Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Trip to St.Louis, Missouri

Our daughter had a wedding shower given for her this past week-end in St.Louis, which should explain why there has been no posts forth-coming on this blog site for awhile.  And we want to apologize to our many friends in St.Louis for not getting in touch with them while we were there.  It was too short of a time to do any visiting.  The shower was this past Saturday, and all went well.  Each guest was assigned a time of the day for which their gift would be relevant.  Melissa consequently received many creative gifts, the majority of which either kept her in the kitchen baking, or out picnicking and spending special moments with Spencer.  It made for a lot of laughter and fun.  Spencer's Aunt Sue gave the shower and it was wonderful meeting her, his mother Cheryl and other members of his family.  The happy bride-to-be is pictured below.
After the shower my sisters, nieces and I attended the Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The festival includes a special look at the Chinese garden and  the vast plant diversity of China, as well as Chinese culture and history.   It is a wonderful garden even without any special festivals going on, but this was certainly a magical evening.  We  arrived before the sun went down,  to see all of the Chinese art before the lanterns were lit.  Lotus flowers graced many of the ponds in the garden.
 In China, 2012 is the year of the dragon.  The dragon is one of the 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac, which is used to designate years in the Chinese calender.  Dragon years are the most popular to have babies.  Many of the lantern sets in the garden depict this mythical creature.  Pictured below is the tail of the Porcelain Dragon.  The installation consists of more than 40,000 individual pieces bowls, plates and cups tied together using ancient techniques.  Granted, it does seems weird to show only the tail, but I wanted to show how it looked in the garden setting with all the brilliance of sunlight. 
It was beautiful after dark to see all the installations lit up.  The Porcelain Dragon turns his head at intervals and spews smoke from his mouth.  Equally awesome are his glowing eyes.  Next to him, in the picture below,  is a lotus flower.  For the Chinese the lotus flower symbolizes ultimate purity and perfection as it arises untainted and beautiful from the mud.
There is so much more to the Lantern Festival than the few items which I mentioned here.  I especially enjoyed the Moonlight Pathway of moons and stars, Zodiac Lanterns, as well as the Panda Paradise set among the bamboo plants of the gardens.  All total there is about 25 colorful installations, certainly a must see if you live anywhere near St.Louis.  It will be continuing until August 19.  We returned to Michigan on Monday after dropping Melissa off at the airport.  We used our little Honda for the trip, leaving our rig and cat behind.  My brother Wayne and wife Mary Jo took care of KC so it was not necessary for him spend time in a kennel.  Currently he is sitting all curled up in my lap as I am writing this post.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Crossroads Village

For some reason my expectations of this historic village to provide us with any interesting entertainment were fairly low.  The cost for a tour of the village, as well as a 40 minute railroad ride and a 40 minute paddlewheel riverboat ride, was less than twenty dollars per person.  Crossroads Village is under the auspices of the Genesee County Parks Department, which also raised a red flag in my mind (can any government  agency be successful in such an endeavor?).   Surprisingly, we had a wonderful afternoon at the village Sunday, and have every intention on returning some time soon to complete our tour of the village.  After purchasing our tickets we boarded a 1903 steam locomotive.  As it was a very warm day we chose to ride in one of its last cars which had open sides.  The 1920 year-old train car had been used as a fruit wagon to transport oranges in California.  Before the train left the track the conductor pointed out a large tank which supplied the water for the steam engine.  He commented that if any water is near wood it will not freeze.  Every winter a few railroad ties are thrown into the tank to keep the water from freezing.
Steam locomotives were used to transport passengers and freight from 1871 until the 1940s- I must say that after our train ride Sunday I sympathize with the passengers who depended on that mode of transportation.  Sooty particles blew into my eyes and the smoke billowing past our train car was also a bit unsettling!  Maybe it was worth the discomfort for the people of Flint and Fostoria in the early 1900s, as story has it that they traveled part way to pick huckleberies and were picked up on the return trip.  Back then it was called the Pere Marquette Railroad, however Crossroads Village has since labeled it the Huckleberry Railroad. 
Our train ride took us through forest, meadows and along Mott Lake.  In a tributary off the lake we saw a great blue heron sitting in the water.  After the train ride we had a small amount of time to check out some of the  historic homes of the village, many of them were built in the late 1800s and came from various surrounding localities in Michigan.  At the Masters' Cider Mill we watched thirstily as apples were pressed by machine and the resulting cider flow into waiting buckets. Unfortunately the juice was not pasteurized or filtered and had to be thrown out.  At the Horton-Colwell Building is a second floor opera house where we were entertained by Richard Paul the ventriloquist.  That building was air conditioned and gave us a break from the heat.  Before boarding the paddlewheeler Genesee Belle we stopped at the carousel building.  The carousel was built in 1912 in Leavenworth Kansas and came to the village in 1983.  A rare antique organ built in 1925 provides music for the carousel.  The boat ride provided us a cool and relaxing trip around Mott Lake before we headed for home. We certainly plan on returning to Crossroads Village!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge

We had one day of a good soaking rain this past week and fortunately it brought our temperatures down to the mid eighties.  Consequently we found two days of wonderful weather to do some hiking and biking.  On Friday we visited the wildlife refuge, located just outside of Saginaw.  It is a beautiful complex of river wetlands and backwater draining from the Flint, Tittabawassee, Shiawassee, and Cass Rivers.  We first did a driving tour of the flats, and were quite surprised to see a wide variety of water birds. I don't believe we have seen so many egrets in one place, and it seemed that there was always one great blue heron flying over and around us, or sitting in the wetlands.
We also saw around 100 sandhill cranes hanging out in a marshy field. A bald eagle flew overhead and, also while on our drive, we stepped out on an observation platform just in time to watch a tern catch his meal.   He certainly performed some interesting aerial maneuvers, as swooping and hovering, before he plucked a fish out of the water.  After the drive through the refuge we took a five mile hike which brought us into forest glens, alongside the wetlands and by the Ferguson Bayou.  We heard bull frogs, saw a few muskrats, and a doe with her two babies.  Walking in the forest was pleasantly cool with a light breeze blowing.
We noticed that the water levels are down in the wetlands. Still, we found that the refuge has many places where the plants and weeds are quick thick- certainly a wonderful habitat for deer!  We also saw deer on Saturday when we took a bike ride along the Flint River Trail.  Its path goes by Mott Lake and along the Flint River.  We stopped at Stepping Stone Falls, which is a spillway that impounds Mott Lake.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Downtown Saginaw

Wednesday my sister-in-law Mary Jo had a scheduled procedure at a hospital in downtown Saginaw.  While she was recovering after that procedure John and I, as well as Wayne my brother, decided to tour the downtown area.  It was quite a trip down memory lane for Wayne who had worked at a bank in Saginaw for 30 years in Saginaw.  Wednesday was his natal day, so it seemed a great way for him to spend his birthday and he was eager to show the town to us.  Saginaw has changed much over the past 100 years, and even in the past 15 years or so since Wayne retired.  The town, as Flint, was once a busy lumber center.  Once the pine forests were depleted Saginaw moved into an economy dependent on agricultural crops as beans and sugar beets.  My mother grew up in such an agricultural community.  When she became a young adult she worked in Saginaw at the Lufkin Rule Company (now gone as well as the bank where my brother worked).   So it was also a fascinating tour of the downtown area for me as it brought back recollections of my mom's stories of her life in Saginaw.  A lot of the downtown buildings of the past are now gone.  However, Saginaw has held unto two of her gems.  One such building is the Hoyt Library.  A business man who had lumber and real estate interests in the Saginaw Valley, Jesse Hoyt, funded the building which was erected in 1890 in the Romanesque style. It had additions built onto it in 1921 and 1960 and still serves as a library today.  We went into the library and I felt like I was back at our downtown library in St.Louis, which also is an older building with a similar interior.
The other awesome building in downtown Saginaw is the post office.  It was opened on July 4, 1898 and built in the style of a French chateau.  Its architect, William Aiken, gave it four corner towers which he said represented "defensive features of frontier life".  In 1930 the city decided that it needed a larger structure and considered tearing the building down.  Fortunately they kept the building and instead added an addition which was compatible with the original structure.  In 1976 it was converted into a museum.
The museum, called the Castle Building, has a a beautiful marble interior and sports a spiral staircase.  It has many wonderful displays and artifacts relating to the Native American presence in the area, as well as Saginaw's archeological past. There is also a lot relevant to Saginaw County's evolution from a trading and lumber center to a farming and manufacturing community.  From the post office we continued walking around in the downtown area.  Currently the downtown area mainly has state and federal buildings. Some small shops are still around- like Morgan's shop repair shop.  We stopped there because John had a shoe in need of repair.  The owner said he has worked in the downtown area in the shoe repair business for 40 years.  Vacant lots stand where the older buildings have been.  In one such lot we found a community garden.  The corn and tomatoes appear to be growing well despite the hot and dry weather we have been experiencing.
You may notice a painted mural which is in the left foreground of the picture.  It is an advertisement for the Savoy, a bar and grill  which is one of the older business establishments of Saginaw.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Au Sable River

Yesterday we drove over to the eastern side of Michigan, with our first stop being at Tawas Point State Park. We climbed the lighthouse there and after that hiked the Sandy Hook Trail which took us to the tip of the peninsula.  Pictured below is Lake Huron and Sandy Hook as we saw it from the trail.
Michigan is also experiencing  the heat wave which is currently affecting a good portion of our nation.  We found it a bit uncomfortable while out hiking, but at least a lake breeze kept us cool.  Flocks of tree swallows swarmed over and around us as we walked on the sandy path.  From the park we drove over to the Au Sable River Road Scenic Byway, a twenty-two mile River Road Scenic Byway which extends westward from Lake Huron to the Huron-Manistee National Forests.  In the late 1800s this was a major transportation route, taking Michigan's white pines from the inland forests to the sawmill towns on Lake Huron.
One of our first stops on the River Road was at the Lumberman's Monument.  The memorial, erected in 1931, overlooks the Au Sable River.  Words on the monument note that the lumberman's labors "made possible the development of the prairie states".  Cutting of  the pines was important during the 1800s both for the economy of Michigan and the growth of the nation.  Reforestation has brought the pines back, which we saw in evidence yesterday while driving through the tree plantations and national forests of the river road.  There are also springs to be seen along the scenic by-way.  We decided that, given the warmth of the day, we could only hike down to one, Iargo Springs.  In Native American language the word means "many waters".  And that is best how to describe what we saw in the springs area.  There are many little streams and waterfalls coming out of the hill which we hiked down towards the Au Sable River.
 Amazingly, the water is so cold it seems to warm the air around it!  What a cool place to be during the hot summer months.  It is also very beautiful with the presence of large maples, hemlocks and pines.  Moss and many ferns also dot the forest floor.  However, even though the springs area is very wet, the river is down,. We noticed grass in the water as well as exposed tree roots along the river's edge.  After our hike to the springs our day was pretty much gone and we were getting hungry.  Time to head home.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Flint- the Vehicle City

It use to be all about wheels in this city.  Flint certainly has a very fascinating past, which we discovered yesterday at the Sloan Museum.  The wheels pictured above once hauled logs.  Flint was a logging town but it did not meet the demise of other such towns in Michigan.  After the lumber ran out, the town started making carriages and wagons.  In 1900 numerous businesses in the town built a total of 100,000 vehicles which were used for transportation and hauling.  The Durant-Dort Carriage Company of Flint became the top producers of carriages in the world.  William Durant used his expertise in that business to manufacture cars and became the founder of General Motors.  In 1911 he approached Louis Chevrolet about designing a car for him, using the features of a car created by William Little and a car called the Classic Six designed by Chevrolet- that car became the Light Six. The goal was to create a more marketable car. The Classic Six,  pictured below, is the oldest running Chevrolet in the world.  We saw this car at the Buick Automotive Gallery, located in another building near the Sloan Museum.
  An interesting twist to this story is that Durant named his new company Chevrolet,  however he had a dispute with Louis Chevrolet and Chevrolet left the company of his name to return to his racing career.  He did go back to the company in 1933 as an engineer.
 I asked a staff member at the museum where the name Buick came from.  She informed me that David Buick was an inventor- his first invention was applying vitreous enamel to cast iron bathtubs.  After that his interest turned to engines and making spark plugs. He founded the Buick Company in 1906, which later became part of General Motors.  With the auto industry up and running, Flint became a boom town in the early 1900s.  Its population was 150,000 in 1925.  In 1929 30 % of its population was foreign born- many people came from around the world to work in the auto plants.  At this time also many homes were razed to make room for auto factories, parking lots and garages.  Places to live became hard to find in Flint.  Of course all that changed for Flint when the depression years arrived, and shortly after that World War  11.  With the war women were then recruited to work in the factories of Flint.  The city has not since seen the boom years of the early 1900s.
Before closing, I want to mention the logo of Chevrolet, which is referred to as a bow tie.  It is not certain where Durant got the idea.  He second wife claims that he saw the design in an advertisement for small coal briquets ( "CoalEttes") when they were vacationing  in Virginia.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Frankenmuth, Michigan

We met up with my brother Wayne and his wife Mary Jo last Wednesday at a trailer park in Frankenmuth, Michigan.  My sister Linda drove in from Missouri on Friday.  John and I have been busy visiting with them and catching up with their latest news.  We have also experienced the heat which the rest of the country has been suffering under for some time now.  Friday was our worse day when the temperature came close to one hundred degrees.  That day we could only occasionally venture outside, the rest of the time we stayed inside our motor home with the air conditioning running constantly.  Saturday we spent canoeing on the Rifle River with our nephew Andy and his family.  The skies were a bit overcast then, which kept the temperature down.  It would have been very pleasant on the water had it not been for the large groups of rafters on the water.  In all of our canoe trips in Missouri we had never experienced anything like it.   Many of  the people on the river were young adults who were partying hardy with alcohol and loud music.  At one spot in the river there was even a live band playing high up on a river bluff.   However, that day we did stay cool.  On Sunday we attended the Hensler Family Reunion, which was the main reason we are staying in the area. The site of the reunion is at the church grounds of Amelith Lutheran Church.  It has a parochial school where my grandfather, Waldemar Lohrmann,  taught for 38 years.  He and his wife Anna are buried in the church cemetery.   I always enjoy attending the Hensler reunion, not only to see aunts, uncles and cousins again, but also to see sites related to family history.  After the reunion my sister and brother, as well as myself,  continued our usual tradition of visiting the Hensler family home and farm.  The home has had many changes to it since my mother lived in it about 100 years ago
 The farmstead has the distinction of being a Michigan Centennial Farm, as it is over 100 years old and owned by the same family.  It has been owned and operated by the family of my mother's brother Jack after their Dad died.
I have written before on this blog site about the town of Frankenmuth.  Just as a matter of review, it is a town which has kept its Bavarian heritage.  It is a very picturesque town with the presence of the Cass River and a covered bridge over the river. Another famous feature of the town is a 35 automatic carillon in the Bavarian Inn's Glockenspiel Tower which plays selected melodies followed by a presentation of carved wooden figures depicting the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.  Sunday evening we enjoyed a stroll through the town and along the Cass River.  Pictured below is the Bavarian Inn, one of many places in the town which has kept the Old World atmosphere.  Frankenmuth is one of the top tourist destinations  in Michigan.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Petoskey, Michigan

  We are now parked on a beach in Traverse Bay which is located on Lake Michigan.  Petoskey is quite a picturesque resort town. On our first day here we took a bike trail which runs along the bay, and into the downtown along Bear River.  In town the trail passes through some beautiful large Victorian homes as well as city parks and waterfalls of the Bear River. I probably have shown enough pictures of waterfalls, so instead I will post a picture of  a few of the many wild flowers which we saw along the trail.
 The town is popular because of the presence of the Petoskey stone on its beaches. It is important to clarify at this point that the town was named after Chief Petoskey and the stone is named after the town because it has been more commonly found here.  The stone has a distinctive hexagonal pattern.  Its origins were in the salt sea that once covered Michigan 350 million years ago.  It is the petrified remains of prehistoric coral colonies.  We found examples of the stone at the Little Traverse History Museum.
We also learned at the museum that the author Ernest Hemingway had a connection to Northern Michigan.  During his childhood he came yearly to Walloon Lake (it flows into Traverse Bay).  His parents had a summer cottage there which they called Windemere.   Hemingway wrote a series of short stories based in Northern Michigan featuring a character named Nick Adams.  His book The Torrents of Spring was set in Petoskey.  The book also features other areas around here as Cross Village and Harbor Springs. The latter two towns we visited Sunday when we took a drive around Traverse Bay.  In Cross Village we stopped to look at Legs Inn.  It is named for the stove legs which trim the roof line.  In the 1930s a man, Stanley Smolaks, with the assistance of the Ottawa Indians, built the inn.  He also used tree roots, limbs and driftwood to carve fantastical creatures.  The decorative items can still be found in the inn today.
 We enjoyed our time in Petoskey but it was marred by a run-in we had with a deer Sunday morning.  After church John decided to drive down the road which ran from the church into the countryside. It was quite the scenic drive through rolling hills of farmland and forests.  Just as John was thinking of turning around and heading back towards home, we saw that a car on the other side of the road coming towards us which narrowly missed a deer.  A few seconds later WHAM another deer flew from our side of the road across our windshield.  He ended up dead in a ditch across the road.  Fortunately our windshield remained intact but the hood and a side panel got dented up pretty badly. Well, were going to replace the hood anyway because of hail damage to it last spring.  I must admit that I could never be a hunter, I felt worse for the deer than the car!  That image of him flying in front of me haunted me for quite awhile.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Harbor Tour in Sault Ste. Marie

One thing about traveling, it sure has improved my geography!   Until this past week I did not know that Sault Ste.Marie had a sister city by the same name across the St.Marys River in Ontario, Canada.  They each have different locks but are connected to each other with the International Friendship Bridge and a railway system which also goes across the river.  On our boat ride we crossed the river on one of the U.S. locks, and on our return trip home we passed through a Canadian lock. On the United States side there are a total of four locks. Currently larger boats (which are generally 1000 feet long and carry more than 72,000 tons of freight in a single load) can only get through one of the locks. Plans are in the works for two of the smaller locks to be reconstructed to meet the same size specifications as the larger lock.  Pictured below is the International Friendship Bridge, on our river cruise we passed under it.  During the course of the day,  whenever we glanced at the bridge, we usually noticed long lines of cars queuing to go through customs. We were informed by locals that on an average day it takes 2.5 hours to go across the bridge and through United States customs from Canada.
The Canadian National Railway is located just west of the highway bridge. Crossing the canal and connecting to the railway is a lift bridge, which is the darker portions of the International Bridge in the picture above.  There are three sections to the railroad,  in addition to the two parts of the lift bridge there is also a jacknife bridge.  The railroad is usually up, as it is in the picture above, allowing larger ships to pass through. It is only several times a day that a freight train has to pass over the canal and across the border. Our cruise was quite informative as we had a narrator on the boat.  Besides explaining the locks and bridges she also discussed other sights of the harbor as we passed them.  On the Canadian side she pointed out the Algoma Steel Mill.  Along the shoreline there were large piles of limestone, iron ore and coal waiting to be used in the steel making process. And at the shipping docks were large steel coils, the finished product of the steel mill.  It was quite interesting to see a steel mill that close and also to learn the details of its production.
The sister cities have fun together each year around the time of their national celebrations ( Fourth of July and Canadian Day).  And we were fortunate to be in town at this time. It started out as a small holiday gathering of local work boats out for a toot on the harbor about 30 years ago and has evolved into a tugboat parade and race.  The race this year was to occur on Saturday, and on Friday evening there was to be a parade of the various boats in the harbor. While on our cruise we noticed the tugs on the Canadian side gathering before the parade, pictured below.  We arrived back from our river tour in time to see the full parade.