We rolled into Minnesota from the southeastern corner along the Mississippi river passing smaller towns like Winona and Red Wing. Our goal was to make it near the Twin Cities so we can have a couple of days of down time to hang out with some friends we have in town.
Our first choice was to stay at Lebanon Hills just south o f town since we know it is relatively close to our friends Jen and Chris who live in St. Paul. We stayed there 2 years ago and remember that they had the nicest bathrooms of any campground that we’ve ever seen. We also remember that there was a good dry camping section with large sites. When we got there, they had apparently changed the rules since we’ve been gone. Only trailers under 24 ft are allowed to be there. We told the camp host that we’d stayed there before and the sites are plenty big for us but she would not have it. Just on principle we decided to find new spot. Probably best anyways to try something new.
We ended up a St Croix Bluffs Regional Park a little further from town but the campground was really great. Lots of trees and big spaces with hookups.
We drove 1,000 miles out of our way to be in Minnesota before we are here on an assignment working with the Minnesota Tourism Board on an Instagram campaign. We had been talking to them about this for some months and agreed to be here for 10 days traveling across the middle of the state. We got here a couple of days early so we can hang out with some friends. We met up with them at their daughter’s school on a weekend as they were having a festival for kids.
This little one is not quite getting a grasp on the game of soccer yet. But Luka does know what he likes. At the glitter paint booth he was asked what color he wanted his bird to be, he replied, “TIGER!”
Luka, you kick the ball into the net. Not yourself.
Here are the kids posing with our friend’s two lovely children. We had only met Clementine 2 years ago when we came to visit and since then their family has grown by another beautiful daughter.
After a couple of nights at St Croix Bluffs, we were ready to start our 10-Day assignment. The program was called ‘Ten Day Minnesotans”. We are acting as honory Minnesotans for the next 10 days and attempting to capture the beauty of the state with our camera.
Our first stop was Taylor’s Falls. We have planned to meet a couple of people from the agency who put this program together in the morning early so we came out to Taylor’s Falls to scope it out. Even though the light at dusk was beautiful along St Croix River, the mosquitoes were atrocious.
I stood out there and launch the drone to take some aerial photos and video and feed the mosquitoes for the sake of art. That little island is named Folsom Island. 10,000 years ago, glacial torrents carved the St. Croix Valley leaving the hard basalt floor that forms the gorge today.
When we got to southern Minnesota a couple of days ago, we were surprised to find t-shirt and flip-flop weather with high 80’s midday and mid 60’s overnight. Down there, not too many of the leaves have even changed colors. Last night, the fall weather finally reared its head. We got to put on a few layers.
River boat along St Criox River. Across on the other side is Wisconsin.
Luka is also helping to contribute with some GoPro shots. Here is Carl. He is a videographer from the agency. They met us here to capture some of what we are doing for next year’s program.
The photos from the gorge were beautiful but we couldn’t use them as part of our project. Because technically, if the picture shows the river, is also shows part of Wisconsin. I know, what can you do.
Here in Taylor’s Falls, some of the trees have actually lost most of its leaves already.
Just a few miles south, the weather is still quite warm in the Twin Cities.
We stopped to check out the Franconia Sculpture Park on our way out. It is 20 acres of outdoor contemporary art installations by various artists who have contributed or invited to create here. It is free to the public and open year-round just south of Taylors Falls, MN.
After leaving Franconia Sculpture Park, we are headed over to Stillwater, Minnesota for some good old fashion apple picking.
Apple picking here in the midwest is an annual tradition. Right as the autumn picks up its steam, the apple season swings into high gear.
These trees are literally being pulled to the ground by these apples.
From Stillwater, we made our way back into the Twin Cities. We are hitting a few spots in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Here is Rice Park in St Paul with huge bronze sculptures of Peanuts characters as it is Charles Schultz home town.
Don’t you think that since we are here in a big city we are going to forget to hit up some National Park Services (NPS) for Junior Ranger badges. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has a visitor center right here next to downtown St. Paul. The Mississippi River starts in northern Minnesota and meanders its way right through the Twin Cities. As a transportation waterway, it has made immeasurable contributions to our country’s economic growth by ferrying people, raw materials and finished goods. It is one of the big reason why the Twin Cities became what it is today.
Time to make the pledge to make it official.
We stopped at the popular local ice cream parlor Izzy’s to give the kids a treat for their hard work.
Last time we were here, we stopped at Union Depot. It had been out of commission for a few years and was being renovated during out visit. This time, construction had been complete and put back into service.
It was pretty empty during our stop but it was a beautiful space and I am glad they city invested the money to bring her back to her glory.
For our night in St. Paul, we stayed at Lake Elmo Regional Park just east of town. It was the easiest place to stay as there are not very many other options. For some unknown reason, none of the regional parks in the Twin Cities area allow pets of any kind. Not just dogs but cats and I presume birds, rabbits, snakes, fish or whatever you might be into. Well luckily for us, we don’t have pets. Yoda is not a pet but part of our family 😉
The next day we were making our way to Minneapolis just across town. The agency had scheduled an interview for us at the local NBC affiliate for their early show the following day. We knew that it would be near impossible for us to be ready and get there that early. We told them the only way we could do it is if they let us stay the night in their parking lot.
And that we did. We got to park right outside of their studio and got to check out their morning live show in the studio.
The kids really loved seeing how a television show is made.
They especially loved how the weather guy stands in from of the green screen to make the map show up on the TV.
These kids don’t look sleep deprived at all. That is why you don’t see the camera on me.
Well, we had to get a family shot taken. Yoda was still sleeping in the Airstream so she didn’t make it in.
Ava looks pretty good at that news desk. Mila looks like she is going to hurt somebody.
For rest of the day, we had some pretty wet weather. It was not going to be pleasant to find outdoor activities to do so we headed over to Mall of America. We avoided coming here last time but I figure we have come at least once so we can say that we’ve been here.
Since we were helping promote the state’s tourism, we got hooked up with tickets to do a few things here at the Mall of America. Right in the middle of the mall is a huge indoor amusement park. It makes sense I guess since the weather can be so kinda brutal (for these so cal wimps) a portion part of the year. The kids loved every minute here and had pretty much a day of free for all. Here is Luka riding the Fly Boat with Ava. Whatever she does, he wants to do. So when she wanted to ride in the flyboat, he did too. And when she laughed as the ride bounced around, he tried his best to let out a laugh or two… between his shrieks of terror.
The girls got to see the Barbie Dream House Experience on temporary display here. I excused myself and found a place to sit with my computer and did some work.
There is just way to much pink for my eyes.
Pink, pink and more pink.
Even my office outside for the day was pink.
You can’t visit Minneapolis without going to Walker Art Center. The girls saw the outdoor sculpture garden and remembered their time here from 2 years ago.
Before we leave the twin cities and head to less populated parts of the state for more exploring, we had to make a stop at one of the Chain of Lakes in the city. This is land of a thousand lakes after all. Unfortunately the weather is not holding up for us. We were getting drizzles all afternoon when we were at Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet.
Between these two lakes there is a bird sanctuary. Even though we didn’t expect for many birds to be out and about in this kind of weather, we took a minute to stroll through the path. In 1936, the growing city of Minneapolis established 31 acres of land as a bird sanctuary and left it in its natural state. Later in 1947, it was renamed in honor of Thomas Sadler Roberts, the father of Minnesota ornithology.
We began heading north towards the Mille Lacs area and stopped right around dusk and finally saw the sun make an appearance.
The kids could not believe what they are seeing.
I couldn’t either. This is pretty much how this crazy sky looked with the naked eye that day.
We got to Mille Lacs and made our way to the state park the next day for a couple of nights stay.
This is definitely more our speed.
Every campsite at Mille Lacs-Kathio State Park is a good one this time of year.
This is the giant walleye just down the road from Mille Lacs in Garrison, Minnesota. This lakeside town is the smallest town in the world to have a McDonald’s. Though an interesting fact, they are actually known for the great fishing here at Mille Lacs Lake. I don’t know if anyone has ever caught one this big though.
As we are further north from the twin cities, the leaves are definitely showing their colors now.
We took a hike in the state park to check out one of these old fire towers.
The girls and I climbed nearly to the top of this watch tower to get a view from the tree tops while Marlene and Luka waited below. Well, at least we tried. We made it up about 80 of its 100 ft of stairs before the girls called it quits. We were pretty protected from the wind amongst the trees below but when you get above it was a whole different story.
Our second day at Mille Lacs, we headed over to the visitor center where they happened to be holding an event with people demonstrating tradition techniques and skills from the native Americans that once lived here.
I got to try my hands on an atlatl. It is a spear that is flung from another stick with a depression carved out at the end that helps hold it in place.
Maybe it was beginners luck but somehow I nailed the bison silhouette on my first try.
I think I would have fared pretty well here back in the day. Well, maybe minus the sub freezing temperatures. Luka was not happy that daddy has to take turns showing the atlatl to all of his kids.
We left Mille Lacs on our way to the next spot and drove right past Paul Bunyan Land outside of Brainerd. Unfortunately it was not open so we settled for just a show with Babe the Blue Ox.
They are actually getting the place ready for a special event coming up. A week from now, Paul Bunyan Land will turn into Hidden Hallows, central Minnesota’s largest haunted attraction. It was actually quite OK with us that it wasn’t open. We probably would not have wanted to go in anyways since the kids still find most Halloween decorations too frightning. But since no one was here, I felt pretty comfortable with launching the drone into the air for some aerial shots.
We got to our destination at Breezy Point Resort on Pelican Lake. This is the prime 3-season spot for water activities, golf and pretty much anything outdoors.
We usually prefer to stay in the Airstream over hotel rooms but with our project that we are working on with the tourism board, they hooked us up with a suite here lakeside. The kids did not mind one bit. They had their own bunkbeds in their own room and an indoor swimming pool.
We had dinner at the onsite restaurant as the sun was setting over the trees beyond Pelican Lake. Mila is still excited to pose for me in the golden hour light so we took advantage of the moment to go outside before it got dark.
As we left Pelican Lake, we began making our way back south towards Interstate 94. The rest of our time here will be spent visiting smaller towns until we get to the westernmost part of the state.
On our way to Alexandria, we stopped for a break at Crow Wing State Park. Located at the confluence of the Crow and Mississippi Rivers, Crow Wing State Park is a place in central Minnesota with deep human history. At this very place, the Ojibwe Indians fought for and won control of the region from the Dakota Indians.
The Mighty Mississippi starts just a few miles upstream from here in northern Minnesota. There are thousands of tributaries just like the Crow River that joins its journey south until it drains into the Gulf of Mexico.
Fur trader Clement Beaulieu built this house in 1849 in the town of Crow Wing that had 500 residents at that time. It is the only building left at the townsite and likely the oldest free-standing wooden structure in the state of Minnesota.
Here is a little peek inside the old building.
With our cold weather gear on, I took the drone out for another flight to get a good look of this confluence from the sky.
The hike out to the old house ended up being a little more than Mila could handle. We had told her that when she turned 5, that’s when she had to hike without asking to be picked up. That’s just the rule for 5 year olds. But I suppose some times that rule can be broken.
Alexandria, Minnesota claims to be the birthplace of America. Unless you are from there, you probably never knew about that. This is Big Ole the Viking. It is believed that in 1362 the Norsemen first reached America in their viking ships.
The Runstone Museum is where the mystery lies. An ancient stone tablet dating back to 1362 was found in the area.
Late in the 19th century, a large 200 pound slab of stone called the Kensington Runestone was discovered buried under a tree on a nearby farm. For more than a 100 years, scientist have been working to authenticate the origin of this artifact.
There are also a few other exhibits that showcase the human history since 1362.
But around here, it all goes back to the almighty Viking explorers.
Today the fire department in Alexandria, Minnesota also just happens to have an open house during our visit. The kids got to play in a Dalmatian-shaped bounce house, eat tons of free candy, watch fire truck demonstrations and even see a rescue helicopter land right in front of them.
You’d think Luka would be more excited to sit in a real helicopter. He was. He really was. He just doesn’t like to show it.
In Alexandria, we got to spend the night at Arrowwood Resort before heading west to Fergus Falls tomorrow. The team at Explore Minnesota knew that the kids really wanted to find an indoor waterpark so they tried everything they could to find one along our route. Just like in Virginia, nothing was open this late in the season, at least mid-week. We settled for happy hour at the Rafters lounge with free popcorn and a late night swim in the indoor pool and spa.
Unfortunately Yoda doesn’t get to come inside with us and had to stay in the Mish in parking lot.
By morning, we begin heading out for the last couple of stops to wrap up our time here as 10-day Minnesotans.
The trees here have shed a lot of their leaves by now and it was well past the peak of autumn in a lot of places.
To the kids, fallen leaves are way more fun than colorful leaves.
Mila picking a winner.
We intentionally avoided the Interstate on our way to Fergus Falls so we can see more of the country side. We stopped for a hike up to Inspiration Peak for a better view.
Depending on the tree and its location, some have lost all of their leaves while others are holding on strong.
Before we made it to Fergus Falls, we made it up to Maplewood State Park to get our best chance to see the last of the autumn colors.
It definitely didn’t disappoint. This was the amazing sunset at Maplewood State Park and we were the only ones at the campground.
We left Maplewood and passed by the town of Pelican Rapids. If you didn’t know, you can just look past the bridge and you will see a Pelican and some rapids.
Our last night as 10-Day Minnesotans was spent at Buffalo River State Park. We were once again one of the few people at this campground. By now, camping season is slowing down for the midwest.
The night skies with these fast moving clouds are pretty amazing to see. It was cold but totally worth a few moments out taking some long exposure pictures.
By the next morning, we are ready to make out way to Moorhead, Minnesota. This will have taken us all the way from the border of Wisconsin at Taylors Falls to just across from Fargo, North Dakota.
Our stop in Moorhead is The Hjemkomst Center. Hjemkomst is a Norwegian word meaning homecoming. The center is named after a replica viking ship built by Bob Asp, a local guidance counselor from Moorhead in honor of immigrants from Nordic heritage. His dream was to build a replica viking ship and sail it back to Norway. He never got to realize his dream as he was diagnosed with leukemia but he did complete the ship and sailed her as the captain on her maiden voyage. He passed away from his illness just a few months later. His sons and daughter along with their crew weighed anchor 2 years later and realized Bob Asp’s dream by taking a two-month voyage and arrived in Oslo, Norway.
Another amazing exhibit at the center is a replica of the Hopperstad stave church. At just around 1,000 years, the Hopperstad in Vik, Norway is the oldest stave church in the world. Like many Norwegian structures, it is made of wood as they are world renowned for their craftsman skills. This full-scale replica was painstakingly built by a local craftman Guy Paulson. Every attention to detail was taken to make it as close to the real thing as possible
We got to tour this building with several other Norwegian tourists and some of them have been to the original and agreed that this is indeed a faithful reproduction.
We wrapped up our obligation as 1o-Day Minnesotans and began immediately heading south. Just as we started this visit of Minnesota with a visit to Laura Ingalls’ Little House in the Big Woods, we are headed to Walnut Grove, Minnesota for another one of her homestead locations.
At the top of this hill all that is left is the depression left by the dugout cabin Charles Ingalls built for his family here at Walnut Grove back in the 1870s. The current owners had no idea of the historical and literary significance his farm held when he bought the property. After learning about the significance, the owner opened up the land for the public to visit.
Right along the creek just down a few steps from the dugout cabin, a 7-year-old Laura Ingalls spent hours watching fish swim by, hopping on rocks with her sister Mary and living a life on a homestead that would eventually be documented in the fourth book of her Little House series, ‘On the Banks of Plum Creek’.
I’d imagine Laura and her sister Mary spent many afternoons catching and laughing at tiny grasshoppers just like we did today.
The owners of the property where the Ingalls’ dugout was located not only made an awesome road for visitors but replanted native grasses to help recreate the Ingalls’ homestead years here.
Ava is just about the age Laura would have been when she was here at Plum Creek. She might have even sat on that same rock as she watched the fish swim by.
I am sure this is not the first time a little one has fallen waist deep in the creek while ‘fishing’.
Good thing we bring our home with us everywhere and had a change of clothes. While the kids and Marlene spent some time out side in Walnut Grove, I got to call this my office for the day.
While I was in a meeting in the Airstream, the girls and Marlene took blankets, books, pencils and sweaters to do some natural journaling on land once owned by Charles Ingalls. This is roadschool.
On our way out of Minnesota and into Nebraska, we stopped at Pipestone National Monument. Along with Voyageurs NP, Grand Portage NM which we visited in July and Mississippi River NRA a couple of weeks ago, this wraps up all of the National Park Service sites in the state of Minnesota.
Here at Pipestone, the native Americans quarried the redstone from the walls to make ceremonial pipes. This tradition has been kept alive and descendants of those native Americans still live here today and some help to demonstrate this beautiful art form right in the visitor center.
From here, we are going to be making a pretty fast dash back to the west coast. But first, Nebraska and Kansas are up and they will be the final 2 of the lower 48 states we have visited since 2008 in our Airstream.
over and out,