This past weekend, the 20 Prospect family paid homage to own of our ancestors favorite traditions. The aimless drive into the country. Yes, we upped our carbon footprint by 2 sizes, loaded the kids into the minivan and set out on a drive for no earthly good reason. As I’ve said before, this was the usual weekend activity around 20 Prospect when I was growing up. Depending on the season it was called “Going to get ice cream” (Summer), “Going to get apples” (Fall), or “Going to see the geese” (Spring), but it was always the same. An afternoon spent driving around Western New York.
This weekend we chose a direction on the compass that we seldom ever travel. We’re used to going East to the St. Croix valley to canoe, or Eau Claire to see family, trips North to sit by a lake, and even trips due south into Iowa, but we never go Southeast along the river. Mrs. 20 Prospect went to college in La Crosse, WI, so we’ve made a trip or two down along the river road during our child free years. We hadn’t done so for years, which is a shame really, because it is one of the prettiest parts of the state.
To folks that have never been here it’s hard to believe the varied landscape of Minnesota. We’ve got the arboreal forests, and lakes along the border with Canada, the majestic shore of Lake Superior, the northern bogs and pine woods dotted with lakes, the rolling farm country of Southern MN, and the flat prairie to the west of us. The Twin Cities sits right in the center of it all. Pick a different direction and you can have a vastly different weekend away from home.
The Mississippi River Valley that runs south and east from the cities is a geography unto itself. Limestone bluffs rise along the river, broken by coulees, where creeks and rivers flow down from the driftless (unglaciated) hills that flank the river. There are few more pastoral places in the United States than this little corner of the upper Midwest. The most surprising part of all though, is how relatively untrammeled it is. With such a large population center as the Twin Cities only an hour away, you’d think it would be overrun and loved to death, but it isn’t. The lure of the Northwood’s and North Shore seem to draw people in the opposite direction.
But I’m going to let you in on a secret. In my opinion, the trapezoid of land between Eau Claire, Black River Falls, La Crosse, and Prescott, Wisconsin is the most wonderful road biking country in the world. Being home to Dairy Farms the state of Wisconsin has paved a larger number of rural roads in this area, than on the MN side of the border. Dirt and gravel roads are few and far between. As is the traffic once you turn off of the river road. I’ve biked for hours in the hills south of Eau Claire and seen more deer than cars.
Throw in the beauty of the river valleys, and you’ve got a place that I wouldn’t mind retiring to someday. It’s got just about everything you could want. Good access to major metropolitan health care, and culture, quiet roads, great infrastructure, vineyards and orchards, and lots of places to get outdoors in all seasons, and the property prices are very cheap unless you are on a bluff top, or on the water. It’s a little paradise.
And if you like big water there’s Lake Pepin, a twenty mile stretch of the Mississippi where it widens out into a lake as wide as two miles across. That was our destination, and turning around point on Saturday. Stopping for dinner at a bar on the water in Pepin, WI I was amazed by the size of sailboats, and yachts in the marina.
We weren’t alone of course. There were plenty of others out for a ride on their motorcycles, or in their little convertibles, taking in the scenery, but it was far from crowded on the roads. I suppose that will change when the leaves are turning this autumn, but even then I’d say the traffic is far less than heading north on I-35, or I-94 on your average Friday afternoon.
We were only gone for an afternoon, but it felt like we traveled much farther than that. And as if that wasn’t enough, we saw the world’s biggest boot!
I love this place.