Being a compendium of thoughts as we drive and drive and....
home sweet home
The Journey by the numbers…
24 states plus Ontario
We traveled with six suitcases, two tote bags and two briefcases.
What we packed and did not use...
Camp chairs – just once and not really needed then
What we neglected to pack...
Laura: Warm clothes (thank you Amazon and Target)
Ed: EpiPens (thank you Cathy)
We saw 14 family members and 10 friends...
and met 6 new dogs.
We stayed at hotels, motels, cabins, inns, B&Bs, an Airbnb, and friends’ guest rooms.
The only meals we prepared were sandwiches for lunch on the trail.
We drank more beer than wine and almost completely eliminated our daily consumption of seltzer.
Best meals: New Orleans
Worst meals: some of the free hotel breakfasts
We get on the scale tomorrow! And Ed gets his hair cut.
We acquired one new work of art in Marfa, seven T shirts and five spoon rests.
We kept up our puzzle habits (Laura may have even spent more time in the quest for Queen Bee) but consumed far less news. Libby and Hoopla kept us supplied with ebooks and audio books. Netflix filled several evenings, but fewer than we’d have guessed.
We began our day in Seneca Falls at the Women's Rights National Historical Park, where we had mixed emotions about progress and backsliding.
Some advice about a road trip. Support your favorite museum with a membership at a high enough level to get NARM reciprocal privileges. Ditto an American Horticultural Society member garden if that's your thing. Get a National Park pass when you turn 62. It’s so easy to make the decision to explore new places when you don't have to think about the cost!
We spent most of the day on the U.S. side of the falls, in the state park. Unlike its Canadian counterpart, New York has limited commercial enterprises around the falls. And the smaller town of Niagara Falls, NY is more detached geographically. The result is that while the views are less dramatic, the experience is much more pleasant.
We did the obligatory Maid of the Mist boat trip out onto the river and up to the falls. Ed’s parents did the tour back in the 1940s. It is certainly a different experience to be right under the thundering water. The rest of the day was spent walking to various overlooks and viewpoints.
One thing struck us over and over the last two days – the incredible racial, linguistic, and cultural diversity of the tourists. Yes, this is a major international destination and yet this is unlike anything we have found in any another park or attraction in any country.
We did some of the drive towards home and are in Waterloo, NY, where Memorial Day was first observed on May 5, 1866. Two years later it was made a national holiday on May 30, but Waterloo still celebrates on the original date. Dinner in Geneva, home to Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a charming town on the lake.
Somewhere along the way we finished Why Fish Don't Exist and listened to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman, which we enjoyed a lot. Now we are on to Taste, Stanley Tucci's memoir, which is perfect for driving - no plot to follow and more or less freestanding chapters. But we are going to need some Wait Wait Don't Tell Me downloads for tomorrow. And at night, The Diplomat!
Seven weeks and a day on the road = 50 days.
A day at Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, which has great views of all three falls. In addition to admiring the falls from the shore, we did a number of the Niagara Parks’ attractions. The Journey Behind the Falls gave us some great views from an observation platform right at one edge of Horseshoe Falls. The Power Plant was a bit of a disappointment, however. After walking 2200 feet through the old water exhaust tunnel, we had a view that was not as good as the earlier one. Then, after walking back through the same tunnel, the power plant itself, while somewhat interesting, could have been better interpreted. We then went to Niagara Fury, a “4D motion theater” which tells “the ancient story of Niagara Falls in this multi-sensory simulation of the last Ice Age.” It was a complete waste of time.
Luckily, the walk along the Niagara Gorge, with its Class 6 white water, and the aerial tram over the whirlpool were both impressive and fun.
All in all, though, the best parts of the day were the unvarnished views of the Falls and the Gorge - nature really doesn’t need the assistance of modern technology to awe us.
We are definitely not in South Dakota anymore. We started the day with Yemeni breakfast in Dearborn, Michigan and ended with Indian dinner in Niagara Falls, Canada.
Over that spicy breakfast, we made the decision to spend the day at Greenfield Village instead of the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. It was a beautiful day and Laura was feeling old school. Friday in May = tons of school kids but it was fun. We could not help but notice the persistent storyline of African Americans who overcame enslavement and other hardships to contribute to American culture rather than a frank admission of the horrors of slavery.
We spent some time in the weaving exhibit learning about the manually-operated Jacquard loom (with hand punched control cards) and a cool dobby loom.
One surprise was a quite good art glass collection.
Then it was over the Ambassador Bridge to Canada and onto Niagara Falls, which is our penultimate destination and one of the primary landmarks of our trip planning. We are on the 19th floor of our hotel, with a view of American Falls.
a travel day
Betsy said we had to see the Fonz in Bronze on the Milwaukee riverwalk, which was a good way to stretch our legs and admire downtown architecture and other art before our long drive. We expect we will return to Milwaukee sometime.
We are back in the Eastern time zone, definitely a marker that we are on the home stretch. We just made our final hotel reservation.
This was our third four-state-day as we drove 370+ miles and six hours through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. As with Minneapolis/ St Paul, we skipped Chicago, prioritizing new destinations. (Our record drive is still the first day, 435 miles across six states.)
art and architecture in milwaukee
The Milwaukee Art Museum, designed by Santiago Calatrava, was on our itinerary from the very beginning. Completed in 2001, the 90-foot-high entrance hall is topped by a moveable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily. It is a city landmark, much like the Sydney Opera House. It is breathtaking from every angle.
We began our visit with their excellent temporary exhibition, Scandinavian Design and the United States, 1890–1980. It would have been so easy to just fill the gallery with beautiful recognizable work, and yes, there was a lot of Marimekko and Dansk (an American, not a Danish company!). But the exhibit was much more interesting. It included new scholarship on the crucial impact the Scandinavian countries and America had on one another’s material culture. And it looked at the contributions of immigrants to Nordic countries and to the U.S., including faculty at Cranbrook and other art schools. The final section was about designs for sustainability and accessibility, including a Volvo that pioneered three point seat belts. Below, just two of the great woven textiles...
We stopped to watch the roof fold and unfold at noon with Laura’s friend and former student Amy and ate lunch at the historic Pfister Hotel. We later learned that visiting sports teams are told that it is haunted.
Back to the museum for the excellent collections of 20th century art, American furniture, and modern design. Much of the German expressionist and American abstract art is the gift of a single donor, Peg Bradley, who had a wonderful eye, great advisors, or both.
Milwaukee has a great program of temporary outdoor sculpture and many of the pieces are acquired by local businesses and installed permanently. Add the sculpture in and around the museum and the lake front is a treat to walk around. The great architecture of downtown helps a lot too.
We had dinner with Laura’s colleague Julie and her husband Mike, who had provided lots of great advice about traveling in South Dakota and Wisconsin.
How can we focus on writing the blog when Westminster is on? Two of our favorite breeds are up for Best in Show!
We did an extended tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and architectural school Taliesin, in Spring Green, in the beautiful Driftless district of southern Wisconsin. We saw the school, several smaller houses, the farm buildings, and then the enormous (27,000 square foot) main complex. We’ve seen many Wright houses designed for others, but it was fascinating to see his own home. Ironically the interior was less strictly controlled than what he expected of his clients. Many of the objects Wright collected in Asia are among the furnishings.
The truss work of the large drafting studio in the school was particularly interesting.
A rainy day
A rainy, cool day and so what else – go to a museum. Circus World is owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society and is located a few miles south of Wisconsin Dells in the town of Baraboo. The Ringling Brothers were from Baraboo and started their circus here. It was the circus’ winter quarters until they bought the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the early 1900s. Many other circuses also called Baraboo home. In fact, the number of Wisconsin circuses was astonishing. The Ringling buildings form the basis of this museum. They now have lots of circus memorabilia, including more that 9,000 posters, some neat small dioramas, and hundreds of circus wagons, many of which are on display. A little quirky, but it was a great place to spend a few hours.
Then, a relaxing time at the Balancing Rock Winery for tasting and snacks. The wines were good enough that we bought a few bottles to bring home. Wisconsin wines, indeed.
It is easy to be snarky about the Wisconsin Dells. The main drag through the region is a series of huge, garish, and tacky family attractions. We had been told it was the waterpark capital of America, but the slides, roller coasters, and mini golf courses are now dwarfed by oversized multi faceted “experiences,” escape rooms, and arcades. If buildings could scream, they’d all be shouting at the top of their architectural lungs.
Fortunately, the natural surroundings are still there, on the fringes. We are staying at a modest but quiet lakefront resort. Today we took a boat trip on the upper dells of the Wisconsin River. The river is lined by a large deposit of Cambrian sandstone, a rock that forms beautiful and deep chasms. We walked into Witches Gulch, which was very cool.
Then we stopped at Standing Rock, the location of H. H. Bennett’s famous first stop-action photo of his son making the 5’8” leap. It took his son 17 tries before he got the perfect image. Visitors are not allowed to the top of the rocks, but the tour company trains dogs to make the leap. And there’s a safety net.
We tried to do a short hike but the trail no longer matched the description. So we returned to the lakeside and spent time in the pool, hot tub, and sauna.
Four states, 500 miles, avoiding flood warnings, pea soup fog to start the day, rain some of the rest. Ramen for lunch, which was just what we needed on a wet, raw day of driving.
When we started the day, Laura had been to 49 states and Ed had been to 48. Tonight, we are both at 50! The picture below is Laura’s feet on the ground in North Dakota - her 50th!
We are in the Wisconsin Dells for three nights, two days, kicking back a bit.
Laura and Ed