Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt visited the Dakota Territory for months at a time between 1883 and 1886.  Unlike the badlands of South Dakota, this area was good for ranching,  It had open range with lots of grass on the plateaus and valleys to attract ranchers with large herds.  It seemed endless, but Roosevelt witnessed the results of overgrazing and bad management.

Hard work as a cattle rancher transformed him physically.  Always interested in nature, his time there also transformed him into a conservationist.  During his time as President, he created the U.S. Forest Service, signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, proclaimed 18 national monuments and worked to create five national parks, 150 national forests and dozens of nature reserves.

We have limited memories from our brief 2012 visit.  We did not see much wildlife.  While we did not spend much more time there in 2018, we were more fortunate in what we saw.  There had been more rain, the fall was more colorful, and we saw more animals.

The “badlands” here were carved by the Little Missouri River which originally flowed north to Hudson Bay in Canada.  When the river was blocked by ice age glaciers, it turned east towards the Missouri River and began to carve the scenery we see today.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 12-13 September 2018

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November-33 “Ace In The Hole”, Cooperstown Idaho

While driving across North Dakota, we saw a sign for the November-33 Minuteman Missile Site.

The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site near Cooperstown, Idaho reminds us of Cold War threats and fears.  November-33, was one of 150 sites that housed nuclear tipped missiles each roughly 14 times more destructive than the bomb detonated at Hiroshima.

For those too young to remember, we had a strategy called MAD [I am not making that up.].  MAD stood for “mutually assured destruction.”  It meant both the Soviet Union and the United States had sufficient nuclear weapons that if either was attacked, both would be completely destroyed — probably along with the rest of humanity.

Blast door from the top with maintenance access hatch to the front.

At November-33, we saw the topside of a launch facility, the massive blast door created to protect the missile in the event of an attack, the original 8-foot security fence, electronic security system and ventilation system.  There isn’t much to see, but the signs describing how it all worked were very interesting.

A few miles away is the launch control support building which had an eight-person security and maintenance team.  There is access to an underground launch control center with two people responsible for monitoring and launching 10 of the 150 missiles belonging to the Air Force’s 321st Missile Wing.

After President Ronald Reagan was elected, he simultaneously began dramatically increasing U.S. weapons while reaching out to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev who realized the Soviet economy could not keep up the arms race.  That began a process which led to the 1991 signing of the START treaty limiting the number of strategic weapons on both sides.

At launch, the blast door would be thrust back on these rail tracks.

That treaty eventually resulted in the removal of these Minuteman missiles and the closing of the 321st Wing.  Each launch facility and control facility [along with those in South Dakota and Missouri] was destroyed except for November-33 and its control facility Oscar-Zero MAF which were preserved by the state of North Dakota and opened to the public.

The Oscar-Zero tour was not available the day we visited.  On days that it is open, guests are able to take the elevator down to the launch control center.

We don’t read about MAD anymore.  But it still exists.  Three Minuteman sites each with 150 missiles are still operating on U.S. Air Force bases in the west.  I hope that even though both President Obama and President Trump accused Russian President Putin of violating START by increasing Russian forces, both Putin and Trump have the sense not to start a nuclear war.  That is what makes North Korea so scary.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 12 September 2018

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Rod Swanson: Metal Hobbyist and Craftsman

Rod Swanson in his workroom.

When we stopped in Perham, Minnesota for lunch with our friend Jana, she took us out to see her father’s tractors.  When she first mentioned it, I thought she meant he collected and restored tractors.

Rod, a retired railroad employee, takes raw metal bars and makes models of tractors.  He has made roughly 160 tractors [and a few trucks and cars].

We are always grateful when we come upon unexpected and often unheralded craftsmanship.  I wonder how many other such craftsmen we pass as we wander down the road.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 11 September 2018

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Racing Turtles in Perham, Minnesota

Perham, Minnesota [PUR-əm] has around 3,000 people, mostly of German and Norwegian descent.  We stopped there to have lunch with our friend Jana who has a summer home on a nearby lake.

Jana, who now has adult children, took us to the Lakes Cafe where she worked as a teenager.  I had rhubarb custard pie for dessert.  Over the years, I have had rhubarb pie and strawberry/rhubarb pie, but that was the first rhubarb custard pie I have had in 61 years.  My mother made the last one.  I don’t know if anyone else would care for it, but it was absolutely wonderful to me.  Does everyone have some food where nostalgia rules the taste buds?

Cindee Lundin created the three dimesional mural on the wall this year.

We then visited Turtle Park, where the 40th annual Perham International Turtle Racing was held this year.  They race turtles every Wednesday in June, July and August.  We were there in September.  The races were over, but it was fun to see the park.  And yes, it truly has had competitors from all over the world.

I have a feeling friends in D.C., New York and London might not understand.  But it is these little traditions that make small town America special.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 11 September 2018

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Murals of a special kind: Ashland, WI

We started wandering the country with an RV in 2000 and are still going as much as possible although we now stay in motels.  In those earlier days, it was fun to occasionally encounter a mural on some building.  It is still fun to see them, but now they have become quite common.

Murals usually portray the history of the community and perhaps some special events.  The murals in Ashland, Wisconsin are special because frequently they portray people who lived in this small community.  Some had an historical role in the town, but most are just people who contributed to everyday life.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 10 September 2018

If you enjoy murals, you might also like to click here to see those in the small town of Lake Placid, Florida.

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Apostle Islands National Seashore, Wisconsin

We visited Isle Royale National Park on the northern shore of Lake Superior in 2014.  This year, we headed for Apostle Islands National Lakeshore on the southern shore.

There are twenty-two islands.  The Ojibwe First Americans hunted and fished the area for hundreds of years.  They ceded the land to the U.S. in return for annuities, reservations and certain rights of use to the ceded lands which they continue to exercise today.

The area became a center of commercial fishing, sandstone quarrying and logging.  But today, recreation and tourism are the main activities.  With 80 percent of the National Lakeshore now protected as wilderness, it appeals to younger people looking for an outdoor experience such as camping, hiking, swimming [brrr!], sailing, fishing, exploring for shipwrecks, and sea kayaking.  More “mature” folks such as ourselves can take water taxis to islands or one of the daily excursion boats.

Seven light stations were built on the islands between 1857 and 1915 to help guide boats into safe harbor.  In 1890 nearby Ashland, serving 400 ships a day, was the second busiest port on the Great Lakes next to Chicago.  But as ships grew in size and markets shifted, the lights purpose evolved to now help vessels avoid the islands.

The park was not well-known and had between thirty thousand and forty-five thousand visitors per year.  Then in the winter of 2014, Lake Superior froze to a sufficient depth that the Superintendent permitted people to hike and ski on the ice to visit sea caves in the park.

These sea caves have been carved into the cliffs by centuries of waves, wind, freezing and thawing.  These same forces in the winter create marvelous ice stalactites and sculptures in these caves.  The caves and their ice were discovered on social media, and park attendance soared to one hundred and forty thousand people in just two months in 2014.

The ice was thick enough again in 2015 but the caves were not accessible in the winter of 2016-2017 or this last year.  It is not an easily undertaken adventure.  Walking to the caves involves a two mile hike over treacherous ice in Lake Superior’s unpredictable weather.

We were there for a summer boat excursion and enjoyed watching the kayaks and small boats make their way in and out of the caves.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: 9 September 2018

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Miscellaneous scenes: Fall 2018

We saw too many things on our fall trip to write about them all.  Here is a selection of some that I chose not to write more about.

From Dublin, Ohio:  Are these rabbits dancing because there is gigantic corn in the neighborhood?

Westerville, Ohio the one-time headquarters of the Anti-saloon League, is the home of prohibition.  Now a fountain sculpture has water flowing from a broken barrel down both sides of a wedge dividing the bedrock of the nation.  On one side are very good arguments for prohibition and on the other side very good arguments against it.  The issues aren’t the same, but such a wedge monument seems timely.

Ottawa, Illinois is the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate.  The sign says 10,000 people attended, an amazing figure for an era before amplifiers and loud speakers.

Our motel in Ashland, Wisconsin had an odd offering.

Mercer County, Wisconsin calls itself the “Loon Capital of the World” and has a 16 foot-high one-ton Loon to prove it.

The only gas station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is in Cloquet, Wisconsin.  Evidently it is what he thought gas stations would look like in the future.

The largest turkey in the world is in Frazee, Minnesota; 22 feet high.




We were lost looking for Teddy Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch in North Dakota when we came across this “man” carrying a bale of hay – perhaps to these lazy sheep.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date of our visit: various days in September 2018

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