Bemidji - Odanah
Miles Driven: 226.4
Gas Price: 2.02
Back again :)
We awoke in Bemidji to very dark and foreboding skies, along with a weather report that said severe thunderstorms and possible tornadoes would arrive in the area by that evening. So, yes, you guessed it, we were pretty keen to get out of town before the 'interesting' weather showed up. We had breakfast in a Perkins restaurant along with multiple people in town for the Square Dance Convention, so there were some interesting dress codes in evidence ;)
For more on the Square Dance Convention, click here! http://www.squaredanceminnesota.com/NorthWest/2004home.htm
OK I'm getting too carried away with the links now, aren't I? ;) I just like to have an informative page!
Bemidji's claim to fame is an association with Paul Bunyan and his blue ox Babe. Once again, you may have to click on the pictures to make them large enough to see if you can spot Colin. If you're interested in reading about the Paul Bunyan/Babe myth, try this page for more information: http://www.newnorth.net/~bmorren/bunyan.html
The drive out from Bemidji through north-central Minnesota was beautiful. We were well away from the major road systems, so the whole way was a rolling mixture of bush (woods) and meadows. The creeks and rivers were all flowing well due to all the rain, so it was very picturesque. Plenty of cows, horses, and even the odd llama - all fat, sleek and happy. I found it hard not to contrast it to Australia, where the drought seems to be going on and on......sad to think of what it's like there when all of Minnesota seems to be knee deep in rich green grass. Ah well.
The border of Minnesota and Wisconsin is at the twin cities of Duluth and Superior respectfully. As you can probably guess from the name of the Wisconsin town, the cities are on the shores of Lake Superior. And Lake Superior was a rather forbidding sight, with water the colour of tea flecked with foaming whitecaps, and more than slightly lumpy! A bit chilly too, with a stiff wind blowing south off the water. Brrr. Jason heavily regretted wearing shorts, and looked slightly odd pairing those jean shorts with a heavy coat ;)
Also on the shores of Lake Superior in the town of Superior is the Richard Bong WWII Memorial Centre. Richard Bong was America's "Ace of Aces", being the highest scoring ace pilot in the US Army Air Force in WWII - 40 kills I believe it was (although I know some of you out there don't count 'kills' scored against heavy bombers - you know who you are!!). His aircraft of choice was the P-38, and as you can see from the photos the museum has a replica of his aircraft. Colin examined it with interest. Named after his girlfriend of the time (who later became his wife) he got most of his kills in the original 'Marge', although when he was away on other business someone else who was flying that plane on a mission managed to crash and destroy it. I daresay Marge was not impressed.
Although basically built around the centrepiece of the 'Marge', the rest of the museum is also very interesting. There is quite a heavy focus on the home front element of WWII, as Superior was a major site of shipbuilding during the war. A lot of iron was mined locally, and made into military and transport vessels right there at the port. I daresay it was a reasonably safe shipyard complex, too, being separated from the ocean by so many locks I can't imagine submarines having any chance of making it through to attack! :)
One sad exhibit was centred around a local who had been killed during fighting in the Pacific - in what is now Papua New Guinea I believe it was. They had his letters home, the official telegram his parents received, photos, and things like that. The Army had packaged up his personal effects and sent them home, and his parents had left them untouched for years, just donating the unopened box to the museum some years ago. In his personal effects box, however, was an Australian Army hat badge (some of you know what I mean, the traditional rising sun badge), ( http://www.defence.gov.au/army/traditions/risingsun.htm ) a stick, and two Australian pennies! So I immediately held the view that he must have been "not bad for a Yank", since someone in the Australian Army had obviously liked him enough to swap national emblems and teach/equip him for two-up! It was sad, but somehow nice. The whole museum was well done, not overly nationalistic, and was staffed by veterans who were all interesting to chat to. Worth a stop if any of you are ever in the area! :) Here's their webpage: http://www.bongheritagecenter.org/
A few miles down the road from Superior we passed through Poplar.....a town of about 10 houses, but the actual childhood home town of the Richard Bong in whose name the museum in Superior was built. We had been intending to swing north at this point, driving around the part of Lake Superior that is home to the Apostle Islands. However the icy winds and the approaching thunderstorm cells meant we changed our plans, and headed east instead. We had been toying with the idea of staying in Ashland, as Jason had looked on the internet and seen that they had a "Super 8" motel (for those non-Americans amongst you, that's a major cheapish motel chain) that had high speed internet access. Since we'd cut off a few hours worth of touring, though, we arrived in Ashland earlier than anticipated and weren't sure if we wanted to stop already.
Then I saw the Super 8. Not only was it an older building, but it was right across the road from a huge, belching, industrial factory. JUST across the road. Gross! So we had an argument about what was more important to life, high speed internet, or having to go out and buy a canary in a cage just to feel safe during the night. If it had been a bit later in the day I think Jason may have put up more of a fight, but since it was still only mid-afternoon we drove on. One interesting thing we saw in Ashland, but didn't stop to take a photo of due to cold rain and wind, was the 'largest ore loading dock of it's kind in the world' or some such thing. It was big, it was spectacular, it was ugly, but it wasn't worth getting out of the car for a photo of :) Here's a photo of it someone else had on their webpage: http://graphics.jsonline.com/graphics/travel/img/oct02/dockbig1006.jpg
See that belching factory/power plant in the foreground? THAT is the one Jason wanted to stay next to ;)
Here's another page with a few pictures of it: http://www.theslowlane.com/98tripd/dock.html
After another couple of hours of driving we got to the Bad River Reservation, which, like many other Native American reservations, features a casino. This, I believe, is due to Reservations not being subject to Federal law, therefore they can have legal gambling, thereby raising a lot of money for their respective communities. Busloads of people track in from all over to the nearest casino, so they're usually pretty busy. Bad River was no exception - by the time we arrived at 4pm or so, the only room left was the "King Jacuzzi Suite". However we weren't really keen to drive on, so we took it. As you can see, Colin found the whole Jacuzzi thing quite acceptable. You'll note that he is sans shirt, since everyone knows you don't wear t-shirts in a jacuzzi, even in the interests of colour photography.
Not to mention we knew we were in Wisconsin due to the sudden appearance of Whitetail Deer pictures everywhere ;) (Check out the pictures over Colin's bed). The website here: http://www.badriver.com/index.shtml has a good link to a page about the local Chippewa/Ojibwe tribe, so if you're interested to find out more, that's the place to go. I was curious to find out why it was a "Bad" river, but apparently it came from a mistranslation between the locals and the first whitefellas to the area. The local Ojibwe dialect's word for 'bad' sounded similar to the one for 'marsh', so an unfortunate error then stuck.
We had a touch of luck at the pokies ('slots' to you Americans) that night too, with Jason and I winning about $200 each. We won't say how much Colin made, but I think the photo speaks for itself!