Minnesota and N. Dakota - Classic Byways: Highway 52

Minnesota and N. Dakota - Classic Byways: Highway 52
We've enjoyed our few days of rest in Rochester, but the lure of the highway cannot be denied. Unable to resist, we leave the city behind and again plunge into the sea of greens and golds we've come to know as Midwest farmland. Drifting lazily along the asphalt current of Highway 52, we find ourselves cruising closer and closer to yet another of middle America's major ports of call.

Rochester, Minnesota - Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota

Before we know it, we find ourselves rattling the gates of Minnesota's capital, St. Paul. But to get oriented before rolling through them, I first stop for a map check at Harriet Island Regional Park, just across the Mississippi. Usually when I find my route heading toward an unfamiliar town of any size, I try to familiarize myself with the major roads. This strategy works quite well most of the time; this time though, I'm hit with a double whammy: St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Twin Cities.

We have no trouble finding our way downtown to Minnesota's impressive state capitol building, a structure that's highly visible, with its large dome modeled after St. Peter's basilica in Rome. Like Rome, St. Paul was built on seven hills, and the statue of the triumphal quadriga (four-horse chariot) atop the capitol rather reminds me of the one that tops the Brandenburg Gate in my hometown of Berlin.

Facing down the bison behemoth in Jamestown North Dakota's Frontier Village.

Snaking our way out of St. Paul, westward on I-94, and in the blink of an eye we're in Minneapolis and feel more like we've just entered a different part of town. These twins really are joined at the hip! Just after I-94 crosses the Mississippi, we dive off onto Washington Avenue and get into the Warehouse District. Before long, we find ourselves cruising along the "Mississippi Mile," a very nice drive running beside the mighty river.

Riding along River Parkway, it's obvious that this is the "place to be" in the Twin Cities. Nicely renovated lofts and new buildings overlook the water. A former flourmill turned into a unique apartment complex is a perfect example of the area's revitalized waterfront properties. The urge to stay and explore Minneapolis is quite tantalizing, and the prospect of rumbling over the cobblestones of Main Street, with its numerous historic buildings housing shops and restaurants, should be enticement enough for any two-wheel traveler. Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Highway 52 beckons again.

Minneapolis, Fargo, and Minot

From Minneapolis/St. Paul, we discover we're heading for another twin city: Moorhead, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota. A nice dose of heavy traffic has combined with rain to make the ride more difficult than I'd prefer. Who says the prairie is dry and dusty? Actually, though, we are driving through the "prairie wetlands," in the region around Fergus Falls. Almost a quarter of Minnesota is wetland, consisting of swamps, marshes and lakes. Rotten weather aside, both sides of the interstate afford us great views of lakes and forests as far as the eye can see. And despite the wind and rain, I'm managing to coax the Wing along at a pretty decent clip. It only takes three hours to traverse the 240 miles to Moorhead/Fargo.

Two of the smaller attractions drawing passerby to Frontier Village.

Leaving Fargo the next morning, we vault into North Dakota, the tenth and last state we'll enter on our long Highway 52 journey. "Go West, young man - and lady" is the motto for the next 90 miles until we reach Jamestown, the "Buffalo City." Approaching it, you can't miss seeing the huge buffalo standing inside the "Frontier Village," located next to I-94. The impressive 26-foot-tall cement sculpture was completed in 1959 and weighs 60 tons. The vision of its designer Harold Newman was "...to create something, so big and magnificent, that passersby would have to stop in the city." It worked; we can't help but stop. Apparently, neither can over 100,000 other motorists every year. Frontier Village, with its numerous, original Old West buildings, offers the curious a convincing glimpse at what life was like in a typical western town.

While looking through one of the historic buildings I strike up a conversation with a woman who lives in the area. She tells me that around three A.M. the previous morning there had been a tornado warning. She went on to say that strong winds had blown the roof off of one of the sheds. Not being accustomed to these tornadic events, I decide from now on that keeping a close eye on the weather forecast is certainly in our best interest.

Once in Jamestown proper, we leave the interstate for the last time. By the looks of the map, Highway 52 remains a country road from hereon into the prairie I had always imagined. With every mile the weather gets better and the temperature rises. "Nice day for a ride," says a guy as we refill our tank in Carrington. He's absolutely right. It has become a wonderful day.