A Trip To Glenelg

The directors of the Curiosity mission on Mars are planning a road trip for the rover. Just like so many of us do in late August, NASA will pack the family in the car and go sightseeing. Even though we just got done spending what felt like YEARS in space, we have to look at something new? Can’t we just stay in one place?

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Apparently not. In this case the new attraction is named Glenelg, which has some interest for the scientists because three different kinds of terrain intersect there. I don’t know the textbook terminology for it, but basically there’s some stuff that looks like it could be bedrock, some other crater marked stuff that might be quite old, and lots more of the stuff that Curiosity landed on.

Glenelg is a palindrome, and the planners named it thus because Curiosity will visit the spot twice. Once on the way to the base of Mt. Sharp, and once on the way back.

This is how engineers amuse themselves.

Following the travels of Curiosity will be fun if you are the sort of person who happens to find driving very slowly and looking at rocks delightful. Teenage joyriders may lack the patience for this particular trip, but we have the mission planners to thank for giving us a nice variety of rocks to enjoy. Rocks, boulders, outcroppings, chunks, lumps. Mars Rover watchers will see plenty of terrain and will learn many new words to describe dusty red nuggets over the next weeks, months and years.

Here’s what I’m waiting to find out – when Curiosity starts claw at the ground with its shovel, will we say it is digging holes in the Mars?

If a similar rover from another civilization was sent to Earth on a quest to explore some scenic spot where multiple kinds of terrain intersect, I’m certain its mission planners would land it at the Lengby Rest Area in Polk County, Minnesota.

The Red Triangle Inside A Circle Marks Our Landing Spot
There’s Landing Space Between These Metallic Outcroppings!

There are lots of good reasons for curious aliens to do this.  For one, there’s a flat parking area, so their rover can be lowered onto an even surface. It would be a particular challenge for the engineers to pick a location that’s empty – my recommendation is to go for one of the first spots you come to – far away from the trash cans, the commode, and vending. But those exciting features could be part of a future road trip for the Earth Rover, once it has found its bearings and established a link with the home planet.

Those New Chryslers Just Get Uglier and Uglier

And there’s summer tourism, of course. People up from the Cities would take  pictures of the extraterrestrial machine as it takes pictures of them. Actual aliens would be off-putting and we’d ignore them as long as they ignored us, though we’d talk behind their backs and make all sorts of unflattering assumptions about them. But if they sent their machines, well, that kind of space traveler is a little more approachable. I’ve been to the Minneapolis Auto Show. If it has four wheels, it will draw a crowd.

But the best reason is that Minnesota is home to four different biomes and all four of them come together within a few miles of that potty break paradise between Erskine and McIntosh. There’s Coniferous Forest to the Northeast, Tall Grass Aspen Parkland to the Northwest, Prairie Grassland to the West and South, and Deciduous Forest to the South and East. What a treat for an automated rover sent from a place like Tatooine, which we all know is a desert planet in a binary star system. Those parched taxpayers would want to get their money’s worth, and the Lengby Rest Area would deliver. All this different terrain to look at!

The only problem – the Lengby Rest Area is situated in the median, so the machine will have to cross Highway 2 to get to the good stuff. But that’s just another kind of scientific discovery – do Minnesota drivers brake for exploratory robots? Sometimes you have to go there to find out.

Where’s your favorite road trip rest stop?

48 thoughts on “A Trip To Glenelg”

  1. Morning all.

    Can’t remember if I’ve told this. If so, sorry. Back when I was coming to the end of my marriage, wasband and I took a trip out to Glacier and Yellowstone. It was a disaster – everything little thing caused a fight – we were definitely not at our best. This was before digital cameras and wasband was “frugal” so we even fought about what pictures to take. When you look at the slides from that trip there are two of everything – but from different viewpoints – the picture I wanted to take and the picture he wanted to take.

    All the way out we saw the billboards and bumper stickers for Wall Drug. I didn’t have a clue what it was and was curious and on the way home I said we should just stop and see. He acquiesced. At some point I woke up from dozing and asked how far to Wall Drug. He said “Oh, you were sleeping so I didn’t stop when we passed it.” This was the day I truly learned the meaning of the phrase “so mad I could spit.”

    Last year when teenager and I camped in the Black Hills I made sure to schedule a Wall Drug stop on the way. We stayed long enough to buy a sweatshirt for teenager and pick up some do-nuts that we ate in the car. It was what I expected and I wasn’t disappointed. I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite rest stop but certainly my most memorable!


    1. i have lots of great memories of wall drug. pictures of kids sitting on the rides out back on the laps of the fiberglass dancing girls on the benches. not much else worth stopping for in south dakota. wall drug and rapid city is all ive found. wall drug is like the state fair shrunk down.


  2. banff and beartooth pass are toss ups for me



    two of my favorite spots
    back in the days of the vw van and traveling arounf the country and the other guys country i ran into these places by looking at the old rand mcnalley monster atlas that led me down the roads by the green patches that made up national parks and scenic routes. these are two of the best.


    1. Agree about Beartooth, and I haven’t been to Banff by car (just passed near there on the train) but I believe you.


    2. We loved stopping on the beartooth highway (in one of the pullouts) and playing with snow in August. On the downside, my sister was driving my car (which was overheating) and really didn’t want to put the heat on to help cool the engine. Long story – fun to remember afterwards but a little stressful at the time. But some road trips are like that, aren’t they?


  3. We took a trip to Glenelg once. We were staying in a hotel on Loch Duich with a view of Eilean Donan Castle out the window of our room.
    The road to Glenelg was narrow, with stone walls on either side and some abrupt jogs that guaranteed that no tour bus would ever be able to pass. At places, one side dropped off precipitously to the valley below. Our destination was the brochs at Glenelg.
    Remarkably, the brochs were completely accessible and unexploited. Sheep grazed at their base. No one else was there. It was one of our most memorable stops.


    1. i wondered if the name was from the scotish countryside. sounds like the name of a good scotch.
      i visited the isle of skye and was wowed by the scenery and the hospitality. a very memorable stop on that trip.


    2. What memories you stir up, Mr. Bill. My erstwife and I visited that area in the early 1970s, and somewhere in the basement is a lovely slide of Eilean Donan Castle. I think it was the prettiest castle we saw in two years of bumming around on backroads in England, Scotland and Wales.


  4. Good morning. I would also list Wall Drug as a memorable rest stop. We have stopped there several times. One of the times we stopped I thought it was not being maintained as well as it was in the past, but I’ve heard from a person who stopped there recently that it seems to be doing okay. I don’t see the signs telling how far it is to Wall Drug that were along highways years ago.

    Betty’s Pies on the highway along the North Shore of Lake Superior is a well know stop that is a good one for those who like pie. Like wall Drug, it is has changed in some ways. I wasn’t too impressed by the pie I ate there in the new building the last time we stopped at Betty’s a few years ago.


      1. That seems to be the universal opinion of Betty’s Pies . . . everyone I know who has eaten there was disappointed in the pie. I think there is a huge well of good will that wants this business to be wonderful, but it keeps falling short of the mark in that critical area of tastiness.


  5. Engineer humor. “Did you hear the one about the cow? It’s brown. Ha-ha.” Seriously, I used to work with some engineers and I would have to explain the joke in comic strips to them. On a regular basis.

    Favorite rest stop as a kid was the old Gooseberry Falls. Before it became all nice, new, friendly, and clean.


  6. Coming back from Iowa on I-35 just into Minnesota – Lovely little rest stop with hiking trails.

    I do remember, when Joel was about 8, returning from the Black Hills on a hot hot July day, in our last VW van (no A/C). I couldn’t tell you which rest stop in the center of South Dak, but it had sprinklers going, bless them. We got to run, fully clothed, through the sprinklers before getting back on the road.

    I seem to remember dismal rest stops farther East – Indiana and Ohio? – where these things built right over the freeway… am I dreaming?


    1. I believe that rest stop on I 35 near the Iowa boarder is a good one although I have almost never stopped there because I am almost home when I get to that stop. I think the rest stops in Minnesota are generally well maintained because they often have retired farmers taking care of them under a state program that hires them to work at the rest stops. Those former farmers would probably get rid of any unmanned space crafts that might land as part of their work on keeping the areas around the rest stops tidy.


  7. Practically the only road trip I make any more is a twice-yearly pilgrimage to Madison WI. What better place to stop on that route (whether I-94 or Hwy 10) than Norske Nook? Best lefse anywhere, to say nothing of the pies. I was amazed and delighted to see they’ve put veggie burgers on the menu–is it due to too many locals having too many heart attacks, or too many Chicago/Twin Cities hipsters passing through, one wonders? Twice now I’ve flummoxed the cooks by asking for my sandwich without cheese, bewildering them to the point that they forgot the veggie burger as well and served me a pile of grilled onions-and-green-pepper on bread, but I continue hopeful.


  8. For spectacular, the rest stops in the west and northwest cannot be beat. The highway running along the ocean in Oregon has incredible rest stops where you might see strange rock formations and see (and SMELL!) seals. Closer to home, I enjoy Al’s Diner (just west of Chamberlain, SD) more than Wall’s Drug. Hawk Ridge is a special case, spectacular in fall. There are many great rest stops around Superior, starting with the one that sits up on the ridge over Duluth and overlooks the Saint Louis River and the port entryway. Even closer to home, there are pretty rest stops around Lake Pepin and the Mississippi.


    1. Tettegouche State Park is my favorite. I loved it there before it was a state park. You had to pull over on Hwy 61 and park along the edge of the road, hoping that a Monson truck wouldn’t hit your car. There was a hiking trail to Baptism Falls and another hiking trail to Shovel Point. Both of these were small footpaths in the beginning. They’re well-used trails now.

      The large parking lot northeast of the visitor center came first. I remember parking near the back edge and hiking down the hill to the beach in the cove beneath the trail to Shovel Point. I was fascinated by the pink and blue rocks, and I got some great exercise hiking down to the shore, then back up. It was there that I learned that I loved Lake Superior, and the North Shore, more than any place I’d ever been. It’s still my favorite place today – and a must-see stop on the trip north.


    2. You must mean Al’s Oasis. It is quite a spot and I used to stop there when my dad and I would go fishing at Chamberlain. Al has good pie. A really creepy spot I wouldn’t recommend stopping at is Scenic, SD. It is a true ghost town on the northern edge of the Pine Ridge reservation.


  9. People who, like Krista, “love Lake Superior” should know that I’m planning a gathering at my cabin. Come as you are, if you dare. As per Linda’s preference, the date is “the last weekend in September.” Chautauqua will be over then, but there should be exquisite color in the foliage and plenty of ripe local apples.


      1. They are two different badlands formations. I think ours are prettier. Ours run from Medora all the north to Watford City (about 80 miles) and some distance east from there.


  10. When I was young, my grandma lived in Montana while we lived in Minnesota. Every other year we made the trip to Great Falls and the Little Belt Mountains, with side trips to other Montana places. I have taken my daughters to Montana several times. We usually drive out through North Dakota, which we enjoy more than South Dakota. We especially like some of the stops that you don’t have to visit very long to get a nice break and then you can get back in the car and drive some more. The Badlands pull off is essential, but we also like the giant cow named Sue, and the geese sculptures at the Enchanted Highway. (http://www.realnd.com/enchantedhighwayindex.htm – to see the geese, you need to scroll down.)
    There are several important rest areas in Montana, too – such as the fish hatchery in Great Falls, and the various falls themselves. (However, my daughters tell me that you can’t tour through the hatchery anymore because of diseases. That is, they don’t want people to give any diseases to the fish.)


  11. I’ll be heading up to Pelican Rapids area this weekend to some friends’ cabin. I looked at the map and thought, “oh, I could take a side trip to enjoy the glories of the Lengby rest area”. It shows how little this Connecticut gal knows about the scale of Minnesota. The “side trip” would be 3 1/2 hours round trip. In Connecticut you can’t drive for more than a 2 or 3 hours and still be in the same state (minimal need for rest stops). As long as I’ve been here (40 years in January), I’m still amazed at how big it is. Heaven knows what I would make of Texas or Alaska.


  12. Had a little picnic last month at a rest stop on the way to Fort Dodge, Iowa. Our party of four happened to arrive at the same time as another party of two from our dragon boat team. It seemed fortuitous that we came to the same rest stop at the same time.

    You can actually get a pretty decent cup of coffee from the vending machines there.

    I love stopping pretty much anywhere along Lake Pepin when traveling down the Wisconsin side of the river. There is no possibility of ever being bored or disappointed there.


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