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Big Muddy is Blue!

The sun is out and the river is smiling

sunny 22 °C

Thursday 22nd May: Room 617, Radisson Hotel, La Crosse, Wisconsin

The Upper Mississippi River Basin continues to amaze us. As does this weather! Each stretch of this remarkable road, or, rather, collection of roads, The Great River Road(s), has been different. To be honest, we never expected this part of the trip to be so enjoyable. Indeed we quite expected it to be raining the whole way. This morning we were racing a band of thin, high cloud but managed to keep ahead of it most of the time. This afternoon, we looked up and it had cleared. It was a delight to see this huge waterway looking blue and at its best.

The river is high due to storms a few days ago and there is minor flooding at the edges but this helps to make it look so good.

This morning, after watching the amazing procedure of getting a tug and its barges through the locks at Dubuque (they have just a foot each side of leeway). We were surprised to learn than river transportation is more significant than ever. In the 1930s about 1m tons of cargoe were carried on the Mississippi and it's now 34m. So there are quite frequent sightings of tugs and their barges ....


....we stayed on the Iowa side and were up and down through really green, rolling countryside with small farms, smart farmhouses, with occasional, exciting glimpses of the river, as well as a very big John Deere factory. Which may have explained the wealth hereabouts. John Deere is the default brand for all machines agricultural as well as mowers etc etc.


This might also explain the local obsession with mowing. We have never seen so many people on or pushing mowers. All surfaces have either to be painted (if hard and upright) or mowed, if flat and green. In most of the US people use their gardens as they call them: "yards". Here they are grass to be mowed. Lawns are mowed. Ditches are mowed. Verges are mowed. Banks are mowed. Hills are mowed. Tracks are mowed. Paths are mowed..... I expect they get a discount on those John Deere mowers.

We then crossed into Wisconsin, crossing back once to visit another town, then continued right at the railroad/water's edge into our port of call for the night, La Crosse which, as IanT pointed out, is the home of that most violent of games, Lacrosse.


We visited several small towns and tonight we are back in another big one with ugly outskirts but a really good looking downtown and restored waterfront. Our hotel is at the edge of Downtown on the waterfront and we have a splendid view of the Mississippi from our room. We plan to explore soon.


Tomorrow, continuing up the Mississippi to St Paul/Minneapolis.

We have to mention that we passed the site of Bad Axe scene of yet more atrocities committed against the native Americans. More here if it's of interest. We have been horrified to read many tales showing how badly the "red indians" were treated in their native lands.


Back to last night, we had a splendid walk along the levee at the splendid restored waterfront in Dubuque, set off by a dramatic heavy industrial backdrop


and ate very well AND healthily at Houlihan's next to the hotel. We avoided entering the casino. No more gambling!

Bob's "BUFFALO BLEU SALAD, hand-breaded chicken tenderloins in Buffalo wing sauce, bacon, sharp cheddar, croutons, spicy pecans, red onions, creamy gorgonzola, garlic ranch $11.95"


John's "SO. CAL FISH TACOS chipotle mayo, panko-breaded tilapia, Napa cabbage, pico, honey-cumin dressing, chips and salsa $8.95" served with Honey & Peanut Slaw


Amazing value with lots of fresh veg and salad stuff.

Yes, our little Chevy SUV is great, Brien. Bob enjoys driving it compared to the tank of a "Yukie". And it drinks a lot less gas than the V8 monster in the Yukon. And, yes of course, original Paul Temples with Peter Coke and Marjorie Westbury.

Another success story has been the re-establishment of the bald eagle, which went from 0 to 62 breeding pairs, so how about this picture?


They tend to migrate down to nest and breed from upper Minnesota in the winter. Oh and "bald" come from indian word "baldi", meaning white headed. So you can stop calling John "Baldy", thanks very much!!


Posted by Johnash 16:28 Archived in USA Tagged usa roadtrip mississippi 2014 great_river_road Comments (8)

From River Traffic to Freeway Jams

Made it to downtown Minneapolis

sunny 23 °C

Friday 23rd May, Room 1266, Marquette Hotel, Minneapolis, Minnesota

A quick Blog tonight as the streets of Minneapolis are calling us!

Bob said it was definitely Saturday today, and I came to believe him. I was sure we had booked 2 nights for Minneapolis but maybe we had changed that for some reason. Thankfully it was Friday and we have 2 nights here to gather ourselves and enjoy this great city.

Last night we wandered into another restored downtown (a lot of these larger river towns must have been pretty grim a few years ago but now they are all busily reviving their centres). We even saw something not seen in the "bible belt"!


After checking a couple of restaurants on our short list, we plumped for this, which specialised in Creole food:-


Being quite adventurous, John had Blackened Tilapia, also known as St. Peter's fish, Tilapia is a white, flaky, mild tasting fish perfect for blackening (12.99). Blackening is a Louisiana cooking method in which the meat is dredged in butter and coated with spices, then dropped in an extremely hot cast iron skillet. The butter cooks off, leaving a dark flavorful crust on the outside and tender juicy meat on the inside. Served with rice and vegetables.

It was all delicious but the veg was fantastic


Bob had Chicken Tchoupitoulas (13.99), pronounced chop-a-TOO-lus and named for a Native Louisiana Indian Tribe. A grilled chicken breast seasoned with Cajun spices served over a hash of diced fried potatoes, ham, mushrooms and green onions topped off with a New Orleans Bearnaise Sauce. Served with vegetables.


The meal was great and good value in a nice atmosphere.

No free breakfast this morning so Arthur fixed the TomTom to guide us to the nearest "Perky" Perkins. One of his favourites, 2nd only to Denny's.


He may have been attracted by this


You already have a flavour of what we have been experiencing on the Great River Road, and there are just a few more photos to add to that, including some for "tug spotters"!


Highway 395 reached a climax with those views from the ferry across Kootenay Lake. For this part of the trip, this view, from a bluff above Winona, MN, was gobsmacking. "On a clear day, you may see for 30 miles". Well we had a really clear day and we could see more than 30 miles. It put the whole basin into perspective, with the river, the lakes, the islands and the swamps, as well as the greater valley with its bluffs, cut down by the river.

A-M-A-Z-ING! During the day, we stayed mostly on the Wisconsin side, but hopped over to towns on the Minnesota side as and when, which was pretty often. We reckon we crossed about 12 times. Of course, here there are far more crossings that down river where bridges are few and far between.


No pictures can do this view justice. If you get the chance, do this drive, it is a really good introduction to the USA given that towns and villages are pretty normal.

We have to mark down today's drive, however, for lack of mowing activity. Probably too far from the John Deere factory?

We stopped in Red Wing at the National Eagle Centre, a smashing place to learn about the Bald and Golden Eagles, and we are pretty sure we had spotted a couple of circling Baldies on the way there. The town itself was also smashing with tributes to the Chiefs Wapasha I, II and III (heads of the Sioux nation) who were probably treated appallingly by the early Americans.


By the way, C&C of Derby, that picture was not one of ours. It was a picture of a poster at a scenic outlook. Sorry if we misled you. I find it difficult to believe that that number of bald eagles would sit in a tree together, but it looked genuine.


We found a smashing hotel in Minneapolis. One where Bob can get his privileges with his Hilton Gold card and one of the best rooms we have ever had anywhere. John typing this at his "executive desk". Stan trying to stop Arthur eating all the free "hors d'oeuvres" in the "Executive Lounge" on the 19th Floor (we are on the 12th). And we are now going to wander the streets. We were last here in 1996


And the very unusual "landing". We can't work out how they've done this layout.


Oh, the jams? As we got closer to St Paul (twin city with Minneapolis) the traffic going the other way was solid (it's Memorial Day weekend so everyone leaving town) then we caught up with the traffic going out the other way and got stuck for 20 minutes or so. Had to drive twice round the block here before we found the place to park for the hotel valet. But made it with sanity intact, almost.

Night night and thank you for your comments.


Posted by Johnash 19:28 Archived in USA Tagged iowa minnesota minneapolis wisconsin great_river_road usa_road_trip marquette_hotel Comments (5)

From Chevy to Mercedes Benz

Arizona brings some luxury

semi-overcast 26 °C

Sunday 25th May, 2014: Room 122, Grand Hotel, Tombstone, Arizona

We always had a problem what to do with this holiday weekend, with tomorrow being Memorial Day. We took the plunge and decided to re-visit Tombstone. Well it is very busy but it still looks pretty good and most of the day trippers will be leaving soon.

Winding back to our time in Minnesota. Friday evening, we wandered around trying to recollect places where we had been back in 1996. We are sure we found the bar we visited, but it did not look too savoury now, so we went had and dinner on the terrace of an Irish Bar. Bob had a pint of Guinness and the food we had was excellent.


John had a really good "Apple, Brie & Fig" salad "Tender field greens, local apples, black figs, Brie cheese, with house-made maple granola clusters and a creamy poppy seed dressing"


and Bob the "Chicken sandwich: Pepper jack, Apple wood smoked bacon, 2 gingers, steak sauce & fully garnished on a potato bun"


both excellent and good value.


Next day we had a free breakfast up on the 19th floor


then headed for St Paul, twin city of Minneapolis, and visited the excellent model railroad museum. We were first there and had it all to ourselves, along with one of the volunteers who was probably a top banker or something. He wanted to run his new engine, a giant 0 gauge 50s diesel on this massive 0 gauge layout.


We also visited the Toy train museum next door (all located in old, restored railroad buildings). Not the big layout of the other place but all the memorabilia was fascinating. These guys have been playing with trains since 1938!


We then drove to the railroad museum (full size) but we decided to skip that one. And drove back to Minneapolis to visit the Mill City Museum, based in the ruins of the old General (flour) Mills building, which burned down in the late 1980s (had been closed since the 60s when all milling moved out of Minneapolis to Buffalo, New York).

There was an unrelated photographic exhibition in the building and these caught our eye:



Part of this visit included the most stunning audio visual experience. Around 40 of us sat in this room on staggered benches. It emerged that this "room" was a giant elevator, attached to the side of the old mill. It went up down between the eight floors, each floor consisting of an audio visual display telling the history of the mill and, particularly, those who worked in it.

It was stunning. A must for anyone within 100 miles of Minneapolis. Difficult to describe (and no photos or video allowed). Suffice to say that half the audience were young kids and they sat in stunned silence for the whole 30 minutes. As did these grown-up kids! We experienced a fire starting in one of the belt motors which led to a massive explosion on May 2, 1878, Airborne flour dust within the mill (more explosive than gunpowder), was ignited creating an explosion that demolished the Washburn A mill and killed 18 workers instantly. The ensuing fire resulted in the deaths of four more people, destroyed five other mills, and reduced Minneapolis’s milling capacity by one third.

We then walked out onto a 9th floor viewing platform to view the ruins and the St Anthony Falls. Totally terrific!


Back to the hotel for a bit of pack then some shopping therapy, aka looking for new shoes for Bob. We don't think the right pair exists in the whole of the North American continent, but we shall continue looking.


Because of the bitter winters, lasting for up to 6 months, all of the main buildings Downtown are connected by "Skywalks" which means you can walk from building to building without going out into the cold...


There were a bunch of loonies on one street corner shouting their case and another of opposing loonies on the other corner.


We ended up dining in the very smart "Basil's Restaurant" on the 3rd floor of our hotel. It looked pricy but our couple of salads were, again, value. "Who was Basil", John asked the rather snooty female "Maitre d'", with an image of Basil Fawlty in his head "Ooh, no, that's Basil" (ryhmes with Hazel), she cooed, shaking her head, "the herb" (pronounced 'errrb). In that case, why is it Basil's Restaurant, not The Basil Restaurant?? No, she wasn't really snooty.

John had Roasted Beet & Sweet Potato Salad: baby spinach, toasted pumpkin seeds, apple saffron vinaigrette and a cup of clam chowder (mmmm!)


Bob had Coconut Chicken Thai Salad: snow peas, cranberries, cashews, crisp contons, coconut chicken, red curry dressing


Bob finished the packing and we had an early night.

Up at 4.45 this morning to get to Minneapolis airport via a nearby gas station to fill the Chevvy, return same to Hertz and check-in for our flights, Minneapolis to Dallas, and on to Tucson. It emerged that the plane we got from Minneapolis also took us to Tucson. Same seats too! But different crew.


We had fruit for breakfast on the flight to DFW


and a good "herb" (pronounced "'errrrrrrb") "encrusted chicken" for lunch on a bumpy ride to Tucson.


Sunday during the holiday weekend turned out to be a good time to travel with flights that weren't full, and neither was the AA lounge at DFW!


On both flights, John tried out the in-flight Internet and were able to follow our progress on the maps app on the tablet. Great. We also got an Email from Hertz to say our car was waiting at Tucson airport and the word Mercedes was mentioned. What?? No hassle getting our bags and walking through to the Hertz desk where the guy said "got a nice car for you" (pron. "yerrr"). Wow! That was a nice surprise and a nice car.




Posted by Johnash 16:10 Archived in USA Tagged arizona tombstone minnesota minneapolis mercedes great_river_road usa_road_trip Comments (6)

The High Chaparral?

Some more high points on this trip, and Bob gets his new shoes!

sunny 40 °C

Tuesday, 27th May 2014: Room 711, Doubletree Hotel, Tucson, Arizona

Today has seen record temperatures in the Arizona desert. It was 103F at Tucson airport. And forecast hotter tomorrow. Getting us acclimatised for home but 40C is hopefully more than we'll be getting this summer in Spain!

Anyway....we were just settling into the far-from "Grand" hotel, just outside Tombstone, when last we saw you. Actually, despite it being jammed with kids, we heard none of the noise in our room so it must have been well built.

We mosied into Tombstone for dinner and most of the daytrippers had gone. This is a historic little town which manages to make a living from its history. All of the businesses are pretty genuine and the buildings are either original or rebuilt as they were. The whole town dresses for the "act" and they are all pretty friendly. It could be really tacky, but it isn't and it's not a ripoff either.


We ate in the Longhorn Saloon and Bob fancied a steak (he had a bad cold, since dispelled with some magic pills from a Walgreens Pharmacy - must buy some more of those) so.. "feed a cold" and the day's special of a rib eye steak seemed a good idea. And it was excellent. John's pop shrimp and fried sweet potato was good too. "How is evurrything?" "Good, thanks"


We got up early next day, trying to recreate our last visit when we had breakfast in a little cafe with only the locals as company. And it worked. We got into the little cafe early and only the locals, most of them in costume, were there. The town was pretty quiet too and it was great to enjoy it all-but on our own with the exception of a coach party of excited Japanese who ran round photographing every inch but, mercifully, keeping out of our way.

We then drove to our target for two nights, Tucson (pron. "Toosawn") via the army town of Sierra Vista, right on the Mexican border.

We had the afternoon in Tucson for a bit of exploring and retail therapy. Bob found some shoes that fit and are comfortable and were in the "Memorial Day Sale" plus we got another 15% off with a coupon printed from the Internet.

We then headed out of town to revisit the Western section of the Saguaro (cactus) National Park via a place we did not visit last time "Old Tucson Studios". This was far, far better than expected. What's more we got in for free. Not quite sure how, but the girl at the desk seemed to have two tickets in front of her (returned) and, as it was late in the day, most of the crowds had already left. Much of it we had to ourselves.


The High Chaparral was filmed here and, if you have seen a Western movie or other movie set in the West, the chances are you will have seen the sets that we saw yesterday. We had a free train ride too, all included in the entry price (of nothing). Also, fans of the High Chaparral (like John) will recognise the set and those Saguaro cactus. Manolito and Buck would always go into Tucson and get drunk.


For dinner, for lack of anything more inspiring, we drove to a local Denny's but did not fancy the area and the place looked a bit run down. So we went to one nearer the hotel, a "Denny's Diner" which we had driven past before. All seemed well, though there seemed to be quite a few waiting for food. Much shouting between the waitresses and the guy in the kitchen was going on. After about 35 minutes, with frequent apologies from the waitress, Bob's avocado and bacon omelette arrived but John's Senior Chicken Fried Steak had turned into one scrambled egg, one sausage and a piece of bacon (Senior Breakfast?). More apologies and shouting went on before, after another 20 minutes or so, and long after Bob had finished his, John's SCFS arrived, by which time he had lost his appetite. Anyway, the "manager" who did not involve himself in any of this and who John had thought was the Kitchen Porter, deducted John's meal from the bill. You can't win all the time!


Today we had a bit of a lie-in. Breakfast in the hotel, then headed for historic Downtown.


And then we visited the excellent, inspiring Museum of Arizona in the very smart and well heeled Arizona University campus. There were two photographic exhibitions. One by Edward S. Curtis's: photographs of American Indians. He was working in the early part of the 20th Century and was cricticised for "staging" a lot of his subjects. But it is a photographic record of its time.



Then we saw some staggering photos by Adriel Heisey. He was originally a commercial pilot and was obsessed by the land he was flying over. Eventually he built his own microlight and spent his time flying low over Arizona and New Mexico and photographing the history and geology he saw.


Finally we spent a happy 40 minutes walking threw the history of the multitudinous native Indian tribes. An amazing and, at times, very sad and shaming story. The Mexicans and the Americans seemed to be competing as to who could treat the tribes the worst. We think the Mexicans won that by a narrow margin. Neither seemed to be satisfied until a particular tribe had been all-but eliminated.


On the way, we put the car through a manned "auto" car wash which was much like one of those Ghost Train rides:-


Tucson seems to have grown enormously but it is still a nice town. When we were here in 1998, it seemed a compact little town. We remember driving from the airport straight into the desert for a few miles before getting to the Eastern section of the Saguaro National Park. Today, when we repeated that drive, the sprawl went right up to the boundary of the Park.


We wondered why there were fewer of the big multi-armed Saguaro and were told there was a frost a couple of years ago which killed off a lot of the older ones (they live for up to 150 years). They only grow in this region and nowhere else in the world but wondered if we could grow one at Bag End? A bit difficult getting one into the case, though.

A car number plate we though Don & Ian may consider:-


Tonight, Bob is packing again and, after dinner, it will be an early-ish night. We are headed for Yuma, via Organ Pipe National Monument. We still like Tucson!


Posted by Johnash 21:18 Archived in USA Tagged arizona usa national_park tucson roadtrip tombstone saguaro 2014 Comments (9)

Get A Sense of Yuma

Haha! Arthur says the desert is such a Sonor-a...

semi-overcast 43 °C

Wednesday, 28th May, 2014: Room 403, Hampton Inn, Yuma, Arizona

A mercifully short Blog today. (Hallelujah I hear you cry) and it just struck us, only a few more days to go. (Hallelujah x 2). Last night we went "native" for a Mexican meal in the Cantina next to the hotel where we had a 15%-off voucher. It was excellent.

John had "Tres Carnes", pork loin "rolls" and Bob "Carne Asada, Tacos"


We are not going to pre-judge Yuma (where we have just arrived), but Arthur has:- DUMP, he cries. In the remotest corner of Arizona, it makes its living from growing Winter greens. And, in the Winter, the population doubles. Seasonal pickers we guess. And they must all live in trailers, judging from what we saw from the Freeway. From our room in a very nice Hampton Inn, we can see green fields of vegetables which is a bit odd given we are in the middle of the huge Sonoran desert. We also saw wheat, cattle, maize and other crops being grown. We guess the water is taken from the Colorado which runs through the town, before it trickles into Mexico!


However it does have a whole list of Arthur's favourite restaurants and a "Cracker Barrel" is calling for tonight, after a trip to view the Amtrak Station where there is a thrice-weekly service to New Orleans and to Chicago or Los Angeles, in the other direction.

Today was another fascinating one. Leaving fairly early after a sustaining breakfast at the Doubletree, joined by some Brits and Dutch who, we think, were on a "Titan" coach tour. They seemed to be staying in Tucson for 2 or 3 nights, which seemed a bit odd.

We drove out on a fairly busy road which finally cleared as we reached the huge lands of the native indians the O'Odham Tahona. Many of the vehicles we saw after that were associated with the US Border Patrol which must be a major employer.

Another employer, at least of the O'Odham Tahona, was the construction company rebuilding the "Ajo Road". We got held up twice by these road works. The second time for around 20 minutes whilst some resurfacing took place.


We then joined the north-south Highway 85, which leads to the Mexican border via the Organ Pipe National Monument. And on this road, virtually all of the vehicles were Border Patrol, the rest being traffic to/from Mexico. We called into the Park headquarters for some interesting information about the Organ Pipe cactus as well as the Saguaro, which are very much in evidence here too. Apparently the Organ Pipes, which grow their "arms" from the base rather than up the main trunk, favour south-facing slopes, which was why we had not spotted many on our way South.


We took a shortish drive up a gravel scenic route, which eventually leads to the Grand Wurlitzer Cactus, but we, unfortunately did not have time to get to the end. So we then drove to the border and stopped for coffee from a cantina right on the frontier. Quite exciting really. We felt as if we were in Mexico itself! (And we have a Mexican soap on TV as I type!).


As we drove back North we were stopped at two Border Patrol checkpoints, either side of the surprisingly elegant (in the centre, at least!) town of Ajo.


The second border guard we spoke to, told us that his checkpoint was one of the busiest for catching "aliens". He had asked us if we had spotted any "aliens" and Arthur, unhelpfully replied no, but he had seen a flying saucer.


We eventually joined Interstate 8 which made for an easy 115 mile drive to Yuma, our base for tonight.


Temperature in the desert today? 109F, phew!


Posted by Johnash 20:52 Archived in USA Tagged arizona mexico usa national_park tucson roadtrip saguaro 2014 yuma organ_pipe Comments (8)

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