Into the Cold Country

I left Bronson Lake State Park early the next morning and headed east to the “Cold Country.”  This area of northern Minnesota is the coldest part of U.S. during the winter months and the cities have gained, at least in my mind, an impressive reputation, as have the people.  You have to be pretty darn hardy to live in northern Minnesota, I figured, as I scanned the national weather map every morning wherever I was, noticing that Roseau or Warroad or International Falls had, once again, been the coldest place in the nation the day before.  I’ve done a lot of traveling around the U.S. but this was the first time I’d been way up here to the Cold Country and seen these mythical places.

 
 
Above:  From Lake Bronson, I drove to Roseau then turned north and crossed into Canada.  I drove through Manitoba for an hour, then I crossed back into the U.S. at the Northwest Angle, a geographic oddity and the northernmost place in the Lower 48 states.

 

From Roseau I turned north for Canada and a half-hour later, I stopped at the sleepy Canadian Customs station and handed the polite Customs guy my passport, then he asked me why I was entering Canada.  “To visit the Northwest Angle.  I’ve never been there before and I wanted to see it.”  He nodded, handed me back my passport, and waved me through.

The Northwest Angle is the northernmost area of the Lower 48 states and was a place I’d wanted to visit for many years, long before I ever thought of planning a crazy trip like this.  It was such an oddity, this little spot of land virtually surrounded by Canada, that I just had to check it out someday, and I made a vow I would. 

If you look at a map of the United States, you’ll see the border with Canada that runs east-west along the forty-ninth parallel in a straight line from Minnesota to Washington state.  Well, straight except for this one little piece of land in northern Minnesota that sticks up into Canada and is therefore the northernmost point in the lower 48 states, and thus a prime destination for my journey.  I’d been looking forward to visiting the Northwest Angle this entire trip because it was just so, well, strange.  I wanted to know why it was there, what the people there were like, and why anyone would want to live in this winter icebox.

Getting to the Northwest Angle is a challenge.  To get there from the U.S. by car, you have to leave the U.S. and drive into Canada, which is what I was doing here at the border. 

After entering Manitoba, Canada, I headed east on Provincial Highway 12, then turned north at the town of Sprague and continued north for another 30 miles (oops, I mean 50 kilometers).  By now the paved road had changed to dirt and, after driving in Canada for about an hour, I saw a sign that said:

Welcome to the United States.  You must report to U.S. Customs and Border Protection via the videophone at Jim’s Corner (8 miles ahead).

“Well, this is interesting,” I said to myself.  Apparently there’s so little traffic up here that it doesn’t make sense to man a Customs Office here at the border.  Happy to be back in the U.S. again, I continued driving on the dirt road, every few minutes passing a car headed in the opposite direction. 

About 20 minutes later, I reached a T in the road and figured this must be Jim’s Corner.  Sure enough, there was a small unmanned building here with what looked like a phone booth.  I opened the cover and saw a telephone inside with two buttons, one with a U.S. flag and one with a Canadian flag, so I pushed the U.S. button.  Within a few moments, a U.S. Customs officer responded and asked me for a few things, including my name, passport number and license plate number, then he cheerfully said, “O.K., that’s it.  Have a nice visit!”  And I hung up the phone. 

Entering the Northwest Angle

Exploring the Northwest Angle

The main reason I came to the Northwest Angle was to visit the northernmost point of the contiguous United States, but from my research I knew that it was several miles from the nearest road and there were no trails to it, so the only way to get there was by boat.  It was about 4 p.m. and was starting to sprinkle.  I followed the dirt road heading west to a place called Angle Inlet, because I knew there were some fishing resorts there and I figured I could rent a fishing boat there. 

After driving on the dirt road for a few miles, I passed the northernmost Post Office in the contiguous U.S., which is next to the northernmost golf course.  A few minutes later I reached the end of the road and saw a sign that said, “Jake’s of Northwest Angle.”  Nearby was a marina and a wooden house, which I guessed was the office because it had a sign that read “Family Owned and Operated Since 1945.  Welcome.” 

I walked into office and said, “Hello?” but got no response, then walked back out.  Within a few minutes, a lean guy about 40 years old approached me and said with a smile, “Can I help you?”  “Yes, I was hoping to rent a motor boat,” I replied.  He introduced himself as Paul Colson, the owner, and looked at me with a glint in his eye and said, “I bet you want to do one of two things.  Either you want to visit the northernmost point of the U.S. …”  “Yep, that’s it,” I said with a smile.  “Can I rent a boat to get there?  Just any boat will do.”

Paul then explained the situation to me.  “We get about two or three folks each year who want to visit that point.  But I don’t want to rent a boat to you because there are lots of weeds up there and the outboard engines can get fouled up, so you’d have to paddle for several miles and that wouldn’t be fun,” he said with a smile.  I was crestfallen, but then he said, “I’ll tell you what.  You meet me here tomorrow morning and I’ll take you up there myself.”  I couldn’t believe how gracious he was, so I shook his hand and said, “All right, it’s a deal!”  Jake’s Resort has a campground, too, so I told Paul that I’d like to spend the night there.  Oh, and as for the name “Jake’s,” Paul told me that Jake was his grandfather who’d founded the resort in 1945.

After making my arrangements at Jake's and taking a panorama photo of Angle Inlet, I got back in my truck and explored the Northwest Angle.  You really can’t drive very far, only a few miles on either side of Jake’s, but I did take the road as far north as it went.  This point was literally the farthest north that you can drive in the Lower 48 states.  Then I drove east and stopped once again at the end of the road, this time at a huge resort and marina called Young’s Bay, but it was really noisy and rowdy there, so I decided that I much preferred Jake’s.

After seeing all the “sights” in the Northwest Angle, I headed back to Jake’s Resort as it was getting dark, found an empty campsite, and ate dinner under the dripping clouds.  I crawled into the back of my truck around 10 p.m. and went to bed, looking forward to an adventure the next morning, I was sure.

Checking Out the Northwest Angle