As promised, this past Wednesday I biked around the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. I have to admit I wasn't all that enthusiastic at first, because after last week's adventure in the southwest metro, biking in urban Minneapolis just seemed a little...pedestrian. I was wrong, of course. The Grand Rounds is a lovely trail system that takes you past all the best natural areas of Minneapolis, and you realize just how lucky you are to live in this city.
Pillsbury "A" Mill on St. Anthony Main
I started at the corner of Hennepin and St. Anthony Main near downtown, where the Father Hennepin Trail forms a loop with the West River Parkway. I am absolutely fascinated with the Mill District and its history--in no small part because I stumbled across this website, with all of its spooky--and highly illegal--adventures (caution: strong language). The thought of dank, dripping subbasements and tunnels forgotten beneath decades of demolition and rebuilding really gets my imagination working. Below are the West Bank tailrace tunnels, now known as Mill Ruins Park.
...but seriously, as fun as it sounds, it's illegal. The three guys arrested in St. Paul in 2005 and held on terrorism threats because they were "urban exploring" under the Ramsey County Courthouse with fireworks? Friends of mine. Nicest guys you'll ever meet, and totally not terrorists, but...yeah. Don't do it.
I crossed the Stone Arch Bridge and paused for a shot of St. Anthony Falls.
This was at one time a natural waterfall, a kind of miniature Niagara in the middle of a prairie, and it was the reason for all the flour mills. Since then, it's since been dammed over, as you can see above.
I continued on, down past Bohemian Flats, and back up onto West River Parkway in the Longfellow community. On one side of the road was the Mississippi River Gorge, and on the other side, huge, beautiful half-million dollar houses, and the crabapple trees were in bloom, so I was very happy. I always start out in a good mood on these trips, enjoying the cool of the morning and all the smells of spring, until about 2:30 in the afternoon when the sun is burning the top of my head, I still have fifteen miles to go and all I can smell is my own sweat and despair.
Of course I had to snap a picture of Minnehaha Falls--it's a Twin Cities icon. And it is a lovely waterfall. You don't typically see natural waterfalls like this in urban parks, and it's always a surprise to people from out of town when they first see it. I continued westward, following Minnehaha Creek up to Lake Hiawatha and Lake Nokomis, where you can get your obligatory shot of the Minneapolis skyline and some crabapple trees lining the path.
I reached Lake Harriet at about 10:45 in the morning. I opted not to do the full loop--I didn't want to be insanely exhausted by the time I got home like I was last week, so I cut myself some slack. I wanted to stop in at Sebastian Joe's Ice Cream in Linden Hills, but I couldn't find the place, so I decided I'd stop for lunch at the Tin Fish instead.
The Tin Fish is a seafood restaurant at the sailboat harbor on Lake Calhoun. A friend from Bethel had recommended it to me, and after getting a fried catfish taco, a frappe and a side of dolmas and eating it outside along the lakeshore, I could see why. The food was delicious, though you could see the obvious drawback to a lakefront snack shop when you counted all the napkins slowly disintegrating in the water beneath you. I was lucky to get there early; I only had ten people in line in front of me when the kitchen opened at 12. Had I arrived a few minutes later, I'd still be there now, waiting behind all the 82-year old grandmas in spandex bike shorts taking forever to decide what they want.
I continued North, through Bryn Mawr and up into Theodore Wirth Park. It was getting hot and I was getting tired, so biking up through a pine forest was kind of nice and refreshing. There was one thing that I knew I wanted to see while I was here, though. A short hike off the path led over a low ridge and down into an area called the Quaking Bog.
These used to be common in the Twin Cities--lowland quagmires covered in thick mats of floating sphagnum moss. The one at Theodore Wirth is the only one of these left. Here, the trail became a decidedly sketchy-looking fiberglass boardwalk, bent, buckled, leaning at wonky angles into the brown water and overgrown at the edges with moss and wild calla lily.
It was an unnerving experience. It's a sensitive environment, so you can't venture off the trail, but you wouldn't want to anyway. You can tell from the constant rocking of the ground under your steps to the water squelching up between the boards that there is a pond underneath that seemingly solid forest floor, and if you step off, you just might fall through. Tamaracks, pitcher plants and sundews grew here, and the whole area had a weird, other-worldly feel to it. Another couple was walking around that same trail; the man pushed a stick into the peat below some open water, and the stick sank in at least four feet, and could have kept going. I thought to myself "this bog eats people", and then made a hasty exit before it could identify me as its next victim.
I continued on through North Minneapolis and Victory Memorial Drive, which was a nice, even ride after all the hills and turns of Theodore Wirth.
I crossed the Mississippi and continued down St. Anthony Parkway, which went south and across the vast railyard that runs north-south through Columbia Heights and Fridley, and, since I was making such good time, made a brief detour down Central Avenue to the East Side Co-op for groceries.
Fridley Railyards and Downtown Minneapolis, with the old Ammunition Plant, quite possibly the bleakest landscape in the Metro.
It was a long slog up the hill to the highest point in the Twin Cities at Deming Heights Park, but it was all downhill the rest of the way. I got a little confused at the end of Stinson, near the Quarry Shopping Center, and ended up on the Minneapolis Diagonal Trail for a while before I decided I was close enough to the Grand Rounds end point. I considered biking all the way home, because it was only another five or six miles, but I changed my mind and hopped on the next bus, glad that this trip was a little less eventful, but no less fun, than the last.