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A Final Note On Iowa, Minnesota And The Northernmost Point In The Continental United States

A Final Note On Iowa, Minnesota And The Northernmost Point In The Continental United States

As I write this on the plane ride home and my last solo trip is already starting to feel like a distant memory. I’m so excited to be reunited with my travel mate (and life mate!) but before I turn my thoughts to our upcoming trip to Alaska, I wanted to post some reflections on what I just experienced.

First a bit about the two last states I crossed off my list within the contiguous USA.

Iowa and Minnesota certainly have their charms.

The sign you see as you leave the Field of Dreams.

Iowa, is really covered in corn fields. Like it’s ludicrous how accurate that stereotype is. Most of the time I had corn on one side of the car and often on both sides of the car.

Now, we have a lot of corn in New Jersey…

Man do they love their corn in Iowa.

…but nothing like this.

Minnesota is really huge. It’s basically Iowa on steroids. I was also shocked by how familiar the landscape looked the entire time I was there. If you put a picture of the Minnesota countryside next to the Pennsylvania countryside it would be really hard to tell the difference. When I got back from my 2010 solo coast-to-coast road trip I would joke to people that everything between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River is basically just West Jersey. And even then, once you get past the Mississippi (which is always an impressive sight to behold) it’s basically the same until you get close to Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Turns out that Minnesota and Iowa are no exception. Yes the Mississippi River areas were really cool. And seeing a bald eagle was really moving – as was getting to the source of the Mississippi. The western part of Minnesota did start to flatten out so you got some of that “big sky” feeling but that was really only for the last 50 miles or so.

Minnesota definitely has things worth seeing. Like the source of the Mississippi River!

It just doesn’t look that different from home. Rolling hills. Trees. Corn. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The Mississippi River In Iowa. Or is it the Hudson River? Or the Raritan? Or the Delaware?

And that’s kind of why I was pretty ehhhh about both states.

I mean seriously, how can you compete with views like this:

Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona.

Or this:

Bryce Canyon in Utah.

Or this:

Chaco Canyon in New Mexico.

Or the picture at the top of this post (Monument Valley in Arizona).

You can’t. You just can’t. No other places on Earth have those wild landscapes.

If I was building an itinerary with must-see states I would always start with the Four Corners region. Then I’d spend a while in California. After that it’s a toss-up between Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and the Pacific Northwest. Even Kansas and Nebraska had more striking vistas than where I just went. It’s really incredible how excited I was when I approached the North Dakota border and suddenly had a 360 degree view of the horizon.

By the way that’s not a knock on Iowa or Minnesota. I’m sure people from those states would throw up after spending 10 minutes in New Jersey, a state that looked like their states but was overcrowded and oversmogged. And it’s also not to say that there are “bad” states. Every state should be visited because they all have something unique to offer.

Well except for Pennsylvania. That place is horrible and is the worst place in the world.

Oh I’m only kidding.

*Or am I? I really hate Pennsylvania and it is a terrible, terrible place.

Anyway…

The bottom line is that I’m glad I went. Really glad. But I’m also glad that I prioritized places with truly spectacular (a word that gets WAY overused when describing places) things to see before I went here. Really it was a perfect ending to a journey that I’ve been on for most of my life because if I was just driving through on the way to somewhere else I probably would have just jumped out of the car to take a picture of the welcome signs and kept going.

Doing it like this meant I got to see the Field of Dreams! And a bald eagle! And a mound of grass shaped like a bear! And the source of the Mississippi River! And get almost arrested at the border!

Well never mind that last one, that sucked.

But you get my drift.

Finally, a quick note on the Northwest Angle, AKA the northernmost point in the USA.

Cool place, but there’s still like half a continent above it!

Look – I’m glad I went. It would have been pretty dumb to go to all the other extremes AND the geographic center of the US (by accident no less!) and not take care of this one once I finally made it to Minnesota. But unless this is part of a personal quest of yours like the one I just completed (or you have your own fishing boat), this is really more hassle than it’s worth.

The people I met were really nice, but when compared to the other extremes, even within the continental US, this is the most underwhelming. First of all the other three locations are all on a coast, so you really get the feeling that you’re staring off into forever. Cape Alava in Washington looks really cool and features a really nice hike to get there. Key West is…Key West so it’s worth visiting on its own. West Quoddy Head in Maine has a great lighthouse and being that it is the only contiguous extreme that is TRULY the furthest you can go in America means you can stand there to watch the sunrise and be the first person in the country to see the sun.

The Northwest Angle, while quirky, does not really have anything like that. It’s surrounded by land and a lake. So when you look around, it just looks like you’re anywhere in America that has a lake. And it is SUCH a hassle to get there.

But the people are really nice. And apparently it’s a great place to go fishing – so if that’s your thing you should TOTALLY go there.

I guess what I’m saying is if you’re going to go there, make it for another reason, not just to see the northernmost tip. And go by boat if you can. Four international border crossings in one day is just TOO STRESSFUL to be worth it.

*PS I was just kidding about Pennsylvania. My sister and brother-in-law live there! And there’s lots of cool stuff to see there – you could spend days just around Philadelphia seeing Revolutionary War stuff, Constitution stuff, Declaration of Independence stuff and lots of other stuff too! And I guess Philadelphia has a lot to see too if you’re into big cities. I just hate Pennsylvania with a passion mostly because of their obnoxious and awful sports teams.

Mostly…

For more on Iowa and Minnesota, check out my day by day recap of my 1,200 mile journey to complete my seven-year long mission to visit all Lower 48 states.

Day 1: In which I achieve my goal and visit the Field of Dreams
Day 2: In which I stumble upon the headwaters of the Mississippi River and meet a bald eagle
Day 3: In which I hit the Northernmost Point in the Lower 48 and get detained at the border
Day 4: In which I hang out with bison and check out an abandoned nuclear missile silo

Day 1: Primary Mission ACCOMPLISHED

Day 1: Primary Mission ACCOMPLISHED

So the first day 1 of this trip are now behind me……..and so far, so good.

Day 1 started with a relatively painless experience at EWR and then a pretty long layover in Chicago. The United Lounge at O’Hare was ehhhhhok. Apparently they’ve decided to follow Delta’s lead and offer up Mac ‘n Cheese plus soup. It just wasn’t as good as Delta’s offering in Atlanta. Anyway, who cares, right? United Lounges all suck and you should never pay to use them.

Landing in Iowa was actually a pretty big moment for me because right then and there, I got my 47th state.

After switching my car rental reservation from a minivan to a pretty lame (but not as lame as a minivan) Hyundai Sante Fe it was off to the races. I had only three hours to get from the airport to the “Field of Dreams” and then get to Effigy Mounds National Monument before it closed at 6 pm.

The Field of Dreams

I made it. The Field of Dreams site is actually really cool. I had never seen the movie until I watched it on yesterday’s flight, but like everyone else I always knew the whole “if you build it, he will come” thing. The filming location looks exactly like the movie, as you might expect. The outfield wall really is a cornfield. What really makes it a must see destination though is that it is TOTALLY FREE. I mean, I was barely a fan of the movie and I would have happily paid a few dollars just to see the place. It’s also pretty easily accessible as it’s only about a three and a half hour drive from Chicago. You can easily make a day trip to here AND Effigy Mounds from the Windy City.

Speaking of Effigy Mounds, that was stop number two. This is a really interesting location that was basically used by American Indians as a burial site. Today it’s a preserved space with really nice forest hikes.

I made a new friend on my hike! So what if he ran off as soon as he saw me!

I’d already been to a place like this near St. Louis that is much bigger and more impressive looking from afar, but what makes Effigy Mounds so fascinating is that they created these burial mounds in the shapes of animals. I only got to see the one that looks like a bear, but there are lots more if you have the time.

Little Bear Mound

Also you get a really good view of the Mississippi River from the overlooks at the site. Absolutely worth it to see this place.

The mighty Mississippi.

From Effigy Mounds it was, at last, time to move to the completion of a mission I began just over seven years ago. State number 48, the last state I had to visit of the contiguous United States was Minnesota……..

I did it. I can finally I’ve been to all of the continental United States.

…and I finally did it on my first day out here. Man, what a feeling. The border crossing where I went from Iowa into Minnesota was pretty remote. I was alone.

The Iowa/Minnesota border.

Well except for like 1,000 mosquitoes but I didn’t care. It was really amazing to be able to say that I’ve been to every one of the Lower 48 United States. Alaska and Hawaii are still to come, but those are “vacation destination” type of places that are not so different than going to the Bahamas or Europe. Amazing places to be sure (I’ll let you know firsthand about Alaska next week), but in some ways easier to get to than say, Nebraska. You have to REALLY WANT to get to Nebraska. And Delaware. And Maine. And freakin’ Minnesota. So it was really a big moment for me to get this done.

And that was Day 1.

One Last (solo) Ride

One Last (solo) Ride

So this has been a pretty big year for us. Not only did we bring home a new dog member of the family………

But he’s going to be a big brother to our first child this coming January!

Needless to say, as excited as we both are, our availability for travel – especially the type of travel we love best – is going to be dropping from complicated (with the responsibility of a dog) to essentially nonexistent (with a baby…toddler…family).

It’s not that we won’t be able to go anywhere, but truly unplugging in some remote location at the far end of the world will soon be literally impossible for years. And while finding adventure in the everyday is how we try to live our lives, the days of 50 day long road trips from one side of the US to the other are well behind me at this point.

So it’s time for one last ride.

This weekend Ariel is going to a bachelorette party. Next week we are going on a “babymoon” to ALASKA. In between, with a suddenly free weekend of being solo, staring down the barrel of the ultimate responsibility, I decided to move closer to completing TWO of my main travel quests.

Years ago, I decided I wanted to try and reach all 50 states. The only two left of the lower 48 that I haven’t been to are Minnesota and Iowa. With Alaska coming up next week, I decided to sandwich in a quick getaway while I still have the chance.

Here’s the planned route:

It’s a little bit aggressive.

1,020 miles in just about three days works out to about 6 hours on the road per day. I’ve dealt with much worse. The big question I suppose, is really, why even bother with this whole endeavor?

Well here’s what I’ll be crossing off the list over the next three days:

1. Hitting the last two states in the Lower 48. With Alaska next week, that means I will be one state away (Hawaii) from my ultimate goal.
2. Due to an odd quirk in how the border between the United States and Canada was designed (more on that later), I have to actually venture into Canada on this mission. That gives me credit for Manitoba. Along with British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick, I’m about halfway to getting all the Canadian Provinces! Actually who am I kidding, when in the world am I ever getting to freakin Nanavut. Still, I’m only Yukon and Saskatchewan away from all the bordering provinces at least. Whatever.
3. If you follow my map, you’ll see I’m heading all the way up into the farthest tip of Minnesota. This is actually the northernmost point in the Lower 48. I’ve already been to the furthest east (Lubec, Maine), south (Key West, FL) and west (Cape Alava, WA) points. AND due to a sheer stroke of luck I stood at the geographic center of the Lower 48 (Lebanon, KS). So this is it for that list. Another sidequest completed.
4. My route takes me to the source of the Mississippi River, the “Field of Dreams” in Iowa, and Fargo, North Dakota! Also Effigy Mounds National Monument and Minneapolis are on this route.

Sunrise over the easternmost Point in the United States. West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, Lubec, Maine.

The bigger question – is why now?

Well, to be honest, I really don’t see another opportunity in the immediate future. Maybe ever. Minnesota and Iowa were two states I left off of my epic solo road trip in 2010. Ariel isn’t especially interested. And what circumstance really exists where I would ever bring a child (or an entire family) to either state? No offense, but they don’t exactly rank very high. The priorities – outside of the immediate vicinity of New Jersey – would probably be places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and other amazing places that Ariel has never been. Certainly the Grand Canyon or the Utah Parks, plus numerous international travel destinations, would come first. And if Ariel and I are going for a mom/dad only weekend getaway…….neither Iowa nor Minnesota are likely to make the cut.

Taking it even a step further, as the name of this blog implies, this – right now – is the time I’ve been given to achieve this goal. Who am I if I don’t take my own advice?

Finally, with our trip to Alaska coming up next week, that means that whenever we go to Hawaii – most likely as a family – I’ll be able to share the ultimate completion of my main travel quest with my future children and wife.

I can think of no better way – even if it doesn’t happen for decades – to reach the finish line, than that.

Here we go…

Stay tuned for updates from the road.