Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Old Man River - 30 July 2012

Today was going to be a long day so after being woken by rain (again!) we were on the road nice and early, heading due west on Route 8 bound for Stillwater and what we thought was the Mississippi.  

Before long the lakes gave way to pasture and the conifers were replaced by corn.  Miles and miles and miles and miles of corn fields interspersed with a few fields of lucerne, beans and grass - but mainly corn (or maize?)

Our first stop was the town of St Croix Falls on the "Mississippi" but when we arrived we discovered that the falls disappeared in the early 20thC when the "falls" (a series of rapids) were flooded for a hydro dam, and that the river was actually the St Croix, a few miles upstream from where it joins the Mississippi.

Nevertheless, it was a great lunch stop and we followed the St Croix river downstream to Stillwater, which was not as appealing as the guide books lead us to believe, so we pressed on down the Great River Road, now following the real Mississippi.

Leaving St Croix Falls we crossed from Wisconsin into Minnesota and there was a dramatic change in the topography and scenery.  The flatish land of Wisconsin became quite hilly and all covered with broadleaf trees.  This continued until we finally left the Mississippi so was probably more associated with the fact that we were in a river valley system than any artificially created State boundary.

We followed the Mississippi south-east (effectively losing ground) down as far as Winona where we dropped down to get on to the I-95 for another boring long straightish westerly run for 170 miles across Minnesota to a town in the middle on nowhere called Jackson.  (Cruise control is a wonderful thing!)  

532 miles today, total trip 2320. States: Wisconsin, Minnesota

Follow the trail

Monday, July 30, 2012

Lake Superior - 29 July 2012

This morning was another fairly early start as we decided to fit a boat-trip into the day.  The campground offered all-you-can-eat pancakes for a reasonable price so we took up that offer then set out to travel almost exactly due west along miles and miles of seemingly endless straight roads.  (One section was 25 miles without a bend.)

We tend to think that NZ's South Island is uninhabited and the roads are empty but it is not alone in this regard. Today was mile after mile with hardly any traffic and long periods when there was not another vehicle in sight in front or behind.   With the cruise control set at 60mph it felt as if we were idling along at 30 as we
passed through an ever changing vista of pines, lakes, forests, swamps and so forth.  To begin with the Lake views were all of Lake Superior but as we neared our destination in Wisconsin the lakes dotted along the road became more frequent as there are over 11000 lakes in this State.

But, back to the boat-trip: We drove an hour west to Munising and arrived 10 minutes before the first sailing of the day for the Pictured Rocks boat trip.  This 2:40 hour trip takes you along the full length of the Pictured Rocks National Park.  The "rocks" in question are actually cliff faces rising up to 200' above Lake Superior and we had an absolutely beautiful morning to enjoy this delightfully relaxing trip with a witty and informative commentary and the views.
The cliff faces are stained with the leachate from various mineral deposits in the ground; iron (red), manganese (black-white), limonite (yellow-brown), copper (pink-green) and tanin from the ground above (brown). People "see" shapes or pictures in the resulting patina of colours hence the name "Pictured Rocks".  Erosion has also created a number of shaped rocks and outcrops which have been given names, most fairly obvious, like 'The Vase' and 'Indian Head'

Back on shore we made a short detour to take the walk to Munising Falls and have some lunch before setting off for the very pleasant drive to our most delightful campsite yet and the prettiest spot on this trip that this blog has been written.

240 miles today, total trip 1788. States Michigan, Wisconsin.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Great Lakes - 27,28 July 2012

The 27th was a pretty unremarkable day as we left Lake Erie and motored north past signs to a bunch of names that were very familiar; Detroit, Grand Rapids, Toledo, Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor and so on.  Unsurprisingly we hit another thunderstorm so we just drove on through fairly uninspiring vistas until we finished not far from the shores of Lake Huron.

The rain finally stopped and we had our second night without a thunderstorm.  Knowing we had a lot of ground to cover we made an early start on a beautiful cloudless day to drive up the shores of Lake Huron to the bridge across the straits that separate Lake Huron from Lake Michigan.

While in New York we saw adverts for any size coffee $1 at MacDonald's so we have frequented a few on the road for cheap coffee and were always surprised at the number of Golden Oldies "hanging out" at the Golden Arches and yesterday we found out why. The other day I was mistaken for an 18-year old and ID checked when buying wine, yesterday I was mistaken for an OAP and offered a 'senior coffee' for only 50c.  So now we are faithful Big M clients for our 50c coffees.

After a break at Alpena we continued north to the bridge between the lakes and stopped briefly at St Ignace to walk the shore boardwalk along the foreshore of the second oldies town in Michigan, before pressing on to Sault Ste Maire to look at the Soo Locks which allow the
massive freighters on the Great Lakes to drop the 21' from Lake Superior to Lake Huron.  Fortunately there was some activity in both the up and down channels while we were there.  It is amazing that the Great Lakes hold 1/5 of the total fresh water in the world and if the contents
were spread evenly over the US it would be 9m deep.  It is also amazing that the freighters can exit to the sea via the St Lawrence seaway or access the Mississippi and exit in the Gulf of Mexico.

Heading west we stopped at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls, which whilst at their lowest summer flow were still quite impressive.  From there it was about an hour's run south to Newberry for the night where we sat on the terrace writing this whilst listening to de la Croix entertain us with Blues, Reggae & Country music.
646 miles in two days, total trip 1548. States: Ohio, Michigan

Friday, July 27, 2012

Amish Country - 26 July 2012

So far we have camped 4 nights and three of them have been during thunderstorms. Why the drought that has affected this area of the US for weeks decided to finish this week is a mystery.

Nevertheless, there was a break in the rain this morning and the tent was almost dry when we packed it up and set off, rather later than normal.  We headed down I-90 and then decided to deviate from our intended route and add a couple of hours to the day by visiting the largest Amish community in America.

However before we got there we had another four thunderstorms to deal with. The first was the most spectacular; the first lightning appeared to hit a transmission mast just up ahead, but it could have been in line and way behind, we could not tell. The third strike was much more dramatic as it exploded a tree beside the motorway less than 20m from the car at about the 2 o'clock position.

The lightning bolt was multi-coloured with red blobs among the blue flash and the report was tremendously loud. An utterly fantastic sight, close enough to be impressive and far enough to not affect us. The temperature dropped 20 degrees to 71F and later rose to 94F.

After that the heavens opened and the visibility was minimal.  This did not seem to deter the truckers in their 18-wheelers who kept to the 65 mph limit and simply powered past us.   The rain passed and we settled back for the 150 miles to our designated exit.  Cruise control on; satellite radio playing classical with no fading as you get too far from the transmitter; a/c on;, 3.5l V6 burbling along at 38mpg - I love America!

Ultimately we arrived in Kidron for our first Amish stop; there is a famous department store there called Lehman's.  One could happily spend hours there looking at all the goodies you could not possibly hope to buy at Walmart.
All the bits and bobs one needs for home-made anything and everything, including a ancient looking, but with very modern drive belts, mobile ice-cream making machine for only $9750.00.  Unfortunately we had many miles to cover so after buying a few bits and pieces we set of to drive through the back country roads to Berlin.

Naturally there were many Amish horse-drawn buggies to pass or overtake and there were families sitting on there porches but the highlight was the family harvesting a crop (hay?) using horse-drawn and powered implements.
The Amish country provided some of the most attractive rural American scenes to date. Because the work is all manual or horse-powered the holdings have to be small and thus the houses and barns are fairly densely packed  making for very pleasant vistas full of neat and tidy farm homesteads and barns.

Arriving in Berlin we stopped in Main St at x &y or the best value meal in the USA.  Amish women in the kitchen turning out plain and nourishing fare at rock bottom prices and with extremely quick service.  US Fast-food at its very best.  All that was left to do was make a dash north to our campsite on the shores of Lake Erie.

 381 miles today, Total trip 902 States: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio.
A couple of weeks ago we were living in William Penn's home town and the place where he is buried and today we drove through his State, Pennsylvania. (Just caught some TV news where the weather in the area today has been headlined as "Wicked Weather")

Niagara Falls - 25 July 2012

It was a very lazy start to the morning with nothing too much to do until the bus came to collect us for our hugely overpriced tour of Niagara Falls.  But hey, having flown halfway round the world and driven a few hundred miles to be here, there was no point stinting at the last minute.  It's only money! So off we went.

We elected to join a tour that took us to the Canadian side so had to clear immigration etc. The Americans in the party were waived through, we had to get a stamp in our passports.  Then it was off for a drive along the river front up to and past the Horseshoe falls then back to join
the other 4000 people/hour that the Maid of the Mist franchise puts through; each one getting their own souvenir plastic poncho.  These are exactly 0.1 microns thicker than the bare minimum that would disintegrate on touch or with the first drop of water.

Sailing into the mouth of the Horseshoe Falls is really very impressive and quite awe inspiring but the cormorant, bobbing around in the turbulent water below the falls, did not seem at all bothered by it all.

Back on the bus we were then taken down stream to see the whirlpool, the power plants and the floral clock (yawn) before being taken back to where we began the day for the "Walk behind the falls" and another chance to collect a souvenir poncho and get wet again.
Finally it was time to board the bus for the crawl though the traffic over the Rainbow Bridge back into the US.  Here customs was a total pain as we sat in the bus and waited at least 30 minutes even to have our existence acknowledged.  when they finally decided we had sat long enough the actual process, even for the Kiwi passports was brilliantly quick.

On top of the exorbitant price for the trip there was a large sign in the bus making it abundantly clear that a tip of 15% was expected (I hate America!)

Back at camp we collected our car and drove back to Niagara to walk through the Park on Goat Island and get a close up look from the American side. The plan was to slowly wander around until it got dark and then have a look at the falls under lights.
As we were wandering back off the massive viewing platform that the Americans have built in an attempt to see the falls without crossing the border (which you really have to do if you want to see them at all without taking a boat ride) we noticed people taking photos seemingly of the Canadian sky, rather than the falls.
Taking a look it was easy to see why;  an idiot was crossing a wire between the Skylon Tower and the neighbouring skyscraper.

Apparently this 68-year old is attempting to do this 80 days in a row over summer.  He missed one day last week because of 50mph winds - wimp!

Eventually it got dark, the lights came on and we were totally underwhelmed.  maybe it is more impressive from Canada?

States: New York, Ontario, Canada

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Finger Lakes - 24 July 2012

Our campsite was just a few miles from the Watkins Glen State Park, so the first order of the day, before the temperature got unbearable, was to walk the Glen Creek gorge; 1.5 miles and 822 steps up beside and under a number of waterfalls.  What a beautiful spot!
Returning to camp, our tent was now dry after another overnight thunderstorm so we packed and set off up the western side of Seneca Lake, one of the largest of the nine finger lakes in the area created by retreating glaciers.

At the top of the lake we stopped briefly in Geneva before heading across to the top of Canandaigua Lake and the beautiful town of the same name.  We decided to eat lunch down by the lake edge and chanced upon a delightful area of quaint old boatsheds built in a higgledy piggledy fashion.

There are many fabulous houses in both of these towns but we felt we should take time out to visit just one, The Granger Homestead in Canandaigua.  Gideon Granger was the 4th (and so far longest serving) US Postmaster General way back when and his grand home has been preserved and the outbuildings house a carriage museum with many fabulous old carriages either with wheels or snow runners.  There were even a couple of  "Surreys with a fringe on top".

From there it was a run across rural upstate New York to Buffalo and our first US rush-hour traffic crawl as we crossed the river that feeds Niagara Falls on to Grand Island where we were so spend a couple of nights.  Grand Island in the Niagara river is, apparently, larger than Manhattan Island - a standard unit of area measurement in the US!

169 miles today, 521 total trip States: New York

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Catskills - 23 July 2012

True to Catskills reputation we were awoken in the wee small hours by the same thunderous noises that enticed Rip van Winkle up into the mountains. Being aware of the dangers posed by investigating such noises we remained in our tent and awoke a few hours later rather than a few years like poor old van Winkle.   We decided to push on regardless and purchased some plastic rubbish sacks from the camp store to put the wet tent and groundsheet into so we could  put them all in the rental car with a clear conscience.

We set off for Woodstock to purchase milk for breakfast and to get a coffee. There are a number of towns called Woodstock in the US but this Woodstock is "The Woodstock" and although the famous 1969 Festival is long gone the township is still pretty alternative and full of "peace" and "love" stuff.  So much so that the fiirst cafe we tried was so vegan we could not even have milk in our coffee.  Fortunately the waitress warned us before we ordered. (Perhaps we did not look like the typical vegan clientel.)

Then we discovered that we could not even buy milk in the town, the nearest groceries were a few miles outf of town, fortunately on our intended route.  As the rain returned at this point we cut short our look around Woodstock and set off for the grocery store.

Shortly we came across a reservoir lake so stopped for breakfast and then headed off through the Catskills with intermittent sun, showers and heavy rain heading for Ithaca, home of Cornell University.  We found the waterfall obove the town, had a look around the shops and visitied the lake front before heading across to the next finger lake, past Watkins Glen to our campsite for the night.

207 miles today. 352 total trip  States: New York