Who goes north for the holidays without relatives to visit? Um, us?
Our family loves college hockey. We happen to be fans of both the University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks and the University of North Dakota. It worked well when they were in different conferences and didn’t play each other. But, that changed when the Mavs hired former UND coach Dean Blais to helm the program and joined the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. We were assured of seeing the teams play each other at least one weekend a season. Both schools bolted the WCHA two years ago when the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) formed.
Which leads to the main reason for our trip to the Northland over Thanksgiving weekend – UNO was playing at UND. The girls’ mom (my ex-wife) suggested we take the trip north to Grand Forks. So, tickets were bought, hotel booked, and the trip was planned.
In addition to the hockey series, we thought it would be nice to show our daughter Mallory around the area again. Mal was born in Grand Forks, while I was stationed there in the Air Force. Lisa and I took her there when she was a teen-ager, but she didn’t remember it that well. This time, as an adult, it would be different for her.
Included in the trip was a drive by the house we lived in just outside the city after Mal was born, a failed tour attempt at the base – but, we did get to shoot some photos of the airplane display near the main gate, a trip to a missile security site I worked at during my tour, a visit to the university’s art museum, and some holiday attractions.
We had a wonderful stay at the Canadinn Destination Center (hotel). It is a beautiful facility with an indoor water park and great restaurants.
However, our first meal in the area was at the Blue Moose across the Red River in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. It was Thanksgiving Day, so it had a dinner special featuring a holiday meal, as well as its regular menu.
We started with appetizers featuring tapas of Norwegian-barbecued ribs, spicy corn casserole, black and bleu meatballs and jammy grilled cheese sandwiches. The ribs are called Pig Wings are tender pork shanks with a spicy barbecue sauce. The corn casserole consisted of cream corn with bacon jalapeno bits. The meatballs had a Cajun flavor with their bleu cheese creamy sauce. The grilled sandwiches were very small slices and included Swiss cheese, prosciutto, and mustard mixed with strawberry jam. It was all delicious!
Mallory and her mom had the Chicken Meisner, which was a grilled chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and gorgonzola cheese. I had the thanksgiving special, which included turkey and trimmings.
Our dinner enjoyed a special treat of seeing UNO hockey coach Dean Blais come in with other coaches and the radio announcing team. They sat at a table a few feet away from us. I am not THAT fan who is going to interrupt a famous person to ask for an autograph or brief conversation. We let them enjoy their meal in peace. It was just cool to see the coach at the same place as us. But, Mal did sneak a picture of the coach behind me.
Our second day started with a visit to the University of North Dakota Museum of Art. The MOA has a special exhibit on Chinese vases through early January. The vases – 101 of them – are inspired by the previous vase. The first vase was based on kiln stacks in Jingdezhen, China. Then, 100 artists each added to their interpretation.
The museum also has a special collection called “Barton’s Place.” It consists of the apartment contents and art pieces by New York-based artist Barton Lidice Benes. It includes celebrity-inspired pieces, such as a piece featuring gallstones from the late actor Larry Hagman.
Downtown Grand Forks has seen its share of flooding over the years from the Red River. There are floodwalls bordering the downtown area. In addition, the city has created riverfront walking paths and a small park. A monument to previous floods stands on the riverbank and lists the years of major flooding and the height of the floods.
City Park is on a corner just a few feet away from the river. A stage is located for summer concerts and other activities. Right now, the park is decorated for the holiday season.
A short jaunt from the park is a store everyone has to visit when in the area – Carol Widman’s Candy Company. The store features a vast variety of chocolates and chocolate-covered goodies. The store – located in both Grand Forks and Crookston, Minnesota – is known for its “Chippers,” chocolate covered potato chips. They are delicious! They are available in a variety of colors.
With the Christmas holiday season underway, we ventured to Columbia Mall to check out the Festival of Trees. About 70 Christmas trees were decorated with a variety of themes – including Disney, Spider Man, Hello Kitty and traditional. The trees are on display at the mall until Dec.6th. They are then donated to area families in need.
The Lions Club sponsors “Christmas in Lincoln Park.” Area businesses sponsor holiday displays along a route through the park. Fun displays – such as penguins – dot the drive. There are a few religious-themed displays featuring nativity scenes.
A visit to the Greater Grand Forks welcome center gave us an opportunity to see more Christmas trees. There were two that were really neat – one with Canadian ornaments, including the maple leaf flag, and one featuring US ornaments. Our UND hockey fandom was stoked some more with a UND-themed tree.
While we were out and about, we drove by the house we lived in a couple of miles west of town. We showed Mallory the windows where her room was. Of course, we did this from the street, just so no one thinks we were stalking the current residents.
A short drive to the entrance of Grand Forks Air Force base gave us a chance to see the base from outside the perimeter fence. The entrance features some of the aircraft that were assigned to the base. When I was stationed there, we had the B-52 and Minuteman missiles.
Speaking of missiles, we took about a 90-minute drive to the Cooperstown area, where the missile security facility – Oscar Zero – was located. The former support site is the last one remaining from the 15-location missile field. Oscar Zero supported 10 missile launch sites in the area. The state historical society took over the control of the facility and one missile site. The missile range was shut down as part of a treaty between the United States and Russia.
I actually worked at the control center. I was a security controller for the Security Police (now called Security Force). There were six of us – 3-man day and 3-man night shifts. Two missile control officers worked a 24-hour shift. The site also had a facility manager and cook.
We enjoyed some great meals during our stay. Besides the Blue Moose, we dined at Sanders 1907 in downtown Grand Forks. The food was delicious. Kathy and Mallory each had a steak. I had prime rib.
The Canadinn had great restaurant choices. We dined at Aaltos for breakfast. The restaurant offers both a buffet and menu orders. The Sunday buffet was awesome! We had a late dinner one night at Tavern Unlimited. We had Poutine, which is a Canadian dish of fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. You can add other toppings, if you like. I went with the traditional gravy and cheese curds.
Garbonzo’s had a nice selection of pizza and buffalo wings. We had them for lunch during the Nebraska-Iowa football game. One night, the ladies went ‘l Bistro for drinks and dessert.
We even had a taste of Canada in America! Tim Horton opened a donut shop near the hotel. We grabbed some Timbits (donut holes) and drinks a couple of times.
The main reason for our trip did not disappoint. Kathy and Mallory hadn’t been to “The Ralph.” Lisa and I attended a game several years ago at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The arena is a mecca in college hockey. It is considered the best arena in college hockey. The games are sold out. UND fans known their hockey and support their team. I often compare it to Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium – sold out, fans dressed in school colors and cheering loudly.
The series was a good one. Friday ended in a 2-2 tie, with No. 11-rated Omaha getting the league’s two points for the standings with a 1-0 shootout win. Saturday, North Dakota – rated No. 2 in the polls – took a 3-2 win. North Dakota is now rated first in the polls. UNO is 12th this week.
For more information on Greater Grand Forks attractions, please visit www.visitgrandforks.com.
We had a great time visiting Grand Forks and the area. I will share more stories of the attractions we visited over the next few days. I hope you find them as enjoyable as we did.
Disclaimer: Thank you to the Greater Grand Forks Visitors and Convention Bureau for the complimentary stay at the Canadinn, as well as the gift cards to the Canadinn restaurants, Sanders 1907 and Blue Moose. However, all opinions and views are mine.