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The Epic Fall Road Trip of '19

Updated: Jan 1, 2021

About mid 2019 I starting toying around with a road trip to knock off that last of four extreme points of the continental US, the Northwest Angle in MN. It is just a measly 1644 miles form my home in Pensacola, FL. The Northwest Angle is a slight anomaly as it is a little snippet of US land north of the Canadian Border. Seems it all started with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 when the US and Great Britain were hacking out our borders. You can read more about the history of this place here

I had built up about seven weeks of shift swaps off from work so we had plenty of time. As my curiosity kicked into hyperdrive while digging around on Google Maps an idea was born, an idea that would span nearly a month on the road and cover over 6000 miles. I soon realized that I would be able to finish off the last of the contiguous 48 on this journey as well. Given my love of taking the trip as it devolves, if you will, I only had three main ideas for the first leg.

The start of the Mississippi River was the first place I had intended to get to. For a few years as a teenager I lived in St. Louis, MO and had spent plenty of time sitting on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River and had often wondered about her origins. I remember watching the River in winter and seeing ice floating toward home on the Gulf of Mexico, quite a site for a Florida native.

Finally the morning arrived and Abbie and I were off to Lake Itasca, MN. I toyed around with the idea of heading over to Memphis to finally eat at Prince's Hot Chicken but once underway the idea faded. We drove nonstop from home into MN before we finally had to pull over and take a cat nap. (Odd to think of a German Sheppard taking a cat nap, but its 0330 in the morning and I'm running off coffee so humor me.)

Lake Itasca is a state park in Itasca, MN and is well worth a visit. Abbie and I were there in September and the leaves were beginning to change. The air was cool, the colors were vibrant and I realized that I missed them so much. Color change is basically a non-event at home as Florida has only three seasons: man it's freaking hot, Hell stuffed in a sauna to get the humidity way up there hot, and three or fours days of decent weather.

The Mighty Mississippi that is the lifeblood of New Orleans, one of my favorite cities, had floated through my youth inspiring dreams and adventures along her path, starts out as nothing more than a creek! It is absolutely tiny I tell you. She is barely 15 feet across and maybe a foot deep.

Soon Abbie and found ourselves standing at the very edge of the creek that drains Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico 2552 miles to the south. It is a pretty place and luckily mostly serene on our visit as there were few people. We poked around for a while, crossed the log bridge, walked along the boardwalk, and generally enjoyed checking this place off of the ever growing list.

We spent a few more hours exploring Itasca State Park before setting up camp and getting some much needed sleep. When the sun rose the next morning we were off to Warroad, MN and the second main point of this journey, the Northwest Angle.

If you are like me and travel armed, with something more than a German Sheppard, you too will have to stop in Warroad and secure your weapon. Canada doesn't allow handguns without a permit for them and it is much easier to check your weapon in with a dealer and pick it up after you are back in the US. Thankfully this was an easy process. Oddly enough you also can't travel into Canada with open containers of dog food, so I had to leave that for later pick as well. I've crossed into Canada by car three or four times before this trip and have never had a problem other than "that's how you start an international incident" but more on that later, but it is certainly not worth the risk, the fines, and being banned from Canada for not following her rules. Do the right thing. While crossing, the border agent asked if I carried anything for self-protection and I giggled and pointed behind me at Abbie who had her head out of the window watching the proceedings. This was the first time I've ever seen a border agent chuckle, very serious people in my experience.

Off into Canada with NO MAP or GPS! Abbie is now an international puppy and yes, we got seriously lost, but hey there are no wrong turns. I had recently switched cell providers, something I still regret to this day, and didn't have built in international roaming. Ugh. Old school it was and once I finally found a gas station, which of course was well north of where I needed to turn, they had no idea of what I was talking about. Backtracked a little and found a Mennonite Visitors Center and was quickly on my way, this time in the right direction.

Finally we arrived at the Northwest Angle. The northernmost point in the contiguous US and the last one on my list. It is also the hardest to get to and the most anticlimactic of that list to be honest. I will easily say that the westernmost point, Cape Alava, is by far my favorite, though it is definitely a committed trip to get there too. Hands down the coolest of the four. The southernmost point is second and has the benefit of being in one of my favorite US based haunts, the Florida Keys. The easternmost point, Quoddy Head, ME is third but is certainly the most fun to say.

The northernmost point is a fishing camp at the top of Lake of the Woods. Once you cross into Canada you will have to stop and check back into the US, and vice versa when going back into Canada, at an unmanned crossing at Larry's Corner. Nothing more than a dirt road intersection with a kiosk and a broken iPad for the US side and a phone for the Canadian Side.

With little desire to stay in the densely populated fishing camp, mainly due to the US iPad being broken so I hadn't technically checked back into my own Country, Abbie and set off to find a place to sleep for the night. I remembered passing Moose Lake Provincial Park on the way in so we were off in search of it. The park was closed for the season it seemed, but the gates were open and it was late so we took our chances. Our chosen spot was lake side and we were alone save for millions and millions of stars overhead. Being able to escape the lights of cities and populated areas and reconnect with the true night sky is something that always makes me feel minute in the grandeur of it all. Pictures that I have tried to take have never done it justice so I guess you'll just have to get out there and find your own dark spot soon.

Back in the US the next morning without any issues and we were off to a spot on the map I had seen as a tiny little dot sticking out into Lake Superior. I've found myself in the last few years after Ireland taking goofy touristic pictures of giant roadside bizarreness if you will. This is Willie Walleye and he lives in Baudette, MN.

This random art installation, also in Baudette, was well off the side of the road on the outskirts of town. There was nothing anywhere nearby and I barely saw it as we drove past. Curiosity peaked we turned around and walked about 20 yards off the road to get this picture and explore a little bit. I have no idea who built it or why, but randomness of travel for me is rewarded with finds like this.

The eventual destination was Copper Harbor, MI. Pull up a map of Michigan and look at the top of the state and you'll see a little isthmus sticking out into Lake Superior. Zoom way in to the very tip of that isthmus and you'll see the little town of Copper Harbor, and that is where we were headed.

We had a brief stop over in Voyagers National Park and without hesitation we will return with plans to stay in the area and see the park via boat. There isn't much to see from a vehicle but once you get outside of International Falls the natural area is beautiful.

We found Amnicon Falls State Park for the night and had arrived with a few hours to explore the nearly empty park. The park is beautiful and the river area and falls trail was a nice break from the windshield.

This was my first visit to the Great Lakes region other than Chicago decades ago, and man those beauties are stunning and massive. We stopped off at the Great Lakes Visit Center but sadly there was dense fog that prevented us from seeing the lake. A lot of regional history and some friendly staff who guided me to a spot know as Little Girl's Point to hunt for agates along the shore of Lake Superior.

We soon found out that driving to the very tip of MI is a long, long way along a beautiful winding road. The drive is simply fantastic. Finally we were hanging out in what had only been a tiny dot on a map, Copper Harbor. Reminds me of dozens of small fishing villages I've hung out in most of my life.

Road sign at the top of Michigan pointing down to the bottom of mainland Florida!

Copper Harbor is an isolated proud little town and it feels a lot like home to be honest. The people are sincere, the scenery is gorgeous, the feel is small and there is something magical about that combination. After exploring the town for a bit Abbie and I set off to find a place to lay our heads for the night. We had seen a sign for Ft. Wilkins State Park earlier in the day and headed off in that direction. We found a corner campsite close to Lake Superior and fairly secluded from the masses. I had no idea there where so many people on this little strip of land!

The fort itself has some nice displays about their history and what life was like back in the day. I felt the solitude and I can't even imagine what it must have been like for those stationed there.

Our camp neighbors were also on a road trip of their own. Father and son duo out National Park hopping. Turned out the father was a retired NP Ranger and was on a quest to visit all of the parks. His son lived in Boston and had joined him on the New England leg of that journey. I have no idea what their names were but I sincerely hope that they are out there still going strong somewhere.

The next morning we were off headed towards Detroit. We passed a sign that caught my eye and pulled over to snap a pic as I could quite read the scale. That is some serious snowfall!