A Travellerspoint blog

August 2010

Afternoons at the San Diego Zoo

A Great Burger Joint and Exploring the Zoo

sunny 105 °F

I was surprised to find that all my preconceptions of San Diego were completely wrong. When I think of a place I’ve never been to before and have heard stories about, I start to form mental images of the place. In this case, my mental images had nothing to do with San Diego in real life.

For one thing, I thought San Diego was going to be a lot hotter than it was in Riverside (just east of LA). Indeed, as we drove down, the temperature had hit 90 degrees before the ten o’clock in the morning. I thought I was in for another blistering day. As we neared the city, and began to make our way to the ocean, the temperature dropped sharply in a matter of ten minutes. When we parked at an ocean side park, it was 68 degrees. I felt cold for the first time here in southern California, and I wondered if I needed a coat. I had already grown accustomed to the oven-like temperatures of late August. What happened was a bank of cold ocean fog had rolled in, tempering the thermostat to a more agreeable temperature.

Secondly, the terrain of San Diego was much hillier than I had imagined. There were hills of all shapes and sizes all over the city and suburbs. When summiting, these hills offer a beautiful vantage point to look over the lush paradise that is San Diego. Indeed, the palm trees, well-manicured shrubs and hedges, lawns, flower gardens and bushes all had thick green foliage on them. It seemed tropical to me.
We started our day by visiting one of the best burger joints in the country, a dive highly rated by it’s customers to the degree of making it one of the top five burgers in the US. Ho-Dad’s lives up to its reputation. We stood in line outside on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for a seat to open. The owner of the place walked by, and began bantering with the crowd. “You know, here at Ho-dad’s, we offer same day service. If you order your food today, you’ll get your food today…or maybe tonight at the latest.” He was charismatic and funny, obviously enjoying working the crowd. In So Cal (southern California), I’ve seen more owners of restaurants than anywhere else. It seems they like getting out on the floor, talking with diners, making them feel at home. I like it. It’s a nice touch to have the actual owner of a place come out and talk with you. I think more restaurants around the country should do the same.
How was the burger? It was HUGE! It was delicious! Done in the simple California style way, they had hand formed patties, THICK slices of tomato, onion, some lettuce, pickles, house sauce on a bun. The atmosphere of the small restaurant was classic. The ambiance was loud. Loud music kept the diners talking loudly, competing to be heard above the din. It wasn’t overpowering though. This isn’t a fancy French Bistro. Ho-dad’s is a great little burger joint, and you can take it, or leave it. Most people choose to take it. The walls were festooned with license plates from all over the country, most of them vanity plates. Surfboards hung from the ceiling from chains. The small tables were tightly packed, and all of them were full. We sat at the bar, which faced open air to the sidewalk. While we waited for our food and ate our burgers, we watched the passing people. The array of interesting characters parading by was cheap entertainment. There were more spaced out beach people, beautiful women, families, dogs, and surfers- a California medley.
We went to the San Diego Zoo and the zoo’s Wild Animal Park on separate days, but since they are similar, and part of the same organization, I’ve decided to talk about them as one. I’m always skeptical when going to a zoo. In my way of thinking, I’d rather see an animal out in the wild, on its own turf. Therefore, to come to a zoo, I can’t help but feel like it’s kind of an animal jail. A friend told me that the San Diego Zoo had been voted the best zoo in the United States. I asked her if the animals voted it their favorite prison in the U.S. Therefore, with that mindset (which admittedly isn’t my usual open mindedness) we went into the zoo.

I’ve got to say that the zoo won me over. We spent the better part of 5 hours (at the main zoo, 3 hours at the wild animal park) wandering around viewing the animals. I was impressed by the variety of animals, and the habitat in which the animals live. The zookeepers have done a good job at making realistic conditions for the animals. I think it helps that this zoo is located in southern California. The hot weather allows the zoo managers to easily create tropical and arid environments. Therefore, they can bring in a wide variety of animals that dwell in tropical, deserts, plains, forests, near water, etc. The layout of the zoo was well designed. While walking the many trails between main exhibits, there were many smaller animal exhibits to see on the way.

I kind of feel like capturing photos in the zoo is cheating. Getting good shots in the wild, is a lot more gratifying, but since I didn’t know if I’d ever see these animals again, I though I would take advantage. Besides, it was good practice trying to get good pictures of moving animals. Therefore, while I feel some of these pictures are dynamic and interesting, the animals did all the work.

Without further ado, I give you the zoo. Author’s Note: If you can listen to Simon and Garfunkels classic, “At the Zoo” it might help you get into the spirit of the zoo and its inhabitants.

Look at these Fancy Kicks!
The Secretary Bird was among my favorites.
For Some Reason, I love Elephants in Sepia.
I love this dozing Koala. So Peaceful!

It's hard for me to choose my favorite exhibit. I liked a lot of the animals that I saw. I really liked the gorillas, elephants, aviaries, giant tortoise, reptiles, and insect house.

Posted by Rhombus 09:08 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (0)

Venice Beach and Hollywood

The Nuthouse By the Sea, An Unlikely Visit To Hollywood, and Good Food Along the Way

sunny 100 °F

Venice Beach is located just south of Santa Monica, California. It is definitely one of the best beaches I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Not only is the scenery absolutely amazing, but the people who frequent this beach make it one of the best people watching locations in the US, if not the world.
The beach itself is a wide, flat, soft sand stretch that appears to be roughly well over a quarter mile wide to where it meets the cool water of Santa Monica Bay of the Pacific Ocean. This is a Mecca for southern California sun worshipers, surfers, and everyone else who just like lying in the sand. The ocean swells on the day I visited, were subtle until they neared the shore. At that point, they would curl into a brief tube, and then implode, crashing in a crescendo of bouncing white foam surf onto the shore.
The beach is so huge, there is plenty of room for everyone, and everyone seemed to be out taking advantage of the beautiful hot sunny weather this Sunday had to offer. A small boom-town of beach umbrellas had formed, their occupants happily lazing away the afternoon in the pleasant shade they provided. I was told the local schools would also be starting up again soon, and I saw a lot of kids determined to make their last day of freedom a good one. Their mothers had a glazed over, harrowed look in their eyes, that appeared to say, “I don’t care what you do today, tomorrow I am free.”
I liked the tall skinny palm trees that were dotted and grouped together all along the beach. If Dr. Suess and Jim Henson (of Muppet fame) invented a tree, I think they would have come up with the palm tree. There are many different types of palms to be seen in the area. From short and stout varieties, to tall ones I saw on the beach. A palm tree at full maturity has a long, smooth and narrow gray trunk that makes a soft parenthetical bend high up into the sky. At the top of the trunk, the palm leaves hang like fern fronds, kind of like a bushy head of flattened dread-locks. They make a soft rattling sound in the ocean breeze. To me, they are the quintessential beach tree, and possibly the best plant symbol of southern California (though I can think of another plant that southern Californians would probably claim as their symbol). They offered shade to those who wanted it, and they make for a good picture. If I had my hammock, I know I would have put it to good use in the shady copse of these towering trees.

Venice Beach isn’t simply a beach. It is more of an ocean side recreation center that attempts to have something for everyone. Besides the beach, there are basketball courts, paddle tennis courts, an amazing skate park, a playground area, volleyball courts, a bike path, and a boardwalk. The famed muscle beach is also located here, a gathering place of vain, muscle loving maniacs who were hard at work, bulking themselves up for their own gratification. All of the recreational courts were busy with athletes playing their game. At each venue, a small group of spectators and resting athletes were gathered around watching the games being contested.
The boardwalk was my favorite part of the whole beach. It’s comprised of a wide asphalt avenue, maybe 40 feet across, with one edge being the last row of buildings of the city of Venice, and the other being the sand beach. On the city side, were a large number of shops and restaurants selling souvenirs, tattoos, food, trinkets, art, clothing, surf boards and other wares. These were the established merchants. On the beach side, the city has designated spaces for “mobile merchants” to set up their tents, umbrellas, and tables to sell their art, collectibles, jewelry, hand made accessories, and services (such as palm reading, temporary tattoo shops, etc). The spots on the beach side were procured with city license, or were first come first served, depending on the spot. Everyday, these people would haul everything to the beach, set up for the day, and tear it all down again at night, only to repeat the process.
On the buildings near the boardwalk, and throughout the city of Venice, were elaborate murals painted on the walls. The talent of these artists was quite evident, and I was amazed at the detail they could capture by using a building as a palette. I’m a big fan of public art; I think it gives neighborhoods and cities more character and charm, especially if the artists are talented. Venice Beach has done well for itself in this regard.
I walked the stretch of boardwalk that was maybe a mile long. I enjoyed checking out all of the artists work, admiring a lot of it. There are a lot of talented people selling their art along the beach. Not a bad place to make a living. Beyond the artists, were others selling clothing, hand made jewelry, and trinkets. There were a few musicians playing for tips, “live” mannequins that would hold completely still until you tipped them, then they would come alive for 2 minutes, jumping dancing, screaming, and gyrating until they slowed and once again became frozen. I loved the variety of merchandise available, and though some of the shops sold the same things, most had found their own niche of unique merchandise for sale.
The people of Venice Beach are what make this place special, and a world class people watching destination. I like to think of it as a “Nuthouse by the sea.” There are weirdoes of every variety gathered here, homeless bums (myself included), spaced out addicts, winos (“Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Help me get drunk today“), medical marijuana clinic orators trying to drum up appointments with the “doctor.” A young man of twenty something years of age was hollering out his spiel, “MARIJUANA, You KNOW You Wanna!” Every time a family would walk by, he would mention “family discounts are available.“ I thought this was hilarious. There were many eccentrics, and even two street-side gospel screamers. There were many southern Californian beach bums carrying surfboards or long board skateboards, and groups of slackers asking for handouts and money. Mixed with the more extreme folks were the “Joe Tourist” types, walking around with their families in tow, the locals, who mostly tried to ignore everything going on, the exercisers, street merchants peddling their wares, rappers trying to publicize their music, . There were those who came down simply come to hang out and take in the atmosphere. The trendy, beautiful people that California grows like fruit were out in full force, and everyone else, who are tough to categorize. I’ll simply say the medley of humanity found here is an interesting melting pot as any I’ve ever seen. I believe everyone should come and see Venice Beach at least once in their life. It really is an experience you won‘t soon forget. I was there on a beautiful Sunday. I would recommend visiting on a weekend, as more of the colorful characters will be out and about.

To capture scenes of the Venice Beach, I decided to take a covert approach. I put my camera around my neck, and it swung freely just above my navel. When I saw a picture I wanted to get without being obvious or rude, I would simply use the auto focus and take the picture very subtly without anyone the wiser. The advantages were that I could get photos that I otherwise couldn’t get, and hopefully capture scenes of the people of Venice Beach. The disadvantages were that I had no idea if I was going to get the shot. I could only guess if the scene I saw with my eye would look the same “shot from the hip” so to speak. As it turned out, I was able to get a number of dynamic shots that I was happy with.

The following are Venice Beach Boardwalk Scenes.
For lunch, we ate at Jody Maroni’s Sausage Stand. They served a variety of good sausages, and I enjoyed a Polish Sausage on an onion brat roll with sautéed onions, peppers, cheese and Dijon mustard. I thought it was delicious, and would happily recommend that you try it out for yourself.
After leaving Venice Beach, my host gave me an unintentional tour of Hollywood. I had no strong feelings for visiting this famous location. It wasn’t on my list of things I absolutely had to see, and I’m definitely not a “star” chaser. I don’t really watch much TV, and though I like movies, I prefer old movies (Two for the Road, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Graduate, etc) and most of my favorite actors are dead, or far from Hollywood. However, since it was on our way, we decided to check it out, and I’m kind of glad I did. We took the famed Sunset Boulevard east into Hollywood, passing a multitude of posh, expertly manicured wealthy abodes. I’m sure some famous people lived in them, but I couldn’t tell you who. I was actually more impressed with the gardens, and expertly trimmed hedges that would’ve made Patton proud. There were many types of trees and plants in bloom, and the gardeners of this neighborhood are experts at landscape design. I was kind of disappointed though; I didn’t see any hedges shaped into dollar signs. If I was rich, that would be my first priority upon purchasing a mansion.

As the road snaked around through the winding, lush hills the passing car names began to show signs of wealth. BMW, Lexus, Ferrari, Audi, and even Rolls Royce autos passed us by, their owners showing off their status. We passed the well known neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Bell Aire, and into to Hollywood itself.

I saw Rodeo drive. There were no rodeos in progress, however and certainly no cowboys to be seen. I saw the Sunset strip. The strip was a shopping district that didn’t entice me much. We parked on Hollywood Boulevard and went for a walk on the star studded “Hollywood Walk of Fame.” This was kind of neat. I enjoyed walking the shady sidewalks looking down to see whose star was next. I saw the likes of Boris Karloff, Pee-Wee Herman, Frank Sinatra, Thomas Edison (who I didn’t know was enshrined), Vincent Price, Dean Martin, and many others that I did and did not recognize. What I didn’t realize was that they not only enshrine in marble stars of film and screen, but also comedians, radio actors of yesteryear, musicians, and TV stars. Beyond that, I wondered how famous you need to be, to get enshrined. Was it based on money making, or popularity? After all, Pee-Wee Herman made the cut.
I saw Fredericks of Hollywood, the famous lingerie store. I kind of wanted to go in and browse, but since I didn’t have anyone to buy lingerie for, I decided not to. Besides, with my modest Midwest upbringing, I would probably have kept staring at my sandals, blushing, while I tried not to peek at the sexiness all around me. Maybe the mannequins would have found me charming, but the management probably would not have agreed and have me thrown out into the street.

Once again there were more people of every size and shape wandering around the street. I saw homeless people curled up in the dark corners whispering secrets to their dogs to avant-garde models dressed to the nines in the latest fashions looking hot, beautiful, and mildly bored with their choice of lifestyle. I was somewhere in between, caught up in the novelty of being in a famous place.
We drove north, and I spied the giant “HOLLYWOOD” sign high up on the hillside. My friend decided to navigate us for a better view of it, and led us higher up into the Hollywood Hills. Mike drives a 2008 Diesel Powered Chevy Silverado. It’s designed for hauling his RV trailer around. As we climbed into the labyrinth of twisting narrow streets that only got skinnier as we rose, we began to see that this truck was not made for negotiating the blind curves, and bottlenecks of the hills. “They’ll move, he said, We’re bigger.” To which I replied, “Yeah well, I bet they are richer.”

I told him that he should start giving Hollywood tours. As it was, we kind of thought we were going the wrong way on a one way street, and we weren’t really sure where we were, or how to get out of there. The homes of the hills, like much of the cities of Southern California, were jammed in like sardines. The yards were miniscule and every inch of land available was being used. Most of the homes perched rather than sat on the hill, their toes clinging to what little earth they were built upon. The small alley-like streets twisted and curled around them like small snakes.

I really enjoyed seeing how the other half lived. I could have hosted “Life Styles of the Rich and Famous”, except I’m not really in awe of their wealth, and don’t really care how “famous” they are. I figure, they are just like you and I, and would want to be as anonymous as I am.
We finished off our day, by picking up some sandwiches to go at “The Oinkster” in Eagle Rock, California. The Oinkster recently was featured on the Food Television Networks show, “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” Mike and I are big fans of this show, and try to find the restaurants featured in our area. The house special is the Pastrami sandwich. We each ordered a couple to go, and I got a strawberry milkshake to tide me over until we got back to Riverside. When I bit into that sandwich, I almost fell on the floor it was so good. By far the BEST pastrami I’ve ever eaten. It was delicious.

It was a great first day of exploration for me. I was beginning to like southern California, and I look forward to finding more of its charms. I’m off to San Diego next, to check out a great burger joint, the fisherman’s wharf, and the renowned San Diego Zoo. Stay tuned, this Vagabond might find fame and fortune just yet!

Posted by Rhombus 12:04 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (0)

On The Way To Southern California

A Return to Duluth, Travel Directives, and My Views on Flying

overcast 74 °F

I awoke to the sound of wind and rain lashing the window of my friend’s third floor apartment. I was drowsing happily on the floor, acknowledging that a good rainstorm was brewing up, but not caring. Then a tremendous, sonic boom of a thunder crack hammered a resounding blow on the city, and I found myself levitating in the air from the prone position. As if, to be efficient, the storm put all its energy into that one thunder clap. ”One show, good-bye.”~ Steve Martin.
I landed back on my sleeping pad, and felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, my heart beating harder, momentarily shocked, but quickly settling down allowing me to return to my slumber. Thunder might possibly be the best alarm for waking up than any other device. Too bad you can’t set it…
The rain continued through the morning, even after I awoke, was dressed and headed out to find some breakfast (a cinnamon roll, and mocha from the New London Café). One of my favorite parts about returning to Duluth is haunting my old haunts. I like revisiting the good café’s, parks, and hang outs that I used to frequent while I lived here. I parked at one of my favorite lakeside picnic areas on the scenic north shore drive. I ate my roll, sipped my mocha, listened to the rain hammer on the roof, read, wrote in my journal, and played my ukulele for several hours. It was a very good morning. A fog bank rolled in, blanketing the shoreline in white mist. It made for some interesting scenes of the lake, and I took advantage with my camera.
I was to meet my friend at 4:30 in the afternoon, at his apartment in the western Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth. I figured I would be making a few stops along the way; a friend of mine had given me contractual directives to find a park, take a picture of it, and to get lost somewhere along the way. The first two directives weren’t hard to accomplish. I found a perfect park in the small town of Bruno, Minnesota. It had one of the coolest teeter-totters I’ve seen in a long time, and a swing set. I decided to eat a small lunch, and play the uke for a while. The last part of her directions was harder. She told me I wasn’t allowed to use maps to find my way down to Plymouth, that I “should let the world guide me for awhile.” I didn’t have a problem with this, I’m not addicted to maps, and I love being spontaneous. However, I’ve driven almost all of the roads between Duluth and Minneapolis, and I knew where I was going even if I didn’t use a map. To compromise, I decided not to use freeways. This was an easy decision anyway, as I mostly despise driving along the dull, fast track routes that criss cross the United States.
I decided that I liked being given travel directives. I enjoyed seeking out random objects and towns such as the swing-set. It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt in a way, and I’d certainly welcome more “challenges” to my travels if any of you reader(s) have any suggestions. Perhaps you could say something along the lines of, “Find the city park in Havre, Montana and go slack lining.” Alternatively, maybe, “Find the best BBQ in Saint Louis.” Or possibly, “Come to my house, and I’ll bake you some cookies.”
I enjoyed the ride, singing aloud to my music, jamming with my groove. I made one stop to watch some swans forage in a roadside pond for a while, but other than that, I stayed the course and made it to my friend’s apartment at exactly 4:30. I have a weird ability to arrive exactly on time, without trying.
To be sure, I haven’t flown that much in my life. I’ve flown the coop at age 20, striking out on my own, and I’ve flown three other times across the US. It’s still kind of a novelty to me, but I’ve noticed the more I fly, the less of a novelty it becomes. However, I’m not jaded yet. I still like people watching in the terminal, imagining the vignettes of the more interesting travelers that walk by.

I was sitting on the floor in the terminal in San Francisco when one of the many politely-robotic futuristic voices that make announcements over the intercom in the terminal, asked: “Would the person who left there hearing-aid by security to please come to the information desk at the beginning of E concourse.“ I waited. The same announcement came on three more times. I mused that the person, who’s missing their hearing aid, probably couldn’t hear the announcement. A regular Catch-22.

I like having a window seat. I’m that guy, who stares out the window for most of the flight. I dig watching the scenery far below, and I like the uncertainty of take-offs and landings. Watching the earth rush by, as you get lower and lower to the ground with no hint of a runway in sight is always a battle of conflicting thoughts. “Hmm. Nope. I can’t see a runway yet, but the freeway appears to be about 50 feet below us. This ought to be interesting…”

On takeoffs, you find yourself strapped into a huge metal rocket, buffeting and bouncing along the runway as the painted stripes of the runway blur into a continual line. I can’t help but think about the brake systems on a plane this large. What if… How the hell can they stop this thing? At that point, there is nothing you can do about it anyway. “You made your bed. Now sleep in it!” I’m not scared; I’m just contemplative when the situation is out of my control. I trust the pilots, and there haven’t been any problems on any of my flights.

My flights were uneventful. I landed in the hot southern California night tired, and a bit woozy. It had been a long day and all I wanted to do was eat, take a shower, and go to sleep. All of which I accomplished in short order.

Before I fell asleep, I contemplated what the week would hold for me. I was here in southern California, and the next day would begin my explorations of this famed locale. I wanted to give it a fair chance, to be open minded to the southern Californian lifestyle. I wanted to see how I would fit in. On paper, I wasn’t sure if I would like it. I’ve heard many stories about the negative sides to the region, but I try to never let other people’s views influence my own perspective that comes from real experience. I wanted to see some of the sights that most of my friends and relatives would never see. I was getting excited! I was in my element once again, and ready to paint the next blank canvas of life experiences in unknown territory.

Posted by Rhombus 13:56 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (1)

The Spoils of Summer: Living the Good Life

A Brief Look into the Life of a Slacker, The Power of Positive Connections, Marquette After Midnight

sunny 88 °F

Both of my dedicated readers got on my case this week about my lack of posts to my blog.
“It’s stagnant”, they proclaimed. To which I had no recourse but to agree. That isn’t to say I haven’t been thinking about it, or composing thoughts in my head about the next entry. No, my mind is always on task so to speak. In my defense (flimsy as it is), I have this to offer: I’m currently chasing summer vacation, and I felt that to truly get to the essence of summer, one must shirk responsibility. As it is, I am a man of leisure. I’ve frolicked in my muse, chased rainbows, and have accepted (and embraced) the fact that I am a bum (and damn proud of it).

To me, when thinking about summer vacation of years past, I get a sense of freedom. I have memories of long days spent at the camp swimming, lazing around, eating, visiting family, friends, and playing around. In my attempt to recapture that feeling, I’ve found it appropriate to stick to a rough schedule for any given day.
I’ll wake up around 8 a.m. I’ll eat a light breakfast, read, write, edit pictures until satisfied. I’ll run up to the coffee shop in Calumet (5th and Elm Coffee House) to use their wi-fi. I like to keep up with “my people.” From there, I’ll drive down to Eagle River where our family’s “camp” is located. I must digress. A “camp” as it’s called up here in the UP, is simply a vacation home. Other parts of the country refer to it as a cottage, a cabin, or make up their own name.
Once at the camp, I have a strenuous list of things I try to accomplish. I like to complete one chore for the day, i.e. Paint the trim on the main house. There’s always basic maintenance to do, and I feel good about helping out. Once my chore is finished, I’m free to work on my hobbies. I’ve recently started slack lining. Slack lining is a sport that is very addicting. The basic premise of slack lining is walking on a 3-inch strap that has been tightly secured between two trees. It’s kind of like a combination of walking a tight rope and the balance beam, but done close to the ground. I can tell you it’s challenging. It’s like learning to walk all over again. I like to long board, and it’s my favorite mode of transport down to the lake. There’s something appropriate about riding a long board to the beach. Lake Superior has been perfect for swimming this year. I love swimming in the warm waters, and body surfing in the occasional big waves. After my daily dip into the big lake, I’ll return to the camp and either set up my hammock, or settle into my favorite chair in the shade. I like to read, catch up on my journal, meditate, bird watch, and take hammock naps. After waking up, it’s time for another slack-line session before jumping in the lake one last time. After my second swim, I’ll put on dry clothes and head to my mom’s house for dinner, or eat with my family at the camp, depending on which menu is more to my liking. After dinner, and “sittin’ down time” (digesting, while sitting in the shade). I’ll head out to see some friends, family, or find a good spot to unwind from my busy day.
Now, this isn’t to say that I haven’t been writing or taking photos at all. I’ve several writing projects I’m working on, and I’ve been focusing more on them during my daily writing sessions. One project that I’m working on is a combination of selected photos paired with my thoughts about that particular scene. An example:

Late Afternoon at The Camp

“The warm breeze gusts through the hodge-podge collection of deck chairs strewn around the yard. It feels good on the skin after a long day in the sun. Most of us are sitting in the shade of the old apple tree, decrepit, but still providing a canopy of shade to lounge in. The old folks and the dogs are content to sit quietly, lost in their own thoughts. The dogs seem to prefer either the cool touch of the clover patch or the comforting dust of a sandy hole, dug to their own specifications. Gangs of children occasionally stream through, on the way to the river, the frog pond, the park or the ice cream shop. My brother is finishing off smoked chicken wings on the grill, and the smell of the cooked meat slathered with homemade barbeque sauce is wonderful. My stomach growls in anticipation, a low guttural moan. “ME WANT FOOD!” There is peace and tranquility here. An easy feeling of contentment holds over the yard, and though not all will notice it, all will feel it. Years from now, the feeling will return to us at another time, bringing with it the beautiful nostalgia of late afternoon at the camp.”

I’ve also completed the first of my summer trips, this one to Marquette, Michigan. Marquette has always been on of my favorite towns to visit. Years ago, when I was a kid, a trip to Marquette was a special treat, and the equivalent of taking a long road trip. Growing up, our family never had a lot of money, and an annual family vacation to some distant locale was out of the question. Occasionally, we would make forays to Marquette to visit relatives and do some shopping at the mall and department stores. It was a big deal to us, and we always looked forward to these trips.

Later, my sister went to Northern Michigan University to get her degree in nursing, and lived in Marquette for several years. During my early teens, we would visit her occasionally on weekends, and it was a lot of fun to explore this small city with her. These memories, combined with my traveling restlessness fueled my desire to return to Marquette to explore the parks, beaches, shops, and restaurants that make up this great little city.

To hopefully make this an even better experience, I logged onto the couch surfing network once again to see if I could find a local host that could not only put me up for a few nights, but also could show me around town and hang out with me during my explorations. As it turned out, there was only one person who could host during my visit, and as luck would have it, she turned out to be one of the best hosts I’ve ever had while surfing.

My favorite part of the CS experience is to make connections with like-minded individuals. Sometimes, this is as simple as swapping travel stories over dinner, or before going to sleep. Other times, these connections are stronger, and I find myself opening up to a complete stranger, sharing with them my own life story, my philosophy, dreams, and ambitions. To my mind, this is what traveling, couch surfing and life is all about: Making positive connections with people, becoming friends, and letting your guard down to really get to know that person. Along with this, comes an openness to discuss anything under the sun. If I can find that kind common bond with someone, it really reinforces my lifestyle and my approach to traveling.

My friend J.J. Johnson, a mountain man from Oregon stated it best, “Sometimes you meet people along the way that inspire you, and get your creative life juices flowing again. You feed off one another, re-energizing your spirit, finding support and positive reinforcement.”

My trip to Marquette wouldn’t have been nearly as fun, if I hadn’t made that connection with my host. In three days, we went from strangers to good friends, and I look forward to talking with her again.

Highlights of Marquette:

First impressions are important. I met my host, and we went out for a light lunch at the Sweet Water Café. I had a cold blueberry soup for the first time, and it was delicious. It was pureed blueberries mixed with light spicing of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, topped with thinly sliced almonds. As I opened my wallet to pay for the meal, a teaspoon of fine brown beach sand poured out of a hole in the bottom of my wallet and onto the table. As I nonchalantly wiped the small pile onto the floor (attempting to be suave about it), we both chuckled over it, and the ice was unintentionally broken.

My host was a night owl. Therefore, I adapted my own schedule to match hers and we had a fine time exploring Marquette in the wee hours of the night. I enjoyed our late night treks across town, stumbling along, craving and devouring subs from Jimmy John’s, taking turns discussing our views on life. We spent one night at the beach watching starry skies emerge from the clouds followed by a meteor shower right over Lake Superior. The first of the meteors was a brilliant fiery streak that went off like a flash bulb, mirrored on the flat dark water of the lake. It was amazing. Staying up all night wasn’t something I was used to, but I think I carried myself very well for having stayed up to 5:30 am three nights in a row.
I spent a terrific afternoon at the lake near Little Presque Isle. The shore near LPI is beautiful soft beach sand that makes it a popular destination for swimming, sun tanning and relaxing. I set up my slack-line in the shady forest of red pines adjacent to the shore. I had a lot of fun practicing my craft as onlookers wondered what I was doing. After the balancing session, I waded out to LPI and hiked around the island, impressed with beauty and ruggedness of the exposed ledge rock on the westerly side of the island. I found a dead duck floating in a pool. I wondered what happened. How do ducks die? I approved of its final resting place, a small pool surrounded by carved ledge rock, within four feet of Lake Superior. It was a beautiful place, and if I were to choose a final resting place for myself, I would want something similar.
I enjoyed exploring Marquette’s shops and restaurants, Including (in no particular order): Third Street Bagel, Vango’s, Vierling’s, BabyCakes Bakery, Jimmy John’s, Sweet Water Café, Togo’s Subs, The Uphill, Remmie’s, Snow Bound Books (a dangerous bookstore full of excellent reads), and Peter White Public Library. The library being one of the coolest libraries I’ve ever seen. A meeting place of old and new, old fashioned architecture meeting modern library technology. I look at a town’s library as a deciding factor to if I like a city, and if I could live there. I could live in Marquette.

As I drove home from Marquette, I reflected on my visit, deciding it was a complete success. I had accomplished all that wanted to do, and was quite satisfied. I thought ahead to my late summer plans, and decided that I was going to come back to Marquette sometime in the fall. Why not? If a city is this good, it deserves a second visit, to seek out more of its secrets, and find more of its charming character. In the meantime, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I haven’t napped in my hammock in several days, and the lake needs my attention a couple times a day. I have to spend some quality time with my family (especially around dinnertime), and my long board needs someone to carve down the hills with it. Therefore, I’ve got a busy week ahead of me, before I head down to San Diego for some tuna fishing.
It’s not easy being a man of leisure.

Posted by Rhombus 09:33 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (3)

Lake Superior In Summer

A Search For The Essence of Summer

sunny 80 °F

Summer is a special time around the Lake Superior region. Like many locations in the northern latitudes, the warm summer months turn Lake Superior into paradise.
I hadn’t seen Lake Superior since April, which is long before summer had settled over the region. It had been two years since I’ve seen the lake in summer, as I had been working in Alaska. After being away for so long, I began to notice the small things that I have missed almost immediately upon returning. The small capsules of summer that I didn’t even know I was missing until I was confronted with them. For example, I was driving through small towns in the evening, seeing kids outside strolling around with shorts on, eating ice cream, laughing with their friends. Seeing a public beach full of people swimming and tanning themselves under the hot sun. I saw people stopping at roadside farmer stalls to purchase fresh sweet corn, peppers, tomatoes, and other veggies. It’s the little things that I missed, and I realized many little things go into the making of a big summer.
I grew up on Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, the finger of land jutting north into Lake Superior. This lake and region is a part of me, and it is good to revisit my old stomping grounds. I discovered that I had a newfound appreciation for the lake, my home, and summer in general. It became clear to me, that my newest mission was to enjoy the rest of the summer months; basking in all of the glory of the Lake Superior and the area around it. I want to take it all in; as a thirsty man savors that first drink of cool, clear water as it trickles down his parched throat. I want to take pleasure in all that I have missed these last two years, until my thirst for summer has been slaked.
There are a lot of mental images the go with the word “summer.” What do you picture? Hot sunny beaches, swimming, cook outs, bonfires, friends, sipping lemonade in the shade, ice cream cones, etc. I have a growing list in my head of summer time activities that I want to do. My goal is to recapture the essence of summer, and I am up for the challenge.

I have two months in which to accomplish my goal. I’m fortunate because I’m in between jobs. My next adventure begins in mid-October. I’ve been hired on as a deckhand on a cruise ship that will be sailing down to Baja Mexico for the winter. I’m quite excited by this, but there will be more on that to come in future posts. Knowing that I have a job coming up, takes all the pressure off trying to find work and making my savings last. I can give my full attention to leisure activities, which, if you’ve followed my travels at all, you might say I have a knack for…

I want to try to paint a literary picture of Lake Superior during these summer months. I hope that this will help you get an idea of what the Lake Superior Region has to offer, and the summery palette that I am in the process of highlighting.

First some Lake Facts (as documented by wikipedia):
It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and third largest by volume.
Its surface are is over 31,000 square miles or about the size of South Carolina.
Its deepest point is 1332 feet below the surface. Its average depth is 482 ft.
There is enough water to cover North and South American land mass with one foot of water.

Lake Superior has more going for it besides sheer size. The water (in most places) is crystal clear. It’s like liquid glass. To me, its remarkable clarity reinforces how pure this lake is. Depending on atmospheric and shoreline conditions, the lake can take on a wide spectrum of coloring. Its water is cold, pure and refreshing. The average summer temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit (don‘t let this fact scare you away from swimming. The surface water is much warmer than the lower water depths). Many municipalities in the region use it as their drinking water source (after filtering, of course). Lake Superior offers a wide variety of sport for those who wish to participate including Swimming, fishing, surfing, hunting, snorkeling, SCUBA diving, kayaking/canoeing, pleasure boating among many others.

Lake Superior was formed long ago by volcanic activity and a couple of good carvings from glaciers during the ice ages. After grinding out its shape, the glaciers melted filling in their handiwork- creating the biggest lake in the region. Evidence of the glaciers, are seen in the many striated rocks found in the ledge rock on the shoreline.
The shoreline of Lake Superior is roughly 2,726 miles long. As you might imagine, there is a wide variety of geology that makes up the lakeshore. There are miles of black basalt, sandstone, granite, boulders beaches of every size, white sand beaches, pebble beaches, and many more. As a boulderer, I tend to like the ledge rock shelves that drop directly into the lake. It’s great climbing, and a lot of fun to avoid falling in the lake. Not only are these ledges good for climbing, but they make great platforms for diving into the lake.

My other favorite shoreline feature are the miles and miles of soft powdery white sand beaches. To walk on the soft sand is to hear your feet say, “Ahhhhh, that’s nice.”
The sand beaches make great places to swim as well. Lake Superior’s waves can get pretty big with the right wind direction. One life’s little summer pleasures is to body surf these marvelous curlers. I’ve gotten rides averaging 40 feet from these waves. It takes a bit of a knack. You need to know what waves will be strong enough to ride, when to time your dive, and how to keep your body rigid to lengthen the ride. I’ve been body surfing in the lake for 20 years, and I never get tired of the thrill of catching the perfect wave. The big waves aren’t predictable, and don’t happen very often. It takes sustained winds from the right direction to make them. However, if you are in the right place at the right time, life will indeed be good.

Along the shore, a wide variety of plant life has once again returned from its winter slumber; carpeting the shoreline in an eclectic mix of natural grasses, wildflowers, shrubs, berries, weeds, trees, and other botanicals. The trees have thick, luxurious green canopies that offer a loafer a variety of options of shade cover in which to set up his hammock.
Eye Sight Test: Can you Spot the Hummingbird in the following photo?
Rolling through the forests and rocky bluffs of the watershed are hundreds of root beer colored rivers, creeks and streams. The root beer color comes from tannin- an acid formed from decomposing tree fodder. When the lake is too cold, these tumbling streams make for good swimming as well. All of my best massages have come from the small waterfalls of these rivers. I like to soak in a waist deep pool of blackish water, allowing a barrage of steady water to work wonders on the back, neck and shoulders. It eases any tension. It’s relaxing, and it makes soft putty out of your muscles. I think I just wrote myself into a visit to a set of waterfalls that I haven’t been to in a long time.

I’ve been swimming every day. I’ve missed swimming a lot, and I feel like I have to make up for lost time. The water is at optimal swimming temperature in July and August. I have been swimming in April (though only when falling in while climbing, or desperately needing a bath) all the way into September. Hardier folks will swim all year round, and I know there are a few “Polar Bear Clubs” who chop a hole in the snow and ice and jump in during the winter. “To each their own…” that’s what I say.

My summer activities have gotten off to a good start in the week that I’ve been here by the “big lake”-as it is known. I will continue to chase my muses, but I do have some bigger regional trips planned for August. I’m going to spend a four-day weekend in the city of Marquette. I’ve visited Marquette many times, and have always wanted to stay longer. I plan on investigating, its beaches, parks, restaurants, people, and anything else that piques my curiosity. I’m also going to revisit Isle Royale National Park. I love hiking on Isle Royale, it’s definitely one of Lake Superior’s natural wonders, and I want to rekindle my appreciation for the first national park I’ve ever visited. Lastly, in September, I plan to make the Lake Superior Circle Tour. This is a trip I’ve been dreaming about for years, and finally I have the time to do it right. I’m planning on a comprehensive trip, and it’s hard to determine how long that will take. So, I’ve decided not to give it a time frame, I’m going to take it one day at a time, and revel in Lake Superior’s splendor.

I decided to end with a recap of my first week’s activities that I can check off my summer list (though I plan to partake in the following more than once). Maybe this will inspire you to chase summer around with the same reckless abandon that I am.

Summer Accomplishments to date: Swimming everyday. Eating several pasties (pasties are a regional specialty here in the UP), sitting through a thunderstorm from beginning to end, getting a tan (Alaska had turned me a glowing ghostly white), long boarding down to the beach, sitting on the front porch in the shade of the afternoon reading a good book (Roads to Quoz by William Least-Heat Moon), picking wild blue berries, enjoying a Mackinac Island Fudge Ice Cream Cone, eating fresh corn on the cob, wearing sandals or going bare feet all day, buying watermelon, seeing a lot of family and friends, and feeding the ducks.

It’s been a good week.


Posted by Rhombus 09:36 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (1)

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