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One of the questions we get from people when we tell them about our life on the road is–Why? When we decided to make our way west by a northern route the question came up again. This time, our lack of knowledge about Minnesota is part of the reason we decided it might be good to spend a month here in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. That’s true, but we have paid a bit of a price for not doing more advance research.

Our Airbnb reservation outside Minneapolis blew up just a few days before our scheduled arrival. We had to find a place to stay, and a perfectly fine, comfortable house in Rochester filled the bill. Once we were here, we discovered that Rochester, and all of southeastern Minnesota, is in the “driftless” region, a level area that was never covered by glaciers during the last ice age. Where there were glaciers, as the ice retreated, it scraped divots in the bedrock that became lakes, and left piles of rock, drumlins, eskers, and other post-glacial hills. We are in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but in the part without the lakes….

Once we got here, we discovered that Rochester may be famous for the Mayo Clinic, but there’s a limit to what else is here. The downtown is like one giant convention center, a bit like Waikiki without the beach. Large hotels line Broadway, the main street. A few cafes and restaurants are reopening with outdoor seating. The city has made a big effort to create outdoor dining areas by lining up cement barriers where there once was on-street parking. It makes space for outdoor restaurant tables, and gives the downtown a bit of a construction project ambiance. Add in a stretch of 90o days, and downtown Rochester looks like a convention city/convection oven.

The original Mayo Clinic has brass doors to rival Florence (that seems to have been the intention, at least), and a lot of interesting architectural elements, there are historic exhibits, though the building isn’t open these days.

After my visit downtown while Jonathan was at the dentist, we’ve stuck to Rochester’s parks. They are a real highlight of the city. Quarry Hill Park has miles of bicycling trails, walking paths, a pond, forest, butterfly garden courtesy of the local Master Gardeners, and that’s with the visitor center closed and programs cancelled. We go early in the day before the park fills up, which it does, every day. Also nearby is Bear Creek park, smaller and a bit quieter, with paths along the water that are excellent for birdwatching. We saw a lazuli bunting here, a pretty blue-headed bird. What a treat!

Just a few minutes to west is a trail along the Zumbro River. On our way there, we passed a deer standing in a field of crops, peacefully browsing. We were on the path by 8 a.m., a good idea. By the time we left two hours later, there were individuals and families on bicycles, walkers with and without dogs, runners with and without dogs, and the prize group: a man with two dogs and a baby in a stroller (She was asleep). At least he wasn’t trying to run, too. All this traffic failed to dissuade the birds, who came out to show off their shapes and colors. Though we didn’t see anything exotic or brand-new to us, we enjoyed the hummingbird that sat on a branch so that we could get a good look.

Outside Rochester, state parks provide more places to walk. Forestville State Park is not far, and provided excellent bird watching. Before we even got there we saw a ring-necked pheasant by the side of the road. In the park we walked along the Root River, and passed very few people on the trail. The morning heated up and eventually we returned to the car. On our drive home, the sky got darker and darker, it looked like we were under a slowly swirling, dark gray pancake. Drops began to spatter the windshield as we approached Rochester, though it wasn’t raining very hard when we arrived home. Five minutes later, it was pouring! Rain, thunder, and lightning continued for the rest of the day and long into the night, We took our walk at the right moment. There will be time for others.