For some reason, I thought it would be okay to capture all three Minnesota stops in one entry, but as I sift through hundreds of photos and relive my nearly three weeks here, I'm not so sure! I do have to mention how much I've been enjoying the stunning weather the entire time. I'm experiencing the spring I missed with temps in the 70's and no humidity. Quite pleasant, Minnesota.
The Start of America's Greatest River
My first stop, Itasca State Park, is Minnesota's oldest state park with over 32,000 acres and large tracks of old-growth red and white pine forest. It was created in 1891 to protect the forest and waters surrounding the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi, and the river is just 12 feet wide here as it begins its 2,552 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. I really enjoyed touring along the bike paths and wilderness drive, but too many buzzing & biting bugs to get me into the hiking trails!
Itasca feels like a mini-national park with multiple visitor centers, exhibits, a museum, and yes, tours and talks. There are numerous historic, rustic buildings of log and stone from the early 20th century, as well as depression era construction built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Since I stayed at a hostel within the Park, it was an enjoyable few days of both conversation with housemates and solitude by the lake.
The Largest Body of Fresh Water on Earth
Yes, the next stop -- Duluth and Lake Superior for a week! While I did spend an afternoon walking miles through the city, I was lucky enough to score an affordable room in Lakeside, at the start of Highway 61, and nearby Lester Park and Brighton Beach. Let me just say that I was mesmerized by Lake Superior, and spent hours and hours biking, walking, and sitting by the water. If it was brackish with the scent of the sea, I would have spent the rest of the summer simply traveling up the North Shore. Since I never want to be in my car, I actually traveled very little of it, but I'll be back one day soon to cycle Duluth to Grand Portage, or maybe the Lake Superior circle tour! Anyone interested?
Historic Bluff Country
Am I in Vermont? As you peruse the photos of the Lanesboro, Minnesota area, I think you'll see why I continued to ask myself that very question during my five days in the area. To start, I traveled from Lake Superior via the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi -- lucky me -- stunning, green rolling hills of farmland. Then, as I arrived at the quaint town of Lanesboro (population 739), I was convinced I'd somehow driven to Vermont.
I found Bluff Country thanks to a dear Minnesota couple I met in the Rocky Mountains three summers ago. They recommended it, not only for its beauty, but also for the Root River State Trail, over sixty paved scenic miles of trail for biking, walking and skating, or cross-country skiing in the winter. Lovely, and each little town along the way offers its own personality, and has a story to tell. The river also offers a place to fly fish, tube, kayak, and more, so a really outdoorsy experience for all!
Three, two, one -- I'm now in Dubuque, Iowa, with Indiana on the itinerary for late next week. Then, I wear my 50-stater badge!
North Dakota: The 19th largest state in area & the 4th most sparsely populated!
The Only National Park Named for a Person
When I rose at 4:45 AM to head to Roosevelt National Park, I had no idea what the road ahead would be or where I'd be sleeping that night. The Park only reserves half of the campsites, and in summer that means planning way too far ahead for my liking. But, it was a Monday, and I was feeling confident that as an early bird, I'd have a spot to call home. The five-hour drive was absolutely gorgeous; so scenic in fact that I didn't stop to take a photo as I felt it was impossible to capture the panoramic view.
To say I enjoyed Roosevelt NP is truly an understatement, and it is second only to southern Utah as a place I will return as a volunteer. It has an abundance of wildlife, amazing viewpoints, many ranger programs, miles of hiking trails, and any paved road is open to bicycling. This Park is not overcrowded, over-developed or traffic-laden. While I stayed in the south unit and visited the painted canyon, I didn't go the additional 65+ miles to the north unit so that is on my list! In fact, I chatted with a ranger who said that if I visited the north area in the fall season (late September), I'd likely have the campground to myself.
I must confess one thing, however. This is definitely where I had my first true wildlife scare. As I was strolling along the Jones Creek trail, I came face-to-face with a giant bison within 10 feet of me (a 25-foot distance is recommended). I think we were equally surprised, as I came around a curve just as he was coming up a small hill summit. Amazingly, he turned around on the narrow path but waited, so I had to scurry in the other direction. I scurried right to another trail, thank you!
Fargo: the size of Boston with a population of 121,000
Did I want to spend more than 24 hours in Fargo? You betcha!
While I did bike the Red River path, walk many miles around town, and see the major sites, I just liked Fargo and could have spent another day simply hanging out on Broadway, and enjoying the very friendly people. While I found the South Dakotans to be courteous, the North Dakotans were truly warm and welcoming.
South Dakota: White and Black
For some reason, I assumed that my South Dakota visit would be easily told, so I held off writing about my first stop, The Badlands National Park, until I rolled out of my second stop, The Black Hills. I'm now sitting with nearly 300 photos and an array of stories to tell, so if this sounds a little "off," perhaps it is!
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover