Our road trip to a small town in Northern Minnesota started yesterday and it rained all day. Luckily, the rain came down in mists instead of buckets and I saw the landscape change from shopping malls to lakes and trees. There were only a few travelers driving the same route during off season.
As we moved further out of the city and up highway 35, the trees that lined the roads started to change into white birch bark and pine trees. The trees were bursting with buds and looked like deep russet hair ready to spring from the roots.
My husband and I chased the rain the whole way there. We had to stop at Hinckley Casino to go to the bathroom close to 2 hours in. Yes, we blew a whopping $25 dollars before we left but I was on a mission. We had to make our next destination and we didn’t stay to lose more money or win a jackpot.
Our next leg stretch only lasted a few selfies and videos in Cloquet. Our planned stop was at the worn but still standing gas station of Frank Lloyd Wright. The only gas station he designed for at the request of someone he knew. The sight wasn’t spectacular but it was a small part of history that most people don’t know about.
We hopped back in our rental and made our way over the bridge to watch endless rows of trees. Once in a while we passed large groupings of rocks. The view outside the window changed from marshy woods held together with dead winter straw into rocky hills.
Large, rounded deep blue marked the beginning of the iron range and we made our planned stop at Vi’s Pizza & TNT Bar. The stop of the locals started in the home kitchen of a woman named Viola in 1959. This small town restaurant serves homemade pizza dough with gluten free options but it’s not a place of anyone who’s dieting. The deep fried ravioli was still on the menu and was flavored with spices and herbs. The crunchy bite didn’t have much left inside but the best part is the crust. The best part wasn’t even the food. The family run place that locals returned to when they come back home had friendly staff.
We rolled out of our pit stop full and ready to reach our final destination. One took one small pause at the corner of Bibwabik, and we looked left and then right. All of Main Street was in view. City Hall even shared part of their building the the small grocery store. The sad part was seeing some businesses closed because of the past year. Our hearts go out to small town businesses, they don’t have the population of a large city and what do you do when everyone stayed at home? If I feel the need to shop, I can tell my husband it’s to support small town business this weekend😉
I went through all the motions of capturing all the stops along the way but the sign into the entrance of Ely, Minnesota popped up too fast around a corner and I missed it. We zoomed right past and then drove a few miles to top of the hill of Main Street. My husband did manage to capture the water tower at the far end of town as we rolled down the steep hill at 30 miles an hour. A lot of places closed at 2:00 pm and it’s a good thing I researched some of the places before we arrived.
I felt a local teen as we drove up and down Main Street to see who was walking around in town. The places still left open were the few bars and restaurants. Our rental didn’t stop and I took my husband for a Sunday drive around Miner’s Lake and it was beautiful. The car rolled to a stop off the side of the road as we watched the fog lift over the ice chunked lake. Now, I understand why nature lovers make the drive up here.
To all the travelers out there, these small towns aren’t meant for those who love city life or large shopping malls. You won’t find any glitz or glamour out here. The buildings are worn and sometimes the paint is peeling. The bars are filled with fried food and locals who’s hobbies are fishing, hunting, and gossiping.
After a scenic drive thinking about the life of locals, we stopped at the Bear Center to learn that it’s closed until next week. I guess I missed that one. We did make it to the International Wolf Center to make our reservations for tomorrow. Even small towns limit the number of people allowed restaurants, stores, and visitor attractions.
As we left the new looking blue building, I howled and laughed with my husband as I walked back to the car. We made it here and traveling up here changed some details. I pictured the International Wolf Center off in the wilderness, surrounded by fencing on flat land. It’s actually up on a hill right off of the same road that lead into Main Street. We went right past it the first time.
Somewhere up in the gray, drizzling sky the sun was setting. I just shivered under my raincoat as we stepped out of car midway down the Main Street hill for another fried meal. We sat down in a spaced out restaurant covered with varnished wood walls and tables, a nonstop theme up here. The Brewhouse Pub served up a tasty burger topped with 2 different kinds of onions. Our sides were more onion rings and cheese curds. Again, the waitress was friendly and answered my questions.
Despite the drizzle, we decided to take a walk up and down the hill before we returned to our car. My body was bloated with calories and I might need to go a long walk tomorrow. I told my husband it might be salad day tomorrow.
When we returned to our hotel, the parking lot was empty. You know those haunted hotels when you’re the only guests? I turned to my husband with a look and said, “We’re the only guests.” Well, maybe off-season isn’t the best time to think about vampires and werewolves in a small town. I’ll let you know how well I sleep tonight. Let’s hope I’m like most fishermen and dream of big fish instead human eating animals. Until tomorrow!
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