the great river road, day 1.

As I’ve mentioned before, later this year Mr. Q and I were supposed to take an amazing vacation.  It was a cruise starting in London and stopping at eight fabulous ports of call in Europe.  Back in March, when I last wrote about it, we were still optimistic that we’d be able to go.  It wasn’t until early May that Princess officially canceled the cruise.  It didn’t take long after that to realize that we most likely weren’t going to be taking any sort of vacation that involved air travel this year.  So that just left us with either a stay-cation (staying at home and visiting local spots) or a road trip.

We were really itching to do some sort of getaway though.  My sister and my niece also wanted to get out of town for a bit of a break.  So we decided to plan a road trip.

After a little research, we settled on exploring some of The Great River Road.  The Great River Road is a series of state and local roads that follow the Mississippi River all the way from its headwaters in Minnesota, to where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana.  So last week the four of us set off on our adventure.  We’d put together a loose itinerary for the first day, and we figured we’d just play it by ear from there.  We just had one rule, that we would stop anywhere that looked like it could be interesting.

So we loaded up the car and headed south on highway 61.  Our first stop was the town of Redwing, MN.  After refreshing ourselves with breakfast at Perkins, my sister wanted to visit the Pottery Museum of Redwing.  We arrived there only to find that it was closed because it was Monday.  Dang!  Little did we know that ‘sorry, we’re closed’ was going to be the theme of our little adventure.

So, we piled back in the car and considered our next move.  Since it was now around noon, and there was a heat advisory because it was in the upper 80’s with 1,000% humidity (or at least that’s what it felt like), we decided a hike up Barn Bluff was not in the cards for us.  So instead we drove up to Memorial Park which also offered a view of the city without as much sweating required (you can see the haze of humidity in the air in this next photo).

It also offered a porta-potty (a.k.a. portable toilet, jiffy john, what do they call them where you live?).  Another discovery we’d made at this point in our journey was that many of the state run rest stop facilities were closed.  We definitely had to use some very questionable toilets during our trip.

After checking out the rest of the park, we piled back into the car and headed to Old Frontenac.  Old Frontenac is a small village along the river that was established in the 1850’s and hasn’t seen a whole lot of change over the years.  There aren’t any tourist shops or places to get ice cream, but there are a bunch of houses that are over 100 years old.

Obviously, this stop was one of my picks.  I just love looking at old houses, and this was a whole village of them.

Winona Cottage (below) was built in 1889 as a wedding present for Israel Garrard’s son and his wife.

Gosh, getting a house as a wedding present, and not just any house but a gorgeous house overlooking the Mississippi River, wouldn’t that be nice!

  Most of the homes in town were well maintained and obviously lived in, but this one was appeared to be in need of some TLC …

It’s called Locust Lodge and was built in 1854.  I did a little google research and learned that it is owned by a woman who lives in Boston and has been unoccupied for years.  I think it goes without saying that the house is probably haunted!

Almost all of the houses in Old Frontenac were white with dark green shutters …

which led me to wonder if there were strict rules about using historic colors or something, but there was also one lone purple house …

Is this a house where rebels live?  Actually, according to the info I found online this is the Lowell House Bed & Breakfast, but I couldn’t find a website for them.  So I’m not sure that it still operates as a B & B.

Before we leave Old Frontenac I just have to share this little detail.  One house had a birdhouse that matched the town’s old church.  Here’s the life size church …

And here’s the birdhouse …

How cool is that?  If only they’d had a gift shop selling these birdhouses, I’d definitely have snatched one up as a unique souvenir.

If any of you that live in the Twin Cities haven’t been to Frontenac, I’d definitely recommend it for a day trip.  You can visit the old town (here’s a link to a self guided walking tour that you can download), and also visit Frontenac State Park to do some hiking.  You could also stop off in Redwing for some antiquing, or a nice lunch.

After exploring the town and checking out a gorgeous field of wildflowers …

we hopped back in the car and continued to head south towards Lake City.  We had planned on exploring there a bit, but there was road construction that detoured us around a bit and we never did make it back to Lake City.

Instead, we followed some advice I’d found online to check out a collection of restored historic windmills nearby.  So we drove a bit out into the country on roads with views that mainly looked like this …

And here is what we found …

So … I have to admit … when I read that this guy had a collection of restored windmills on his property I was picturing this in my mind …

Which I now realize was totally ridiculous of me.  We were in Minnesota, not the Netherlands.  Talk about wishful thinking.

After that little detour we continued on to Kellogg, Minnesota where we stopped off at Lark Toys which apparently was named one of the top 10 best toy stores in the world by USA Today.

It’s not just a toy store though, there is also a toy museum.

You know you are getting older when the toys you played with are now in a museum.

I had that blue Easy Bake oven when I was a kid (upper shelf, left).

They also have an amazing carousel with the most fantastical creatures.

Each animal is handcarved out of Minnesota basswood.

Isn’t the otter totally adorable?

I think my favorite might have been the flamingo though.

After buying some fudge at the gift shop we headed back to the car and drove the rest of the way to Winona where we found a hotel for the night and some down home cookin’ for dinner.  Mr. Q had liver and onions (his favorite, gack!) and I had a hot turkey open faced sandwich with mashed pototoes.  You can’t get much more down home than that.

I hope you enjoyed checking out some of the sights along the Great River Road with me today.  Have any of you traveled any portion of the route?  Or maybe you have another road trip that you can recommend.  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

24 thoughts on “the great river road, day 1.

  1. I enjoyed your road trip! I may have to live vicariously through you, because I don’t see any road trips in my immediate future! I love the old houses, the toy museum and the carousel!! The down home cooking sounds pretty good as well!! Glad you all escaped for a bit and thank you for sharing!


  2. Sounds like you had a great trip. Vastly different than planned, but still nice to get away. Loved the birdhouse too…I could spend a whole day going up and down the streets of Winona just looking at the older homes. And a hot turkey sandwhich sounds good…guess I’ll be getting some Keys takeout soon – we still aren’t doing the restaurant thing yet 😞


    1. It has been many years since we did an old-fashioned road trip but it sounds like the ticket for this summer! Will your trip continue past Winona? The confinement we have all experienced makes me restless to do something very different from the day-to-day hanging around the house routine!


  3. Thanks for sharing your road trip. I’m putting that toy museum on my bucket list! And as names for porta-potties, my husband works in construction, and they call them “blue-rooms” because they are usually blue. And very questionable.


  4. What fun! I’m so jealous! Looking forward to the rest of your journey! Have never been to that part of the country.


    1. Well, there are probably lots of other places to visit that are more appealing, but when you are desperate and need to be within a day’s drive from home it’s good in a pinch 🙂


  5. What an interesting tour. Sometimes the spontaneous itinerary is the most Interesting! I will refer back to this trip when planning a US road trip. love your photography as always!
    Air travel is certainly off my list and many counties ( including Canada only want essential travellers this year).
    When we are free to travel without cares we will appreciate it even more than ever.


  6. I have walked across the Mississippi at the source! I loved telling my friends ! Of I didn’t tell them it was a creek!
    That town and those homes were so beautiful. I’m enjoying your sites and yummy food! Stay safe.
    Smiles, alice


  7. My daughter attends Winona State and so we have driven that route on occasion. It’s beautiful. I’m still laughing at the thought of the windmills. Too funny! By the way I have that easy bake oven in my basement although it’s minty green in color. I was going to donate it so if you are interested, let me know.


    1. I have a co-worker with a daughter at Winona State too. It sure looked like a fun town to go to school in! Thanks for the offer, but I’m afraid my Easy Bake days are behind me. Maybe you can find a museum to donate it to 😉


  8. You were in my stomping grounds, and I have so much I’d love the recommend! The WI side of the river has a lot to offer too: Maiden Rock, Stockholm, and Pepin have some neat stores and restaurants, and then if you continue down the river, Alma is a sweet little town. AND, if you hit the right weekend, you could visit my occasional sale 7 miles from Nelson ( I’d love to tell you about all the great stores, sites, and restaurants in this area!!


    1. Well shoot! I should have asked for that info before we left! As you’ll read in my next post we did make it to Stockholm (in a sense), and that first photo in my post was taken at Buena Vista in Alma. My sister and I want to head back down that way again though, so I’ll have to keep an eye on your sale dates!


  9. Oh Miss Quandie! You live in such a pretty pretty part of the country! I had a friend here a long time ago whose husband’s family had a house on one of the lakes up in Minnesota. They all met up there for a week every summer and she said it was absolutely the most beautiful place she’d ever been. I’ve never had a friend who was born and raised in Minesotta (unless I count Mike Lindell “my home state of Meeenisotta” hahahahha) but one of these days I’ll get up there and look around! (-: (-: (-:


    1. I’m always amazed by the number of people who move away, but keep a cabin on a lake in Northern Minnesota to come back to in the summer. It is the perfect spot in the summer … not so much in the winter 😉


  10. Living close to the Mississippi in Missouri, I think a trip on the Great River Road sounds like a really good trip. The homes you saw are amazing, the carousel was wonderful and you got to spend time larking around with your family. Making the best of it in a crazy time! Thanks for showing us the highlights.


  11. Glad that you got a chance to head out of town. I love the pictures of the old houses. Thanks for sharing 😊


  12. I really enjoyed your road trip day! My family and I explored some of the southern U.S. a few years ago. We saw some of Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida. I have 3 older kids and we had a great time exploring big and small sites. I hope you have a great rest of your trip!


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