A glimpse of the City of Lakes – Minneapolis, MN

With Betsy’s family reunion out of the way, we trekked up north to the land of 10,000 lakes and a billion+ mosquitoes, Minnesota.  Our home base for this stop was at River Terrace Park in Monticello (Steve’s review here).  We planned to spend only one day in Minneapolis, and our friends Joe and Judy, who lived and worked here for many years, gave us a list of things we might want to do.  Armed with the list and a forecast of rain, we headed out with our umbrella to see what we could accomplish in the “City of Lakes” – which happens to be the meaning of the word Minneapolis.

Minneapolis skyline as we crested a hill into the area

We chose to visit the Basilica of Saint Mary as our first stop.  From the pamphlets we learned that this was the first church in the United States to be designated a basilica on February 1, 1926.  It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  Its significance is ascribed to several attributes: excellent architecture and engineering design; an expression of Baroque influence in church architecture; an example of the history of religious movements in Minnesota; and its place as the first basilica in the United States.

Next we crossed over 16 lanes of freeway traffic on the Irene Hixon Whitney Pedestrian Bridge, pausing for a few minutes to watch the world go by in a hurry.

Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge
All of those frantic working folks…

The far end of the bridge dropped us into the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, where we viewed various pieces of modern art showcased there.  But we really came to get a “photo op” of the renowned Spoonbridge and Cherry, the piece that has become somewhat synonymous as an iconic symbol for Minneapolis.

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Spoon bridge and Cherry

After strolling around the garden and gawking at some art that we usually don’t “get”, we drove downtown to see for ourselves how Minneapolis is built to handle the incredible cold and snow in winter.  We wondered how these folks move around and go about their business during the bitterly cold weather.

The city is known for its “skyways”, where many of the buildings in the downtown core are connected by heated, enclosed walkways two floors above the street.  We discovered that they are able to navigate between their work and other businesses and restaurants in several different buildings very comfortably using these cool skyways.  Steve was so impressed that he’s thinking of building one between Betsy and the car this winter!

Downtown Minneapolis
We could get lost in these skyways 🙂

Since we love guided boat excursions, we hopped aboard the Minnesota Queen at noon and glided along the Mississippi River on a 1.5 hour tour.  We cruised under several bridges connecting Minneapolis and St Paul, and passed through Lower St. Antony Falls lock and dam, viewing the city’s skyline.

Bridges a-plenty, for all travel purposes

The St Anthony Falls is the first of 29 locks and dams allowing for navigation from St Louis to Minneapolis.  One interesting fact that we heard from the narrative is that it took an act of congress to recently close the Upper St. Anthony Falls lock and dam in an effort to keep invasive carp from climbing further up the Mississippi River.

Lower St Anthony Lock and Dam
Getting a lift up-river through the Lower St. Anthony lock and dam

The narrator also pointed out that the Stone Arch Bridge is the only bridge of its kind over the Mississippi River, constructed in 1883.  It’s made of native granite and limestone, measuring 2,100 ft. long by 28 ft. wide.  The bridge consists of 23 arches spanning the river below St. Anthony Falls.

Minneapolis Skyline
Minneapolis Skyline and the Stone Arch Bridge

St. Anthony Falls was visible between the arches as we approached.  It’s the only natural major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River, and it was covered with a concrete overflow spillway (also called an “apron”) after it partially collapsed in 1869.

Stone Arch Bridge
Designated a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark

After our scenic river tour, we decided to check out the biggest mall in the USA, the Mall of America.  We had seen an episode on the History Channel’s Modern Marvels series that described it’s construction, and although we were here during summer vacation for the kids, this was our only chance to check it out.

Mall of America

It was amazing looking out at the multitude of rides at the Nickelodeon Universe in the middle of the mall.

Nickelodeon Universe – an amusement park within a mall!

And yes, we came out with shopping bags – containing new walking shoes for both of us!

To break in those new shoes, we wore them to Wright County Park (Yes John and Pam, you have a park named after you!), and walked 5.1 miles as we meandered along the Mighty Mississippi.  We learned that about 700 Trumpeter Swans visit the warm open waters in this area of the river.  Swan viewing opportunities peak between mid-November and March, and I would love to see them if it didn’t involve coming here in the middle of winter.  But I was still happy to see a Great Blue Heron along the river in its classic hunting pose:


Mississippi River
Steve chatting with a local

On our way home we discovered this snake on the street.  Steve and I disagreed about whether it was alive or dead, but we agreed that we weren’t going to touch it to find out. My subsequent research revealed it was a Rough Green Snake (Opheodrys aestivus) which turns blue when it dies.  So Steve won this bet 😦

Rough Green Snake
A green snake that turns blue when dead or severely injured – Rough Green Snake

After our short stay in Monticello we moved on to the headwaters of the Mississippi River, Lake Itasca.




  1. The stone bridge and skyline sure make for nice city photos…
    The stained glass windows are beautiful!

  2. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that John has his own County Park. So glad you stopped by and enjoyed it! Haha!

    All those walkways tell you just how cold the winters are in that area…brrr! The university sits on both sides of the river and they have a large covered walkway/bikeway to get back and forth, as well! Taking the river cruise was a great way to get local knowledge and a trip on the river:) Fun times in the lock! The stone arches as beautiful.

    Nice that you helped support the local economy at the Mall of America:) A must stop for all of us tourists!

  3. I’ve spent many a night in Minneapolis during the winter and it gets so cold the hair in your nose freezes. And in the summer the mosquitos are so large they have numbers on their sides (meaning big like airplanes lol). Enjoy MN. I’m sure it won’t make the list of possible places to settle down 🙂

  4. I love sculpture gardens. And many times I don’t “get it” either. I have never see the spoon and cherry. Pretty cool.

    I would think in a city that is so cold that the skyways would be a necessity.

    The cruise sounds great. I can’t believe y’all fit all this in in one day. No wonder you needed new walking shoes. Thanks for the great tour.

  5. What a wonderful travelogue! Your pictures were spectacular, even of the dead snake-colorful as it was! You made me want to tour it, until I read Ingrid’s comments! Mosquitoes LOVE me! And as Floridians, we’re very adverse to cold weather. But now I feel like I’ve seen it! But we have to go to the Mall of America with the grandkids. Never knew that tidbit!
    Again, your pics and descriptions were amazing! Thanks for sharing!
    Ps – it took me a few minutes to catch onto who Betsy was for her family reunion! Haha! Clever!

  6. I have not been to Minneapolis in many, many years, and then for just a short time. Thanks for the interesting post! MN would not make my list for winter travel either. 😉

  7. I don’t do cities so I am always happy to go along with you and have none of the noise and congestion. Love that picture of you looking down on 16 lanes of traffic. I don’t even think the DC beltway has 16 lanes. WOW! The Stone Arch bridge is really beautiful. Your pictures of it are fantastic. I’m sorry to see that the poor little green snake turned blue. I do hope you are going to Itasca State Park. It’s one of our favorite places in Minnesota. We’ve been there several times. They claim to be the headwaters of the Mississippi. We have a blog post showing us astride the mighty Mississippi. One food on each shore. Enjoy!!

  8. How interesting that the city has those skywalks. Makes sense with the weather, but I hope I never have to live anywhere like that!

  9. I can’t believe all that you squeezed into one day!! Great tour of the city — I would love to see the Trumpeters, but like you said, there’s no way that we would go there in winter. Brrrr. Any place that needs covered walkways is way too cold for me. And then mosquitoes in the summer….hmmm. I wonder when it’s safe to visit?

  10. I enjoy a good ol’ “City Day” once in a while. Your post is much like mine from our time in Minneapolis. The Basilica was closed the day we were there though. Cool snake.

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