MINNESOTA, the Gopher State

What to see

Minneapolis - St Paul Trolley City Trip - St Paul's Cathedral
Bloomington Mall of America
Duluth City View - Lake Superior scenic North Shore
North Shore Gooseberry Falls State Park - Tettegouche Park
Itasca Itasca state park - the Mississippi River
Other pages other states | articles

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This is an extract of what to see in this state, with small photos. You will find the full description, history and full-sized photos, in my e-book View America: North West - Part 1

In the travel series View America, North West - Part 1 covers Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. It is not a traditional travelogue, but a non-commercial and more or less objective chronicle of an in-depth exploration of these states. Each state is described with its own brief historical background and its main sights, tourist attractions and points of interest.

My book does not describe lodgings, restaurants or entertainment, except where these may interact with the narrative. It is illustrated with more than 90 full-sized photos.

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MINNESOTA is known as the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes (actually there are more than 15,000 lakes), the Gopher State (either after the animals, or named after an 1880's cartoon, in which corrupt railroad officials were portrayed as Gophers), and finally as the North Star State, which is a translation of the French L'Etoile du Nord. The name Minnesota comes from a Sioux word for the Minnesota River. Most Indians are Ojibwa and Sioux.

In 1858 Minnesota joined the US as the 32th state. The capital is St Paul and the largest city is Minneapolis. Together they form the Twin Cities. The population is approximately five million, with a density of 24 inhabitants per km2. Just in the metropolis of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul) there are three million people! The population has very diverse origins, with French Canadians, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Germans and Irish, who were joined around 1900 by Finns, Poles and Czechs.

The surface is approximately 225,000 km2, of which nearly 20,000 km2 is covered by water. Originally the state was almost completely forested, but more than sixty percent was cleared for agriculture. Minnesota has a threefold drainage, along Lake Superior (the largest freshwater lake in the world), which in turn flows into the St Laurent, along the Hudson Bay, and finally along the Mississippi river. These waterways provide excellent transport throughout the region.

The original industry was the fur trade under the French and the British, but after the early 1800's agriculture and forestry were addressed. Minnesota is still an important agricultural state, but in the late 1880's important iron mines were developed, and the state is still the largest iron producer.

Many immigrants from Finland and Denmark quickly formed cooperatives for joint purchase and sale, after the models in their homeland, and these organizations still exist. The fishing grounds in Lake Superior were severely damaged by the lamprey and overfishing, and fishing is therefore still rather limited. One of the largest bus companies (Greyhound Lines) started in 1914 as a transport for the miners.

The main tourist activities are hunting and fishing during the summer, and all of the winter sports during the winter.

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Minneapolis - St Paul

City Trolley trip

St Paul was founded nearby Fort Snelling, on the right bank of the Mississippi River. More or less at the same time St Anthony was founded a little further on the left bank. It developed faster than St Paul and soon became the city of Minneapolis. Gradually the two cities grew toward each other and eventually became the Twin Cities. In practice they constitute just one large city, even though they are two separate entities.

The City Trolley takes you around the city in a one-hour trip, covering the city center, the river front, the suburbs and the Stone Arch Bridge, and it returns you to the Warehouse District. The driver's explanations are excellent and the ride is very interesting. Visitors can admire three buildings that were designed by the Japanese architect Yamasaki, who also designed the towers of the World Trade Center. Also interesting is a hotel that was built in an old railroad depot.

Minneapolis - St Paul : city tour 1 Minneapolis - St Paul : city tour 2

The Mississippi River shows its Waterfront and one of the twenty-nine dams that were built to tame the river. This Waterfront is the location where massive buildings were constructed for commerce and industry. More points of interest are the Stone Arch Bridge and St. Anthony Falls, which is the only place along the vast length of the Mississippi River where it forms a waterfall.

There is the Milling District with the ruins of several old grain mills, where grain giants Pillsbury and Gold Flour built their enormous plants for grinding the grain, and then shipped it to the east coast by river or railroad. Since no electricity was available they ingeniously used the river's water to provide rotation for huge paddle wheels, which in turn drove the grain mills. Between 1890 and 1930 Pillsbury owned the nation's largest flour mill!

Minneapolis - St Paul : city tour 5 Minneapolis - St Paul : city tour 6

Along the way the Sculpture Garden can be admired. Its "menu" includes several large and modern sculptures such as the spectacular Spoonbridge and Cherry, made by the Dutch couple Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Just ahead there is a Belgian contribution with a remarkable image of a Caterpillar crane, cut from a steel plate by a laser.

There is also a very particular mini-golf course, drawn by an artist. Every hole has been designed with a different theme, and the last hole even looks like the interior of an apartment. It is outfitted with a computer, a TV and a huge pinball machine. Most peculiar!

Minneapolis - St Paul : sculpture garden 1 Minneapolis - St Paul : sculpture garden 4

St Paul's Cathedral

A visit to the Twin Cities would be incomplete without seeing St Paul's Cathedral. The current cathedral is the fourth with that name, and it was built between 1906 and 1915 in a classic Renaissance style by Archbishop John Ireland. The plans were based on the design of Rome's St Peter's Cathedral, while the majestic dome is very similar to the Eglise du Sacre-Coeur in Paris. The sculptures above the entrance are simply stunning, with a portrayal of Christ and the twelve Apostles.

MSP : St Paul's Cathedral 1 MSP : St Paul's Cathedral 2

This interior consists of sleek and sober lines, and only the finishing around the dome(s) has some Rococo-traits, with silver and gold leaf on the beautiful stone designs. The windows are decorated with state-of-the-art stained glass with obvious European roots, and seemingly a bit different from what was produced in the U.S. at the time.

Perhaps the only downside could be the somewhat gloomy floor, for which a Travertine tile was used. Usually the old European cathedrals were floored with massive blue stone, which immediately produces the desired chastening effect upon the believer when he enters the church. Makes you wonder what an architect's expertise was used for... The Archdiocese of the Twin Cities is also a parish, and the cathedral attracts some 250,000 visitors per year.

Bloomington : Mall of America

Bloomington's Mall of America is the largest fully enclosed Mall in the United States, and probably also the world's largest Mall. Besides the traditional anchors (the department stores Nordstrom, Sears, Macy's and Bloomingdale's) everything is superlative with 20,000 parking spaces, 520 shops, a cinema with 14 halls, a walk-through aquarium with 1.2 million gallons of water (4.5 million liters), 50 restaurants, 4 fast food courts, 7 nightclubs, a bowling, a giant Lego playground, and even a Wedding Chapel.

The Mall has some 40 million visitors annually, of which 4 out of 10 are tourists. If you were to spend just 10 minutes in each store it would take you 86 hours to complete a complete visit to the Mall...

Bloomington : Mall of America 1 Bloomington : Mall of America 2
Bloomington : Mall of America 3 Bloomington : Mall of America 4



A majestic bridge leads on the I-35 leads to Duluth, the largest freshwater port in the U.S. The panorama would be most enthralling, if it weren't for the fact that there are more large factories than houses.

The Visitor Center displays magnificent panoramas of the city of Duluth, Lake Superior and the valley to the south where the St. Louis river flows. The main economic activities in Duluth seem to be grain storage with enormous grain elevators, paper, coal and tar mines, and a petrochemical refinery.

Duluth  1 Minnesota State Bird...
Duluth  2 Duluth  3

the North Shore

Highway 61 runs along Lake Superior, and the ride is very enjoyable. Home Sweet Home is a remarkable Gift Shop, where local postcards and all sorts of wonderful trinkets can be found. It is a nice English-style store, without the usual kitsch, and especially the ladies will be happy to browse around.

The highway leads through the town of Two Harbors and goes on to the Lake Superior North Shore, located on Lake Superior's shores and all the way to Canada. The entire highway is a Scenic Highway and the views are effectively stunning over just about the entire 125 miles (200 km).

Lake Superior North Shore

There are no less than eight State Parks to visit, and we randomly picked two; Gooseberry Falls and Tettegouche Park.

Lake Superior is the largest of the five Great Lakes and it contains so much water that it could cover the whole of Canada, the USA, Mexico and South America with one foot (30 centimeters) of water! It is so vast that it has its own dreaded storms, and at the bottom are more than 300 shipwrecks to prove this.

It is also the purest, clearest and coldest lake, and the largest freshwater reservoir in the world!

Gooseberry Falls and Tettegouche state park

The views in the park are indeed impressive. Nevertheless we learned that the best-looking reefs can be seen in Palisades Head and Tettegouche Park, and so we continued our way to a hopefully less crowded park. Tettegouche State Park offers a winding trail with a steep climb to Shovel Point, where beautiful pictures can be taken of a most stunning panorama.

You'll admire the extraordinary cliffs, including those of the nearby Palisades, and an extended stretch of the coastline. This somewhat strenuous hike is certainly more than worth the trouble!

According the Visitor Center guide, the somewhat bizarre name of Tettegouche is derived from an Algonquin Indian word, meaning a retreat or resting place.

However, we suspect that the name is rather a corruption of the French name "Tête de Gauche", which literally means "Left Head". Especially since somewhat further ahead lies "Palisades Head", which in French means "Tête de Palisades".

Gooseberry Falls
Tettegouche Park 1 Tettegouche Park 2

Itasca : Lake Itasca State Park - The Mississippi River

Itasca State Park is especially famous because Lake Itasca is the source of the Mississippi River, which is North America's longest river. The name Mississippi comes from Algonquin Indian words, namely Misi (large, spread out over a large surface) and Ziidi (river).

The Mississippi river isn't the world's longest river, because this title goes to the Nile, with 6,672 kilometers. Next come the Amazon river with 6,416 kilometers, the Mississippi river (together with the Missouri and Ohio rivers) with 5,970 kilometers, China's Yangtse river with 3,760 km, the Huang with 5,060 km, the Yenisey river with 5,053 km, the Op-Irtysh with 5,044 km, the Zaire river with 4,671 km, the Mississippi river (by itself) with 3,770 km, the Volga river with 3,650 km, the Danube with 2,840 km, and the Rhine river with 1,355 kilometers.

The Indians, who inhabit the region since time immemorial, still don't understand why white people argued for one hundred years about where exactly the river starts, and they simply accept the Mississippi as the bringer of prosperity. The single drop of water that leaves here will need approximately ninety days to end up in the Gulf of Mexico!

Lake Itasca 1
Lake Itasca 2 Lake Itasca 3

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