By Wendy Corr
Editor’s Note: Cowboy State Daily features reporter Wendy Corr is touring the Midwest as a musician with the Dan Miller Cowboy Music Revue. The Cody-based band has experienced more than their share of adventures while on the road from South Dakota to Minnesota this week.
The snow covering Wyoming’s highways has definitely caused heartaches this week for travelers, from semi truck drivers to folks just trying to get from point A to point B. The fact that there are STILL roads left to be dug out is a testament to the power of the monster storm system that wreaked havoc from Wyoming to Wisconsin.
Dan Miller and his band count themselves fortunate not to have been one of the casualties of the horrible conditions on I-29 last Monday, as they headed north from Sioux Falls, South Dakota on their way to the wild “Up North” of Roseau, Minnesota.
Knowing they were on the edge of this super-storm, the trio of Miller, Wendy Corr and Stephanie Streeter left Yankton, South Dakota early on Monday morning, February 20th, hoping to beat the weather front that was threatening from the west. On a good day, they’d be lucky to get to their destination in Roseau in about 8 hours.
They weren’t lucky.
Jackknifed Rigs in North Dakota
Sub-zero windchill and ground blizzards began impacting travel around noon on February 20, shortly after the group crossed the North Dakota border.
Miller drove carefully on the snow-and-ice-packed interstate, staying with the flow of traffic in the right-hand lane, as visibility worsened. On both sides of the north-bound lane, the trio began seeing crippled vehicles that had slid off into the median – cars, pickups, vans, and several semis were hopelessly stranded, and the winds whipping the snow were quickly erasing the tracks marking where the hapless drivers lost control.
Some semi drivers, however, seemed to flout the unwritten rules of the road, with several of them blasting by the Wyoming Dodge pickup regardless of the danger.
A few of those, though, received their just reward – at least two semis that passed the Ram were later discovered crossways in the median, up to their axles in snow as solid as concrete.
As Miller drove, white-knuckled, Streeter kept her eyes on the North Dakota road conditions map (Corr was in the midst of writing an article for Cowboy State Daily to keep her mind occupied). As Streeter watched, the map colors changed, signifying the road they were on was closing behind them as they were driving.
Concerned they might not be allowed back on the interstate if they were to take a rest stop, the trio pushed on to Grand Forks, where they took a quick break, knocked some of the accumulated ice off the mud flaps, then resumed the harrowing journey before the weather caught up with the highway department’s travel advisories.
Once they exited the interstate east of Drayton, North Dakota, conditions improved dramatically. At night, the frozen landscape near Roseau, Minnesota, was eerily reminiscent of sci-fi disaster films, with temperatures well below zero and snow piled 10-12 feet high around the parking lot of the AmericInn Hotel.
Pickled Quail Eggs, Anyone?
Roseau, Minnesota isn’t what one would call a resort destination – unless you’re an ice fisherman. Friendly locals gave a warm welcome to the trio when they arrived Monday evening, and hotel personnel were delighted to find out that their guests were part of the community concert series, bringing live music to Roseau on Tuesday night, the 21st.
“I’ll see you there,” said Carol, the evening desk clerk, who planned to attend the concert.
Locals were helpful in suggesting eating establishments, which was beneficial, because the complimentary breakfast, while appreciated, does get monotonous after a few days. Fortunately, a Subway shop was just across the parking lot.
But aside from one restaurant with trendy options (The Brickhouse – fantastic food), the eating-out options in Roseau are downhome bar-and-grills where the majority of entrees are deep fried; a singular Chinese restaurant (which only allows for take-out orders); and a pizza parlor (Jake’s).
Fast food options are also scarce – aside from the Subway, there’s a Burger King placed within a nice Cenex truck stop, and the Holiday gas station across the street from the Cenex has a Hot Stuff Pizza.
Shopping is likewise limited. A singular grocery store (Super One Foods) and a Dollar General supply the residents with necessities, and serve as social gathering places. The Ace Hardware next to the AmericInn sells more than just building supplies – pickled quail eggs are prominently displayed on a shelf near the entryway.
Streeter and Corr were pleasantly surprised by a lovely gift shop called “Ronnings,” which sells tourist-y items and home goods, so the two stocked up on postcards and souvenir stickers, browsing the practical outdoor clothing necessary for surviving a northern Minnesota winter.
BIrthplace of Polaris
There aren’t many tourist attractions in Roseau, unless you’re a snowmobile enthusiast… in that case, Roseau is a mecca, worthy of a pilgrimage. Because Roseau, Minnesota is the birthplace of Polaris snowmobiles.
If you own a Polaris snowmobile, it was manufactured in Roseau. The company was founded in 1954, and its first off-road vehicle was built in 1955 – the early snowmobile. The name “Polaris” (also the name of the north star) reflects the company’s headquarters in northern Minnesota.
The Polaris plant employs a majority of the workforce for the surrounding area, with around 1,500 people working for the company locally.
For tourists interested in snowmobiles, though, the 5,600-square-foot Polaris Experience Center is a chance for enthusiasts to explore the history of snowmobiles through the lens of this American-owned innovative company. The Center is a museum of sorts, interspersing products (like the second snowmobile ever made, built in 1956) with exhibits, photographs and DVD presentations.
But if you’re not into snowmobiles – or ice fishing – there’s not much else to do to alleviate the cabin fever that sets in when you’ve been stuck in a hotel room for two days, with dangerously cold temperatures outside.
So on day three, the trio thought they might just check out the Canadian border, which is only ten miles north of Roseau.
When the three embarked on what they thought would be a quick photo opportunity, they didn’t think it would be a big deal. Miller didn’t have his passport with him, but Corr did, and Streeter had her military ID (her husband is an Air Force captain, a helicopter pilot stationed at F. E. Warren in Cheyenne). The thought was, they’d go as far as the Canadian border, Streeter and Corr would step out and take a photo at the sign while Miller stayed in the vehicle, and they’d turn around and be on their way.
It didn’t work out that way.
There’s a short stretch of highway between the sign that says “Leaving the United States” and the Canadian border station. Unknowingly, once the trio passed that sign, they were officially in Canada.
So when they stopped at the entry checkpoint and Miller didn’t have his passport, the border patrol officer was not amused. He was, in fact, quite appalled. And irritated. And immediately ordered the trio to about-face and head back to their own country. Which they did. Immediately.
Thinking that they had narrowly dodged what could have been an international incident, the three pulled up to the check station to re-enter the U.S., only to find out that their troubles weren’t over.
“I need your passports,” said the female border patrol agent.
“I don’t have one,” said Miller.
“You were in Canada, sir. I need to see your passport,” she insisted.
While Corr handed over her passport, and Streeter handed the agent her military ID (which she was informed was NOT valid for international travel), Miller attempted to explain that they had just driven as far as the checkpoint, then turned around.
“We’ve been in Canada for less than three minutes,” he told the agent.
But she was not satisfied with that reasoning, and continued to insist that the three declare their citizenship.
“Do you have your birth certificate with you?” she asked Miller.
“Of course not!” he replied.
“Where were you born?” she finally settled on.
Miller answered that question while the agent ran his driver’s license, and inspected the identification for the other two occupants of the vehicle. She eventually handed back the assorted IDs, and reluctantly allowed the three to re-enter their home country.
More Weather Woes
The Dan Miller Cowboy Music Revue finally departed Roseau on Thursday, February 23rd, as the tail end of the winter storm was petering out. Driving south as far as Saint Cloud, they managed to avoid the worst of the weather, although ground blizzards and slick spots kept Miller alert as he was driving the Minnesota highways.
The storm did affect the band’s touring schedule – originally scheduled to perform in Glencoe, Minnesota on the 23rd, the storm forced a delay, moving that performance to Monday, February 27th.
But the forecast going forward looks promising, so upcoming shows in Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota are still on track, with a final performance in Hot Springs, South Dakota, signifying the end of the band’s “Home On the Range” tour on March 10.