Mapped Quests

A few weeks ago, I found myself on a road trip to the Wisconsin Dells. In many ways, it was a reprise of trips I’d taken as a child: Each spring, my family drove from our home in southern Minnesota to the Dells to meet up with relatives who lived in Chicago. We lodged at the Holidome, splashed in the pool, played ping-pong, drank 7UP (adults drank beer), and ate lots of Easy Cheese on Ritz crackers. Sadly, however, because it was March and because indoor water parks had yet to be invented, we never rode a waterslide or watched Tommy Bartlett. And we never laid eyes on the natural wonders that gave the Dells its name.

Still, I looked forward to the trip—in part because of the natural landmarks we passed along the way: the tall bluffs that flanked I-90 as it neared La Crosse; the giant stone pillars that loomed over the road between Tomah and Mauston, like the ruins of an ancient civilization.

My favorite part of the drive came early, though, when we crossed into Goodhue County and my father plunged the car down a steep two-lane road into Sogn Valley. Narrow, sparsely inhabited, and named after an area in western Norway, the valley seemed to me a forgotten paradise—a place of beauty, no matter the season. In the spring, mists clung to its wooded edges. In summer, its bowl was a sea of green corn. In fall, nothing could quell its leafy pyrotechnics.

Road trips have a way of opening our eyes to the natural wonders that lie just a few miles from home. And, as writer Greg Breining demonstrates with this month’s cover story, the Midwest—and Minnesota in particular—contains enough panoramic-tour possibilities to keep you behind the wheel for weeks at a time. Fortunately, the five routes that Breining sketches out are shorter trips—doable in a weekend. Each trip traverses a unique landscape, from the unglaciated terrain along the Root River in southern Minnesota to the almost mountainous slopes of the Bayfield Peninsula in northwest Wisconsin.

So load up the car, pack the Ritz crackers and the Easy Cheese, and find yourself a good map, GPS, or navigator. Honk if you see us on the road.

Joel Hoekstra, Editor


Terri Peterson Smith has written numerous stories about science, health, and the environment for regional and national magazines. She is a recipient of the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. Her story about the discovery of an illness at a slaughterhouse in Austin (“The Case of the Curious Disease,” page 82) is her first article for Minnesota Monthly.

Joe Treleven says he felt right at home photographing his subjects for “7 Ones to Watch” (page 74). “As fellow artists, we spoke the same language,” he explains. “They understood what I wanted and posed without inhibition.” A seasoned editorial and commercial shooter, Treleven has shot portraits of hedgefund wizards and politicians, movie stars and morticians, and even Mongolian shepherds.

St. Paul author Greg Breining writes about travel, science, and the environment for Minnesota Monthly, The New York Times, and other publications. His latest book, Paddle North: Canoeing the Boundary Waters-Quetico Wilderness, will be published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in November. “Given a choice,” he says. “I’d rather be road-tripping just about anywhere than sitting around at home.”