The Water Tower

I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for forty years.  Not that this had made me an expert, but every now and then I feel a little sheepish about what I don’t know.

On Christmas Day YA and I drove to Hudson to have dinner with friends.  These friends just moved to Hudson in June, so this was the first time we would visit them in their new home.  I let YA put the address into my phone’s GPS.  YA has been on a campaign to change my GPS of choice from Google Maps to some other direction-finder.  She is convinced that my difficulties with Google will be solved with this new app (I am constantly confused when Google changes the perspective while I’m driving; oftentimes I think I have more time before a turn and then suddenly Google zooms in and I’m either missing the turn or swerving quickly to make it.)

The fact of using GPS is a little frustrating to me.  As a teenager, driving all over the suburbs of St. Louis, I don’t ever remember getting lost or turned around; I certainly didn’t have a city map that I consulted.  I’ve thought about this a lot over the years as I’m pretty sure my penchant for getting turned around is getting worse as time goes by.   And what I’ve come to is that GPS is what’s making it worse.  Prior to the internet and GPS, if you went to a friend’s new house, you’d call them up and ask for directions.  You’d usually get a mix of “go two miles, then turn left at the Shell station, then go four blocks and turn left on Discovery Street, we’re the fifth house in on the left, white with green trim.”  This seems highly sensible to me.  Now I just turn when I’m told; I’m not keeping track of how many miles or blocks I’m going and not paying attention to what’s on the corner when I’m turning. 

Anyway, the new app that YA likes shows where there are traffic signals along the way.  It also shows some landmarks (although not helpful in terms of where to turn).  As we were driving over the 94 bridge toward St. Paul, I noticed the GPS noting “The Witches Hat Water Tower”.  I looked up and there it was – as clear as day over the trees – and definitely living up to its name.  The water tower, which sits in Prospect Park, was built in 1913, designed by Norwegian-born architect Frederick William Cappelen. 

I used to work in St. Paul so I used to drive over the 94 bridge 10 times a week, not to mention all the other times I’ve driven that direction over the decades.  I have not once noticed that there is a water tower that looks like a witch’s hat.  Not once.   I’m thinking that maybe I should keep using the app that YA prefers – who knows what else I’ll find!

Once you’ve driven someplace, do you remember how to get there the next time?

50 thoughts on “The Water Tower”

  1. I’ve been up in the witch’s hat water tower. In the past, it’s been opened to the public one day a year though with Covid probably not recently.

    Other distinctive water towers are the one in Highland Park and the one in Kenwood.

    We didn’t start using gps until 2015, when we went to Wales. Even there, we started out trying to navigate by map. The trouble was that there are so many unnamed and unmarked roads, some of them single track, in Wales that navigation was challenging. Our rental car had gps built in. Once we tried it we quickly became dependent on it. I was continually amazed at how complete was the gps awareness of even the most insignificant and obscure little winding track.

    Once we returned home, we started using the feature on our phones to guide us to new and unfamiliar places. It’s true that after following a set of rote and incremental directions, I often have no clear picture of how I got there and need gps to get me on my way back home.

    I still like, in anticipation of traveling somewhere unfamiliar, to look at a map online to get the lay of the land.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I did not know that tower was ever open to the public. I will watch for that. My experience with GPS is similar and I am dependent on it. However, now and then I discover a mistake in their systems.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. So is the one in Highland Park, but only on certain occasions. The Witches Hat is almost a pilgrimage for some people, and annual event they look forward to participating in. Not sure about the one in Kenwood.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Yes, I do. It is my super power.
    Women and men tend to navigate in different ways. Women say things like “Turn at the Shell Station.” Men use numbers and directions much more. “Go west four blocks and turn right on Fifth Street.” This has actually been studied. When we moved here 25 years ago, Sandy struggled with directions here. The bluffs make things confusing. So I took her out to show her how to get somewhere. I would say go three blocks and turn north on 2nd Ave. She would reply turn right by the big pretty red house house with blue shutters.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. If that is true, then I think I give directions more like a man. Not that one way is better than the other, but I have been told I give good directions. It is nice to include landmarks and the big red house with blue shutters is a good landmark. There used to be a local landmark here, just west of Faribault. It was the umbrella tree and everyone knew it and used it. Turn right at the umbrella tree, then left at the smiley face. Everyone, male or female, used it to navigate to the area near French Lake. The umbrella tree was a huge, ancient American elm that eventually became infested with Dutch elm disease and gradually died. No one was willing to cut it down but it was losing branches and becoming dangerous, so it finally had to go. Locals still talk about it as a landmark.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. So now they say, “turn left where the umbrella tree used to be”? 🙂

        I agree, Krista, some people are just much better at giving directions than others. Too much detail can be as confusing as too little. To me it’s helpful if directions indicate approximate distances. For example, it’s helpful to know whether “continue on such and such a road” means for one block or three miles. You don’t need to know that you’ll pass a Ramada Inn on your right and a Holiday Station on your left, but it’s helpful to know that if you pass a huge statue of the Jolly Green Giant, you’ve gone too far.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. I’m good at turning around as soon as I realize a mistake, perhaps too abruptly at times for Husband’s taste. I have to pay more attention than I used to, in order to remember how to get back from a new place.

    We have not yet had a car with GPS – on our 2008 Prius I guess it was still optional. From what I’ve seen as a passenger watching others use it, I prefer maps and directions – I’ve seen cases where, say, a street ended temporarily and picked up again farther along, but GPS showed it going straight through, without the break.

    That said, I’m sure there are times it would come in handy.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I don’t use GPS very often. I have an innate ability to find my way around. Also, I really enjoy exploring. My car doesn’t have GPS. I have used the Google maps app on my phone and I find it’s just confusing and distracting. I’ve had the same experience of almost driving past a turn and suddenly Google maps makes an adjustment. I always think to myself that I would be better off without it. That way I would just look at the street sign and be more aware of my actual surroundings.

    All of that said, I don’t know if I could do that in a big city like Chicago or New York. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Iowa, I’m pretty much at home and if I’m in an unfamiliar area, I just keep driving. Most of what is called the Midwest is laid out in such a precise geographical grid – smaller squares inside of large squares. If you proceed in a straight line in one direction, eventually you will recognize a main road.

    I’m just a little creeped out by Google knowing where I am all the time too.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. In Iowa there are few lakes or geographical features to interrupt that precise grid, but in Minnesota the lakes really mess it up. In Phoenix and its surroundings, the mountains interrupt it which makes navigation tough.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Google knows where your phone is, not necessarily where you are. I think you can tell it the level of accuracy you are willing to put up with. (when I am on a secret mission, I leave the phone behind- works just like a Star Trek communicator that way)

      I mostly let it do it’s thing, because if I don’t, there are a lot of things I use the phone for that won’t work if I don’t.

      I track my walking mileage on the phone, so Google knows what I am up to. Ditto using Google maps when driving.

      The hilarious part for me is that they then send me a little email once a month, letting me know if I visited someplace new and my miles travelled for the month.

      This just started within the last 18 months, so new places have included such adventures as the trek to Inver Grove Heights (the vet) and a mission to Arden Hills (dropping off work). My grand total for 2021 was around 2,000 miles.

      They do not give out prizes. for most or least adventurous travellers. Alas.

      Liked by 5 people

  5. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    I have NO sense of direction which is very difficult. I navigate by landmarks and I am fine in known places or if I understand how a city works, but if I am dependent on a sense of direction, I am completely lost. In small towns or the Iowa countryside where I grew up, I could find my way around because it was familiar, so I did not know I had little sense of direction.

    As a junior in High School I got in to the Iowa All-State Band. This was a big deal and included a 4 day trip to the great Iowa Capital City of DesMoines without my parents. During the course of that trip, I discovered I had no sense of direction when I blithely crossed a street, arrived on the other side, I had no idea where I was or where to go and there was not one familiar landmark. This was a huge city to me with bustling traffic that was intimidating. It took me 15 minutes to see the sign of my hotel, to make my way back there, and to get directions with landmarks from the concierge in the lobby. This was also the first time I had encountered a hotel with a concierge. Pretty fancy.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. And once I got to eat at Younkers as part of a 4H activity. They served cantelope with ice cream. It was so fancy I could hardly eat. I had stars in my eyes.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. My idea of fancy was the chocolate cream pie with chocolate curls on top at Bishops. I was the only one in my family who loved chocolate, so I had to grab it when I could, and that was on a shopping trip with just my mother.

          It was a rare occurance.

          I have a vague memory that she sometimes put vanilla ice cream on cantelope at home. That seems so odd now, but I guess not then.

          Liked by 3 people

  6. My car doesn’t have GPS, and I’m sure that even if it did, I wouldn’t use it much. And yes, I’m pretty good at finding my way back to somewhere I’ve been before. As far as sense of direction goes, I’m somewhat of a homing pigeon.

    Husband uses GPS practically all the time. He’ll turn the damn thing on as he backs out of the garage. Surely we can find the nearest freeway entrance and don’t really need it until we reach Sioux Falls, Dubuque, Richland, Ohio, or whatever other exotic place we’ve decided to drive to.

    If I’m going somewhere I have not been before, I’ll usually Google the directions and look at a map before I leave the house, and that’s usually all I need. If I need additional reminders, I’ll write down a few instructions for myself. That works pretty much like writing a grocery shopping list; the process of writing it down cements it in my brain, and I can remember what I need even if I forget the list at home.

    When we’re driving in the countryside, here or in another state, I much prefer to have an old fashioned road map. For one thing, it allows me to see not just where I am, where I’m going, and how to get there. It also gives me some idea of places that are nearby that might be of interest, like, say, a presidential library or some other thing worthy of spontaneous exploration. I miss the days of gas stations everywhere having free maps.

    I recognize and acknowledge that GPS is a wonderful tool and most definitely has its uses, especially when driving at night in a city you’re not familiar with. That said, I think it may also be another one of our modern tools that is contributing to the dumbing down of people.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. We have GPS in the cars and have used it in some form or other for more than 10 years. Remember the Tom-Tom? We had that as our first GPS system (portable–you could walk around a new town with it or stick it on your car dashboard or windshield.

      Over the years, I’ve decided that GPS is good and helpful, but far from perfect. When driving, I’ll use it as a guide, but won’t trust it fully. What annoys me most is that sometimes the shortest route to a place timewise is longer in miles, and the GPS won’t give you the shortest route (unless you plug in a destination before driving and choose between 3 options. But even then, GPS might not know what the locals do about an even shorter route that’s more on side streets.


      Liked by 4 people

  7. Somehow I got unsubscribed from the TB blog and originally figured Renee and VS were taking a break. *D-oh!* So I’m back.
    RE the question: I’m amazingly good at finding my way, remembering how to return to a place after one try, and even navigating in a new city. My wife is constantly amazed that I know where to go and how to get back to a place (like our hotel) when we’ve been out and about.

    That flows into good navigation skills in the BWCAW. I’ve only gotten “lost” a few times–looking for portages that were supposed to be there. One time, the water level was about three feet lower than normal, so the portage landing was about 50 yds farther inland than I expected. Also, it turns out the map showed it on the other side of a small stream into the lake.

    The second time, I got cocky and was sure I knew what my heading was, which led me to overshoot my target portage far to the north. Wasted about an hour there, but no major issue. And I NEVER use GPS in the BW! Just give me a good map (I’m not even that keen on compasses. I just study the shoreline, notice the topography, and compare what I see to what’s on the map. Works for me 99.9% of the time.

    I’ve always loved looking at maps, and reading them, and daydreaming about visiting some faraway place. I’m especially intrigued by islands and “end of the earth” spots that are as remote as you can get.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 6 people

    1. interesting about the BW. I would have thought that it would be impossible to use GPS in most of it.

      I have not been up in awhile, but I know there are stretches of the trip to Madeline Island and places on the Island itself where there is simply no signal.

      I think those places are getting smaller and fewer, but signal is still sort of iffy in parts.

      I sure would not rely on it there.

      Liked by 4 people

      1. MIG–GPS uses satellites so it can be accessed anywhere as long as your device has open access to the sky. Cell phones don’t work in most of the BWCAW and other remote areas because they need cell towers relatively close by to transmit a signal.

        The big trend for canoers in the BW is to use GPS instead of maps. I will grant that the maps aren’t perfect. The big problem is the red dots used to mark campsites aren’t always in the exact spot. Most common is putting the red dot on the wrong side of a point of land or peninsula or island.

        GPS avoids that if someone has programmed the exact coordinates into their GPS device and can paddle directly to the site.


        Liked by 3 people

        1. Got it. I’ve never used a GPS. Kind of skipped from paper maps straight to the phone.

          I’m kind of disappointed to know that GPS has no black-out spots, but I guess that is the point.

          Liked by 3 people

  8. Like Jacque, I have no sense of direction at all. I have to concentrate to come up with right and left, let alone the meaningless concepts of East, West, etc. On the rare occasions when my husband asks me which way I think we should turn, he routinely goes the other way, which is almost always a wise decision. He maintains that navigation is easy; all he needs to do is picture himself hovering above and looking down with a view of exactly where he is in relation to everything else. He says this works even in unfamiliar places. This seems magical to me and is not a concept I ‘m able to grasp. This skill of his seems to be faltering with advancing age so we get lost more than we used to and depend quite a bit on GPS and luck.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I really wonder why it is that some people have an innate sense of direction while others don’t seem to. I’m equally comfortable with right and left as I am with compass directions. Unlike Chris, to me a compass is essential when navigating in a wilderness. With a good map and a compass you can find anything. Has any baboon ever done any geocaching? Sounds like a fun activity to me.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, I think geocaching in the state parks is fun and easy to get started doing. I’m glad they encourage it there because it gets people out hiking and learning instead of staring at screens all the time. Check with a nearby state park and they will set you up with what you need.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. My inability to distinguish left from right was a cause of despair for my kindergarten teacher (as was my inability to skip, but that’s another post). Maybe that is because I am a tiny bit ambidextrous? I’m slightly better at it when driving.

    All sense of cardinal direction left me when I moved to the Twin Cities. Prior to that, I navigated by the nearest large body of water- a river, one of the Great Lakes, briefly the Atlantic Ocean.

    You cannot navigate by “the river” in the Twin Cities. It’s everywhere.

    The s&h loaded a compass app on my phone, so needs must, I can find out, and I just checked and I am right about the orientation of my house (thank goodness), but my sense of which direction I am travelling when I am out and about in my own little corner of St Paul? I got nothing.

    If you ask me for directions, I will hand you over to someone else.

    I love Google maps telling me where to go, especially for the zany ways it decides to pronounce familiar places and the places near my house where it is obviously flummoxxed due to the various star-like intersections involved.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. For a few months many years ago, Google Maps had a business on 40th Ave NW mislabeled as being on 40th Ave NE, which is our road. A semi showed up about midnight once… 40th Ave NW is a commercial area and of course that’s where this guy wanted to be.
      It was quite the adventure for both of us.

      Liked by 5 people

  10. I used to work very near the Witch’s Tower and have been up it several times (it was open during the Pratt neighborhood celebration). The Textile Center is also right there.

    Maybe 20 years ago, a co-worker (now gone several years, RIP, so I can’t check this reference) loaned me her paperback of a fantasy novel that has it’s final battle scene on the hill of the Witch’s Tower. It was a fun read, but I have no idea the title or author.

    Google is failing me on finding this, as is Wikipedia, and you’d like to the atlasobscura would be helpful, but no dice.

    I have sent up a flair to a friend in the fantasy writing community who I am hoping may know.

    I am certain I did not imagine this.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. I love and can sympathize with “so I will be able to get on with my day”…

        All this talk about the Witch’s Tower makes me miss our Prospect Park Community Chorus, which practiced at the P P United Methodist Church right across the street..

        Liked by 4 people

        1. It is a sweet little neighborhood. That and the area around the Finnish Bistro in St Paul are the 2 places I would live if I could only afford one of the houses there.

          Liked by 2 people

  11. Morning!
    I never get lost. I may not know where I am at the moment, but I am never “lost”. My wife and kids hate it when I say that.
    15 years ago, before phone GPS’s, we were taking some back roads over in WI and had printed some pretty general maps off before we left… but there are a lot of little minor gravel roads in WI and we / I picked the wrong one. We saw a lot of WI before we found what we were looking for. Not Lost, just not where I thought we were going. 🙂

    My job back in the 1980’s, was measuring fields and grain bins for the FSA in part of Olmsted County. I learned to rely on plat books and plat maps and I learned a lot of roads. Dad always said if you just keep driving eventually you’ll run into a road you know or major highway. I joke that eventually we’ll run into I35, I90, or the Mississippi.

    I love GPS, but I also want to have a pretty good idea of where we are because, as said, sometimes GPS is wrong. And I want to understand, is the GPS lady telling me to turn here because she’s avoiding that big town, or is she lost. If I’m driving and Kelly is navigating with the GPS, I have to promise to do what it says and not make decisions on my own. Been there, done that. More than once. I have a bad habit of making last second decisions on my own and suddenly thinking I want, for example, 35W and taking it. Which, just after that, I will remember, no, I wanted 35E. Done that more than once too…

    Liked by 4 people

    1. The first one has a link to YouTube that works. The voice reminds me of Grandma. Also I prefer the versions that describe the babies as “straying away” rather than “stolen away”.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I rarely use GPS when driving. If I’m going someplace unfamiliar, I’ll look it up on Google Maps to get a good idea of not only the destination but the surroundings, print out the directions if I think necessary, or just jot down the essentials. I do take notice of my surroundings when driving so that I can return home without unintentional detours. I usually have a pretty good sense of direction (except in downtown St. Paul or the southern part of downtown Minneapolis) so I don’t often get lost. If someone is giving me verbal directions, I prefer they include some landmarks instead of just directional info. I have learned that when giving verbal driving directions, it is best to say “turn left” or “turn right” instead of “head east” or “go south”. Seems too many people are a bit impaired re: cardinal directions.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Well, I don’t think GPS would have helped the intoxicated man who drove into my work parking lot this afternoon and ran into my van. He drove off, but office staff got his license plate number, and the officer who came said they knew him and would find him. He didn’t think he had insurance. It was just minor damage to the rear bumper.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I am pretty good at keeping track of where I am and where I want to be. If I am going somewhere new, I try to look up directions – and the map location – before I head out so I can track on where I am headed. I spent a summer in college (way pre-GPS) making deliveries all over the metro, so that helped a lot with the relative-ness of “here” vs “there” vs “way over there.”

    That said, I do use GPS to help me navigate – especially if I am looking for a shorter route. Driving an electric car means both looking for fewer miles instead of less time and sometimes “how do I get to that charging station that is tucked away.”

    GPS failed me on the MN/Iowa border when I was following the river north and it wanted me to go through a little town (I am sure to cross the river), but had me turn in a weird place and then I lost the signal. Went back to where I knew I could eventually get to something that would get me to a recognized road and town – and, as I suspected, if I kept going north I could pick up the river again and get to my destination (Wabasha). That was a little dicier than when GPS announced that I had arrived at my destination on a prior trip and all I saw was a swamp… (my actual destination proved to be another half mile down the road).

    Liked by 5 people

  15. I’m usually pretty good at remembering the way once I’ve been somewhere, but if it’s been awhile since the first trip, I may need a refresher.

    I’ve only had a car with GPS for a couple of years, so I’m still not used to using it. It is very helpful to be able to pull up the little map on the dash, though.

    I always reference north, south, east, west when giving directions, and I like to be given directions that way, because it helps draw the mental map. It might be genetic – some people don’t think directionally, some do.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. in my delivery i use gps all day everyday everyday
    12300 w nothing ave is 18 min away from perkins and o have to tell the guy i’m coming and when i’ll be there and pick the roads to get me there from the lady pick up

    there are a couple models a different companies that make the maps and some are better than others
    lots of wrong names of streets and enough wrong directions to make life interesting but they are needed
    i burn a tank of gas a day on average and it is mostly a5-10 mile trips so it’s lots of back road lefts and rights
    i don’t own a gps thing but my i phone can open it’s version a d it’s helpful
    it’s not perfect but it’s pretty darn good

    Liked by 3 people

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