Just Down the Road


Sometimes, the best surprises are the ones that are right in front of us all along.

On a sunny September weekend, not too long ago, I took some time to explore. A group of friends and I, in our four old cars, set off in search of scenery knowing our approximate destination but having no real plan as to how to get there. I can now say that I highly recommend this method of travel.

Less than an hour east of where I live, there’s a sign along the highway that says “Swift Falls”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven by that sign but had never taken the time to follow it.  This time we did, and just down the road we found a very cool county park. We spent a little time walking around and exploring, finding ourselves surrounded by hills and winding roads,  next to a brook and a small reservoir where if the sun’s just right you can see the fish swimming in the water right below the dam. It was a refreshing stop, a perfect spot for an extended afternoon picnic or just a short break to relax a little along the road…

The first hidden gem, uncovered.

Leaving Swift Falls, you’ll make an easy climb out of the valley to find yourself on a lightly-travelled county blacktop, and within a few miles you’ll cross Minnesota Highway 104. Take a sharp right and not far down the road you’ll spy another sign that reads “Terrace”.  I had no clue what this one was about, either.

I won’t go into much detail here about Terrace – you can either click the link at the bottom of this post, or do an internet search for “Terrace Mill” to visit the historic district’s website. But what an “OMG” moment it was, seeing this area for the first time. There was a festival going on with people milling about and waving as I gawked my way through. Doing my best to take in all the scenery yet keep one eye on the road, I was purposely lagging behind, not really wanting to leave this place just yet. But the others were parked on the shoulder of the road, patiently waiting near the highway. True, this first trip was a little rushed. But I’ll make a return trip one day soon.  (Update: I did just that, in Sept. 2012. )  For anyone in the vicinity, the experience is highly recommended.

Another hidden gem, discovered.

A second weekend found me on a route known as the “Meander”. The Meander includes a pretty sizeable group of western Minnesota artists who, in an area that roughly follows the course of the Minnesota River valley, open their studios and homes to visitors.  By the carload the visitors come, from points all over the map. They come to view, appreciate, and purchase pieces of artists’ souls that are set before them.  There are world-class artisans dwelling among us. Yet like most area residents, I knew little about the wealth of creative talent that’s here. I do now, though. And all it took was a short Meander.


Another gem, found.

So the back-country blacktops are out there, begging to be explored. Get yourself into a Sunday-drive sort of mindset. Slow down. Take a new route. Unplug the GPS. And… whoa!!… even enjoy the detours! You can find scenery and discover new things, real gems, hidden in your own backyard. Every area has places like that – tucked away on a side road somewhere, just waiting for us to take that little spin in the right direction and find them.

And best of all, they’re just down the road.

Milan, MN – Arts Meander 2011



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