Travels 2016: Exploring Minnesota

Minnehaha Falls in Minneapolis.

Minnesota may be best known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but it could easily be called the “Land of 10,000 attractions.” It seems like we took in so many sights during our trips to the north land this year. From learning about my family’s involvement with Minnesota history to visiting the river community of Stillwater twice, we enjoyed each trip to the state.

Historic Fort Snelling in St. Paul served several roles during its 120-year history. Opened in 1826 to provide security for the growing fur trade, soldiers at Fort Snelling deterred aggression by Native Americans, as well as potential invasions by the British from Canada.

During the Dakota-Minnesota War in the early 1860s, about 1,600 Dakota (Santee) natives were imprisoned at the fort prior to eventually being to the Santee reservation in northeastern Nebraska. My great-great-grandparents and great-grandfather were among the imprisoned. It was interesting and sad to learn they were there. The Native Americans were poorly treated by the military at the fort.

Fort Snelling served the military for more than 120 years.

Minnesota’s next family connection was actually much more enjoyable. We visited the SPAM Museum in Austin. My daughters’ grandfather worked for Hormel in Fremont, Nebraska. The plant made SPAM during his time. The museum tells the history of the George Hormel Company and the origination of SPAM.

The SPAM Museum moved locations in the spring. It quickly became a popular tourist attraction.

While the bank’s clerk was killed, Northfield successfully prevented the Jesse James gang from robbing the town’s bank during the mid-1870s.The bank has been turned into a museum. Townspeople realized the robbery was going and took action to thwart it.

Inside the Northfield Bank museum.

The Mississippi River starts in Minnesota, so we thought it would be fun to participate in a tour of the Great River Road while attending a travel conference in Bloomington. The Great River Road actually runs from Minnesota to the end of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. We visited a few cities along the Minnesota route.

LARK Toys in Kellogg offers an eclectic look into the world of games and toys. The store is home to a museum, taking a look at the history of games and toys. Exhibits hug the walls of the main hallway at the store. Visitors can relive their childhoods through the displays, which include dolls, small action figures, automobiles, robots, and games.

Toys that are part of the museum at LARK Toys in Kellogg.

Our next stop on the Great River Road tour had a personal connection to me. During a stop at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, I learned that a statue standing alongside the Mississippi River was a tribal ancestor. Chief Wapahasha II (also known as The Leaf) was a tribal ancestor. His father, Wapahasha I (Red Standard or Red Cap), as well as his son, Wapahasha III (Bounding Wind), served as leaders of the eastern Dakota (known by non-Indians as Santee Sioux). The city was named after Wapahasha II, considered by the United States government as the first chief of his people.

Chief Wapahasha II

The National Eagle Center, itself, works to save and protect injured eagles. The center currently has four eagles at the center – three bald eagles and a golden eagle. Each eagle will remain at the center, as they’re unable to return to the wild.

A golden eagle at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha.

After our visit to the eagle center, we made our way along the Great River Road to Red Wing. Perhaps you’ve heard the name before. It’s home to Red Wing Boots, some of the best American-made working boots. Red Wing Boots is home to the world’s largest boot. The boot stands two floors high. It’ a size 638 ½ D. Maybe Paul Bunyan could use a pair that size?

The world’s largest boot is located inside the Red Wing boot store.

Two visits to Stillwater gave us a look at the eastern Minnesota burg during summer and autumn. Our first visit allowed us time to check out the community with a trolley tour (as part of a travel conference outing). We viewed several mansions built on top the bluff overlooking the city. The mansions once belonged to logging magnates. Stillwater was built on the logging industry.

One of the mansions in Stillwater.

A self-guided tour of downtown gave us a closer look at some of the older buildings. An old sawmill is now home to antique dealers. Candyland is based in the Twin Cities, but has a store in Stillwater. It’s known for its mix of popcorn.

All kinds of candy are available at Candyland.

Our second visit to Stillwater came during leafing season. We thought it would be a great place to take in the changing colors. Unfortunately, Mother Nature cooperated with us to an extent. While the leaves were in peak season for colors, the gray clouds prevented them from popping with color. We did, however, have a good time during our visit, which included a jazz-themed paddle boat cruise.

Colors were abundant during our autumn visit to Stillwater.

Albert Lea in southern Minnesota is the hometown of Mrs. C and an early rocker. Marion Ross and Eddie Cochran grew up in Albert Lea. They were each proud of their hometown. Ross – who rose to fame in the role of Mrs. Cunningham on the 1970s hit television series “Happy Days” – routinely returns home.

Marion Ross donated this truck to the county historical museum.

Cochran, who made “Summertime Blues” in to a major hit died at a young age. Cochran was 21 when he died in a car accident during a concert tour in England. Albert Lea hosts Eddie Cochran Weekend annually.

A fall trip took us to Roseville, a suburb “perfectly positioned” between the Twin Cities of St. Paul and Minnesota. The city of 33,000 is situated only minutes from attractions such as Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Minnehaha Falls Park and downtown Minneapolis. The state fairgrounds are about 10 minutes from Roseville. We visited the first-ever “Pumpkin Nights” event at the fairgrounds.

Como Park Conservatory.

While Roseville prides itself on its proximity to the Twin Cities, it’s also home to some of its own attractions. Roseville was the first site of a Target store. Today, a Super Target stands on the grounds, but a marker recognizes its role in the chain’s history.

Site of the original Target store.

Bent Brewstillery is Minnesota’s only brewery and distillery. Bent ages beer in its liquor barrels, which provides each batch with its own unique taste. Besides three main beers, Bent also produces a poitin, whiskey and gin.

Bent is the only brewstillery in Minnesota.

Minnesota has so much to offer. As we look forward to planning trips to new destinations, we enjoyed the sites we visited in 2016. We had a great time exploring Minnesota.

For more information on state attractions, please visit