Road-Weary Blues

Friday, April 17, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments


CHASING THE BLUES, CHAPTER 21:  Des Moines, IA to St. Cloud, MN

Wednesday, April 15—Des Moines, IA, to St. Paul, MN

Waking up still tired, we dragged ourselves away from Des Moines around 9 a.m., after deciding to press on rather than spending a down day in the Iowa capital.  We chucked our plans to zoom up I-35 in favor of the quieter US-69, which parallels the interstate just to the west.

In keeping with this slower pace, we paused in the little town of Huxley (pop. 3,317) and found a couple of letterboxes, one outside a Methodist church and the other under the stage of an amphitheater built on an old railbed by the local 4-H Club.

Nice 4-H project
On we continued up US-69 under partly cloudy skies, still passing massive fields, just plowed in preparation for this year’s crop.  North of Jewell (pop. 1,215), we began seeing a different kind of farm—those that harness wind power.

Near Blairsburg, we drove through Century Wind Farm, a $323 million project that generates 200 MW of electricity, enough to power about 60,000 homes.  Completed in 2005, the farm comprises 134 turbines, whose blades were constantly turning in the relentless Iowa wind.

About halfway to the Minnesota border, we entered the tiny town of Galt (pop. 32).  We probably would not have even noticed the town except for the massive numbers of poultry barns, a.k.a. chicken houses—dozens of them in groups of six to 18, on both sides of the highway.  Each of the barns houses up to 75,000 chickens.

Just this one cluster of barns will house more than 1 million chickens.  (image from Google Earth)
A little research told us we were in Wright County, IA, home to fewer than 15,000 people and more than 15 million chickens.  Wright has more than a fourth of the state laying hen population and is the largest egg producing area in America’s top egg producing state.

Wright was also the source of a 2010 salmonella outbreak that resulted in the recall of more than half a billion eggs after thousands were sickened from the knowingly contaminated eggs.  But the unscrupulous producer—a repeat offender—who operated that farm has been removed from the Wright County industry and is likely facing prison time.

After a couple more hours of monotonous driving through flat Iowa farmland interspersed with occasional little villages, we crossed into Minnesota.  Just past the border, US-69 merged with I-35, which we followed on into the twin cities area, arriving around 3 p.m., experiencing just a little taste of rush hour before reaching the Fairfield Inn north of St. Paul just after 4 p.m.

In keeping with the rest of our day, our dinner at the local Black Sea restaurant was characterized by bland food and lethargic service.  Back at the hotel, we did some laundry while planning for tomorrow.  After we discovered that most of the Minnesota State Capitol is currently inaccessible due to a major renovation project, it seemed best to save it for another trip.  Instead, we decided to move on to St. Cloud on Thursday and stay for two nights to rest and regroup.


Thursday, April 16 & Friday, April 17—St. Paul, MN, to St. Cloud, MN

St. Cloud was only 75 miles away, just the kind of distance we needed to start our down time.  Though I-94 would have gladly carried us there at top speed, we preferred to follow the Mississippi River.  The Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the course of the river more than 3,000 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.  We have driven parts of the GRR before, so we knew the drill.

Because of the way the river meanders and squiggles, especially this far north, there is not a single highway that follows it.  Rather you must be alert and hope to see the GRR highway signs at intersections where you need to change roads.

After a rather uneventful trip, we arrived in St. Cloud around noon and grabbed some lunch at Granite City Brewery before stocking up on groceries at the local Coborn’s supermarket.  Then we checked in and tuned out for the remainder of Thursday and all day Friday, relaxing and planning and relaxing some more.

Tomorrow we’ll get back to the Great River Road system and follow the Mississippi River north in search of its headwaters.

Chapter 21 Stats:
(We’re tuned out, not counting anything.)