Published: June 6th 2007June 6th 2007
After high-tailing it out of Wisconsin, we drove west another hour or so before reaching the Minnesota state line. For the first time on our trip the visitor station was open and staffed so, considering we had no plans and really no destination in mind, we stopped in for some guidance. It was the best decision we’ve made thus far. The blonde middle-aged woman behind the counter was courteously answering the routine questions posed to her by other travelers while we browsed through the informational handouts trying to get a feel for where we should head (interesting fact: the Minnesota State baked good is the Blueberry Muffin). What road do I take to get to Minneapolis? Can I get a map? Where are the restrooms? She’d overheard us discussing the scenic drives illustrated on one of the wall hangings and asked if she could be of any help. It’s an incredibly invigorating feeling to be able the answer the question “Where are you headed” with the inquiry of “I don’t know, where’s good?” and that’s exactly what we did. While she had been nothing but patient and polite before, I swear she actually became excited at the opportunity to be
provide legitimate travel recommendations. She directed us south along the High Bluff Country scenic drive to a town called Lanesboro, a city where she herself was planning on vacationing sometime this summer as well. After mentioning the bike lane, farmers market and nationally known theatre company (although not yet known to us) we were more than sold. Besides, worst case scenario, if we didn’t like it we could always just move onto the next destination.
The drive took us south through an area untouched by the glaciers during the ice age. As a result, this part of state looks remarkably different from the Land of 10,000 Lakes up north. We locate a campsite in the city park a block from the historic downtown. We pitch our tent between the two ponds of Sylvan Lake and head out to explore. This is the first populated area we’ve stayed at so there’s a lot to do and plenty of people to talk with. The local grocer tells us that we just missed the Rhubarb festival that drew over 3000 people to this town of less than one-thousand permanent residents, so while this town is used to visitors, for now we’re pretty
much the only ones here. “Bucky,” a friendly guy who meticulously maintenances the park we’re staying out, recommends a visit to the local Scenic Valley winery where we sample some of the local flavors—elderberry, concord grape, strawberry—but of course of favorite is the much touted Rhubarb wine. At Das Wurst Haus German meat market we taste a variety of mustards and walk away with some home-made brats and fresh baked rolls. And of course we can’t leave before taking in a show by the Commonweal Theatre Company at St. Main Theatre. We see “Crimes of the Heart,” the very first show ever played at St. Main. It’s Andras’ first time seeing a play and he found it a little overwhelming, mostly because of the dramatic acting styles used on stage that aren’t normally found on film. The cast and crew did a wonderful job and we were both very glad we decided to splurge on tickets, although with the student discount they were quite reasonably priced.
We were also excited to be able to ride our bikes again. In the late 80's the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources converted the former Milwaukee Railroad bed into this scenic trail which
Wisconsin Cheese, Farm Fresh Eggs and Scallions
winds it's way through south-eastern Minnesota amid the bluffs and along the Root River. One afternoon we take a 8 mile round trip ride to east to Whalan, home of the Aroma Pie Shoppe and their world famous pies. They weren’t open while we were there so we couldn’t evaluate their claim, but the locals say it's pretty darn good. Our ride westward takes us 20 miles round trip to Preston. Riding over the old rail-road tracks, crossing creosote bridges and along fields of corn we can’t imagine a better place to be. It’s no wonder Life magazine named Lanesboro the Best River Town for Perfects Escapes for a Summer Weekend, one of their many claims to fame and certainly warranted.
There is a real sense of community in this town of nearly 1000 residents. The park manager knows every duck and blade of grass, the librarian knows every book, and every resident knows each other. The sound of banjoes and violin draws us from our campsite to the Farmer’s Market outside the Community Center and Library. While local growers trade their wares, an impromptu concert starts up in the grass. Plates of food begin to leave through the
doors of the library. In the aftermath of the Rhubarb Festival last weekend which drew nearly 3000 visitors, the excess of food and desserts “called for another party!” as it is explained to me as I load my white paper plate with homemade baked bean stew, Jell-O and baked goods. In just the short time we’ve been here it seems that we, too, have begun to feel a sense of familiarity with the faces we see each day. There’s the library director playing the fiddle, the owner of the German meat store waved hello to us as he and his family gather under a picnic bench. Across the way tapping their feet to the music are several of the players and company members of the play we saw last night. This isn’t a small town, it’s a close knit town—full of pride for their city, their community and their history.
This is the America of postcards and nostalgic motion pictures. This is the heart of this country, the picturesque vision of what America should be. It makes the problems of the world seem far away, almost non-existent. I suppose I could find a newspaper or cable news, but why
bother? Why ruin this perfect peaceful existence? We settle in and can’t pull ourselves away. That’s how a one night stop-over turned into a week-long full blown destination in its own right.
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