John Clark sharing our recent foray into the heartland of America. What seemed simple a month before turned into quite a frazzling experience when Beth and I sat down to plan our trip last month. The centerpiece was our nephew’s wedding in Des Moines where he’s a professor of philosophy. Mary, his wife to be is a Harvard Law school graduate, who grew up in Wisconsin.
The original plan was to drive to Des Moines via Canada and then spend a few days exploring South Dakota, returning via the Peace Garden on the North Dakota/Winnipeg border. However, the more we looked at available time (we had another reception here in Maine and Beth was going to take care of Piper the following week while her day care was closed), the more apparent it was that this wasn’t going to work. Plan B was to spend a couple days exploring Nebraska, but that quickly fizzled for much the same reason. I was beginning to feel frustrated and considered saying, “The hell with it. Lets go to the wedding and then come straight home.” Good thing we came up with Plan C because it was a winner.
Going to Des Moines, we stopped in Kingston, Ontario and did the Haunted Walk (http://hauntedwalk.com/kingston-tours/). Shelby, the young woman who was our guide did a great job. We didn’t see any ghosts, but learned that one nearby park may have as many as 10,000 skeletons buried under it and at one point, we were standing on top of an old jail yard where those executed had been buried. Not all the bodies were recovered.. The next day, we were amazed to see wind turbines dotting corn fields for nearly 40 miles along the shore of Lake Ontario. We also passed several big solar farms. Western Quebec and eastern Ontario were scarily dry, so dry that we could see wetlands that were down to caked mud and trees that were clearly dying. We also visited the arboretum in Guelph which had a lot of wildflowers geared to attract butterflies. There was also a big bird feeder that had both a male and female cardinal enjoying the seeds. (https://www.uoguelph.ca/arboretum/)
That night we stayed in Monroe, Mi. where we walked on a nature trail and saw 5 snowy egrets and more cardinals. Then it was a long drive through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and into Iowa where we hit four downpours so fierce we slowed to a crawl. We were more than happy to get to our hotel where we met up with Beth’s brothers and their wives for dinner.
My friend Mike, who was a librarian in Iowa for many years suggested we might enjoy the botanical garden (http://www.dmbotanicalgarden.com/) and the nearby arboretum (http://iowaarboretum.org/) He was right about both. The botanical garden has a rainforest-like domed area with everything from cacti to papaya and banana trees. There’s a separate room where local gardeners have assembled fabulous plants, intermixed with furniture, glass and miniature terrariums. We even saw herbs growing from a pillow stuffed with loam. It was a riot of colors, topped only by the spectacular water lilies in a Japanese water garden. The Arboretum was also a great place, with several species of trees we’d never seen before. Ever hear of a Kentucky Coffee tree?
The wedding was a small one and the reception was held at a rural park with a pig roast as the central theme. Everyone, save the pig, had a great time. When we got back to the hotel, we got on with another couple and two very happy young women. The other couple asked about the ribbons the ladies were wearing and we all were informed they were from the Fuzzy Udder Creamery in Whitefield, Maine (http://www.fuzzyudder.com/) and had just taken third place in a national cheese competition. Small world, we thought.
Plan C went into effect the next morning as we headed northeast through Wisconsin, passing the giant air show in Oshkosh (500,000 spectators) on our way to the upper peninsula in Michigan. It’s an area that looks a lot like our part of Maine, but gets between 200-300 inches of snow annually. People are very friendly and we chatted with a couple who own a small produce business in central Michigan while riding the Toonerville Trolley (http://trainandboattours.com/) a 5 mile narrow gauge train running through bogs and woods to a river where passengers board a boat that takes them to Tahquamenon Falls , the second largest waterfall in terms of volume east of the Rocky Mountains. We saw three bears, six eagles, nine sandhill cranes, two merlins, four deer and more hawks, turkey vultures and ducks than we could count.
We made two more stops of note on our return trip. The first was at the Soo Locks in Sault St. Marie (http://www.saultstemarie.com/attractions/soo-locks/) We lucked out, arriving just as large ore carriers were going through in different directions. These two locks handle 7,000 vessels annually, some as long as 1000 feet and pump up to 22 million gallons of water in or out to move each vessel. It’s a very impressive operation and there’s a visitor center as well as a shipwreck museum on the grounds.
Our last stop was a two night excursion in Algonquin Provincial Park (https://www.ontarioparks.com/park/algonquin) a wilderness area almost 3,000 square miles in size. There are plenty of lakes, streams and wetlands, not to mention dozens of hiking trails, camping areas and exhibits. We hiked two trails and walked a third that was a series of exhibits, many preserved or restored, that depicted the evolution and history of logging in the park. It’s the best one I’ve ever seen and we learned a lot as well as getting plenty of pictures.
We left the park at 6:30 the next morning, passing through Ottawa and Montreal, arriving back in Hartland before sunset. It was a terrific Plan C.