July 25-27, 2009 From Minneapolis to St. George, UT

Prairie Schooner

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Long story short, we got in the car in Minneapolis and drove. And drove. And drove. On through Minnesota, nipping the corner of North Dakota and across South Dakota for an overnight in Pierre. Back in the car and south through South Dakota then southwest through Nebraska and entering Wyoming in the southeast corner. Another night, this time in Rawlins, WY (where BTW we had some surprisingly good Chinese food.) Then the final push – south into Colorado, a brief stop at Dinosaur National Park and then traversing from northeast to southwest the whole length of Utah ending up in St. George. Ahhh…home away from home.

In case you weren’t counting that’s over 1700 miles in three days. We’ve just been zonking out here in St. George since.

Couple of things, Nebraska is quite pretty with some rolling hills. When we saw Scott’s Bluff we knew were getting home. There’s such a difference in a western landscape. Two, Pierre is the dinkiest capital ever. Three, who knew that the Wyoming plateau varies between about 6500 and 8500 feet in elevation. And finally we have a whole new way to travel which we like to call the “Oklahoma Method.” But I’ll leave that for John to explain.

The Oklahoma Method

Mary and I have long held that to go from point A to point B, we should be able to find some combination roads that go from A to B in a reasonably direct manner.  No going 40  miles out of our way to get to an interstate and then having to compensate another 40 miles on the far end.  The original application of this occurred many years ago while trying to go from Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in southern Utah to Las Vegas.  Armed with our trusty CSAA Indian Country road map, Mary noted, “there’s this road here”, going from south of Colorado City, AZ, across to Mesquite, NV, where we could pick up I-15.

The road was dirt, then rocks, then a stream bed that proved impossible to cross (especially given that we were in a rented Cadillac De Ville sedan).  We got stuck in sand, walked back through the desert until we luckily found a BLM crew to pull us free, and backtracked a long way to pick up I-15 at St. George.  Obviously, the direct approach method was going to need some refining.

A major advance came when we started driving from Pleasanton, CA to St. George, UT.  The standard way to go is via I-5 down the Central Valley of California, across CA-58 from Bakersfield to Barstow, then I-15 to Utah.  660 miles, virtually all freeway, mostly mind-numbing.  Then Mary noticed that if we went through Yosemite, the trip would be much more direct (only 630 miles) and much more interesting.  Saying “there’s this road here just past Tonopah, NV”, Mary found the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV-275) on which one can (wink, wink) make very good time.  No GPS or online trip planner would ever have discovered this.

Years pass, it’s summer of 2009 and we find ourselves in Liberal, KS, wanting to get to St. Louis, MO as quickly as possible.  Options: tack north to find an Interstate through the rest of Kansas or tack south to get to an Interstate in Oklahoma.  Either option will violate our primal urge to go as directly as possible; neither option will get us even close to St. Louis in one of our driving days.

Mary announces, “there are these roads here in Oklahoma just over the Kansas border.  I bet we can make good time without having to waste a lot of miles getting to an Interstate.”   Ignoring the small voices in our heads saying “be afraid, be very afraid,” we set off on our adventure across Oklahoma.  Never mind that Yahoo! and Google can’t be persuaded to find this route without manually coercing them every step of the way; never mind that Missy our GPS can barely find this route even under “Use Shortest Distance”; never mind that all the aforementioned calculators say that it will take 4 hours longer than the tack-and-interstate method.  We have discovered THE OKLAHOMA METHOD!

And sure enough, we scream across Oklahoma using a combination of US and state highways, our ETA moving sooner in time with every mile we drive.  The roads are very good, there are few towns, and there are no squiggles.  There are even interesting things to see out the window.  Northern Oklahoma turned out to wonderfully rolling and green.  Who knew?

We get quite far that day, all the way to Joplin, MO, just a couple of hours from St. Louis.  We feel very proud of ourselves, having finally understood what makes the Oklahoma Method work:

  1. Make sure the roads are paved and have numbers.  Failure to do this will have unpleasant if not life-threatening consequences.
  2. Choose roads with few squiggles and with few towns.
  3. Steadfastly ignore helpful advice from your GPS; you may have to program her in baby steps.

If you follow these rules, you will be rewarded with a route that closely approximates to the holy grail of both “Shortest Distance’ and “Shortest Time” while providing significant visual interest and the opportunity to search out interesting food choices (perhaps a mixed blessing in some cases, as loyal readers will already have noted.)

— John


Originally uploaded by marymompics


The most memorable sight of our three day tear through the western United States was along a backroad on the way to Alliance, Nebraska. We passed it zooming at about 70 miles and hour when we caught an unusual sight out of the corners of our eyes. Screech. Turn around. And there it was, Carhenge, a tribute to Stonehenge made out of the carcasses of old cars. Quite unusual.

July 24, 2009 Minneapolis

City Hall

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Today is Minneapolis day. We took a walk from our hotel to the Mill City Museum. Along the way we passed the City Hall, another building built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. There are a lot of buildings here that are constructed out of this dark reddish-brown stone. It must come from around here. Also we had a look at the riverfront area. Old buildings have been repurposed as apartments, lofts and hotels. There is a park along the waterfront and a pedestrian stone bridge (built by James Hill of yesterday’s Hill House) across the Mississippi River. We watched boats using the lock to traverse down the river. It used to be that the St. Anthony Falls were a block to river commerce past Minneapolis.

This is a nice city with an interesting history.

The Internet

Originally uploaded by marymompics

And are the people the data?

Senator Ted Stevens from Alaska once opined that the internet was more like a series of tubes than a dump truck. Well, if that’s the case, then Minneapolis is a lot like the internet because it is a series of tubes. Actually, they are called skyways and the people use them so they don’t have to go outside in the winter cold or the summer heat. We wish we had known how to access them since it started to rain as we walked to the Mill City Museum. But you know the internet is really complicated.

Mill City

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Flour power

Our major activity of the day was visiting the Mill City Museum. Both General Mills and Pillsbury were headquartered here. The General Mills headquarters have moved out to the western suburbs and the milling is now done closer to the wheat source or the transportation source. For a long time the mill stood empty and eventually burned down adding to the urban blight along the riverfront. The whole area has been cleaned up and the Mill City Museum has been built among the ashes of the former mill.

We learned about the history of Minneapolis. The history of milling. All about wheat. Etc., etc. Once again, it’s probably not a good idea to ask us (especially John) questions about milling. You’d get more than you bargained for.

Dishing dinner

Originally uploaded by marymompics

Chicken and Wild Rice

It seems appropriate on this, our anniversary trip, to come across one of our wedding gifts, Dinner in a Dish. At the museum there was an archive of old Betty Crocker cookbooks and we found our long ago cookbook. This is the 1968 publication. I still make the Wild Rice and Chicken Casserole.

Minneapolis has proved to be a very likeable city. The Twin Cities have a great setting, lots of open areas and friendly people. It’s been fun to see the cities that our friends always rave about. Now if they could just do something about the weather……

Lumberjack Days

Originally uploaded by marymompics

I’m a lumberjack and I’m okay
I sleep all night and I work all day…

After traversing Wisconsin we crossed the Saint Croix river and entered Minnesota at Stillwater. Stillwater was very pretty with lots of restaurants and small shops. They were currently having Lumberjack Days which, of course, made me think of the Monty Python song.

Hill house

Originally uploaded by marymompics

36000 sq. ft., riv vu

Upon reaching St. Paul, we made our way to the James J. Hill House. Hill was a Scot/Irish immigrant from Canada who made a fortune in the railroad business. He married a waitress from the hotel downtown and they had 10 children. The house is in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. This style, popularized by Henry Hobson Richardson, is a revival style incorporating 11th and 12th century French, Italian and Spanish Romanesque characteristics. It’s actually quite unattractive from the outside. Inside, there are many large rooms. We had a great tour and probably annoyed other people on the tour by our constant questions. After the tour, we rode down Summit Ave. with its many Victorian houses.

Small bites

Originally uploaded by marymompics

I’m a girl who likes a bar

After getting up early, driving a good part of the day, touring the Hill House and fighting rush hour traffic getting into Minneapolis, we were pretty tired out. So when we saw that there was a happy hour with small bites at our hotel, we were totally down with that. In the picture is a lot of brown food, but as Anne Burrell says, “Brown food is good food.” Clockwise from the truffled French fries are a vegetable risotto and a plate with two cauliflower fritters and smashed parsnips. It was all really yummy and we didn’t have to do anything but take the elevator downstairs.


Originally uploaded by marymompics

During lunch the sky darkened and it started to lightning and thunder. And then the rain started coming down. Not soft California type rain but thunderous rain. The kind that comes down at the rate of about an inch in fifteen minutes. We had no jackets and no umbrellas. John was such a hero. He ran between the raindrops (ala Rabbi Akiba) and retrieved our umbrellas so that I wouldn’t get totally wet.

Mackinac Bridge

Originally uploaded by marymompics

I love high bridges

Not. So here we are in the thunder and lightning and pouring rain crossing the very high, very long Mackinac Bridge. We watched an episode of Modern Marvels depicting the building of the bridge. But it was too foggy and rainy to really photograph it well and I really just wanted to get it over with.