Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Discovering Columbus, Indiana

In every state there are certain town names you can count on finding: Lincoln, Salem, Paris, London, Columbus. But not every Columbus has the claim to fame that Columbus Indiana has.

This town of 40,000 an hour south of Indianapolis is a company town; Cummins Engine is headquartered there. The story of Cummins is unique in itself. Five generations ago a bank founder had a chauffer who loved to tinker with engines. The chauffer, who name was Cummins, invented the first diesel engine for vehicles. His boss bankrolled him, and together they started a fortune 500 company.

Time passed. Cummins grew. Mid 20th century Cummins established a foundation to pay the fee for credentialed architects to design any public building being built in the town. Soon Churches and businesses and people building their homes followed suit.

The result?

World renowned architecture, green spaces, public art. I M Pei designed the library, Don Hisaka the jail, Kevin Roche the Cummins headquarters, Isaac Hodgson the Courthouse. Well known architects are fond of designing a building in Columbus to be part of the scene where multiple buildings have been AIA design award winners.

I love what a forward thinking corporation can do for a town. I'd put this town and Kohler on the list of best towns of the summer trip.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On leaving Michigan

A week ago we left the upper peninsula of Michigan, and I really thought we'd be done with lower Michigan in two days. Well, I was wrong. We spent a full week peeking at lakes on both sides, Huron and Michigan.
I had always thought the popular western side, along Lake Michigan, was pricey and crowded and overrated. Of course, that was based on one quick drive thirty years ago on a beautiful sunny Sunday. This time, I took my time. And it was crowded, if the day was a sunny weekend, and who could blame all those people for wanting some of that sandy dune shoreline, with water that is at times warm enough to swim?
The towns are quaint and full of flowers. At least ten towns along the shore plant petunia borders along the curbs from one end of town to the other. Then they water and weed all those beds. It seemed worth it to me.

But the most amazing feature of the shoreline are the dunes.  Formed by sand blowing from prevailing southeasterly winds, the dunes shift and mound and grow, advance and retreat, trap inland lakes and then reclaim the lakes back into Lake Michigan.  In Sleeping Bear Dunes, a man named Pierce Stocking, a lumberman who loved the dunes, decided to share them with the world.  He thought if he built a road through the dunes, then we could all stand on top of 200 foot mountains of sand and share in the exhilaration of the blue waters and the wind blowing our faces.  And he did it.  Now a National Seashore, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are accessible to everyone, and Pierce Stocking Drive is the highlight. 

Thank you, Mr. Stocking.

Monday, July 18, 2011

To all my friends back home, from Alpena, MI, where everything is squishy today

We have received your kind shipment of hot and humid air ( Detroit 94/75, Minneapolis 97/80) and it has made us so homesick for Houston (93/78) that we are thinking about turning to the south where a/c is considered a necessity. Besides, we don’t want to miss the tropical storm season.

Taking its cue from the rising outside temps, our frig went on the fritz (50 is the best it gets right now) and tomorrow we will be getting a new circuit board.  Hopefully my watermelon will be cool enough to eat again before we get too far south (where people know watermelons are supposed to be icy cold).  We plan to hug the shore of Lake Michigan as close as we can for a few breezes before hitting the non-peninsula states to the south (Indianapolis (95/78). We might stop at a few places that advertise they are KOOL inside.

As you might gather from my jiggly bicycling movies in my photo albums Mr. Lincoln and I have logged a few bike miles this summer in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. They have glorious long bike paths here. But today, it was too muggy to bike. We ducked inside NOAA's shipwreck museum to watch movies about the Great Lakes storm of November 1913 when twelve ships disappeared to watery graves.  Made me shiver for a moment.

This weekend marked the 108th Chicago to Mackinac sailboat races. The 333-mile race from just off Navy Pier to Mackinac Island is the oldest annual freshwater distance race in the world. An estimated 3,500 crewmembers on 355 boats participated.  Last night a storm with 60 mph winds flipped one of the boats, and two crew members died.   To hear this on the news right after visiting the shipwreck museum brought an erie present day reality to history. Just the day before I had peered out into the water hoping to glimpse some of the boats.  It never occurred to me when I heard rain on the roof in the night that someone would die on the Lakes.

Looking at Huron today, who would ever think this pale blue wonder would wreak havoc?

Great Lakes weather is highly unpredictable.  Sailors leaving port in balmy seas can be confronted within hours by swells thirty feet high.  Unlike ocean swells of that size, these are not rolling but crashing swells, as in swamp and smash your boat. (It was a scary movie and even scarier present day reality; I am not going sailing out there, especially not on an off season November special).  

One more Great Lake amazing fact: did you know that if you spread the water of the Great Lakes over the whole US, we would be nine feet under water?  I'd like to do that this summer.  Pour some on the Southwest.  Pour some onTexas.  If we could just tip Superior on edge for about an hour.....

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Who painted those rocks?

The simple answer is God did, but I will add a few details.

The cliffs are pre-Cambrian rock that was once the ocean floor of a tropical sea, and the layers are different sediment accumulations on that open floor. Then the oceans dried up and the glaciers came, carving the rock into these 200 foot cliffs and leaving behind Lake Superior.

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by volume and contains more water than all the other Great Lakes. If you emptied the other four Great Lakes into it, you would need three more Lake Eries to fill it up. It is 400 miles long, 160 miles wide, 1400 feet deep. And chilly. 40 degrees on average. Did I mention blue and clear?

Back to the painted rocks. The rocks are porous and small springs seep from them.  Iron, copper, and various other minerals in the water paint the scene.

Water carves the formations. Superior was balmy the day we took our tour, but when the winds shift from the north, watch out for 8 foot seas. In the winter, ice forms a fairy castle display and further erodes the rock as it thaws.

All this geological history led to a landscape so precious that the US made it into a National Park, one of the must-sees on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I want a bath

Kohler Wisconsin is a jewel of a town. It is a company built town and has received awards for community planning. And in the heart of the town is the Kohler showroom, a design piece de resistance. (I don't spell very well in French, but I can pronounce it.)

More art gallery than sales exhibit, it is a salute to the bathroom. Ode to the commode. Fete to the toilet.

Words cannot describe.
I direct you to the photos.

On leaving Wisconsin


Why would anyone want to leave Wisconsin before winter? I cannot think of a single good reason, except that my map is worn to shreds.Minnesota might have gained the same status in my traveling book of records, except that the legislature reached a budgeting impass and shut down the state.  This is unfortunate for travelers, because all the state parks and all the waysides closed down.  Chained, locked, shuttered.  What this means is that all the precious natural wonders that the state so carefully protected by making them into parks are completely inaccessible.  I have the distinction of being among the last people to see the headwaters of the Mississippi the day before the parks closed.  Nobody knows for sure if it is still running, but I guess if shipping dries up in New Orleans, they'll send someone over to check it out.

So, we left Minnesota to keep its natural wonders locked and returned to Wisconsin.  Door County was there for the taking, with its multiple county parks (free) and state parks ($5 pass gives you time to explore and then move on) and Washington Island, out on the tippy tip of the thumb of Wisconsin's mitten shaped land. The name Door County comes from the French traders version of the Indian description of the passage between Washington Island and the peninsula as Death's Door. So many ships were wrecked there that the enterprising Europeans began to use the Indian portage at what is now Sturgeon Bay to access lower Green Bay and its lucrative trading routes.  Eventually it occured to them to dig a canal, and so Northern Door county is technically now an island. 

When I arrived at Death's Door, readying for a ferry ride and biking Washington Island, I suddenly felt as though I was about to step off the end of the earth.  The passage does look a little intimidating when the sun is not shining.  I felt all alone, as though I might never see anyone I knew again.  The feeling went away on the island, a quiet laid back place with its fair share of bars, one of them serving fresh lawyers.  I didn't ask.

 Minnesota and Wisconsin have a lot in common.  Biking trails, for instance.  Miles and miles of paved trails.  Both have more lakes than they can name, especially in the north.  Both have so much foilage that it is difficult to see much of the Great Lakes.  People own the land and build houses on the Great Lakes, and they don't seem to be inclined to clear the thick woods that give them privacy and prevent drivers from peering through their windows to get a peek of blue water.  Contrast this to Hiway 1 along the Pacific and I begin to appreciate California and Oregon's insistence on keeping the ocean in the public domain. 
Today, however, I discovered the stretch between Two Rivers and Manitowoc on Lake Michigan.  There the two cities have put in a hiking biking path along the water with wide open views.  Another reason never to leave Wisconsin. 

SWIP (senior, with iphone)

When I was nineteen I could walk into any convenience store and buy a six-pack of beer.  It was cool back then, looking older than I was. 

This summer, Carl has been routinely buying two senior tickets, one for him, and one for me.  He’s operating under the principle that rules differ from place to place, and maybe I am a senior.  It’s $2 here and $1 there, savings that are supposed to make me feel better about being older.  

But just between you and me, I wish they would card me.  I’m not a senior, I am a with-it, iphone packing chick. And I don’t need those senior discounts, because I am paying my way with the Gas Buddy ap on my iphone.  If I can’t save us a nickel a gallon every fill-up, I’m just not looking hard enough.

Got to go now, time to check today’s Groupon on my iphone to see if there’s half-price bungee-jumping in the area. 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

14 Waterfall County

Marinette County, WI, has a 14 waterfall tour. How much better could it get?

I read a little further. "Park in the power line easement." "Take a small dirt road to the east." "Turnoff to parking can be rough." Descriptions not written to warm an RV driver's heart. Well, there's still nine waterfalls to see.

Reading on, I find "Follow some treacherous terrain along a high cliff." "Rocky and hilly terrain make good walking shoes a must." Surely insurance would cover the ER trip, but why risk it? Well, there's still four waterwalls to see.  Let's see which ones.

"Carney Rapids is not a waterfall but an area of rushing water just to the west of the bridge." No need to drive cross country for that. Well, there's still three waterfalls to see, and they are all on the same road.

"Some improvements have been made, but the road remains generally winding with speed limits ranging from 25 to 45 mph." Well, we don't drive that fast anyway.  And it is the longest Rustic Road in the state.  That's an extra bonus.

Uh oh, the road is a washboard. Well, just the first 17 miles are.  Won't take long at 15 mph.  Those jiggling dishes in the cabinet are plastic and they'll be just fine.

Look, here's waterfall number one. Wow, should have put on bug spray.  Well,  I've heard about these northern mosquitoes, and finally, I get to see some.  Yep, they sure are big.  Guess they could not read the NO PEST sign.  I read it and left Daisy in the RV.

* * *

Sometimes it is the destination, sometimes it is the journey.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Terra Cotta Warriors, stand aside

I will go out of my way to see the creations of people with a passion that no one quite understands. Maybe looking at their worlds makes me feel more normal.

First is the House on the Rock, in the same valley as Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked and built his masterpiece Taliesen.

Look then at the creations of a retired Lumberman at the Concrete Park in Wisconsin.

If you are as speechless as I was when I visited, then I feel even more normal. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Superior in so many ways

beautiful lost in fog

and on a clear day
4th largest lake in the world
largest freshwater
touching three states and Canada
40 degree water
partially freezing in the winter
warming a bit in the summer

livelihood of many a shipper and dockworker
transporter of iron ore and coal
home to Great Lakes freighters reaching 1000 feet in length
grave to many like the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald
icy blast in the winter

unbelievably blue

long summer days

My baby loves me!

How do I know? Cause he dropped me off at the start of this fabulous 15 mile all downhill trail from Carlton MN to Duluth. Best bike ride in history.

Meanwhile, he parked at the terminus and biked UPHILL to meet me. That's love, yes it is.