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Southern Minnesota

Text: Robert Annetzberger • Photography: Robert Annetzberger, Sanja Blagojevic

Even though Minnesota lies halfway between the east and west coasts, it's not one of the dry prairie states. Millions of years ago, retreating glaciers took care of that, leaving more than 15,000 lakes behind. So, there's always water around the corner. Apart from that there is the Mississippi River Valley, cradling the state's most scenic highway, its beautiful river towns, and the exciting curves in the ravines and valleys of the bluffs in the southern region of the state.

Day 1: Mississippi Bluffs

Dark clouds hang over Rochester and intermittent showers fall as we close in on the city. It's only 6 p.m. but it looks like midnight. Wet, tired and hungry, we finally check in at the Hampton Inn where the desk clerk says the next day's forecast calls for more of the same. Fortunately, he's wrong: The morning dawns with sunshine and blue skies all around!

In Stewartville, we turn left on Highway 30 and leave all the traffic behind us for an enjoyable ride through the countryside. East, past Chatfield, we come upon some hills and curves that make the ride on Highway 6 even more pleasurable. I could have been having so much fun on the Gold Wing that I wasn't paying attention or maybe the map wasn't accurate enough, but somehow we left 6 and got back on Highway 30. Seems we missed a turn to the right. Instead of heading for Lewiston and Winona, we're approaching Rushford. It's too late to double back; so, we continue north on Highway 43, right across the bluffs, into southeast Minnesota, the only mountainous part of the state.

Descending from the ridge, we eventually drive into Winona, a city of 30,000 that's enclosed on three sides by the waters of the Mississippi River. People on Harleys and others in boats seem to be having a fine time puttering about on a Sunday afternoon. "It's the first nice day after weeks of rain," the friendly lady at the visitor center says, explaining the crowds.

After circling through the sleepy city, we drive up to the scenic overlook on Garvin Heights for a spectacular view of Winona and the Mississippi. As we prepare to leave, a stranger approaches and hands us two Minnesota maps. "I think they'll do you some good," he says and then disappears. Well, thanks, sir - what a nice surprise!

Following Highway 17 up into the mountains offers some nice curves, and we ride eastward parallel to I-90 until descending toward the mighty river again. For a couple of miles we let it roll on, enjoying great views of the Mississippi from The Great River Road (Hwy 61), often described as one of the most scenic drives in the U.S.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2005 back issue.