I remember first hearing about this amazing Chinese archaeological find decades ago. It may even have been when it was first discovered, although I was a pretty self-absorbed teenager back in the 1970s. It seems like it was always a part of my imagination, an entire city built underground, filled with wonders, first and foremost of which was an entire population made of terracotta clay – like flowerpots. Mostly an army, but others as well, and animals, inhabiting a place where rivers ran with mercury, all built by an emperor who wanted to be immortal.
I have wanted to go see that terracotta city for what seems like forever, but a trip to China has never been in the cards.
Well, yesterday, China came to see me. Seattle’s Pacific Science Center is one of only two American stops (the other will be in Philadelphia) on a tour of a wonderful exhibit of the Terracotta Warriors, and yesterday my friend Loralee and I went to see it.
It was amazing. I really don’t have words. The story and history behind the terracotta army beggar belief, but to see the actual statues, and learn about how they were made, and why, and for whom…
Anyway, I may not have words, but I do have photos, and here are some of them. If you’re going to be anywhere near Seattle between now and September (and if you can still get a ticket – this exhibit has been wildly popular) or if you’re going to be in Philadelphia when it’s open there, all I can say is – GO. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing, and everyone who can should see it.
They haven’t opened the emperor’s actual tomb, both because they’re afraid they’ll destroy it unintentionally, and because the levels of mercury in the soil above the tomb are so toxic that it’s completely unsafe for anyone to do so. Maybe someday they will open it, if they can ever figure out how to solve those two problems first. But in the meantime, all we can do is wonder. And wow, do I wonder.
I love Lolo Pass. I’ve only driven over it once before, but I just love the lazy, sweeping curves along the river on the Idaho side. Hence the swooping [g].
I headed west then south into what passes for Missoula, Montana’s morning rush hour, then west again up the thirty or so miles to the top of Lolo Pass. This is where Lewis and Clark finally made it over the Rockies back in 1804. It’s also where the Nez Perce fled across the mountains in the other direction on their way to Yellowstone to encounter the tourists before they (the Nez Perce) almost made it to Canada. So, a lot of history here, and a nice visitor center staffed by a fellow who apparently didn’t have enough tourists to talk to, because he all but followed me into the exhibit room and kept talking when all I really wanted to do was look at the exhibits. Oh, well. I know I’ve done more than my share of talking the ears off of people when I’ve been on my own for too long, too.
The road down the west side of the pass into Idaho (the border between Idaho and Montana runs along the ridge line, and so does the line between Mountain and Pacific time) swoops down next to the Clearwater River through a deep canyon, curving gently back and forth and back and forth, for almost a hundred miles. It’s just so much fun to drive, almost like some sort of carnival ride or something. I’m not doing it justice at all, but that’s life.
About seventy miles on from the pass, I stopped in the tiny hamlet of Lowell, Idaho, for lunch in a cute little café. Those were the first buildings I saw after the border, so this is seriously wild country.
When the canyon finally opens out, it’s into a lot of warm brown hills (at least they’re brown this time of year) and then out into what I thought would be the southeastern edge of the Palouse, but the road cuts show basalt, not deep soil, so no, not Palouse.
I crossed a big chunk of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation to get to the Washington state line, then stopped for the night in the town of Clarkston, which is directly across the Snake River from the Idaho town of Lewiston. Gee, I wonder where those names came from [g].
I got a fairly early start this morning, mostly because the sun came over the horizon and hit Merlin square in the windshield [g]. Today was an Interstate day, mostly because there’s really no alternative to I-94 in southeastern Montana without going way out of the way.
I’ve driven this stretch before, and there’s not a whole lot to say about it. I stopped for lunch in Miles City (named after one of the generals who finally caught up with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce back in 1877), and didn’t stop again until I arrived at Pompey’s Pillar. I know I’ve posted about Pompey’s Pillar here before, in 2012, which was the last time I was in this neck of the woods, but I do find it fascinating, and it was interesting to see it this time of year (the last time I was here it was June, and all the early summer flowers were in bloom). The other thing I didn’t realize from when I was here before is that modern-day travelers approach the pillar from the opposite side that Clark and company did (this was during the part where he and Lewis split up on the way back to Missouri so as to explore more territory). It hadn’t even occurred to me where the river was [wry g]. So that was interesting to me.
From there on it was just plowing on to Billings, the largest city in Montana, where I planned to get a motel room, get Merlin’s oil changed (for the third time), and go to the grocery store. Also to do laundry, but due to the fact that the motel’s laundry facilities weren’t available, that didn’t happen. I got to Billings about three in the afternoon, spent the rest of the afternoon getting stuff done, and that was my day, I’m afraid.
I did check when I went online this evening to see if the Beartooth Highway, which among other things was Charles Kuralt’s choice for the most beautiful highway in America, is still open for the season (it goes over an almost 11,000 foot pass, so it’s only open in the summer). The Montana DOT website said it is, and since I’d planned to drop down into Yellowstone for a day or two (pass that close to the park and not go? Inconceivable! [g]) and it’s actually the most direct route coming from this direction, I thought, why not? I’ve never driven it before.
It rained a bit during the night, but had cleared up by this morning. The weather prediction was for it to be overcast most of the day, with a few scattered showers, and I believed it. More fool me.
To be fair, it didn’t do much more than spit as I drove north from Bismarck towards Fort Mandan, where Lewis and Clark built their home for the winter of 1804-05. There they stayed from October till April, waiting for the temperatures to warm up from the minus forty it hit several times that winter, and for the ice to melt on the Missouri River before they headed on upriver to the Pacific Coast – eventually.
It was funny how much the reproduction (the original is under the shifted Missouri River somewhere) fort looks like the reproduction Fort Clatsop in Oregon, where the Corps of Discovery spent their second winter. Or maybe not. Anyway, it reminded me of home, in an odd way, hence the subject header of today’s post. Not that I’ve ever lived in a hand-built log fort or anything…
It had started raining again by the time I left Fort Mandan, and was coming down fairly well by the time I got to the North Dakota Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center a few miles back down the road. It’s a very nice museum, dealing with both L&C as well as North Dakota agricultural history, which is more interesting than it sounds, especially as the first farmers in what later became North Dakota were the Mandan Indians. Apparently a fair number of our commercial corn and bean varieties are descended from those the Mandans grew, including my favorite dry bean, the Great Northern. I’ll never look at taco soup the same way again [g].
The rain did not stop. Oh, it slowed down a little, but when I arrived at the Knife River Villages National Historic Site a few miles to the west, it was too wet to go hiking out to see more earth lodges. But there was a fellow in the visitor center who played a wicked Native American flute (I wish I could have recorded him – he was that good), and a very helpful ranger who gave me the phone number of the ranger station at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit.
See, the last time I was in this part of the world, in 2012, the road into the North Unit had been closed because the land underneath it had slumped. Slumping is the primary way the badlands of the western Dakotas are formed, so it’s nothing unusual, but I had been rather disappointed at the time. So I wanted to see if the road was open again before I drove out of my way to go see it. And yes, it is. And the campground is still open this late in the season, too.
So on westward I went, through the rain and about twenty miles of unpaved road construction (dear godlings, was that not fun), and finally made it here to TRNP’s north unit, where I’m ensconced in a campsite, listening to the rain pound down on Merlin’s metal roof (I’m always glad I’m not tent camping, but I’m really glad tonight).
It’s supposed to clear up tomorrow, and it darned well better. I have a drive I want to make [g].
I found the World’s Biggest Bison this morning before I left Jamestown. It is a big bison, I’ll give it credit, but I saw the skull of an extinct bison this afternoon that I bet was bigger than that.
This was at the North Dakota Heritage Center, which is another name for state history museum [g]. After driving the hundred miles, give or take, to Bismarck, North Dakota, the cute little state capitol, population a bit over 67,000, so it’s actually bigger than Olympia, my state capitol, which is just under 50,000. The difference, of course, is that Bismarck is the second largest city in North Dakota, and Olympia – isn’t.
Anyway, I think I lost control of my sentence there, and I’m not going to fix it. I’m just going to say that after lunch I spent over two hours at the museum, which was just renovated completely a couple of years ago, and the shiny new is wonderful. There’s a whole huge room on the pre-man history, dinosaurs and glaciers and all, and a whole huge room on the dozen or so tribes of Native Americans, with these neat audios of people speaking in their own languages, and a huge room on the history since the Europeans showed up. Which they did way earlier than I thought – a French explorer made it to what’s now North Dakota in the 1730s, although the story really didn’t pick up till Lewis and Clark in the first decade of the 1800s, and after that didn’t get real steam till after the Civil War.
Interesting stuff, though. Lots of stuff about homesteading and the railroads, among other things, and populism and farmers vs. the big city and so forth.
After I finally dragged myself out of there, I drove past the strangest-looking state capitol I’ve ever seen. It looks like a condo building from LA or something, and its nickname is the Skyscraper of the Plains (it’s by far the tallest building in Bismarck, I’ll give it credit for that). Then I drove seven miles south of the town of Mandan (sort of Moorhead to Bismarck’s Fargo, except Mandan’s on the west side of the river) to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park.
Fort Lincoln was George Armstrong Custer’s last post before he headed off to the Little Bighorn and got himself and a bunch of his troops killed. It’s where his wife was when she found out he was dead, too. They’ve reconstructed his house there, but really, the most interesting part of Fort Lincoln State Park is the partial reconstruction of a 500-year-old Mandan Indian village. Five round houses (as opposed to tipis) on a slope near the Missouri River, two of which have exhibits inside them. The village was abandoned in the 17th century after the first of a number of smallpox epidemics basically wiped out 4/5ths of the population.
The houses are made of the same log and sod construction that the early pioneers built their houses from. Only the shape is different.
Oh, and there’s a wonderful, built-in-the-30s-by-the-CCC visitor center, too, with good exhibits.
By that point it was getting late, and I needed to find a place to sleep and hit a grocery store. I thought about camping at Fort Lincoln, but I hadn’t gone to the grocery store first, and it was awfully windy out there, too.
Maybe tomorrow night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. If I get that far. I’m going about thirty miles north of here to Fort Mandan and the Knife River Indian Village National Historic Site first, because that’s where Lewis and Clark spent their first winter on the road (so to speak) and I’m curious.
What a pretty day. Seriously. My first stop of the day was at Detroit Lake, which is the centerpiece of the eponymously named town of Detroit Lakes (no, I didn’t see the other lakes, but that’s okay).
I’m still seeing wildflowers even in September in this climate, too, which makes me happy.
I reached Moorhead, Minnesota, on the North Dakota line, around noon, and went looking for [googles to get the spelling right] the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center, which is nominally the local historical society, but in fact is the home of two enormous fascinating artifacts. The first is a sort of Thor-Heyerdahl-in-reverse authentic Viking ship reproduction that was built nearby, then sailed from Duluth, Minnesota, to Oslo, Norway, back in the early 1980s. I was a fan of Heyerdahl when I was a kid, so the story of Robert Asp and his dream becoming a reality was fascinating to me, and the ship was impressive, if difficult to photograph.
The other huge artifact is a reproduction stave (pronounced, to my surprise, as STAHV, not STAYV) church. It’s an exact copy, made by another local man, Guy Paulsen, of the Hopperstad Stave Church, built during the 12th and 13th centuries in the backwoods of Norway. I’d always wanted to see a stave church, after seeing pictures and film of them, and since I’ll be lucky if I ever get to any part of Scandinavia in this lifetime, well, I jumped at the chance to see this one.
The museum has the usual local history exhibits, too, but aside from the church and the ship, the temporary exhibits were what caught my eye. One was a traveling exhibit about the history of the education of the blind, and the other was about the history of liquor in the area. Apparently because North Dakota’s liquor laws were much stricter than Minnesota’s, and due to its proximity to non-Prohibitioned Canada, Moorhead was a very exciting place to be in the early decades of this century [g].
The museum’s café sells a mean bowl of vegetable beef soup with homemade noodles, too. No lutefisk, though, thank goodness.
There wasn’t really anything I wanted to see in Fargo itself (as opposed to Moorhead), so I drove on through and out onto the Great Plains. I’m back in, “Oh, god, don’t anything step on my van! It’s really not a bug even though it looks as small as one!” country, and I am so happy about that. Oh, my gosh, I love the prairies. They’re so gorgeous.
And I got an interesting history lesson when I stopped at a rest area on my way to my stop for the night in Jamestown, too. I knew a little about tree claims, from reading my Laura Ingalls Wilder, but not this much. Too cool.
Jamestown’s claim to fame is the world’s largest statue of a bison. I’ll go see if I can find it tomorrow morning.
Otherwise known as a national park named after a Shakespeare quote (it’s from The Tempest), which has got to be one of the coolest things ever. Unlike the weather. The whole time I was at the Forbers’, the weather was relatively cool and dry and lovely. Today we’re back to heat and humidity, but not nearly as bad as some of what I’ve been through on this trip, at least.
This morning I drove down to the Bruce Peninsula/ Full Fathom Five National Parks visitor center, which had one of the best national park visitor center museums I’ve seen in a while. Too bad I wasn’t here in June to see the forty different kinds of orchids that grow here, but I did get to learn more about the Niagara Escarpment, which is a huge land formation that runs from Wisconsin way up into Ontario and then back down to New York State. Niagara Falls is a result of that escarpment. Also, the Bruce Trail, the oldest long-distance trail in Canada, follows the top of it from that visitor center to within a few miles of Niagara Falls, almost 600 miles long.
I also learned that the fisher is the only real predator of porcupines, and that the way they catch them is to bite them in the face and flip them over so that they can eat from the spineless stomach and avoid a mouthful of quills.
After that I went into the tiny town of Tobermory on the very tip of the peninsula to find lunch – which was basically a choice between fish and chips or fish and chips, but that was okay. Then I went back to the visitor center and walked a trail to the water’s edge, which was lovely. Heavily wooded all the way to the end, and a nice little deck above the water with the obligatory Adirondack/Muskoka chairs (Ross, I was told in the Maritimes that calling them Muskoka chairs is an Ontario-centric thing).
I also went to a place called the Singing Sands, which was a lovely little beach, but the sand didn’t sing today, at least not so that I could hear it.
Then I came back to the campground and kicked back for the evening, and here I am.
Tomorrow is a two-hour ferry ride! And the biggest freshwater island in the world, apparently, with at least one lake on the island that has islands of its own.
This morning I left Christine’s, after a wonderful four days of visiting and sightseeing, (and a chance to catch up with practical stuff before heading on, which was also much appreciated). Thank you for a great time, all four Forbers. I hope that you, like the other folks who have been so hospitable towards me on this trip, get a chance to come out to Washington so I can show you around!
There are two ways to get to the top of the Great Lakes in order to continue west. Well, the third one is to duck down into the U.S., which would have been going through territory I covered pretty well on my last Long Trip, so that wasn’t going to happen. First, you can drive due north and go around the east side of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, or second, you can drive northwest to and up the Bruce Peninsula to the very tip, then take a ferry ride across the mouth of Georgian Bay (a bay that’s probably half the size of Lake Huron proper) to Manitoulin Island, from which there’s a bridge to the north shore of the lake. Having decided to do the latter several days ago, I’d gone online to make reservations for the ferry. They’re for Wednesday afternoon (today’s Monday) to give me plenty of time to explore on the way.
So I drove northwest across southern Ontario, and wound up in the town of Owen Sound, on the southern shore of Huron, at lunchtime. I like Owen Sound. Yes, there’s a body of water called Owen Sound, too, but it’s not very big. The town itself is small, used to be much bigger, and, according to the local historical museum (which was great fun), was once a hotbed of vice and iniquity [g]. Bootlegging and counterfeiting and prostitution, among other things. The museum also has a couple of nifty outdoor exhibits, and is right along a very pretty waterfront walking trail.
I decided, after I left Owen Sound, to drive north along the lakeshore rather than take the direct highway to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula. This turned out to be a good idea, as there were quite a few water views, and the inland part was pretty, too. The drive met back up with the highway about halfway up the peninsula, and I drove on to the Bruce Peninsula and Full Fathom Five National Parks (they appear to be joint the way Sequoia and Kings Canyon Parks in California are). The Bruce Peninsula sort of reminds me of Cape Cod, only without all the crowds, which was really nice, and the national park has a terrific (and reasonably priced, for once) campground. I’m settled in for the evening, knowing that I have all day tomorrow to explore the parks before I catch the ferry on Wednesday.
It was in the van, and Christine drove us. Anyway, this morning, Christine and I went to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, which had been on her “I want to get there” list and which, especially after the Turquoise Mountain exhibit in DC, sounded right up my alley. It’s a museum of Arabic art, with a heavy dose of history to help interpret it, and it was one of those things that I’d never have seen on my own because I’d not have known it existed (it only opened a couple of years ago, and it’s not in any of my guidebooks – I checked). The art was gobsmacking. Even the lobby art – which was this huge gold-on-red rug-looking thing that was hanging from the ceiling. It looked very finely stitched, and Christine and I were both admiring it, when the fellow who took our tickets said, go around and look at the backside. It wasn’t stitched. Each one of those thousands of “stitches” was a tiny brass straight pin, and the backside looked like it was furry, there were so many pins so close together. It was incredible. And gorgeous.
Then we went inside to the exhibits, which were full of antique pottery and metalwork and painting and stitchery and all sorts of gorgeous things, including pictures of animals that were like those paintings of clouds or mountains or trees, which, when you look at them closely, have faces in them. These animals were filled with other animals. Huge rugs, and candlesticks that must have had six-inch diameter candles in them, and at the very beginning of the exhibit, a film projection on the wall sort of like the credits at the beginning of the movie Mulan, where the art is being drawn in front of your eyes. Which made it so much more interesting to look at the art itself.
And then there was the history that went right along with it, Iranian and Egyptian and Moorish and all the others, giving the art context. That’s my kind of art museum. The kind that actually tells the stories, and doesn’t just hang the pieces up to admire.
The rest of the day was part resting and part practicalities — grocery shopping, among other things, since Monday is a federal holiday in Canada (Labour Day, just like the U.S., except that they actually close all their stores down). And chatting, and enjoying the company of all four Forbers, which I did, very much.
September 2nd was a more or less catching up with life day, thank you so much, Christine and family. In the morning we went to one of the best needlework stores I’ve been in for a very long time, and I bought more patterns than I probably should have. I would give my eyeteeth to have a needlework store like that near me. In the afternoon I went and got my hair cut (third time on the trip, and the lady who cut it, bless her heart, fixed the disaster the lady in Quakertown, Pennsylvania created a month ago), and went to a quilt shop Christine had told me about, where I bought some completely unnecessary but adorable quintessentially Canadian fabric. And then they took me out to dinner at a very tasty Italian restaurant (well, the food was delicious, and the service was good – I didn’t try to eat the restaurant [g]).
Yesterday we got up at the crack of dawn to deliver Christine’s oldest son, Colin, to a boathouse down near Niagara for a regatta, then she and I went down to Niagara Falls. One wonderful side effect is that we arrived at the falls at about eight in the morning, before all of the crowds arrived. The first thing we did was do a tour called Journey Behind the Falls, which was exactly what’s on the label. We donned those funky plastic raincoaty/poncho things that keep everything dry except your head (yes, there’s a hood, no, it doesn’t stay up), your arms, and below your knees, and took an elevator down to tunnels that lead to the underside of the Horseshoe (Canadian side) of the falls. Thunderous is the word I’m looking for, I think. A solid wall of water pounding down just feet in front of your face, vibrating up through your feet and in through your skin and everywhere else. I had done the Hurricane Deck on the American side on my last Long Trip 17 years ago, but this was something else entirely.
After that we walked along the promenade (I think it’s got another name, but anyway) for a ways up above the falls to the rapids, and down below the falls to where we could see the American Falls, which apparently only account for 10% of the water (according to at least two sources). The rest of it goes over the Canadian Falls, which explains why the view is so much more impressive on the Canadian side!
By the time we finished at the falls, the crowds were getting thick, and we had other places we wanted to go. We drove downstream towards Lake Ontario (the Niagara River flows north, which confused me no end), and stopped at the southern terminus of the Bruce Trail, which runs along the entire length of the Niagara escarpment (I’ll be passing by the northern terminus in a couple of days). Then we went to the Printery, which is all about the history of newspapers in Canada, among other things, and I got to operate a printing press, which was fun.
Then there was Fort George. Fort George was all about the War of 1812, and played havoc with my so-called knowledge of North American history again. Plus we got to talk with some fascinating docents, see a scene from a play associated with the fort, and learn about the lot of a British soldier’s wife. Only 6% of them were allowed to travel with their husbands (chosen by lottery), and since the soldiers were conscripted for either 7 or 21 years all over the world, with no contact during that time, the wives left behind were considered to be divorced once the men were gone. Legally, from what I gathered. Talk about a hard choice.
We were about walked out at that point, and Christine’s parents live nearby, so she called and asked if we could come over for a cup of tea. That turned into a really pleasant couple of hours’ chat plus dinner [g]. Thank you so much, Christine’s parents!
And then we went back to the falls to see the lights. That’s a spectacle and a half. Crowded as all heck, but what they do, once it gets dark, is play spotlights all over the falls in rainbow (and patriotic) colors. Staying that late to see them is not something I’d have done on my own (I don’t like driving in strange places late at night, and we didn’t get back to the house until almost midnight), but I am so glad I got to see that. It was beautiful.