Le Sueur County

2017 in review

The year started with one of my favorite winter activities, Checkpoint Minnesota, a statewide scavenger hunt that was unfortunately in its last year, unknown to everyone. I’ll miss it, though I admit I never officially submitted my visits (just posted them on Instagram), because I enjoyed the motivation to get out and explore during the cold. We only made it to four of the 10 checkpoints during this year’s event, though we had been to two of the others in the last two years, and later in 2017 we coincidentally went to two more.

March for Science Minnesota

I was out of town for the women’s march in January, so I made sure to be in attendance for the March for Science in St. Paul on Earth Day. The homemade signs were clever and inspiring, and I was happy to see so many people marching proudly. I had to leave the event early for a family wedding shower, so I didn’t get to see the rally at the capitol.

large group of people, many holding handmade signs, walking toward the capitol building

Old-school Dairy Queen in Moorhead

On an overnight trip to Fargo-Moorhead, I requested dessert at the “rogue” Dairy Queen, where they play by their own rules and serve a “heritage” menu of items that more modern restaurants don’t anymore. I had a Mr. Maltie frozen chocolate malt on a stick.

barn-shaped building with a red roof and white sides, with Moorhead written in blue script near the top

Highland water tower

This St. Paul water tower is open to the public twice a year, and we climbed it during Highland Fest in July. The tower was designed by Clarence Wigington and completed in 1928. It was retired from service only a couple months ago.

looking up at the top of a six-sided brick water tower

Lynx win their fourth championship

Two years ago, I wrote about the Lynx dynasty after Minnesota won its third championship. Now it’s four in seven years. I was fortunate to once again be on press row taking statistics for the deciding Game 5, this time at Williams Arena.

streamers falling next to the scoreboard as the clock expired

Roadside attractions

None of these were destinations themselves this year, but it’s always fun to come across one of these statues on a road trip.

Minnesota state parks and SNAs

At one point, we were trying to visit all of the state parks. While we’re technically still working on the parks passport, we haven’t added many new stamps over the last couple years. Instead, as I’ve focused on volunteering as a master naturalist, I’ve started visiting scientific and natural areas (SNAs) more frequently. So these two categories are combined into one.

Minnesota Historical Society sites

Three years after taking a job with the Minnesota Historical Society, and after visiting many of their 26 historic sites around the state, I decided that 2017 was the year to complete the circuit. And I’m happy to say I did, finishing with a Christmas tour at the Mayo House in Le Sueur on Dec. 16! Counting places I’d been before, I made it to 18 sites this year.

First-time visits

Especially with the MNHS trips, we saw a lot of towns for the first time:


dark brick building with a small sign that reads Hawley Lanes


wire corn decoration on a lightpole at sunset

McGregor (which has an emu!)

emu behind a wire fence

Pequot Lakes, during a five-day family reunion

red-and-white bobber-shaped water tower

Redwood Falls, for a family wedding

a bank that manages to look like both a spaceship and a castle

Christmas tours

And, as has already been documented, I closed out the year with road trips to see Christmas lights, within about 2 hours of the metro.

2018 resolutions

In 2017, we crossed off several longstanding wish-list visits (Moorhead DQ, Maplewood State Park, Lost 40), so I need to add some new ideas.

I’d like to go back to Moorhead to see the Hjemkomst ship and the Hopperstad Stave Church. I’d also like to eat ice cream at the Peppermint Twist in Delano, visit the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, go biking near Lanesboro, take a ghost tour in Pipestone, see a water skiing show, watch a movie at a drive-in theater, go to the Northwest Angle.

New state parks on the list: Moose Lake, Great River Bluffs, and Glacial Lakes. I’d like to go back to Interstate for a pothole tour and see the bison again at Blue Mounds. And I’d like to see five new-to-me SNAs.

Categories: Aitkin County, Beltrami County, Cass County, Clay County, Crow Wing County, Dakota County, Hennepin County, Itasca County, Lake County, Le Sueur County, Morrison County, Olmsted County, Otter Tail County, Pine County, Polk County, Ramsey County, Redwood County, Renville County, Washington County | Leave a comment

The most wonderful road trips of the year

When winter rolls around, I hop in the car to look for Christmas decorations on Minnesota main streets. I’m surprised that five years into these trips, there’s still so much variety to be seen. Not counting the simple snowflakes and wreaths, I keep spotting more tinsel or white-light shapes around nearly every corner.

My first trip of the season was a solo venture out west on 212 to Brownton, then north to Hutchinson and back on 7.

A snowflake, though with blue as well as white, in Norwood Young America:

six-pointed white snowflake with a blue star center

and this fun stack of presents:

a red present on its side on the bottom, a leaning gold present, and a small green present on top

I ventured off the main road when I saw a sign for Biscay (which I hadn’t heard of), and I’m glad I did.

Candy canes across the bridge in Glencoe:

a white wire candy cane on a light pole at the top right, and four more in a diagonal row off into the distance

And stockings down the entire street in Winsted:

a red stocking with candy canes in the middle, a diagonal row of the same stockings to the bottom left, and the Winsted water tower at the right

Cologne’s white wire shapes:

A sleigh in Missile Park in St. Bonifacius:

a wire horse pulling a man in a sleigh at the right, with a US Army statue in the background, at dusk

The next evening, we took a trip to Le Sueur to do the candlelight tour at the Mayo House. The park next to the house has this very bright tree:

giant tree glowing with white lights, and a small white house in the background

A week later, my husband and I took a trip up 169 and back to the Twin Cities on 65. I got to take pictures from the passenger seat.

Princeton variety:

This fun garland in Onamia reminded me of the Grinch tree:

two swoops of greenery with multicolored light bulbs, and a red bell hanging off the top greenery

A park scene in Onamia:

wire train set under a real pine tree, with three green tree decorations in the snow at the right

I enjoy the decorations that cross a street, like this one in Milaca:

double strand of greenery draped across the street, with big red bows at the corners, and a white circle in a wreath at the center saying Seasons Greetings MILACA

On the next street was this very festive bank:

brick building with four white pillars wrapped in greenery, greenery draped across the top front, and gold tinsel letters spelling NOEL at the top

After turning east at Lake Mille Lacs, we went through Isle. I first thought these swoopy stars were a fancy boot:

lamppost with a Seasons Greetings banner, with white swoops and star shapes above

Santas in the library window:

five homemade paper Santas

On the east end of town, I wondered why Santa wasn’t in the sleigh on the roof, then I noticed he is piloting a boat:

brown garage with a white wire sleigh and reindeer on the roof at the right, a blow-up boat with Santa and standing reindeer at the left

Ogilvie has a simple version of the decoration we saw in Milaca:

wreath with a white center that says Seasons Greetings

Finally, on a sunny day two days before Christmas, we took a road trip south on Highway 61. Wintry trees along the highway:

Pine trees along highway 61

Red Wing snowflake:

closeup of a white tinsel snowflake

and a decoration that stretches to all four corners of the intersection of Bush and 3rd:

looking up at a white light decoration that comes from four corners and meets in the middle, with multiple strands that look like bunting and two stars dangling on each side

We drove through Minneiska quickly and didn’t get close to any of these, but I wanted to include them anyway:

Kellogg started out with a plain snowflake near the highway, but driving into town we saw this great reindeer swag:

garland stretching across the street, with a wreath with three candles in the middle, and matching wire reindeer facing the center on both sides of the wreath

and then we stumbled across this simple and beautiful star display on the other end of town:

white strands across the road that look like bunting, with one white wire star in the center

More photos

Previous Christmas road trips

Categories: Carver County, Goodhue County, Hennepin County, Kanabec County, Le Sueur County, McLeod County, Mille Lacs County, Wabasha County, Winona County | Leave a comment

I didn’t walk 125 miles

A year ago, I was excited about the Minnesota State Parks’ 125th anniversary challenge: to walk, bike, and/or boat 125 miles. I even thought that I’d walk 125 miles and bike an additional 125 miles.

But then life got busy. I took a weeklong master naturalist training, and my weekends after that were mostly consumed with volunteer environmental work after that. Plus we spent months on various house projects.

So I didn’t get all the way to 125, but I did get a little more than halfway there, including visiting several new-to-me state parks and trails. Here’s what happened:

Started out strong on April 3 at Afton State Park (4.1 miles hiking). Beautiful early spring day – in the 60s. Lots of people, still some snow at next-door Afton Alps, very little green.

dirt trail through bare deciduous trees with a couple scattered pines

the high point of the park, a brown grassy area with pines in the distance

April 10: Nerstrand Big Woods (4.5 very wet and muddy miles hiking). This was a hike with my friend Sara, and I think it was unfortunately too early in the season to be at this park. Even one week later would have been a lot drier. We saw the waterfall, then hiked back west and did the south loop – first time for me on that path, though I’ve been to this park several times.

path through bare trees, all mud with wet footprints

grassy, waterlogged path through bare trees

April 17: Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail (13 miles biking). Wildflower-lined path from Morristown to Waterville and back, with the sun coming into and out of the clouds the entire time…

at the side of a paved path through the woods, at cement mile marker post 30

up-close view of Dutchman's breeches wildflowers

sunlit paved path with farmland on the left and sumacs on the right

…with a stopover at Sakatah Lake State Park halfway through to get our state park passport stamped.

mostly-cloudy at the lake, with five ducks swimming away

May 14: Rice Lake State Park (2.6 miles hiking). The pictures make it look sunny and pleasant, but that’s deceptive because it was quite chilly – 42 degrees.

burr oak forest:

trail through the woods in full sun, lots of green leaves on trees and small plants

oak savanna:

foreground all bright-green grass, green trees in the background, mostly sunny blue sky


small sliver of lake in the distance, lots of brown cattails before that, tree branches framing the photo

May 29: Lake Bemidji (4.1 miles hiking along the lake, through the forest, and on the bog loop).

sign for the Bog Trail at the right, the unpaved path in the middle, with people walking away in the distance

lake on the left, beach on the right, cloudy and windy

I spent a week in mid-June at Lac qui Parle State Park for naturalist training – and amusingly enough, even though I was there for such a long time, I didn’t have time to hike. Big storms on the first day and the last day. (0 miles)


I drove through the park to see what was there, though. Perhaps the park’s most well-known feature – besides the lake, obviously – is the huge 3D map, which is big enough that there’s an entire building to protect it.

mostly green relief map with a painted blue river flowing through it, under exposed beams of a large, open building

July 10: Biked the Douglas State Trail on the former Chicago Great Western Railway route between Pine Island and Douglas. Much of the trip was through a deciduous forest. It was a nice, sunny afternoon, which was fine in the shade, but in the countryside portion, it was pretty hot. (15 miles biking)

paved path through thick deciduous forest

cornfield on a partly cloudy day, with blooming milkweed and other wildflowers in the foreground

July 24: Drove through Itasca State Park two days after a huge storm (no hiking/biking, though).

view from the passenger seat on the road through a pine forest, with broken trees on both sides

September 5: Tried to bike the Gateway State Trail but accidentally ended up on the Brown’s Creek State Trail instead. The easy part was biking downhill into Stillwater, but then we had to bike uphill all the way back – and it was really humid. We spotted Minnesota’s oldest surviving stone arch bridge along the way. (12 miles biking)

the creek partly visible at the left with lots of grass and wildflowers on both sides, and a bridge at the right

an overlook showing a stone arch bridge, mostly obscured by vegetation

September 11: Actually made it to the Gateway State Trail and biked east all the way to the end of the paved portion. (8 miles biking).

paved path through the woods, with an unpaved horse path at the left, on a sunny day

paved path with forest on the left, a field and wildflowers on the right, bright blue sky

the trail intersects the highway, and though the trail continues on the other side, it's unpaved

November 13: Lake Maria State Park (5 miles hiking) on a solo walk after a stressful week of national politics. Nice reminder that the world is beautiful, and spring will come again someday.

dark blue, wavy Little Lake Mary

path through the woods, with most of the leaves on the ground

Even with the late push with longer bike trips in the fall, I only made it to 68.3 miles. Rockstar Sara of the Nerstrand adventure, though, completed all 125 miles, and all on foot! I’m looking forward to seeing new parks and trails in 2017, even without a mileage challenge to push me.

Categories: Beltrami County, Lac qui Parle County, Le Sueur County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County | Tags: | Leave a comment

Garland, wreaths, and snowflakes

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, it’s time to look back at my 2016 road trips to see the decorations in cities and towns across Minnesota. This year I didn’t make any special trips; I only visited when I was already going to an area – though admittedly I may have taken the long way once or twice. (Wait, this isn’t entirely true; the Isanti / Cambridge / Braham trip was just for fun. The other two trips, though were for other reasons.)

The themes this year: wreaths, garland, and snowflakes. That was all I saw on the lampposts, no matter which city.

Garland-wrapped lamp posts in Taylors Falls:

snow-covered Frostop drive-in with a lighted lamppost on the street in front


snow-covered garland on a lamp post, with a red Henderson season's greetings banner

and Chisago City:

sunny image of fake garland and white lightbulbs

Identical wreaths on all the buildings in Isanti:

Isanti Custom Meats with two large snow-covered wreaths

Revival building with one wreath with three white candles in the center

Wreaths in Cambridge:

wreath with a big red bow on the lamp post in front of Leader Department Store

and Jordan:

a row of three wreaths at the top of the lamp posts, with the lamp in the center

Snowflakes in…


lighted snowflake at dusk


sunny snowflake on the lamp post, with the coffee pot water tower in the background

Le Sueur:

snowflake on one side of the lamp post, red banner with three white snowflakes on the other

and Shakopee:

curly snowflake

The store windows and town squares were quite festive. It was really hard to take pictures without reflections from across the street, but I did my best.

Frandsen Bank & Trust in Braham:

reindeer and sleigh made of white lights

Floral shop in Jordan:

two large elves in one window, Santa in the other, snow falling and covering the decorated pots in front

Main Street in Le Sueur:

a Christmas tree in a storefront window, with garland bordering

Mrs. Claus and Mr. Claus on Main Street in Henderson:

painted images in the window, with another Santa sliding down a lamppost outside

Gazebos in Chisago City…

sunny photo of a gazebo with lights and two large candy canes

…and Braham:

garland circling the gazebo under the windows, icicle lights circling the roofline

Santa’s warming house in Belle Plaine:

a small red building with a North Pole mailbox

A nervous pig in the window of Isanti Retail Meats:

giant stuffed pink pig with a small green-and-red elf hat

Santa’s sleigh in the Cambridge State Bank:

red wire sleigh and three red wire conical trees in a window

…and the reindeer across the street at Herman’s Bakery and Deli:

two fancy white reindeer with curly antlers in one window, a white wiry tree in the window to the right

My favorite: a three-window painting of Santa and his sleigh in the windows of the Creamery Crossing cafe in Isanti. From right to left:


Santa with a sack overflowing with presents in front of a gift-covered sleigh

…the reindeer…

two brown flying reindeer

…and Rudolph, who is – of course – a cow.

a flying white-and-black cow with a glowing red nose


Previous Christmas road trips

Categories: Chisago County, Isanti County, Le Sueur County, Scott County, Sibley County | Leave a comment

Christmas decoration road trips

I love road trips in December because of the vintage Christmas decorations in small-town Minnesota. This year I took two trips just to see the lights – the first heading west along Highway 12 to Dassel, then north to 55 back to the Twin Cities (though it was too dark for pictures for the journey back), and the second south on 35 to Owatonna, back to Faribault, and then west to Waterville and New Prague. These were my favorites from the adventures (along with a couple extra photos from shorter trips).

My new favorite scene is in Montgomery, a city that celebrates its Czech heritage. These 3-D Christmas trees are paired with a blue banner that says “Peace” and “Joy” in both English and Czech.

tree decoration with a banner that says Pokoj Radost

The town also has two other styles:

garland and an antique streetlight, and a wreath with three red candles

Its neighbor, Lonsdale, has many design variations on the Season’s Greetings lights.

three drawings on white oval lights surrounded by garland

Antique street lights share a pole with the regular city spirit banners in Delano:

Share the Road with Bicycles banner next to a streetlight hanging from garland

Owatonna’s Central Park has trees in each corner, including a picturesque spot across from the historic National Farmers’ Bank:

tall tree with a gold tinsel star, in front of the historic bank, and a lightpole with garland and a wreath

Snowflakes in Northfield:

blue Welcome to Northfield banner next to a white snowflake

Simple wreaths in North St. Paul:

wreath on the left side of a lamppost with two lights

New Prague has candle wreaths like many other towns, and this jeweler added its own tree:

wreath on a utility pole next to Marquardt Jewelers sign with a tree made from green light strings

Grocery stores are painting their windows in New Prague…

painted words The Simple Joy of Food with painted cookies

…and Farmington:

painting of two elves and a skating snowman

Garland crossing the intersections in Cannon Falls:

four garland strands at the street corners, meeting at a wreath in the middle

Cannon Falls also has wreaths on its lampposts – an effect that is somewhat muppet-like when viewed up close:

two light bulbs with dead bugs that look like eyes above a large narrow wreath that looks like an open mouth

Snowflakes on lampposts that look like candles in Faribault:

white snowflake decoration on a light pole wrapped with red tinsel

This was the second time I drove through Morristown and Waterville, and I have a hard time keeping their names straight. I can remember the “Morris” and “Water” but never remember which is a town and which is a ville, so I usually end up saying Morrisville and Watertown. I reached these two just as the last light was fading, and the snowflakes were blinking on in Morristown:

lighted snowflake on a pole in front of a business with lighted decorations in the windows

Shooting stars in Waterville:

lighted star decorations on both sides of a quiet street

Skinny wire in Medford:

candle and Christmas tree

A variety in Rockford, including curly trees I haven’t seen anywhere else:

lighted set of bells, reindeer, and curly tree one one side of a busy street

Darwin had the most shapes of one style of decoration – in this case, white wire.

white wire shapes - snowman, angel, bells, candle, shooting star, horn, wreath

Waverly has two styles, the white-wire along Highway 12…

Welcome to Waverly banner with a dove, and a bell

…and “tinsel” style on Main Street.

colorful tinsel - candle, white snowflake with blue lights, a triangle-shaped tree, and a three-tiered tree

Montrose wins my Most Variety Award for 2015. Many different banners and tinsel shapes along Highway 12, snowflakes on the south side of County Road 12…

Peace banner, Season's Greetings oval, white wire snowflake, tinsel candles, candy cane, and tree

…and my second-favorite of the season, these ornate vintage street lights on the north side of County 12.

red streetlight circled twice by garland, more swirled above, Happy Holidays sign hanging on bottom

Other small-town Christmas trips

Categories: Dakota County, Goodhue County, Le Sueur County, Ramsey County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County, Wright County | Leave a comment

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