Sunday, July 28, 2013

Edge of the Wilderness

Thursday morning we got up early (you know, 10-ish) and drove to Grand Rapids which is about 45 miles east of Bemidji. Their Mississippi River connection (every town in these parts has some kind of Mississippi River connection) is that this was the farthest you could navigate a steamboat up the river back in the day. Why? Because of the Grand Rapids, of course. It would be interesting to see what these impassable rapids looked like, but they're gone now. A lumber company built a dam on the river to create a mill pond to store their logs in, so the rapids are now under about 15 feet of water. It doesn't help the steamboats though. In the first place, the last steamboat was removed from service quite a while back and anyway, the dam presents every bit as much of an obstruction as the rapids ever did.
Farmers Market
Fortunately, we did not come here to see the rapids. We came here so that Vicki could finally get her delicious fresh produce at a bona fide farmers market. The market consisted of about 20 stalls under canvas shades. Some of them sold vegetables, some sold fresh and/or home processed meat and several had a variety of jams, jellies and relishes for sale. Apparently, in order to get the good stuff you have to arrive slightly earlier than we did (about four hours). But we did score one very nice looking, moderately large zucchini (which, in other parts of the country, your garden obsessed neighbors would be begging
Produce kind of picked over
you to take off of their hands for free) some very nice maple and cranberry infused bratwurst and a jar of green pepper jelly. We have had green pepper jelly before and liked it but look at this display. There apparently is nothing these people won't make jam or jelly out of.  We could also have had some farm fresh eggs, but they looked kind of scrawny and we had a dozen nice jumbo supermarket eggs back at the motorhome, so we gave them a pass.
Weird jelly

The other reason for driving to Grand Rapids was that it is the southern end of the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway. This is another of those secondary roads designated by the Department of Transportation as particularly scenic or historic or… whatever. We think this is an experience that we should share with our readers so click on the arrow and enjoy a sample of a United States scenic byway.

Now, set the player to loop indefinitely. Rest your head on your hands and watch it repeat for about two hours. Congratulations, you have just experienced the Edge of the Wilderness Scenic Byway. Seriously, all of the "scenic" roads in this area seem to be lined with trees and thick underbrush so you can't see anything past about 3 feet into the forest. Occasionally you may drive past a field that has been cleared for farming and, since there are 10,000 lakes in the vicinity, you may occasionally detect a glimpse of water through the trees but the overwhelming majority of the time what you're looking at is a 30 foot wide road through a forest, which is nice for the first 10 min. but doesn't really hold one's interest too much beyond that.

To break up the monotony, we took a couple of unpaved side roads to try to get a better look at some of the lakes. In Minnesota, lakes look like this:

All of the lakes look like this. Every lake we have seen looks exactly like this. There is a large body of water and on the opposite shore you can see trees. Five feet beyond the trees it is possible there is another scenic byway, but you could never be sure. Occasionally along the shoreline you'll see signs
Signs of a resort
of a resort. The usual indication is a line of canoes sitting on the edge of the water. But we never saw a canoe actually in the water nor any signs of life near the canoes. I think they are kind of like the Indian village you go past on the paddlewheel boat at Disneyland. They're just there to give a feeling of versimilitude to the landscape. I don't think there are any actual resorts here.

We did pull off the road at one National Forest information site that informed us we were standing on a continental divide. Water on our right hand flowed down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico while water on the left hand would flow north to Hudson Bay. How the Hudson Bay water gets past the Great Lakes I have not quite work out yet but there is apparently another divide nearby which separates the Hudson Bay water from the St. Lawrence River water. I think there is just too much water being divvied up here. That's why the Colorado River doesn't make it to the Pacific Ocean anymore. All of the water is being bogarted by Minnesota.

When you cross the great divide in the Rocky Mountains, it's fairly obvious that it is downhill in both directions from where you are standing. In Minnesota, the land is so flat it's kind of hard to figure out why the water goes anywhere. I mean, the Mississippi River only drops 1475 feet from its origin all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. In the western mountains, you can get a drop of 1400 feet just crossing the street. I don't really know why all of the water in this area doesn't just puddle up and evaporate away.

Paul Bunyan Playhouse
After the scenic drive, we had a night of entertainment planned. We had ordered some tickets for the show at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse. In Bemidji, they do summer theater the old-fashioned way. They actually bring in professional actors (nobody you've ever heard of, but they do manage to make a living out of it), put them up in an old resort at the north end of town and form a temporary repertory company. They rehearse and put on a series of plays for three months. The current production is a 1960s romantic farce called "Boeing Boeing" which apparently had a successful revival on Broadway four or five years ago. The show was enjoyable but had the feel of a 1960s television sitcom. It had some funny lines but the overall situation was a little too ridiculous and seriously strained our suspension of disbelief. It wasn't fine art but, what the heck, everybody had a good time and the acting quality was better than they probably would have gotten from local thespians. If we were staying long enough for the next show to open, I'd give it another whirl.

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