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Rusty Cars, Skateboard Park and Good Food. It’s Easy to “Fall” for Old Hwy 61

An Old Highway 61 Blog

by Gail Gates

As long as autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas and colors enough to paint the beautiful things I see.

–Vincent Van Gogh

Spoiler alert! Summer is fading–boo hiss!–and fall is quietly becoming quite beautiful.

I would suggest you smell the screen to see if you catch a whiff of pumpkin spice, but that would be wrong. It’s clearly more of a “last rose of summer” scent mixed with wood smoke. 🙂


Feeling the call of the road, I recently drove from Esko, MN (the north end of Old Highway 61) down to Wyoming, MN (the south end of Old Highway 61). It was gorgeous. Arched over the myriad rivers, ponds, and lakes along the route, the trees beg for photo opportunities. The leaves are still mostly green with smudges of vibrant oranges, reds, and yellows. Along with the joys of our Minnesota landscapes, I discovered fun changes happening in several towns. Let me share! Grab your latte and have a seat…

Mahtowa, MN

I have blogged about TJ’s Country Corner in Mahtowa in the past, but it keeps evolving in impressive ways. Beyond the excellent brats and wurst made on-site, and in addition to the retro-cool vibe of the store/gas station, they host numerous events throughout the year. A couple of weeks ago, they held the annual rat-rod gathering, including “Shiny Saturday” and “Rusty Sunday.” It was an overwhelming success despite the 100-degree heat that weekend.

A super cool fountain made from an old car spills into a small pond at one end of the parking area. Unfortunately, a blue heron pretty much treated all the stocked fish as sushi, but so it goes.

TJ’s received a grant to create small garden beds and use them to teach area children about planting, tending, harvesting, and preparing the crop. They will also offer a cooking class on beef preparation, emphasizing affordable meals using less expensive cuts.

Just across the parking lot is a new, used bookstore. TJ’s bought the materials, and the community built the store. They are looking for donations for water, sewer, and a bathroom. The proceeds from the bookstore go back into the community. Win-win.

Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan. Mahtowa cares.

Sandstone, MN

I usually get wistful when I see the stunning building that used to be Sandstone High School. The windows are broken, and some areas are boarded. However! I heard a rumor that the building was purchased and will be renovated to have a purpose once again. It will be a huge and costly undertaking, but the history will live on. Yeeeees!

Across the street from the old school is a new outdoor basketball court, skateboard park, and children’s play area. It’s terrific and should give the community exercise, connection, and fresh air.

And just a couple blocks to the south is the evolving 210 Arts Gallery. Housed in an old church, many repairs and updates are needed. However, the space is unique and glows with stained glass windows and possibilities. I have no doubt time and resources will ensure success.

Delicious Dining

My sweetie and I opted to try two new places (at least to us) for meals. We had lunch at the Streetcar Kitchen and Pub in Carlton, MN, and were very happy with our choice. Although not on the menu, he ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, and they happily obliged. I ordered a side salad to be saintly and french fries to be wicked. All of it was delicious, and the service was fast and charming. 

Supper was had at Buffalo Tracks Bar and Grill in Banning Junction, north of Sandstone.  I remember when Banning Junction hosted a highly praised restaurant, but it has been up and down with new owners over the years. Therefore, I was a little nervous when we entered but left later completely happy with the evening.

My husband ordered a side salad and a pepperoni pizza, thinking it would be individual-sized. Nope. It was a 14-incher and really good. I am one who believes the crust makes or breaks a pizza, and their crust is a bit chewy and definitely tasty. I ordered the special, which was a fully loaded taco salad. It was flavorful and filling, and a  Guinness beer quenched my thirst.

My faith has returned, and Banning Junction is once again on my happy eating list. 


Summary…or is that fall-ery? 


If at all possible, take the time to enjoy the seasonal delights along Old Highway 61. You will find charming towns, dazzling sights, and, yes, pumpkin-spiced something or others. 

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