San Diego  9/21 – 10/7  (Part 2 – dentist)

San Diego, California: Population = 1,406,630 (San Diego – Tijuana metro area = 4,922,723), elevation = 62 feet, Average January low temp = 49º, Average July high temp = 74.6º, Average precipitation = 10.34”, average annual rainy days = 41.5

We are staying in San Diego for a couple of extra weeks after Brother Father Bill’s retirement.  On the way here, I broke a chunk of tooth off, so I need some dentistry and, reportedly, Mexico is a great place to get it.  My vague memories of a ragged, sketchy Tijuana back in the 1970s are, I hope, obsolete.

Past the McDonalds, around the corner and onto the Path
Welcome to Mexico

I am hoping I can get everything done within the two weeks in San Diego we have booked so far.  My first appointment is on Tuesday.  The light rail takes us to the border  and a taxi drops us at a modern high-rise office building.  The exam is thorough, and includes a complete set of X-rays.  The technology is new and impressive.  A small, minimally intrusive probe is placed, I hear a little buzz, and up there on the flat screen, an X-ray appears.  The verdict is root canal, post, temporary crown today, a permanent crown next week. (Total: $800) They use a team approach.  Each member of the team is specialized on part of the treatment and they all perform their tasks together with careful precision.  About two hours later, I am tired but not really too sore.

A little ways away from the border, the buildings area tall and modern. Up on the hills, homes cluster together to share the view
Whatever you need done to your teeth, these guys can do it

Back across the border.  The worst part of the whole day was not the dentist, but the interminable trek across the maze that is the border crossing.  At least we did not drive.  The line for cars entering the States is long and wide.  The train whisks us back to the park-n-ride.  We find a brewery nearby to relax in for a while.  Mexico is a strong influence here in the Barrio, and I have a Horchata stout for starters and a michelada for dessert.  It is taco Tuesday but, even though they look and smell muy delicioso, I am going to have to wait for soft pasta later.

Driving into the USA takes a while
Interesting beers and great tacos

The rest of our time in San Diego is pretty low key.  We get caught up on a few things, we have lots of great food and beer, we visit some local attractions.  Our rental is just a few blocks from Balboa Park, home to 17 museums, lots of performing arts venues, gardens, trails, and an enormous zoo.  On this visit, we see the Natural History Museum.  Southern California is home to an incredibly diverse population of plants and animals.  Used to be lots of dinosaurs too.

Cali critters
Gotta really love birds to love a condor
A very large frog
A dire wolf and a saber-toothed tiger
Giant sloth

Way, way back in my youth, I decided that I wanted to join the Navy and see the World.  A few signatures and a physical and I was on my way to San Diego.  Boot camp was mostly a huge expanse of asphalt that we were constantly marching on.  Along the sides, in neat, military order were rows of barracks and a big mess hall.  Some time after my Naval Adventure — saw the world, mostly water — the whole boot camp was taken over by San Diego and converted to shopping, restaurants, museums, and so on.  It became a Destination.  Out of curiosity, and with Brother Father Bill as our guide, we stopped by to see what they have done with the place.  Big improvement!

Sounds a lot better then “Boot Camp”
The food got a lot better too
A tall glass of Arrogant Bastard and some tuna poke after a hard day of marching around the mall

Back when I was in the Navy, I loved San Diego for the climate and for being so green and exotic, compared to Minnesota.  This time around I am not impressed.  San Diego has grown huge, overcrowded, and clogged by freeway after freeway criss-crossing the city.  Off the freeways, the city streets are narrow and crowded and lack parking even in the residential neighborhoods.  The homeless are camped everywhere.  The airport is right downtown, with the flight path and noise right overhead.  We will be glad to get out of San Diego.

Next up: Oceanside again

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Coos Bay, Oregon  8/8 – 8/18

Coos Bay, Oregon: Population = 16,292, elevation = 23 feet, Average January low temp = 40.2º, Average July high temp = 64.5º, Average precipitation = 64.91”

The road from Eugene to Florence wound through the deep, dark and mossy temperate rainforest.  Giant trees formed a green tunnel filled with dappled sunlight that strobed across Gypsy’s windshield.  We emerged from the tunnel to glimpse mountains and rivers, and then ducked back in around the next bend.  Finally, the land flattened out and homes appeared: Florence.  This is where we took a left turn onto Highway 101 and headed down the coast toward Coos Bay.  At a little restaurant in Florence, we stepped out of the car and were hit by the cold wind.  Eugene was a blistering 95º; Florence was a windy, overcast 65º with a tinge of salt in the air.

Coos Bay is a horseshoe shaped bay on the lower Oregon coast.  The city of Coos Bay is on the land within the horseshoe, along with its neighbor, North Bend.  Highway 101 runs along the edge of downtown Coos Bay, providing a never-ending stream of trucks and tourists.  The trucks are moving product for lumber mills and seafood markets.

Get your seafood fresh off the boat, raw or cooked
At the Marina

The tourists are admiring the spectacular Oregon coast.  Every mile or two there is another scenic overlook or state park.  From high sheer cliffs showing the grain of the Earth’s crust to wide, flat, sandy beaches, the Oregon coastline has it all.

A foggy day on the coast
The sea lion chorus is hilarious! Imagine a thousand drunken hound dogs arguing.
Upended tectonic plates reveal layers of stone from millions of years ago
A little cold for swimming, but a great beach

Back in Coos Bay, there is plenty to do to keep a tourist (or resident) busy.  There is a brewery and a distillery.  There are many fine and homey restaurants.  On Wednesdays there is a Farmers Market that stretches 4 blocks long that features a wonderful variety of vegetables and fruits, handcrafts, clothing, and some great food trucks.

Good beers and a nice selection of pub grub
Handmade rum in a variety of flavors and strengths
The Blue Heron features excellent German food and fine European beers
A big, sloppy, delicious torta from Angelina’s
Shrimp and crab tacos from Millers
Fresh veggies at the Farmer’s Market

On a rainy, foggy day there are nice indoor places to visit.  We loved the Egyptian Theater, where we saw a show and listened to a Wurlitzer concert.  Just down the street are history and art museums.  And for a real treat, we visited the Cranberry Sweets Candy Factory.

Pharaoh guards the balcony at the Egyptian Theater
A 1925 Wurlitzer organ plays a whole band’s worth of instruments.
From the History Museum, a Fresnel lens that once topped a lighthouse
Not just tons of chocolates, candies, and flavored popcorn, but also free samples of each!

Coos Bay is a nice little town with plenty to see and do.  There are ocean tours and fishing boats.  Go crabbing or clamming on the beach.  There are many miles of hiking trails through deep forest and rocky shoreline.  Rent an ATV and tear-ass around on the dunes.  Or even check out the many little shops downtown.  If you like your summers cool and salty, this is a great town.

Next up: Eureka, California

Manhattan, Montana 6/16 – 6/23

Manhattan, Montana:  Population =  1,631, elevation = 4,245 feet, Average January low temp = 14.1º, Average July high temp = 83.4º, Average snowfall = 86.1” (Climate data from nearby Bozeman, MT)

Once we pass Billings, we are mostly ascending into the Rocky Mountains.  We are skirting the big peaks by driving through the valleys between island ranges.  The first major range is the Crazy Mountains (Crazy Peak 11,214 feet).  There are a few fun legends as to why these mountains have this name.  My favorite, and probably most plausible, is the one involving Chief Plenty Coups.  He went to these mountains on a four day vision quest.  On his quest, he foresaw the coming of the white man and their cattle.  When the white men did arrive and asked about the mountains, members of Plenty Coups’ tribe tried to explain, using sign language, about the visions and the Great Spirit.  The white men thought they were crazy.

The Crazy Mountains

Summer can be a hard time to travel.  The weather up here in the Northern States is fine and everyone is having their town festival, fair, 5K, bike race, car show, or some other version of outdoor get-together and eat and drink and watch stuff.  So rentals are hard to come by.  The towns along Interstate 90 through Montana are no exception.  We couldn’t find a AirBnB for the right price in Bozeman or Belgrade.  But then we found a great home in Manhattan.  The owner, Joe, is an easygoing, affable, outdoorsy man’s man kinda guy who converted a simple house so it looks like a log cabin inside.  We shared a beer with him and heard the tale about Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld on a cliff.  If true, a good story, if not true, a good storyteller.

Cozy and interesting, nice wood, could maybe use a woman’s touch?

Manhattan is a nice quiet little town, except for the frequent trains, blatting off their whistles all hours of day and night.  It is about 9 miles from Belgrade and about 20 miles from Bozeman.  The food is OK, there are locally brewed craft beers in the bars, and the people are nice and friendly.  We stopped by for the first Farmer’s Market of the year and had snacks and chats with locals who said the Market gets bigger later in the year.

A fine day for a little farmer’s market with the good folk of Manhattan

From our base camp in Manhattan, we set off to explore the neighborhood.  Belgrade (population 8,254, elevation 4,459) is just a 10 minute drive down the Interstate.  They are a little bigger and have a lot more businesses, bars and restaurants.  There are a lot of steakhouses around here.  Montana is cattle country.  Frankly though, when the steaks are running north of $25 a copy, we prefer to just buy some and grill them up ourselves.  Ribs though, that is another matter.  It takes time, equipment, and lots of experience to put out good BBQ ribs.  We found the Bar 3 Bar-B-Q, hiding in the shadow of a grain elevator, serving up St. Louis ribs and brewing beers.

St. Louis ribs with dill potato salad, hopping John, and a fine amber ale

The next stop on the our trail was Bozeman (population 43,405, elevation 4,820).  Where Billings is a working man’s town, Bozeman is more of a college town.  The gentrified downtown is home to many fine shops, trendy and eclectic restaurants, and more than a few breweries.  The bicycles are many and fearless.  Tattoos and piercings are to be seen everywhere.  On everyone.  Just off the college campus, we found the Museum of the Rockies.  They have a planetarium and a few other exhibits, but my favorite exhibit was the dinosaurs.  Apparently, this was a great place for dinosaurs to come to to get fossilized.

 

Dinosaur shell fish
Even with feathers, these guys are pretty scary
One huge T-Rex skull

From Bozeman, if you get on highway 191 and head South, you are following the course of the Gallatin River all the way to Yellowstone National Park.  We decided to take a little drive on a nice day and see where the river went.  We saw tall grassy mounds, deep pine forests, and  sheer rocky cliffs along the river.  A few brave souls passed by clinging to big rafts bouncing over Class 2,3,and 4 rapids.

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Jagged sheer rock cliffs tower over the canyon
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The Gallatin River flows fast and cold from the melting snowcaps
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Guided rafting tours are available for the hearty and brave

Eventually we came to the Big Sky ski resort.  We had been seeing an impressive peak looming over all else above us.  Then the signs pointed the way to Big Sky.  The resort is a massive campus sprouting lifts all around.  There must be hundreds of named ski runs.  As an ex-skier, I squint at the jagged peaks way up there in double diamond territory and shudder just a little.  Not even on my best day…

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Are those ski trails?

 

xsky2
That is a LOT of ski runs!
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In just a few months, there will be powder again at the Big Sky

Next up: Missoula, Montana

Crossing the Prairie 6/5 – 6/11

Crossing the Prairie  6/5 – 6/11

All too soon, our visit to MInnesota, to family and friends comes to an end.  It is time to pack up and roll on down the road.  But where to now?  The West Coast is calling to me again.  After all of our travels, I think the Eugene, Oregon area is still my favorite.  Marylu is not so sure yet.  So there are more cites left for us to see and even some to revisit.

Eugene, OR is lush green, blanketed in tall trees and fields of flowers. Just beyond the distant mountains, Mother Pacific rolls her pretty waves.

From Minneapolis, we take Interstate 94 North and West, heading for North Dakota.  We know from previous experience that North Dakota is, shall we say, “scenery challenged”, so our plan is a series of short stays in hotels as we hop across the state.

On the way to Fargo

Our first stop is Fargo.  Fargo is a busy, industrious city, with a population of over 120,000.  There are lots of great places to eat and drink.  This is also a city with a sense of humor about itself.  At the top of the list of weird things to do in Fargo is to go see the Wood Chipper.  You know the one… from the movie.  (Thanks to Rita and Dagan for a nice visit and some great tourist info!)

 

The Wurst Bier Hall offers a world of sausages and beers
A fine beer and a handsome logo
The world’s most famous wood chipper. Love the sock!

From Fargo, it is a short hop to Bismarck.  This is the capitol of the state, and the capitol building is unusual.  Most capitols have two wings and a dome in the middle.  This one has a round wing, divided into two halves, where the House and Senate meet.  Attached to the round wing is an 18 story office building where most of the state functionaries are located.  No dome but a nice observation deck on the top floor.

Early photo of the North Dakota capitol building shows the two wings
The House chamber features innovative lighting and fine woodwork.

Bismarck is also a great town for food and drink.  We found some very nice breweries who are cooking up some fine beers.  Our favorite place to eat was Sickie’s Garage, who are famous for their burgers.  In between beers and burgers, we visited the State Historical Society Museum and learned a few things.  North Dakota used to be covered by an inland sea and, apparently, dinosaurs came here to die in the mud and be preserved.

Tater Tot Hotdish Burger: tots, corn, green beans, cream of mushroom soup, hamburger. Genius!
Bisons were much larger, with bigger horns, way back when. This guy is fighting two saber tooth tigers.
This monster fish could easily swallow a fisherman whole.  And I would not mess with that turtle behind it either.

Still headed West, the prairie starts to get more interesting.  We start seeing rolling hills.  Those turn into peaks and wide valleys.  At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the landscape descends into the chaos that is the Painted Canyon.

Ruler straight lines of power cross the prairie grasses
The Painted Canyon shows off a palette of limestone, sandstone, trees, and grasses

At Glendive, Montana, we are, I hope, getting close to the end of the prairie.  The horizon is closer and lumpier.  Not a lot going on in Glendive, but they do have a new brewery.

good luck with the new brewery. So far. so good!

The road to Billings has even more prairie for us; miles and miles of flat grassy lands, broken occasionally by ridges and canyons of pale sandstone.  We are steadily gaining elevation as we cross the vast plateau.  Just as we start to see the signs and buildings and refineries of Billings we spot, far off in the distance, the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains.  We are at the end of the Great Prairie.

The ridges are getting higher, the road is getting steeper

Next up:  Billings, Montana

Rochester, Minnesota  5/12 – 5/19

Rochester, Minnesota:  Population =  112,225 (metropolitan area= 213,873), elevation = 1030 feet, Average January low temp = 8º, Average July high temp = 84º, average rainfall = 33.08”, average snowfall = 53”

The journey from Wisconsin Dells to Rochester passes through the river bluffs near La Crosse, an area of woody, rocky beauty.  We enjoy the sculpted terrain as we roll along the Mighty Mississippi.  Too soon, we are back in the heartland where the farmers are preparing to plant the corn and soybeans that will blanket this largely flat landscape.

The Hadley Valley Schoolhouse was built in 1885
William Dee’s log cabin was built in Rochester in 1862

From its humble beginnings as a stagecoach stop between St. Paul and Dubuque, Rochester could have developed into just one of many similar small towns in Minnesota.  But then there was this doctor, William W. Mayo, who started here as the examining surgeon for draftees into the Civil War.  After the war, he built a successful private practice in Rochester.  In 1883 much of the city was demolished in a tornado and there was no facility to treat the wounded.  Together with his two sons, William and Charles, Mayo and the Sisters of St. Francis raised the money to build a new hospital: St. Marys.

William W. Mayo and Mother Alfred Moes
William W. Mayo with his two sons, William and Charles

The Mayos enlisted the best doctors they could find for the hospital and formed an integrated private group practice.  In 1919 they formed the Mayo Properties Association and become a non-profit.  As the practice grew, more buildings were added.  Downtown Rochester is now full of hospitals, clinics, research centers, and medical education buildings.  The Plummer building is one of the early buildings and it is beautifully decorated with art deco trim and carvings.

The grand entrance to the Plummer Building
Lobby of the Plummer Building

The renowned medical center draws people from all over the world.  Walking the streets, we hear foreign languages, see foreign clothing.  There seems to be a lot of ethnic restaurants around for such a small town.  But still, this is Minnesota, so there are some great Minnesotan breweries too.

We did not have much luck with the weather while we were in Rochester.  It was a grey, rainy week.  One afternoon downtown, a storm front with 60 MPH winds came through with a downpour, and watching it whip through the buildings was like seeing a horizontal waterfall.  On the dry days we were able to do a little sightseeing, get lost in a park, and visit lots of restaurants.

Looking toward the city from Silver Lake Park
Somewhere in the wilds of Quarry Hill Park. There are trails, but the signs hid from us.
It’s a Minnesota thing. I guess…
The most “Minnesota” poutine we have ever seen features slabs of meatloaf with lots of gravy
Dr. Plummer’s house is open for tours. But not on the day we were there.

Rochester is a nice city to visit, if you are in the area.  And you don’t even have to be sick.

Next up: Plymouth, Minnesota

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin 5/5 – 5/12

Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin:  Population =  2,678 (Lake Delton population = 2,914), elevation = 909 feet, Average January low temp = 7.2º, Average July high temp = 84.4º, annual precipitation = 33.56”, annual snowfall = 41.2”

The Wisconsin Dells is a strange world.  It is a combination of natural and un-natural entertainments.   It lives in two towns and four counties.  Driving through it, the town looks a lot bigger than what the population would support.  That is because so many things are inflated to larger than life sized.

The world’s largest Trojan Horse

Driving Highway 23 (Broadway) East-West takes you through downtown Wisconsin Dells.  The downtown is fairly compact, with a mix of solid old brick storefronts and garish new buildings.  This being a tourist Mecca, there is a high proportion of good restaurants and bars, as well as ticket sellers, fudge dealers, souvenir hawkers, and a few outlandish amusement parks.

Driving Highway 12 (Wisconsin Dells Parkway) North-South takes you from Wisconsin Dells to Lake Delton.  I am guessing that Lake Delton has homes someplace, maybe out by the Outlet Mall.  Along the Parkway, things are seriously Un-natural.  This is where the huge amusement and water parks have sprouted, interspersed with hotels, small, large, and huge.

To get a true appreciation of how massive this tourist entertainment district is, I guess you would have to visit during the high season in summer.  During our visit in mid-May, the parks are just gearing up for the coming season.  The waterslides are dry, the roller coasters still, the parking lots empty.  The biggest show in town is the Rick Wilcox Magic Theater, but that is sold out for the rest of the month.  Of course we visit the local breweries and find some great beers.

An excellent Belgian Trippel
Very nice Irish Red

Kind of hidden in the Downtown area, there is the entrance to the Riverwalk.  From this vantage, you can see the rushing Wisconsin River, nestled between high carved sandstone bluffs, blanketed with forests.  During the high season, the river is the playground of jet boats, amphibious “duck” vehicles, and a myriad of small boats.  In May, the river is mostly quiet and our tour boat putts along, often accompanied only by the occasional duck or goose.

The sandstone is so porous, the trees grow right through it
This is a “braided” river. It splits into smaller streams that flow between islands.
Water, wind, and time create striking rock formations
A boardwalk takes us into the Witches Gorge

 

Standing Rock. The gap is only about 5 feet but the dog they have trained to jump it was not liking it very much.

From my vantage point as an off-season visitor, Wisconsin Dells looks like a huge machine, dedicated to removing money from tourists.  Judging from the thousands of hotel rooms available, I would guess that the machine is very effective.  On the other hand, the river valley is beautiful and, at this time of year, serene and lovely as seen from a slow boat.

Next up: Rochester, Minnesota

Ottawa, Illinois 4/28 – 5/5

Ottawa, Illinois:  Population =  18,562, elevation = 482 feet, Average January low temp = 17.0º, Average July high temp = 85.6º, annual precipitation = 36.49”, annual snowfall = 24.6” (weather readings are from Peoria, which lies 73 miles to the Southwest.)

We probably turned North too soon.  Back in Memphis, when we woke to find snow on the ground, we should have turned tail and headed back to Texas.  Instead, we continued on Northward into Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.  Fine and beautiful states all, but this year Spring came to them cold and rainy and windy, with lots of storms to liven things up.  Our week in Ottawa started with a weekend rain total of over 5 inches.  The little home we rented had a sump pump that kept gallantly bailing the entire week we were there.

A playground on the banks(?) of the Illinois River
Looks like a “farmer’s holiday” until this field dries out.

Ottawa is an interesting little town.  It is kind of touristy in that it is flanked by some beautiful parks and rivers and is close enough to Chicago to make it a prime weekend getaway.  There seems to be a lot more nice restaurants than there would normally be in a town of this size.  The downtown is built of stolid, stately old brick buildings from the mid 1800s.

There are murals scattered throughout the downtown.  One depicts the first Lincoln-Douglas debates, held here in 1858, where Stephen Douglas accused Lincoln of being an Abolitionist.  Another shows the Union Army marching off to war.  Still another is a folky bit of nostalgia for the 50s.

So what’s to do in a small town when it is pouring rain and the parks are flooded?  We did some shopping, took in a movie (“The Circle” was disappointing), tried some restaurants, and sampled the local wines and beers.  It may seem like we spend a lot of our time drinking, and maybe so, but we are also socializing.  The proprietors of wineries and breweries are generally nice people, fun to talk to, and full of local knowledge about what to see, do, and eat in the neighborhood.  Many thanks to the good people at Clarks Run Creek for their hospitality and their tip about what is probably some of the best fried chicken in the country.

Rip’s menu: light or dark, quarter or half. Served on fine paper with a side of pickles and some breading crunchys.

The skies finally cleared up for a day so we could go out and explore the park.  Starved Rock park is a huge attraction in this area.  The park is located on top of a tall rocky bluff, cut by deep canyons and rushing waterfalls.  Scenic hiking trails wind throughout the park.  There are cabins to stay in, a big resort with restaurants, campsites, horses, and boats and fishing, as well as the whole gamut of winter sports in their season.  There are also chainsaw carvings all over the grounds.  We were delighted to find the twin brother to the carving of Chief Paduke we saw in Paducah, Kentucky.

From the bridge, you can see some of the limestone canyon below
The Lodge was a CCC project, back in the 1930s
Memorial carving of Chief Walks with the Wind

Ottawa was a nice place to visit, even with the soggy week we had.  Spring is the slow season so it was pretty easy to get around, get a table, find a parking spot.  From all reports, summertime is a lot more crowded with tourists.  Make your reservations early.

Next up: Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin