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.
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.
So, yesterday I drove back down to the main highway, where I crossed it and went to the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site. My friend Christine had recommended that I go here. At least I think this is where she meant. There’s also a big fancy hotel nearby, but I’ve seen more than my share of big fancy hotels (not to stay in, mind, just to look at) for a while, and the historic site looked interesting, so I decided this was what she’d wanted me to see.
And I’m glad I stopped. Another bit of Canadian history wrapped nicely in an elegant 19th century house that reminded me a lot of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside – minus the vines, thank goodness. Mostly, I suspect, because of the riverside frontage, but still. Anyway. Louis-Joseph Papineau was a mover and shaker in 19th century Canadian politics, who got himself in trouble in the 1830s for helping to ringlead a group that wanted to break away from England. He ended up in exile for a number of years in the U.S. and France, and then got pardoned or something, came back, and built this pretty house on the Ottawa River. It was very elegant so that his visitors would be impressed, and the tour guide told stories about how they tried to keep it warm in Quebec winters, and how Papineau’s wife was not impressed with being so far away (two days of steamboat trip) from Montreal, and so forth and so on. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let me take photos inside, though.
After that it was on to Ottawa, where I ended up having to call Elizabeth because the street I thought was the right one didn’t go through to where I needed it to. But eventually I got there, and we had a good conversation, then went out to go buy her a new rotary cutter (she’s a beginning quilter!) and out to dinner at a very nice café. Then we came back and watched the Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing, which turns out to be a favorite film for both of us [g].
I’ll be here at her place until Thursday, when I head for Toronto.
This morning I went to the Canadian History Museum. And I found it without having to backtrack once! Unfortunately, their main exhibit is being redone and won’t be open again until next year, but the other exhibits really made up for it. They had a whole floor devoted to the First Nations of Canada, which was fascinating. It was odd to see west coast things like totem poles here [g], but the whole exhibit was enormous and well done.
Then there were the three temporary exhibits. One of them was about Napoleon Bonaparte (of all people, my fingers keep typing), mostly relating to his time in Paris. The second one was about the gold rush in British Columbia in the early 1850s, right after the California gold rush. I’d known a little about it, having run across it in my Okanogan Country research for Sojournand Reunion(one of the trails to the Cariboo, which is what the gold country in BC was called, went through the Okanogan), but not nearly as much as I do now. I want to go up there and explore it one of these days now [g]. The third temporary exhibit was called Horse Power. A man in Montreal collected carriages and sleighs most of his life, and donated them. It was a seriously impressive collection, and fun to stroll through.
By that point I was pretty much done for the day. Tonight Elizabeth and I are going over to the house of Marna and her family. Marna’s another listee, and I think a couple of her family members are, too. We’re having something called fannish night, which is apparently a regular occurrence here [g]. I’m looking forward to that very much.
Then tomorrow I’m going to run a couple of errands, and maybe hit another museum. I’ve heard wonderful things about the War Museum, even if the subject matter’s not exactly my cup of tea.
So. They call the stairs that run from the upper part of Old Town to the lower part the Breakneck Stairs, and when they’re wet, as they were this morning, yeah, the name fits. But I was careful, and I made it to the bottom just fine. All almost 300 steps of them, or so I’m told (and, no, I didn’t have to climb back to the top, thank goodness).
Anyway, I knew there was another whole part of Old Town, but I don’t think I’d realized just how much more was down there. I’d gone down there because of a history museum (which turned out to be much more), but there’s a whole other warren of streets and shops and stuff (and a cruise ship dock, of all things).
The weather was still awful, but I was headed for a – hopefully air conditioned – museum, so I grinned and bore it.
The Musee de Civilization is, at least in part, a museum about Quebec-the-province’s history, so the local equivalent to a state history museum like the ones I’d visited in Kansas, Kentucky, and Maine. It was extremely well done, and since before I arrived here I knew next to nothing about how Quebec came to be Quebec (including the name, which is from an Indian term meaning where the waters narrow – the waters in question being the St. Lawrence, which narrows appreciably at Quebec City), I found it enthralling.
But that wasn’t all they had to show at the Musee de Civilization. There was a temporary exhibit about Australian Aboriginal art, which was fascinating (and completely unexpected by me), and an another temporary exhibit about cats and dogs, including a virtual reality thingy where you could see what they think it’s like to be a cat or a dog. That was hysterical, actually, esp. the part where the mouse went into the garbage can, the cat went in after it, and the garbage can lid fell on the cat, completely freaking him out [g]. And yet another temporary exhibit about Nanotech, which, for some reason, had a lot of SF stuff in it [g].
But the best part of all was the huge exhibit on Quebec’s First Nations (the Canadian equvalent, so far as I can tell, for Indian tribe). Artifacts were just the beginning. It was the stories that were the best part (and the part that’s really impossible to photograph). And these wonderful enormous screens in the background running this incredible film of Quebec’s natural world and how its original inhabitants relate to it. I could have watched that film for hours, and I did sit and watch it for a long time. It was moving, the same way I found the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in upstate New York moving when I was there on my last Long Trip seventeen years ago. I wish they’d had DVDs of that film for sale in the gift shop, but they didn’t.
Anyway, that’s how I spent most of today, and after I left (I ate lunch in the museum’s café – you know you’re in a place that values food when even the museum café has great food), I wandered through the lower Old Town towards the funicular.
The funicular is why I didn’t have to climb all those stairs back up. I’m not normally big on that sort of manmade height, but even though the weather had dried out a bit (and warmed up, but drier was better) while I was in the museum, I put aside my nerves and rode it back up to Dufferin Terrace.
The last thing I did today was go inside Chateau Frontenac. It’s got quite the lobby, but my favorite thing was a sculpture that you can see below. And then I stopped at a little grocery store for supper fixings, and realized about three blocks after I left it that I’d left my camera there. So I ran back, got it (thank goodness), and came back to the hostel for one more night. And here I am.
I have a motel reservation for tomorrow night just outside of Montreal. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to spend much time there. I’m sort of leaning against it right now, because I still have Toronto and Ottawa to go before I head across western Ontario (more people have tried to warn me against western Ontario in the last couple of weeks, for some reason) to the prairies.