Day-Tripper

Call these places the heart of the heartland. Or call them the middle of the middle of nowhere. One thing is certain: When you picnic on truck stop food in the cemetery beneath the oil refinery, you won't have to worry about other tourists

As you laze among the tombs and try to hold your breath you may well amuse yourself by recalling that Rosemount purportedly received its name from Irish settlers who were inspired by memories of a picturesque village in Ireland.

The extinct settlement of Pine Bend is commemorated by a fading historical marker just off the highway shoulder a quarter-mile or so to the north. But this tribute to the Dakota village of Chief Medicine Bottle is even easier to miss than the cemetery, obscured as it presently is by the debris of highway construction. The plaque, in the likely event that you are unable (or unwilling to risk your life) to get close enough to actually view its corroded text, reads as follows:

 

Brad Zellar

The cornfields and village of the Sioux Chief Medicine Bottle occupied the land between this point and the river from 1838-1852. This friendly Chief, uncle of the Medicine Bottle executed in 1865, with his band moved to the Redwood Agency after the Mendota Treaty of 1851 and died before the Sioux outbreak of 1862. This marker also stands on the abandoned roadbed of the St. Paul and Southern Railway.

 

You'll find everything you need (and then some) for your cemetery picnic or the next leg of your journey at the massive Pump House truck stop complex across the intersection from the historical marker. The Pump House is an astonishing full-service attraction in its own right, offering everything from cold beverages, microwave delicacies, a Subway franchise, fireworks, mud flaps, air fresheners, patriotic statuary, a full selection of magazines (including Lollypops, Hometown Gals, Leg Show, and Weed World), and what is surely the planet's largest assortment of beef jerky products. Should you wish--and you likely will--to freshen up or simply unwind after your visit to the cemetery, you may choose to make use of the Pump House's showers or to dump a pocketful of quarters in the facility's game room.

 

WHILE YOU'RE OUT THERE

A half-dozen miles south of the cemetery you'll pass through Coates (pop. 163), which is home to Jake's Totally Exotic Dancers, the most excellent House of Coates bar (liquor and food), a mysterious collection of rusting iron lawn art (on the southwest corner of the highway intersection), and little else. Hampton (pop. 363) is the next town along 52, and if you're looking to make something more than a day trip out of your getaway, this may be your last, best shot at securing a motel room without the inconvenience of a detour. The Silver Bell certainly looks like the sort of classic highway strip motel that is likely to provide--by virtually any standard--affordable accommodations. But in the early afternoon I was unable to summon a clerk at the office, so you might want to call ahead for additional information. The town also has an excellent water tower, a hair salon, tennis court, and a district of drinking establishments (the Black Stallion, Lucky's Round-Up, and Frank's Place) that seemed unusually well peopled for a weekday afternoon in a town of 363 residents.

 

Second Leg: West Concord.
Highway 56 South
approximately 70 miles from the Twin Cities

To get to West Concord (pop. 830) you're going to have to pick up Highway 56 South just past Hampton. Believe me, by that time you'll be happy as hell to leave 52 behind; truth be told, it's a freeway trying to pass itself off as a state highway, and it's been a long time since it fooled anyone. Highway 56, however, is the real deal, a modest two-lane that makes its lazy way from small town to small town all the way to the Iowa border. Generally by the time you leave one place (and it never takes long), you'll already be able to see the water tower and grain elevator of the next hamlet rising above the fields in the distance. Most of these burgs were modestly thriving and self-sufficient agricultural communities once upon a time, and West Concord is no exception.

Originally located east of its present location, the town took on its current name when it was forced to move west in the late 19th century to tap into the new rail service. Today, driving into West Concord from the north, you'll see welcome signs that advertise the community's annual Survivor Days and its status as the "Home of Peef's Chad Winsell." Winsell, who apparently served as the inspiration for the Santa Claus in Tom Hegg and Warren Hanson's storybook Peef, is the town's humble version of a local celebrity.

A walking tour of the community won't turn up much on the surface. There's a charming little drive-in restaurant, Ginny's, which has an adjacent miniature miniature golf course, and a tiny community park on a corner lot at the intersection of Main Street. The main drag is utterly abandoned late on a weekday afternoon; there's not a soul visible anywhere downtown, in fact, and most of the shop fronts are either vacant or closed for the day. Among those businesses that at least appear to still be hanging on--a diner, gift shop, hardware store, bank, grain co-op, and American Legion Post--only the on/off sale West Concord Liquor (located in the old city hall) seems to be doing much business.

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