A Small Stream

Deep in the middle of Itasca State Park is Lake Itasca, the source of a small, unassuming stream that opens up to span over 2,300* miles to the Gulf of Mexico, creating the 4th largest river in the world.

April & I drove through the huge 32,000-acre state park, heading for the closest parking lot to Lake Itasca. I’d like to interject that this is a beautiful time of year to visit the park, the foliage is gorgeous, the weather is nearly perfect for hiking, and there are very few, if any, mosquitos!

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We finally found the parking lot and hiked down a winding trail to the lake, with a dam of rocks that is the start of the the Mississippi river.

After negotiating our way across the rocks, we walked downstream to the next crossing and crossed back.  We ambled along side the stream for a bit, marveling at the size–or rather lack thereof.  It seemed a mere trickle to what I had seen at various points downstream, including its delta in New Orleans.

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After a few more pics–and the obligatory selfie (us-ie?)–we got back in the car and continued heading south, Twin City-bound!

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PS–You can read a plethora of facts about the Mississippi River from the National Park Service, but one of the most interesting facts (in my humble opinion) is that the elevation of the river at Lake Itasca is 1475 feet above sea level and drops nearly half of that elevation before it leaves the state of Minnesota.

*Also there is some discrepancy exactly how long the river is, with some sources, like the US Geological Society, stating it is 2,300 miles and others, like Itasca State Park, stating it is 2,552 miles and still many more than fall in between these two lengths.

Chinese Non-Delivery

Remember in my earlier posts about it being the start of low season and everything closing up early?  Turns out, that affected the food industry as well.  Since our deck had not one, but two grills, we decided it might be fun to grill something for dinner.  We found a grocery store, strolled around for awhile, but nothing struck our fancy.  So we decided Chinese delivery sounded great, bought some candy and left.

Get back to B&B, find the menu, and notice that they don’t offer delivery service between October and April.  Great! Fantastic!  We peruse through the rest of the menus that would deliver–at least in October–but nothing sounded as good, so we opted to go back into town to pick up dinner.  Besides, I needed coffee supplies anyway–because thankfully while April was reading the menu, I was exploring kitchen supplies and noticed the only coffee on hand was decaf.  DECAF!  DEEEEEECAAAAAAFFFFFFFF.  Who does that?!?!? Plus it also allowed us to pick up blizzards at Dairy Queen–so in the end, it was quite a successful jaunt into town.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Chinese delivery take-out:  it’s 7:40pm when we call.  It’ll take about 30 minutes, can we be there by 8pm?  Uh, what?  Okay [definitely not arguing with getting our food faster].  She gives me the price and the address and just happens to mention not to be late because they close at 8pm.  Okay.  BY 8PM [she just keeps repeating this].  Message received loud and clear.  We arrive at 7:53pm because, well, we definitely wanted our food–not just because we were hungry–rather we weren’t sure if any other food options would still be open other than the 24-hour gas mart.  At this point we were even panicking that DQ might be closed.

Fortunately it was still open.

With food, blizzards, and coffee supplies in our hot little hands, we returned back to the B&B for a quiet night in, playing Lord of the Rings Trivial Pursuit.  And for those of you in my life who think I’m a LotR’s fanatic, I just want you to know that April kicked my ass!

The Great Canadian Trek

Having made the grand loop in International Falls in record time, we then decided to just go for broke and head to Canada.  After a few failed attempts by Siri and Google Maps (of course it was their fault!), we finally found a parking spot near the bridge to cross the border on foot.

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Once on the other side, we followed the sign (there was only one…as opposed to the US side, where there was a sign every 10 feet and arrows on the walkway) to the Canadian Immigration Office.

After a few glances around to make sure that we were in the right building, we walked in and presented our passports.

What is your destination in Canada?

The Yukon, we thought we’d hike there (just kidding–I learn a loooong time ago not to mess with Border Patrol or Airport Security, but that’s a story for another time).

We just came to visit Fort Frances.

And your purpose for your visit?

To…visit…Fort…Frances.

Will you be visiting relatives?

No ma’am.

Friends?

No ma’am.

So, you’re not visiting anyone?

No ma’am.

Why are you here, again?

To just to see your beautiful town.

Silence [oh shit, we we not supposed to enter Canada?].  Agent looks very befuddled.

So you’re not visiting anyone?  No family?  No friends?

No ma’am, I’m visiting my friend, we drove up this morning from St. Paul and just wanted to wander about the town, maybe do some shopping, you know stuff like that.

Where are you staying?

International Falls–at a B&B.

So you don’t actually know anyone here?

No ma’am.

More silence. Big sigh [handing back our passports].

Alright.  Welcome to Canada.

We hightailed it out of the building and towards the quaint little town.  We found a cute little coffee shop but decided to stop on our way back, since it quickly became very apparent that most shops were either closed or closing soon.

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We walked down what we presumed to be the main street.  We peeked into a lot of windows with CLOSED signs and stopped into the few shops that were open–mainly out of curiosity of what kind of shop would still be open at 4:15pm on a Saturday afternoon!  We made a large block, stopping for photos along the way.  We looped our way back to the cute little coffee shop for a coffee/hot chocolate and perhaps a snack before heading back.

We walked up, pulled on the door, and it didn’t open.  HAHAHAHAHA. Oh look, it closed at 4:30pm!

Now we understood the Immigration Agent’s confusion about why we were visiting.  Actually, we realized about 5 minutes in, but this really drove the point home.

Finally admitting defeat, we waved as we passed by the Immigration office.  Less than an hour after crossing into Canada we were back home.  The US Border Patrol agent chuckled at our story and seemed amused it took us almost an hour.

Yeah, things close up pretty early across the river.

Turns out, it was pretty much the same in International Falls.  As we walked towards the car, we noticed a souvenir shop.  We first checked the hours of operation, celebrated that we still had 15 minutes to grab some kitschy gifts, only to walk up to the door and discovered that they closed early for the day.

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Good thing we have a room with a view!

International Falls

Things change.  I know, I know–let the eye rolling begin.  However, I am only mentioning this because for my 30th birthday I received the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.  In the USA chapters, it lists International Falls, MN as one of these places.

I have been dropping hints to April left, right, and center EVERY SINGLE TRIP–or even mention of a trip–to Minnesota I’ve made since I got this book.  For 10 long years has poor April had to endure these not so subtle hints, which is apparently her ceiling for being harassed 😉

International Falls, MN:  one of top 1000 places to see before you die?  Ummmm…I’m going to have to agree to disagree on this one.  DO NOT GET ME WRONG.  It’s a great little town, and yes, we were there during start of low season, but the Falls–which are to be the highlight of International Falls–are actually covered/been diverted or something the nice border patrol agent told us that I can’t remember right now…

It is also known as the coldest place in the United States, but honestly, I have NO DESIRE WHATSOEVER to experience that.

What you don’t want to miss is the giant Smokey Bear in the middle of town.

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Oh c’mon…don’t even act like you aren’t going to stop the car and take a couple of pictures if you were driving through and saw it.  Besides, April and I have a penchant for tracking down the “World’s Largest [fill in blank here]”.  I could probably create an entire blog for that, but instead you’ll just have to settle for a few posts.

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It was a nice change of pace and the scenery was gorgeous.  We stayed in a cute B&B right on water.  It was right outside of town and had a large lumberjack to greet us!

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Because we were the only ones there that night, we were upgraded to the biggest suite.  It was rather peaceful just sitting out on the deck–albeit a bit surreal knowing that I was looking at Canada.  It was also rather remote.  Sure there was a railroad and were a lot of cabins and houses around, but most were vacant and or sparsely filled.  Not that we minded, it allowed us time to wander around the neighborhood.

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It was fun and I’m very glad that we went…even if the entire trip April kept giving me looks of “this is why I’m confused why you were so insistent about coming here.”  Should you go?  Absolutely!  Must you see it before you die? I’m gonna say no.  There were other places on our trip that I thought were more must-sees than International Falls, which is why you should always listen to your local guide darling friend that grew up there, even if a book suggests otherwise!

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PS–I do want to leave you with a bit of advice: if you do go to International Falls, MN and you get a slightly remote B&B by the water and you and your friend are the only ones in the house that has no locks and your friend who lovingly drove the entire trip turns in early because she’s tired, you should NOT start a Criminal Minds marathon.  I’m just saying…creeeeeeeepy!

Have Passport, Will Roadtrip.

You always travel with your passport, right?

Of course, I keep it with me all the time–because you never know when you might have to leave the country quickly.

I thought so, but I wanted to double check…and well, remind you to bring your passport.

Like for Birthday Trip #1, my only requests for Birthday Trip #2 is to go somewhere I hadn’t been before and I didn’t want to plan it (wow, I really AM a prima donna!).  Once we had decided that MSP would be our starting point, I pretty much let April take over the planning.  And by pretty much, I mean totally (thanks, April, for allowing me to foist that upon you!).

So when the aforementioned conversation happened, I was hopeful that Canada was going to make the itinerary.  I mean, April does live in a border state.  But one never knows, perhaps you now need a passport to go to South Dakota.  All I was told is that my first full day in Minnesota would be an early start and I would need a change of clothes.

Passport?  Check!

Extra clothes?  Check!

Snacks?  DOUBLE CHECK! (what?  this is me–April knew snacks were her best bet to keep me awake during our drive).

Coffee?  First stop, right around corner from April’s house.

As we pulled out of the parking lot, April handed me a stack of papers:

You navigate.  And since you’re bound to figure out soon, if you haven’t done so already, we’re headed for Canada, so if you forgot your passport now would be the time to say something.

I’m quite sure I squealed in response.  In less than a month, I went from the most southern point to the top of the country.  I was excited.  Six hours and change is how long it took to get our destination: International Falls, MN.   This meant that I could cross another place off from my 1,000 Places to See Before You Die book.  Don’t roll your eyes at me–it’s the little things in life.

During our drive north, the foliage changed considerably–from barely any change in the Twin Cities to nearly bare trees when we got to International Falls.  It was quite a beautiful contrast to the plush greenery of Florida.

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