Road Trip to Bemidji, MN

Another road trip?! Yes! To Bemidji, Minnesota. Bemijjjjj-wha?

Bemidji. The kids were set to spend a week at the Concordia Language Villages summer camp; it is run by Concordia College. Zoe would attend her first independent overnight camp, in fully immersed German! While Avi was going to attend Spanish language day camp. All near this adorable town of Bedmidji, MN.

The trip was not too leisurely, as I had allotted only 3 days (Friday-Sunday) to drive from our home in southern Arizona to this little town on a lake near the Canadian border where camp started on Monday. I drove the camper and we boondocked or truck stopped the whole way up.

Our first day was spent entirely just getting out of the desert. We drove east from Arizona, into New Mexico, through Hatch (and saw the chili’s), then north toward Santa Fe. I thought we may stop for dinner or a walkabout in Sante Fe; it featured a few times in our history lessons, but instead we spent nearly 3 hours parked in traffic on I-25. A semi-truck had caught fire less than 1/4 mile up the road along the on ramp from a rest stop; the cops block the whole freeway both directions.

It is times like these I love have a class-C RV. We just parked, and while everyone else was getting out of their cars using the sagebrush as ‘facilities’ we just walked to the back. I also heated up some coffee and made lunch while we waited.Needless to say, that really put us behind. Our goal for the night was a rest stop just over the border into Colorado and we pulled in just in time to see the big harvest moon rise over the prairie. Late!

Our next day was another long one, but it started with a fun visit to Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site. This was originally a site along the Santa Fe trail where American’s would get resupplied, where Native Americans could trade and sell their goods to Americans who were getting resupplied on their way to or from Santa Fe (recall it was a major outpost of both the Spanish Empire and Mexico before it came into the USA; during which the trading post became a fort for the Army.

The rest of the day was monotony driving across eastern Colorado, then Kansas, then Nebraska. Something about the prairie is quite pretty for a while, when the sun is out, and especially when it is green and rolling. However, we were surely tired of it when we got to a nice Walmart parking lot in Norfolk, NE with tornado warnings in the nearby counties. The lightning and thunder were distant rumbles, but on an open grassland when you can see so far it seems very close. 20 miles is too close for me, but they stayed north and we barely got sprinkled on. I didn’t really sleep, though; kept waking up to check the warnings.

On Saturday I was tired and slept in a bit after the fear of storms was over. Our first stop for the day was an hour up the road at the Lewis & Clark visitor center on the southside of the Missouri river at Calumet Bluff. This is the area where Lewis and Clark had their first council with some Yankton Sioux. It was neat to see another place the Corps of Discovery visited; just last month we were on the Pacific Coast at Fort Clatsop.

The kids most liked the pioneer exhibits that showed what life was like for pioneers settling Kansas and South Dakota or perhaps just using the Missouri to travel further west. In addition, the big hydroelectric dam is on display and fascinating because we got to drive over it!!

That afternoon we were pretty excited to leave behind Kansas and South Dakota and finally see Minnesota. It’s flat, and full of lakes, though the trees were smaller than I though, of all things. There was really no direct way to Bemidji so we wound up there along the headwaters of the Mississippi river. In fact, at one point I drove over this little creek and it was, literally, the very beginning of the mightly Mississippi!

Finally in Bemidji, we visited the waterfront for a requisite picture with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Big Blue Ox. The lake in Bemidji has the shape of Bunyan’s giant foot and the Mississippi flow through it. In fact, the Ojibwe word for the lake meant “lake with crossing waters” and was mispronounced by white settlers as Bemidji, so that is where the name comes from. The town is a wonderful small grid with active shops and people, plus the small lovely Bemidji State University.

That night we checked into Bemidji State Park on the other side of the lake!

After a week at Concordia Language Camp, Zoe was not excited to head home. So, in order to make the drive bearable we took a circuitous northern route beginning with a stop in De Smet, SD of Little House fame. This is the town Laura Ingalls’ parents finally settled in, and the original Ingalls homestead is a cool place to visit. In fact, we camped out on the homestead which afforded us the priveledge of wandering around outside of open hours. We visited the sod house, and the replica claim shanty which became a house. We picked produce in the garden, pet the baby cow in the dugout barn, played with the kittens in the new barn, and even walked out to the old church where Zoe played some pump organ. I highly recommend spending the night just for the experience!

In the morning we got to participate in all the farm activities open to customers – twisting hay, making a corn dolly, and using the rope-twiner were some favorites. The best, though, was driving the horses!! oh, and those kittens again.

In the afternoon, I drove and drove across South Dakota. We stopped at Wall Drug because we should and the kids wanted to see this dinosaur they spotted a billboard about. Then, we pulled into the Watiki indoor water park and they freaked out. An evening, military discounted rate was super reasonable and we got nearly waterlogged on all the slides. My favorite is still the toilet bowl slide; Avi just kept going around and around, people would pass him and he still went around. Zoe found another girl her age slide with, but did indulge me in a few shared soaks in the hot tubs. Even a passing thunderstorm didn’t scare us away; we waited out the closure and had a blast!

That night was another crazy thunder storm; we were camped at the Ellsworth Famcamp and the cracking lightning and thunder shook the camper while the wind was scary.

The whole next day we spent in the Black Hills, most of it at Rushmore Tramway Adventures. We got the day pass and did it all – the zip lines, the sommerrodelbahn, the bungee drop, the tubing hill, and all but the black diamond treetop adventure obstacle courses. The kids got so good at these, with no fear of falling!

In the evening we had dinner at Mount Rushmore, which is still a pretty odd kind of a place. And since the sun is out so late, we even got to take a sunset drive through Custer state park for some bison spotting. Spent the night just south of Hot Springs.

The following morning we drove to Ft. Laramie for another National Park passport book stamp and a nice tour. It was super nice because Slim Jim could join us for the walkabout. We also had another stop in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy before a final days worth of driving across the desert back to south Arizona. It’s far!!

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