Friday, February 21, 2014

Expanding our Duluth explorations

We knew we had chores to take care of. There comes a time in every cross country traveler's itinerary where things like laundry, shopping, and general upkeep trump sight seeing and hanging out, and this morning was shaping up as one of those times. We started the day tag teaming in the port style showering trailer. A metal box with a mens, a womens, and a coed shower/bathroom facility, we took turns showering in the confining space trying not to get our clothes and shoes wet in the closet like room. After getting our bodies clean it was time to sort through our dirty clothing, towels and linens and set off to find a laundromat.
We find ourselves doing laundry as often as we can so it doesn't build up, but every three or four laundries turns out to be a major load with sheets and blankets, wet towels and sweatshirts, and this was one of those days. We got everything stowed away in stuff sacks and pillow cases, and then unhooked the RV and headed into downtown Duluth where Jerani had located a laundromat on the Kindle. It was early Monday morning just after the commute so the roads were pretty clear. We meandered our way through the downtown district and spied a number of businesses we wanted to check out later in the day, including a couple of antique shops. We drove through an area dominated by wonderful turn of the century homes and apartments, and finally pulled up outside a large and mostly empty laundromat. (A word to the wise; when doing laundry, especially in the summer and in tourist destinations, go early. The type of people that frequent laundromats don't tend to be early risers. Woe be it the person who shows up to clean their clothes at three in the afternoon. We drug our clothes out and as we made our way into the laundry we greeted by the stereotypical patrons who frequent these business. A sullen looking elderly man who I guessed was Turkish, smoking unfiltered cigarettes and eying us as we pushed past him and into the building. A huge twenty something African-American man, probably no more than six foot tall but every ounce of three hundred pounds sprawled across two of the plastic chairs reading a three year old magazine. A young mother worked equally hard loading three washing machines as she did corralling her three precocious toddlers, frazzled as only a young mother can seem. And last but not least, two people hefting stuff sacks and pillow cases bulging with  dirty clothes which they've just lugged over from a filthy RV parked out at the curb. That would be us. I think it's also important to point out here that this was probably the nicest Laundromat in Duluth, and had received the best reviews of any in the area on Trip Adviser. This is the reality of washing your clothes on the road, and you can see why Jerani for the most part has left this chore to me.
Right off bat we noticed that the machines didn't take quarters, something we had in spades, but took tokens they sold in a separate machine. Obviously the trick was to not over purchase tokens, because I'm pretty sure they wouldn't be taken as legal tender outside said laundry. I did my best calculation and dropped what seemed to me as a million quarters into the token machine, and was rewarded with hokey coinage that would look right at home in some third world country; something like the "Republic of Laundravia". Well things didn't get off to a very auspicious start when the washing machine that Jerani loaded failed to accept the tokens. Well let me rephrase that, the machine greedily accepted the tokens, it just refused to deliver on it's end of the bargain. Tokens in, absolutely no water out. That translated into a three dollar and twenty five cent loss. We looked around and of course there is no human presence at these do-it-yourself laundromats, just a stack of fill in sheets urging the complaining party to mail said complaint to such and such address and we will reimburse you for your loss. Yeah, right.We then had to dig all the clothes out of the offending washer to transfer to a (cross your fingers) machine that hopefully was in working order. After finally getting the laundry going we walked back out to the RV, past the sullen Turkish chain smoker, and settled into preparing a nice breakfast of fried egg sandwiches. Mmmmm...so good! After breakfast I went back in and switched the clothes into the dryers without incident, and borrowed a fishing magazine to peruse while waiting for the clothing to dry. I then folded the clothes while listening to children shriek, large African American men speak to Taxi services on his cell phone, and a strange Turkish man who may or may not have been doing laundry sort through the six year old Family Circle magazines scattered across the little Formica tables. Ah it just doesn't get any better than this! Jerani took Max on a little walk down the block, and we finally rendezvoused back at the RV. We had planned on doing a little exploration on the outskirts of town and Jerani had seen on the computer that there was a nice park and garden just north of Duluth just above Lake Superior, and there was also some sort of a free Arts and Crafts Festival going on the grounds of a Historical Lake Superior Estate.
We headed out of town and about ten minutes later pulled up at curb next to Leif Erickson Park. We got Erley into his walking jacket and leashed both him and Max and headed out into the beautiful Rose Garden. The roses were all in bloom and we had a nice time picking out our favorites and breathing in their perfume. Erley loved hiding in between the clumps of foliage, and Max scanned the park for other animals.
Leif Erickson Park is quite nice, with a large brick pathway high above the shoreline of Lake Superior and gorgeous views of downtown Duluth. Lots of people strolled in the morning sunshine, and several children played in the large white gazebo that sits in the middle of a dark green expanse of lawn. An older couple came over to pet Erley and comment on his walking jacket, and a little later a couple of young girls and their mothers bent down to pet the animals. We visited another part of the gardens which were planted in all sorts of flowers and found an isolated bench to rest up on.
Erley lounged in the shadows between plants and watched the world go by, as Max pestered us to get up off our butts and continue to explore. It's hard to take children anywhere. After about ten minutes a couple of people found our secret garden and it was time to go.
We set off for Glensheen Historic Congdon Estate where a free Arts and Crafts Festival was underway. Sitting on the banks of Lake Superior this 7.6 acre estate is owned by the University of Minnesota and was once the home of Chester Adgate Congdon, one of the richest and most influential businessman in Duluth during the turn of the century. 
He had the 38 room Jacobian style mansion built in 1905 and completed in 1908. The Estate is situated in a neighborhood of classic turn of the century fine homes, and has sweeping panoramas of Lake Superior. As we neared our destination traffic started slowing down and backing up and soon we were in a stop and go pattern with police up ahead waving most people on and away from what seemed to be the already burgeoning parking lots at the entrance to the estate.
There were large signs informing motorist that "in case of filled parking lots to please drive to the alternate parking facility at the local community college and then wait for the shuttles that will ferry you back to the festival". Well unfortunately this wasn't going to work for us. It was too hot out to leave Erley in a non-air conditioned RV without the ability to check on him. As the police waved more and more vehicles on we had decided to pass on the event even though we really wanted to go. It just wasn't going to be worth it to drive the RV another three miles to another lot and then wait both ways for shuttles. We were all ready to drive on past the entrance when low and behold the police officer with the orange coned flashlight waved us in. Huh? That was sort of unexpected, they wave all the Hyundai's and Honda's away and along comes a  22ft. RV and they lower the chain and wave us in. OK! We'll take. The volunteer parking attendants sent us through a completely packed parking area towards one empty space in the back. Perfect!
We opened all the screened windows and turned on the "Fantastic Fan" to get a nice flow of air going to cool our little kitty cat, and headed out towards the Arts and Crafts Festival and the Congdon Estate. Now don't get us wrong, we didn't come all the way out here to buy crystal jewelry and hand polished burl clocks. We collect "Arts and Crafts", but it's "Arts and Crafts Antiques" from the early nineteen hundreds; "Mission Style" pottery, metal ware, furniture, and paintings."
So we really didn't come here for the contemporary watercolors of Minnesota wildlife or hand carved walking sticks with leather wrapped handles bejeweled with multicolored beads and feathers. No, we came to the Festival to hang out, walk the Estates grounds, and hopefully eat some unhealthy fair style food. It's not that we won't look at what the artisans have created, it's just not our style. Yup, Snobs be us. We are WAY too sophisticated for an event such as this!
None the less we walked through the Estate gates and were immediately assaulted by the sounds of a very over the top and embarrassingly pedestrian Jazz band with a rather large woman in a cocktail dress belting out less than in tune big band renditions. You know those times when you're embarrassed by association? Well that's how it felt just being near to the group, so we shuffled through the crowd trying to put some distance between us and the offending singer.
It was a beautiful summer day, not too cold and not too hot, and the grounds were beautiful, with both flower and vegetable gardens, water features, carriage and Caretaker's cottages.
The mansion itself was gorgeous with multi-paned lead glass windows, multiple tall twisting brick chimneys, and beautiful oak trim all in the Beaux-style .
It is surrounded by classic English style gardens, and brick pathways leading to fountains spilling out into luscious aquamarine pools.
We thought that maybe we could tour the mansion as part of the free entrance fee, but the tour turned out to cost eighteen dollars (each), which just wasn't gonna happen. In fact the tour leaders in not so many words kind of made it seem like we shouldn't even look around the private grounds that surrounded the mansion. We of course completely disregarded these veiled suggestions, smiling and continuing to peer in every mansion window, and lounge on every mansion veranda we could find. I'm sorry, we had paid absolutely nothing to enter this event and we were determined to get our money's worth!
After strolling the grounds, we made a large loop through the Festivals tent style booths and looked at all of the "Arts and Crafts" the local artisans had produced. There were glass blowers and blacksmiths, and the usual crush of tee shirts, jewelry, and handmade photographic cards.
We didn't see anything we just couldn't live without, but we did stop and buy a corn-dog each at a very busy food kiosk. Munching on our lunch on a stick and trying not to get the inevitable neon yellow mustard stains on our clothing we made our way through the throngs of people and back to our little RV.
Erley was still quite happy but the interior of the vehicle was just starting to heat up. Perfect timing. We left the parking lot, once again feeling rather smug as we exited to see the police still hard at work waving motorist away from the parking lot, and took the time to tour the adjacent neighborhoods, which had their share of amazing properties and stately manors.
This must have been a VERY wealthy part of the city in the early 1900's, in fact is was a VERY wealthy part of the city right now! We love driving through these types of neighborhoods and looking at the grounds and the architecture. It's one of our favorite activities when we're back home. It's fun to find like the nicest part of town and then park and take a walk. Why walk in the icky parts of town, right?
Well we slowly made our way back across Duluth and drove through the high rise district and parallel parked our 22' RV (no small feat) in the middle of the business district and looked through a couple of antique shops that were right downtown. Afterwards on our way back to the RV we were amazed that no matter what the city, nor it's size, there are ALWAYS about nine or ten really suspect characters hanging around the downtown core. Duluth was no exception. We stepped over a couple of semi-comatose youth lolling in a doorway, and then sort of crossed the street so we wouldn't have to walk right through the middle of six or seven VERY LOUD street people. Why risk it is our motto. Don't be scared, but don't be naive either. Why put yourself into sketchy situations if you don't need to.
We drove back out to the Marina and relaxed for awhile before getting ready to walk down to the Lake Walk district for dinner.
An hour or so later while walking along the Saint Louis River towards the Aerial Bridge we saw a couple of men standing on the sandy beach and casting huge lures far out into the river and retrieving them at breakneck speed back towards shore. Knowing a little something about fishing I knew they were fishing for Muskie, the largest member of the toothy pike family. Jerani and I stopped to watch for a minute and a second later a huge eruption of water burst out from one of the men's triple treble hooked plug.
The man set the hook several times and then horsed in a giant Muskie; right there off a nondescript little beach next to an industrial dock right in the middle of a major metropolitan area. What do you know? I started looking at the surrounding water in a whole different light. I made a mental note to myself to do a little fishing before turning in for the evening.
Once downtown we set to work finding a place to eat, not an easy task given the number of establishments lining Lake Drive. There are couple of hugely popular brew pub style restaurants, sort of Duluth's version of Planet Hollywood. They were both packed, and yet the reviews on the internet were almost unanimously horrendous. All flash and no substance.
There was a Dave's BBQ joint, and the Chicago Pizza parlor (later we kicked ourselves for NOT getting another pizza), but we felt like relaxing a little with a little more of a fine dinning ambiance, something we didn't get to do very often on the road. Getting tired, and both of us starving made a knee jerk decision and settled on a pretty nice looking wood fired steakhouse and BBQ joint. We should have been tipped off when we were taken to our seats and passed through a nearly empty dinning room. We were excited to kick back with a couple of beers and relax, but no one came over to take our order. We were in a booth towards the back of the huge restaurant and we began to think that we had fallen through the cracks, when a frazzled looking waitress drifted around the corner. "Can I get you anything?" Uh yeah, like could we order a couple of beers and get some menus? We've been here almost ten minutes. "Oh sure, do you need some time?" Huh?! Time, no, I think ten minutes is plenty long to think about our beers. Two beers please, and menus? "Oh sure, I'll be right back..." I kid you not, another seven or eight minutes went by, and finally, just about twenty minutes after being seated we got our beers and menus. We sipped our beers and made our menu selections, both deciding on their signature baby-back pork ribs, and then sat there, and sat there some more. Now we had completely finished our beers and still no server came for our order. Finally, over thirty minutes after entering the restaurant, a girl came around the corner and noticed us sitting there with closed menus and empty drink glasses. "Can I take your order?" Well DUH!!!! Yeah, that would be nice. It's ALWAYS nice to get something to eat when going out to dinner. You could tell that this girl was used to B.S.ing her way out of situations like this, and she gave us her most winning smile and said "What can I get you!" We both said we would like another beer, and that we were going to get the Signature Baby-Back Ribs. "Oh I'm so sorry", she said with a little pouty face, "but we are all out of the Baby-Backs". Wow, that's great, there's practically no one in the restaurant and you are out of your signature item. Neither of us had a back-up plan so we then had to hurriedly scan the menu for something else. Jerani decided to punish the establishment by ordering a much less expensive item, opting for a chickenburger, and I finally decided on the Saint Louis Ribs, not my favorite, but at least it would still be BBQ. She left to place our orders and get us a couple of new beers, but appeared again moments later. "Oh I'm really really sorry, but the Chef just informed me that we are out of Saint Louis Ribs too." Really! REALLY! I didn't even have a menu at this point, so I made a snap decision and said "I'll get the Prime Rib", the menu item they were pushing all along. I didn't really want it, but I was just DONE by that time. Then I added, "Do you think maybe you could comp us a meal, or at least one of our meals, we have after-all been here for forty minutes, and have only two beers and have been turned down on two menu items to show for it?" She said she'd have to check, and returned with our drinks and said the best she could do was comp us on these two beers. Whatever...the mood was pretty much toast by that time and we couldn't seem to muster the effort to argue. We sat there drinking our so called free beers which we had more than paid for in time and frustration, and watched another couple that had been seated just minutes after us go through almost the exact scenario, and end up getting comped two free drinks in the end. How can you run a business like this? We were finally served very mediocre plates of food just a little over an hour after arriving. This was closer to banquet food than fine dinning, something you'd expect to get at a buffet. We ate because we were really hungry by then, not for the enjoyment. Our one night out on the road, and it made us remember why we don't go out. It wasn't special, it wasn't memorable, it was just uncomfortable with shlock passed off as good food. And here's the kicker, when the bill finally arrived, the two beers we had been promised showed up at full price. Like we knew that wasn't going to happen. We pointed this out to the smiling server who went back and had the cost removed, and then we paid for our meals (minus a tip, something we NEVER do, but none the less felt obligated to omit) and left. That was GREAT honey, let's make sure to do this again REAL SOON!
We walked back to the RV, took the animals for an early evening stroll while casting a few times off the breakwater hoping for a Muskie but without results. When we got back to the RV there seemed to be a lot of people out drinking and carousing in front of their sites. The Blues Festival was just winding down across the river and so a bunch of the merrymakers who had been to the show were filtering in with friends and something akin to a block party had broken out. We were not in the mood to mingle with strangers, and we were tuckered after our long day of sight seeing and the frustration of our special night out, so we actually turned in early, put ear plugs in to dampen the revelers noise and fell off to sleep.
 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Duluth

Having found such an ideal spot to camp we now set our sights on discovering Duluth.
We hooked up the RV (so nice to finally have water and electricity), set the air-conditioner (fingers crossed that it would continue to run to keep Erley cool now that the temperature was starting to climb) and set off on foot for the Lake Walk. Located in a beautiful part of Duluth just east of highrise district, this part of the city is known for it's shops, restaurants, and boardwalk. Crossing the Saint Louis River just before it meets Lake Superior is the historic Aerial Bridge which raises up and down to let the local water traffic through.
It seems like the accompanying sirens that signal the bridge raising are going off every minute or so. It's a VERY busy thoroughfare.
We leashed Max up, petted Erley and told him to be good, and headed down the flower lined pathway towards South Lake Avenue which would lead us to the bridge and across to Canal Park and the Lake Walk.
It was just a ten minute walk to reach the bridge which was just lowering its way back into place after allowing a large sailboat to enter the lake beyond. Music reached us from the Blues Festival which was being held just down river from us in the Bayfront Festival Park. You could see the tents, stands, and stage from the metal catwalk crossing the bridge.
Tourists, bicyclist, and joggers crossed the bridge in both directions, and the crowds started growing as we made our way to the other side. Looking northeast from the bridge past the rocky outcrops of the South and North Piers you can see the immensity that is Lake Superior. Tour boats, sailboats, and pleasure craft ply the waters heading out for a day on the lake, as people crowd the Baywalk and piers posing for photographs and licking ice cream cones. It suddenly struck us that we were at the beach. Not the beaches and boardwalks you think of on the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, but a Midwest variety. Looking around at the corn dog stands, the four person bicycle rentals, the boardwalks and cotton candy and we realized that this was a beach town. People came here from all around the Midwest to go to the "beach".
This was their version of Coney Island, Santa Cruz, and Virginia Beach. Same vibe, same activity. It was cool. Like finding a slice of ocean in the middle of Minnesota. We continued down South Lake Avenue towards the shops and restaurants, stopping from time to time to let people pet Max. Max was quite the superstar in Duluth and seemed to catch the eye of just about everyone we passed by. It was getting to the point that even "he" was getting a little tired of all the attention and started snubbing the would-be animal lovers. It became a little embarrassing having to watch Max big time folks by pulling his head away as they knelt to pat him.
We found a large antique mall which was cool and went inside to peruse the goods. We didn't even check to see if it was OK to bring Max, we just carried him in and figured they would have to go out of their way to kick us out which rarely happens. It was a nice shop with a lot of things to look at. We didn't find anything but it was just nice to find an antique shop to go through. It was also nice to get out of the sun and spend some time with air-conditioning. After spending a good thirty minutes looking at antiques we were starving and set off in search of lunch. There are about a million places to eat in this part of Duluth, anything from Steakhouses and large tourist brewpubs to sushi, and we settled on "Chicago Pizza".
We couldn't go in because of Max, and being that it was such a nice day on near the lake that would have been stupid anyway, so Jerani dog sat while I went in an ordered. A long twenty minutes later (lots of people had the same lunch idea as us...) I came back out with two mini-combo pizzas and ice water and we made our way over to the large boarded Lakewalk and found a bench to eat at while watching the throngs of people pass by. MAN that pizza was GOOD! Deep dish, and just oozing with flavor and sporting a yummy golden crust. Wow, we are firm believers in Chicago Pizza. (Later we would kick ourselves for not purchasing another large pizza to go.) We ate our mini pizzas, shared some with Max, sipped our ice water, and people watched. It was Sunday afternoon and the place was awash with humanity. Scores of teenage girls walked by or road surreys, boys cruised by on skateboards, and mothers pushed babies in strollers.
We were amazed by the numbers of Indian and Middle Eastern tourists that crowded together in groups of seven or eight, and paused for photo opportunities in front of statues and lakefront vistas. Everyone seemed to be having a glorious time and we were too. It was perfect weather in a wonderful setting, and everything had the mood of a country fair.
We finished our pizza and continued down towards the bridge and made our way back to the Marina. The RV sites were set up towards the back of the Marina, and although they were a little cramped and austere by wooded campsite standards, but what the sites lacked in ambiance they made up for with prime views of the city and river, and location, location, location. The air-conditioner had worked like a champ while we were away, keeping Erley cool as a cucumber. We opened a couple of beers and relaxed while watching TV for the first time in almost a week. Afternoon turned to evening and one beer turned to two. We didn't know what we wanted to do for dinner but we knew we were too tired to walk back into town. We thought about ordering something to be delivered but in the end just made scrambled eggs and sausages, which all in all were pretty darn good. We took an evening stroll and made the acquaintances of some of the RV folk in the park, most of which whom were here for the Blues festival.
We also learned that we were REALLY lucky to have found this site, especially during this week as most of these festival goers make reservations a year in advance and that almost all of the accommodations in Duluth are booked months in advance. It looked like we were in store for a major thunderstorm as the heat of the day was now cooling and turning to thunderheads. But just as quickly as the clouds appeared they dispersed, leaving the evening sky lit by a full moon. Blues drifted across the river, and we watched the lights of the city came to life. We both looked forward to seeing more of Duluth the next day, so we turned in and got a good nights sleep. Earplugs are a must when traveling. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

We just need a place to stay...

Duluth is a very nice city. There's a ton to do, interesting architecture, pretty surroundings, numerous restaurants, and lots of parks and green spaces. It's both cosmopolitan and bohemian at the same time.
We woke up early Sunday morning at Temperance River State Park and had to drive to the upper campground to use the shower facilities before the morning crush hit. We showered and took to the road before 8 am.
We had our sights set on Duluth and had planned on staying a couple of days. Duluth is about an hour and a half from the Park, just over eighty miles down Highway 61. We had heard that there was a big Blues Festival going on in the city and that accommodations were at a premium, so we felt the needed to get going as soon as possible. We back tracked through much of the same territory we had driven through the day before so we didn't feel the need to pull over and explore. While we drove Jerani looked up RV campgrounds near Duluth that had electrical and water hook-ups. It was going on close to a week without having had these luxuries and we were just about done with roughing it by RV standards.
Jerani located a couple of possible campgrounds and resorts that met our needs as we started making our way through the outskirts of Duluth but as we started calling to make reservations we found that all of them were full.
By this time we were in the middle of the largest city we had been in since leaving Portland, Oregon and we were now multitasking on the Kindle Fire, switching between local RV parks and Mapquest in an attempt to both find a site and to safely navigate our RV through a major city simultaneously. I would yell out "I'm coming to a stop light that leads to an on-ramp that will take us onto a busy looking road, should I take it!" Jerani would say "I don't know, this thing isn't working right!", and moments later we found ourselves heading out of town at fifty miles an hour through a gritty industrial area.
Just about that time the Kindle starts working again and Jerani finds a RV park about twelve miles south of Duluth. It happened that we were heading in the exact direction, and although we had planned on staying closer to the city, at this point beggars couldn't be choosers. Jerani called the Fond Du Lac RV park and they did in fact have a site available. We drove through a couple of small down on their luck suburbs of Duluth, little villages with plenty of closed down businesses, and strange looking people walking down the shoulders of the pot holed laced streets. Hmmm... Not exactly what we had in mind when we headed for Duluth, but what could you do? We finally arrived at the park but we knew the animals needed to stretch their legs. As luck would have it, directly across from the RV park there was a big day use only county park that looked to be completely empty.

We drove down into the county park and the first thing that struck us was just how unkempt it was. There was grass growing in clumps and up to the seats of the broken and vandalized picnic tables. The park road and parking lot was in rough shape, most of the gravel long since worn away leaving large holes in which copious weeds sprouted. The parking lot ended down near the Saint Louis River and what used to be a board walk that was now reduced to a burnt in places half rotten death trap. The river ran by sluggish and muddy, looking like something much more at home in the bayou than in northern Minnesota. Signs half shot through with bullet holes warned gravely of the hazards of eating any fish taken from the river, and trash and cigarette butts lined the stagnant shoreline. Nice...We let the animals out and Jerani took Max up towards the dubious looking restrooms, while I walked Erley under the overpass, hoping upon hope that I wouldn't discover a body. Max had a great time running blissfully through the overgrown grass, and the bathrooms weren't nearly as icky as they could have been so all in all it was a positive stop over.
We all got back into the RV and cruised over to the RV Park and all it took was one drive through to cement in our mines that this would not be where we would be bedding down that evening. With only about twenty sites in all, Fond Du Lac RV Park had seen better days. The park was full except for about three sites with recreation vehicles, trailers, and campers. All of the people who were in the sites seemed to have settled in for the long haul. There were clothes lines strung up, large loads of firewood near the little fire circles, children's bright plastic toys littering the road, and groups of people lounging in camp chairs in almost every site. The RV park was located right on the river but that wasn't a selling point.
The river was running slow and soupy with large eddies filled with brownish foam. It wasn't the kind of river you wanted to hang around, it looked polluted and abused. We did one drive through with almost every one in the camp ground eye balling us as we drove by, and then drove up and out and headed back the way we had come. We both had no idea where to go from here, but we were united in our desire not to spend the night at Fond Du Lac. We pulled over on the shoulder and Jerani once again got online to see if maybe there was anyplace we may have missed. After about five minutes she came up with River Place RV park and Marina. It was located back towards Duluth on a wider section of the Saint Louis River, and the pictures on their website looked a whole lot better than the place we had just left.
Jerani called and we got the good news that they had one site available which they would hold until we got there. It took about ten minutes to make it to River Place Marina, and unfortunately we were not impressed. It was completely open without any privacy to be had, completely surrounded by aging pulled boats and old industrial equipment, and once again populated by long timers; people who called this home. By now it was nearly noon, and we were running out of options. It was clear that neither one of us wanted to stay here but what else could we do? I got out of the RV and walked over to the office but it was closed. I then proceeded to walk down two of the piers looking for someone to help us, and after about five minutes of unsuccessfully finding someone to check us in I returned to the Pleasure Way a little dejectedly but at the same time relieved not to have to stay there. We just kind of sat there wondering what to do, and after a little while Jerani got back on the Kindle and came up with another possibility that had slipped through the cracks of her previous searches.
Lakewood Boat Basin Inc. was a Marina located in a perfect part of Duluth situated just across the river from the popular waterfront district and just a five minute walk to the famous Aerial Bridge.
The fifteen RV sites all came with complete hook-ups and the Marina had a beautiful view of downtown Duluth. It sounded too good to be true but Jerani none the less gave them a call. They told her that they just got a cancellation and had a site available for the next two nights which they would hold for us if we got there in the next twenty minutes. SOLD!
We arrived fifteen minutes later and were amazed to have found such a great site. Right across the river from "Bayfront Park" where the Blues Festival was in full swing, with tremendous views of  Duluth, and within easy walking distance to the Duluth Lake Walk and all of the shops and restaurants near Canal Park. All the sites were on asphalt with nary a tree to be seen. They also just had porta potty bathrooms and shower but hey you could not beat the location.
Quite simply the area that people visiting Duluth want to stay near. 
Yes, thank you again lady luck.

Suicidal deer and driving south on the North Shore

Suicidal, that's the only word to describe them. These were deer bent on ending up as hood ornaments, with little or no common sense.
I had returned from my successful early morning fishing trip and cleaned the Walleye while Jerani took a shower in the coveted two shower headed handicapped stall (making sure to check first so that she wasn't showering while a truly handicapped person had to wait). After she returned I took my turn at personal hygiene, and then after a quick breakfast of cereal and banana we hit the road towards the town of "Two Harbors", about sixty or so miles south of us. We wanted to check out Split Rock Lighthouse State Park and Gooseberry Falls State Park, and also see what the little villages along the way had to offer.
It was still early when we shoved off, not quite nine o'clock, and the early morning warmth was producing a patchy low lying fog that had yet to burn off. We hadn't driven more than five miles when a pair of BIG deer, one right after the next burst out of a driveway from our left, missed a car in the oncoming lane doing about sixty, and bounded across our lane just yards in front of the Pleasure Way. It was that fast, BANG BANG.
I had just spied them as the first deer emerged from the driveway and eased up on the accelerator, not believing that they were truly going to go for broke. Whew! That would have started the morning off on a rather sour note to say the least. It wasn't twenty minutes later that a deer emerged from our right and ran straight in front of the car in front of us, just raising it's hind leg in time not to get clipped. Jerani said "watch out for another one!", and low and behold another deer shot out of the brush and sprinted across the road just a split second behind us, almost touching the Stowaway Box hanging off the rear of the RV. Jeez! Crap! Now of course every shadow and blowing branch looked like another possible deer bent on self destruction. We tensely scanned both shoulders as we drove the last few miles into the village of Silver Bay.

The first thing you notice upon exiting the highway is a funny little metal statue depicting some sort of miner. Moments later it's pretty obvious that Silver Bay is a serious mining town, with a giant plant and huge piles of minerals sitting besides gigantic conveyer belts set along a monstrous wharf. Silver Bay is home to the worlds largest Taconite plant, Owned by the Reserve Mining Corp. After further study Taconite turns out to be a low grade iron ore which the plant turns into pellets after a lengthy process and then it's loaded onto ships and barges to be used in the making of steel.
Who knew? Anyway the little statue must depict "Teddy Taconite" or some such mascot. We drove to what seemed to be the only business in town which turned out to be a small grocery. We were starting to get hungry so I went to see if there was anything appealing inside. Looking around at the groceries on hand it was obvious that health food isn't a big seller in these parts.
Now I'm not trying to stereotype the residents of Silver Bay, but I saw more potato chips, cheese doodles, jerky, ho-ho's, pork rinds, pop, pepperoni sticks, and sausages in that store than in any establishment I'd entered on the whole trip. To top it off as I stood behind three large bearded men dressed in denim and covered in what looked to be black Teconite dust while waiting in line at the small grocery deli, I watched as all three ordered what seemed to be a very popular item from the menu, baskets filled to the brim with deep fried bacon wrapped cheese curds (listed as "cheesy bacon bombs").
Cmon...I mean, really?! Seriously?! I'm sure they are good and all, that is if you can get through the basket without dying from a massive cardiac thrombosis. To each his own I say, and placed my order for three pieces of deep fried chicken.
Not that the dining ambiance wasn't stellar in the grocery parking lot, I mean who wouldn't want to eat their chicken while watching huge bearded men in overalls chow down on cheesy bacon bombs through the windshields of their monster trucks, but as great as that sounded, we took off to find a little more privacy.
Towards the end of town, which took us about three minutes to reach, there was a very nice marina with what looked to be camping and picnic sites. We wound our way down a little road, past some tourists heading out on a scenic boat excursion, and came out at a parking space with a couple of picnic tables overlooking the marina. Perfect! No sooner had we parked the RV and gotten out to give the pets a run around, a gigantic, I mean huge RV drove up the same narrow windy little road we had just narrowly passed through. How it made it through the tight turns, and what exactly his plans were now that he had reached a tiny little turn about were anyone's guess.
He sat in the monumental vehicle idling for a minute or two, and suddenly his wife emerged like an astronaut setting down on a far off planet. She looked around and then started guiding the driver with a series of undecipherable hand signals. It was really hard figuring out exactly where it was they were planning to land the mother ship, because there was quite obviously no place to go. In front of the RV was the asphalt road which fell away sharply in a series of boulder strewn berms to the rocky shore far below, and behind was nothing but pristine grassy slope and a couple of heavy wooden picnic tables. Well picnic tables and grass be damned. It's like the old joke "where does a 800 lb. Gorilla sit?"..."Anywhere he wants to!" I guess if you have a 64 foot recreation vehicle you can park it any darn place you wish. After about three or four minutes of the woman unsuccessfully guiding the giant RV past the picnic tables and on to the grassy knoll, the driver, a rather curt and grumpy older man took to yelling instructions through his open window at his hapless wife. With little or no headway being made the man climbed out and with gestures and thinly veiled threats prodded his significant other to grab one end of what must have been a three hundred pound wooden picnic table.
After much huffing, grunting, and torn turf they managed to drag the table seven or eight feet across the nicely tended lawn and out of the way of their intended path. Grumpy old man back in the saddle, discouraged woman standing as a way marker, the titanic sized motor home rumbled in reverse past the relocated picnic tables and out onto the pristine grass. During this parking expose Jerani and I nibbled on our fried chicken from our perfect vantage point, pausing to comment from time to time during rough patches in their maneuvers. Once parked with a perfect view of Lake Superior, the RV owner lowered metal levelers the size of girders, and then they both withdrew into their hermetically sealed enclosure to lunch. Wow...
After chicken and a show we continued south along Hwy. 61 towards Gooseberry Falls State Park. We noticed right off the bat that major construction was underway as we exited the highway directly onto a detour.
 It seems that the Minnesota State Parks System was in full swing rebuilding the historical visitors center and also making extensive renovations to the parking lots and camp grounds. We drove past several construction trailers and up towards the Gooseberry Falls trail head. When we finally negotiated the dusty torn up road and turned into the parking lot there wasn't a parking space to be had, and dozens of camera toting tourists were shuffling off towards the trail. Naw, not our thing; being honest we don't share well, and the idea of sharing a waterfall, no matter how dramatic with seventy eight other people didn't sound all that appealing. Come on, this wasn't Ole Faithful for crying out loud.
We drove back down the hill and found a half filled parking lot close to the lake with several trails leading off of it. This was more our style. We took a very nice walk with Max out along board walks, and up over rickety stairways built into the rocky bluff with magnificent views of Lake Superior.
Few people took the time to walk out to the end of the trail so we had the scenery mostly to ourselves which was nice.
We drove back to our "new" campsite at Temperance River State Park, having had to move to a lower, less desirable campground to make room for someone with previous reservations. Our new site didn't have the same wooded appeal as our previous one, surrounded by scrubby brush and much more exposed to the nearby sites where merry revelers were already in full swing. Dirty faced children road their bikes around and around the loop, and loud alcohol fueled voices competed with choking campfire smoke to drive us inside the RV.
We decided to take a tour of the lower camping area and ended up at a nice rocky beach. Max and I decided to do a little log rolling with the two of us battling to a hotly contested tie. We did a little beach combing and ambled back to the RV.
I decided to give myself one more chance at landing a trophy fish but other than landing several plump suckers I didn't have much luck. (All suckers were returned uninjured immediately after being unhooked.) Jerani and I had a nice spaghetti dinner, and then we decided to build an actual campfire that was more akin to a funeral pyre in size and heat distribution, where we happily toasted marshmallows for s'mores.
Campfires are great!
While we sat on the picnic table eating our dessert Erley chose to hunt for small birds which was thankfully unsuccessful as usual.
All in all a pretty good day!