It’s Minnesota Doncha Know

I had the good fortune to be in Minnesota this past week, where the weather was cool and the people are nice and the natives talk with accents they don’t even know they have, and grown men actually say things like “Holy buckets.” I can’t get enough of it. It’s Fargo come to life. Too bad they have that deal-breaker known as Winter. If it weren’t for that I could see myself living here.

Lift Bridge, Stillwater, MN.

The first five photos were taken in Stillwater, a historic town on the St. Croix River just east of St. Paul. One of the oldest towns in the state, Stillwater had Minnesota’s first prison. Cole Younger and his brother Jim were guests of the warden there for a time, after the James – Younger Gang famously botched a bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota.

imageApparently it was Classic Car Weekend on the Sunday I was there. There was one passing by every time I turned around. I got very lucky with this shot. I half-expected men in striped suits and fedoras to jump out with Tommy-guns blazing.

imageThe Stillwater Lift Bridge is at the end of this road. The river bluffs of Wisconsin rise up on the other side of the St. Croix. The bridge opened in 1931. This Fall it will close to vehicle traffic for safety reasons, but pedestrians and bicycles can still use it.

imageDozens of pleasure boats were anchored near the bridge for a concert on a floating stage on Sunday. That was the plan, anyway, before the thunderstorms came. I didn’t stick around to see if they managed to salvage the day.

imageThis is the old courthouse in Stillwater. It’s one of the oldest still standing in Minnesota. The doors opened for business in 1870 and it served the county until 1975. It’s an impressive building and I thought it would make a nice picture, but unfortunately I didn’t capture it like I had hoped. Photography is humbling, even to an amateur with nothing but an iPhone.

Hay Lake School, Scandia, MN.The Hay Lake School is in Scandia, the first Swedish immigrant settlement in Minnesota. It’s a museum now, and it’s also on the National Register of Historic Sites.

Hay Lake School, Scandia, MN.

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One sure-fire way to know you’re in Minnesota.

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Marine On St. Croix, Mn.

If you’ve never been to Minnesota in June I highly recommend it, but bring your bug spray. Aw geez, have they got the mosquitoes.

 

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Littleton, Colorado

Littleton is part of the Denver metropolitan area, located in the southwest corner, parts of it bordering the foothills of the Rockies. It has a population of about 41,000 at last count. It is the typical American suburban community, in my humble estimation.

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The sun sets behind the foothills of the Front Range, where the Rocky Mountains begin in Colorado.

IMG_0997The photo above was taken on May 18, 2017. That is not a misprint. May 18. Thirty -one days before the first day of Summer. Four inches of snow fell in Littleton. In the foothills just to the west more than two feet fell in some places. Colorado is famous for this kind of weird weather at the wrong time of the year.

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Thanks to the U.S. postal zip code system, Littleton gets the blame for being home to the most infamous high school in America, and quite possibly the world. But Columbine High School is actually located in the unincorporated community of Columbine and is not part of the Littleton public school system. To see it today you wouldn’t know Columbine was any different than a thousand other high schools across the country. But in a park just behind the campus there is a memorial that proves otherwise.

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On April 20, 1999, two very disturbed teenage boys strode calmly into the school building just after 11 a.m. and began murdering their classmates. In all, twelve students and a teacher were killed, another 24 were injured. Their motives were never clearly established, and most likely never will be. Approximately 50 minutes after they began their rampage the killers turned their guns on themselves and committed suicide.

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The memorial is in a quiet spot, carved into a hillside. To the west is an amazing view of the Rocky Mountains rising up from the plains. The wall pictured above is called the Wall of Healing and it is dedicated to the injured survivors, first responders and others who were affected by the attack.

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The Wall of Healing has memorable quotes from survivors, parents and first responders as well as the President of the United States at the time, Bill Clinton. The one that made the biggest impression on me was the one above, attributed to an anonymous student.

IMG_0085The memorial was dedicated in September, 2007. Each of the slain has an engraved stone in the Ring of Remembrance in the center. Written on each one are tributes composed by parents, mostly, and they are heartbreaking. As I read them I thought about how incredibly hard it must have been to express, in just the right words, how much these children were loved, knowing that thousands of people would read them for perhaps hundreds of years to come. I remembered how I agonized over a few happy sentences of congratulation for my own children’s high school yearbooks. I can’t even imagine having to write something like this.

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Florida 2017

Last week we went back to Florida for the umpteenth time, but this trip was different because we added Key West to the mix. From Ft. Myers, Cheryl and I took the Key West Express, a three hour boat ride with 300 of our closest friends across the Gulf of Mexico. You can make a day trip out of it, but we thought that would be rushing it a bit so we decided to spend the night and go back to Ft. Myers the next afternoon. It turned out to be a very good decision.

After Key West we spent three nights at the Marriott on Marco Island, which has been re-branded a J. W. Marriott since our last visit, which means it’s much more expensive than it used to be, or so it seemed. I’m sorry J. W., whoever you are, but $14 for a mojito is indefensible, and so is $7.50 for a can of beer.

img_0927 This sunset picture of the beach at our hotel on Marco Island is the only one I took on our trip that I would call a photograph. The rest are just snap shots.

img_0931Here’s a shot of the beach on Marco Island. One of the drawbacks of taking pictures with an iPhone is you can’t see the display screen in bright sunlight, so you get crappy photos most of the time. This is one of a small number that wasn’t completely terrible.

img_3960This is the view from the terrace of our three bedroom, three bath hotel suite in Key West. (Thanks for the free upgrade Marriott) We loved it. Too bad we only had it for one night.

img_3976These are just a few of the yachts in the Key West harbor near where the ferry from Ft. Myers docks. Apparently there are some wealthy people here. Ya think?

img_3965I heard a noise coming from a palm tree outside our hotel room and this fellow crawled down from the fronds and took a nonchalant stroll across the seawall. Turns out iguanas are  quite common in Key West, as are chickens which roam about wherever they damn well please. Hugo the trolley driver pointed out two more iguanas on our sight-seeing ride around the island, which we enjoyed and found very informative. And Hugo was a trip.

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This place is typical of many on Duval Street. Open air, right on the street for optimal people watching. Plus it shares my daughter’s name so that was a bonus. Cold beer and peel & eat shrimp for an afternoon snack. Enough said.

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On Tuesday afternoon we had some time to kill before re-boarding the Key West Express, so we killed it at the Schooner Wharf Bar. This fellow on stage is Gary Hempsey and he has been playing in Key West bars for many years. He plays songs by John Prine, Dylan, Neil Young and others, as well as the obligatory Jimmy Buffet tunes, and between songs, or sometimes right in the middle of one, he tells stories about his life that are politically incorrect and very funny. The oysters were fresh and the beer was cold and I could picture myself doing something like this on a regular basis if I was a Key West local, which sounds like a worthy goal to me. I could waste away in this place with ease, blown-out flip flops and lost shakers of salt not withstanding.

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I went to Key West expecting to find a major tourist trap with some famously over-rated bars, Hemingway t-shirts everywhere and no natural beaches (no waves because of the coral reefs, therefore no sand deposited on the shores.) The part about the beaches is true and I just threw it in here because I thought it was interesting. But I digress. Instead I came away completely enamored with the laid back feel of the place. Key West is a state of mind, a place where, in Buffet’s words, “the days drift by, they don’t have names and none of the streets here look the same.” Even as a tourist mecca, it has managed to maintain  its originality, much like New Orleans, and that is unusual these days. We loved the friendly people and the history of the place, especially the old homes with their metal roofs and tropical style and banyan trees in the yards, and we agreed we now have a new plan for how to spend our lottery winnings, when we get them, which we will, someday.

 

 

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October Road Trip

The original plan for our October road trip was to visit Nashville, Charleston, and Asheville, North Carolina, in that order. When Cheryl and I left home on Sunday morning Hurricane Matthew was churning toward Haiti, and we were not too concerned about it.

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Union Station. Now a hotel in Nashville, TN.

We arrived in Nashville on Sunday night just in time to become ensnared in a massive traffic jam at the football stadium, and later I learned I had another reason to be annoyed with Beyoncé. Eventually we untangled ourselves from the traffic and found our hotel, which was in the restored Union Station on Broadway St. The hotel lobby was stunning but otherwise we were not overly impressed. The best thing about it was the location, which was close to things we wanted to see.

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The Ryman Auditorium

One of those things was the Mother Church of Country Music. Some people call it the Ryman Auditorium. The tour was interesting, and as an added bonus there were roadies setting up the stage for a performance to be held later that night. The band, which I had never heard of before, was asleep in their luxury buses on the parking lot.

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A hopeful performs for the afternoon crowd at Tootsie’s in Nashville..

Of the bars on Broadway St. that feature live music all day and all night, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is probably the most famous. Musicians young and old vie for the coveted time slots, hoping against long odds it will be their ticket to fame and fortune. We only heard a couple of performers and I think I am safe in saying neither will be coming to your town any time soon, or if they do you most likely won’t know about it.

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Ernest Tubb’s Record Shop. Broadway St. Nashville, TN.

One of the more poignant things I saw in Nashville was at a gas station just up the street from the Broadway bars. I was gassing up the car on the morning we left town and I saw a disheveled young man walk out from behind the station. My first thought was that he had probably slept there. He appeared to be a homeless vagrant in every sense,  except for the guitar slung over his shoulder and the fiddle case he carried in his hand. I knew at once this was a man who had come to Music City with little more than the clothes he wore to chase his dream. He had come to take his one big shot and he was all in. In Nashville there could be no other explanation. I silently wished him good luck. Too bad I’ll never know how he made out.

We left Nashville on Tuesday, destination Charleston. By then Matthew had become a Category 4 hurricane, projected to move up the Florida coast. It was not expected to bother Charleston until Saturday, if at all, so onward we went. Later that afternoon, two hours outside of Charleston, we tuned the radio to a news channel, something we almost never do, and heard the South Carolina governor say all coastal counties would be evacuated the next afternoon. We turned around at the next exit and went back to Asheville, where we had eaten lunch just a couple of hours earlier.

If you ever visit Asheville there are two things you must do. One is tour Biltmore House. The other is drive the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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The Blue Ridge Parkway is over 400 miles long. We drove south from Asheville for about 40 miles. Next to the Rocky Mountains in Colorado it is some of the prettiest scenery I have ever seen.

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The Biltmore Estate was the home of George Vanderbilt, youngest grandson of the Commodore, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It has 250 rooms, 43 of them bathrooms. Originally the estate comprised 146,000 acres, but financial need caused much of it to be sold off, and today it sits on a mere 8000 acres. It is the largest house ever built in America.

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The view from the veranda of Biltmore House.

Though Hurricane Matthew had put the kibosh on our Charleston visit, one of us still needed a beach fix. While it wasn’t me, I will say there is something comforting about being near the ocean. I think it comes from an innate connection in all humans to the time when the first creatures crawled out of the ancient seas and evolved into – us. We had the time, a reliable car and the unused Charleston budget, so we left Asheville on Friday morning and drove southwest to the Gulf Coast, looking forward to feasting on shrimp and oysters.

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The beach at Gulf Shores, AL.

This strip of Alabama-Florida coastline is known as the Redneck Riviera, and with good reason. On a football Saturday in the Fall it is not unusual to see cars and trucks on Beach Blvd. flying Alabama Crimson Tide flags, Auburn University  flags, American flags and Confederate flags, kids riding in the back of pick-up trucks, people hawking boiled peanuts on the roadside, women wearing hounds-tooth fedoras and tattooed girls in bikinis tossing back Saturday morning drinks in red Solo cups.

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Sunrise on the beach.

On Monday morning Hurricane Matthew was dropping torrential rains on the Carolina coast, while in Gulf Shores the day dawned cool and clear. Our October road trip had come to an end, and we packed up and headed for home. It was really the first time Cheryl and I had taken a vacation like this, and I have to say I liked it very much. I can see a lot more road trip vacations in our future.

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Mesilla, New Mexico

Mesilla is the historic section of Las Cruces, New Mexico. The centerpiece is the Basilica of San Albino. As old churches go it’s not particularly impressive, but judging by the number of people taking pictures it must have something going for it. Today was the second time I have tried and failed to get inside.

imageIn the early days of my interest in photography I tried to keep cars out of my pictures because I thought I could not create “art” if there was a Toyota parked front and center in the middle of it. But over time I realized that, first of all, I was not creating art, and second, when I looked at old pictures with cars in them it was the cars, more often than not, that were the most interesting thing in the picture. So from now on the cars will stay. I just hope that I live long enough that when I look back at these pictures the cars actually look old. All of these photos were shot with an iPhone camera.

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During the Civil War, Mesilla was a pro-Confederate community which served for a while as the capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory.

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Billy the Kid was tried and convicted of murder in this building that is now a gift shop. He was sentenced to hang, but before that could happen he escaped from his jail cell, killing two deputies in the process. Later on he was either killed by Pat Garrett or he died an old man in Texas, whichever version of his demise you are prone to believe.image

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Mesilla today is a nice mix of art galleries, restaurants and gift shops.

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As I was getting in my car to leave I heard a very old man talking about what a wonderful place Mesilla is, and how it was better than Yuma and so much better than Santa Fe, because you can’t relax in Santa Fe. I’ve never been to Yuma so I’ll take his word on that, but I don’t remember Santa Fe being overly stressful, although I guess if I was almost a hundred years old I might have a different perspective.

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Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Sioux Falls is one of those towns you rarely hear about, but when you have a chance to spend a few days exploring it, you come to realize it is (cliche alert) an undiscovered jewel. It’s a friendly town in general but the residents seem like a hardy sort who wouldn’t put up with a lot of nonsense. It must be a Midwestern thing. The older neighborhoods are still livable and well kept, with cropped lawns, elaborate flower beds and restored homes being common. It’s one of the rare places that when I’m driving around I think, “Yeah, I could live here.”

Of course, you can’t go to Sioux Falls without seeing the namesake falls, so here they are.

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The falls on the Big Sioux River.

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Contemplation

I've never been a fan of Canadian Geese. they rank just slightly above pigeons in my opinion. But sometimes they will pose for a decent picture.

I’ve never been a fan of Canadian Geese. They rank just just above pigeons in my opinion. But sometimes they will pose for a decent picture.

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Downtown.

The most prominent feature of Sioux Falls has to be the cathedral on the hill. You can see it from a long way in almost any direction.

St. Joseph's Cathedral. Built in 1916.

St. Joseph’s Cathedral. Built in 1916.

IMG_3907Houses on Cathedral Hill.

homesThere are some beautiful restored homes on Cathedral Hill but there are also some pretty sketchy characters walking around. I didn’t notice any graffiti, so maybe the taggers and the preservationists have some kind of understanding.

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Northern Colorado

The best thing about Loveland, Colorado is that it’s in northern Colorado, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. The worst thing about Loveland is that it’s in northern Colorado, on the edge of the High Plains, which is also home to large numbers of cattle feed lots, so that in the morning especially, you are likely to be knocked to your knees by the stench in the air. Otherwise Loveland is a clean and prosperous little town with a lot to offer, and if I had to live there, I think I could do it quite easily.

streetDowntown Loveland.

lake statueLike a lot of towns in this part of the country Loveland has a large number of public statues. I don’t know why this is. Here are some of them.

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millAn old mill or something with a Colorado touch. If you are wondering there are no pot shops in Loveland yet. I checked.

IMG_3756Artwork on the side of a Loveland building.

stanley3The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. Supposedly the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. Redrum.

mountains closeThe view from just below the Stanley Hotel.

estes park-640The same view from higher up on the Stanley grounds taken around 1992 when I visited the area with my much younger family.

mountains4-AMountains and clouds.

mountain7Mountains and homes in Estes Park.

riverThe Pouder River canyon west of Ft. Collins is quite scenic and worth the drive if you have the time. My oldest daughter and I took a float trip on this river on our vacation in the 1990’s. It was a good day.

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