Highway 60...

The bridge over the Mississippi River at Hastings, Minnesota, has been under repair for some weeks now, the result of inspections begun when another bridge up river in Minneapolis collapsed last year. Being the only bridge for miles the delay can sometimes be up to half an hour as people crowd the one lane to alternatively go north and south. Having another route is a necessity.

Savvy travelers know you can go north of Hastings to Prescott, Wisconsin, cross the river there and then return to Minnesota at the quaint river town of Red Wing and head south along the river road. Or you can take Highway 52, crossing the river at St. Paul and any number of eastward roads back to the river through the farms and bluffs. And this was our plan, Highway 52 south almost to Rochester and east on 60 through Zumbrota Falls to Wabasha on the river.

As a child I always felt a kind of pity for the kids in Zumbrota and Zumbrota Falls. I have no idea why they gave such an odd name to the towns. Perhaps it was a Native name or about whoever settled the place but it started with a "Z" and that meant whenever the radio stations announced the school closings due to snow and weather the kids in places like Andover learned their fate early while those in Zumbrota had to wait. If you're 8 years old and you really want a "snow day" off from school its a special kind of torture. That being said I've never been to either place and so we turned left on Highway 60 and headed towards the river to find see what we were missing.

The normal course of roads heading towards the river through southeastern Minnesota is a path over rolling farm land with a steep descent to the river through a cut in the bluffs, what people on the Wisconsin side call a "coulee". Like the Ozarks the bluffs along the Mississippi River in this part of the world are not mountains, or even hills, rather they are, as they say down south, "hollows" places where the river has worn down the land on the edge of the prairie. In the bottom of the valley they stand up like mountains but from the sky they look like a giant cut in the land.

This was what I was expecting as I traveled east, miles of nice farms with the first green hints of corn in the fields and then a sharp scenic descent. But for some reason the coulees extended miles back from the river along Highway 60, amazing valleys cut deep into the heart of Minnesota following the path of the Zumbrota river to the Mississippi. Several times I thought, "We're getting close to Wabasha..." as the road traveled down and then we would go for miles via twisted scenic roads with valley walls on either side.

Nestled in between it all was the little town of Zumbrota Falls. One gas station, a few bars, and a church on the main drag with houses on any place of land level enough to hold them steady. The whole thing was hidden like a secret in the river valley, a secret most probably didn't notice as they drove by but one which probably revealed itself to anyone who wanted to stay a while. In my imagination it was a town that felt like those forts we would make out of pillows when we were kids, a tiny safe space protecting us from the world, even if for a moment.

I'd like to think there still are places like that in the world. I'm probably wrong. I'm sure they have dish and computers and all the gadgets required to bring the world into their quiet valley. But hey, it's my dream and I can think what I want! Right? Regardless I plan on coming back, certainly in the fall when the leaves have turned and the air will be cool while the trees are aflame with their colors. I may even may the place my imaginary home town and drop in now and then to watch the river flow. Who knows?

And for some reason I think this all is just the start of the story of Highway 60.

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