Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Watercolor Lily

Although there is a lot more going on right now in my life (read as "work, work, work"), I am relaxing by playing with pictures. Thought I'd share one.

How are you?

Watercolor Lily cropped framed

Friday, June 08, 2007

Travel Journal Day 3 & Day 4

Here is an important life lesson. If you find yourself staying in a hotel alone, it is still not a good idea to take a shower with the bathroom door open. The deadbolt and metal arm lock will keep Anthony Perkins out, but the steam from the shower will actually set off the smoke detector in your room. At this point, you will be wet and naked trying to figure out what that awful noise is and then quickly decide what to do. Do you 1) run out into the hallway towards safety screaming "Fire!" or do you 2) forgo safety to dry yourself off and get dressed after quickly surveying your room to find no actual fire? I chose option 2. It was nice that the alarm only went off in my room.

Day three of my vacation was rather uneventful. When I got up, I packed up the car again and headed north this time to Park Rapids, Minnesota. The drive is around three and a half hours so I listened to quite a bit of music and got lost in thought. The day was overcast, so I didn't stop at any rest stops or wayside stations along the route. I only made one stop and that was for food in a city called Motley. Craving a butterscotch dip cone from Dairy Queen, I stopped where the Hot Eats & Cool Treats are advertised. The burger I had was decent and I do really like DQ's fries. Which is odd, since I rarely like French Fries.

I was going to get a cone before getting back on the road, but then these men came in. One of them gave me a double take with a slimy smile. While I appreciate the fact I was checked out, it somewhat frightened me because there was just something creepy about the smile.

So back on the road I went. I found the hotel and checked in. And surprisingly, I stayed in the hotel all night long until I checked out the next morning. I watched a little bit of "Planet Earth" and then a movie on my laptop. Not an overly exciting day.

The next morning, Thursday now for those keeping track, I drove 20 miles to Itasca State Park. Itasca State Park is the first state park for Minnesota and is the second largest. It boasts Lake Itasca, the source of the fourth longest river in the world, the Mississippi. I don't know what it is about the Mississippi, probably has something to do with the fact I've lived near it most of my life, but I am fascinated by it. As others who live near oceans feel a pull to the water, I feel comforted by the river. It's always there.

When I arrived at the park, I was looking for the north entrance. I passed the southern and eastern entrances to find the one closest to the headwaters, but never found it. When I was halfway to Bemidji, I turned around and entered the park at the east entrance. It was only $5 to get in (which is insanely cheap in my opinion. It cost $10 to look at the potholes in Wisconsin.) Once inside, I drove the main road to the headwaters. I was about two and a half hours early for the boat ride, which was a good thing as it turned out.

I meant to walk across the Mississippi's start. I would have, but there were 8,000 800 80 about 25 kids running around. It was enough to try and get a picture without some child in it screaming. I wanted to yell at this grandmother. Oh, she made me so mad. This little girl was running towards the shoreline, without shoes on, she'd been in the water up to her knees already, and her grandmother reached out and pulled her back by the hood of her sweatshirt. She pulled hard. The little girl started screaming in tears while her grandmother hushed her so she could take a picture. Grandmothers are not supposed to choke their grandchildren. Grandmas are supposed to be nice. This made me so mad. Besides choking the little girl, she just ignored her tears.

The headwaters are cool. I really liked seeing the source of the Mississippi - the lake is actually the source, but the headwaters are where the river becomes a stream. The scenery is beautiful and would be peaceful sans 8 million screaming children. (There will be 80 million tomorrow when I tell the story. Children multiply by annoyance factor.)

After spending about a half hour at the headwaters, I headed to the gift shop I picked up some postcards, a couple of flat rocks (for scrapbooking), and a magnet for myself. I also bought sunscreen. Which now has a permanent place in my camera bag. The only time I'm in the sun would be when I have my camera, so it is a logical location for it. I also purchased a few gifts for DM and one for my mom.

I still had some time before the boat tour, so I stopped at Peace Pipe Vista and walked the path to see a panoramic view of Lake Itasca. Along the path, I saw a big, icky spider that creeped me out. I took pictures of it. Surprise.

It was getting closer to the time of launch, so I headed to the boat tour pier. I parked by the lodge, as indicated on the website. Then I walked down to the dock. I should have driven all the way down, but I didn't realize there was parking at the dock.

While waiting for the ride to start, a nice woman named Ann started chatting with me. Her sister, Sherry, joined in. They were both recent grandmas and on vacation together without the rest of the family. When I boarded the boat, I sat in the back with them, overlooking the water. This lasted until the family from the headwaters appeared. It wasn't all of the kids from the headwaters (there must have been 3-4 families there), but this was the family that all the brothers and sisters decided to go on vacation together and bring each of their 3-4 kids. Argh! The kids wanted to sit in the back. Soon, the four chairs (three occupied by Ann, Sherry, and myself) were overrun with 9 children, three mothers, a grandmother, and two babies. Sherry, Ann, and I moved inside to "give them some room."

The tour is a two hour trip following the Schoolcraft journey to the headwaters of the Mississippi. There were a couple of bald eagle sightings, but both were on the side of the boat I wasn't on. Bummer. I did get to see the Minnesota state bird, the common loon. I may have a couple of pictures from the sighting worthwhile. We'll see when I finally go through them all.

The light kept fading as the sky grew darker. About the time we reached the headwaters, it was down pouring and everyone moved to the bottom deck of the boat. Soon, grape sized hailstones were falling to the bottom deck via the stairwells. The last hour of the trip was spent a bit scared and awed by Mother Nature. We saw lightning and heard loud thunder claps. There was a tornado watch for the area (watch is when conditions are right to produce a tornado, warning is when there has been one spotted).

The rain let up to a drizzle by the time we were back at the dock. Ann and Sherry were very nice and offered me a lift back to my car. While I know I should never accept a ride from strangers, I did accept. Another man joined us so that he could bring his vehicle back to his party. I was grateful for the lift and thanked the two women. I really enjoyed their company on the boat.

With the weather, I decided it was time to head home. In about 30 minutes, I was ahead of the storm and kept on going. James asked at karaoke why I didn't stop at a great little unknown restaurant on the way home and the answer was simple. I wanted to be back in the Cities before the rain was.

When I got home, I loaded pictures onto the computer and uploaded them to Flickr. Then it was off to karaoke with DM. By the time I got home from karaoke, I was exhausted and crashed.

I'm meeting DM and Keem at the Como Zoo conservatory in a little over an hour. Afterwards, we're going to my mom's for dinner and may see a movie tonight. DM is going to come over and scrapbook tonight and we're going to scrap all day tomorrow. On Sunday, we're going to drive to Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis before karaoke.

Vacation has been nice so far. I was apprehensive about taking a trip by myself, but have really enjoyed it. I've done a lot of thinking and lot of relaxing. I can't remember a time when I felt so at ease.

One picture for you - the headwaters of the Mississippi. The rocks are not naturally there - they were placed by the people who are credited with the discovery of the source.

More headwaters (55)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Travel Journal Day 1.5 & Day 2

Last night, I did drive to Stewartville, Minnesota. It proved its creepiness factor to me by being illuminated excessively. The drive to Stewartville was an adventure in and of itself. The city is only about 12 miles from Rochester, so it should have been a short jaunt. Since there was no fog, the lights didn't send a large beam into the sky and I didn't quite notice the city. My directions indicated to take Hwy 30 East. There was a detour on Hwy 30 East. So I took the detour. Forty miles later, I found the sign for Hwy 30 to Stewartville. Then I drove down that road, which indicated Stewartville to be 19 miles away. About 7 miles into this journey, in the pitch black except for my car headlights, the road ended.

Then I got the fun experience of turning around and going back to where I started! Along the way, I saw a larger animal scurry across the road, its eyes glaring green back at me. It was a bit ahead of me, but I thought it was a fox or badger. I hope it was a fox and I got to see it. It could have been a large raccoon, but I don't want to believe that. So there.

Speaking of raccoons, I look like one. Sort of. Even though today's activities did not include sitting in the sun, I managed to pick up some more rays while driving. There's a healthy line where my sunglasses covered my eyes. Oops. It is not a bad burn though. That's nice. Just a bit pink, which happens if I go into the sun for 5 minutes.

None of the pictures of Stewartville are all that impressive or exciting. There's about five blocks of mainstreet with lamposts all over the place. Eh. Whatever. The drive was nice and relaxing though.

This morning, I awoke to the sound of housekeeping tapping on the metal plate on the door. They wanted to clean the room 2 hours before checkout. I was still there so they went to another room. Check out was easy and I headed out in a packed car again. This time, I drove south for about an hour. That's when I arrived in Preston, Minnesota and tried to find Mystery Cave. My directions were not great (again - thanks Mapquest) and for some reason took me past the road I needed. I followed the directions for awhile and did manage to pass an abandoned home. I thought about exploring it, but it was across the street from a family out in their yard. It might have been theirs for all I knew.

Back to Preston, I found a gas station and asked for directions (and bought a map of Minnesota - I have one of the Twin Cities, but not one for the whole state). The woman gave me easy directions to the cave. A half hour later, I was there! (Although, if you had judged the time by my watch, I time warped and arrived there in -58 minutes. Because the second hand got stuck and the watch stopped working for an hour.)

The next tour wouldn't start for another 40 minutes, so the nice gentleman showed me a room with fossils that I could touch and I looked around another room with details about the cave. Then it was time for the tour. Well, after I bought a sweatshirt. I meant to bring one. I swear. I can actually see it from where I'm sitting. It was placed near my bags before I left and it stayed there.

As it turned out, no one else was on the tour! The gentleman, Alex, led me around the cave. He pointed out more details than he normally could for a larger group and I was able to take pictures. It was extremely cool. I would recommend this cave tour to anyone. The rock formations are just stunning and it is a different experience.

After the tour, I drove for an hour east on the Historic Bluffs Scenic Byway. There were beautiful landscapes, but I didn't get any great pictures. I don't know. I'll have to look more in depth later. I headed back towards Rochester eventually, stopping in the city for food and to fill up the car. Then I drove home.

I arrived at home around 7:30. I'm going out later tonight with a friend and Sarah is going to stop over soon. Tomorrow morning I'm off to Park Rapids to see the headwaters of the Mississippi!

*About the picture pool, if you want to join, you're still free to do so. Here's a hint (or fact about me): While in Portugal for 9 days, DM and I took a total of 4,000 pictures. We took over 1,000 on our one day trip to Canada. Just an FYI.

I will leave you with one picture - no editing. This is a formation at Mystery Cave called the Waterfall. I thought it was awesome.

63 Waterfall Formation

Monday, June 04, 2007

Travel Journal Day 1

Think of a number. Wait, I should probably give some information first. There's a pool going on. The only true question about my vacation that most people have is the number of pictures I will end up taking. DM, Char, Steve, Liz, Bryan, and James have all given their figures for the pool. My question to you (as in "pick a number,") is simply, "What's your estimate?" If I can think of a good prize, there may be a fun present to who ever is closest.

Back to Day 1. When I originally looked at the website for boat tours in Taylors Falls, there was a 3:30 launch listed. This is only the case starting next week. Today, the outfit had one tour, launching at 1:30. Luckily, I realized this last night when I did further research (directions and trying to find the price). So I set the alarm clock a little earlier.

Unfortunately, I overslept by an hour. Fortunately, I'm a bit OCD so I had set the alarm for an hour and a half earlier than I really needed.

I grabbed all the bags I had packed the night before (okay, I know I'm only gone for a few days and I didn't bring a ton of clothes. Bags indicates one overnight bag, my camera bag, a cooler, my laptop, and my purse. All necessities.) I ran out the door to the car, or walked as quickly as I could while carrying all said junk.

The drive to Taylors Falls was pleasant, no rain but a few fluffy clouds in the skies. Once I got north of the cities, I exited onto a country highway that has frequent speed reduction areas, but I made it to the launch site with about 20 minutes to spare. And I didn't speed. The drive took me through a few towns (one was Chisago City) that had signs boasting ties to Sweden. That was pretty cool.

The boat tour was $14 for an adult, not too bad. It is narated and was 80 minutes long. The vessel was the "Taylors Falls Princess" and is one of two boats that give tours on this part of the St. Croix River. A family run business that has been in operation for over 100 years, it was lovely. I enjoyed relaxing and looking at the white fluffy clouds, the tall green pines and other trees, and trying to imagine the figures in the different rock formations. The St. Croix is known for these rock formations, left behind when the glaciers melted. I was able to see the "Holy Cross," the formation that gave the river its name. I also saw the "Old Man of the St. Croix," an elephant, another man's profile, and a lion. I didn't see the witch in the one formation and the Turkish man with a turban was difficult. I don't think I was looking in the right place.

There were few passengers on the ride. I sat on the upper deck with about 5 elderly couples and two families. Family with 'pudgy man who really shouldn't wear a neon orange shirt' dad had two little girls who spent most of the ride making each other hit themselves. That was fairly annoying. Especially since the girl who started it was the first to start screaming, "Stop! Stop! Don't do that!" The other family, the one with 'holy crap is that an attractive man' dad, had two cute little boys who shared snacks with each other and pointed out neat sites to each other. Hmmm. The boys were younger too. The one was pretty cute when he said to his brother, "I want to write a note to Mom and Dad. Can you help me spell?"

I found out that the St. Croix is one of the ten cleanest rivers in the United States and the reddish brown coloring has nothing to do with pollution or iron ore. It was a neat fact to know that the coloring comes from Tamarack (spelling?) trees that grow at the source of the river. Since everyone always asks about the coloring of water in pictures, I'm glad I know.

After the boat ride, I drove across the state border to the Wisconsin side of Interstate Park. The Minnesota side's state park is the 2nd oldest in Minnesota and the Wisconsin side is the first state park for Wisconsin. Together, they make the first interstate park in the United States. That was kind of interesting.

In Wisconsin, I purchased a day pass to explore the potholes/sinkholes that were formed by the glaciers melting. There is a short hike (.4 miles) that loops where you can see a few of these holes. I took off to do this and was surprised that my loafers didn't kill me while walking. I was able to also find a good vantage point to see the boat I had just departed and a few more scenes of the river. I only passed one set of people on the hike, a couple walking the loop the opposite direction. They didn't talk to me or each other. That was the quietest couple I've seen in awhile. Neither looked all that happy.

Leaving Interstate Park, I headed into the "downtown" portion of Taylors Falls and did find an ice cream shop. I think it is the one that two separate people mentioned to me. Teri was one of them. For a snack, I sampled a cone (one scoop only - but their definition of one scoop was a lot larger than mine - he scooped twice. That is no longer one scoop. But hey, more ice cream for me!) of Rum Black Cherry. I sat outside the shop at a table covered in old newspaper advertisements (100 year old ads) and watched people go to-and-fro. There's a dentist office right next to the ice cream place.

With a snack in my belly, I started driving south towards Rochester. The drive took about 3 and a half hours. It started raining off and on during the drive and only once (about 50 miles outside of Rochester) did I have to change my speed for the weather. There was about a 10 minute downpour that caused me to clench my fists and drive very slowly for a highway.

The rain passed and I entered Rochester. The hotel was easy to find and I took care of uploading pictures from both cameras. But no hints on the number yet! In my hotel room, I noticed that I definitely spent more time in the sun than I'm used to today. My arms are light pink and I may have a slight red line on my face. Okay, slight red everywhere except where my sunglasses were. Whoops. I'll grab some sunscreen before I go on the next boat ride on Thursday. The other adventures are mostly evening or dark places.

Right now, I'm waiting for it to get a little darker before I head off to Stewartville, the creepiest town I've ever known. I want the full effect of the streetlamps for the pictures I plan on taking, so I have about another 45 minutes to wait until I leave. I'll probably leave in a few minutes though and just find a place to eat. That's the part of my trip I didn't quite plan. And my stomach is not so happy about that. Ice cream and a few Bugles (car snack that my mom gave me) do not a full day meal make. I was going to eat in Taylors Falls, but I didn't find any food other than ice cream that sounded appealing. That's Day 1 so far.