Friday, August 30, 2013

On to Minnesota!

Well, folks, our experience last night and this morning was really something else.  Our concerns about the possible tornado chased us out of Roosevelt National Park a day early and we didn't get to do the hike in the North Unit we had planned for today.  Never have been able to get any reports today on whether any tornadoes actually came through there, but we knew we would not sleep very well worrying about what the camp host had told us had we stayed, so, for us, the decision to leave was the best one.  We first stopped at a motel in Watford City, just about 15 miles or so from the park entrance, thinking that it would be better to stay in a building, rather than the RV.  They were sold out, and the desk clerk said that all the other motels in Watford City were as well.  When Trisha told her what the camp host had said about a possible tornado, she was very helpful and found a weather mapping site on her computer and said it looked like the storm was coming through on a southwesterly trajectory, and that if we headed north to Williston, about an hour away, it looked like we would miss the worst of it.  So that's what we did, and as we were pulling out of the motel parking lot, we noticed an awful lot of pretty new trucks, many of them with oil company logos on them.  When we got to Williston, we saw several No Vacancy signs and then I went into a Hampton Inn, which I have never thought of as a high end motel.  The clerk said they had one room left, and it would be $220!!  I couldn't believe it and just left, without asking him why it was so much.  Eventually we found the Love's Truck Stop location and decided that, since it looked like we were likely going to miss the worst of the storm, asked them if we could just park in their lot.  They were happy to let us do that, and as we settled in, we noticed lots of oil related trucks filling the lot.

As far as the storm went, the wind and rain I posted about last night ended up not lasting very long, and it was calm for the rest of the night.  This morning when we got up, we looked out and saw an interesting sight--just across from the truck stop there were rows and rows of small huts and some long, pretty flimsy looking buildings.  We had commented the day before on how much road construction there seemed to be, which made driving kind of hairy, since in many places the road went down to 2 lanes, and the roads were filled with big trucks, many tankers and heavy equipment, along with all the road construction stuff.  I had never thought of North Dakota as being a particularly rich state, so we were puzzled by the seemingly endless road projects that were in progress everywhere we went.  So, I did a little googling about Williston and learned that in recent years, this has become an incredibly active place for oil drilling and related operations.  One article quoted the mayor quite extensively and turns out that Williston's population has nearly doubled in just a few short years.  While this has brought jobs to the area--indeed Trisha recalled hearing about folks from around Ellijay, GA coming out here for work--the mayor and others expressed real concerns about the huge demands this growth has placed on the infrastructure of the town.  They are way overrun by needs, not just the physical infrastructure like roads, sewer, housing, etc., but also the social infrastructure, like schools and social services, and they were falling further and further behind.  Then there were many concerns expressed about the environmental impact of the fracking and other technologies used to get to the oil here, and the potential for major ecological disasters.  Several of the articles told how there is such a shortage of housing for all these workers, numerous "man camps" as they're called have sprung up all around the area.  That, it turns out, was what we were seeing across from the truck stop--scores upon scores of these tiny little places, most owned by the oil companies, where the workers are crammed in at a really high density.  It reminded us of the old company towns around the mills in the south.  And, from what we read online, this housing is not cheap, and of course, the rent comes out of the paychecks and goes right back to the oil company.  And the articles I read also hinted at the pressure applied on local governments by the oil companies for tax breaks and concessions, which of course is not a new story.  All this presents many thorny issues, as I see it.  While I'm not so far to one side as to say just walk away from this natural resource, it does seem to me that these huge companies, who are making incredible profits, should be called on to foot the bill for the things necessary to let them make these profits.  Saw some billboards like "Vote to end property taxes!"  Not sure who is behind these, but have my thoughts.  So, had we not left the park last night and come to Williston, I might not have discovered all this.  As we continued driving toward Minnesota we saw so many oil operations, drilling derricks, many of which looked to be virtually brand new, and tons and tons of these huge trucks on the road.

Anyway, we spent the day mostly just driving on toward Minnesota, where we hope to make it to Camp Mishawaka near Grand Rapids tomorrow, so we can meet the director, Steve.  This is a camp where our dear, late friend, Nancy Kirwan, had been such a driving force for many years.  She was on their foundation board, the arm responsible for raising the money to bring economically disadvantaged kids from some of the cities to the camp.  As a psychologist, she also went up at the first of every summer camp season, to spend time giving orientation and training to the camp counselors, preparing them for the challenges they would face with the campers and how to best handle some often tough situations.  Our youngest son, Jeremy, spent two summers during college as a counselor here, and it turned out to be a really significant and impactful experience for him.  So Trisha called Steve to see if we could come by the camp to meet him and see the place we'd heard so much about--as soon as Trisha said her name on the phone, Steve said "Are you Jeremy's mom?" Pretty remarkable, as this was 10 years ago that Jeremy was a counselor there.  So, we still have several hours of driving ahead of us tomorrow, but looks like this may work, and we're really looking forward to that.  Then we plan to visit the two national parks in the northern part of the state, all near the Boundary Waters section of Minnesota.

We got into East Grand Forks, MN around 5:00 pm or so--we're now back to Central Time; East Grand Forks is just across the bridge from Grand Forks, which is in North Dakota, but we were glad we made it into MN tonight.  This makes the 19th state we've been in since we started!  Found a lovely State Park right on the river as we came into town and, fortunately, since we're just here tonight, they had lots of spaces, before being sold out tomorrow for the start of Labor Day Weekend.  But there is a wonderful greenway along the river, with a super paved bike trail, so after supper we were able to get in a good brisk ride along this trail.  Hope to do a longer ride in the morning before getting back on the road.

Today, when we stopped in a store for some supplies, I found a scale and stepped on, since it's been a while since I've checked my weight.  Much to my delight, I have now lost right at 80 pounds since we began following a vegan diet in February.  I also heard today from my doctor back home after she had reviewed my latest blood pressure log, and she's now taking me completely off one of the two remaining bp meds I've been taking for many, many years!  Man, am I excited about that!!  That means now down to just one, and that brings me one step closer to my goal of getting off meds totally! So I'll try not to be too messianic about this vegan thing (I know Jim, back in Utah you're making a face thinking about all those yummy green smoothies!!), but for both of us this has really been the ticket to a far healthier lifestyle than we've known for many, many years.

The huge collection of housing huts across from the truck stop

Various oil operations along the highway

Here you can begin to see some of the air pollution in the area.

The highway is loaded with big trucks!

Quite a contrast between the fields of sunflowers and the cloudy air

All over the place, these oil derricks are right in the middle of the fields of grain and sunflowers

Neat old house
More "man camps."

cool looking little church
The closer we got to the border with Minnesota, the more lakes we began to see

Devils Lake, SD

The big sky is just unbelievable out here!

Rich, rich soil

Here we are in our 19th state!!

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