Art-A-Whirl 2018

 

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Outside of Rogue Buddha Gallery

I’m excited to start up a new year of adventures here in MSP, after some long months of stasis. Before I wrap up some last favorites of 2017 and some of the reasons I’ve taken a writing break, I’d like to post about a fun new experience from this weekend.

After a long, cold winter that seemed to overstay its welcome by a few months, the warm temperatures of spring are sure to make any citizen of the Twin Cities look for some fun things to do outside. We look for any excuse to leave the skyways and our comfy winter lairs. Lindsay and I have been obsessed in recent weeks with tackling the walks featured in the book Walking Twin Cities; some of which we walked before the snow from the last blizzard even melted away.

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Art-A-Whirl venues in Northeast Minneapolis

This last weekend, we took the opportunity to check off the “Nordeast” walk, a 2.5 mile stroll through the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, which just happened to be the Art-A-Whirl, Northeast Minneapolis’ annual open studio tour, the largest in the country. Art-A-Whirl was always something I was aware of and interested in checking out sometime, but for whatever reason I never ended up going, so it was fun to finally experience it. In it’s 23rd year, there was so much cool stuff happening all throughout our walk, from local artists displaying their work to local bands performing at neighborhood restaurants, it was almost overwhelming! Here is a few of my impressions from our afternoon of walking the Art-A-Whirl.

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Some curing salumis in the Food Building

The day was perhaps not the most spring like, with a brisk wind and temperatures in the low 50s making it feel a little more like October, belying the sweet perfume of the blooming lilacs as we walked through the vibrant Northeast neighborhoods. Beginning near the Pierre Bottineau Library, built into the old Minnesota Brewery building, we explored the old brewery buildings, once packed full of bottles of Grain Belt, now filled with all manner of paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other interesting things, and crowded with patrons of the arts. In the Food Building, we saw more artists amid the baking bread and curing salumis of Red Table meats and Baker’s Field Bakery.

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A few of the many whimsical creatures at Betty Danger’s (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

Some of the local restaurants were also in on the festivities. We had lunch at Psycho Suzi’s, celebrating an Art-Thou-Luau and puppy pageant, enjoying our tropical drinks on the decidedly untropical porch with it’s view of the rolling Mississippi, and some cute dogs. Still, we were happy to be outside in spite of the chilly temperatures. A few blocks up the street, we indulged a little round of mini-golf at Psycho Suzi’s sister establishment, checking out more unique and interesting pieces along the way. I will discuss more about the kitschy and very midwestern sport of minigolf in an upcoming entry.

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Walking Twin Cities with the authors!

Heading down into the heart of the Art District, we stopped at a few interesting places, making our way through the crowds. At Rogue Buddha Gallery, we saw some spooky art by curator Nicholas Harper and other local artists, and then caught some more music behind the Sheridan Room and the 331 Club. As Lindsay consulted our copy of Walking Twin Cities, looking for where to turn next, we were surprised to bump into the author’s themselves, who were themselves surprised to see their book! So far, it’s been a great resource, as we learned a lot on our strolls, including how Northeast Minneapolis was once a national leader in casket production and it was fun to be able to show our appreciation in person.  

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The sun sets in Northeast Minneapolis (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

 

After our brush with literary fame, we stopped for a peanut butter porter at Dangerous Man as the sun began to set behind the looming clouds. Finishing up our walk, we went off the route to make our way over to Central Avenue for the finale for our evening, Har Mar Superstar at Bauhaus Brew Labs, part of the brew lab’s Liquid Zoo lineup. As among the most stylish breweries in the metro, as usual for events at Bauhaus, there was a bit of line to get in but once inside, it was a great venue for Har Mar’s brand of energetic, catchy dance pop. After a fun set, it was a long bus and train ride back to downtown St. Paul, encumbered with beer and art, but it was a great day and definitely worth the fatigue! Northeast Minneapolis is a fun, dynamic, and idiosyncratic area and I really enjoyed the chance to explore it up close.

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Har Mar Superstar performing at Bauhaus Brew Labs (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

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2017 Highlight: Honeymoon to Alaska

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Margerie Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park

I’m wrapping up the last few highlights of 2017 in the next couple weeks, and then hopefully embarking on some new things for the new year.

Over the summer, Lindsay and I embarked on an adventure neither of us had ever attempted, one that would take us far from Minneapolis and St. Paul and onto the waves of the Pacific Ocean. For our honeymoon, we went on an Alaskan Cruise.

During our trip to Madison, we’d come up with a nerdy little challenge for ourselves, a goal to visit every state capitol building over the course of our travels through the United States, so we reasoned a cruise would be a great way to visit Juneau. Basically, we planned the whole trip around this, though seeing the glaciers while they’re still here had been a longtime goal of Lindsay’s.  

The cruise we opted for embarked from Seattle, and made four ports of call: Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, Alaska, along with Victoria, British Columbia, and a day spent traversing the waters of Glacier Bay National Park. We would, in essence, be recreating a sea voyage to the Klondike Gold Rush.   

It was an experience.

I think I will leave out the name of the cruise ship we embarked on in order to avoid offering any indictment or endorsement of any certain company, especially given that we soon learned that perhaps cruising may not be our favored mode of vacation.

Don’t get us wrong, it was an awesome trip, sailing the rainy, foggy bays, channels, and inlets of the Southeastern Alaskan panhandle, enjoying the majestic landscapes of the wilderness and the quirky towns cut off by road from the mainland. These were all amazing. We saw humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, harbor seals, and, way off in the distance, grizzly bears. And of course, lots of salmon. The ship itself, though, felt a little confining.

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Fog on Glacier Bay

In all, it felt like a rather limiting way to travel, having no control over our arrival in port and being forced to curb our explorations to the hours ashore allotted to us. On the one hand, on some stops we had to cram everything we wanted to do into a few awkwardly timed hours, where others we had more than enough time to wander aimlessly. The guided excursions set aside at each port seemed overly expensive and restrictive, and for the most part, we explored on our own once we were able to escape the ship. Most of the trip seemed to consist of relaxing on board with a book, trying to fight off seasickness and the crowds, availing ourselves of our free drinks, though unlimited booze and the wind and waves did not always go well together.

We didn’t really feel like we fit in with the typical cruise crowd and it was hard to find a quiet place to hang out outside of our cabins, though we did find a few cozy spots hidden away at the top or bottom of the fourteen level ship. We may have been antisocial, but it turned out for the best.

Having not much to discuss with other passengers but, apparently, as one fellow passenger waiting in line attempted to engage with us, our assumed shared love of Trump. Incredulously, I could only deny this, prompting more attempts to engage in conversation. What a horrible way to make small talk! I can only assume the camo hatted gentleman in question was mocking us, but it was disturbing to say the least.

In spite of the feeling of being cooped up a bit too much, though, we had a lot of fun times. Here are some of our recommended stops during the trip.

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Enjoying a few beers at Cloudburst Brewing

 

Seattle was a great place to begin our excursion, especially as we got to hang out with my old friend Aaron, who moved there a couple years ago. One of my favorite places to visit, I had not been in town since 2014, so took full advantage of our time there. On Aaron’s suggestion, we had some great wood oven fired pizza and local beers at the Masonry, in the Queen Anne neighborhood north of downtown. We had a couple more great beers at Cloudburst Brewing and then walked down to Pike Place Market to enjoy cocktails at the Zig Zag Cafe, the popularizer of one of favorite cocktails, the Last Word.

 

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Leaving Seattle

The next morning, we boarded our ship and watched the Seattle skyline recede as we sailed up Puget Sound northwards.

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Checking out the Alaska State Capitol Building

Juneau was our first port of call, and we sailed into the harbor on a foggy, rainy day, not an unusual experience in a southeastern Alaskan summer. Juneau, the reason we went on this particular cruise route, definitely did not disappointment, even with the limited hours we got to explore it. We managed to squeeze a lot in here! Perched on a channel, the town huddles in between the water and the mountains, the quaint streets bustling with shops. Not unlike the other ports of call, the area close to the docks is dominated by jewelry shops, places to buy fudge, and other venues catering to cruise tourists. Of course, you can’t bring any food items back on board with you, so best eat them fast!

 

 

Only accessible via sea or air, Juneau is the most isolated state capital (aside from Honolulu), and it still seems to have kind of an off the beaten path feeling. We walked up the hill to tour the Alaska State Capitol building, a six story art deco building constructed as a federal office in the 1930s, before statehood. Very few people were around, so we wandered the legislative chambers on our own, examining the decorations.  

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View of Juneau from Mount Roberts

When we left the capitol building, it was less rainy out, so we took the touristy Mount Roberts Tramway, an aerial tram that conveys visitors up the side of Mount Roberts for great views and hiking, through lush rainforests and alpine tundra. Definitely one of the trips highlights. Upon returning to sea level, we enjoyed some lovely cocktails at Amalga Distillery.

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Arctic Brotherhood Hall in Skagway, Alaska

 

The next port was Skagway, a well preserved, 1890s boom town that served as the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory, where thousands hoped to strike it rich only to lose it all. Many historical buildings are preserved here, as much of the town is a national historic park. We arrived for the nicest weather of our trip, sunny skies and relatively balmy temperatures with only a few minutes of rain all day. We spent hours wandering from the Union, surviving brothel buildings, bars, general stores, and other places prospective miners would prepare for the crushing journey inland to the Klondike gold fields.  

 

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The Coast Range as viewed from the White Pass and Yukon Route

 

Here, we took our one excursion of the trip, a ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railroad up into the mountains into British Columbia, where prospective miners had to lug a full year of supplies to get through customs, leaving thousands of dead horses behind. It was a fun trek away from the ocean for a few hours. 

Back at sea, we took a leisurely voyage through the grandeur of Glacial Bay National Monument (described earlier in this essay), even more majestic cloaked in rain, mist, and foggy conditions, before rocking and bobbing into our next destination, Ketchikan.

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Ketchikan Creek, Ketchikan, Alaska

 

In the port of Ketchikan, a fishing town also isolated from the mainland, we braved pouring rain to explore the quirky, waterlogged streets and forest paths. We walked above the rushing torrent of Ketchikan Creek on the boardwalk of Creek Street, through the fringes of the Tongass National Forest to the Totem Heritage Center.  

 

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Lindsay returns to the Miniature Museum in Victoria, British Columbia

Our last stop was Victoria, British Columbia, where we wish we had more time. It did happen to be the first time Lindsay and I were out of the country together. We just had an evening there, making a whirlwind tour of the Royal British Columbia Museum, which had some really cool recreations of historic Victoria streets as well as an exhaustive collection of indigenous culture. Another highlight was the wonderfully kitschy Miniature World, the type of weird little place that I love to track down. Lindsay had wonderful memories from her visit as a child, so it was very cool to experience it with her as an adult for the first time. Packed full of tiny dioramas featuring scenes from history, fantasy, and the future (as depicted by mid 20th century toy sized models). This is a piece of Canadiana I was happy not to have missed, and it was nice it was open later in the evening for our visit. Boarding the  boat for the last time, we began heading back to the start of the trip.   

 

After we arrived back in Seattle, we were kind of glad to back on dry ground for awhile, and returned to the daily grind of our lives in Minnesota. Just forty seven state capitals left to go!

Art Shanty Project 2017

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Art Shanty Projects 2017 (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

I might have mentioned this before, but one of my favorite annual events celebrating two of the great stereotypes of Minnesota, our winters and our quirky artistic side, is the Art Shanty Projects. Back in 2014, it was the first adventure that I wrote about for this blog and I continued the tradition with my fiancee this year. Each year sets up a community of immersive shanties on the ice of a metro area lake – White Bear Lake for the past several lakes – always a new and unique  experience to explore, though some favorites remain beloved standards.

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Dance Shanty! (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

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View of the Shanty’s from the top of the Welcome Shanty, with Lindsay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last year, unseasonably warm temperatures beached the shanty’s on our visit, but this year we got to explore it on the ice. This year’s unseasonable temperatures, though, made it a bit of a slippery affair, the warmth having melted a layer that subsequently refrozen when conditions dropped under freezing. Lindsay still hasn’t mastered the art of walking on ice yet, but we shuffled our way from ice shanty to ice shanty, taking in the interesting and inspired interactive activities. Dancing in the Dance Shanty, making our voices known in the Justice Shack (very topical), and time traveling with the Sci-Fi Book Club’s spaceship shanty, among others. I particularly liked the Vehicle of Expression, which gives you a chance to warm up in a converted bus and contribute some writing to notebooks from various genres, along with a storytime. With some colder weather this week (and maybe snow?) this weekend is the last chance to check out the artwork before next winter, though the chillier temps have not come in time to keep the shanties on the ice, so this weekend they will be on the shore of the lake at White Bear Lake County Park.

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Slippery ice (photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron)

 

Personal Favorites of 2016

Well, it’s past the third anniversary of my blog chronicling the fun activities I’ve found to experience Twin Cities over the past few years, and the one year anniversary of Lindsay joining me on these explorations, so I thought I would take the time to review a few of my favorite adventures of the past year. Only a little more than a month after New Years, but whatever! I’m raring to go to share my thoughts on fun things to do for Twin Citians for the next awful year of 2017, have to find something to take our minds off how the world is falling apart, after all.

Getting my first tattoo last January, with the colors added in March, was definitely one of the highlights of last year. Now, we just need to get a tattoo for Lindsay!

Over the summer, Lindsay and I found plenty of local state parks not far from the cities to go camping for a lovely weekend of hiking, canoeing, and enjoying the outdoors. Well, at least during the summer, our attempt to go camping in October turned out to be a little bit too cold. Also, watch out for those mosquitoes and deer ticks!

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Enjoying a summer weekend on the St. Croix, Interstate State Park

In late July, we had a great time riding vintage buses throughout the streets of Minneapolis sampling some of the city’s crop of craft beers and learning a little about the history of public transportation in the metro. I thought that the Hennepin History Museum and Minnesota Transportation Museum’s Bus and Beer History tour of Minneapolis was one of the most fun, educational, and enjoyable experiences from last year. I’d recommend checking out any of their tours.

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Twin Cities Lines

The trip Lindsay and I took across state lines to Wisconsin last August on my family’s traditional vacation area of Door County on the Lake Michigan coast was the most romantic and wonderful time of 2016, ending with Lindsay and I getting engaged!

A great end to the year was the Bell Museum Garage Sale last November, celebrating the last days of the University of Minnesota’s awesome natural history museum at its Minneapolis location before it hops over to the St. Paul campus this year. Looking forward to it! I also enjoyed being able to post one of my few prompt blog entries!

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Lindsay and crafting our new ornaments at the last Night at the Bell Museum, back in Decemeber

After looking over the past year, I’m looking forward to all the new things we’ll experience in the coming year! The temperature is already beginning to signal the coming of the Minnesota spring!

East Lake Open Streets

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The Open Streets street fests in Minneapolis are some of my favorite community events for the summer, and so far this year, like last year, I attended just one. In July, Lindsay and I rode our bikes across the river from St. Paul to explore what East Lake Street had to offer. In my role as a traveling Hennepin County librarian, I’ve often staffed the desk at the East Lake Library, one of my favorite branches, and was always struck by the energy and diversity of the area. Having the chance to spend some more time in the area with Lindsay, trekking on foot down the middle of Lake Street exploring and encountering local people and organizations. It was a nearly perfect summer day, with blue skies, a nice breeze, temperatures in the mid ‘70s, the kind of afternoon you can only dream about in February.

The street was a frenzy of activity, with people walking or riding their bikes down the center of the usually car filled thoroughfare. Weaving through the crowds, Lindsay and I decided to concentrate on the events and activities going on on the north side of the street before crossing it on the way back to see what was going on on the other side! The new local darling eatery, the Hi-Lo Cafe started the walk out in an memorable manner with a pie eating contest. While we didn’t participate ourselves, we enjoyed a couple of cocktails and street food courtesy of the Blue Door Pub, which we ate while watching a group of children go to town on some banana cream pies.

Continuing up the street, we grabbed some tasty frozen treats from Frio Frio (a standard at these events), and sampled some of Urban Forage’s ciders. We enjoyed the crisp, refreshing drinks and I’m definitely looking forward to when they open a taproom next year to share their locally sourced ciders, wines, and meads.  We checked out the Nordic bric a brac at Ingebretsen’s and had a delicious lunch of tamales at the Mid Town Global Market, finishing off with some beers at East Lake Brewery. By this time, we realized that things were winding down, so we started along the walk back. In the end, we walked more than five miles during the event, and we returned to our bikes footsore and a little bit sunburnt. Next year, we might start earlier to get more on both sides of the street!  The last one of 2016 is this Saturday in Dinkytown, so if this sounds fun, you should check it out!

Heading Past the Edge of the Prairie

 

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A stormy day on the prairie, Pipestone National Monument

In July, Lindsay and I went south, driving down to the prairies and farmland of southwestern Minnesota. It was a much different landscape than our trip to the Iron Range and the North Shore, and I was struck by the great range of terrain to be found throughout the state. We began by heading into some familiar territory for me, spending the first night in Mankato. Before getting there, though, we stopped off at what is becoming a popular Minnesota attraction, Minnesota’s Largest Candy Store at Jim’s Apple Farm, known locally as the Big Yellow Barn. A completely overwhelming expanse of treats, from the local to the global; local apples, all manner of obscure and international candies and sodas (or “pop,” as we prefer around here), and much more. We escaped with a few bottles of soda, a tray of nostalgic Runts, some organic popcorn, and a selection of British candy bars. Quite a chaotic scene, there was something weird everywhere you looked, from a talking bear head guarding the immense selection of honey, to Cthulhu mints!

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Minneopa Falls

Arriving in Mankato, my old haunt, we spent some time at Minneopa State Park, visiting the majestic Minneopa Falls, which tumbles forty feet into a rugged gorge tucked away into the Minnesota flatlands. After the wet season we’ve had, the creek was still a raging torrent, sending plumes of mist into the air and making for a great, refreshing place to relax on a hot summer day. Later, we saw some of the State Park’s herd of bison, reintroduced from the population at Blue Mounds State Park as part of the DNR’s Minnesota Bison Conservation Herd. It was pretty awesome to see these iconic North American animals roaming so close to home, where they used to thrive.

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Schell’s Brewery Deer- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The next afternoon, we stopped at the picturesque grounds of the August Schell Brewing Company in New Ulm. The second oldest family owned brewery in the United States, Schell’s Brewery is a pretty interesting place to make a stop, even if you aren’t particularly interested in beer (like Lindsay, sadly). After a lunch of a large pile of cheese and a few of Schell’s beers (hey, it was after noon) we explored the interesting museum chronicling the history of the company and the immigrant German family who started it back in 1860. The lush gardens and woods that surround the working brewery, the historic Schell family mansion, and other cool buildings  were picturesque, and inhabited by peacocks. These colorful birds, along with the company’s mascot deer, made for some surprises along the garden paths.

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A peacock- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We continued our journey across the plains, dotted with the looming white forms of the wind power generators rotating gentle in the prairie wind, soon arriving at our next destination; the unique and ancient Jeffers Petroglyphs, another location of the Minnesota Historical Society. The petroglyphs, images carved onto an outcrop of Sioux Quartzite, date from many periods from about 7000-5000 BCE and are important to indigenous cultures across the continent up to the present.

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A turtle petroglyph- photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

It really is pretty breathtaking, these intricate carvings etched thousands of years ago on rock a billion years old, on a small ridge above miles and miles of prairie dotted with prickly pears, with constant wind buffeting and providing a welcome respite from the sun. Among the many symbolic and mythical, more concrete figures are seen among the petroglyphs as well, including the atlatl, a hunting tool predating the bow and arrow. The site offers visitors the chance to try out it on a model bison, flinging deadly spears at the effigy animal. After one husky gentleman failed to connect even once, I guess I’m probably a bit too proud to say I managed it! Again, as Historical Society members, we were able to visit the site for free. Definitely one of my favorite places in Minnesota!

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Trying out an atlatl- Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

That evening, we pulled into our final destination, the town of Pipestone, Minnesota. We had reserved a room in the historic Calumet Hotel, reputed to be haunted. In fact, as soon as we parked, we could see that the little town was one that was, apparently, obsessed with ghosts. The Pipestone County Historical Society was offering a Saturday night Historic Ghost Walk, and we arrived just in time- after a quick, uninspiring dinner at the local Pizza Ranch, we lined up for the leisurely, informative walk around town to learn about the various ghost stories that have popped up around it. Hosted by a trio of storytellers dressed in Victorian garb, the stories were generally of a gentle, comical nature and rarely very horrifying or gruesome- the worst being the wife-beating confectioner who hung himself in a dumb waiter. Creepy! The stories of the mysteries of Pipestone were also very interesting, such as the missing statue of a nude woman carved and put on display by Leon Moore, a businessman and amateur sculptor who peopled his building with many strange gargoyles. No one knows where it went!

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The Moore Block, displaying a few gargoyles and the niche that, legend has it, formerly held a sculpture of a naked woman; too much for conservative Pipestone- photo of Lindsay Cameron

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Lindsay and I at the Calumet. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Amusingly, while we experienced no qualms with sharing with the tour the exact room in the Calumet Hotel we were staying in (I was both disappointed and relieved to find out we weren’t staying in the most haunted room, where a man died in a fire almost a century ago- not that Lindsay or I believe in ghosts), we were too embarrassed to volunteer the fact that we ate at the Pizza Ranch, which was also a haunted location! The Hotel itself was large and reasonably priced, though the room offered few frills aside from a light that flickered out mysteriously (or maybe the bulb was just old!)

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The next morning, after breakfast at a local institution, Lange’s Cafe, home of what Jane and Michael Stern of Roadfood called the best sour cream raisin pie in the world (a fact the restaurant is obviously very proud of) we visited the second National Monument in Minnesota, Pipestone National Monument. The location where the hard red rock was quarried by many different indigenous groups over the centuries to carve peace pipes and other important sacred items, the monument is another breathtaking Minnesota landscape, rich in natural and historical importance.

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Winnewissa Falls

After some atmospheric thunderstorms sweeping in across the prairie, we hiked across the quartzite cliffs, examining the quarries from which the sacred stone is mined, viewing intriguing rock formations and Winnewissa Falls, also filled the brim. The prairie flowers filled the moist but cool air with a host of wonderful smells, and the lichen covered walls flowed with water. It was a wonderful end to a wonderful trip.

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The quartzite cliffs at Pipestone National Monument

A Voyage to the Northwoods

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Bear Head Lake on a rainy evening. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Having recently returned a few weeks ago from my family’s annual trip across state lines to Door County, Wisconsin (a first for my beloved), I thought I would write a little on the many adventures Lindsay and I have had this summer exploring the state of Minnesota, from the northwoods to the prairies, taking advantage of the state’s natural wonders and seeing some pretty interesting things.

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In early June, we drove up to the Iron Range and the Boundary Waters, the first time either of us had visited these famed regions. Taking no heed of the late spring rains, we pitched our tent at Bear Head Lake State Park. A beautiful near wilderness, Bear Head Lake appeared a little mysterious, wreathed in mist and rain as we drove and found our campsite, our first of the year. Lindsay purchased the state’s annual sticker, which we would make use of the rest of the summer and into autumn. Bear Head Lake felt like among the most isolated state parks I’ve visited, making it a good place to get a feel for the conditions of the northwood’s waterways and conifer forests before braving the Boundary Waters or the Gunflint Trail someday. A couple warnings as well for those looking to visit; at this time of year, the mosquitoes were pretty intense! Stepping into the forest, it did not take long for a swarm of whining assaulters to surround us, becoming a maddening cloud around our heads. During an atmospheric expedition to Raspberry Lake through a rolling landscape of billion year old rocks and tall pine trees, I  think we ended up with more than a hundred bites between us by the end. This was, at the time, the most mosquitoes I had ever seen. Strong bug spray is a must. Also, I found a deer tick as well, so always self check!

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What you can’t see are the mosquitoes. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

 

By far the highlight of the trip was our descent into the mine shaft at Soudan Underground Mine State Park. Burrowed nearly half a mile into the ancient metamorphic rock to extract the precious, remarkably pure iron ore, it is an amazing place to visit. The first source of iron on Minnesota’s eponymous Iron Range, the Soudan Mine opened in 1882 and began delving deep into the earth’s crust in 1892, thought of among miners as the best working environment in mining. Miners continued tunneling for iron ore until 1962, in almost complete darkness until the end. Taking a tour introduces you to the dangerous conditions miners encountered underground. In addition to incredibly poor lighting and uneven ground (with the occasional unprotected hole), miners were often organized in groups from different immigrant ethnicities, mutually unacquainted with each other’s languages to cut down on organization but also the ability to communicate danger.

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Soudan Mine elevator

The creaking, rattling elevator takes you and a dozen or so other visitors down to the 27th level, 2341 feet, a damp, chilly 51 degrees. Learning about the how the miners crammed into the same little elevator with only small personal lights to guide them through the treacherous maze of pits and tunnels was pretty mind blowing. However, the history aspect is only one of the tours available, though for the other one, you have to move fast!

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Half a mile underground! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

For decades, a portion of the 27th level has been utilized for an entirely different project- the Soudan Underground Laboratory. Instead of digging hematite out of the rock, the former mine was used to extract knowledge of the cosmos itself. As part of the University of Minnesota’s particle physics laboratory, the thickness of the rock prevents interference from the ambient cosmic radiation on the surface, allowing for physicists to search for exotic particles without contamination. Several experiments have been underway in the massive cavern, with its huge detector plate, designed to catch a variety of mysterious neutrinos and other Dark Matter being beamed through the earth’s crust all the way from Fermilab, outside Chicago. Taking the informative physics lab tour at the mine is a great way to experience a taste of the mysterious of the universe and how scientists are attempting to plumb them. Even for someone so lost by complex mathematical discussions as myself, the tour was entertaining and informative, simplistic enough to appeal to general visitors but packed with enough information about the various forms of neutrinos and other ghost particles to inspire awe. The mural painted on the wall inside the physics lab is also quite awe inspiring.

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The detector plate and mural, Underground Physics Lab. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

After twenty five years, though, the two experiments are wrapping up later this year, so people interested in seeing the Underground Lab as a working physics lab have only the next two months to make it up to Soudan to take the tour. We’d really recommend it!

In the nearby town of Ely, the “gateway to the Boundary Waters,” there are many local attractions celebrating the rich ecosystems of the conifer forests and the majestic wildlife that live there. We visited a couple that focus on some of the most popular and feared of the animals native to the region, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Whether you are a fan of gray wolves or black bears, both are worth a stop if you have any interest in nature and the environment, and in particular the effect of human interactions on these populations. While both present at least an official neutrality in regards to hunting as a means to balance populations, and each strive to present accurate information on these oft misunderstood creatures, they also each take a slightly different approach. Both rely heavily on the presence of their focus species to familiarize visitors with them and both contrast scientific studies with the folklore and culture surrounding them.

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Some sleepy wolves. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The International Wolf Center, though, had a more focused experience, centered around the gray wolves and their ambassador pack.  For the most part, they seem to let the pack alone to live as naturally as they can in their several acre habitat. If you don’t schedule your visit, the wolves might be in hiding from annoying human interaction. In the informative, interesting, and exhaustive displays, the wolf specimens were carefully noted as from wolves who died from natural causes or accident. At the North American Bear Center, though, the displays seemed more wide ranging, a little less organized. The bear specimens were often from record-breaking hunting trophies donated to the center, though they were also prepared in a style that minimized their perception of ferociousness. Here, too, the resident black bears (all rescues from situations that would make it difficult for them to survive in the wild) were given plenty of acreage to wander, but were presented with plenty of peanuts to entice them to approach the fences.

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A hungry bear. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We spent the next segment of our trip in one of Minnesota’s most popular vacation locales, Grand Marais. Situated between the North Shore of Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains, Lindsay and I had some fun comparing Minnesota’s examples of “mountains” and coasts to her experiences as a Californian. It was a lovely little town, and a place to stay and read alongside the pounding surf of the world’s largest lake, an inland sea unto itself. Even as a driving wind came up off of the lake during our evening jog, making it feel closer to April than June, it was a relaxing stay. The Voyageur Brewing Company offered some tasty beers and good food, and the World’s Best Doughnuts lived up closer to its namesake that you might think.

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Lake Superior, just outside Grand Marais harbor. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

We didn’t just enjoy the surf and sun, though, we also checked out one of Minnesota’s two National Monuments, Grand Portage. Some thirty five miles north of Grand Marais, it makes for a very interesting day trip. A fascinating recreation of the North West Trading Company’s 1802 post at the portage, where furs from across North America were traded between the Ojibwe and other indigenous peoples and European newcomers, becoming one of the major zones of interaction between the groups on Lake Superior. After viewing an entertaining and informative video, we explored the lovingly recreated buildings (including costumed living history interpreters who were happy to share all of their knowledge on the canoe technologies that connected the interior of the continent to Montreal and Europe via this bustling spot) and dock on the lake. Walking up the steep hiking trail to the summit of “Mount” Rose gave us a stunning view of the monument, Lake Superior, and the surrounding landscape.

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View of Grand Portage from the top of Mount Rose

On the way back to Grand Marais, we also took advantage of the lovely hiking trails at Judge Magney State Park. We hiked  along the Brule River, leading up to the beautiful Devil’s Kettle waterfall, which plunges a majestic fifty feet, spraying up impressive plumes of cool mist.

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Visiting the Devil’s Kettle! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

Of course, before heading home to St. Paul, as we drove back along the North Shore towards Duluth, we had to stop by the most photographed location in Minnesota, the lovely Split Rock Lighthouse. I was so happy to stop by this Minnesota icon with Lindsay, who was visiting it for the first time. It is always worth a stop, especially when you have a membership to the Minnesota Historical Society as we do! It was definitely a great way to finish up a wonderful trip!

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Pride Dabbler

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In the past, I’ve always been busy for some reason on Pride weekend, one of the Twin Cities biggest street festivals and among the largest one’s celebrating the GLBT community in the US. Last year was no different, in spite of living right next to Loring Park- I spent the majority of the weekend on a camping trip in Southern Minnesota. However, I got back home in time to check out the last day of the festival,  as I could hear the alluring music drifting through my windows as I unpacked from the trip. Running out across the street just before an early summer thunderstorm struck, I browsed used books, chatted with co-workers from the Hennepin County Library, grabbed some lunch, and browsed vendors selling local products.

This year, Lindsay and I visited on the Friday that began the 40th anniversary of the Pride Festival with the Pride Dabbler, the Beer Dabbler’s celebration of both Minnesota’s inclusive community and its burgeoning craft brewing scene. With a theme of “Icons,” each brewery or cidery crafted its own tribute to various advocates of bringing awareness to gender and marriage equality. It was definitely a fun time to be in such an inclusive crowd, with people enjoying the amusingly named beverages such as Gandalf the Grapefruit and the Frida Kahlo Unibrau brewed up by more than fifty breweries  from all over the state. There were so many great brews I would definitely like to try again, including Birches on the Lake’s coffee chocolate stout and boysenberry sour, and 612’s Mary Anne ginger lager. While Lindsay isn’t much of a beer fan herself, there were a few cideries offering some delicious varieties of cider as well, such as Number 12 Cider House’s Black Current.

IMG_20160624_193604Thankfully, local food trucks were on hand as well to peddle enough food to soak up all that beer. The giant pretzels from the Neu Bohemia Foodtruck proved quite popular, and one was enough for both of us to fill up. We found passersby to be quite interested in where it came from! All in all, it was exhilarating to see the diversity of the celebrations; people from all backgrounds walked about the shores of Loring Pond- I was amazed at how expansive the park seemed when filled with people- it never struck me as that huge before, but it became a maze of music, booths, and dancing, even as the evening closed on the first night of the festival. Particularly in today’s political environment, it is great to have such a vibrant celebration of diversity in our city. I’m looking forward to seeing more next summer!

 

Northern Spark 2016: Climate Chaos, Climate Rising

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I attended the Northern Spark for the fifth time this year, and it was quite the adventure as always. Checking it out with my sister and aunt as well, it was Lindsay’s first time experiencing this idiosyncratic standard of the Twin Cities summer! Spending a sultry summer night experiencing the many wonders brought to you from the innovative and diverse minds on the streets of Minneapolis has always felt like a magical night to me. Wandering around, there were new and strange wonders to experience everywhere. This year, the majority of the festival centered exclusively in the Mill District, utilizing facilities at the Mill Ruins Park, Mill City Museum, and the Guthrie, so Lindsay and I biked in from St. Paul. As the twilight faded and night arrived, haunting images were projected up on the old grain elevators and factory chimneys and eerie music began to drift up from some undersea dance.

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The glowing sea creatures of the Illuminated Reef. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The theme this year’s Northern Spark was climate change and the future, “Climate Chaos and Climate Rising,” a theme that is continuing on to next summer as well, and if you’ve followed my other blog, Reading Rainstorm, you know this is a topic I find fascinating. Many of the events and exhibits brought a makeshift, tongue in cheek “apocalypse” to the Mill District, fitting in well in the industrial ruins of the former milling capital.

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The flags indicate jars of water and their quality from various bodies of water around the Twin Cities, from Lake Calhoun to a puddle from a dog park. 

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Entrance to the Night Library

Having a couple of librarians with us, we of course started out at the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s interactive performance celebrating the role of libraries in the community. Nestled under the Stone Arch Bridge, the Night Library imagined a post-apocalyptic future swampland in Minneapolis, plagued by mutant mosquitoes and moose, as scavenging librarians hoped to piece together the knowledge of the past to share with the future. A little weird, but a lot of fun!

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The Minnesotan Ice bartering storefront. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Minnesotan Ice concessions stand seemed to come from the same world, a traveling caravan carting potable Minnesotan Ice to the parched lands of the future, allowing festival goers to trade random objects for some object frozen in a block of ice, 2.5% of which were edible. While we didn’t come away with a treat, Lindsay did get a cool

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Treasure from Minnesotan Ice. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

“grandma” card frozen in an ice cube!

Over in the Guthrie, the Nerd vs. Nerd event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, was another festival highlight, in which local scholars present short papers while a local artist interprets them. A good way to sit down for awhile while learning some interesting things. Over in the Mill City Museum, we also got some rest watching the intriguing Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet art form from the island of Java in Indonesia in its traditional all night length. A new story, Bimo Gugah, depicts a hero realizing that various climatic calamities were the result of his country’s poor leadership, the lush show featured guest artists from Indonesia and the rest of the U.S.  

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Late Night in the Mill District. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron.

 

As we paused to listen to the music and watch the screen and behind the scene working of the music and shadow puppets, we noted climatic changes of our own as lightning began to arc across the sky above the Minneapolis skyline, followed by distant thunder. Realizing the night was nearly over, as the rain began to fall, we began pedaling our way back to St. Paul, getting soaked during the journey. The wet bike ride was an exciting end to a fun night!

 

Grand Old Days 2016

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The crowd takes over Grand Avenue, St. Paul

Last Sunday, Lindsay introduced me to another new event right there in my new neighborhood, Grand Old Days! The first of the year’s summer street festivals in St. Paul, Grand Old Days, celebrating the neighborhoods adjacent to Grand Avenue, from Dale Street to Fairview Avenue. My first time experiencing this decades old event. While the Open Streets Minneapolis events have been drumming up interest in bringing together local businesses, institutions, and residents together in shutting down major thoroughfares for pedestrian and cyclist exploration of Twin Cities neighborhoods, across the river in St. Paul they have apparently been doing this since the 1970s!  

Although Grand Old Days includes a parade in the morning, Lindsay and I made a casual visit later in the day to check out what was going on this year. We strolled down the entire route, from Dale to Fairview and back, around six miles round trip – encountering crowds of festive people, food trucks, and local organizations along the way. There was plenty of food to keep us going; gourmet chocolate mini-doughnuts, Frio Frio ice lollies, and some of Brasa’s delicious tortilla chips and guacamole. We couldn’t pass up some of Topper’s topperstix, too, of course.

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come get your free plungers! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition to the food and drink, there were many opportunities for people watching. Along the route, we passed many other people out enjoying the beautiful weather, along with various booths for local businesses, non-profits, and assorted eccentric groups It was a bit weird to see some of the political outfits, though, in particular the rather cringe inducing National Coalition for Men harping about just how hard it is to be a man these days what with all of those false rape accusations being filed against us. Well, what can you do? Just laugh openly as you pass ‘em, I guess. The only thing more funny than them was the religious whackos taking advantage of the crowd to stand on the street corner shouting at passersby about hell and the sin of having fun, only to be mocked by a woman yelling down from her balcony. Anyway, it is amazing how many people wear t-shirts proclaiming their love of Minnesota and the various breweries that can be found here!

Speaking of that, for those looking to enjoy some libations, an $8 wristband was required, which also granted access to a series of “entertainment district” venues along the route. Of course, that cost does not include the libations! Some offered fun activities, like hammerschlagen and volunteers from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s interactive mural made from festival goer colored panels. Of course, the centerpiece of the entertainment district  was the variety of musical acts performing throughout the day. At Axl’s Bonfire, Your Dad’s Band was there, performing nostalgic rock covers for those drinking the overpriced drinks. Down the street at Dixies on Grand, the local electronic indie band Solid Gold played a pretty appreciative crowd, with a beach ball being lobbed around.

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Solid Gold plays Grand Old Days! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

There really is nothing more fun, I feel, then to walk carefree down the middle of a busy road. It really lets you get an even closer, more detailed view of the neighborhood.I am looking forward to checking out a few in Minneapolis later in the summer.