Monday, October 16, 2017

Churchill Manitoba

Change in plans. In late June, the heavy spring rains washed out about 800 feet of track owned by Omni Trax, so we had to fly instead. I don’t know who paid for the extra cost of our flights – I assume that Fantasy RV Tours absorbed it. So, to revel in the moment, we decided to have a donut (at least the Woman did) in the terminal in Thompson. Catchy name!

In 1997, the Canadian National Railway agreed to sell the tracks from The Pas to Churchill in Northern Manitoba to a US based company called Omnitrax. The sale agreement contained legal assurances that Omnitrax would maintain the service necessary to serve this community. Omnitrax now states it cannot afford to replace the flooded-out track, and that their agreement did not anticipate this unexpected added financial cost.
The Canadian government has demanded that Omnitrax replace the tracks in 30 days and restore the tracks and resume the only effective supply line to Churchill, but nobody expects anything to move on the situation before spring. Locals have told us that tourism has plummeted, down by as much as 70% with the lack of access to the area. In addition, any construction in the area has ceased as the materials needed that were ordered last fall are still at the rail stations in Thompson or The Pas.
So Omnitrax exerts no effort to repair the track. When the track washed out, they had a passenger train sitting in the station in Churchill. They sent a ship to collect that engine and cars – trains sitting make no money. But the only docks were owned by the Canadian government, who have denied them the access to move their engine and cars onto a ship. So, while this saga plays out, we walked over to see the hostage train engine and cars sitting dormant in the rail station in Churchill.
This actually afforded us a bit of a small bonus. We wanted to visit some sled dogs in Churchill at the kennel of David Daley, the founder of the Hudson Bay Quest, the most grueling sub-arctic sled dog race that currently exists. Normally a minimum of guests is required to get a visit.  Bad for them but good for us, they decided not to enforce the minimum since their tourism rates have been so low, and the cost of maintaining the dogs has increased dramatically with the train out.
We had a great ride, and got a little bit of a puppy fix, since we are currently separated from Kona. We enjoyed our visit thoroughly, learning a great deal about the Metis culture – Dave is Metis. Metis literally means half-breed – born of the union of Cree natives with the French fur traders. They developed their own language, customs and culture, and survived the onslaught of the Canadian westward expansion, not at all unlike the native nations we learned more about in South and North Dakota.
Churchill has only about 850 full time residents. But it has plenty of interesting things to entertain the visitor. We would our way to the Prince of Wales Fort that was an early fur trading fort established by the Hudson Bay Company, the first ever corporation acknowledged by the King of England. Of course, because of the possibility of Polar Bears, our bus driver was armed with a rifle and he carried it with him as we walked around the fort, which is a Canadian National Historic Site.
Talk to you soon!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

On the road to Churchill Manitoba

After leaving the International Peace Garden we needed to make our way North – way North that is! Our main destination is Thompson Manitoba, pretty much the furthest you can drive North in the Province. The only ways into Churchill are by sea, air or rail, you can’t drive. We are to grab a train when we arrive, leaving Colectiva and the pooch in Thompson. On our way we passed through the Turtle Mountains, and spotted this massive sculpture made from over 5,000 automotive wheel rims.

We stopped in Dauphin for a night. We visited St. Georges Ukrainian Orthodox Church, built in the 1930’s by Father Philip Ruh. Ruh went on to design and build several Ukrainian churches in Canada, known for his classical designs and intensive internal use of religious icons. We got to tour the church with one of the local parishioners who also sits on the Board that preserves the iconic structure. 
She told us how it had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition, as did most of Ruh’s masterpieces. However, the Ukrainian community pulled together, raised funds, and got the church put on the Canada’s Historic Register. After the tour and an introduction to the deep Ukrainian heritage in Canada, we were treated to a traditional Ukrainian dinner in the hall of the new church across the street. A group of half a dozen parishioners fed us and serenaded us with some traditional Ukrainian songs. It was grand!
We also visited Fort Dauphin, a strategic trading post for the Voyageurs during the time of the fur traders. We were regaled by locals dressed in period clothing and told about both the operation of the fort, as well as life in Northern Manitoba. I got to learn first-hand how the Voyageurs were able to carry 70 pounds of gear and still portage their canoe. One docent who lived on a farm not far outside Dauphin told us that when she was young, she washed clothes in a bucket. They didn’t get electricity and phones until the 1970’s, and didn’t have high speed internet until the last decade. It sounds like things I took for granted all my life have only come relatively recently to Northern Manitoba. Sheesh!
On the final leg from The Pas to Thompson we did lunch at the Pisew Regional Park. The hike to the upper falls would have made us late in arrival in Thompson, so we only hiked to the lower falls. However, I can’t imagine that the upper falls could have been any more impressive than the lower falls. Both the Woman and the pooch were quite impressed.
Thompson being essentially the furthest North you can easily drive is one huge float plane base, helping locals and tourists to penetrate a bit further. Artist decorated wolf statues are all over town and each is impressive. I wish we could have spotted an unpainted one stalking around, but we weren’t blessed with that luxury.
Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

No man's land

When we read the directions on how to get to our campsite we assumed there was a mistake. But there wasn’t. On the US/Canadian border about 15 due North of Dunseith North Dakota is the International Peace Gardens, a cooperative joint project of both the US and Canadian governments. Our instructions said that after you pass through the US border crossing (legally, you have left the US), but before you enter the Canadian border crossing (legally, you haven’t entered Canada), turn left and enter the Gardens. We were surprised to find out that in the maybe 100 yards that separates the US and Canadian border stations, there is in fact a park straddling the border. It’s the only one of its kind anywhere.

The Park is a cooperative effort of both governments, established in 1931 to celebrate over 100 years of peace and cooperation between the US and Canada. About ½ the Park lies North of the border, and the other ½ lies South. When we were Medora, the museum at Chateau de Mores had a wing dedicated to the Civilian Conservation Core and all the work it did in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as well as the restoration of the Chateau. We learned there that the 2676 unit of the CCC that worked there also worked at the International Peace Garden, building much of the infrastructure on the US side that is still in use. This historic lodge on the US side of the Park is one such example.
It’s weird not being officially anywhere. In 1931, they were considering putting the Park at Niagara Falls. However, this border crossing won out for two reasons – 1. it’s about the center of the border between the two nations, and 2. this highway runs as far North as paved roads go in Canada, and in the US, runs to the Mexican border. When you leave the Park, if you turn right, you have to show a passport to legally enter the US. If you turn left, you have to show a passport in order to legally enter Canada. While you are in the Park, you certainly feel like you are somewhere, until Onstar announces a warning that you are approaching a border crossing – I didn’t know she even did that! But she does it a lot as we freely drive around this approximate 2,400-acre prairie wilderness park.
There are many interesting exhibits in the Park, too many to mention. We were surprised to find that there is actually a 9/11 Memorial here located on the main garden promenade that straddles the 49th parallel the entire width of the Park. The 9/11 Memorial discusses the joint cooperative efforts of the US and Canadian governments in accepting diverted air traffic and passengers on that ill-fated day, as well as joint efforts to counter terrorism since. The Memorial is complete with twisted and charred beams from the Twin Towers.
We visited the Peace Chapel. The Chapel straddles the 49th parallel, exactly half of it lies in Canada and exactly half lies in the US. When they began constructing the building in 1969, they soon learned it was actually illegal to build a building on top of an international border. They had to stop construction and apply for a special treaty to be signed allowing the construction of this chapel. According to the rangers at the Park, this is the only building in the world that was deliberately allowed to be built straddling an international border. As a tribute to the theme of the Gardens, the Chapel contains hundreds of quotes engraved in marble on the walls. The quotes come from famous peace leaders such as Buddha, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and a host of others. It’s worth a visit if you ever get to this very interesting Park.
In Dunseith we found this W’eel Turtle, allegedly the largest turtle sculpture in the world that is made entirely from automobile wheels. I guess everyone needs to be known for something! Tomorrow we begin our Caravan to Northern Manitoba to hopefully see some Polar Bears. We are not sure what kind of accommodations we will have, and whether we will have any internet connections, so if we are offline for a bit, we will return in a couple of weeks, hopefully with a few good pictures.
Talk to you soon!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Doing silly things in North Dakota

Since we already had been to the geographic center of the US which was in South Dakota, we decided to check out the geographic center of North America, which is in North Dakota. Well, it turned out to be a bit more challenging than we first suspected. According to the USGS it lies about at the intersection of 1st Street West and Lakota Avenue North in Center North Dakota. Sadly, there is no marking whatsoever in the town of where the acknowledged geographic center is. Interestingly, the name Center was given to the town in 1902, not because the USGS had proclaimed it the geographic center of North America, but because it was roughly in the dead center of the state of North Dakota.

While exploring town, we discovered this interesting monument dedicated to Hazel Miner. The monument is just that, a monument, although it has the appearance of a tombstone, which it is not. Hazel Miner was a 15-year-old from Center who got lost in a blizzard on March 15, 1920, along with her younger brother and sister, on her way home from school. As night fell she lay on top of them, saving their lives while sacrificing her own. The monument is a dedication to her bravery.
So, there are two other alleged geographic centers of North America, and we decided we needed to check them out. One was in Hanson’s Bar in Robinson North Dakota. Bill Bender was the mayor of Robinson in the 1960’s, when the town of Rugby North Dakota about 85 miles North and near the Canadian border had made claim to that distinction. Bender decided that with the melting of the polar ice caps the geographic center was logically moving South, so he filed for and was awarded a trademark as the geographic center of North America.
As is often true in a town with a population of 37, Bender also owned the only bar in town, Hanson’s Bar. Interestingly enough, when they determined where the actual geographic center of North America really was, it was pretty much in the center of Bender’s (or should I say Hanson’s) Bar. Man, how lucky can a guy get! Of course, Hanson was clever enough to send in a copyright application for the name “Geographic center of North America” and was granted it. Lucky and smart!
The other alleged, but inaccurate, geographic center of North America is in Rugby North Dakota. The town of Rugby invested some money in actually building a cairn on the corner they claimed was the spot. They had some issues develop when Hanson was able to get a copyright on the name, but fortunately for them, a copyright has a term, Hanson died in the meantime, so nobody was able to get the copyright renewed. Maybe not so lucky after all.
Talk to you soon!

Friday, September 29, 2017

More Medora North Dakota

So, it turns out that Medora North Dakota is another vortex of history. Even before Theodore Roosevelt arrived, the Marquis de Mores, a wealthy nobleman from Europe, arrived and built his hunting lodge in 1883. While more rustic than what he was used to in Europe, it was still a plush 26 room home complete with a live-in servant staff of 6.

The home remains today in much the same condition as when the Marquis and his wife, Medora, lived here in the late 1800’s. She was quite the frontiers woman, able to outshoot him and most others that they hunted with. She loved hunting so much that she even hunted by herself when he was out of town. The Marquis established the town of Medora in 1883 when he built his hunting lodge, and of course, named the town after his wife.
The Marquis attempted to corner the cattle business, at least the part of getting it to market. The norm at the time was to drive the cattle back east to be slaughtered, or ship live cattle by rail. Either way, during the drive or the train ride, they could easily burn up half their body weight, or lose that much to damage from the jostling. De Mores built a huge slaughterhouse in Medora, and ran a railroad extension to the plant. But slaughtering the cattle in Medora and shipping in ice box cars to the East, he could easily yield more than 70% of the original weight and pocket the profits.
Unfortunately, easterners had begun consuming corn-fed beef raised in the East. Demand for range beef diminished just as de Mores’ huge plant was coming on line. By the early 1890’s he was losing significant money on the operation and shut it down. With no other reason to keep him in Medora, he and his family left. At the turn of the century all the buildings in the campus burned, leaving only the 84-foot-tall chimney.
We also visited the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. While this would be far more interesting a site if you were tied in with the local rodeo circuit and its famous rodeo riders, it was still a very nice collection of both local artifacts as well as things generic to the development of the West to make it a pleasant visit.
We did one last hike in the National Park, to see the petrified forest. Apparently, Theodore Roosevelt NP has one of the best collections of natural petrified wood in the nation. Unfortunately, it had been raining off and on every day, so both the road as well as the hiking trail were muddy and greasy. We managed to make it out on the trail far enough to be among the significant petrified forest formations and get our curiosity handled.
I am not sure that the car or the bikes on the back of the car feel the same. I am not sure when either of them will get a good bath, but after this experience, they both need them.
Talk to you soon!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This turned out to be a great visit. We learned all kinds of things about the 26th POTUS that we never knew. For example, the power brokers in New York and the Republican Party feared Roosevelt as he was unrelentingly honest. So, they made him Taft’s Vice President, figuring that would keep him out of the Presidency. Little did they know that Taft would be assassinated and as a result, Roosevelt would become President.

The reason for the National Park (and in fact his presidency) is that on February 14, 1884, both his wife, who had given birth just 2 days earlier, and his mother died. His grief so overwhelmed him that he put his newborn daughter under the care of his sister and moved to a small cabin in the Badlands area of western North Dakota. His actual Maltese Cross Ranch cabin, built in 1883 during his first visit to the area, still sits just behind the visitor center at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Interestingly, apparently this cabin traveled nearly as much as the President himself. During his presidency, the cabin was moved to more than one world’s fair and exposition to be put on display. Later it was moved to the fairgrounds in Fargo, North Dakota, and then was moved to the state capitol grounds in Bismarck. In 1959, it was turned over to the National Park Service who moved it to the Park grounds about 7 miles North of its location in 1883. Many of Roosevelt’s original furnishings remain in the cabin, including his writing desk where he authored 3 major writings during the summers as
he grieved.
Maltese Cross Ranch was on the Little Missouri River. When he arrived in the summer of 1884 he also established Elkhorn Ranch, about 36 miles North, also along the Little Missouri. We hiked out to the site of this very large cabin, but sadly it is no longer there. If
you hike here you get a very clear picture of why the President loved this area, and found it so therapeutic. The only evidence the cabin was here are the foundation stones which still reflect the footprint and dimensions of this huge ranch home.
While we haven’t been stunned by the wildlife here, we did manage to stumble on some bison as we hiked in the South Unit of the Park.
The only other wi
ldlife we stumbled on were a whole mess of wild turkeys. They might be yummy, but man are they ugly!
Talk to you soon!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Some hidden Dakota treasures

We ventured North from Pierre to pursue some less publicized destinations. We drove an hour and a half to Aberdeen to the Brown County Fairgrounds. When we found out that the Whispering Giant given to South Dakota by sculptor Peter Wolf Toth was actually stored in a building on the fairgrounds, we assumed that we could not see that gem.

Luckily, a phone call to the fairgrounds proved us wrong. The folks managing the fairgrounds were more than happy to meet us and let us visit the sculpture. So, at 2 PM on Tuesday the 19th, we met Casey at the main entrance to the grounds. While a bit damaged, the management is working to find someone who could properly repair this gem. Despite the minor damage, it was well worth the drive.
We set out to find the gravesite of Sitting Bull. After visiting the Little Bighorn Battlefield, Wounded Knee and seeing Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, we had to. The Army asserts they buried Sitting Bull at Fort Yates on the Missouri River in North Dakota. However, the Lakota and the Standing Rock Sioux don’t hold this opinion themselves.
Fort Yates is on the Standing Rock reservation. The Standing Rock Sioux are descendants of the Lakota, Sitting Bull’s nation. Lakota legend has it that a Lakota woman with a child on her back were turned to stone by the great provider. Believed sacred by the Standing Rock Sioux, this stone has been placed on a monument at the primary administrative offices of the nation.
After being buried at Fort Yates, the family of Sitting Bull assert that they removed his remains and moved them to where he was born, along the Missouri River near Mobridge South Dakota. On a bluff overlooking the Missouri on the Standing Rock Reservation, the view is amazing. While there has never been any scientific verification of the family’s assertions, we chose to believe.
Interestingly the family chose to relocate Sitting Bull in the year I was born, actual a few short 
months after I was born. The monument here is fitting of the great chief, with a sculpture befitting his stature and strength. Sadly, the grounds are not well kept, so visiting is an interesting dichotomy. A powerful monument in a fairly trashy setting.
While we were there some Native American descendants from Minnesota were also visiting the gravesite of Sitting Bull. We hadn’t bumped into them at Fort Yates, so we assume they are believers as we are. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I saw the sticker on the back of their Chevy.
It turns out that Sakakawea is also buried near the Sitting Bull gravesite. Perhaps I should say that the family of Sitting Bull likely chose the location to coincide with the gravesite of Sakakawea. Her monument is not nearly as impressive as that of Sitting Bull, but it was still impressive, and the views nearly as awesome. Sadly, the site of Sakakawea’s grave is even trashier than that of Sitting Bull, if possible.
Finally, as we reached the outskirts of Bismarck, we were able to quickly find the Whispering Giant that Peter Wolf Toth gave to the citizens of North Dakota. Yeah, two Toth sculptures in two days! Sadly, while very visibly displayed and looking oh so awesome, this Whispering Giant is in the parking lot of a liquor store knows as the Stage Stop.
Talk to you soon!