Written by Truly Malin on 31 Jul, 2002
Ole, Sven, and Lars came into the bar. They were high-fiving each other, shouting, and generally having a celebration of some sort. "Line 'em up," Ole shouted as the party continued. They drank and carried on for hours. Finally the bartender’s curiosity got the better…Read More
Ole, Sven, and Lars came into the bar. They were high-fiving each other, shouting, and generally having a celebration of some sort. "Line 'em up," Ole shouted as the party continued. They drank and carried on for hours.
Finally the bartender’s curiosity got the better of him. "Just what are you celebrating?" he asked.
"51 days! We did it in 51 days!" they responded.
"What did you do in 51 days?" he probed.
"Put the puzzle together," they replied, "51 days and the box said 3-5 years!"
Dunn Bros. Coffee Shop and Scandinavian Bakery
I passed by Dunn Bros. a few times on my morning walk to work, intrigued by the sign outside reading ‘Scandinavian Bakery’ but entirely too frightened by what that might mean to go in. Finally I gave it a try, and then another, and then another! I didn’t feel right about moving on until I had tried each and every oddly-named and shaped pastry in the display case. Puffy Kolache, for example, comes in flavors like prune and poppy. Pulla rolls are like a sweet roll that’s been punched in the stomach. The resulting indentation is full of rock sugar and sliced almonds, while the dough is spiced with specks of cardamom. I’d never seen cardamon used outside of an Indian restaurant before. Cinnamon knots vied for shelf space with Munkkis, giant turnovers full of apple or cherry filling. Even traditional muffins are given an unusual spin – the little signs next to them read "Pina Colada" and "Monkey Bites".
Dunn Brothers is also one of the few places on Nicollet Mall where you can have lunch outdoors on a weekday without spending a fortune or an hour on line. They serve tasty but rich "calzones" with unusual fillings like salmon or roasted vegetables. The last time we visited, a free slice of raspberry torte was being given away with every entrée ordered. (Apparently a bakery customer hadn’t picked up his order). At lunch you can sample Scandinavian cookies as well, like the rich, delicious almond kringler – kind of like a Scandinavian biscotti sent from hell to destroy your diet.
8th Street Grill and Peter’s Grill
Peters: 114 S. 8th Street – 612-333-1981
8th Street: 800 Marquette Avenue – 612-349-5717
If you’re looking for an un-fussy dinner without a wait for a table, either of these grills will do. Both stay open later than most restaurants on Nicollet Mall – a plus when you’re working late and have to grab a quick bite before heading back to the office. Both look vaguely seedy from the outside, and both offer numerous well-placed television sets and absolutely typical cuisine. Peter’s has a certain unpretentious nostalgic charm; wisecracking, gum-cracking waitresses, 50’s-style diner food, and a respectable assortment of fried bar snacks to eat while you watch the game. But though 8th Street is completely lacking in charm of any kind, it became a home away from home for a while, thanks mostly to an excellent Minnesota Wild Rice and chicken soup, and a wonderful waitress who treated us like family. On our second visit, she not only remembered what we’d ordered for dinner the week before, but also what time we had arrived and what kind of beer we drank. On our third visit, she asked us why we kept coming back. We explained that nothing else was open at 8:45pm and she proceeded to write us a list of ten restaurants in downtown that are better than 8th Street Grill. Now that’s service.
990 Nicollet Mall
Trust me, you’ll enjoy the newspaper-inspired décor a lot more than the food at The Newsroom. I still don’t understand why my colleague ordered something called ‘paella pasta’ but I assure you it was as bad as it sounded. Pastas are unexceptional here, but it’s worth stopping by for a drink or appetizer just to check out the news headline themed t-shirts worn by the staff (such as, Front: "Bush Daughter arrested for underage drinking" Back: "And you thought YOU were having a bad day!"). During the day you can get lunch next door at "The Typo Deli" where the menu is filled with intentional typos.
831 Nicollet Mall
This is where Minnesotans take New Yorkers to impress them, and where locals on an expense account take clients to dinner. Zelo offers an eclectic Italian menu, not particularly authentic in homage to its Minnesota location. Walleye turns up in a panini, for example, though you’d never find one swimming in the Mediterranean. Décor is tastefully dark and subdued. The wait staff is gloriously attentive, though slightly rough around the edges. Apparently local celebrities like to hang out at Zelo. I didn’t recognize any, but needless to say I’m not sure what constitutes a local celebrity unless Mary Tyler Moore is in town. Dinner started out well with glorious salads and excellent bread, but the rest of the meal was uneven. My pasta disappointed – the sauce was spiked with large bitter chunks of undercooked garlic. A carpaccio appetizer and a New York strip steak were big hits with our group. The wine list was appropriately sophisticated, but I was annoyed when we ordered a 1997 Antinori Chianti (not cheap at $47!) and were served a 1998, an inferior year. A lame excuse was offered ("oh, we ran out of the ’97") and no change was made to the price. My rating? Not worth the price of admission.
The Warehouse District
Once upon a time, Minneapolis’s warehouse district was a booming center of industry, where sturdy turn-of-the-century brick buildings were constantly being filled and emptied of all manner of goods. Then things changed, and like so many warehouse districts, it fell into disrepair. Now this fourteen-block area, conveniently close to Downtown, has been revitalized through some canny renovations and the insertion of a few carefully chosen art galleries, boutiques, and nightclubs. Here’s the sad part - unfortunately the revitalization committee didn’t take a close look at who was buying their restaurant leases, and the area is now littered with dime-a-dozen upscale chain restaurants like Chevys (Mexico in a box), Copeland’s (New Orleans in a box) and a planned Olive Garden (Italian in ... you know the rest). So if you’re going to visit, go AFTER dinner!
Ole and Lena got married. On their honeymoon trip they were nearing Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena's knee. Giggling, Lena said, "Ole, you can go farther if you vant to." So Ole drove to Duluth.
I’m pretty good about bringing a bag lunch…Read More
Ole and Lena got married. On their honeymoon trip they were nearing Minneapolis when Ole put his hand on Lena's knee.
Giggling, Lena said, "Ole, you can go farther if you vant to." So Ole drove to Duluth.
D’Amico and Sons
555 Nicollet Mall
The D’Amico brothers have a lock on fine Italian cuisine in the Minneapolis area with their upscale D’Amico Cucina restaurant. Those who can’t afford or don’t work near Cucina can dine on beautiful pizzas, exquisite sandwiches, or sumptuous pasta salads with gourmet details like strips of fresh basil and toasted pignolia nuts at cafeteria-style "D’Amico & Sons" in any of their 11 metro locations. I found one on Nicollet Mall and was delighted at the quality and quantity of food I could get for fewer than ten dollars. It’s fast, it’s air-conditioned (not that anyone cares in winter!), there are always tables free, and the food is truly a cut above.
The problem with Chipotle is it’s too popular. The line starts forming around 11:15am and by the time you are actually in the mood for a massive overstuffed burrito around noon or so, the line has snaked throughout the restaurant, out the door, through the outdoor seating, and is impeding pedestrian traffic on Nicollet Mall. Dinner is another story – you will have no more than a few minutes to contemplate the relative merits of hot tomatillo red chili salsa versus the medium roasted chili-corn salsa before you have to decide what to put in your custom-made 20oz burrito. Top it off with an ice-cold Corona for a low-cost spicy feast! At lunch or at dinner, Chipotle offers reasonably priced semi-authentic Mexican staples to a spice-deprived population. It’s no wonder their 19 locations are jam-packed at lunch. Vegetarians should be sure to ask for the vegetarian black beans – the pinto beans are made with meat. (all entrees are under $6 and some under $5)
D.Brians is a self-proclaimed "remarkable" deli. After three weeks of regularly lunching there I am still not sure just exactly what they think is so remarkable, except perhaps the exorbitant prices they charge for a tasty but tiny Styrofoam cup of soup that dares to declare itself "large'. Think of them as an upscale cafeteria. They have a respectable variety of foods, and their downtown locations are conveniently located on the skyway level of several office buildings. Vegetarians won't starve here, because several of their soups are not meat-based, including a very tasty vegetarian vegetable with beans, which is also low fat and low sodium (not that you’d notice). They also have delicious oversized cookies. Another plus is their ever-present Rice Krispie treats (Minnesotans are obsessed with these) which are made fresh every morning. But the real reason to lunch at D. Brian’s is that you are almost guaranteed a place to sit. Even groups of 4-5 can find a table without much hassle.
McCormick and Schmicks
800 Nicollet Mall
A client tricked me into taking him to lunch at McCormick & Schmicks by scheduling a noon meeting, then declaring how hungry he was when I arrived. I’m glad he did, because it’s a great place to hold a business lunch. In the summertime, diners at the outdoor tables are often serenaded by street musicians equipped with steel drums or a saxophone. But I prefer to sit inside, where a long row of comfortable booths can be closed off with thick green velvet curtains for maximum privacy. Only the waiter may interrupt, bearing tall glasses of iced tea, or a basket filled with warm sourdough bread. The menu is printed daily on oversized paper and lists more daily fresh seafood options than I could count, originating from locations from Long Island to Hawaii. At lunch, salads were crisp and generous, sandwiches were piled high, and all was right with the world.
I thought I had a real find on my hands and mentioned that I might bring the whole team there for a dinner. My client warned me that dinner wasn’t as good as lunch. I couldn’t imagine why - the ambiance was charming, wait staff even more so, and the food was great! So I ignored his warning and brought everyone back for dinner. Big mistake! The once-warm bread was cold, the busboys seemed to be gone for the night, and the food was more tired than our waitress, whose only reliable trait was her uncanny ability to forget what we had ordered. My co-workers are still haunted by the oyster stew (all of three oysters sitting in an undrinkable mixture of salt water and milk), a Hawaiian spearfish in a vile coconut curry sauce, and a dubious paella.
The only one at the table smiling was the boss, a seasoned traveler who never orders fish when in a land-locked state. He ordered and devoured a budget-busting 14oz steak. Me, I tried to order the same meal I’d had at lunch, a fantastic Caesar salad with grilled artichokes, but the grilled artichokes were not an option at dinner, so I had to settle for a soggy version of "the usual".
Now my boss might not have been aware that Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes, but his advice still holds. I checked the menu - none of the fishes on the "fresh list" actually hailed from Lake Superior on the day we dined there. And when I submitted my expense receipts the following week, I noticed that no one had ordered fish at our delicious lunch. A fish joint that serves lousy fish? Don’t ask me, I’m a vegetarian!
Ole’s son came home from school one day, very upset. "How come I haff the biggest feet in the 3rd grade?" he asked. "Is it becoss I’m Norvegian?"
"No, son" Ole replied. "It’s becoss you’re nineteen."
"So, what’s the local specialty?" we asked our hosts, hoping…Read More
Ole’s son came home from school one day, very upset. "How come I haff the biggest feet in the 3rd grade?" he asked. "Is it becoss I’m Norvegian?"
"No, son" Ole replied. "It’s becoss you’re nineteen."
Then there are the Scandinavian pastries, with intriguing names like ‘snickerdoodle’, ‘munkki’, ‘kolache’, and ‘pulla’. Though I’ve not yet sampled them all, my pants are straining at the waist from my efforts after only a few weeks here. Each pastry is an interesting diversion from the tastes and spices I’m used to – especially the cardamon-speckled pulla roll with its slices of almond and sprinkling of rock sugar - but none can hold a candle to a good old-fashioned all-American chocolate chip cookie.
Those wishing to get in touch with their Norwegian heritage (or lose some weight) may want to learn more about lutefisk, a by-all-accounts unspeakable combination of codfish and lye. As Clay Shirky reported eloquently in a now-cult-classic Usenet post:
"The moment every traveler lives for is the native dinner where, throwing caution to the wind and plunging into a local delicacy which ought by rights to be disgusting, one discovers that it is not only delicious but that it also contradicts a previously held prejudice about food, that it expands ones culinary horizons to include surprising new smells, tastes, and textures.
Lutefisk is not such a dish.
Lutefisk is instead pretty much what you'd expect of jellied cod; it is a foul and odiferous goo, whose gelatinous texture and rancid oily taste are locked in spirited competition to see which can be the more responsible for rendering the whole completely inedible."
The real culinary finding - the thing you must try if you want to experience the real Minnesota, is Minnesota Wild Rice and Chicken soup. The wild rice is grown upstate (I bet the growing season must be about three weeks long) and it is on every menu I looked at. My colleague Chris got so addicted he had to have it every day.
Vegetarians will not fare as well in Minneapolis as their carnivorous companions, although I was surprised to find that many restaurants have a veggie burger on the menu. Most Minnesotans, however, can’t imagine why you don’t just order the walleye and stop drawing attention to yourself. Fellow plant-eaters, I suggest you learn this important phrase in the local language: "I’ll have the Caesar Salad, no anchovies please"!
One day, Ole decided to take Lena for a drive in his new car. As they were driving through town, a policeman pulled them over and told Ole that he was doing 50 mph in a 30 mph zone.
"Oh, no", Ole protested, "I vas only…Read More
One day, Ole decided to take Lena for a drive in his new car. As they were driving through town, a policeman pulled them over and told Ole that he was doing 50 mph in a 30 mph zone.
"Oh, no", Ole protested, "I vas only doing thirty, Officer."
"No, you were doing fifty", replied the cop.
"Really, Officer, I vas only doing thirty", Ole replied stubbornly.
"Well", sniffed the cop, "I clocked you doing fifty!"
At that point, Lena, sitting in the back seat and trying to be helpful, spoke up. "Officer...you really shouldn't argue vit Ole ven he's been drinking."
I had all of two days’ notice at work, so preparations for the trip were hurried. As a result, for the first time in my life, I boarded a plane not knowing exactly where I was going to land. References to shared borders with states I didn’t even know were near each other, like Iowa and Wisconsin, were worrisome. Where on earth was I going?
I was going just south of the Canadian border, to a state that still had significant snow on the ground in late April and an airport that sported that most stereotypical of Grain Belt attributes: a tornado shelter. I was going from "The Big Apple" to a city that is - and only a New Yorker can appreciate how depressing this is - known as "The Mini-Apple".
Making matters worse, my trip centered on the business district, an approximately eight square block region known as "Downtown" - and believe me, that got old quick. Most Minneapolis residents drive in to work there daily but yours truly was car-less and sentenced to live in an assortment of downtown hotels. Fortunately my trusty Skyway map, now in tatters from overuse, was a lifesaver and before long I had become an expert at finding my way around the turns and intersections.
One colleague quipped that Minnesota has only two seasons: winter, and road maintenance. This is more truth than humor; the city streets were buckled and cracked from winter frost heaves, and over the course of my stay, our office building became completely encircled by construction crews, until the only way in and out was through … you guessed it, the Skyway!
I did make a point of taking at least one trip out of town, though. How could I skip a visit to the granddaddy of all attractions and largest mall in the USA, the Mall of America? Built like a stack of rectangular donuts, the mall’s four levels of stores overlook an immense seven acre central atrium called "Camp Snoopy" in which roller coasters zoom by on overhead tracks, a tilt-a-whirl shakes and jiggles its cargo of screaming kids-of-all-ages, a fake log full of visitors whizzes around water-filled flumes, and hordes of families wander in and out of mini theme parks like the Lego Imagination Center (more lego bricks than you could buy in a lifetime!) and General Mills’ Cereal Adventure (make your own personalized cereal!).
There’s even a wedding chapel – and judging from the amount of girls walking around in bridesmaid’s dresses on the Saturday I visited, it’s a busy one. The top floor is for grownups, featuring a fourteen-plex movie theater, an arcade stuffed with virtual reality games, a comedy club, bowling alley, and adult-themed restaurants like the obligatory Hard Rock Café and Hooters.
The basement is devoted to as much underwater excitement as you can fit in 1.2 million gallons of water. A 300-foot long plastic tunnel takes visitors under and through this immense aquarium. Not for the claustrophobic!
On the main levels you’ll find the usual mall regulars, plus a few unexpected outlets like the Betty Crocker Bakery store, a Tropicana restaurant in the food court ("I’ll have the orange juice grinder?"), and stores dedicated to Minnesotabilia (wild rice soup mix, Twins caps, and a lifetime supply of Sven and Ole joke books).
Written by Truly Malin on 05 Aug, 2002
Just kidding. Nobody parties in Lanesboro, because there''s not much to do except hang out in one of the three bars and swap fish stories - which can be fun! But to fully appreciate Lanesboro, you have to visit during the day. Here are…Read More
Just kidding. Nobody parties in Lanesboro, because there''s not much to do except hang out in one of the three bars and swap fish stories - which can be fun! But to fully appreciate Lanesboro, you have to visit during the day. Here are a few signature Things to Do ...
Bluff Country Studio Art Tour
Once a year around April 27 or so, Minnesota’s Bluff Country artists celebrate spring by hosting the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour. Artists’ studios are opened to the public, artworks are displayed in 40 different locations, and visitors are encouraged to admire and purchase their way across the cozy little villages of Lanesboro, Winona, Whalan, Peterson, and Spring Grove. Just one problem – it’s still pretty cold the last weekend in April!
Root River Trail
The Root River Trail is yet another successful conversion from abandoned railway track to recreational heaven on earth. Forty-two miles of smooth paved concrete cut a subtle grey swath through the beautiful Root River Valley, making the stately bluffs, rolling farmland, and scenic little towns like Lanesboro accessible to anyone with a bike, rollerblades, cross country skis, or even a wheelchair. Of course you don’t have to do all 42 miles – and in fact I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve got scads of time to kill and like hills, but I can vouch for the stretch between Lanesboro and Whalan, and can just about guarantee you’ll see some wildlife, flowers, and beautiful countryside. You’ll find an occasional lean-to for camping on the side of the trail, usually in a scenic spot like a bend in the Root River. I’d suggest getting a trail map online or in one of the towns on the trail if you’re considering an overnight trip.
If you’re planning to bike the trail, do a good deed and support the Fuji Bike and Canoe Shop in Lanesboro. They’ve had a rough year, losing their store and 90% of their investment in the infamous Lanesboro fire, and are now hanging on by a thread, operating out of an already-crowded basement around back of their former storefront. Fuji rents a custom-made tandem reclining bike, which was a lot of fun but not exactly a performance vehicle! My husband and I were huffing and puffing like twin chimneystacks to get up some not particularly large hills. Be aware that like a car, only the driver can steer, so control freaks should sit on the left - and don’t round corners too quickly!
If you make it as far as Whalan, be sure to stop in at the Whalen Inn for some home made pie.
The Whalen Inn: Home of World Famous Pies and lunches daily
The family-owned Whalen Inn bills itself as the home of "World Famous Pies". I was skeptical of such a grandiose claim, particularly as it was emanating from a tiny pie shop operating out of a tiny private home in a tiny town in the southeastern-most corner of Minnesota. So we had to check it out, naturally, and see if these were indeed pies of global caliber.
My suspicions that Whalen pies might not, in fact, be world famous, were confirmed shortly after we entered the restaurant/living room, when an elderly couple who had been sitting and enjoying the rhubarb pie noticed that I had signed my name and hometown in the guest book. Apparently being from New York City is grounds for instant celebrity in Whalan. My husband and I were inspected, questioned, poked, prodded, and paraded around for everyone to see. Look, Sven, city folk!! No, not from Minneapolis, New YORK!
Anyway, having been transformed into Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, we made two selections from the list of 10 or so pies of the day. The apple pie was extremely good, although you might want to take a tip from me and not order the "caramel apple pie", which is just the apple pie with some cold caramel sauce squeezed onto it from a recycled plastic ketchup container. The raspberry pecan pie was also very good, but both pies were served room temperature. That would have been fine if we hadn’t ordered them a la mode - our ice cream came separately, in a plastic bowl, and had no intention of melting any time soon.
The entire Whalen family is listed on the Whalen business card: Lynette, Tiffany, Mike, Matt, Erika, and Cassidy. I wanted to ask our server/ waitress/ cashier which one she was, and whether the Whalen family was related to the Whalan town. I didn’t, though - she looked about 12 years old, was home selling pie on a school day, and was clearly so terrified of the two New Yorkers that I thought it best not to bother her any more than I already was just by existing.
If you’ve worked up an appetite on the Root River Trail, be sure to give Whalen’s Inn a try for pie. I wouldn’t recommend the rooms for rent, though, unless you’re from Iowa or South Dakota. You might scare that poor shy little girl half to death!
At Milepost 16 on the Root River Trail in Whalan
618 Main Street
Hours: 8 AM - 6 PM.
We didn’t mean to go to Mystery Cave. We were chasing a tip, hoping to find our way to the Meighen General Store. We didn’t know exactly where it was, but we were determined to find it. Back in the mid 1800s, as…Read More
We didn’t mean to go to Mystery Cave. We were chasing a tip, hoping to find our way to the Meighen General Store. We didn’t know exactly where it was, but we were determined to find it. Back in the mid 1800s, as I later learned, the store was part of a thriving farm town that fell into decline when the new railroad decided not to build a station there. People started to move away and shops closed until the general store, the last business standing, was shut down by its owners in 1910. The building stayed in the family, but remained shuttered for decades until it was sold to the state in the early ‘60s. When they opened up the building, they found that it had been left perfectly intact, with six decades worth of tins and boxes still on the shelves. It hadn’t been looted or even touched since the day it closed down... so they restored the village and turned it into a state park. This we simply had to see for ourselves.
Boy are there are a lot of back roads in southeastern Minnesota. We must have been on at least ten of them before we gave up and bought a map at a gas station. Even with the map, it still took us the better part of the day to find Forestville State Park. The Meighen Village was already closed when we got there – but not to worry! The park ranger told us that a tour was about to start at "Mystery Cave"! and if we hurried, we could still make it! and it was the last tour of the day! and he would even call ahead for us! We couldn’t say no to all this enthusiasm - monotone delivery notwithstanding – and besides, it was raining, and what else were we going to do?
Well as usual, Minnesota surprised me. I have been on quite a few cave tours in my time. I’ve swam with blind albino fish, heard the Civil War referred to as "The War of Yankee Aggression" by a straight-faced teenager, and even spent an entire day hiking underground without the benefit of natural light. So I didn’t expect Mystery Cave to distinguish itself in any way. But no two caves are quite the same, and this was no exception.
One of the strangest things about Mystery Cave is that no one happened to come across it until the 1950s. There is no evidence whatsoever of human habitation – no pottery shards, bones, or smoke smudges on the walls. Perhaps because the branch of the Root River that runs directly above it periodically sinks into the cave through crevices and sinkholes - and floods it. If it gets dry enough, the river will actually disappear. One year the rains were so heavy that the river flooded the cave entrance, the visitors’ center, and even the parking lot, an awesome sight that the parks department has captured in photos and displayed at the new visitors’ center on higher ground.
Our guide, a wonderfully knowledgeable retiree who was working part-time for the Parks Service, was a highlight of the tour. This guy knew everything. He lovingly introduced us to the usual stuff, like hibernating bats and formations with goofy names that look vaguely like coke bottles, toads, and the like. But he also pointed out a few six-foot long fossils in the cave walls and ceiling! He also seemed to be intimately familiar with every roadside attraction from Preston to Minneapolis, like the boyhood home of the founder of Sears, the Little Hotel on the Prairie (apparently Laura Ingalls Wilder left her family’s attempt at hotel management out of her "Little House on the Prairie" series), and yes, the herd of elk grazing by the side of the highway in Oronoco.
The only thing better than a great tour guide is two. We had the dumb luck to have on our tour a guy who had worked at Mystery Cave 20 years earlier, back when the cave was privately owned. He remembered the place where he worked summers as a teenager well; and what’s more, he remembered it quite differently. Apparently the government, who bought the cave in 1988, had made some changes! For instance, a two-stage sealed steel door now protects the interior from flooding and temperature changes. Areas once open to the public are now closed. Motion-sensitive lights were installed. Most shocking to the shell-shocked ex-guide was what he remembered as a natural hallway between two caverns. It is now a deep cavern with a suspended walkway through the middle so visitors can look fifteen feet down at the formations as they pass through. Turns out the man who discovered the cave had filled it in with dirt and rubble so you could walk through without having to climb in and out of the dangerously steep depths.
Mystery Cave is actually pretty big, although most of its 13 miles of passages are closed to the public. It is popular with spelunkers, who are occasionally allowed access to the areas that take some getting dirty to visit. (One amusing experience here... ) Our second guide regaled us with tales of the times he and his buddies walked all the way from one end of Mystery Cave to the other. With all the squeezing through tiny passageways, climbing up and down through the caverns, and dodging underground ponds, it took them eleven hours. Not too shabby to get across the longest cave in Minnesota! And not a bad place to visit on a rainy day.
Forestville State Park
Route 2, Box 128
Preston, MN 55965
1 or 2 hour tours, $7 adults, $4 kids.
Take 52 south from Minneapolis, then 16 W. The park entrance is 4 miles south of State Highway 16 on Fillmore County Highway 5, then 2 miles east on Fillmore County 118. The park is approximately 6 miles south of Wykoff.
Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society website (Meighen Store) and Konrad Schmidt (Mystery Cave)
Written by Chrystyna on 21 Sep, 2000
When was the last time you really challenged yourself? While on vacation? When was the last time you stopped everything, hushed and lulled by the careless whispers of Northern pines, enveloped by the cool, yet comforting air of snow and ice around you? Heard…Read More
When was the last time you really challenged yourself? While on vacation? When was the last time you stopped everything, hushed and lulled by the careless whispers of Northern pines, enveloped by the cool, yet comforting air of snow and ice around you? Heard the howls of wolves at midnight? Stared into a campfire or laughed with new friends who have travelled to be with you from all corners of the globe?
Never? A long time ago? Not soon enough?
Though well known for its wilderness education for youth, the Outward Bound Schools are not as familiar to adults as a vacation option, but they do offer an alternative for people looking to challenge themselves at new levels.
'It's more than a wilderness trip, eco-travel or an extreme sport venue,' says Rob Meaney, a spokesperson for Outward Bound. 'O.B. combines all of the above and adds a healthy dose of adventure with purpose: to help people discover their potential.'
Wilderness itineraries are scheduled year-round in a variety of States. Voyageur Outward Bound School is one of five O.B. schools in the United States, headquartered in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with itineraries in Canada, Montana, Texas, Colorado and Minnesota's great, northern Boundary Water Canoe Area (BWCA) and Lake Superior. Bill Laitinen is the Winter Program Director for VOB in Ely, Minnesota, where each week a new group of students is led on a dog sledding, cross-country skiing and ski-journing (cross-country skiing, pulled by a sled dog) camping trip.
'Outward Bound's expedition-style skiing courses allow inexperienced, everyday people to participate in an adventure in the tradition of the great Polar Treks,' Laitinen explains. 'In a week people gain an extraordinary sense of success. Mushing dogsleds across icy, windswept lakes, travelling through thick woods, eating and sleeping in tents on a snowy landscape, participants fulfill a need for mental and physical challenges away from familiar, comfortable environments. In spite of the challenges, the adventures are warm, dry, comfortable and well-fed.'
I arrived in Ely, Minnesota on a mild winter day to welcome a group of women back from one of Laitinen's programs. There were seven women - a full class - from Delaware, D.C., Minnesota, Maine, Connecticut, and Canada, ranging from ages 23 to 48. They came from different backgrounds, bound together as a team out of necessity; it's a wilderness out there and they had to learn to cooperate in order to survive anything it would throw out at them.
Before they even started their trek, they had turned in their watches, practiced tying up their dogs to the sleds and learned about the equipment they would be using on the journey. They would learn the importance of watering the dogs, watering themselves (mandated to keep hydrated), collect wood, build the fires, feed the dogs and then, and only then, feed themselves. They learned that sleeping on the snow in the special sleeping bags that were supplied was as comfortable as sleeping in a tent. They also learned how to volunteer for duties to continue smooth operations. Deanna, a young woman from Delaware, was quick to volunteer to be the ice tester... perhaps too quick.
The ice tester is the first person to walk on frozen rivers and lakes, leading her troop of adventurers while tapping and testing the ice strength and looking for fractures or cracks indicating weaknesses. However she had to be prepared for the inevitable.
'The instructors cut a hole in the ice and told me, 'Okay, jump in.' Jump in? I couldn't believe it,' Deanna laughed. 'I looked at Johnnie [the instructor] and asked if she was on drugs.' She jumped in though, and 'was out of the water faster than you could say 'oh....!'' She was given the job with honors.
These retellings begged the question: Why would these women, all of them professionals, take a week's vacation to trek through what they believed would be frigid Minnesota nights?
'I was looking for something different,' Doris said, a middle-aged woman from Washington, D.C. 'People thought I was crazy, because even I was saying I was probably going to freeze to death.'
However, all of the women agreed that the trip was very comfortable. The students faced a full day of activities and exercises, keeping them warm and focused. By the time they would reach their next camp, the women were busy watering, cooking, feeding themselves and the dogs, and setting up camp. After a night of camaraderie, sharing stories and laughing over a variety of things, they would bed down for the night in their sleeping bags under the starry, winter sky.
In the middle of the week, the women were informed that they would be spending a night solo, away from the base camp. 'It's something that we feel really challenges and stimulates our students,' explains Amy, one of the VOB instructors who led the class. 'There's a real sense of accomplishment the next morning when they wake up and everything is okay.'
Though each of the students wandered away from camp, they were allowed to take a dog with them for company. 'Mine ran away,' Deanna pouted. 'As soon as he heard the other dogs, he was gone.' And they weren't too far away but it was still a little unnerving to one of the students. Doris admits she is afraid of the dark.
'I managed to make it through the night, and I felt great about it. I haven't quite overcome my fear just because of that one night, but it did feel good.'
'I was really nervous,' Deanna added. 'But then I heard the dogs back at the camp and I knew that all was right with the world.'
The dogs are an integral part in learning about teamwork and cooperation. As individual as each of the students, the dogs are a motley crew of personalities. Amy explained that each time a new group of students goes out, inevitably the students and the animals would pair up with favorites, sometimes even adopting each other throughout the trip.
The solo night for the women was really a preparation for their last day; however, the night before, the group sensed a bit of melancholy. They had been travelling and adventuring together for six days. 'All I know is that I wasn't ready to go,' said Leanne, who is from Canada. 'We were sitting around the fire and I was wishing we had another week.'
Although the group of students had been challenged and worked hard all week, their last day presented them with one last event: the personal challenge. It's a solo cross-country skiing trek, taken at each student's pace, for about 12 miles - straight back to the VOB headquarters.
Sam, a student from Maine, came down the road carrying her skis slung over one shoulder. 'I broke one of my bindings,' she explained. 'Some of the other women are still having some trouble on the hills,' she added, referring to being the third of the seven to come in.
When everyone arrived, it was time for a hearty lunch of BLT sandwiches, dense cookies, soup, and lots of water. 'The food is always good,' said Pat, another woman in her late thirties to mid-forties.
Cindy, who works for Guinness distribution in Minnesota, nodded enthusiastically. 'We never went without. It was all about having just what we needed; about going back to the basics.'
'Except for showers,' Sam quipped.
When lunch was over, the students gathered around their instructors, Johnnie and Amy, to unload equipment, take care of their skis and wash pots. Though I was invited to help, I had to bow out gracefully. It was my turn to learn how to mush and to experience the spectacular scenery first-hand.
But THAT'S another story. Close
Written by callen60 on 14 Aug, 2007
A millwright, a weaver, or a sawyer might also enjoy what perturbed me; but the spirits and saints have now been driven off, the charm sullied. City building and speculation fever, and the arch enemies of beauty in our time have taken over here and…Read More
A millwright, a weaver, or a sawyer might also enjoy what perturbed me; but the spirits and saints have now been driven off, the charm sullied. City building and speculation fever, and the arch enemies of beauty in our time have taken over here and are gradually turning the lovely haunts of nymphs and mermaids into a very prosaic millpond. The entire vicinity is on the verge of becoming a temple to the gods of manufacture and trade.—Johann Georg Kohl, Reisen im Nordwesten Vereinigten Staaten, 1857.It’s odd to find technology in disarray: it disturbs our assumptions that progress allows no backward steps. In some ways, we don’t even see an area that was once the cutting edge of commerce, prosperity, and machinery after it’s abandoned and left to the elements. That was the state of Minneapolis’ share of the Mississippi River when I came here over 20 years ago—the milling industry had ended, and the waterfront had been nearly deserted; a part of town that didn’t even exist any more.It was a waterfall that gave birth to Minneapolis, but the city it created had moved on. In the 1820s, soldiers from Fort Snelling came upriver to use St. Anthony’s Falls to power first a sawmill and then a small grist mill for those at the fort. Over the next several decades, commercial ventures of both kinds sprang up along both shores, prompting Kohl’s prophetic lament.Despite the Mississippi’s length, these are the only falls of note along its entire course. That must have contributed to the romantic descriptions that briefly made them a 19th century destination before Kohl’s vision came to pass. The disappointment that several visitors expressed may also have stemmed from the nearly constantly changing nature of the falls: for over 10,000 years, they receded from their original location downstream near the future site of Fort Snelling, moving upriver at a few feet per year. This rate accelerated as uses for the river proliferated in the mid 19th century, with the falls receding as much as 40’ in a single year.Use of the water not only destroyed the natural beauty of the falls, it threatened the falls themselves, as tunnels and dams constructed to use the waterpower gave way or were undermined by the River. Eventually, the newly formed Army Corps of Engineers was authorized to save the problem, and after 15 years they returned control of the falls to the millers and water companies whose excavations had nearly destroyed them.Now, the falls are managed by the Corps, who installed a lock years ago to extend passage on the Mississippi. A dike and dam preserve the limestone cap that creates the falls, but their man-made regularity makes them look like the ‘water project’ that they are. With the mills gone, lumbering no longer using the river as medium for transport, and steamships no longer plying their way along the Mississippi, it seems a good example of the permanent changes that our temporary economic activities leave across the earth’s surface. Close
Written by MilwVon on 16 Jan, 2007
This was a quick weekend getaway to visit one of those timeshare presentations near the Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, Minnesota (right by the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis). For just 79 dollars, we got two nights at the Comfort Inn less…Read More
This was a quick weekend getaway to visit one of those timeshare presentations near the Mall of America (MOA) in Bloomington, Minnesota (right by the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis). For just 79 dollars, we got two nights at the Comfort Inn less than a mile from MOA, plus $25 in a Visa gift card. It was worth our time to make the trip up here, especially since we had never seen or been inside the mall.Driving up from Iowa, it took us exactly 3 hours to reach Minneapolis. The crisp fall afternoon was especially nice for a road trip. Farmers throughout Iowa and Minnesota were working to bring in their corn crops. Soybeans must have been wrapped up last month. I was disappointed that we didn’t see prettier fall colors. Maybe it is just that we don’t have nice deciduous trees in this part of the Midwest. I know in Wisconsin and Virginia fall is all about the red and gold leaves in October.With the timeshare presentation behind us, we enjoyed a Saturday afternoon at the Mall of America. It took us forever to decide what to do for lunch since we really didn't want fast food or sub sandwiches. We finally found the seasonal "Creepy's Cafe" in the park area, which was appropriately themed for Halloween.On Saturday night, we thoroughly enjoyed dining at the Outback Restaurant that was located in the lobby level of our hotel. It was nice to enjoy adult beverages and not have to worry about driving home!There is the Mall of America shopping and amusement park, complete with many dining options and restaurants. If you are a shopper, this is the place for you. With over 500 stores and four large anchor department stores, you must be able to find whatever you seek or it simply does not exist.Our Comfort Inn hotel had a rack of tourist information fliers for everything from dinner theaters, art museums, and casinos to the infamous SPAM museum. The most interesting of the attractions was the American-Swedish Institute, located in downtown Minneapolis. Housed in the Trumblad Mansion founded in 1929, this elegant museum provides a glimpse into the lives of over 150 years of Swedes in Minnesota. Unfortunately, they were only open 1 to 5pm on Sunday so we had to pass. Had we planned it better, we could have visited on Saturday, when their visitors’ hours are from noon to 4pm.Minneapolis and the surrounding areas are very easily reached via Northwest Airlines or by car. We did the car thing, but almost all flights I take out of Des Moines include a side trip through the NWA Minneapolis hub. You can plan your flights through here to allow you enough time to take the light rail to MOA. Give yourself at least 4 hours!The light rail has really made Minneapolis a tourist and convention destination, as it also goes to the downtown area of the city. If you don’t want to rent a car, you can easily get by without one. I was in Minneapolis in the summer of 2004 for an industry meeting, and thoroughly enjoyed my time and experience without a car. The convention center, hotels, and a lot of wonderful restaurants are all within walking distance of one another! Close
Written by MilwVon on 14 Oct, 2006
As part of the Mall of America in Minneapolis, this bright indoor amusement park has rides for kids ages four to mid teens. There is one roller coaster that seemed to be a pretty decent ride, but since we had just had lunch we passed.…Read More
As part of the Mall of America in Minneapolis, this bright indoor amusement park has rides for kids ages four to mid teens. There is one roller coaster that seemed to be a pretty decent ride, but since we had just had lunch we passed. Many of the rides seemed too close together for my liking. I don’t know that I would have enjoyed spinning or flipping or going down a river canal feeling like I might be ejected into the neighboring ride.Make no mistake about it, kids were having fun! You could hear their laughter and shrill screams throughout the place. Older kids like young teenagers seemed to also enjoy hanging out with their buds, although there wasn’t that typical mall feeling of mall rats taking over the place. I think MOA security does a good job of making sure people stay on good behavior while here in this family oriented area. And speaking of families, I was impressed to see that they had two child care areas where you could drop off younger kids to have professional babysitting while moms and dads enjoyed the rides or other activities with kids old enough to have fun.All of the rides are priced based on points. The higher the points, the more costly is that ride. Individual point tickets are available as well as in point packages. A five point roller coaster would cost you approximately $4 at the 80 cents per point base price. For just $24.95 you can ride all you can ride, as many rides as you’d like for as many times as you can handle in one day. Season passes are also available: $79.95 for kids shorter than 47" and $99.95 for all who are four feet tall or more.Post Script: I had always heard and thought I knew this park to be called "Camp Snoopy" but wasn't sure why there were no references to that name anywhere in the Mall. Some Internet research did turn up that this amusement park was known as Camp Snoopy but no longer. I am guessing that is due to one of two reasons: (1) Knotts decided not to renew their naming sponsorship agreement and when Pepsi stepped up, a name change was in order . . . or (2) Camp Snoopy sounded to juvenile for the target audience that MOA wanted to appeal to.Then I found this piece on The Onion's Web site and the mystery was solved . . . www.theonion.com/content/node/31031. Good for a nice belly laugh, but that's about all.I guess I'm sticking to explanations 1 or 2 above. Close