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The Grand Tour: Part 1

My great-great-grandparents settled in Minnesota after coming to America from the “Old Country,” and my grandmother was born on a homestead in Minnesota, so that lovely state was a big destination for my summer road trip. Trouble is I live a heck of a long way from the land of ten thousand lakes — let’s say about 1,300 miles or so. While I am sure there are many sites worth seeing across those 1,300 miles, I was anxious to high-tail it to the land of my ancestors a.s.a.p.

That said, one doesn’t travel so far (and with a nine-year old boy in the car, mind you) in the blink of an eye. There are rest stops where one must play soccer. Gasoline to be bought (highest: $3.69 in Ohio, lowest: $2.65 in Arizona). And restaurants to nourish us with greasy comfort food.

Making the best of it, I broke the journey into three days, spending the night at two spectacular locales to add a little interest to our otherwise monotonous journey west on I–90. Our first night’s destination I kept secret from my son. I wasn’t sure how he’d take the massive amount of traveling we would be doing in such a short span of time. (He’s a marvelous kid and an avid reader, no car-sickness, too. But let’s face it – 1,300 miles is a LONG haul.)

Every since I was a kid, I have wanted to go to Niagara Falls. Just so happens the falls are, according to Google directions, about seven and a half hours (473 miles) from where I live. (Hardly 7 1/2 hours, but I grew to expect that I’d need to add about three hours to any estimate.) I figured that would be about as far as we could go the first day. (Used to pull a 14-hr marathon drive home from college in Tacoma, WA to Sacramento, CA, but I was much younger then and had no child in tow.)

So, anyway, lifelong dream and all that.

The funny thing was…it really was amazing. It didn’t disappoint (which I half expected it to after all the hype). The roar of the water is omnipresent. A heart-thumping sound. We loved the American side, especially, where we walked right up to the edge and had a clear view of the water plummeting down. My son threw a big, fat stick into the river, and we watched it gather speed, swoosh over the top, and become lost in the mist. Only thing, though, about stopping somewhere so entertaining was that we didn’t want to leave and get back in the car for another long day of cornfields, cows, and asphalt. Still, Minnesota was calling.

Second stop: Indiana Dunes National Shoreline. Yes, sand dunes in Indiana. I was pretty surprised to learn of their existence. I’ve seen Lake Michigan before, mostly from the window of airplanes approaching O’Hare (or Midway, if I’m flying Southwest Airlines). But nothing like this before. The parking lot whets the appetite. A patch of forest in front of our car was slowly being consumed by an encroaching dune, the largest dune in the park: Mount Baldy. The dune moves towards the parking lot a few inches every year, burying trees as it goes. Winding along a path through a lovely green forest, I began to wonder if we had taken a wrong turn…except the path was sandy, a deep brown sand almost passing for loam. Then up over a small hill we saw Lake Michigan and miles of sand stretching to the west. To the east a nuclear power plant. Hmmm.

Alas, only a brief romp and the road lay before us like a bad dream. (Okay, well, not really. On the way home that was true, but at this early point in the journey, we were still pretty enthusiastic.) We ripped ourselves away from sand and surf with reluctance.

“Our trip is more like an appetizer tray, bubby, what they call a PuPu Platter in Chinese restaurants,” I told my son. “It’s not a main course kind of trip.”

More on our week in Minnesota next installment….

2 Responses

  1. Hi, right back at you! I’ve never been to Brazil, but it sounds like a beautiful country. Which part are you from?

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