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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.
VINELAND, MINN. -- If you're like me, you take Minnesota state parks for granted. But with colors expected to peak this weekend, here's a suggestion: Check out Mille Lacs Kathio State Park.
We signed up for a free archeology canoe tour last weekend and the maples, aspens, sumacs and oaks were just starting to overlap with eruptions of bronze, yellow, orange and blood red. The park sits eight miles north of Onamia and south of Garrison along Hwy. 169 a couple hours north of the Twin Cities.
We learned that archeologists have found clues of people living in the area at least 9,000 years ago. Several small Dakota villages punctuated the area, a crossroads of sorts with access to the Rum, Mississippi and other rivers and a few hefty portages from Lake Superior. In fact, the explorer that the city of Duluth is named after -- Frenchman Daniel Greysolon, Sieur Dulhut -- is the misspeller responsible for Kathio's name.
Greysolon met with the Dakota in the area in 1679 and they called their collective villages Izatys. His sloppy handwriting made the "Iz" look like a "K" and the name stuck. It's one of those gems we fly by at 65 mph, but well worth stopping for a visit. You can rent canoes and paddle around Ogechie Lake, once a hub of Dakota travel and trading. Hunters would transport their buffalo meat up the winding Rum River in the Anoka area to their villages here.
This Saturday, the park is offering a short hike and talk about bird migration from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Go to mile marker No. 221 on Hwy. 169 about eight miles north of Onamia. (This photo of dormant ice houses was snapped along Hwy. 47 around the south side of the lake near Isle.)
From his computer screen in Fresno, Calif., retired teacher Patt Dodds is embarking on quite a trek: He's visiting all 87 Minnesota counties for his new blog, everycounty.org.
The blog is lovely, with nice photos, fun facts and maps -- all culled from the Internet.
"It takes me about three hours of on-line research per county and I'm doing this every Monday, Wednesday and Friday so it should take me about seven months to get from Kittson County in the northwest to Houston County in the southeast," Dodds, 62, tells Escape Artists.
Why is a Fresno guy who grew up and worked at two newspapers in Iowa so obsessed with Minnesota?
About eight years ago, in the pre-blog era, he and his son visited all 99 counties in Iowa. He'd been to the Twin Cities and Rainy Lake and "thought it would be fun to virtually get to know the state better. It's frustrating to only hit the highlights so I'm digging a little deeper."
To wit: He points out that Baudette was rebuilt after a 1910 fire and the Northwest Angle that juts up into Canada ended up in Minnesota because of confusion about the Mississippi River's origins during 1783 Treaty of Paris talks.
He's three counties into his tour with 84 to go, but Dodds is looking ahead.
"Texas has 254 counties," he said.
Among the highlights: "sunrise surfing in Malibu, falling into a 20-foot snowdrift at Crater Lake, getting robbed in Seattle, lost within the Redwoods at dusk and sword fighting with whale rib bones on the Oregon Coast."
Along with former college roommate Derek Karnatz, he says, "we aquired a lifetime’s worth of lessons in three months. These experiences have changed the way I view the world and my ideas for what is truly possible with a goal and a little imagination."
GRAFTON, N.D. -- Numbers, to some extent, define us all. We juggle PINs, social security digits, passport numbers, cell phones and passwords in our brains like some street performer or circus act. Well, I got a new one: No. 877.
Yep, according to the amiable clerk of courts, I became the 877th person ticketed in 2012 in tiny Walsh County, N.D. But what started with a whispered couple of curse words under my breath as state trooper Cashin (pun intended) strolled down the shoulder ended up not such a bad deal.
I pulled off the boring interstate south of Winnipeg looking for a diversion to break up the boredom and check out an old church in the dot of a town called Oakwood, N.D. On the way back to I-29, after rolling through a stop sign in the absolute middle of the flatest stretch of earth -- just east of Grafton -- trooper Cashin zoomed out of a farm field neatly sewn with a spring planting of wheat. He gave me a ticket for $20 and suggested we visit Lower Fort Garry in Winnipeg as he and his wife had recently.
Four miles later, we found the cool art deco court house built in 1940 out of rose marble and other smooth stones and stylish angles. The clerk laughed when I asked if I get the early bird discount for paying my fine within five minutes of my infraction. Outside, I learned that a half-dozen of Grafton's finest had mustered up for service on May 14, 1899 and died in the Spanish-American War trying to quell some revolt in the Philippines. Seems like an awful long way from home. The statue in their honor includes a quote: "No one stampedes the First North Dakota."
No one gets away with a Hollywood stop in Walsh County, either. But for $20, a self-guided tour of a nice piece of architecture with some history thrown in wasn't such a bad deal after all.
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