Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Sunday, January 30, 2005

Excursion to Grand Forks

Well, I’ve been working on another entry, and was fully planning to finish it and get it posted tonight, but I’ve decided I’ll hold off on it for a few more days, seeing as I would like to post some pictures and commentary from the trip I took to Grand Forks this weekend.

So, anyway, the reason my parent and I ventured up to Grand Forks was so that we could take part in a program at the University of North Dakota set up to discuss the university’s honors program to prospective students who meet the criteria for acceptance into the honors curriculum.

Although the program at the university wasn’t slated to begin until 10AM on Friday, and it generally takes about 4 hours to drive from Brainerd to Grand Forks, I had decided long beforehand that the best time to leave home in Brainerd was in the wee hours of the morning, at about 3:30 AM to be exact. Besides never being on the road this early in the morning, I was also interested in catching a glimpse of Amtrak’s train on its way through central Minnesota.

I don’t know if many people realize it, but Staples – a town a mere 30 miles away from Brainerd – is still served daily by a passenger train. The train, known as the Empire Builder, also makes stops in the central Minnesota cities of St. Cloud and Detroit Lakes during its 2,100-mile trip from Chicago to Seattle/Portland. The only downfall to catching the train in central Minnesota, however, is the time the train arrives at the depots to pick up passengers. In order to accommodate the requests to be able to see the majestic Glacier National Park (which is along the Empire Builder’s route) during the day, the train is forced to come through Minnesota in the wee hours of the morning. Westbound trains bound for either Seattle or Portland are scheduled to come through Staples at 1AM; eastbound trains bound for Chicago are supposed to come through Staples at about 4AM. Of course, this is Amtrak we’re talking about here, and because the railroads that so graciously allow Amtrak trains to use their tracks – Burlington Northern Santa Fe in the case of the Empire Builder – tend to give Amtrak trains the lowest priority out of all the trains on the rail network, Amtrak trains are rarely ever on time.

Back to my story, due to going to bed at 7PM, we were actually able to leave our house in Brainerd at 3:30AM. Driving through town at this time was incredibly bizarre, because of the fact there was absolutely nobody on the roads. Next time I’m out on Washington St. at this time, I’ll have to take a picture of it, since it’s so strange to see the whole street lit up with entirely no cars on it.

I shouldn’t say there was nobody else on the road, however, since there were some other people driving around as soon as we got to Baxter. There were some cars and semi trucks on 210 going west of town, too, but nothing like at 3:30PM.

By the time we made it to Staples at about 4:00, we took a quick drive past the Staples depot. I had told myself earlier I was going to walk inside and look around if there were no other people in it. Since the depot is locked up at all other times of the day except for the approximate times the Amtrak train is scheduled to arrive, I had never seen the innards of it before. Unfortunately, I still haven’t, since there was a small group of people waiting inside for their train to arrive. I wasn’t about to walk in at 4 in the morning to say I had no intention of traveling on the train, but was just on a stroll wondering what the depot looked like inside.

Instead, we got back on highway 10 to go west. Right when we got back on the highway, we encountered a little bit of drizzle. It started off quite slowly, just managing to wet the windshield, making it so turning on the defroster would only melt the ice on the bottom half.

By Verndale, it was time to finally scrape of the ice that had formed on the top-half of the windshield. Stopping at the rest area that also happens to be a particularly favorite place to watch trains go by, I hopped out of the van with an ice scraper. While scraping the ice off the windshield, I noticed how slick the roads had become. The street in Verndale was already coated with a thin layer of ice, with more drizzle still coming down from the sky. This was certainly not good, because even though the air above the ground was warm enough to produce rain, the temperature at ground-level was still well below freezing, meaning the rain froze immediately upon contact.

Nonetheless, we got back on the road. There’s nothing to report happening in Wadena or New York Mills, so I’ll skip ahead to when we got to Perham. It was time again to scrape off the windshield, and knowing a good place to stop in Perham, I thought it would be a great idea to turn off highway 10 and onto county road 80 going into the city with 2,559 people. However, the iciness of the roads had been greatly underestimated at this time; upon attempting to brake to turn into the right turn lane leading to county road 80, we went right onto the shoulder of highway 10 and eventually slightly off the shoulder into the ditch.

So, there, at about 4:30AM, only about a mile away from Perham, we were stuck in the snow. Though this story has the potential to have an exciting falling action, it doesn’t. We were able to get ourselves out of the ditch in only a matter of minutes, as only the front tires of our van went off the roadway. Needless to say, I had an exciting experience.

We then took off on the very icy highway 10. It was still raining at this time, but now instead of just rain, there was also a bit of sleet mixed in. Because going any faster had the effect of causing wheels to slip, 40 MPH was set as the threshold between driving in poor conditions and driving in dangerous conditions. So, not wanting to end up in a worse predicament than merely sliding into the ditch, we made the journey from Perham to Fargo driving not any faster than 45 MPH.

Let’s see, as far as other accidents go, they were, luckily (for us), all in the eastbound lanes of traffic. We saw two semis as well as a Jeep Grand Cherokee jackknifed, as well as another car in the median. Road conditions did not deteriorate between Detroit Lakes and Fargo, but they did not get better either. By the time I got out again in Dilworth, I noticed our van was nearly entirely coated in a nice 1/2-inch-think coat of ice.

Road conditions were even worse in Fargo, probably because it had been raining there for the longest. We eventually made our way through downtown, and onto I-29, but not without a near accident involving us and a truck that stopped far past a stop sign at a downtown intersection.

Once we got out of Fargo, it was like magic. The sky started to get lighter as the sun rose above the clouds – it was about 7:30 by the time we left Fargo, mind you – and the rain stopped. Now, our biggest enemy was the wind, which was blowing with ferocity from the south. It was hard to see the painted lines on I-29 because so much snow was being blown around. Fortunately, because the roadway had little or no ice on it north of, oh, Harwood, we were able to go about 60 MPH, only 15 MPH below the speed limit.

We finally made it to the Columbia Mall in Grand Forks at 8:30; only one hour later than the trip from Brainerd should have taken.

Now I’ll turn your attention away from the weather and to the happenings at the honors-student-for-a-day program, which is what I was a part of.

The day started with about a 45-minute information session about the honors program, in the Robertson-Sayre Hall, an old building on campus where the honors program is headquartered. It is also the place where UND’s honors classes are held.

After the oh-so-informative talk, the prospective students were escorted off to class. In the weeks leading up to the program, the university had sent me a letter wanting me to select, from a list of six, a class I would be interested in sitting through. Since chemistry, along with atmospheric sciences, is my intended field of study, I naturally chose Chem 122, second semester level 1 general chemistry.

The class was held where all chemistry classes are, in Abbott Hall. The lecture hall where the class was held was moderately sized – it probably had the ability to seat 200 or so people. The class didn’t have 200 people, however, since only about half of all the seats were taken.

Anyway, being in my first class on a university was quite an exiting experience. The professor, whose name I cannot recall at this moment, was a rather old fellow, with an appearance that reminded me a lot like the man who teaches in room A140 at Brainerd High School. His teaching style wasn’t exactly that interesting – he just put notes up on a projector-type thing and went through a PowerPoint presentation. He was slightly organized and knew what he was talking about, though, so I was able to easily follow along with what he was teaching. Even better, the topic for discussion for the day was kinetics, and, because of my experience in AP Chemistry last year, I was able to remember just about everything about this subject.

After the class was over, the students were brought back to meet up with their parental units, who had been having a social at the J. Llyod Stone Alumni Center. Then, both the parents and students, had the opportunity to tour Johnstone Hall, the residence hall where all women in honors have the chance of living in. You see, one of the advantages of being a freshman in UND’s Honors Program is the chance to live in a much nicer dorm that is ordinarily reserved for sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

After viewing Johnstone Hall, we headed across University Avenue to eat lunch at Wilkerson Dining Hall. The main events being served at on Friday were chicken pot pie and sloppy-joe-type sandwiches. I chose the pot pie, and, after getting the supplements that went with it, I sat down where all the other prospective students and parents were sitting. Some of the current honors students also ate lunch with us, which was interesting, since they got to share their own observations about being in the program.

After lunch, every student was one again separated from his or her parents. This time, I, being one of the students, got to participate in a class that attempted to replicate what a typical honors class is like. We watched an approximate 15-minute segment from a Frontline documentary on the process so many corporations go through to make themselves look trendy, hip, and cool in the eyes of teenagers. After watching, we then discussed our opinions about what the documentary had to say. It was all pretty interesting, and I have to say I had quite the intellectually stimulating experience.

After the short, faux honors class, all the students were allowed to rejoin their parents, who had been in another room posing questions about the honors program to people who are in charge of it.

After the parents were done doing what they were doing, anybody who hadn’t toured the campus before was given the opportunity to do so. Since we already had in November, though, we decided to stay where the parents had met, because my mom wanted me to meet a professor with the UND chemistry department had come to talk about the university and answer parents’ questions.

We then left the campus to drive around Grand Forks for a bit, before going to our hotel room for the night. I know you’ve all been dying to see pictures, so I’ll post a few here now; be sure to take a look at them, especially if you’ve never been to Grand Forks before. Mindset is a dangerous thing to have; all too often it seems as if people write off a place like Grand Forks as being a barren wasteland, as uninteresting, dreary, and monotonous as the rest of North Dakota apparently is. Unless you have actually visited, you really have no foundation to be providing commentary or passing judgment on a particular village, city, state, etc. I, for one, am looking forward to calling Grand Forks my home when I go to the University of North Dakota next year.

As a quick note to talk about the trip home from Grand Forks, I’ll just say that road conditions were much better than they were on the trip to Grand Forks. We were actually able to go the speed limit for much of the trip, and that is always a good thing.

A view from the parking lot at the Detroit Lakes Amtrak depot at about 5:30AM

The very windy interstate-29 between Fargo and Grand Forks

The UND walkway that goes across University Avenue, the major road that goes through the university. My camera didn't really focus correctly, so the large version of this image is slightly blurry

The National Weather Service's office in Grand Forks. This building is responsible for alerting people of inclement weather situations in much of eastern North Dakota and west-central Minnesota. Wadena County is the nearest county to Brainerd that is under the jurisdiction of this office.

Another UND walkway that connects Clifford Hall with Ryan Hall on the western edge of the university's campus

Okay, now here's a picture of one of the three bridges crossing the Red River between East Grand Forks, MN and Grand Forks, ND. In this picture, I'm in East Grand Forks, MN, looking west to North Dakota.

On the other side of the bridge pictured in the previous picture is the Grand Forks greenway, an expansive park system created out of the neighborhoods that were completely destroyed in the flood of 1997. Here's a shot of the Grand Forks skyline from the greenway.

Along the path of the greenway is this monument that marks the height the Red River has risen during all of the 5 great flood Grand Forks has seen since its establishment.

Here's a shot underneath that bridge that spans the Red River.

After crossing the bridge across the Red River, there is a sign welcoming people to Grand Forks

There is also a welcome to Minnesota sign on the part of the bridge leading into East Grand Forks

The sidewalk along the bridge. Being that the only plowed parking lot along the greenway was in East Grand Forks, I actually walked across this bridge twice in order to get the shots from Grand Forks. How many people have ever walked across a state border?

Looking at the memorial from the bridge - you can see just how high the water got in 1997

A shot of the North Dakota flag blowing in the wind at the Grand Forks Visitors Center

A shot of the Minnesota flag blowing in the wind at the Grand Forks Visitors Center

It doesn't get any better than this for me - the flags of my two favorite states and country all lined up together in one spot

Before leaving on Saturday, we again traveled downtown to look at the memorial park established in the city block where 12 buildings were destroyed in the fire during the flood of 1997. The Grand Forks Herald building was one of the structures destroyed, but, as you can see, it has been rebuilt to look as it originally did. In the foreground of this picture is a memorial depicting some rescue workers struggling during the flood to save a family clinging onto remnants of a house. Besides this memorial, there is also a monument built out of brick from some of the destroyed buildings that describes the events of the flood of 1997, as well as markers that mark the exact spot where all of the buildings that were destroyed by fire used to stand.


Blogger Kaila said...

This is quite interesting. How do you find all of this history about this??? Actually a better question would be: how do you have time to learn about this stuff???

Fri Feb 04, 06:40:00 PM CST  
Blogger Mitch said...

All what stuff? I usually pick up tidbits of information here and there and somehow it gets stored in my memory until needed (or not needed) again.

Sun Feb 06, 01:12:00 AM CST  

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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001