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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.


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.


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 3: An Anti-Climactic Conclusion, A Detainment, And An Amazing Sunset

Day 3: An Anti-Climactic Conclusion, A Detainment, And An Amazing Sunset

Keeping with the Paul Bunyan theme of the last post, the morning of Day 3 started with a trip to his….grave?

The inscription reads: “Here Lies Paul – And That’s All”

I don’t know. This was pretty amusing considering there’s about a 99.9999999% chance this guy never existed. But it was somehow a little moving. Paul Bunyan is awesome. Is this really where he’s buried?

No. It isn’t. But still.

Anyway. So I finally made it to the northernmost point of the contiguous United States – Northwest Angle, Minnesota. This was a pretty great moment because I’ve been to all of the other extremes as well as the geographic center of the United States.

The northernmost point in the contiguous USA. Or close enough to it.

So this was it.

It was……not so exciting. I mean it was cool to cross this off the list. But the location itself was not so inspiring. I mean it was fine. But it’s not even the “real” northernmost point, which is unmarked and requires a guide or a boat to get to. No thanks. This was good enough for me. It was also a pain to get to, with gravel roads making the last 30 miles of the journey through Canada and back into Minnesota a slog. It was pretty cool to use the video phone to check in with both US and Canadian customs as I went in/out. Still…not the most exciting moment of my life. Not even the most exciting on this trip (the first moments in Minnesota or the headwaters of the Mississippi would take that crown).

Oh and in a final insult, the only restaurant in town can only cook fish that you catch yourself!

Jerry’s Restaurant: The very first BYOF establishment I’ve ever been to.

It’s not really their fault, there’s some regulation issues with them catching fish from the lake. But what the hell! I did have a nice conversation with the bartenders there about life in “the Angle”. It’s crazy, but from 6th grade onwards, kids have to cross the border back into the “mainland” of Minnesota each day to go to school! It’s two hours including a customs inspection EACH WAY. EVERY DAY. UGH!!!!!

From Angle Inlet, I had a decision to make. Do I head right back into the US and make for North Dakota or gun it across Manitoba into Saskatchewan to get credit for the province. After an hour of gravel roads though, and realizing that it would take me about ten hours out of my way (AND through Canada which means either international roaming charges or no phone for an entire day) I decided to play it safe.

That’s just about enough of this…

Turns out it was probably for the best, because crossing back into the US at the Roseau border crossing was a bit of an adventure. I’ve crossed in and out of Canada lots of times by car and never had any issues. Apparently though, my story about Ariel being away for the weekend, prompting me to fly to Iowa and drive all the way up to the Angle and back was not too believable.

The border patrol woman had me drive off to the side and then politely asked (ordered) me out of the car. It might have been my imagination but I’m pretty sure she had her hand close to her hip (i.e. close to her gun) the entire time. She also made a point of stating that my door was unlocked which allowed her to open and inspect the car. Now I had nothing to hide obviously, but when I realized that this whole time they still had not returned my passport, I started to get nervous.

I had to wait in the facility with another agent while she performed a thorough search of my car. She even got the mirror pole thing to look underneath. And the whole time she’s doing that, I’m standing inside, at a counter (like at a deli), while the other agent is politely asking (interrogating) me questions. Now he didn’t CALL it an interrogation. And it wasn’t like in the movies with the bright lights and all that, but he was asking me lots of questions – in a way that was designed to just sound like a chat – but was clearly looking to poke holes in my story.

Like he mentioned to me that he saw I’d been to the Dominican Republic “a few times” – that’s not true. I was only there once and my passport was clearly stamped as such. He asked me where I lived, what I did for a living, where else I’d been in the United States. Did I eat anything while I was in the Angle? What was it? Where did I eat it? It was all very non-confrontational, but just knowing what he was doing (and what she was doing in my car), made me feel like I DID have something to hide, even though I didn’t.

And I kept thinking about what the female guard said when she had me get out of the car. I’d mentioned that Ariel was at a bachelorette party this weekend which is why I was free to travel on my own. She asked me if she was ALREADY my wife, how is she at her OWN bachelorette party. Which of course, she wasn’t. She was at her FRIEND’S party. But I guess the agent mis-heard that and therefore thought I was lying.

Again, I knew I had nothing to hide, but all kinds of visions of crooked cops planting evidence flashed through my mind. Had I actually done something wrong that they saw on camera as I approached without knowing about it? What if they didn’t like my (always problematic) attitude/demeanor and decided to teach me a lesson?

And I still had not been given my passport back…

Eventually, the agent came back and just inserted herself into the conversation I was already having with the other guy…who FINALLY gave me back my passport. We had a discussion about where I was going next (Devils Lake, ND) and what they both thought of the area. In the end, I had to ask if I was free to go. No one told me I was in the clear until I asked. And I just knew that they still didn’t believe anything I told them. And really why would they? What kind of weirdo comes ALL THE WAY from New Jersey to go the freakin’ Northwest Angle? Having been there, I can understand their skepticism.

Welcome home…well maybe “welcome” isn’t exactly the right word here.

So that was not so fun to deal with, but hey adventures aren’t all pony-rides in May-sunshine right?

Finally I was back on the road. And finally after two miserable, grey, drizzly/rainy days, as I headed west I could see a literal end to the overcast.

It was amazing, like I had been driving through the Holland Tunnel for two days and suddenly burst out in to the light. Only instead of Jersey City, I was greeted with one of my favorite landscapes in the world.

My mighty steed for this trek, a maroon Hyundai Sante Fe….

As the sun went down I stopped by the side of the road…next to a SUNFLOWER FARM. One of the greatest places I’ve ever watched the sunset.

Another hour of driving and I settled in at the Rodeway Motel at Devils Lake for the final night of the trip. All missions complete, back in America, my thoughts now turned to home as I turned in for the night.

And that was Day 3.