27 Counties in Central Minnesota

I haven’t written a blog entry in a while. In many ways, COVID changed the way I traveled to the point there wasn’t much of a backstory to share. My travels mainly consisted of avoiding people (I religiously wore a mask anytime I was near people and followed other CDC guidelines). Many visits were day trips only going to the courthouses. If I did do an overnight trip, I slept in my car. I’d pack food and eat in the car. I sometimes got takeout, but that was rare. The pictures I shared on Facebook pretty much told the story of what I did.

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Now things are finally changing. Before I took this trip to Minnesota, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to social distance or wear masks. I made it a point to get both of my shots the second I became eligible, so I was fully vaccinated around the time they made this announcement. With this announcement, I felt like the chains had been broken and a new sense of freedom was found. I had been craving this for so long!

While I followed the CDC guidelines religiously, I did hate wearing a mask. It would steam up my glasses and it was just a pain. With that being said, I believed in the science behind it. I visited over 200 counties during this timeframe and never contracted COVID. I have a strong feeling if I did not adhere to these guidelines, I would have both contracted COVID and been a super-spreader. I felt it was my duty to prevent that from happening. It appears what I did allowed me the freedom to travel while fulfilling that duty.

The second the CDC said I could resume living my life as I would have pre-COVID, I was ready to rip off the mask and really start living again. Since the announcement was fresh off the press, there were still laws, other regulations, and just cultural norms that were still in action from the last year.

I planned to not wear a mask or worry about social distancing wherever it wasn’t required. I would still adhere to any applicable laws or wishes of private property owners and to continue to comply in those places. I knew things could also feel a bit awkward as many people wore (and at the time of this writing continue to wear) their masks, even though it’s not required.

On Fridays, I get done with work at 1 PM. I will normally hit the road right after that, but before this trip, I had to take our dog Maya to the vet for a checkup. I hit the road shortly after that. I crossed the wet and rainy Minnesota border around 7 PM.

After crossing the Minnesota border, I made it to my first courthouse, Winona County in Winona.

With it being cloudy and as close to sunset as it was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the next courthouse in Rochester before it got dark. I decided to use the remaining light to explore Winona a little bit and get my bearings to find a good place to eat supper.

I found a coffeehouse called, “Blooming Grounds” that appeared to have a food menu.

I got a panini with some chips. It definitely hit the spot!

Now, one amazing thing that was going on at Blooming Grounds was live music. This was the first time I was able to enjoy live music in over a year!

After getting my fill of both food and live music, I hit the road to find a sleeping spot (I’m still sleeping in my car to make these road trips a little more economical). Since I had taken this portion of I-90 numerous times on my way back and forth from Austin, TX to Wisconsin, I knew there was a rest stop near Rochester.

I found a good parking spot where I’d sleep for the night and then proceeded to go inside the rest stop to brush my teeth and get ready for bed. There were still regulations on wearing a mask in the rest stop, so I made sure to mask up.

I climbed into the back seat and went to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, I see some other people had the same idea as me.

I mixed up some instant coffee and got it warming in my heated coffee mug. I hit the road a little before 6 AM and then headed to my first county of the day, which was Olmsted County in Rochester.

I then made it to Dodge County in Mantorville. This courthouse was a lot more historical compared to the government center I had just visited.

Because I’m going to places off the beaten path, I am often taking back roads, including county roads. This was on my way to the next county.

After taking a few more county roads, I was soon at the Steele County Courthouse in Owatonna. Not only did they have a cool courthouse, but the firehouse across the street had a nice mural painted on it.

When I made my way into Faribault to visit the Rice County Courthouse, I noticed there was an old school Dairy Queen and A&W kitty-corner across the street from each other. Unfortunately, it was too early for them to be open.

Besides the cool-looking restaurants, the Rice County Courthouse was very unique in its color.

I didn’t hang around long and I was back on the road to visit the Waseca County Courthouse in Waseca.

My next county was Blue Earth in Mankato. When I crossed the Blue Earth County line, I could also say it had a lot of blue sky to it.

Up next was the Nicollet County Courthouse in St. Peter. This courthouse was very much like a church.

I made my way to the Le Sueur County Courthouse in Le Center. This courthouse was more like a castle with a bit of a modern look to it with the blocky bricks it had on the side.

Every once in a while I’ll turn down a random back road to take in the scenery and get some pictures. This often means I’ll get on gravel township roads like T-18.

After a little gravel travel, I made it to the Scott County Courthouse in Shakopee. This was very much a modern-looking government building.

By now, it was about 11:30 AM. I was starting to get hungry and needed a little pick-me-up. I was finding that coffeehouses were the perfect place for all of this so I stopped at Sit & Sip in Shakopee to get an iced coffee and a club croissant.

I finished eating and made it to Chaska to visit the Carver County Courthouse. Luckily, it was only a few miles away from where I was at, so it didn’t take me long to get there.

Next up was the McLeod County Courthouse in Glencoe. This courthouse was a mesh of old and new. It was great they were able to preserve the old!

I was soon at the Sibley County Courthouse in Gaylord.

As you can see, I often go county-to-county without really stopping much. I do occasionally stop to take in the scenery (behind the windshield it’s all around me so I’m constantly taking it in as I drive), but for the most part, I try to keep moving to maximize daylight.

After Sibley County, I was in Brown County in New Ulm.

This was followed by Redwood County in Redwood Falls.

When I got to Renville County in Olivia, I had to go to the bathroom. I found a city park along the way and discovered this hand towel machine to dry my hands. You don’t see these too often in the wild anymore!

The Renville County Courthouse was also pretty good-looking.

Wilmar is a place that I always wanted to visit. Years ago, I read an article about how many Somali immigrants had settled there and retained many elements of their culture. I have always wanted to try East African food, so the timing was right to grab an early supper there.

I first visited the courthouse. This courthouse was one of the coolest modern-looking courthouses I’ve seen. I guess time will tell if this still looks good in the future, but I thought it was neat.

Once I got done taking pictures at the courthouse, I headed downtown and got some Beef Kay Kay at the Somali Star. It kind of reminded me of a mix of Italian and Mexican with a little bit more pungent spices. Overall, it was good and I was stuffed!

I hit the road and made it to the Meeker County Courthouse in Litchfield. While I will say their courthouse was a bit boring with its blocky modern look, the county itself was forward-thinking with a bunch of electric car chargers across the street. While an electric car is currently impractical for the way I travel, seeing this kind of stuff gives me hope that someday it will be fully practical to travel like I do and own an electric car.

My next stop was the Wright County Courthouse in Buffalo.

I knew I was starting to get into the Twin Cities metro area. The courthouses and government centers started to get bigger to accommodate the larger populations. The Sherburne County Courthouse in Elk River was a prime example of this.

The Anoka County Courthouse in Anoka was also a multi-story modern-looking courthouse.

To be honest, the more I travel as I do, the more I hate navigating big cities (I love wide open spaces and the open road). It probably doesn’t help that I lived in Austin where the traffic continued to get worse seemingly every day for the six years I was there. To me it’s a pain fighting traffic and then finding parking.

After finding parking, you’re often fighting crowds of people. It’s way more of a hassle than pulling up to a rural courthouse’s parking lot or parking on the street next to it, snapping a few pictures, and then going on to the next courthouse.

With that being said, I have adjusted my strategy to visit the big city courthouses as early in the morning as I can. Since I visit on weekends, the city is usually still asleep. I avoid traffic, there’s parking somewhat near with not many crowds to fight, and I can get in and out fast enough.

Once I visited Anoka, I found the nearest rest stop. My next stop would be Hennepin County in Downtown Minneapolis. It was around 8:00 PM, so I was limited on the amount of daylight I had left anyway. The evening crowds would also be out and about.

I inflated the air mattress and got ready for bed.

When I woke up a little before 6 AM, I saw there were a lot of people who had the same idea as me. The actual car parking area was packed so the trailer area was the overflow.

My strategy of waiting until early morning paid off. It was easy finding parking at the Hennepin County Courthouse and the fog made for some cool pictures.

Now I was off to the other “twin” of the Twin Cities, St. Paul. I dropped by and was able to visit the Ramsey County Courthouse fairly easily.

Since the town wasn’t exactly hopping yet before 8 AM and also it was a Sunday with no government workers working, I was able to have the Minnesota State Capitol to myself as I took pictures.

Now it was time to get back to the ‘burbs. The Washington County Courthouse in Stillwater was the first suburban courthouse I visited that day.

Across the parking lot from that courthouse was the Welcome to Minnesota sign.

The Dakota County Courthouse in Hastings was the next county on my list.

By then, it was 9 AM and I was getting hungry. As you may have guessed, I found another coffeehouse to eat at in Hastings. I got an Italian Breakfast Toastie and an iced coffee.

Breakfast was good and it was time to hit the road for the Goodhue County Courthouse in Red Wing. 

The 27th and last county of this trip was the Wabasha County Courthouse in Wabasha.

With this trip, I made decent time, so I decided I would take the two-lane highways home. This part of Minnesota and Wisconsin is definitely scenic and if you have the time, worth taking these highways.

My first seemingly normal trip in a long time turned out great! I covered a lot of ground in the weekend. It’s great I can say I visited 27 new counties. I can’t wait for more trips like this!

 

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