June 8, 2014

Minnesota--One of My Favorite States-Fiona McGier

My late father used to say that if you really want to get to know a place, don't ask the locals--they're too familiar with it.  Ask someone who's moved there, and their love for the place will come through in their reasons for why they live there. He was a Scotsman who crossed the pond to live in the USA, Chicago specifically. 

I still live in a suburb of Chicago, but whenever we get the opportunity, we head up north, and one of our favorite states to visit is Minnesota.  "Land of 10,000 Lakes" indeed.  Husband wants to try fishing in all of them! One of his brothers lives in St. Paul with his family, and they own a cabin about 2 hours north of the twin cities, near a huge lake called Big Sandy.  The closest town, MacGregor, is very tiny, without any stoplights.  But there's a great winery on the way up to the cabin, right outside of town.  It used to be called "Minnesota Wild", until the hockey team wanted their name.  So they became "Minnestalgia".  Not quite as catchy, but the wines are still great, and in their on-premises shop they also offer jams and preserves, wild rices, and other neat things like tee shirts and books. They're always willing to let you taste a few wines, and they'll ship things other than wine to any state.  http://minnestalgiawinery.com/

We've camped in many of Minnesota's State Parks, and until recently our favorite place to head from the cabin was Ely, on the west end of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area*. We'd stay at Bear Head Lake State Park, http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/bear_head_lake/index.html and the water was pristine, the swimming fun, and you'd hear loons call all day and night, though hearing an occasional howl from native wolves was always a thrill.  When we needed to go into town, Ely is a wonderful, fun tourist town.  There are restaurants to suit many different appetites, including a coffeeshop that has free wi-fi.  This is very important when you're an author who gets the shakes from not being able to check for fan mail in places where you can't even get a cell phone signal.  Also useful for teenagers who NEED to check Facebook to find out what everyone else is doing, and to share pictures from their phones. And if you want to head into the backwoods, there are many outfitters who will be glad to guide you, and stores like Piragis to sell you what you need.

A couple of hours driving takes you up to Orr, where there is the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. http://www.americanbear.org/  We were there many years ago, before they built a huge blind from which to view the wild black bears that visit all through the season for free food they don't have to work for...like a black bear vacation. All they have to do to earn their chow is entertain the tourists by doing typical bear things, and allow the scientists who vie for a chance to live on the premises, to study them. Back then we had to wait to leave (the kids really needed to use a bathroom and there wasn't one) until a mama bear and her 2 cubs settled down enough for us to be able to pass them.  We were escorted by one of the workers, who cautioned us not to make any noises or sudden movements.  I never knew my kids could be so quiet! Now they have a bus that takes you from the parking lot to the huge blind that has bathrooms and a spacious viewing area, as well as a gift shop. Trust me, it's worth the drive for the chance to see some of nature's most beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.

Lately we've been camping in the opposite direction, heading through Duluth, along the North Shore of Lake Supeior, all the way up to Grand Marais, http://www.visitcookcounty.com/communities/grand-marais/ on the eastern border of the BWCA*.  You're only about an hour or so from Canada up there. 
Once in the town, go past the 1 stoplight, and turn left to head north up along the Gunflint Trail to find many lakes, some of which have private resorts, cabins and campgrounds, and some of which have National Forest Campgrounds.  At the very end of the Gunflint Trail, literally, is "Trail's End National Forest Campground."  Gorgeous scenery all of the way up there, since you're driving up into the Sawtooth Mountains, away from the Lake Superior basin.  Once you get out onto a canoe in the lake there, you have to be careful to not cross into Canadian waters unless you have your passports with you!  We head into the town for supplies when we need groceries, or if we just get cravings for pizza.  You can sign into the local wi-fi once you're in town, and I usually do that when I'm sitting in the laundromat washing a week's worth of our clothes while the rest of the family shops. There are restaurants in town, along with "The World's Best Donuts", a tiny place my family adores...along with the frozen custard place a few door's down.  There are a couple of bookstores, and one carries my first Minnesota romance in the "local writers" section: http://www.yelp.com/biz/birchbark-books-and-gifts-grand-marais?hrid=lr9BngRXUEEcUM9KvLViNg  And in town you can walk out on the peninsula that juts into Lake Superior, where like all beaches along the North Shore, the beach is tiny pebbles, no sand.  The water is usually very cold which is refreshing when it's 90+ degrees, but we've swum in it when it was less than 70 outside.  Then it feels like your whole body has just fished around in the bottom of the cooler full of ice for that last cold beer.  Yikes!

I could keep going about how much I love the northern part of Minnesota.  But I put that love into a romance novel, For The Love Of His Life, where a bad-boy actor with a drug and drinking problem, is sent up there by his new director to "dry out" and get ready to star as one of the founders of Grand Marais. He meets the director's cousin, a local woman who rejects him because actors "Lie for a living." As he grows to love the serenity and beauty of the area, he discovers that he's been floundering his way through life, and he's fallen in love for the first time in his life--with someone other than himself. I wrote this book because I was so sad leaving to head back home a few years ago, that I wanted to imagine falling in love with a local person so you'd have a reason to move up there. The sequel, Only One Man Will Do, is set in Minneapolis, but the 3rd book in the series, Her Last Resort, which will be out later this year, is set once again in Grand Marais.  If I can't be up there, at least I can "live" up there with my characters! 

For a chance to win a free eBook of For The Love Of His Life, so you can fall in love with Grand Marais also, leave a comment telling me which link you clicked on from my piece here, and why.  Do you want to go up to visit the bear sanctuary, or is the winery more your style?  Want to stay at the campgrounds, or do you prefer the cabins at the resorts or the hotels in the towns, so you can do daytrips to the lakes and hiking trails?
You have a week to reply, so I'll choose a winner on Monday, June 16th.

To learn more about me and my books, please visit my website, where my husband's photo at the top is the view of Seagull Lake from our campsite at Trail's End the first year we were there: http://www.fionamcgier.com


  1. You paint a lovely picture of your state. That moon shot is incredible. My roommate was born in Ulen, Minn., and has quite a few old pictures of life there. Life was hard when he lived there as a child. His memories are not as beautiful as yours. However, he did go back with his family and that trip changed his mind about his hometown area. I image it's a great place to enjoy the outdoors and nature.

  2. I've never visited Minnesota but am friends with people who have lived there and loved it. I'd like to visit in the summer. You've convinced me! Good luck with your novels. I love romances and write them myself.

  3. Thanks, Mary Deal--my husband shot that moon over the lake when we were camping at Flour Lake Federal Campgrounds last year. We're going back to Trail's End this summer and we can't wait! It IS a fantastic place to commune with nature.

    Jacqueline, the summer is the best time to visit Minnesota. The locals enjoy it because it's so short. Their winters are about 9 months long...that's why my husband is balking about moving up there for good.

  4. Hi, Fiona,

    The virtual tour of Minnesota was great. My son hopes to go to the Northern Tier with Boy Scouts someday. I love that you included links to the places you mentioned, all of which sound peaceful and beautiful.


  5. Never gave the state much thought, but now that I've read your piece, I definitely wish to visit.

    Wonderfully done.

  6. And the winner is: Amy M Reade! Congrats on winning an eBook of For The Love Of His Life! Now you can fall in love with Grand Marais (and with the hero)! Please contact me with your e-mail so I can send your book to you. And thanks to the readers who left comments.


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