Willamette Week

I just spent a week in the Willamette Valley. My parents and I took a trip to visit my mom’s sister and her family. This visit was full of great food, small day trips and a fair amount of wine. 😉 If you know this blog, you already know that I like wine and I’ve been taking fun continuing education classes for several years. I’ll write more about our activities very soon. But for now, here’s a visual…

Besides wine, the Willamette valley produces a lot of straw and rye grass. There was a lot of baling happening while we were there.

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A visit to the Oregon Coast is always a must. We went to Newport and to the aquarium there.

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We did lots of wine tasting. I think I visited a total of 12 wineries. I’ll write more about those in later posts. And lastly, before we flew home on the red-eye last night, we went to the International Rose Test Garden in Portland. It’s the 2nd time I’ve been there and I can’t resist taking lots of pictures. But I’ll just put up one for now…

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That last little bit…

Ever wrestle with a tube of something, trying to get the very last bit of stuff out of it? I’m not claiming to have come up with this myself. I saw it at my hairdresser’s. When you have squeezed everything down to one end and have gotten all that you can out of the intended dispenser, use this little trick. Just take a scissors and cut the tube. In this case, I cut an inch or two out of the middle. You can bend the tube and put the non-dispenser end back on as your cap. There’s always a decent amount left in the tube, so you get a few more uses out of it before you trash it.

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Wind, Coal, Oil, Gas, Crops…

When thinking of my quick visit to North Dakota, one word pretty much sums up what goes on way up there. Productivity. Any form of the verb to produce seems to fit. It is not a state that relies on tourism for its dollars. They produce stuff. And by stuff, I mean important stuff. When you drive probably most anywhere in ND you see farmland. The crops that I tended to see were wheat, corn and canola. There’s probably more, but the city girl in me can recognize a few. But amongst the vast plains of farmland, they are utilizing the space above and below the fertile ground.

As we drove north of Bismarck, we saw some lone windmills. But as we got further along highway 83 there were more than just a few…

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From living in the Fargo/Moorhead area while going to college, I knew that wind was a big factor in the area. Just the wind alone would make you run from building to building between classes. So harnessing that power is only natural in this area of the country. I have no idea how much power one windmill produces and what the return is for a single one in comparison to the cost of putting it up and maintaining it. I would guess the maintenance might be kind of tricky.

We kept driving and could see a large production facility off in the distance but we didn’t know what it was until we got closer. It was near Falkirk and it turned out to be coal. Later when we met up with my parents, my dad told me it was a coal gasification plant that was built for millions several years ago, before the current oil boom. But over the highway was this track that apparently carries coal to the plant.

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After the coal plant we started seeing more “stuff” associated with oil. We were entering Bakken territory. The link is to the Wikipedia page since I can’t explain everything about the Bakken. There are still fields of crops everywhere. But every once in a while, or several times in a while, you’ll see an oil pad. A typical set-up is a well (or 2 or 3 – the most we saw was 5), and holding tanks on a rectangular plot without any vegetation.

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Many times, you will see a flame coming out of the ground or some sort of apparatus. Whatever process they’re using, natural gas is a byproduct and they just burn it off. Because they have found so much natural gas, it is now so cheap that they don’t worry about capturing it. Hence, flames dot the countryside. I think it would be interesting to drive around there at night to more easily see the flames.

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When they are drilling, there is a drill rig set up. We saw lots of these. I don’t know the specifics of how it’s done.

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Part of the controversy in North Dakota has to do with how they are extracting the oil. There is now technology that can go deeper and further to find the oil. Again, I’m no expert on fracking, but the link is to the Wikipedia page. During the last oil boom in ND they mainly knew how to drill vertically. Now they drill vertically, when they get down far enough, they’ll switch to horizontal drilling. That’s how you can have more than one well on a pad.

If you’re willing to move and can operate heavy machinery, you can probably find a job in North Dakota. The problem is, you probably can’t find a place to live. I’ve heard of the term “man camp” but never really knew what to picture in my mind. Basically, it’s an area with a lot of camper trailers. There are also some that have many mobile homes in one area. Since most of the work is done by men, they’re called man camps. We saw lots of them. This is a small one…

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I was at a conference a few weeks ago and they talked a lot about the oil and gas activity in North Dakota. One of the things I learned at the conference was that when they ship the oil by rail, they can control more so, where it goes, and the price. If they put it into a pipeline, it goes to one place before distribution, and the prices are more fixed. The photo I took of the rail cars happened to focus on the bug guts on the windshield of the car. But you’ll get the idea.

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I really don’t know enough about what is happening in North Dakota to write much more without doing a lot of research. I just thought I’d give a glimpse into a state that a lot of people don’t think too much about and don’t visit. There’s a lot of productivity in North Dakota with a lot of hard-working people. Hopefully you’ll think about that, the next time you think of that Great Plains state in the north.

Destination ND

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I have spent my weekend traversing North Dakota. I know, many of you have not even thought about visiting. It’s not exactly a top vacation destination. But it is a top employment destination these days. I’ll write more about that later.

My parents are from North Dakota, so we went there for holidays and vacations while my grandparents were still alive. It always felt like a LONG and BORING car ride as a kid. I was last in Eastern ND when my grandmother died in 1999. I don’t think I’ve been to Western ND since 1980. I guess I should say that I haven’t been there with family since then. Now as I think about it, I did go on an Orchestra tour as a college freshman in the fall of 1988. But we were on a bus and I still didn’t have much of an appreciation of the state. We were in both Montana and North Dakota for that tour.

I mostly remember flat, farmland for scenery. Most of the state is extremely flat and one can see for miles. And I mean miles. You don’t see a ton of variation in the landscape until you get to western ND. I happened to be going to Williston, ND for a wedding over the weekend. This morning, when we drove home, we went south and drove through part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park – the North Dakota Badlands. It’s quite beautiful. Medora is in this area and it’s way over by Dickinson. It’s even in the Mountain time zone.

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Once we got off of Hwy 85 and got on Interstate 94, the rest of the trip looked pretty much like this:

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Yep. 94 is pretty much this straight all the way across North Dakota. It’s not the most exciting drive. But it’s way easier than driving around Chicago!

North Dakota is experiencing a major change because of the new technology involving the oil industry and particularly over the Bakken oil field. In a later post, I’ll write more about my observations about the energy industry in the state.

Ahh, Summer…

It finally feels like vacation. My sister’s gang came from Motown for the last week. Since I wasn’t able to go get a few of her kids this year, it seemed really short. I’ll be visiting them in August. But we packed in a pretty good week. Because of my class, I was familiar with a particular venue. So we went to the sculpture garden at the Walker. I could put another spoon bridge and cherry picture up, but you’ve seen enough of them already…

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A new activity this time was rock climbing at Vertical Endeavors. VE is “one of the largest indoor rock climbing facilities in the country.” I had been there several years ago with students on a field trip. That was back in the day when we had the Natural Resources Academy and the latest and greatest thing in education was “smaller learning communities.” If any of you have been reading this blog for a while, that was when we took students to Camp Widjiwagen and did various camping activities – including jumping in a frozen lake. The Vertical Endeavors facility is actually close to school so it was very easy to make a field trip out of it on an early release day. But last week, we had 3 adults and 3 kids. The kids loved it! The adults were able to climb up to the top a few times, but we weren’t quite as active as the kids. The surprising thing about climbing is how it uses so many muscles and is probably a pretty darn good workout!

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And like many Minnesotans, we went “up north” for the 4th of July. The weather was great! There were lots of activities and good food. Bryce is “this close” to walking. So it was fun to see him taking more and more steps on his own. My kayak got a fair amount of use and I think everyone who tried it out really liked it.

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The paddle boat is always good for an easy ride, or a little escape on your own…

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The time at the cabin wouldn’t be complete without a few s’mores.

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And a little bit of fireworks keeps you in the festive spirit!

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