Tuesday, March 19, 2019

FROM NORTH KOREA TO THE AMERICAN DREAM--MY FRIEND'S JOURNEY

This is the text of a speech I gave recently.

North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the world.  Its citizens have no freedom of anything.  If someone commits a so-called crime against the state, his whole family will be imprisoned.  Thousands of people live in slave labor camps, scrounging for food because a relative once tried to escape.  Many spend their entire lives there, from birth.

Kim Ker Yung, an 11 year old boy made a choice early in life, and it had a profound lifelong positive effect on his future.  We all make choices in life, and hopefully they are the correct ones.  Because young Kim made a decision that day, he is alive today at 79. 

My Korean friend, whom I've known for about 40 years, did just that.  When he came to America, he became John Kim.  We met through the local synagogue in Vernon Hills where our kids went to Hebrew School together.   That is a strange story because Mr. Kim is not Jewish, and neither is his American born wife, Chrisanne.   John's step kids are Jewish, and John participated in their activities.

Like many Asians, John likes to gamble.  We play poker together in a bi-weekly game.  Some of the other guys call him "Rocket Man" to throw him off his game.  "I don't care what you call me,  just bring a lot of money for me to win."  He and I went to the Kentucky Derby together last year.

We eat lunch together about once a month.  We usually go to a Korean restaurant for kimchee.  Jokingly, I asked him one day if he was North Korean or South Korean.  To my surprise, he answered "North Korean."   He wasn't threatening to shoot me, so I asked him to explain.

The young boy Kim lived in the North Korean capitol, Pyongyang when the Korean War broke out in 1950.  His father was a carpenter who built homes.  Until the war, the boy's father, mother and 3 brothers lived a lower middle class existence in a modest home.  When the war started, they dug an underground shelter.  Their home was destroyed by a bomb, and they moved underground with other families.  Life was very difficult, and there was little food.

Kim was resourceful.  You do what you have to do to survive. On several occasions he swam across the river to a watermelon patch where he stole a melon for the family to eat.   Other times, he and other young boys would steal a dried fish from a pushcart and run away.  Usually their diet consisted of barley.  Barley for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  To this day John hates barley.

In late 1950, the American soldiers were able to repel the North Korean invasion of the South and occupy the North including the capitol where they established a military base.  The young boy befriended the American GI's and hung around the motor pool.  The Americans liked the boy and sometimes gave him food to bring home.  Kim told them he would like to visit the U.S. someday.  That was in his wildest dreams.   He was the unofficial mascot of the unit.

The fortunes of war quickly change, and before long the Americans were in full retreat.  In their haste, the American troops were ordered to leave everything behind.  Thousands of North Korean peasants, including Kim's family, begged the Americans to take them along.  General MacArthur gave an order that no Koreans be taken South.   In a hasty retreat, the GI's could not be bogged down with thousands of refugees.

The boy was heartbroken and cried his eyes out.  One of the soldiers told him "Come back tomorrow morning, and we'll see what we can do."  Kim went home and told his folks he was leaving.  He and his family knew they would probably never see each other again.  How would you feel if you could never see your family again?  That took courage.  He was only 11 years old.

Early the next morning, Kim, who was small for his age, climbed into a large duffel bag and the soldier threw him onto the back of a truck.    Kim was terrified, but the alternative was certainly worse.  Several hours later, he emerged in the DMZ in South Korea with the American unit, but certainly not safe.   He found himself with an American paratrooper squadron, sleeping in tents.  He was almost killed on more than one occasion, as bullets flew through the tent.

An Army chaplain, Father O'Boyle took the boy under his wing and protected him for the next few years.  After the Armistice in 1953, the priest guided the boy through the process to emigrate to the United States.  Admitting an enemy alien to the U.S. is not so simple.  Bureaucratic red tape created many obstacles.  For example, parental permission is required.   Kim's family could not be located.  He believes his folks were killed in the war.  The fate of his brothers is unknown.  After a year and a half, he got the green light to go to America.

Father O'Boyle brought the boy to San Francisco.  On reaching America, Kim became John Kim, as he is known today.  He was in effect, born again.  He vowed to himself, "I will never starve again!"  John was sponsored by a Houston fire captain, Frank Malek, of Bohemian descent.  John moved to Texas where he learned American customs and attended school.  His sponsor taught him how to fish.

As a foster child, John was eventually placed in Father Flanagan's Boy's Town in Nebraska where he was taught the printing trade.  He graduated in 1961, the oldest kid in Boy's Town.

Meanwhile, Father O'Boyle, now Colonel O'Boyle was transferred to Fort Sheridan, near Chicago.  He invited John to come live with him in Highwood, IL.  As a graduation present, he gave John a Volkswagen that he brought back from Germany.  In Highwood John met his first wife, and they had a son, John Jr. and a daughter Michelle.  Today, both are in their 50's and are pursuing successful careers.   The marriage broke up several years later, and John married his present wife.  They are married over 40 years. 

John started a printing business in Mundelein, IL. where I brought him business printing up flyers for the Jewish holidays.  Today, John is living the American dream.  He is not wealthy, but he owns a house, has a family that loves him, and he has the freedom to do what he wants to do--fish. shoot pool and gamble.  He made a decision at age 11, and it changed his life forever.   If you're going to dream, dream big! 
   

Sunday, March 3, 2019

ROAD TRIP TO BEAT THE POLAR VORTEX

It was New Year's Day, 2019.  We were rushing to catch a plane on January 5th in Orlando, Florida.  We were by the Illinois-Wisconsin border.  In January, you're never certain what kind of weather will be encountered on the road.  We were prepared for anything, and we gave ourselves 5 days to get there while eating our way through the Southeastern states.

COLUMBUS, INDIANA

Our first night, we reached Columbus, Indiana, between Indy and Louisville, KY.  Columbus turned out to be a rare treasure.  It's been called "Athens on the Prairie".  It is a small city of 44,000 but is the headquarters of Cummins Engine which makes engines for cars and trucks.  Although it was not mentioned, Columbus is the birthplace of Vice President Pence.  I didn't see any statues of Mr. Pence, and his house is not yet a museum. 

In the 1940's and 50's, the city fathers, led by the Cummins Foundation decided to commission works of public art and architecture.  The foundation agreed to pay the architects' fees provided that the client selected an architect on a list it compiled.  They invited in world famous architects like the Saarinens (the father, the son and the relatives), I. M. Pei, Harry Weese and Robert A.M. Stern.  There were others, but I mentioned the ones I had heard of. 

Most of the churches and schools in the town were designed by these famous architects.  Harry Weese designed the First Baptist Church in 1965.  Eliel Saarinen designed the First Christian Church with its 160 foot bell tower in 1942, across from the Visitors' Center.   Following the map provided to us, we proceeded on to the hexagonal shaped North Christian Church with its 192 foot spire designed by Eero Saarinen.  In all,  seven buildings constructed between 1942 and 1965 are National Historic Landmarks. 

On the main street in downtown Columbus, we visited the Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor and Museum where we saw large rooms filled with antique ice cream makers and soda fountains.  I peered out the window and saw two female cops mulling over our car which was parallel parked across the street.  There are no parking meters in town but there is a 2 hour limit.  I ran outside to confront them because I hadn't been in the store for more than a half hour. 

They pointed out to me that there were lines painted on the street to delineate the parking spaces, and our car was parked over the line.    I couldn't see the lines when I parked because I was straddling them.   I guess there is not much crime in Columbus.  The officers explained what I did wrong and didn't issue a ticket.  Not that I would have paid it anyway. 

TENNESSEE

The following day, we continued on through Louisville and Nashville, and by nightfall, we arrived in Chattanooga, TN.  Chattanooga has been a railroad center for probably 150 years.  Its biggest attraction is the Chattanooga Choo Choo, essentially a railroad museum and shopping mall where you can spend the night sleeping in a restored Pullman sleeper car.  We didn't visit.  We've passed through  Chattanooga many times and have never seen it.  

The attraction was made famous in the politically incorrect 1941 Glenn Miller song: "Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo, Track twenty nine, Boy you can gimme a shine" 

Chattanooga lies at the foot of Lookout Mountain, the site of a Civil War battle.  Inside Lookout Mountain is the spectacular Ruby Falls which is promoted on billboards for hundreds of miles around.  If you've never seen Ruby Falls, you should.  We're talking about a 150 foot waterfall inside a huge cavern underneath Lookout Mountain.  This thing is magnificent.\

Lookout Mountain has sentimental value for me.  My father often told the story about driving over it on U.S. 41 in the late 1940's on the way to Florida.  He was driving an old Packard without working windshield wipers in a snowstorm.  My uncle in the passenger seat had to lean out the window to keep wiping the windshield so they could see where they were going.  Today it is an easy ride on Interstate 24. 

We stayed in a Hampton Inn which we often do to accumulate Hilton Honors points.  When we get enough points, we can stay in a Waldorf for free.  Hampton Inns bake cookies at 5 o'clock each evening.  The desk clerk recommended a restaurant at the base of Lookout Mountain in an old industrial neighborhood on St. Elmo Street.  The 1885 Restaurant had a delicious fried chicken dish. It was a fried chicken breast with creole gravy on top of green beans on top of mashed potatoes.  The boneless breast was covered with herbs and spices.  It didn't list the calories on the menu, and I didn't ask. 

MAN VS. FOOD EXPERIENCE IN VALDOSTA, GA

We found another Hampton Inn in Southern Georgia and asked about local eateries.  The clerk gave us several choices, but Steel Magnolias sounded the most Southern.    We weren't disappointed.  You probably don't see too many Cordon Bleu chefs in Valdosta, but the menu was an experience in itself.  I ordered shrimp and grits with roasted red pepper gravy Andouille sausage and creamy Gayla grits. 

Dianne had braised beef short ribs with sweet potato brown butter risotto, sautéed spinach, blue cheese crumbles and mushroom demi glace.  The kitchen was in the front of the restaurant where you could watch the chef make the food. 

The dessert menu was so extraordinary that I'll list the desserts for you.  Rumchata rice pudding with fall fruit compote and pecan streussel.  Then there was pecan pie with bonbon caramel and cane syrup ice cream.  Don't forget Mexican hot chocolate fudge with cinnamon and chiles and toasted marshmallows.  How about pumpkin bread pudding with maple crème Anglaise and vanilla ice cream.

They also served traditional stuff like peanut butter pie and apple pie cheesecake.  When I hear cheesecake, I think of Betty Grable or Rita Hayworth.   Anyone younger than 50 probably doesn't understand that.  We passed on dessert because we over indulged on the main course.

The next day, January 4th, we continued on to Orlando where it finally got warm outside.  We stayed in a luxurious Hilton Hotel, using our Honors points.  The next morning, we drove to the Orlando airport in time to catch our one o'clock flight on BahamaAir, a 55 minute hop to Nassau.  The plane had engine trouble, fortunately not while we were aboard.  We had to sit around the Orlando airport for 3 1/2 hours waiting for the flight to takeoff.  But we arrived in one piece.  The Bahama airline was kind enough to give all the passengers $10 vouchers to use in the airport for lunch.  It was just enough for appetizers. 

ATLANTIS RESORT, PARADISE ISLAND

We vacationed for 3 nights on Paradise Island, Bahamas, at the Atlantis Resort.  The island used to be called Hog Island, but when Merv Griffin purchased it, he changed the name, presumably for marketing reasons.  The Atlantis Hotel is over the top in luxury.  We stayed there once, about 20 years ago, just after it opened.  I didn't remember too much about that trip because I was sick for 3 days out of 5.  This time, however, we savored all the attractions at the resort.  The hotel complex is enormous.  It takes about 30 minutes to walk from one end to the other.

I signed up for the dolphin experience in which you must reserve a time on the beach with a group.  We climbed into wet suits and then waded into the waist high water as the trainer summoned the fish. They have many dolphins which were rescued from Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Dolphins are very smart and perform tricks on cue.  They are not smart enough to play checkers or do calculus, but they are up there as animals go.   They get up close and personal.  One dolphin put his mouth next to my ear.  I didn't understand what he said, but it was translated as "your loan is underwater". 

The dolphins are trained to swim close to you so you can run your hand over its back.  It feels like a smooth rubber bicycle tire.   The trainers make their real money selling photos, so each person takes individual poses with the dolphin including kissing on the cheek.  The six picture package sells for about $94.  I bought the package. 

The other money maker for the hotel is the casino.  Similar to Las Vegas, the casino has the usual assortment of penny slot machines and quarter video poker.  The table games have high limits.  The minimums on the crap tables and blackjack tables are $25.   To play a session properly, you would need a $1000 bankroll.  There is no poker room although the World Series of Poker was sponsoring a million dollar tournament while we were there.  We talked to many of the participants. 

The casino has a sports book, and we spent Sunday afternoon watching the Bears-Eagles playoff game.  I don't normally bet on sports, but as a Chicago fan, I had to make some bets.  I bet $10 on the Bears winning the first half by 3 1/2 points.  They led 6-3 at the half, so I lost that bet.  I bet $10 more on the Bears willing the game by 6 1/2 points.  How could I lose that?   As we all know, the Bears' game winning field goal attempt clanked off the upright and then the crossbar and I lost that bet also.
I wouldn't have won the bet anyway because they had to win by 7 points.  The bookies are a lot smarter than I am. 

I made a bet that Bears' tight end Trey Burton would catch passes for more than 29 yards.  I got lucky on that one.  Burton must have gotten hurt because he didn't suit up for the game, and I got my money back.  The only bet I won was for the Eagles quarterback to pass for more than 245 yards, and he easily passed that when he marched them down the field in the 4th quarter.   The worst part of the loss was having to listen to the loud, obnoxious Eagles fans.  I slunk out past them to look for some dinner. 

NAPLES, FLORIDA

Returning to the States, we took a ride down to Naples on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  We went to the Visitor's Center where we signed up for a trolley tour around the town.   We were told that Naples was the 6th wealthiest (per capita) city in the U.S. in 2012 and had the 2nd highest proportion of millionaires per capita.  I'm not sure what we were doing there, but the weather was nice.  We told the guy we had reservations--but we would visit anyway.   The tour guide drove us past the capacious homes of prominent Neapolitans like Judge Judy.   I'd like to say she was outside mowing her lawn, but she wasn't.   Some of these homes sell for up to $60 million. 

DON CESAR RESORT HOTEL, ST. PETE BEACH

The Don CeSar (yes, with a capital "S" in the middle) is the most famous hotel in the Tampa Bay area. This art deco hotel dates back to 1928 and has a long checkered history.  It went broke a couple times over the years.  The military used it for a hospital during World War II, and the current owner bought it for peanuts, but spent a boatload of money restoring it. 

It was and is a first class hotel, catering to the elite.  Al Capone stayed there, or at least they say he did--for marketing purposes.  Other prominent guests included F.D. Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Cary Grant.  The New York Yankees stayed there during Spring Training in the 1940's. 

The hotel was built in 1928 by Thomas Rowe.  In a Romeo & Juliet story, Rowe toured Europe as a young man, and while in London became smitten with an opera singer named Lucinda who played the lead in a production of Maritana.  He was an early version of the Deadheads.   He saw the opera about 100 times, and after the performances, he and Lucinda would meet secretly by a certain fountain.  After the final performance, the couple planned to elope.  Her folks had other plans, however.  They learned of the planned marriage and whisked the girl off to Spain, and Rowe never saw her again.

Rowe returned to the U.S. and licked his wounds in remote St. Petersburg Beach.  Apparently he had some bucks and decided to built a tribute to his lost love.  He named it for Don CeSar, the chivalrous hero in the opera Maritana

The P.R. people claim the Elvis song Heartbreak Hotel is about this hotel.   The tragic Lucinda died young from an illness, but on her deathbed she wrote a note to Rowe:  "Time is infinite.  I wait for you by our fountain to share our timeless love!"  Fortunately they didn't have texting in those days. That is much more romantic than a text message.

We ate lunch at the hotel, and the seafood bisque is to die for.

SEARCH FOR THE ELUSIVE IVORY BILLED WOODPECKER

Driving through the Southern pine forests, we watched for the elusive ivory-billed woodpecker, the "Holy Grail of Ornithology", hoping to claim the reward for seeing one.  This bird may or may not be extinct.  The American Birding Association has, in effect, issued an all points bulletin  looking for the bird.  Every birdwatcher knows what it looks like.  The beautiful black, white and red ivory-billed woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world, with a wingspan of 30 inches. 

These birds were fairly common in the 1800's.  The great naturalist John James Audubon, who was noted for his portraits of American birds, shot and collected ivory-billed woodpeckers in order to paint them.  If he did that today, he would be arrested.  The birds began disappearing when logging companies clear cut their habitats in the Southern forests. 

The woodpeckers were common in Cuba also, but after the Spanish American War ended in 1898, much of the forest lands, where the birds lived, were cleared to plant sugar cane.

Nobody had seen one since the 1940's when a veteran bird watcher spotted one in 2004 while kayaking in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas.  This was later confirmed by two experts from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology who traveled to the same bayou and saw what was apparently the same bird which they described as a "close-up unmistakable sighting" of the woodpecker. 

Then this thing went viral.  The director of the Cornell Lab, the director and a board member of the Arkansas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and a professor from the University of Arkansas organized a team of over 50 people to slog through the swamps for 14 hours a day looking for one bird.  Four different people saw the bird on 4 different days, and others heard the distinct knocking and other sounds associated with the woodpecker. 

Then in 2006, ornithologists from Windsor University and Auburn University claimed they saw an Ivory Billed Woodpecker along the Chotawhatchee River in Florida.  Other birders flocked to the area for the next three years but didn't see any of the birds. 

Then the serious money came in.  A $10,000 reward was offered for information that would lead to a nest, roost or feeding spot of an Ivory Billed Woodpecker.  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology increased the reward to $50,000  in 2008 to anyone who could lead them to a living woodpecker.  Now, more than $10 million has been raised for the project.  So far, nobody has collected. 

SEX IN THE PHONE BOOTH

There, I got your attention!

We were sitting around the cruise ship having a drink when an octogenarian lady walking with a cane and a Filipino couple sat down with us.   We didn't know them, but we started talking.  Somehow the conversation drifted to the subject of phone booths.   They still have them in England, but in the U.S., they are few and far between.  The last one I saw was in Metropolis, Illinois, outside the Superman Museum. 

The lady confessed to having sex in a phone booth.  My jaw dropped.  Most people would think that is too much information.  However, without missing a beat, I asked if that happened on the cruise ship.  "No, there are no phone booths on the ship."  My curiosity got the best of me, and I asked her if she enjoyed it.  "Of course", she said, "and a phone booth has more room than a lavatory on an airplane."  I didn't ask any more questions.

THE ST. CLOUD LADIES AND DICK PUTZ

On the cruise ship to Cozumel, our dinner partners were 4 ladies from Minnesota traveling without their husbands.  I asked them where in Minnesota they lived.  "Oh, a small town near the Twin Cities."  "Which one?"  "St. Cloud." My response was, "We've visited St. Cloud twice in the last 2 years."  "Why?"  "To see Dick Putz Field and take a picture of it." 

They gave me the look.  "Maybe we should have him committed."  Then Jody, the spokesperson for the group told me that her father is in the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame, located at Dick Putz Field.  Dick Putz was the director.  He actually knew Dick Putz.  Dick Putz was a legend in St. Cloud.  " I knew Dick Putz,  Dick Putz was a friend of mine, and you're no Dick Putz."   In New York or Chicago, people would laugh when they hear the name.  In Minnesota, Putz is a normal name like Carlson, Hanson,  Larson, etc.

HATTIESBURG, MISSISSIPPI

Upon disembarking the cruise ship, we drove from Tampa to Hattiesburg, a distance of about 600 miles, in one day.   Once again, we stayed at the Hampton Inn.  Hattiesburg is a college town, the home of Southern Mississippi University, known for football, among other things.  Its best known former player is Brett Favre the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.   I half expected to find a statue of Favre there, but no!  We ate at the restaurant in the hotel.  The walls were adorned with sports memorabilia.  I asked about the framed jersey with number 31, a halfback's number.  Was that Favre's jersey?  The bartender had no idea.

Our waitress was a sweet young girl about 19 who told us she was getting married in 2 days.  Her fiancé was in the Air Force and getting transferred to Wichita Falls, Texas.  Apparently her folks were not happy with the situation and refused to attend the wedding.  Her father would not be walking her down the aisle. 

We made some suggestions, and she called over the bartender, a young man in his 20's, and asked him if he would walk her down the aisle.   He agreed to do so, and she hugged him.  He explained that they were friends for a long time, but not romantic friends.  He just hadn't found the right girl yet.  I gave the waitress a generous tip. 




NEW MADRID FAULT

North of Memphis, our trip took us through one of the poorest areas of the country, the heel of Missouri, through towns like Hayti, Caruthersville and New Madrid.  New Madrid is world famous for its fault.  In New Madrid, they say it's not our fault--the crack in the Earth runs for 150 miles, south from Cairo, Illinois.  No matter.  The name stuck.

The New Madrid earthquake fault was the nexus of about 3 of America's most destructive earthquakes, plus an aftershock, all between magnitude 7 and 8 on the Richter Scale which probably wasn't invented yet.  They occurred within a few months of each other in 1811 and 1812.  Fortunately, the area was thinly populated at that time.  The shock was strong enough to cause damage in Boston, about 1000 miles away.  In Richmond, VA., it caused church bells to ring.  It knocked plaster off of houses in South Carolina.  The Mississippi River actually ran backwards for several hours, according to boatmen on flatboats who survived the quake.  The tremors created Reelfoot Lake, the largest lake in Kentucky. 

There have been other quakes since then, but not of the same intensity.  The 1968 quake had an impact on me.  I was in college, and I hadn't set foot in the library for a long time.  No sooner than I walked into the library than everything began to shake.  I thought the heating system was going to crash down on me.  I didn't know it was an earthquake because, living in the Midwest, I had never experienced one.  I thought it was a sign from God.  I ran out of the library, never to return.  That quake was felt in 23 states, all the way to Boston.

Scientists warn that a major earthquake on the New Madrid Fault would cause perhaps thousands of deaths and billions of dollars of damage in nearby cities like St. Louis and Memphis as well as cities hundreds of miles away.  Archaeologists have determined that major earthquakes struck the area in circa 900 and 1450, and a series of large earthquakes around 2350 B.C.  They based these estimates on artifacts and Carbon 14 dating, as they found no newspapers or coins dated 2350 B.C.  French traders described an earthquake in the area in 1699.  Another big one is not out of the question.   

Two days later, we drove through the snow in Illinois and arrived home just in time for the Polar Vortex.  Maybe I'm crazy, but when it's 27 below zero, I didn't want to miss a historic weather event.
  





Tuesday, September 11, 2018

ROAD TRIP TO CANADA & THE BOMBING OF SASKATCHEWAN

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.

PASSENGER PIGEONS

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. 

WISCONSIN CHEESE CURDS

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. 

CHARLES LINDBERGH'S HOUSE, LITTLE FALLS, MN.

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. 

LAKE ITASCA, MN.

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.

THE ROAD TO MOOSE JAW

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.

BOMBING SASKATCHEWAN and THE CHICAGO CONNECTION IN MOOSE JAW

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. 

MEDICINE HAT, ALBERTA

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. 

EATING IN GREAT FALLS, MONTANA

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

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.

GEOGRAPHIC CENTER OF NORTH AMERICA

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.

STURGIS

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.

WALL DRUG

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

CALGARY & CANADIAN ROCKIES

CALGARY, ALBERTA

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, ALBERTA

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.

FORT MACLEOD

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."

WATERTON

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. 

GLACIER NATIONAL PARK

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

BAR U RANCH NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE

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.   

BANFF & BANFF NATIONAL PARK

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. 

JASPER NATIONAL PARK AND ATHABASCA GLACIER

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

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.

CHATEAU LAKE LOUISE

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! 

CANADA OLYMPIC PARK

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

CLEANING UP WASHINGTON--THE FLOOD TO END ALL FLOODS

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

SEEKING DICK PUTZ AND DECIPHERING NORSE CODE IN MINNESOTA

SEEKING DICK PUTZ

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.

DECIPHERING NORSE CODE AT THE MINNESOTA VIKING MUSEUM

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.