Pine 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

Festive Minnesota towns

I love driving through small-town Minnesota in December, seeing all the vintage Christmas lights. One Saturday in 2014 we drove up Old 61 to Duluth, stopping in every town along the way. Out-of-order, here’s what we saw.

Rudolph in Hinckley.

white outline of a reindeer with a red nose

Dala horse in Cloquet.

Dala horse covered in net Christmas lights

Festive dinosaur on the playground in Mahtowa.

green apatosaurus with a wreath around its neck, in front of a snow-covered slide

A stocking in Rutledge.

red stocking with a candy cane and toys coming out the top

A couple candles in Sandstone.

two red candles with different flames

A bell in Sturgeon Lake.

green bell with a red bow

Curb-to-curb garland in Pine City.

garland with a wreath in the middle and old-style lights on both sides, and tree and wreath decorations on the other light posts down the street

Starburst in Barnum.

three white stars with wavy streaks

Light poles wrapped in garland in Carlton.

lighted garland

Wreaths are a popular choice on Minnesota main streets. Finlayson, North Branch, and Pine City have the same style.

three wreaths, each with three candles and a big red bow

Harris, Rush City, and Moose Lake have other styles of wreaths.

tinsel, artificial greenery, and a green wire

We finished the adventure at Bentleyville in Duluth.

Bentleyville 2014 main entrance, with the giant lighted tree in the background

The Lift Bridge in lights:

S.S. Bentleyville ship sailing under the lift bridge

Paul and Babe:

Paul Bunyan chopping down a tree with Babe the Blue Ox's help

And, perhaps in a nod to Mahtowa, dinosaurs:

apatosauruses and pterodactyls near palm trees

A couple other favorites from the season, though not from this trip:

Folsom House in Taylors Falls, with each room decorated for Christmas by a local business.

front entrance to a big white house, with the pillars wrapped in red ribbon and a wreath with garland above the door

A wreath again in Scandia.

artificial greenery with four sets of three red ornaments, and a now-pink bow on top

Rice Park in downtown St. Paul.

the tall, skinny blue tree with white lights in the foreground

These photos were retroactively posted on Dec. 1, 2015. I don’t know why I didn’t create this post in 2014; perhaps it’s because I recorded it all on Instagram instead.

Other small-town Christmas trips

Categories: Carlton County, Chisago County, Pine County, Ramsey County, St. Louis County, Washington County | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at