Hilo gets inundated by a tsunami about every 10 years on the average.  The city was completely destroyed in 1946.  They experienced another biggie in 1964 when a magnitude 9 earthquake hit Alaska.  The same quake caused a tsunami in Crescent City, California which we visited several years ago. 

We used to call them "tidal waves", but they have nothing to do with the tides.  Scientists decided to adopt the Japanese name "tsunami" because Japan gets hit by them quite often.  The word means "harbor wave" in Japanese. 

The museum had exhibits and photographs of each of the many tsunamis that leveled Hilo over the years.  In every case, they were caused by earthquakes or volcanic eruptions thousands of miles away.  A 9.6 magnitude in Chile in 1960 caused an 80 foot wave in Hilo, 10,000 miles away.  These walls of water move across the ocean at incredible speeds, up to 600 miles per hour. 

Ships can sail through them on the open sea without incident.   The waves slow down as they approach the shoreline,  but they build up in height.  The waves level everything in sight and kill thousands of people who cannot get to high ground in time.    Tsunamis are deceptive.  Often, up to a half hour before the wave hits, the water on the coast draws back for miles.   Curious people come out to view this, and then they get swept away when the water comes back.  Also deceptive is that tsunamis come in several waves, minutes apart.  Often, the later wave is the most destructive.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are the most common causes of tsunamis, but there can be other causes also.  For example a meteorite hitting the ocean can cause a tsunami.  If one were to hit the Atlantic Ocean, New York, Miami or Boston could be inundated under a 100 foot wall of water.  That did happen in Lisbon, Portugal in 1755 due to an underwater earthquake.  The highest recorded tsunami occurred in 1958 in Lituya Bay, Alaska--a 1700 foot wall of water.  It was caused by a landslide.  Only two people were killed in this thinly populated area. 

The Indonesian tsunami of 2004 was caused by a 9 magnitude earthquake.  A section of the seafloor the size of California suddenly lifted 30 feet, displacing enough water to kill 280,000 people, many of them Western tourists in seaside resorts. 


In the waters near Maui, we took a catamaran ride to go whale watching. Humpback whales migrate between Hawaii and Alaska.  The best time to view them in Hawaii is January and February when we were there.  It was mating and calving season, and there were lots of whales.  Although they are considered endangered, there are an estimated 10,000 whales in the Hawaiian Islands.  The whales are as big as the boat--they are 45 feet long and can weigh 50 tons.  They are difficult to photograph because you don't know when they will surface.  A whale will surface, and by the time you can focus the camera, the whale dives under water again.   Maybe the best way is to take a video of an area and hope a whale emerges.  


If you always wanted to know where all the garbage in the world turns up, look no further than the gyre in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where the currents converge.   The result is a garbage patch larger than Texas, and maybe larger than the Continental United States.  It is difficult to measure precisely because most of it is composed of small plastic particles that break down to smaller and smaller pieces and wind up eaten by fish and other marine life, particularly sea turtles and albatrosses.  On the Midway Atoll, about 20 tons of plastic debris wash up on shore each year and significant amounts are eaten by the birds. 

Because the particles are small, the garbage patch is difficult to detect by aircraft or satellite.  If you are sailing through it like we were, you might not realize it.   There are no islands of trash--it is more like a soup with plastic particles.

The Pacific garbage patch (gyre) is not the only one in the world's oceans.  You also have them in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.  The bottom lie is you probably don't want to eat sea turtles or albatrosses.  And think about that when you throw out the 2 liter plastic bottle of Coke.