Column: Taking a road trip through Lakes Country
In Own the Road, Jack Karuac writes, "I'd often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off."
In the same vein, though on a much smaller scale, for some time I had been getting excited looking over a map of Lakes Country and planning on taking a road trip to see some of the more interesting cities or sites in the area.
With the most lakes of any county in Minnesota, it's no surprise that Otter Tail County would have a lot of gems to offer travelers who seek them out. But, unexpected things come up, weekends get busy, and like many other plans we make, that road trip got pushed back and pushed back.
On Saturday, I finally decided just to go.
There's something liberating about driving in the country on days when the skies are blue, spattered with a few clouds, and when traffic is light. You feel like you're off on some adventure, and you have the roads all to yourself.
My trip was divided into two legs - first, I headed south toward Fergus Falls, stopping briefly in small towns along the way. One of these towns was Elizabeth, where a sign states that the Last Chance Saloon is 'open later by appointment.' There's nothing quite like small-town hospitality, right?
The final destination of the first leg was Tenney, Minn. Even though I wouldn't technically call it part of Lakes Country (it's not in Otter Tail County), I wanted to go see it because of the distinction it has as being (formerly) Minnesota's smallest town, with a population of six. You may have read about it recently - the town's citizens recently voted to disband, meaning that the town simply ceased to exist.
I've always been very interested in small towns (and I mean really small towns, like towns with a population under 200). In some of those towns, life just seems to be slower, more relaxed. Buildings wear their aged signs with pride, some unchanged for many decades.
Time, though, can catch up with these places eventually - people move away or pass away, and suddenly there's nobody to take on civic leadership or fill some of the local businesses. So it was that I felt compelled to take the extra trek on down to Tenney to walk around and see the place before it dissolved completely.
From there, I redoubled my path, headed north through Elbow Lake, and caught Highway 78 going north. The final destination of this second part of the trip was Inspiration Peak, about six miles off of 78, and maybe 10 miles or so south of Battle Lake. I had seen some pictures of the peak, and I had read a few things about it being a particularly beautiful part of the county, and I wasn't let down.
The view from the top was really quite something - it's hard to say how far you can see in the distances, but it's far. Ultimately, it's hard to describe views like those of Inspiration Peak to people who haven't seen it. So, I'll just say this: It's something in Otter Tail County that you need to see.
I wished I could have taken more time to linger at Inspiration Peak, or to stop and take a look around Battle Lake on the way home, but I had to drive nonstop to meet my parents for dinner in Detroit Lakes.
The drive between 94 and up through Battle Lake, I thought, was probably the most scenic drive of the many miles I put on that day. Between the lakes and the hills, it was a drive to savor.
My trip on Saturday was the way that summer weekends are supposed to be, and I'm looking forward to getting out to explore the area more in the coming weekends.
According to a welcome sign at Inspiration Peak, the writer Sinclair Lewis once "chided Minnesotans for not knowing the 'haunts of beauty' in their own back yards." On Saturday, I felt like I got to know my back yard just a little bit better.