After departing Tulsa we traveled across eastern Oklahoma to spend several days in the Bentonville – Rogers (B-R) area of northwestern Arkansas. The B-R area is, of course, home to the world’s largest retailer – Walmart. As exciting as that is, our desire to visit the area emanated from the opportunity to bike the Razorback Greenway and, most importantly, visit the Onyx Coffee Lab. Having said that, there is plenty to do in the area in addition to biking and drinking coffee and tea. More on that at the end of the post.
Onyx Coffee Lab was founded in 2012 by husband and wife team Andrea and Jon Allen. In the relatively short period of time since founding Onyx they have achieved a world class reputationin the specialty coffee business(with good reason).
As we entered the building for our first visit we were stunned – the space is gorgeous. The size and scale is beyond anything we had ever experienced in regard to specialty coffee.
In this soaring space, Onyx has captured the ultimate coffee experience including the important transition from caffeine to alcohol. Under this one roof there is the cafe, the roastery, a pastry shop, a cocktail bar and a restaurant as well as meeting and event facilities.
Perhaps it goes without saying,but we will say it -everything we ordered was impeccably presented and delicious.
Onyx boasts six roasters at the Rogers HQ location.Many cafe/roasters of necessity have their roastery located in warehouse type facilities away from the cafe. Onyx (with its 30,000 sq ft of space) has placed the roastery out in the open for all to see and enjoy. As you can see in the photograph directly below they have created a bar directly in front of the roastery to allow for viewing the process and interacting with the roasting staff. So cool!
The Bentonville Cafe is close by the town square and is an aesthetically pleasing cafe in its own right. Despite the large amount of seating it can be difficult to find a seat if you arrive during the morning rush – an amalgamation of locals heading to work and tourists in need of that first hit of magic elixir. Regardless, make it a priority to spend time here if you find yourself in Bentonville for any reason. The local folks are friendly and will chat you up gladly.
PPHM is located in Canyon, Texas, approximately 20 miles south of Amarillo. The museum opened to the public in 1933. It was the brainchild of Hattie Anderson, an educator who had moved to Canyon to teach history at the West Texas Normal School (now West Texas A&M University).
Hattie was fascinated by the history of the area and began to enlist the aid of individuals in the area to form a historical society to preserve the history and culture of the Panhandle-Plains. The historical society flourished for thirteen years; the growing collection of artifacts created the need for more space. The historical society then funded the creation and operation of the museum.
Today the museum continues to prosper and is home to over three million artifacts within the 285,000 square foot complex. The museum provides insight into the past and the present of many facets of the people,culture, history and industry of the Panhandle-Plains. The collection includes galleries devoted to paleontology, archeology, geology, Native American culture, textiles, petroleum extraction and western art.
We enjoyed the PPHM immensely and strongly recommend devoting at least a half day visit when you visit the Amarillo – Lubbock area of the Panhandle. In addition to the museum this area offers ample outdoor recreational opportunities (Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon – see post: CTSPRINTERLIFE: TOURING THE PANHANDLE). https://wordpress.com/post/ontheroadwithmariastephen.net/6946
OTR had the great fortune to meet Deanna Lowe Craighead, Curator of Art at the PPHM, while visiting another museum in the panhandle. In addition to dialing us in about the Bisttram exhibition, Deanna also provided us with the recommendation to visit the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa ( see post FINE ART TOURIST PHILBROOK MUSEUM OF ART). https://wordpress.com/post/ontheroadwithmariastephen.net/7362 The balance of this post is dedicated to the Bisttram exhibit and a bit of his biography.
Emil Bisttram was born in Nagylak, Hungary (now Nadlac, Romania) in 1895. His family emigrated to New York City in 1906. Bisttram studied art at National Academy of Design, Cooper Union, the Art Students League, and the New York School of Fine and Applied Art. He also taught art while studying and was known through out his career as an excellent and sought after teacher.
Bisttram visited Taos, New Mexico in 1930. Initially he was overwhelmed by the size and scale of the New Mexico landscape and he struggled to capture the majesty of the environment. Despite that he returned to Taos in 1932 and it remained his home until his death in 1976.
Bisttram evolved from painting New Mexico landscapes and native culture to a decidely abstractionist style. The painting above (Storm Over Taos, 1931) is representative of his early work in New Mexico. The photographs of his paintings below are from the PPHM exhibit (private collection on loan – Ladd Family) and show his progression into abstraction.
Transcendental painting group (TPG)
Bisttram, along with Raymond Jonson, formed the TPG. The TPG was part of the Non-Objective Abstractionist wave of Modernism – which in part emanated from the influx of artists fleeing the increased political disruption ocurring during the 1930s in Europe.
“The Transcendental Painting Group is composed of artists who are concerned with the development and presentation of various types of non-representational painting; painting that finds its source in the creative imagination and does not depend upon the objective approach.” —- TPG Manifesto
While we do not enjoy the work of some popular avant garde abstract artists, in our very humble opinion we think the paintings of the TPG artists and in particular Bisttram are in a different category. The work is clearly non-objective in may regards but relatable and created with a clear design in mind. We would love to know what you think.
Be seeing you!
P.S. Added bonus of visiting the PPHM – the excellent Palace Coffee is a five minute walk from the museum.
If you follow OTR, you know that one of the great pleasures of our travels is the discovery (on our part) of great specialty coffee and tea cafes as well as the opportunity to return to previously visited favorites. Fortunately, there are many excellent specialty coffee cafes and roasters across the country.
We have included just seven of the cafes we visited during OTR 7.0 in this post. We visited another half dozen that are quite good but we wanted to showcase just those cafes that we think are exemplary in every regard.
We are confident that you will enjoy these cafes just as much as we did if you are fortunate enough to visit them during your travels. All of the cafes that are also roasters sell their coffee on-line, so if you won’t be visiting any of these cities in the near future you have the option to enjoy their coffee at home.
We would love to know your thoughts if you have the opportunity to visit any of these cafes.
The Taos Pueblo has been in existence for 1000 years. The first Europeans to arrive in Taos were the Spanish – who initially maintained friendly relations with the Tiwa Indians who inhabited the pueblo.
Afer a relatively short period of peaceful co-existence the Spanish exerted their might and will over the Tiwa, and as they would do many more times in the west, instituted rule over the indians and imposed Catholicism.
While the Town of Taos was incorporated in 1934, the Taos Pueblo has been continuously inhabited by the Tiwa Indians since its founding. The pueblo has about150 residents with another 1750 Tiwa living on pueblo lands.
The Town of Taos is a major tourist destination with a myriad of outdoor recreational activities including alpine skiing at the world class Taos Ski Valley. Taos is also a noted art colony dating back to the migration of eastern artists to Taos Valley and the formation of The Taos Society of Artists in the early 20th century.
Rio grande gorge
The Rio Grande Gorge is atypical of canyons this size in that it is a massive rift in the earth with the river filling the bottom after the formation of the rift. The gorge is 50 miles long and 800 feet deep at its deepest – quite impressive!
The river itself is impressive as well. The Rio Grande is the fourth longest river in North America. The river runs from Colorado through New Mexico (470 miles) and then forms the border between Texas and Mexico until it empties into the Gulf Of Mexico. The total length of the river is between 1800 and 1900 miles.
We hiked along the west rim of the gorge, enjoying the views of the river below, the mountains to the east and west and the Big Horn Sheep dotting the edge of the rim.
We had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the Taos Museum of Art at Fechin House. We will share photographs of some of the wonderful paintings and the architecture of the Fechin House in an upcoming post.
After a brief but exhilarating visit to Moab (see post Moab = Fun and Adventure) we set out for Durango across Utah 46 which becomes Colorado 90 at the border. Colorado 90 is a gem – a beautiful ride up into the Southern Rocky Mountains within the Manti-La Sal National Forest. The pass at the top of route opens up to the panorama of the Paradox Valley. The majority of this route is very remote and we would not advise traveling this road in winter weather.
The Paradox Valley is a remote, thinly settled and beautiful place. The valley is approxiamtely 25 miles long running in a north – south direction. The width of the valley is between three and five miles. The paradox that led to the naming of the valley is the unusual east to west flow of the Dolores River which cuts across the valley, as opposed to running the length of the valley.
A Canadian company proposed building a uranium mill in the valley in 2009. Fortunately, the project was abandoned in 2020. As much as we recognize the need for extractive industries it would have been a shame to alter the beauty and character of this place with a uranium mill and everything that comes with the extraction of radioactive materials.
We were looking forward to taking a break at the Bedrock Store (serving outlaws since 1881). The Bedrock Store was used in the filming of the movie Thelma & Louise. Unfortunately, the store was not open.
We made a brief stop in Durango, CO enroute to New Mexico. Durango is a mountain town which sits just below 8000 feet above sea level and is a base for the alpine ski mountains in the areas. The town sits along the Rio de las Animas Perdidas which provides wonderful scenery for the bike path nestled on the bank of the river.
As you might surmise from the photos we were quite taken with Taste Coffee as well as barista and co-owner Mike Clarke. P.S. There is a narrow gauge railroad that runs from Durango to Silverton – which we did not ride because we left town to avoid a predicted snowstorm – but it looks like a lot of fun.
With heavy snow predicted in the Western Rockies we re-routed due south into New Mexico – stopping to visit the puebloan ruins located in the town of Aztec, Colorado.
The Aztec Ruins National Monument is located in the town of Aztec, New Mexico. The ruins are 900 years old. We utilized the excellent self-guided audio tour to explore the ruins. This is an impressive site with over 400 rooms and an a restored Pueblo Great House. It is well worth the visit if your travels will be taking you to northern New Mexico. ( https://www.nps.gov/azru/index.htm )
Change of plans
After our overnight in Chama we traveled north and east across Colorado Route 17 to access the Carson National Forest for our planned overland trip from the border to Jemez Springs, NM. When we arrived we found the forest roads still covered in snow with mud underneath. This is a bad recipe for safe travel on narrow mountain roads so we decided to hold off on overlanding (no paved roads) until conditions improved.
We decided to visit Taos while waiting for better conditions on our overland routes. We will report on our stay in Taos in our next post.
The Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway is a spectacular drive. The route follows a paved road from Wise, Montana to its end near Dillon, Montana. The Pioneer Mountains have an eastern and western range. The drive winds through the meadows between the ranges providing incredible views all around. Interestingly, the two ranges are very different in appearance. The eastern range has tall, jagged peaks (think Grand Tetons) while the western range is more rounded. These are big mountains with several peaks above 11,000 feet.
We were not familiar with this range before a gentlemen in Shelby told us about this drive – thank you! This is one of the biggest ranges we had never heard of before. The range is within national forest – largely unspoiled – just mountains, forests, meadows and the the byway bisecting the range.
About 25 miles along the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Byway we came to a five mile dirt road that climbs up to the site of the ghost town of Coolidge and the defunct Elkhorn Mine and Mills. The road is fine for 2wd vehicles if it is dry.
The former mine and town sit at an elevation of 6601 feet. The mine produced zinc, lead and silver from 1875 until it was decommissioned in 1899 when the ore load was considered to be played out. The Elkhorn was the last mine in Montana to produce silver.
Work to reopen the mine under new ownership began in 1918. The tunneling work brought people back to Coolidge and a school and post office were established. The town even had electricity – no small feat at that time in such a remote location. Unforunately, by the time the tunneling was completed and the mine was actually ready to begin producing in 1923, silver prices plummeted and the mine went bust.
Subsequently, a dam collapse wiped out several sections of rail line and the town lost rail service marking the beginning of the end. The school and post office closed soon after.
The remains of the town are mostly collapsed at this point – not much to explore in that regard, but we think it is worth the visit – the scenery from the mine site is gorgeous and you walk away with a real sense of the what conditions must have been like when the mine and town were operating.
After completing our drive on the Pioneer Mountains Scenic Highway we continued south through the Grasshopper Valley to visit the ghost town of Bannack. The town sits on the bank of Grasshopper Creek and was founded in 1862 after gold was found in the creek. The town is named after the Bannock Indians that inhabited this area at that time – the spelling with an a instead of an o was the result of a clerical error in Washington.
The Lewis and Clark Expedition first documented the creek in 1805 and named it Willard Creek. When the population swelled in 1862 after the discovery of gold, the miners renamed it Grasshopper Creek due to the abundance of grasshoppers in the area.
In addition to the influx of miners (many from Colorado) prospecting for gold, the town became a haven for Civil War deserters and outlaws (in part due to its remote location). Within a year there were approximately 3000 people inhabiting Bannack. Almost all of the inhabitants were men. The handfull of women in town were mostly “saloon girls” who worked in one of the four saloons.
As the population continued to swell (10,000 people at its height), the outlaws took full advantage of the opportunity to relieve miners of their gold. Miners frequently went back and forth between Bannack and the mining camp at Virginia City. By this point the outlaws had organized into several large gangs and routinely robbed and in some cases murdered the miners.
The town hired a sheriff (Henry Plummer) to stop the violence but he turned out to be the leader of the largest and most violent of the gangs. Dang!
As this fact became well known, folks of Bannack and Montana decided to take matters into their own hands, forming the Montana Vigilence Committee. Between December 1863 and February 1864, 24 men suspected of crimes were lynched by the Vigilantes. There were no trials! One of the most notable of the men hanged was Sheriff Henry Plummer, who was suspected of being a gang leader. Montana State Police still wear a shoulder patch with the numbers 3-7-77. The numbers supposedly represent the dimensions of the graves of ths suspected outlaws killed by the vigilantes. Three feet wide, seven feet long and 77 inches deep…and now you know.
As with many gold rush towns, the bust comes just as quickly as the boom. By 1870, the easy gold was dredged out of the creek and the population began to quickly decline. Bannack’s population dropped from almost 10,000 to just a few hundred by 1870, only eight years after its founding.
The town carried on until the 1940s due to several small gold booms, but they were not enough to sustain the town. The majority of the remaining population moved on during the 1930s and by the 1940s the one room schoolhouse and the post office closed. The town was effectively non-existent, although a small number of residents hung on into the 1970s.
Today Bannack is managed by the state of Monatana as part of Bannack State Park. The state has done an excellent job preserving the remaining structures as they were but is not restoring the buildings
The history of this short lived town is deep and fascinating. The town physically has over 60 structures remaining – the majority are open for exploration.
If you enjoy western history, Bannack is a fun and interesting place to visit. The Grasshopper Valley is beautiful but remote, so give thought with combining a visit to Bannack with other destinations in southwestern Montana and perhaps Idaho.
Friday night rodeo is a weekly event during the summer in many ranching towns in the west. Kids begin competing at age six. Most high schools have rodeo teams and there is a collegiate circuit as well. Towns take great pride in their rodeo stadium.
The video below is of Cole Trexler, age 18, Montana high school all-around rodeo state champion. Cole will be riding at the collegiate level this fall. His brother Cash, 14, is also a budding rodeo star. He is the high school state champion bull rider. We met Cash and his mom. She told us that Cash “sat” his first horse at age three!
The Senior Professional Rodeo Association was in Darby for the weekend while were camping up the road a piece in Victor. On a gorgeous Friday evening we enjoyed watching the cowboys and cowgirls compete in bronc riding, bull riding, steer wrestling, calf roping and barrel racing (cowgirls only). The senior circuit is for cowboys and cowgirls forty and over.
The local rodeo is a big deal. The whole town turns out to support the riders. It is also deeply imbued with patriotic and christian themes. The opening ceremony includes prayers for the safety of the riders as well as the servicemen and servicewomen who protect our freedom. The prayers are also for our political leadership – that they make the hard decisions necessary to protect our way of life.
The photos below were taken at the Little Smith Creek Ranch where we camped for several nights. We were the only campers at the ranch during our stay. To say that the setting was idylic is an understatement. The ranch is located at the base of the Bitteroot Mountains on the western edge of the valley and our view to the east extended across the valley to the Sapphire Mountains. Plenty of deer wandering by as well. Wow!
Biking and hiking Bitteroot
The Little Smith Creek Ranch, while remote with spectacular scenery, is only minutes from a good number of spectacular hikes into the Bitteroot.
The photos above and below are from our favorite hike. The Kootenai Creek Trail follows a fast flowing creek with waterfalls and pools up to the North Kootenai Lake – a distance of about ten miles to reach the lake, and no – we did not make it all the way to the lake!
Clark fork of the columbia river
The Clark Fork of the Columbia River is a 310 mile long river originating as the Silver Bow Creek in Butte. It carries water from a substantial portion of the Rocky Mountains into the Columbia River Basin, which makes the river an excellent choice for white water rafting.
We ran a number of rapids which were mostly class 3. Early spring produces the biggest rapids -class 5- due to snow melt while by August most of the rapids are class 1 or 2 due to the reduced flow of water.
I am not sure if it was due to our senior citizen status or not but we had three guides on our raft! Regardless, were glad to have the two additional paddlers when we went into the bigger rapids.
Fika and art: Missoula style
After our stay in the beautiful Bitteroot Valley we drove north to Missoula. We had hoped to do some more bicycling in addition to river rafting but the heat was too much for us to manage the cycling side of the equation.
We did stay for a couple of days and spent some time at two local coffee shops and visited the interesting (but small) Missoula Art Museum (MAM).
Southwestern montana…hidden gem
Southwestern Montana did not originally factor into our initial planning but after conversations with several Montanans we decided to vector to the region and we are pleased that we did. The southwest corner of Montana is well known to fishing and hunting aficionados, but it’s not found on the standard tourist itinerary.
We had a piece of the planet to ourselves (well, at least regarding other humans) for stretches of time as we drove through the Pioneer Mountains and the pristine Grasshopper Valley. We will definitely return to the area for a more extended stay in the future – lots of hiking, ghost towns and backroads to be explored and dispersed camping under the dark sky.
Fika at Velodrome Coffee in Marquette was our first destination as we returned to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for the first time in over two years.
Pictured Rock National lakeshore
The Pictured Rock National Lakeshore (PRNL) was created in 1966 to protect a 42 mile section of coastline along Lake Superior. The 15 mile stretch of sandstone cliffs rising as high as 200 feet above the water is the real attraction here. The total protected area is around 71,000 acres which provides a buffer zone between the lakeshore and commercial logging.
We toured the lakeshore by boat. While there are a substantial amount of hiking trails throughout the park which lead to the cliffs the best views of the various formations are from the water. We would recommend a boat tour if you are going to be in the area but would not recommend PRNL as a multi-day destination unless you are going to camp in the park and kayak from the beach through the formations.
While iron ore mining and production is very often portrayed as nonexistent today in the United States, it is still quite active in parts of the Upper Peninsula and Minnesota. In fact iron ore mining has been ongoing here in the Marquette Iron Range since 1847.
The completion of the various shipping canals and locks throughout the Great Lakes facilitated the efficient movement of iron ore by lake freighters to ports further south-close to major manufacturing operations for steel and auto-making.
More to come on iron mining when we post from Minnesota where we will be traveling through the Iron Range.
Iron ore heritage trail
The Iron Ore Heritage Trail (IOHT) is a winding and hilly 47 mile trail that utilizes the former rail lines that were used to bring timber and iron ore to Lake Superior. The trail runs through many wetlands and wooded areas as well as a number of closed and abandoned mines.
We rode the trail from the west to east (from Ispheming towards Marquette) which means a long uphill climb as you return from Marquette to your starting point. One of our favorite trails to date because of the fast downhills and corners.
Keweenaw Peninsula (KP)
The Portage Lake Lift Bridge pictured above connects Houghton and Hancock, Michigan. The bridge is the widest and heaviest double deck lift bridge in the world. When the bridge is in position for automobile traffic it sits a mere four feet above the water. The bridge fully raised provides 100 feet of clearance allowing large lake freighters (lakers) to use the canal.
The canal itself came about as mining companies sought to decrease the time it took to haul copper from the copper-rich Keweenaw Peninsula to markets. Work on the canal began in the 1860’s with dredging and widening of several narrow riverways to Portage Lake thereby creating a east/west canal and shaving 100 miles off the trip.
When the canal was completed, the northern half of Keneewaw Peninsula technically became Copper Island. For a number of years all traffic had to go across the canal via ferry boats while winter allowed for crossing on ice roads. As the demand to cross the canal increased, a series of bridges were constructed to allow people, vehicles and trains to cross the canal. The current bridge is the fourth bridge to connect the southern and northern halves of the peninsula. The first three were swing bridges which were slow and unreliable. The second bridge was destroyed when a freighter collided with the bridge. The current bridge came into use in 1959.
Copper was first utilized on the peninsula by Native Americans long before the arrival of Euro-Americans. The Native Americans utilized copper for tools and jewelry. Copper had been separated from rock by retreating glaciers and was scattered around the surface in abundant quantities requiring no mining or excavating.
While the first copper mine in the Upper Peninsula began operation around 1771 it was not until around 1840 that large scale commercial extraction of copper (as well as iron and silver) commenced. The rush began in earnest when the the state’s first geologist, Douglass Houghton, released his report affirming the abundance of high grade copper on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Copper was mined for the next 150 years on the Keweenaw Peninsula where a narrow seam of copper runs from the Wisconsin border to the tip of Keweenaw Peninsula (Copper Harbor). The mines in Michigan produced more than 14 billion pounds of copper during that period of time and during the late 1800s was the largest copper producer in the world.
The mines began to mature around 1900 as the depth of the shafts made the cost of extraction unviable. A number of mining operations closed down and the population of Keweenaw Penninsula declined for a number years.
War is good for business and the increased demand for copper during World War II brought prices to a level which made copper mining in the penisula viable again. Several mines continued operation until 1969 when a labor dispute triggered the closure of those mines. Today most of the copper production in the United States takes place in Arizona.
The legacy of the cooper mining industry is still highly visible on the Keweenaw Peninsula today. There are numerous mine-shaft rockhouses scattered along what is now Highway 41. The rockhouse stood over the mine shaft. The rock was brought up the shaft in train cars (skips) and dumped into rock crushers below, which then fed uniform sized pieces of rocks into rail cars below the crushing machines.
Another lasting legacy of the copper mining on the Keneewaw Peninsula is pollution. The good news in that regard is that because the copper here was native copper is it 99.99% pure and as such the slag, rock waste and tailings are much less toxic. Having said that, there was enough concern that an EPA Superfund Site was created to deal with the waste. The site has been removed from the Superfund list as a result of the remediation effort.
The Keweenaw Peninsula economy has transitioned to focus on tourism and timber as the main sources of employment. This area is a haven for boating, fishing, hunting, hiking, mountain biking and OHV riding.
Copper Harbor via the m26…but first, breakfast
WIth a day of exploration in front of us we have learned that is is essential to be well fortified. So we stopped at Slim’s Cafe in Mohawk. Slim’s Cafe has been serving breakfast to Yoopers and visitors for over 40 years. In addition to the massive and tasty breakfast it is mandatory to have their absolutely delicious cinnamon rolls. Do not leave without purchasing cinnamon rolls!
After fortification at Slim’s, we spent the day touring the KP from Houghton to land’s end at Copper Harbor. The M26 winds along the western coast of the peninsula providing wonderful views of Lake Superior and the coastline. Beautifully preserved lighthouses dot the coastline and provide excellent opportunities to learn about the history of the area.
We veered off the M26 a few miles south of Copper Harbor to take in the views from Brockway Mountain. The “mountain”is 720 feet above Lake Superior and on a clear day provides a panoramic view of the lake as well as Copper Harbor and several other lakes.
After descending Brockway Mountain we continued to Copper Harbor and followed US Highway 41 through the village where the highway terminates. This is one of those places where you feel as if you are at the top of the world.
On the day we visited the village, the sun was shining and the sky and lake were deep blue. We had a picnic lunch sitting at the waters edge. We could not, however, keep ourselves from envisioning being here in the dead of winter with the 85 brave souls that call this village home. The cold, the wind and prolonged darkness that occur at this parallel is requires a level of self-sufficiency we do not possess.
We decided to return to Houghton by a more rustic route. While Highway 41 ends in Copper Harbor you can continue on via the dirt roads used by loggers and eventually loop southward down the peninsula.
We had the opportunity to meet with many residents of the Upper Peninsula – known as Yoopers. Yoopers do not consider themselves as Michiganders. In fact, there have been numerous attempts in the past by Yoopers to form their own state – unsuccessfully, obviously.
Yoopers clearly see themselves as separate and distinct from the city folk downstate. This is outdoor country where sled racing, skating, ice fishing, snowshoeing are part of everyday life. Of course the most Yooper outdoor winter sport of all is probably outhouse racing (paint your own mental picture!)
Many of the Yoopers we met made it very clear that to be able to live here year round a person must be extremely self-reliant and self-sufficient and you better know how to drive in the snow! Yep!
While we had planned to travel north through Wisconsin as part of OTR 6.0 we did not initally envision visiting the southwestern part of the state. But, after coming across some information about the Badger State Trail, it looked as if it would provide several days of enjoyable riding through the countryside. We decided to swing west to camp, bike and explore the region.
The geography of this area is predominated by rolling hills and dells. This is dairy country with much of the milk going to the production of locally made cheese. The picturesque countryside is dotted with dairy farms.
There is a large Amish community here, it is quite a sight to see fields being plowed using horse drawn equipment. The winding hilly roads require extra caution due to the presence of horse drawn carriages.
Badger state trail
The Badger runs north/south from Madison to the border of Illinois. This trail was originally the rail bed for the Chicago, Madison and and Northern Railroad, with successor railroads carrying freight until the mid 1980s. The trail was opened for cycling and walking around 2007. The trail is not paved but the dirt and sand surface is good. We thoroughly enjoyed riding through the rolling hills of southwestern Wisconsin.
On the advice of a local resident we met while doing laundry in Monroe (The Cheesemakers) we had breakfast at a local institution in the nearby Village of Argyle (pop.857). Irma’s Kitchen was founded in 1976 by Irma Collins. Irma has retired but IK continues as a family operated business with two of her daughters serving classic and delicious breakfasts between 6:30am and 11:00am. Another of Irma’s daughters is an extraordinary baker, making pastries and PIES for the cafe.
We ended up having breakfast at Irma’s several times – not just because the breakfast and pie was delicious – we met the local guys’ coffee group on our first visit and knew we had to go back to capture more of the local flavor and history. Thanks guys! We really enjoyed chatting with y’all.
Jane Addams Trail
With continued good weather we decided to bicycle south from Monroe and ride the Badger Trail into Illinois where it becomes the Jane Addams Trail. The trail runs 19 miles from the border to the town of Freeport.
The trail is named in honor of Jane Addams, the second woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams founded the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1919. She worked for many years lobbying the major nations of the world to disarm and sign peace accords. Addams was born in Cedarville, Illinois which is located close by the trail.
On the advice of our new friends at IK we spent an afternoon in Mineral Point. The town was founded in 1827 and is Wisconsin’s third oldest city. The town grew rapidly for a number of years after the discovery of lead deposits.
As the scope of the mining operations increased, experienced miners immigrated from Cornwall in England. The arrival of the Cornish miners enabled a significant increase in lead production.
The discovery of gold in California in the late 1840s coupled with diminishing lead production triggered an exodus of the miners from Mineral Point.
The legacy of the Cornish immigrants is still prevalent today in Mineral Point thanks to the construction of many stone cottages and buildings by the Cornish miners and the work of a number of residents to preserve the cottages and buildings.
Mining returned in the late 1800s due to the discovery of zinc at the bottom of the lead mines. The zinc mining played out by the 1920s. Today the town draws many tourists to see the architecture and shop and dine at the beautifully preserved historical buildings.
The mulberry pottery
Mineral Point has become an artistic enclave and we were fortunate to stop in to see the pottery of Frank Polizzi. Frank has been creating wood fired stoneware and pit fired earthenware for over forty years. Frank’s lovely wife Barbara shared the history of the pottery and explained the process for us.
The Mulberry Pottery utilizes a wood burning kiln built by Frank which can hold up to 300 pieces of pottery and achieves a temperature of 2400F during the roughly 15 hour process.
Yes, of course we loved many of the pieces and are now the proud owners of a beautiful vase!
More from Milwaukee (MKE) soon. Be seeing you!
We had never been to Madison so decided to spend an afternoon there as we traveled from Yellowstone Lake to Milwaukee. We had read about the vibrant and pedestrian friendly shopping and dining area along State Street near the State Capitol Building. We thought it would be nice to stop for coffee and tea and explore the area.
We were saddened to find that protests last April-May had turned into violent street riots in which 75 businesses in this area were damaged and looted. Today 30 of the 75 businesses remained closed, boarded up and covered with graffiti.
The business owners requested financial support from the city in the amount of $250,000 to help repair damages and reopen. The city council voted not to provide funding since most of the State Street businesses are white owned and as such providing funding would constitute an act of systemic racism.
We discovered the Franklinton Arts District (FAD) during our brief visit to Columbus last fall when we visited One Line Coffee. In addition to a terrific coffee experience at the cafe we found ourselves surrounded by amazing mural art everywhere we looked (or so it seemed). As a result we knew that we wanted to pay another visit to Columbus as we journeyed west on OTR 6.0 to take advantage of the excellent coffee and street art opportunities.
The FAD is not just a geographic district but also a non-profit organization http://www.franklintonartsdistrict.com/ created to support and advocate for artists and art organizations in the district.
The photographs above and below are just a small sample of some of the murals we saw during this visit. We have also included several more mural photos at the end of this post.
Our first rails to trails ride in Ohio was on the Heart of Ohio Trail (HOOT) and the Kokosing Gap Trail. We rode from the Centerburg Trailhead to the end of the HOOT in Mt Vernon and then continued on the Kokosing Gap Trail several more miles to Gambier where the trail runs through the Kenyon College Campus.
Our departure from Centerburg was delayed slightly by the arrival of two gentlemen who approached us to inquire about the Beast (not an uncommon occurrence). We are always happy to share our travels and provide a tour of the Beast and even more so because we found ourselves talking to two of the top specialty coffee people in the Columbus area.
Kenny had served as a youth pastor for a number of years before deciding to jump into the specialty coffee business while Frank had been in the industry working for one of the top specialty coffee organizations in Columbus.
After chatting about the Beast and some of our adventures Kenny and Frank graciously invited us to visit the roastery and the cafe the next morning. We said YES!!
Frank explains the operation of the Loring Roaster as he expertly roasts a batch of coffee.
We had a fantastic experience visiting the with Kenny and Frank and found out that they are more than just two really nice guys. Kenny started this business in order to help people in need and Frank signed on for the mission. The Roosevelt businesses are owned by the Roosevelt Foundation https://www.rooseveltcoffee.org/ and donate a portion of the money generated by the two businesses to organizations fighting against hunger, unclean water and human trafficking.
We are humbled to have had the opportunity to meet Kenny and Frank and learn first hand about the business and their mission. Thank you Kenny and Frank.
Alum Creek Trail
We took advantage of the fine weather on our last day in Columbus to bike the Alum Creek Trail. Although this trail runs through the city of Columbus it provides many miles of greenway as it meanders back and forth across the Alum Creek. This trail is a wonderful asset within a major metropolitan area as you feel transported to a much more rural environment. We encountered many deer along the route – some who seem perturbed by our desire to proceed on the trail!
Historically, Alum Creek was a key route in central Ohio for escaped slaves and free blacks to move north to free states and Canada. The sycamore trees which line the banks of the creek and the creek itself provided cover for the railroad’s “passengers” seeking freedom.
A key group in the operation of the Underground Railroad in central Ohio were the Quakers that created the safe haven known as Quakertown. The number of escaped slaves that came through on this route is not documented for obvious reasons but it is a credit to the abolitionists that risked their own safety to assist with this humanitarian initiative to right the horrible wrong of slavery.
Franklinton Arts District
Next stop Wisconsin to bicycle the Badger State Bike Trail and possibly eat cheese! Be seeing you!