Friday, February 17, 2012

Minnesota's Northwest Angle

This trip started with the idea of "now for something completely different".  Since most of my riding involves the hilly, curvy regions of MN/IA/WI, heading off to northern Minnesota was a mostly rare event; northern Wisconsin a different story, what with my annual 'Bayfield at Halloween' (will be another Post) rides only one example.

The idea started with 'north' and from there I started wondering about how far.  It was another good excuse to pull out the big maps, exploring what 'north' might be fully defined as.  Thompson, Manitoba was beginning to look like a destination worthy of the north-land, certainly justifying some exploration.  You can see that Thompson is essentially the end of the road and I found that appealing.  However, by studying the maps more closely, I noticed that a 'Minor Road' continued on to the northeast to the small village of Gillam, the road paralleling the rail-line to Churchill.  Not seen on this map, it's approximately 1/3 of the way between Thompson and Churchill.

After mentioning in one of the forums I frequent that planning had begun on a trip north, I learned that a friend of a friend's uncle worked for the power company that the town of Gillam is primarily in support of.  It was strongly suggested that I not attempt to ride up the road north from Thompson; normal conditions are very rough, causing constant repair of the company's trucks running gear.

Reservations were made for the train ride to Churchill, arrangements set to leave my PC800 at the train station parking area at Thompson.  I planned to ride north as far as Thompson on the bike, park and take the overnight train to Churchill, spend a few hours there, sleep on the train south back to Thompson, then head northwest to make a loop through Flin Flon.  It wasn't the normal season for watching the polar bears but I was excited about being on the shores of Hudson Bay regardless.

I don't now remember what came up, but my week off got changed, reservations were cancelled and I ended up forfeiting part of the train reservation.  I was more than disappointed and almost ready just to call the whole trip north off, then decided that I'd head up to Minnesota's Northwest Angle for another one of my then-typical 3 day weekends.

I left Thursday afternoon, spending the night in Brainerd.  Up early Friday morning to a crisp, sunny morning, I headed west to Pillager, now an almost Brainerd suburb.  I spent a year up there in the late 70's and was anxious to see what changes had occurred since I'd left.

The east-west BN tracks are just to my left and I'm looking west to the building that our machine shop was in.

After breakfast at the diner in town, I was bound for Bemidji.

Stopped at the Waskish DNR facility at the east end of Upper Red Lake, the big water in the distance.

Continuing up #72 to Baudette, then west on #11 to Warroad.  On the northwest side of town, at the 11/313 intersection, is the large Marvin Window facility and after seeing various signs about their museum and tours, I wanted to stop, just not quite bad enough to do so. Making sure to fill with gas before continuing on, I did stop for a cup of coffee.  Canada and then Minnesota again, were calling my name, so I went through Customs at the border crossing.

To drive to the Northwest Angle, it's necessary to go around to the west though Canada, then head east again into MN; there's no other way.  So, west through the tiny village of Middlebro, MB and on to the junction of MB#308 at Sprague.

I pulled over here to show a Canada w/o rocks and trees; fields to the horizon.

Someone's mailbox that must not get out much.......

#308 north is paved for a few miles, then turns to VERY hard-pack gravel.  The main tire tracks were blue, reminding me of the dirt oval tracks.

You can see the hard road here; on the straight sections is was smooth and clean, making my 60mph easy.  I found the corners with scattered gravel, of which there were quite a few, my hunch being that the boat trailers got "out of the track" and pulled the loose stuff into the otherwise clean lane.

This is the 308/525 junction.  308 continues north towards Winnipeg, 525 is what I'm taking and it turns east back towards Minnesota.

"Welcome to the United States"........

The Border

Always a fan of Minimum Maintenance roads, I didn't take this guess is this is Minnesota's most northern designated one though.

The small self-service Customs Station w/video phone at Jim's Corner.  One button for USA, one button for CA, depending on which way you're going.  Remember that you're being watched.

Angle Inlet School.......

St. Luke's Church.......

What the sign says......."The Northwest Angle, the northernmost land of the 48 states, owes its existence to Benjamin Franklin, U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary. His negotiations at the Treaty of Paris of 1783 won British acceptance of the border extending from the "most northwesternmost point" of Lake of the Woods to the Boundary Waters. Despite British oppostion later, this original Minnesota northern border stood inviolate. In 1818 a due south line connected to the new 49 degree latitude western border. Thus the Northwest Angle and Islands were created. Said border also established the "Arrowhead Region" for the U.S. including two of the world's great iron ranges, the Mesabi and the Vermillion."

The Store........

Angle Outpost Resort, just about as far north as you can drive in the lower 48.  I stopped in for a Tshirt, walked in and immediately was met by then-owner John.  He said, "You're stopping for your stamp?"  Confused, I wasn't sure what he was saying.  He went on to explain that the Gold Wings often stop on their '4 Corners of the Country' quest, needing to prove that they've been to the far points of the country in each direction.

The Customs Shack at Jim's Corner.  It was now Friday afternoon and I was planning to spend the night back in Manitoba at Moose Lake Provincial Park, so it was back to the Customs phone to let the USA know that I was leaving and heading back to Canada.

At the Moose Lake Campground......

Angle Inlet and the roads I navigated on, close up........

Up early Sunday morning to local wind and storm warnings, I wasted no time packing up and starting for home.  I arrived back at the MN border around 6AM Sunday morning, a time when the Border Patrol Officers had LOTS of time to ask me questions and examine the huge, cavernous trunk on the Pacific Coast.

A stop at Big Bog State Park, a lovely place with boardwalks out over the bog.  I'd love to go back in the fall......when there's no (fewer?) mosquitoes.

Once I arrived in Alwood, the storms started with some hard rain.  Down through Grand Rapids, Floodwood, Kettle River, Moose Lake, Hinckley, east to Danbury, then down WI #35 and home.  It was a wet, cool Sunday ride though still a blast and a different adventure than my usual rides to the south.

1094 miles for a really nice weekend ride.......


  1. Great story. IM from MN, don't have a stamp for that northernmost spot. Went to mile marker zero, tho in Florida keys. No stamp for it either. Sigh.

  2. Great story. IM from MN, don't have a stamp for that northernmost spot. Went to mile marker zero, tho in Florida keys. No stamp for it either. Sigh.

    1. Hi Lori, thanks for stopping by. I had heard about the Corner rides but his question about MY stamp had me confused. He sounded fairly bored with the stamping issue. He would have appreciated I'm sure a bit more business than simply selling a colorful shirt.