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Our final day of camping without the kids. Once again the air mattress worked great. After packing up camp we hiked upstream of the Swing Bridge at Jay Cooke (previously had hiked downstream). This is such a beautiful spot that pictures only capture part of.

This is the last kissing shot–I promise.

I was fascinated by the ripple marks on this rock.

Someone took the time to carve this stag into the rock.

That’s it. It was a wonderful few days but it was good to be home.


Split Rock Lighthouse and grounds are operated by the state historical society. It was packed and since I’ve seen the grounds and building before it really didn’t interest me to deal with the crowds. Adjacent to the grounds is Split Rock State Park and since we had a state park parking sticker we took the other road to the park and hiked along the shore for lake views of the famous lighthouse. It was much more to my liking–no people.

Jeff found a nice hard rock to lounge on while I hiked along the shore for a closer view.

One of the classic views of the lighthouse.

A little further down at the same park is Pebble Beach. I couldn’t resist stepping in the lake. I didn’t last very long–it was COLD.

We drove back into Duluth for dinner. After last night’s impressive dinner at Blackwoods we returned to try something different.

I had the wood-fired salmon. My first bite was heavenly.

Jeff tried the chicken and rib combo. The chicken was the tastiest, juiciest chicken either of us have ever tried. No dessert this night–we were just too full.

I observed a number of odd combinations the rest of the night. First driving through Duluth towards camp there was the Subway/Cigs4Less sign on a building. Then we decided that we’d like a bottle of wine at camp again so we stopped at the local Liquor/Live Bait shop in Gary. The previous night we choose a bottle with a screw-off cap (real classy I know!), but Jeff remembered that his swiss army knife had a corkscrew so we upgraded our selection this night.

The Swiss Army knife corkscrew in action…unfortunately the corkscrew broke off in the cork. But Jeff being the determined man that he is got out the leatherman tool and after some effort managed to open the bottle.

We enjoyed our bottle of wine by the fire with the final odd combination of the evening: merlot and fritos.

My nice thick air mattress did the trick and I enjoyed a peaceful night sleeping in our tent. Light showers danced on the tent fabric in the early morning–they lulled Jeff into sleeping again while I read a bit. The showers stayed light and stopped by 8 am. It was the only “bad” weather we experienced the whole trip. After quick showers we headed north into Duluth again. Jeff wanted to show me one of Duluth’s grand historic buildings…

the Graysolon Plaza, built in 1925 for $2.4 million. It was originally a hotel that has been restored and converted to senior apartments. Here is a view of the lobby from the balcony:

The upstairs ballroom could only be viewed from the stairway, but from what I could see it was spectacular. As we were headed towards the north shore out of town I got a text from Dad and Jolene warning us about the traffic delays. They had been hiking the previous few days along the Superior Hiking Trail and were heading home. There were two delays, one of which had us stopped for about 20 minutes. We first stopped in Two Harbors at the harbor. Side note: Two Harbors is the birthplace of the 3M company. The sights included a long breakwater protecting the harbor and the loading dock.

The Corps of Engineers saw fit to warn visitors that the breakwater was designed for navigational purposes, not for walking on. It didn’t seem to be stopping anyone.

We made it safely.

The wind coming off Lake Superior was a bit cool so we had to wear our jackets.

There was one large ore boat at the loading dock.

Hiking along the shore Jeff noticed this

unusual growth on these trees–if you have any ideas what this is let me know.

We sat on one of the benches overlooking the harbor to have our picnic lunch.

After a few moments we both had the weird sensation that we were being watched as the seagulls kept a hopeful eye on us. Soon they were joined and run off to the side by the geese. We were not generous with our lunch and soon the birds all moved off to a respectful distance. See that tree on the right of the photo above. This is important to the rest of the story. The geese had all settled around that tree resting on the ground preening themselves by the time we finished eating. Jeff had wanted to see what would happen if he threw just one chip to this little gull that had stayed closed the entire meal. I made him wait until after we were done eating and packed up. That was a good decision because within a matter of seconds of throwing that one chip this is what happened…

Those geese converged on us.

It was time to make a quick get away.

It was on to Gooseberry Falls, a favorite stop of Minnesotans traveling along the North Shore. It was the most crowded we had ever seen, but after only a 5-10 minute hike, the trail was ours alone.

Jeff overlooking the lower falls.

Stealing a kiss above the falls.

I reminded Jeff that diving was not allowed at the falls.

We managed to keep our boots dry during our rock hopping.

This guy cooperated long enough for me to get this shot.

We have a similar picture that we took on our 5th anniversary trip. We hiked around Gooseberry at the end of November in the snow. The falls were partially frozen. And we were bundled up in our winter coats, hats and gloves.

The sights were beautiful. We had one more stop this day before dinner. I wanted to see the Split Rock Lighthouse which was only about 5 miles up the road and one road construction later. See part two of Camping Day 2 later.

This past week Jeff and I went camping for a few days without the kids. We’ve never done that before. I use to go camping often as a child, but I’ve become kind of a wimp as an adult. I just don’t like sleeping on the ground. Jeff borrowed a couple inflatable beds from his dad so I could sleep on air. We dropped the girls off at grandma and grandpa’s house and headed north. Anna hasn’t slept over at their house for many years so it was a nice time for the girls and grandparents to have together. The boys were at their mom’s for a few days.

We set up camp at Jay Cooke State Park (just south of Duluth) at a site that was about 100 yards down a trail. It was a little work, but offered lots of privacy.

OK–that was my bed. Nine inches of camping bliss and I’m not ashamed about it.

After setting up came we explored the nearby St. Louis River.

Jay Cooke State Park is famous for the Swing Bridge that crosses the St. Louis River and

wildflowers and


After our hike we drove into Duluth to see the sights.

Of course that included the Lift Bridge.

Then we did a bit of window shopping.

These pink poodles in an antique store reminded me of Ellie’s pink poodle blanket that she carried around from the time she was a baby until last year when it fell apart and we placed the remnants into a glass ornament for the Christmas tree.

This Santa suit was also in the same store. I thought it looked rather creepy–at least the mask did.

I made Jeff take my picture with this moose since moose are Anna’s favorite animal.

Then it was off to dinner at Blackwoods Bar and Grill on the north end of Duluth.

We both ordered this steak with gorgonzola cheese and scallions for dinner.

Here’s Jeff enjoying his dinner and

me enjoying a glass of wine.

For dessert we had this

it was called “Wave of Passion” cake.  It was warm, it was chocolate heaven and somehow they got caramel to ooze out of each bite.

We finished the evening with a fire back at camp.

Yep that was a screw off cap–just wait till you hear what we had to go through on our second night.

There was a big milestone for my oldest stepson just a few weeks ago. It was fun to be able to share this important day with him. Now I’m just wondering how long it takes before you stop worrying every time they take the car out. (I’m pretty sure the answer is: NEVER.)

The journaling reads: “Brandon had been waiting for this day for a long time. It was the second time taking the driving test–last time I think he was just too nervous. I was greeting with a big “thumbs up” when he walked through the door after his driving exam. He filled out the license forms, took his eye test and had his picture taken. I offered to either take him out for a treat to celebrate or to let him take out the car for the rest of the afternoon. He picked #2. Can you blame him? He returned safely and on time. ”

“A hot 4th of July spent enjoying a parade where Austin performed in marching band, having dinner with family, swirling sparklers and ooing and ahhing at the local fireworks display. ”

While we were looking for the meeting spot for Austin’s band Ellie noticed the horses getting ready and asked to pet them. The first one she approached was Gina’s horse. Gina serves in the local mounted posse and is the daughter of my friend Nancy. It was Austin’s last time with the middle school marching band. He starts high school in the fall. We are looking forward to performances at the football games to cheer on both the boys. Brandon was also scheduled to march in this parade with the high school band but was still recovering from a nasty what we think was a spider bite to his shin.  He came to watch and was happy he wasn’t marching in the heat. I want to thank Byerly’s grocery store for generously handing out bottles of water just prior to the start of the parade. Jeff’s mom and dad and brother and sister-in-law joined us after the parade for a traditional cook out. Ellie got in a few sparklers before we went to the fireworks. We timed it just right getting there only 5 minutes early and amazingly we were blessed with a close parking space! The show seemed a bit shorter than past years, but with the tight economy it was understandable. It was still fun.

“After the fabulous dance show we celebrated with treat at the DQ before heading to the water park. After a quick stop to see Grandma Jolene to get some pictures, the girls were ready to hit the water. Ellie had a hard time saying “goodbye” to Guenther. At the waterpark Aly and Ellie spent most of their time going down the big tube slide together, while Ireland and Anna tried out most everything they had. We all like the lazy river and their wave pool. ”

“Wednesday was the opening of the movie, “Eclipse” which the girls were dying to see. I took the big girls while Ellie spent the afternoon with Grammie.”

Finally our last day in Bismarck:

“Our last day in ND we visited Fort Lincoln to see the Custer House and the Indian village. Both were recreated but had many original items. “Princess Ellie” had a military escort to the house.
We met Grammie for lunch and games at Space Aliens before taking in the movie “Eclipse”. ”

There it is–our North Dakota trip. I see that I am once again way behind in posting my Project 52 photos. Other big news of late is that my oldest, Brandon got his driver’s license last week! More on that later too!

“The highlight of the dance camp was the performances on the last day. The show opened with Anna & Aly’s routine to “Let It Rock”. After a few other solos and a quick change, Anna danced to “Here We Go Again.” Both routines took 1st place! Their group then did three routines: lyrical, hiphop and an 80s partner dance. They learned a lot in 3 days. The girls even made a good friend, Summer, and went to her birthday party at the park on Monday.”

Here is Aly and Anna’s duet:

Anna’s solo to “Here We Go Again:

Now for the camp routines:

“With the big girls at dance camp, Ellie and I spent the morning at the Heritage Center. She was fascinated with many of the exhibits and was curious as to how the Indians and early settlers made things. We had our traditional photo at “Mommy’s tractor”. Uncle Chris & Norman joined us for lunch at McDonalds. A barnstorming tour was at the airport so I made the girls check it out with me. The planes paraded on the taxiway in front of us before taking off. They circled around and then landed again. I loved seeing the old planes. It made me want to fly again.”

“Mommy’s tractor” really isn’t my tractor at all. Back when I was in college I spent one summer volunteering at the Heritage Center in the Archeology group mostly cataloging bones and pottery. This tractor was being put together that summer and for a few days they needed all the available help to finish the project. So YES I was one of many people that worked on that tractor. It’s my mother’s fault that it got its name. When my nieces were younger Grammie use to take them to the Heritage Center. She started telling them that it was “Auntie Lisa’s” tractor. Naturally when I started visiting with my own children it became “Mommy’s tractor”. And since it is “my tractor” I have to have the traditional photograph each time we visit. I found a few historic shots (I’m sure I have more from pre-digital days) to share with you.

Our first two days in North Dakota:

“Our first full day in Bismarck at the ranch. Papa Ronnie had just picked up his new toy, a Kawasaki “mule”. Grammie took us 4-wheeling across the corn fields before giving driving lessons to Anna and Aly. Anna took off and almost ran down Papa, where Aly was more conservative. Then we spent the afternoon shopping at the mall. The girls picked up some great deals. Ellie fell in love with one of the dogs, Tork. He was her buddie the rest of the week.”

Here’s Anna’s adventures in driving:

“Sunday was the first day of the Just for Kicks dance camp. After I dropped Anna and Aly off at the University of Mary for camp, Ellie and I helped Grammie in the garden. Then cousin Ireland joined us for a quick (cold) swim in the Missouri River. Took the girls on a quick tour along the river road before meeting Papa Lee and Jolene for dinner at Applebees. Anna & Aly each ate a big dessert. Went over to Papa and Jolene’s house to visit and play with the cats. Ellie’s favorite cat buddy is still Guenther.”