Friday, July 31, 2009

A Day At the Peace Gardens

I had to pay $10 to get into the Peace Gardens in order to drop my daughter off at Music Camp. Since I was already there I figured I might as well get my money's worth. I've already mentioned I'm somewhat of a map freak so I obtained a map of the park from the entrance gate and after saying goodbye to my daughter. I drove off to explore.

I apologize these aren't the most stunning photos. But I have to admit, for cheap (free after rebate) cell phone pictures, they're not horrible. Photography has never been one of my talents. I really don't take pictures if I can avoid it. Still, they didn't turn out too badly considering the tiny device in my pocket that took them with no fancy lenses or anything.

I've only ever been to the Peace Gardens once in my life and that was on a church youth group skiing trip to Bottineau. As you might imagine, if I was on a ski trip, it would not be the best time of year to observe the flora and fauna of this park. I really didn't see it at it's best, and as an immature teenager, didn't really appreciate the displays and history that went into this place.

So I was really seeing this park for the first time. I was going to squeeze every penny out of my ten dollars. My first stop was a hiking trail. I grew up camping and fishing and roaming the wilderness and going off the beaten trail. I don't do much (or any) off-road hiking these days. My wife doesn't care for bugs and my kids don't really either. So the most walking we ever do is on asphalt walking paths and precious little of that.

I picked the trail with the shortest distance (mustn't overdo it you know?) and drove to the parking lot at the trail head. Along the way, I spotted the Ducks Unlimited wetland contribution you see above. This is another testament to my less than stellar photography skills. When I drove by, there were two of the cutest, most picturesque mallard ducks you've ever seen floating on the water.

I drove by thinking I should take a picture. Then I drove further until I finally made up my mind to stop. By the time I walked back to the wetland. (This part of the park is a one-way road so I couldn't really back up the vehicle and it had taken me a long time to make up my mind to stop) The ducks had flown the coop so to speak. So you'll have to use your imagination to manufacture a couple of ducks in the water.

After getting over the tragedy of a missed photo-op, I parked and locked the van and set off on my expedition. Hiking in the woods isn't as fun as I remembered. It was very, very bug infested. Vicious exposed tree roots would reach out and trip me up when I wasn't paying attention. I was constantly swatting these huge mosquitoes the size of which could probably carry off a small child. I have read way too many fiction/fantasy/horror novels and thought at any second an alien or zombie was going to jump out and grab me. About the time my mind was really conjuring some impressive monsters I walked through a spider web that had been constructed across the path. At face-level no less. The whole rest of the hike I was peeling cobweb off my face and arms and swatting blood-suckers at the same time.

I made it out alive sans a few pints of bodily fluids and got back to my vehicle. I will strongly re-think any future ideas to go hiking. That was not a fun excursion.

I got a laugh when I was walking to my van. An elderly couple had parked next to me and were doing a tail-gate picnic. The man was busy building some very impressive Dagwood sandwiches and the wife asked if I'd been out hiking. I said indeed I was, and she asked if it was worth it. I said if you like mosquitoes and spiders. The man looked up from his sandwich preparation as if I was his saving angel. "Thank you!" he said to me. I'm guessing I just saved this nice man a trip through the woods. All in a days work.

My next stop was the central boulevard which you usually see on the postcards. This I really enjoyed. I started at the North end by the peace towers. Pretty impressive concrete monuments. I never knew the history behind them. 2 towers are in Canada and 2 are in the USA. They are linked in pairs symbolizing unity and friendship with similar though separate goals. I learned the 4,000 mile border between our two countries is the longest undefended border in the world. Given all the strife going on today, I was particularly moved by that little piece of trivia.

I went into the Peace chapel and read all the quotes from various famous people over the world. Abraham Lincoln really did have some marvelous things to say. I was also intrigued by the old newspapers from several different countries telling of the Sept. 11, 2001 plane attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. I stood in that chapel for quite some time reflecting on that terrible day. I still remember the day it happened sitting in my old office cubicle at work and listening to news reports all day long. I wasn't very productive that day.

It was interesting that the next place I stopped at was a display made of some girders from the WTC structure that were recovered. It seems I was meant to spend a bit more time reflecting on that day.

I continued walking down the boulevard. There was quite a few flowers in bloom but I was amazed how much was not or still waiting to be planted. They must have gotten a late start with planting like much of North Dakota this year with the wet Spring we had. Still, it was a lot greener than it was when I last visited in the middle of Winter.

If I would have known who to ask, I would have questioned why they had the wrought iron gates splitting the gardens off into sections, I wasn't able to figure that out. There was a very excitable 2-3 year old running up and down taking great delight in holding the gates open for people so they could walk through. Such a polite little tyke.

I took in sites some more and strolled through the gift shop on the south end of the boulevard. I really dislike gift shops, yet I always seem to go through them at least once. They just always seem to have an overload of cheesy, "made in China," touristy items rather than anything of real interest. I didn't spend much time there other than to look at some T-shirts.

I continued North now making my way back to my vehicle. I got separated from the young gentleman on my walk back so I had to open my own gates. I missed that little dude.

My next stop of interest was the bell tower. As a member of the United Methodist Church, I was interested in the fact that this structure was donated by a Methodist church in Canada. When their original church building was sold they donated the bells to the Peace Gardens. I was bummed when I read the bells were supposed to toll every 15 minutes. I had been there almost an hour by that time and they were still silent. I love the sound of old church bells so I was pretty disappointed I didn't get to hear these.There are 14 bells in there cast by Gillett and Johnston bell foundry all the way from Croydon, England. I had to go to the Peace Garden website to read more about this and hopefully play a recording of the chimes. I was further dismayed that although I did find a bit of history about this, there was only a video with some classical guitar music in the background. You would think if they were going to go through the trouble producing a video, at least part of it should have been the ringing of those chimes. Not many places have a bell tower anymore, especially one with 14 bells in it.

I sent a friendly email to the park administrator and got a very pleasant response. The original bells were on a hand-pulled system. When they were installed at the Peace Gardens, they had an engineer construct a series of mechanical pulleys so they bells would automatically ring every 15 minutes during the Summer months. Apparently they are having problems with the system and having a hard time finding someone today with the expertise to fix it. They appreciated the comment about posting a recording on their website so who knows, maybe they'll put something out there in the future.

My next stop was the Game Warden museum. This was really the main reason for my visit. As an employee of the ND Game & Fish Department, I was involved just a little bit with the promotion and initial fund raising of this building and I hadn't seen it yet. Plus I really get into wildlife displays. Here's a massive Kodiak bear that greets you when you walk in the door. I spent some time wandering around, taking in the "wall of shame" that highlights some huge poaching violations that were successfully prosecuted over the years. Then I went outside and walked along the memorial to fallen officers. Pretty neat stuff. There have been two game wardens who have passed away since I've been with the department.

Another part of the exhibits is a rotating display highlighting some group or organization involved in public service. This month's display featured the Saskatchewan Smoke Jumpers. These brave people parachute into the wilderness to put out wild fires. Absolutely amazing and informative display showing their uniform and equipment. I really get into this stuff.

And there you have it. After leaving the museum, I went speedily through customs thanks to the new passport card that significantly speeds up the process. Compared to only having a birth certificate.

My drive home alone was no where near as interesting as my drive up, but I enjoyed a nice Chinese buffet at the Happy Panda in Minot and made it home without incident.

I would definitely recommend the Peace Gardens if you haven't been there in awhile. It was a nice visit.


Steve at Random said...

Thanks for the "virtual tour." Belinda and I went to the Peace Gardens before we had children. The flowers are gorgeous and I remember the clock face on the flowers. Unfortunately, the Peace Garden along with the Fire Mountain Summer Theater near Walhalla are both beautiful places, but a just a little too far away from Mandan for a day trip. If your asking if I enjoyed your blog? My answer is simply "WAAAAAY!"

randymeiss said...

They change the clock face every year with a different design. Coming from me with absolutely no artistic talent, it's pretty amazing how you can create designs with the different colored flowers. Thank you for your enthusiastic support. Interesting choice of word from someone whose now 50!

AZJim said...

Well, I guess I am going to have to go now. Brenda has been wanting to go for a while and I have just been, well let me put it this way, it seems we have always had something else to do.

randymeiss said...

If Brianna's at camp when you're visiting for the Summer, we can go to the Peace Gardens when we drop her off or pick her up.