Minnesota and the Grand Cities

I’m not sure what I expected of Duluth. I was reluctant to stay in a city, and the Motel Six I ended up in was not exactly in a part of the city that inspired confidence, but the place is really quite lovely. The streets are paved in brick downtown, not a material I would think conducive to active street cleaning, but they must know what they’re doing. Superior, the main drag through the shopping/banking district, seems canyon-like, tightly packed between tall buildings with glass bridges spanning it on every block. You can probably get most places in this neighborhood without going out into a Duluth winter once you make it into the first building! It’s like a giant hamster run. Still, I think I’d appreciate it come January. I’d like to come back to Duluth, as I would Traverse City, with Lena…but I’ll stick to the summer months.

This is another town caught between a rock and a wet place, with streets climbing steeply as you get away from the lakefront. On top of the whole thing is Skyline Parkway, which was partly closed for repairs, but stunning nonetheless; another early-twentieth century marvel of engineering and determination in the service of tourists like me.

From here it’s on just a bit south to Cloquet, and the only gas station ever designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  I drive into town wondering if I’ll be able to spot it, but they  make it easy for you to find–there’s a big F.L.Wright sign at the corner; two in fact. One has a picture of the man himself mounted on a pole along with the regular gas and oil signs (still a working garage) and the other is a signpost that appears to have been done by the architect. I wonder if working in a landmark is good or bad for business? The images I have are all poor. I thought I might buy a postcard at the county museum next door, but instead got a long talk about the 1918 forest fire that destroyed the town and no postcards. Ah, well.

The rest of Minnesota is a bit of a blur, since I wanted to make up time and Rt 2 seems to be going through an endless stretch of unseen lakes and scrub forest at this point. I know I haven’t given it its due, but some things have to give on this trip and northern Minnesota got the short end of the stick. I did see two eagles feeding on road-kill deer and my first prairie dog at a rest stop (I think), so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Grand Forks, ND was a destination on this trip because another photographer said I had to go there. I’m still not sure why he said that. There is a very well respected restaurant there (East Grand Forks) with a great name,

but otherwise, the town is just plain confusing to me, like a very large parking lot. After the truly devastating floods of 1997 destroyed the entire town, folks rebuilt most of it from scratch. In keeping with the curious and very NOT New England desire to have everything on a grid, the town is block after block of large buildings–all new, most generically institutional– with large open spaces between them, mostly paved. The roads are indistinguishable to this New Englander from the entrances to parking lots and malls, and there are a lot of those, since this is the shopping destination for a large section of northeast ND. The UND campus is in the middle of all of it and it’s not easy to see where it starts and stops. It is true that the Grand Cities, as Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN are often called, regularly post very high in the lists of great places to live, so I have to admit to my own prejudices about the place, but I found it hard to take. They do have a great bakery, Dakota Harvest. Try it if you’re in town.

With the hope of getting to Mandan tonight, I took the highway south and then west from Fargo. Not much to write about there.

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One Response to Minnesota and the Grand Cities

  1. Bill Harting says:

    You’ve left me really wanting to see that gas station.

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