Dave Cox in Itasca St Park, Minnesota, Tue., May 14, 2013

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Hello everyone.  I am on the road again.  After 12 years of mostly international travel (a few trips to the 4-corners area of the US), I decided it was time to revisit much of North America.  I last visited most of the states in the 1960s.  I have purchased new, from the manufacturer, a tiny RV trailer called a Scamp.  Barely 10 feet by 6 ½ feet inside (6 foot 3 inch ceiling), I ordered it fully loaded, with bathroom w toilet and shower, gas/electric heat and water heater, full AC, kitchen with sink, gas stove and gas/electric fridge, and booth table for 4 which converts to the double bed; even some storage cabinets.  How they packed all into such a tiny trailer is amazing.  It is actually quite enjoyable working inside at the table, surrounded by windows, which is where I am writing this now.

The trailer was built in Backus, Minnesota.  I left Tucson May 3 and spent a week driving to Minnesota, passing through and spending a couple of days with my brother and his wife in Kansas City.  I traveled mostly small US highways to avoid the Interstates, and lodged and dined in tiny country towns (such as Vaughn, NM and Pine River, MN).  Southern Arizona and all of New Mexico treat the backroad driver to endless vistas, raw mountains and interesting little diners.  The panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas are endless grain silos and cattle feedlots; the aroma of thousands of cattle standing around in damp soil just eating and dumping is pretty much constant.  Kansas, Iowa and southern Minnesota are pretty much endless grain silos and  wheat or corn fields, now barren as it just is ending winter.

Backus, where I picked up the trailer, has a population of 150.  I discovered, upon hooking up the RV, my car had been wired incorrectly for the various connections to the trailer, and so spent 4 extra hours in the only auto mechanic shop in Backus for  rewiring (they were experts, being close to the RV factory).  I had intended to head straight to a state park for my “maiden voyage”, but it was late Friday when I finally hooked up the trailer, so I spent the first night in a motel in Park Rapids.  Well, I got the last room in town (3 motels).  I already had been warned numerous times that the next day was “Opening Day” for fishing season in Minnesota – this turns out to be a HUGE deal here.   All roads were trafficked with pickups hauling boats. Turns out Park Rapids, where I stayed, was where the governor came for opening day; my motel was full with the news corps from Minnesota TV and radio stations,  in town to cover the governor’s opening day fishing.  I chatted with several TV people from a St Paul station, and asked whether they were the  political reporters – “no”, they were not; they covered fishing. The next morning, opening day, as I was stocking up at a Wal-Mart for my trip into the park, I learned the governor had caught his first fish, I believe it was a northern pike, at 12:36; I noted it wasn’t noon yet – they clarified he had caught his fish at 12:36 am, i.e. just after midnight, on opening day.  They take fishing season very very seriously here in Minnesota.

I now have spent 2 days here in Itasca State Park in northern Minnesota.  The entire northern part of the state is covered in thousands of lakes of all sizes.  Most still have ice covering large parts, and there are small piles of snow on the ground; it has been very cold (in the low teens at night).  Itasca is the oldest park in the state, covered in deciduous and evergreen forest, and full of small lakes, plus one large lake named Itasca – this is the headwaters of the Mississippi River.  I now have walked across the Mississippi on a small split log laid across the river, 20 feet from where it originates out of Lake Itasca.  Beautiful place.  Already I have photographed several new bird species for me, as well as a couple of new squirrels.  I have hiked the woods, and particularly the back side of the Lake; there for the first time I was able to photograph trumpeter swans swimming and resting on the ice shelf.  More exciting was my encounter with a very good sized black bear.  I was on a small trail on the edge of the Lake and, coming around a bend, saw the bear foraging in the bushes just 45 meters ahead.  The bear didn’t see me, and after a few moments decided to come ambling straight down the trail toward me.  Although I sorely wanted to wait until he was much closer and in the sunlight for better photos, I decided the better option was to give a loud cough, advising the bear of my presence.  He paused, looked me over, and decided to turn tail (the normal reaction).

I anticipate leaving here in the next day or two and heading over to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for wildlife viewing.  I am heading west rather rapidly only because I want to spend a couple of weeks in Yellowstone before the crowds get bad, and understand May is the best month.

I have included photos of my trailer, rust backed squirrel, white-breasted nuthatch, chipping sparrow, the Mississippi River as a baby, trumpeter swans, my bear encounter and a ruffed grouse.  Later.  Dave

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