North of the border: trip to Canada & the Midwest
CATCHING UP: In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Dominion of Canada (1867), it's an appropriate occasion to finally write a description of my trip up to Canada -- and from thence out to South Dakota -- two summers ago. (I will soon do likewise, even more belatedly, for my grand summer vacation into the desert southwest, in June 2014.) It was an ambitious adventure that included (of course) baseball, birding, and family affairs. I already posted separate blog accounts related to baseball in August 14, 2015 and will do one about wild birds in the next day or two.
My trip began on July 18, heading in a northerly direction along I-81 into The Keystone State, then west briefly on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and then north again on the Bud Shuster Highway (I-99). That reminded me of all the corruption and pork-barrel scandals in which the former congressman was involved; see cato.org. From there I continued into western New York state, and spent the night in Buffalo, where I stopped to take photos of Coca-Cola Field (formerly Pilots Field), where the minor league Buffalo Bisons play.
Before the sun came up on July 19, I arrived at the American side of Niagara Falls, took a few photos there, and then crossed the bridge into Canada. I had been on that side once before, in the 1980s, and Canada's Horseshoe Falls are much bigger and dramatic in appearance. In the morning light, the skyline of the city of Niagara Falls was truly spectacular. The gardens and buildings are very well maintained.
After Niagara Falls, I drove west along the coast of Lake Ontario. I passed by two historical sites of note: McFarland House and the Battle of Fort George, in which the U.S. Army invaded and briefly occupied part of Canada during the War of 1812. How many Americans know anything about that conflict? (See warof1812.ca.) It is a very prosperous area, with nice homes and many fruit orchards. Passing quickly through the city of Hamilton, I arrived in downtown Toronto shortly after noon, found a place to park and walked toward Rogers Centre, where I saw the Blue Jays defeat the Tampa Bay Rays. I marvelled at the immense CN Tower next to the Rogers Centre, but was disappointed that there is a long wait to take the elevator trip to the top, so I'll have to do that some other time.
I spent the night at a motel near London, Ontario, and briefly explored the city the next day. Not surprisingly, there is a Thames River, and I stopped at a park adjacent to it. I bought some premium beer at a Labatt's brewery store downtown, to share with my brothers. Then I left and headed west toward Michigan. I thought I might save time by avoiding heavy traffic in Detroit by crossing at Port Huron. I had a satisfying meal in Sarnia at Harvey's, a Canadian hamburger chain restaurant. I had poutine, a Canadian specialty consisting of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. That'll stick to your ribs!
Then I crossed the bridge back into the good old U.S. of A., but was annoyed by the long delay at the immigration / customs inspection station. My gas tank was almost empty, making me even more anxious. About an hour later, I entered Detroit but took the wrong exit and wasted another 15 minutes finding Comerica Park, where the Tigers were playing the Seattle Mariners. After the game, I stopped briefly at the site of Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009.
The next day (July 21), I paid a visit to the University of Michigan in the city of Ann Arbor. I wanted to see Michigan Stadium, the biggest college football stadium, with a capacity of over 100,000. I tried but failed to get inside for a look. I then drove through southern Michigan, which was unremarkable, and stopped at Indiana Dunes, from whence I had a view of Chicago, located about 30 miles to the west. It's an amazing place, great for observing nature or just for enjoying the sun at the beach. After a couple hours there, I drove into Chicago, cursing at all the traffic and toll booths, and arrived at U.S. Cellular Field well over an hour before the White Sox began playing the St. Louis Cardinals, in an interleague game. Afterwards, I left the city via a "shortcut" that was a little trickier than I expected. The south side of Chicago is reputed to be tough (as Jim Croce noted in his song, "Bad, Bad LeRoy Brown"), but it really wasn't so bad. I spent the night near Joliet, which reminded me of the Blues Brothers movie.
July 22 was strictly devoted to driving westward, and my only stop of significance was in the town of Van Meter, Iowa. I learned that the Bob Feller Museum now shares the building with the City Hall, presumably for reasons of economy. [He was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.] I had visited there once before, but it wasn't open that day. Late in the day I arrived in Vermillion, warmly greeted at the door by my Dad. (About nine months later, he passed away.)
On July 25, Dad and I drove south into Nebraska, his beloved native state. (He actually grew up in Kansas, but that's another story.) We stopped at a few scenic spots along the way, but missed the turn which led to the town of Malmo, where his mother grew up. In Lincoln, we saw Memorial Stadium, home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and then visited his fraternity house (ATΩ), the State Capitol (famed for its tall tower), and finally the house where two of his aunts once lived. I remember visiting them, but the neighborhood seemed much more crowded than I thought. On the way back home, we stopped in the town of Oakland, which hosts the Swedish Heritage Center. (For some reason, Dad became obsessed with his Swedish heritage late in life.)
On August 1, we took a day trip to Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge, where we watched birds for a while. We stopped at a few towns along the way, including Lesterville, home of a famous strip club. The next day we played a round of golf, and I shot a 38, the under-40 first round for me in over a decade! Dad shot a 42, which is probably even more impressive, given that he was 86 at the time.
On August 6, Dad and I drove up to Sioux Falls, stopping at a couple wetland areas on the way there to look for birds. In Sioux Falls, we joined up with my brother Chris to see the falls on the Big Sioux River. Then we continued north to the picturesque town of Dell Rapids, and to the nearby natural wonder known as the Palisades. It's South Dakota's version of the Grand Canyon, you might say.
Just before leaving Vermillion, I finally did something I had postponed for many years: visit the National Music Museum. It was created by former USD music professor Arne B. Larson, and was originally called the "Shrine to Music." It has exhibits with exotic instruments from around the world, as well as classical music instruments. There is even a guitar formerly owned by the renowned singer Shawn Colvin, who was a friend of mine in grade school! (Last year my brother Dan bought me a CD recorded by her and Steve Earle, which she autographed and inscribed for me.)
On my return trip to Virginia, I took the southerly route, visiting my brother Dan in the Kansas City area. We had a great barbecue dinner, and Dan delighted in showing me all of the home renovation and landscaping projects he is working on. On the way out of town, I stopped briefly to take photos of Arrowhead Stadium (home of the Chiefs) and Kauffman Stadium (home of the Royals, who had won the American League pennant the year before, and were on their way to winning the World Series later that year)! About ten miles east of Kansas City, I stopped at Burr Oak Woods natural area, hoping to see birds. To my surprise, there were many interesting butterflies there. About five hours later I arrived in St. Louis, and spent some time taking photos in downtown. I even went to the top of the Gateway Arch, for the first time since 1987. As you can see, the weather was ideal for picture-taking:
Just before leaving St. Louis, I took some quick photos of Busch Stadium, which I had toured four years earlier. From there it was pretty much a non-stop drive east along Interstate 64, through Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, and back into Virginia. To see a comprehensive set of photos from that trip, please take a look at the Chronological (2015) photo gallery page.