Escape Artists offers up a global discourse ranging from great finds close to home to adventures far afield. You'll find weekly travel deals here, too. Share your road wisdom, rave about great finds and rant about roadblocks that get in the way of a great trip.
Contributor: Travel editor Kerri Westenberg.
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The editors at Smarter Travel have come up with a list of the 10 most overrated tourist traps, and what to see instead. Frankly, I think it’s the work of cynical, seen-it-all travelers. The Blarney Stone? Sure, I didn’t lean back in a death-defying pose to kiss the stone (which is required if you want to partake in that ritual), but the castle in Ireland is lovely. Stonehenge? I’d love to go, despite the fact that it is near two roads. The Pyramids at Giza? Who wouldn’t want to see those, even if there is a Pizza Hut in their shadows? But the list got me thinking. Was it really worth a drive to see the world’s largest ball of twine in Darwin, Minn.? (Yes, if only to marvel at one man’s vision and drive.) And is there a reason — overhyped attraction, overdone kitsch? — that I haven’t yet visited Paul Bunyan and Babe? One tourist destination that gets overlooked is the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a sight no one could called a tourist trap. Lovely. Tell me what you think of Minnesota “tourist traps" -- to avoid or don't miss.
The naming game: Lutsen Mountain has added two new runs for the upcoming ski season, and they want your help to name them. By offering a suggestion, you’re entered in a drawing to win a 3-day, 3-night ski vacation at Lutsen Mountains. Offer up the winning name? You’ll receive a free season pass. Submit your suggestions this weekend at the Mall of America Ski Show, Oct. 18-20, or click here to make a web entry.
When concocting monikers, think adventure: The two new runs, located near The Plunge on the north face of Moose Mountain, are double-black diamonds, meant to draw advanced skiers and adrenaline junkies.One run features a similar drop to The Plunge, a steep drop-off that poses a test of skill for even the most avid skiers. The other offers a more consistent grade, though still challenging.
It was a news release I couldn’t ignore, merging archaeology and travel. Officials in New Ulm, Minn., have discovered a giant footprint, it said. “Is it real?” I asked the publicist, foolishly. She refused to answer directly, but reminded me that the print was, duh, found at New Ulm’s Chamber of Commerce building and that, double duh, it’s four feet long. The oversized cement impression is now on display, along with a plaque that says it’s “rumored to be that of Hermann the German,” the town’s Teutonic mascot, and that anyone who touches it will have more fun. (But who wouldn't have fun in New Ulm, home of the August Schell Brewing Company and the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame?) The footprint is in need of a back story, so the town in Minnesota’s River Valley has launched a “Legend of the Footprint” contest. People can submit their theory on the origins of the footprint at the town's facebook page until September 6; the winner will receive a prize package.
When I take off for road trips Up North, coffee is my friend. Since I generally load the car and drive away in the morning, a cup-to-go is my standard sidekick. Which means I'm rolling along, alert and happy, until just shy of Duluth -- when I need a break. Badly. Thanks to the Minnesota Department of Transportation, one is always nearby as I roar north up I-35. In my numerous stops, I've grown partial to one: Culken, between milepost 225 and 226. Likemost, it is neat and clean, but this one stands out because it is situated on a bucolic piece of land with a pond. If driving with argumentative teens or whining toddlers is making you a tad tense, just go out back, sit on a bench, and watch the Red-winged Blackbirds flit around the bushes. That always settles the nerves.
Pretty scenery is just one benefit of a stop, but not the most important, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "Rest areas are essential safety features on the highway system that help address driver fatigue, a major cause of serious accidents," according to their Web site. "Their basic service is crash prevention. Studies reveal that a 15 to 20 minute break improves individual performance, even among sleep-deprived people."
Next time you're on a long drive, remember to enjoy the journey as well as the destination. If that means gazing at pretty scenery, having a picnic or playing catch with fido (many stops have designated dog areas), find a DOT rest stop along your route. Check out the rest stops along your route, including where to find them and what amenities they might have here.
You'd think the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C. could fill its five galleries with items from the capital city itself: infamous tape recorders, anthrax letters and the like. But, no. In its efforts to focus on the history of crime in America, it examines the dark side of even really nice places, like Minnesota. Case in point: The museum features several artifacts related to the Dillinger gang, including a photograph of gang member Homer Van Meter on the coroner's table. The depression-era bank robber had been shot been by four police officers in St. Paul. The museum also features original parts from John Dillinger's 1933 Essex Terraplane Automobile, including original hub caps, a tail light, vanity mirror, small fragments of vinyl top, and one-page from the original “owners manual.” The museum is at 575 7th Street in downtown D.C. (1-202-621-5567).
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