A Visit to the Big City

A Visit to the Big City

I love my time in nature. It’s my happy place, my church, my way to recharge and reflect, but there’s still a city gal lurking in me that requires a little hustle and bustle every now and then. Okay, maybe not too much hustle and bustle, it’s more about the shopping that’s at the real core of my city longings.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs near one of the largest shopping malls in the United States, and as a newlywed, Al and I lived near the second-largest mall in the state of Illinois. I’m used to having lots of stores at my disposal and that includes grocery stores.

Obviously, with online shopping, the need to have shopping facilities in close proximity isn’t as much of a priority in my life as it once was, but it’s still nice to have choices especially when I’m on the hunt for something specific and can’t or don’t want to wait for delivery. Truth be told, I’m a hands-on kind of shopper.

Visiting Duluth, Minnesota

Wisconsin humor, driving distancesSpending the summer in the Northwoods of Wisconsin with the nearest town being a thirty-minute drive away (not too far), and boasting a population of less than 3,000, does not bode well for a city gal and her shopping desires.

So, two to three times a month, I hop in the truck and head for the nearest city located ‘a little ways’ away, and in less than two hours, I’m crossing a bridge taking me from Wisconsin into Minnesota and the city of Duluth.

With a population of less than 100,000, there was a time when I’d consider Duluth merely a town, but all things are relative, and these days, she’s the closest thing to a big city for my shopping excursions. Duluth does offer all the big box stores which allow me the ability to stock up on supplies and shop for those specialty items that I just can’t find in the small town of Hayward, WI.

Shopping aside, Duluth has some of the prettiest parks offering an abundance of lush vegetation and lots of trails to walk/hike.

Enger Park

One of the parks that I always make the time to visit is Enger Park. This park is a gem and one of my favorites. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and include a small Japanese Garden, a large climbable tower type of structure honoring land donator, Bert Enger, and at the opposite end of the park is an overlook showcasing an amazing bird’s eye view of Canal Park and the historic Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge.

(To enlarge a photo in a gallery, simply click on any image.)

Enger Park Tower with fall colors, Duluth, Minnesota
Tower at Enger Park

Rose Garden – Leif Erikson Park

Next on my list of must-see parks is the gorgeous Rose Garden. The Duluth Rose Garden is an extension of the Leif Erikson Park and offers a stunning arrangement of more than 3,000 rose bushes and other flowering plants. The park sits high above the lakeshore offering a beautiful view of Lake Superior.

Beyond the rose garden are trails/walkways leading further into the park and connecting to the Waterfront Trail near the shores of Lake Superior. According to some locals I spoke with, the best time to visit the Rose Garden is in July when the roses are blooming in abundance.

Leif Erickson Park and the Rose Garden

Canal Park

No visit to Duluth would be complete without a visit to Canal Park. Canal Park is the entertainment hub of Duluth. The old warehouse district has been converted into an attraction offering an array of restaurants, shops, cafes, and hotels. The building conversions began in the 1980s in an attempt to promote tourism. In my opinion, they’ve done a great job, and if crowds are any indication, I’d say the project is a huge success.

Along with the usual tourist type of shops, there’s one store in particular that I like to visit; the Duluth Pack store. A Duluth Pack is a specialized type of backpack made of heavy canvas and leather. The packs are a traditional portage pack which are nearly square in order to fit easily in the bottom of a canoe.

We still have our son’s Duluth Pack safely tucked away in our storage unit. For me, it’s always a nostalgic walk through the store which conjures up fond memories.

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Minnesota
Al and our four-year-old son, Logan, head out into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern Minnesota for an overnight. Logan carried his own Duluth Pack filled with camping essentials – cheerios, marshmallows, and juice boxes. Summer of 1991.

Some of Canal Park’s attractions include a 4.2-mile long lake walk, a lighthouse pier, the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, the Great Lakes Aquarium, a floating ship museum, and the famous Aerial Lift Bridge, Duluth’s landmark. Watching vessels from around the world enter/exit Duluth’s port is interesting to watch. You don’t realize how huge these ships/barges are until you stand near one.

canal park, Duluth, Minnesota, Aerial Lift Bridge
A ship going under the Aerial Lift Bridge. To the left of the bridge is Canal Park. Cross over the bridge to the right and you enter Minnesota Point.

I loved watching the Aerial Lift Bridge rise and then a 750-foot ship glide through the canal. Be warned … those horns are loud!

Minnesota Park Point

Park Point is the largest freshwater sandbar in the USA. The narrow Park Point extends 7 miles out from Canal Park and offers miles of public beach for everyone’s enjoyment.

Minnesota Point, Park Point, Largest freshwater sandbar, Duluth

More parks and waterfalls

I never seem to have enough time when I visit Duluth. I’m usually visiting just for the day and running errands which limits my explorations. When I have overnighted, I was able to explore more, but not enough. I’m still left with a list of parks I’d like to see, especially one’s with waterfalls. And let me tell you, there is no shortage of waterfalls in this neck of the woods.

On my Duluth list yet to visit are Lester Park, Congdon Park, and a tour of the Glensheen Mansion and her beautiful grounds. Did you know, you can even arrange to have lunch delivered to your picnic spot on the grounds of Glensheen? How cool is that! Visit their website for more details.

Hmm, perhaps I can squeeze in one or two more excursions to Duluth before we leave for the season.

Where to stay when visiting Duluth

There’s no shortage of lodging around Duluth. Peak season usually runs from mid-June to mid-August, and thus, prices can vary … a lot.

Last September, my daughter and I enjoyed a last-minute overnight at the Inn on Lake Superior located in the heart of Canal Park. We loved the location. From the hotel, we were able to walk to the Aerial Lift Bridge, stroll the local shops, dine at a couple of different restaurants, photograph the lighthouses, and stroll along the lakeshore.

Providing we choose not to stay in Canal Park, I think next time we would consider a vacation rental on Park Point or maybe stay at the Two Harbors Lighthouse for a unique experience.

The lodging choices are endless, and there really is a little something for everyone.

RV Parks – We’ve enjoyed camping at the Burlington Bay Campground located in the town of Two Harbors. It’s an easy thirty-minute drive east of Duluth, but for those wanting to stay as close as possible to Canal Park, consider staying at the Lakehead Boat Basin. Unfortunately, it’s parking lot style RVing. The sites are close together and depending on where cars are parked, it could be a challenge to maneuver. But it’s all about location at this place.

Lakehead Boat Basin – RV Parking

Another popular Duluth option for RVers is Indian Point Campground. It’s located on the west end of Duluth near the zoo and along the shores of the St. Louis Bay. It’s in a wooded state park kind of setting. Sites are a mix of gravel and grass. Huge bonus; near proximity to great hiking/biking trails.

Duluth DrivingTip

Navigation – Most cities have some form of a congested traffic area with interchanges. In Las Vegas, it’s called the Spaghetti Bowl. In Phoenix, it’s called the Stack and the Mini-Stack, and here in Duluth, it’s called the Can of Worms, and it really is a can of worms.

Can of Worms – Duluth interchange

This Duluth interchange, I-35 and Highway 53, is one of the busiest in the region. It can be congested and confusing to navigate and more so with an RV. This series of bridges and ramps are sometimes single lane with little room to merge or change lanes. I highly recommend using the aid of a GPS during your first time or two driving through this area. Construction to try and fix this mess begins soon making it even more fun for us to navigate with RVs. Yippee! (she says with sarcasm) By the way, I didn’t find the west end of the city (I-35 and Hwy 2) any easier to navigate due to short on-ramps.

Enger Park, Duluth, MN, walking trail through the woods

Final thoughts!

I’ve become quite smitten with this scenic city nestled on the shores of Lake Superior, the world’s largest freshwater lake. Pristine forest, rocky cliffs, waterfalls, and nice shopping make Duluth an ideal place for any getaway. This little big city continues to pull me back time and again nudging me to explore more … with camera in hand, of course!


#authenticDuluth #visitDuluth

The Southwest’s Main Attraction

When I envision a desert, thoughts of dull, boring, remote, dry, hot, and maybe even dangerous come to mind. At least that was the image that came to my mind years ago, and I think most people would have similar thoughts. But when we look closer, we’ll find the desert to be anything but boring … it’s still hot and dry, but not boring or dull 😄

Lake Pleasant Phoenix Arizona
Lake Pleasant, northwest of Phoenix, Arizona

A little desert knowledge

Did you know deserts cover about 20% of the Earth? Deserts are characterized by extreme environmental conditions with little precipitation. Yet with minimal rainfall, they are able to inhabit plant and animal life. I’m totally enamored with deserts, especially the Sonoran Desert. Deserts are a fascinating ecosystem, but not all deserts are created equally.There are four types of deserts;

  • hot and dry (Arizona’s Sonoran Desert)
  • semi-arid (America’s Great Basin)
  • coastal (Atacama Desert in Chile)
  • cold (Greenland)

The Sonoran Desert in Arizona is real

As a child growing up in the Midwest among lush green vegetation, I never had any aspirations of living in a desert. As a matter of fact, I thought those images of red rock bluffs, three-armed cactus, and ever abundant tumbleweed were a fabrication of cartoonists. I remember watching the cartoon “The Road Runner” which took place in America’s southwest. Ah, poor Wile!

coyote

The thought of art imitating life wasn’t something I had considered. The scenery, vegetation, and animals drawn in the cartoon seemed surreal to me, but real they are. However real the landscape and animals, the cartoon itself was filled with a lot of imagination and fabrication making it ridiculously funny. Wile E. Coyote uses absurdly complex contraptions to try to catch the Road Runner, which always “backfire” resulting in an injured coyote. Many of the items for these contrivances are mail-ordered from a company named Acme Corporation. Hmm, I wonder if Jeff Bezos got his business idea for Amazon from the Acme Corporation 😆

a road runner on a boulder in Arizona
Road Runner in Arizona: beep, beep!

You can image my excitement when I saw my first ‘real’ road runner, not to mention laying eyes on the strange yet beautiful landscape of the desert southwest. And the night-time howling of a coyote always brings a smile to my face. Yeah, living in the desert is never dull or boring.

image of the Sonoran Desert with hot air balloons in the sky

The star of the Sonoran Desert

Although there are so many things that make a desert special, the real star and main attraction of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is the saguaro cactus.  It took me weeks of living among these beauties before I was even able to pronounce the name saguaro correctly – pronounced: sa-wha-ro.

saguaro cactus with interesting cloudsEach saguaro cactus is unique and appears to have a personality of its own.  The Sonoran Desert’s bi-seasonal rainfall pattern results in more plant species than any other desert in the world, and it’s the only place in the world where you’ll see saguaro cactus growing naturally.

The saguaro is a large, tree-sized cactus which can grow as tall as 70 feet (20 meters) and is native to the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaros have a relatively long life span, averaging 150-175 years of age with some living as long as 200 years.   It can take 50 to 70 years just for a saguaro to develop a side arm.  Arms are grown to increase the plant’s reproductive capacity … more arms lead to more flowers and fruit.

Saguaros are very slow-growing and may only grow an inch or two its first eight years.  The growth rate is determined by climate, precipitation, and location.  Whenever it rains, saguaros soak up the rainwater and the cactus will visibly expand.  This might explain why the desert feels so alive after a rainfall.  The cacti are doing a happy dance!

Every saguaro cactus seems to have its own individual personality; some cute, some not, some look like proud soldiers, some like a cartoon character, and others look tired, twisted, and weathered, but no two identical.saguaro

A crested saguaro

AND then there is the rare crested saguaro.  Why are some crested?  Saguaros rarely grow symmetrically and often grow in odd or mis-shapen forms.  The growing tip on rare occasion produces a fan like form which is referred to as crested or cristate.  Biologists disagree about why some saguaro grow in this unusual form.  Some thoughts; genetic mutation, lightning strike, freeze damage.  Fascinating to say the least for whatever reason!

What’s in a Name?

The other day I was asked by a non RV’er how we decide on our travel destinations and how we choose where to camp?  It actually took me a few minutes to think about this and I couldn’t come up with just one simple answer.  Sometimes our decision-making is easy and other times it can be down right challenging.

Stylish Chicks!
Which way should we go?

I tried to simplify my answer ….. Our interest in an area is usually from a good old-fashioned road atlas/map, or someone’s blog post, or brochures we pick up at a Visitor Center.  Once we have a basic idea of where we think we’d like to go and what sights there are to see, we peruse several websites to find camping options in that areas’ general vicinity.  Our two favorite websites are RV Park Reviews and Campendium.

When we first arrived in Idaho last May, I managed to visit a very nice Visitor Center in the town of Idaho Falls.  It was there that I picked up a ton of information covering some highlights and must see attractions in this beautiful and diverse State.

After glancing through a few brochures, I was reminded that I had read a blog Beaver Dickpost about Yellowstone Bear World, and quickly added it to my list of Idaho places I wanted to see.  Since we prefer camping as close to an attraction as possible, I started doing my research……

and that’s when I stumbled across the Beaver Dick County Park.  Come on, with a name like that, we had to overnight there.

Say it with me…. “Beaver Dick”.  Doesn’t that just want to make you giggle like a silly school child?  I know every time I say Beaver Dick, I chuckle.   This was an easy camping decision and a decision based purely on the name….  😄

Camping at Beaver Dick Park
Camping at Beaver Dick Park

The Beaver Dick Park is a small nine acre county park popular with the locals.  It’s located about 5 miles west of the town of Rexburg, Idaho off Highway 33, and situated on the west bank of the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River.

Plenty of hiking trails
Plenty of hiking trails

It also backs up to 400 acres of BLM Land available for hiking and hunting (during hunting season that is).

The park was named after Richard Leigh, a widely known and liked outfitter, guide, and trapper of beaver – thus, the nickname, Beaver Dick.

He married a Shoshone Indian named Jenny.  Did you know, Leigh Lake and Jenny Lake in the Grand Tetons were named after these two?  I love stumbling upon this kind of whimsical history.

Our relaxing campsite at Beaver Dick Park
Our relaxing campsite at Beaver Dick Park

The park offers picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets, fifteen dry campsites, and a boat ramp.  We stayed for five nights for a total cost of $15.  Whoohoo!  With that kind of price, the wine fun budget for the month was increased 😉

July 2016 – Beaver Dick Park turned into a great place not only for us to relax but also to explore eastern Idaho. First order of business …. a visit to Yellowstone Bear World, a drive-thru wildlife park.

Yellowstone Bear World
Yellowstone Bear World

After paying admission, I was given firm directions (verbal and written) to leave my windows on the truck UP, drive slowly, and not to let a bear climb into the bed of the truck 🤔 Huh?  The road first meanders past free roaming bison, elk, and deer.  Eventually, I approached another gate where I was stopped by an attendant who once again reminded me to keep my windows up, then I entered the Bear area….

Bear roam freely at Yellowstone Bear World
Bear roam freely at Yellowstone Bear World

Yellowstone Bear WorldI encountered Bear walking in front of me, to the side of me, and behind me.  Although, I did keep the windows in the truck rolled up, the bears quite frankly could’ve cared less about the vehicles driving past and not one wanted to hitch a ride. I’m sure they’re thinking, “Just another day of crazy tourists taking photos”.

cute bear cubs at play
cute bear cubs at play

Yellowstone Bear WorldAfter the drive, I parked at the visitor center and browsed the gift shop before venturing into the petting zoo.  Upon exiting the building, I was greeted by the cub habitat …. a great little fenced island that was home to three very active bear cubs. Watching these little cubs wrestling with one another was worth the price of admission.  For an additional fee, you can sign up to actually bottle feed a bear cub.

For an additional fee, you can bottle feed a bear cub
For an additional fee, you can bottle feed a bear cub
Teething?
Teething?

The little cubs were so darn cute, but the cuteness didn’t end with them …..

This little fawn was adorable
This little fawn was adorable
The petting zoo was fun - watch out for t-shirt nibbling deer!
Watch out for T-shirt nibbling deer!
Goats are such characters!
Goats are such characters!
This guy liked nibbling on peoples clothing.
This guy liked nibbling on peoples clothing.

Petting zoo

Although the petting zoo itself is extremely entertaining, I found a special treat just beyond ….. in an enclosed area.  This little lady (moose are anything but little) was lounging on the other side of the fence at the far end of the petting zoo. I was but a mere twenty feet away from her.MooseWhat a treat to see this magnificent animal up close.  A very tall chain link fence separated me and Ms. Moose, but I was able to shoot this photo between the links.

Yellowstone Bear World is a relatively small attraction and can easily be explored in 2-3 hours.  I thoroughly enjoyed my morning visit in early July, and would definitely return should I find myself near Rexburg, Idaho again.

Let’s see, communing with animals while camped at a relaxing county park – so far, so good.  Next up, we wrap up our Idaho visit with a few more interesting places worth mentioning.

Land of Great Extremes

Death Valley has long been on my short list of places I have wanted to see.  So when Al and I decided to hit the road, Al wanted to know my top choices of locations I’ve always wanted to visit.  Keeping time of year and weather in mind, February in Death Valley seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Have you ever wanted to do something or go somewhere really badly only to be disappointed once achieved?  Well that’s kind of how I was feeling about the trip to Death Valley.  I thought, “this is a place I’ve wanted to visit for the last twenty years, and am finally able to do so.  I bet it will be anticlimactic”.  NOT!!!!  So worth my while.  Absolutely loved it and plan to return next year for further exploration.

Badwater Basin - 282 ft. below sea level - salt flats

From Lake Havasu City we traveled north on Hwy 95 to Interstate 40 west.  We took exit 78, Kelbaker Road, north through the Mojave National Preserve.  Filled up with gas in Baker, California, before crossing over Interstate 15 and headed north on Hwy 127.

The land is vast and the road free of company.  As Al and I sit in our climate controlled truck with cushioned leather interior, we marvel at the Pioneers who first discovered these lands on horseback and wagon.  I don’t dare complain about the lack of cell phone coverage.  Yes, that’s right folks…no cell phone service in Death Valley or a good 100 miles around.  There’s actually pay phone booths at a couple of the resorts.  Flat tire?  You’ll need to fix it yourself cause AAA ain’t coming!

We had planned to camp at Furnace Creek.  However, the Furnace Creek Campground is closed for the next year for repairs/updates.  So we stay at the Sunset Campground.

Sunset Campground

It’s pretty much just an organized gravel parking lot, but at $12 a night I

Camp Site

can’t complain.  We just need a level spot to park the Rig and crash for a couple of nights.  They have a tiered overflow lot that provides the most spectacular sunset set views from your RV.  We spent a total of three nights in Death Valley and each night we sat outside to watch the sunset and once down, the sky would turn an amazing red.  We would also watch the sky darken to the most incredible deep, deep midnight blue.  The stars were bright and the crescent moon amazing.  There are some things in life that can’t be captured on film and must be experienced first hand.  This was definitely one of those moments…..a vision I’ll remember and highly recommend.

Our first night in Death Valley, we sleep well and look forward to our explorations the next day…..