The Great Northern Route

Crookston (pop. 7,891), 25 miles east of the North Dakota border, has a series of bridges over the meandering and tree-lined Red Lake River, which winds along the south side of the compact downtown business district. The small Polk County Historical Museum (Tues.-Sun. Memorial Day-mid-Sept., donation) contains the usual slew of 19th-century stuff alongside the “World’s Largest Ox-Cart” (celebrated in August’s Ox-Cart Days).

In the 100 miles east of the North Dakota border, US-2 spreads into a divided four-lane highway, climbing out of the fecund Red River Valley of the North (which is not to be confused with the other Red River Valley, down in Texas) onto the flat glaciated plains, while the roadside colors alternate between the dark reds and greens of sugar beets and the buff and leafy tones of the wheat, soy beans, and potatoes for which the area is known.

Continuing east, US-2 passes occasional isolated pockets of trees, planted as windbreaks amid the furrowed fields. In the tiny village of Erskine (pop. 503), a classic one-horse Midwest town, you’ll find Joe DiMaggio’s Grill and Pizza (218/687-2100), southeast of downtown along the US-2 frontage, which is neither a misprint nor the genuine article. (The owner, Mr. D., used to get oodles of phone calls meant for the legendary Yankee Clipper. Not surprisingly, his place is full of baseball memorabilia.) Erskine also has a swimming beach on Lake Cameron and takes civic pride in being the home of the “World’s Largest Northern Pike” (of whom there’s a 40-foot-long statue on the pretty downtown lakefront).