A couple weeks ago I heard National Geographic reporter Keith Bellows on Science Friday talking about Niagara Falls, Mammoth Caves, the Grand Canyon, and other great science-related vacation spots. He’s the author of the forthcoming 100 Places That Will Change Your Child’s Life, a book which is very much on my wish list.
The book doesn’t come out until February, and his website is still a little incomplete, but you can see a partial list of the places that are included. I consider myself pretty well-traveled, but I’ve only visited ten of the forty-one in the teaser list; Jack and Peter have visited three. And while I’m certainly daring enough to bring kids along on the sorts of globe-trotting journeys Bellows documents, the cost of jetting off to Machu Pichu or the Galapagos Islands is a little prohibitive.
While I don’t doubt that the Taj Mahal would, indeed, change my child’s life, I’m also confident that there are some life-changing excursions closer to home. Indeed, framed in the right way, a visit to any of the 52 places in Dad’s Eye View can open up a world of wonder to any child (or adult): you don’t have to go far to be transformed.
Here are a few exotic and exciting places you can find right here in the Twin Cities:
Hmongtown Marketplace: the markets of Bangkok and Phnom Penh require quite a trek to get to, but the Hmongtown Market is within sight of the Minnesota capitol building, though it feels like it’s a world away. There are brightly-colored fabrics and fragrant herbs and vegetables for sale, Southeast Asian music in the air, and a food court where you can sample noodles, curries, and banh mi sandwiches.
Mississippi River Gorge: though it certainly doesn’t compare to the scale of the Grand Canyon, the gorge carved by the Mississippi River between St. Anthony Falls and Lock and Dam #1 is a geological wonder in its own right. Hike Winchell Trail, explore the oak savanna on West River Parkway, and search out the hidden Shadow Falls between Marshall Avenue and Summit Avenue in St. Paul. You may be lucky enough to spot bald eagles, foxes, and wild turkeys in this urban wilderness.
Chain of Lakes: Wordsworth was inspired by England’s Lake District; you can also find some poetic inspiration on the lakes in Minneapolis, which form the historic core of the city’s park system. There are peaceful sunsets, canoe trips past islands full of birds, and trails to hike and bike.
Mill Ruins Park: though not as ancient and mysterious as Machu Pichu or the Great Pyramids, but the ruins of the old Washburn flour mill in Minneapolis offer a glimpse into an otherwise hidden past. After strolling through the tail races and sluiceways that brought water power to the mills, head up to the Mill City Museum for hands-on exploration of how the mills worked. Or take the Stone Arch Bridge across to Nicollet Island and Old Main Street, where more Minneapolis history is hidden in plain sight.
The North Shore: this one is a little more exotic, requiring a day trip north from the Twin Cities, but it’s a wonderland well within reach. If you’ve ever wondered what the wild places of Maine and Nova Scotia look like, head an hour north of Duluth and you’ll see something much like Acadia National Park on a small scale: mountain streams and waterfalls perfect for wading and splashing, the big water of Lake Superior (not quite as large as the Atlantic Ocean, but the beaches are strewn with stones that seem custom-made for skipping), and historic lighthouses are within striking distance of Highway 61.
Approached with wonder and curiosity, these places (and many more in the Twin Cities) are bound to change your kids’ lives, and probably yours as well!