As we drove from Kabetogama to Baudette we followed the Rainy River with views of Canada across the river. We were glad to see sunny skies and warmer temperatures. We settled in at a nice city campground. This area of Minnesota is known as Lake of the Woods and Baudette is located in Lake of the Woods County. Baudette is known as the Walleye Capital of the World. Can you guess what a walleye is? There are no stoplights in the entire county. Established in 1923, it is the youngest Minnesota county and there are only three and a half people per square mile. There are two schools in the county. One is just west of Baudette and serves preschool through 12th grade. The other school is in Northwest (NW) Angle and serves children through sixth grade.
Our purpose for coming this far north in Minnesota was to visit the NW Angle, the northernmost point in the contiguous United States and the only place in the contiguous United States north of the 49th parallel at 49.3 degrees. We had been to the southernmost point and the easternmost point in our travels, so we couldn’t pass this up. Lake of the Woods has 14,552 islands and NW Angle is where the islands begin in the lake.
The thing is, in order to get to NW Angle, you have to drive to the top of Minnesota, enter Manitoba, Canada, exit Canada and re-enter Minnesota, about two hours each way from Baudette. Which means you better have your passport handy and you have to deal with border crossings. That never stops us, so off we went.
We passed into Canada after stopping at the border, showing our passports and answering the usual questions. The Canadian border agent made us lower the back window and open the trunk. He asked us several times if we knew anyone in Canada or were visiting anyone. Then he sent us on our way. After driving in Canada for about fifty miles we crossed back into Minnesota and arrived at NW Angle, population 119. It is hard to believe this remote location is still part of Lake of the Woods County and part of Minnesota. Signs directed us to Jim’s Corner where we had to check in with the U.S. border patrol. This is where it really got different! At Jim’s Corner there was a small shed. Inside was a videophone. There were two buttons on the phone. One button had a U.S. flag symbol and the other button a Canadian flag. We pushed the U.S. flag and spoke with a U.S. border patrol agent. He asked us our names, birthdates and car tag. Then the usual why and how long we were there questions. We were then free to begin exploring the area.
NW Angle has a total land area of 596 square miles with 123 miles being land and 473 miles of water. Seventy percent of the land is held in trust by the Red Lake Indian Reservation, part of the Ojibwa tribe. NW Angle was given to the U.S. by mistake during the Canada-U.S. border agreement in the Treaty of Paris. A mapmaker’s error misrepresented the source of the Mississippi River which was an agreed upon boundary. When the mistake was discovered, the British wanted to change the boundary in the Treaty of Ghent, but the U.S. refused to secede any land.
I must say NW Angle had the biggest black flies we have ever seen in our lives. Whenever we stopped they immediately attacked the car with such intensity it was very unsettling. The pings as they hit the windows and sides of the car was like something out of a Sci Fi horror movie. The really strange thing was the wind was blowing and whenever we got out of the car they didn’t bother us and didn’t bite. They just attacked the car.
We had planned on finding some geocaches and at first I refused to get out of the car because of the flies. But after Bill got out and convinced me the flies wouldn’t attack me, we both enjoyed finding the geocaches. There was one geocache near this original single room schoolhouse.
Here is the one room schoolhouse which is the only school in NW Angle and the last remaining one room schoolhouse in the state. The school is K through sixth grade, has one teacher and twelve students, with enrollment and attendance varying seasonally. Some children arrive by boat from nearby islands. In the winter some students travel to school by snowmobile.
In 1997 some residents of NW Angle suggested leaving the United States and becoming part of Canada. This angered the leaders of the Red Lake Indian Reservation which holds most of the land. The residents’ main gripe was what they considered to be unequal fishing regulations between the U.S. and Canada. The NW Angle residents worked with their Congressman to get an amendment introduced to bring equity in the ways the two nations were treated under NAFTA.
After a couple hours exploring it was time to head home. But first we had to go back to the shed at Jim’s Corner and check in with the Canadian patrol. This time we pressed the Canadian flag symbol on the phone, but we were put on hold for almost twenty minutes. We were very grateful we were waiting inside the shed and not outside with the flies. There is a second phone outside in case there are people waiting. Finally a Canadian agent came on the line and asked us almost the same questions we had been asked before. She then gave us a four digit number to use in case we were stopped by Canadian police. The number would prove we had checked in.
We left NW Angle and re-entered Canada. Our drive through Canada back to the Minnesota border was uneventful. When we re-entered the U.S. at the Canadian border we now had a real in person United States border agent. He didn’t ask us to open the trunk, just wanted to know what we did in Canada and if we had anything to declare. Very easy getting back in.
I read that the lack of in person border patrols at NW Angle has caused some safety concerns since 9-11. It is possible to enter the area by car or boat without being easily detected.
We arrived back home after our six hour adventure. And what an adventure it was!
This is the northernmost point in our 2017 summer travels. When we leave Baudette we will head back south.
Next stop:. Leech Lake Recreation Area, MN