| Day 1 Amnicon
Falls State Park, Superior, Wisconsin
To journey across the northern Great Plains in a brand-new 1921 Model
T, jouncing along roads described as "Slightly improved dirt and
gumbo", must have been an epic roadtrip indeed, fraught with hazards
and great discomfitures. These days we are thrown into a rage when our
smooth highway journey is spoiled by a blundered drive-thru order. "I
didn't order Diet Coke …!"
So this morning as my traveling partner,
Lorie, and I drive our 1983 Volkswagen Camper away from the edge of
Lake Superior and climb US Route 2 up the steep bluffs behind Duluth,
Minn., we embark on a roadtrip that will soon join the path of many
earlier westward explorers who went before us. Over a century ago,
railroad magnate James J. Hill began laying track for his Great
Northern Railway along this same route, the nation's fifth and
northernmost transcontinental railroad, linking the Great Lakes and the
Mississippi River with the Pacific. Our journey also marks the
bicentennial of the 1804 outbound leg of the Lewis and Clark
expedition, which followed the Missouri River up to the Continental
Divide and beyond. And long before that were the Sioux, Hidatsa,
Arikara, and other native Americans who for thousands of years had used
the water highway of the upper Missouri as a route for trade, hunting,
Indians find that quite curious, as they seem to recall there being
plenty of lakes here before the guys in flannel shirts showed up, so
who knows? In any case, looking at Paul's misshapen and uncomfortable
footwear, I wonder if he shouldn't have
been called Paul Bunion.
along through the dense northern forests of Minnesota with
a light rain falling and gray skies. At Bemidji we swing in off Route 2
to pay homage to Paul Bunyan, mythical king of the lumberjacks. Legend
it that the famous ten thousand lakes of Minnesota were formed by the
oversized feet of the giant Paul, along with his bovine sidekick, Babe
the Big Blue Ox, as they stomped around in the thick northwoods,
a'choppin' down trees.
we cruise along the smooth and sparsely driven two-lane highway through
these green forests, Robert Frost's evocative "road less traveled by."
We shall see if that indeed makes all the
2 has been called the Great Northern Route, in honor of Hill's
railroad. Locals along the western portions of this highway applied the
same nickname they used for the railway, "The Highline," since it
closely parallels the Canadian border, sometimes veering within
eighteen miles of our northern neighbor. Nearby Interstate I-90, though
perhaps offering a smoother and faster drive west, unfortunately
suffers from the same maladies as most Interstates: seemingly endless
superslab monotony, eerily identical 'travel plazas', and dense clots
of glaze-eyed motorists. Completely unsuitable for the fine art of
The other feet, shown here for scale, are those of your humble author.
The sandals are undoubtedly more comfortable, but completely unsuitable
for creating a
Land O'Lakes, and probably should not be worn anywhere west of the
Mississippi. More on that later.
Toward evening, we roll into Devils Lake, N.
Dak., and decide to stop for the night. I passed through here once a
couple of years ago, and I
know there's a campground nearby, so we turn south to find it.
to say, this has gobbled up lots of farmland, hundreds of homes,
highways, railroads, and other infrastructure, and is threatening to
consume the city of Devils Lake. In recent years, more than three
hundred fifty million in federal dollars have been spent to relocate
people, raise roads, and build levees, and everywhere you look there
are giant earthmovers and great piles of rip-rap. Side roads turn off
and promptly disappear beneath the waves, standing forests of dead and
blackened trees line the shallows, and abandoned farms poke up out of
definitely something odd going on in Devils Lake, and like the first
time I visited here, we are soon struck by a pervasive sense of death,
impending doom, and nature gone wrong. The Sioux who lived here before
white immigration called the place Spirit Lake, but the spirits seem
disgruntled. Above-average precipitation in recent years has caused the
lake to rise more than twenty-five feet, and to nearly triple in size,
from seventy square miles to over two hundred.
Chamber of Commerce has tried to put a smiley face on the matter,
enthusiastically calling themselves "The Sportsman's Paradise!", but
everyone is still sandbagging. Indeed, the place has become renowned as
a regional fishing hotspot, but we didn't see many other pleasure craft
like water skiers or sailboats. You wouldn't want to snag your keel on
someone's submerged silo or windmill, I guess.
around looking for the campground for over an hour, the map directing
us down roads which no longer exist, and I swear our compass spins in
circles. Great swarms of insects the size of sparrows hurl themselves
at our windshield, and local landmarks appear to have been uprooted and
transplanted five miles away from their original locations. I don't
know exactly what the citizens here did to anger the spirits or Mother
Nature, but something is definitely amiss.
We finally stumble upon the state park, and
gratefully settle in for