Americana at its best(?) in the Midwest

Blog Post created by bejacob on Aug 22, 2019

While it has been a busy travel year (9 trips in 8 months) only about half (5) have included county collecting. The latest one was a short (49-hour) visit to Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota. After a quick flight from CMH to MSP with an overnight stay at the Le Meridien in downtown Minneapolis, it was off to southwestern Minnesota, out on the edge of the prairie. I got a nice upgrade at the Le Meridien, though beyond that I don’t have much to say about the hotel. Were it not for the great rate, I probably would have been at the Renaissance Depot downtown or somewhere in the suburbs. For a ‘premium’ brand, this property was terribly ordinary.


The weekend weather was almost perfect for driving, though by Saturday afternoon, temperatures were hovering around 90. Even so, I enjoyed my numerous stops along the way. I got a bit of laugh as I passed through the town of Okoboji, Iowa (just south of the county seat of Spirit Lake). The area proudly proclaims itself the “Hamptons of Iowa” and the three nearby lakes are generously called the “Iowa Great Lakes.” The area is certainly scenic, and is popular during the summer months, but it doesn’t really live up to either nickname.


After stopping in the last four previously unvisited (by me) counties in Iowa, it was back to Minnesota. Perhaps the most interesting stop this day was Pipestone, MN. The city takes its name from the nearby quarry, today located inside the boundaries of the Pipestone National Monument. Stone from the quarry has been used by Native Americans for centuries, traditionally used for making ceremonial pipes. Just outside the park is the world’s largest peace pipe. While it is not made of the red pipestone found in the nearby quarry, the metal is painted so that it resembles the local stone.

By the time I left Pipestone, late afternoon was moving toward early evening. Time to head to the Sheraton in Sioux Falls. No upgrade other than being on the top floor not far from the lounge. I found the property much to my liking. The six floors surround a central atrium highlighted by a lobby bar and small waterfall. The Renaissance hotels in Oklahoma City and Tulsa both have a similar design. Like many of my weekend county trips, I departed before breakfast was available, but the evening offerings in the lounge were decent. Fruit, crackers, cheese, and on this night, boneless wings. While it wasn’t quite enough to make a meal, the fact that the CL was open on a Saturday evening was nice. Many of the Marriott hotels don’t do that.


After checking in, I had enough daylight to drive to the nearby Falls Park just north of downtown. It is these falls on the Big Sioux River from which Sioux Falls takes its name. Here’s a view from the top of the observation tower located at the visitors center on the edge of the park.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the entire trip from landing to takeoff at MSP was just 2 days. That meant I spent Sunday driving back to Minneapolis, though naturally the return trip went through different counties. As I have noted on many previous county collecting blog posts, finding strange and unusual sights is surprisingly normal when traveling the back roads of America. As an example, look what I discovered in Dawson, MN. On the outskirts of town is Gnome Park which is filled with a couple dozen 3-foot high gnome statues. Each year, a person is selected to have a gnome carved in their honor (likeness?) for outstanding contributions to the city of Dawson, the self-proclaimed “Gnometown, USA.” Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up. 

Not far from Dawson is the city of Madison. Their claim to fame, “Lutefisk Capital USA.” There is even a giant statue of a cod on the south edge of town proudly announcing that fact. Who thinks up this stuff? 

Oh, but that’s not all the strange things travelers to Minnesota can find. You might remember the statue of the Jolly Green Giant in Blue Earth, MN which was part of A Perfectly Boring Trip in the Midwest  back in 2018. There is a huge Paul Bunyan statue in Bemidji, which I am sure to visit someday. Perhaps one of the most famous quirky ‘attractions’ in Minnesota is the twine ball in Darwin. Weird Al Yankovic has song dedicated to this odd piece of Americana. Rather than go into detail, you can read more about it at the Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. Here is my photograph.


From Darwin, it was back to the Twin Cities for my flight home. During the weekend, I covered 1,079 miles and added 24 new county seats to my total. I previously visited Sioux Falls (Aug 2017) though my first postcard never arrived, so I needed to make a return visit to mail a replacement. Thankfully this one showed up so I have now marked that county ‘completed’ and changed the color on my map from green to blue. The other notable accomplishment was visiting the last 4 counties in Iowa, the 22nd state where I’ve visited every county seat. My county seat postcard collection now stands at 2,443 with just 706 more to go.


My next planned county trip is actually a mileage run in early October. I’m just short of retaining my MVP status with Alaska Airlines and one more trip to Seattle will be enough to put me over the top. With November and December already spoken for, I figure I might as well get this done before the weather turns cold. I will only be able to hit a few counties, but I’ll certainly blog about it.


Until then…


Happy Travels