Posts Tagged With: Minnesota travel blog

2017 Trip One; January 11-13: Mississippi River Headwaters

January 11-13, 2017

Mississippi River Headwaters marker as the river exits Lake Itasca

Mississippi River Headwaters marker as the river exits Lake Itasca

We live in Minnesota, right? And January is the month of Chris Klejbuk’s birthday, right? In Minnesota in January, you celebrate the experience of winter, right? Right.

So we are enjoying three days and two nights in northern Minnesota. We are staying at a winterized cabin at Itasca State Park, 20 miles north of Park Rapids Minnesota, and 250 miles north of the “Cities” (Minnesota speak for St. Paul, Minneapolis, and their suburbs.) Itasca was the first state park established in Minnesota, in 1891. It was the second state park to be created in the United States. It is large, at over 32,000 acres. And while it has over 100 lakes within its boundaries, one small stream is its main claim to fame.

The end of Lake Itasca and the start of the river

The end of Lake Itasca and the start of the river

Flowing out of Lake Itasca, the Mississippi River begins its 2500 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico. The terrain up here has been formed from the glacial ages. Without being scientific, there are depressions and hillocks caused by glacial action and/or glacial melting that form wetlands and forest regions. This area was under threat of having its timber, primarily red pine, harvested in the late 1800s. By a narrow vote in the state legislature, the area was saved from timber harvesting and some of the areas here still have virgin red pine forest.

Four Season Suites at Itasca

Four Season Suites at Itasca

It has been several decades since Chris and I have been here. For her birthday, she likes to do something different. Her choice this year was to spend two nights in a cabin here at Itasca State Park. Luckily the cabin is insulated, winterized, and heated. The temperature for these three days will range from about five above to about 20 below. That is Fahrenheit, and not wind chill. The cabin is built on a concrete slab and while the temperature at head level is nice and warm, the floor is still a bit chilly. Shoes or two pairs of socks are required.

We left the Cities at the tail end of a minor snowstorm. The total was only about 4 inches but a fair amount of blowing accompanied the storm. The road surface was usually compacted snow into icy patches. For those of you not living in northern climes, road salt does not have much effect on clearing road surfaces at temperatures around 0° as we were experiencing.

We had lunch in Wadena Minnesota, a town of about 4000 people, at The BBQ Smokehouse. This is primarily a meat market with a side business of lunch and early dinner. We had the daily special, turkey sandwich with cowboy beans and potato salad for $6.50. The sandwich was huge and very tasty. The sides were great also.

Sunset walk at Itasca State Park

Sunset walk at Itasca State Park

We checked in around 4 PM. After unpacking, we had time for a sunset walk before settling in for the night. Wednesday, we slept in and then headed out for our first walk, to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. It took the European explorers several decades to agree on the source of the Mississippi River. One simple reason for the delay was that the first explorers never asked the Native Americans to help them. Once Henry Schoolcraft decided to ask for assistance from Ozawindib, a Ojibwe chief, the headwaters were “found” quickly. After all the Native Americans lived here for centuries and knew all about “Great River”.

The Mississippi River had great political significance to the United States. Primarily, it marked the early western boundary when the American people revolted against the British and won their independence. Yet the river had never been fully surveyed. The Mississippi was also one of the great trade routes for the new country. Rivers provided clearly marked and easily navigable transportation sources.

The Mississippi River starts flowing north as it leaves Lake Itasca.

The Mississippi River starts flowing north as it leaves Lake Itasca.

As we know now, the Mississippi River runs for 2500 miles from northern Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. It provides the boundary between numerous states along that route. While it runs primarily in a southern direction, from here it actually runs for 80 miles to the north, due to elevations created by the glacial age, before it starts its southerly course.

The headwaters are officially marked as the location where Lake Itasca drains into the creek beginning the Mississippi. There are scientific requirements to meet to designate the beginning of a river. While the lake and creeks draining into Lake Itasca stretch farther back from the official beginning, there has to be a sufficient flow to be considered as a river. This is what occurs at the northern channel of Lake Itasca where the Mississippi River begins.

Walking in the woods

Walking in the woods

Lake Itasca with winds

Lake Itasca with winds

Today, the air temperature was about -5 F with a 15 mph wind. Wind makes the cold air worse. Standing by open spaces, like lakes, allows the wind to have full effect. Walking in woods, however, tends to minimize the wind. So we experienced both the full wind effect at the shore of Lake Itasca and its muted form in walking through woods to reach the headwaters. But the sun was usually out and we enjoyed the varied views provided by the park.

Itasca State Park includes both pine trees and mixed deciduous hardwood trees. The pine trees were here first but, like numerous other locations around the U.S., the loggers in the late 1800s cut the pine trees indiscriminately. The park was formed partially to save some of those virgin pine forests. Interestingly, the daughter (Mary Gibbs) of the first Itasca Park superintendent was named the interim superintendent when her father died. During her short term, she stood up to logging companies who while logging legally on private land, were illegally damming up the Mississippi River to aid in floating the cut logs downstream. They were not pleased by her courageous stand, and the new permanent superintendent that was appointed was more favorable to the logging interests.

Chris walking over the headwaters of the Mississippi River

Chris walking over the headwaters of the Mississippi River

After the headwaters, we made a brief stop at the visitor center to warm up (they have two fireplaces and heated restrooms that are open 24 hours a day) and to explore the interesting museum there. Then it was back to our cabin for lunch. The smell of apple cider with cinnamon sticks and brown sugar greeted us as we entered the cabin. Our afternoon walks were through the woods where the wind was quiet and the sun peered pleasantly through the tree trunks. A quick warm-up in the cabin was followed by another walk at sunset.

Tonight the full moon is out so we waited a sufficient period to make sure it was above the trees. We drove to the lake and watched the moon shining on the ice covered lake and the shadows cast by the trees. However, since it was now 13 below and heading down further, we did not take a long walk but headed back to the cabin.

Friday, January 13th.
Our final goal of this trip was to visit La Salle Lake State Recreation Area. It would be our 59th state park visited since we began that program in 2015. I took a wrong turn and added 20 miles on to what should have been a quick jaunt from Itasca State Park. But that time was justifiable to obtain the park stamp since this recreation area is basically closed during the winter. The web site does not state that DNR does not plow the access roads in the winter. Since we do not have a snowmobile, we just drove by and turned around to head home.

One last view of the headwaters.
dscn3873

Trip One for 2017 completed. Just a teaser really before the first big one begins on March 1 and under current planning, will go for 63 days.

Ed and Chris.

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2016 Minnesota State Parks: Water and Woods

Friday, November 4, 2016 Saint Paul

The St. Croix River, looking into Wisconsin

The St. Croix River, looking into Wisconsin

This was a three-day, two night swing to cover six state parks. Chris has a goal of seeing almost all 76 state parks in three years. So far, we are sixteen months into the project and have visited 57 of 76 state parks. One state park is only accessible by boat and we do not have a boat. Fall colors are past peak. (For those of you unfamiliar with this, in the fall deciduous trees shed their leaves after the leaves turn red, orange, yellow and shades in between. This is not the scientific explanation, but the simplistic explanation of what we see. The vibrancy of the colors and actual dates of coloration vary from year to year. In general, this fall was spectacular.) For early in November, the weather was perfect. Ten to twenty degrees warmer than usual. Bright blue skies. Plenty of rainfall earlier so rivers are still running strong.

The six parks are no more than 100 miles apart. For this journey, we stayed somewhat in the center of the region at the Grand Casino at Mille Lacs Lake. How could we not? The mid-week, off-season rate was only $40 per night!. The indoor pool was large and the spa could hold 21, if that many actually showed up. We went to the spa and pool both days, at 4-6 PM it was practically empty. At 8-9 PM, there were maybe 20 people, 1/3 kids. Recognize that the casino is run by the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. There is smoking in the casino (although our room was non-smoking.), there is no alcohol (fine by us), and no ADA compliant entrance/egress into the pool or spa. We ate at the buffet both nights and the food was tasty. Good choice for lodging.

Hiking through the woods at Wild River State Park

Hiking through the woods at Wild River State Park

So, on to the parks, the reason for the trip. Tuesday we drove to Wild River State Park, only 60 miles from our house. Wild River is along the St. Croix River, one of the eight rivers originally protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. About 70% of the land was donated by Northern States Power Company. Pre-state park days, great swaths of northern Minnesota pine trees were the source of lumbering with great fortunes made. The St. Croix was a transportation route for shipping the cut logs downriver to sawmills. At a point in the park, a dam was constructed to control the logs and to help enhance a hydroelectric power plant downstream. NSP ended up owning the land and when the dam here was not needed to control logs or for the hydro plant, they were willing to donate the land to the state. Thus, the park is long and narrow, along the banks of the river.

Inside the park, alternating areas of tallgrass prairie, mixed hardwoods forest (that replaced the cut pines), and oak savannah plains intermingle. We hiked primarily along the river, overtaking and then being overtaken by a group of six people who seem to hike here regularly. We did not see boaters today but the river itself was flowing fast and we could hear it gurgle as it swept into and then around small rock islands. It appears that horse back riding has ended for the season so those trails were quiet and it is too soon for cross-country skiing and snow shoeing. Hikers seemed to have the park to themselves today.

From Wild River we headed west to Mille Lacs Lake. Mille Lacs is shallow, only about 40 foot maximum but it is the second largest lake in Minnesota. It is about 14 miles wide and about 19 miles long. It was formed when the glaciers retreated and at the point where the end moraine of one glacial lobe created a ridge blocking most water from flowing out. The park is named after Father Louis Hennepin, a French Franciscan Recollect priest-explorer. Father Hennepin came to Mille Lacs Lake after Native Americans captured him and two fellow explorers in 1679 hundreds of miles south along the Mississippi River and brought him to Mille Lacs Lake. Eventually he was released and returned to France. Mille Lacs was a gathering, hunting, and fishing location for Native Americans for hundreds of years. It is still home to many Native Americans. The casino here is on reservation land. The State of Minnesota and Indian tribes have a mutual agreement over fishing rights to Mille Lacs under treaties dating back to the 1800s, although Governor Dayton this summer unilaterally broke the mutually agreed upon 2016 limit for walleye which did not endear him to the Indian tribes.

At Father Hennepin State Park, looking at the two islands comprising the national wildlife refuge

At Father Hennepin State Park, looking at the two islands comprising the national wildlife refuge

Father Hennepin Park is small, located on the south shore of Mille Lacs Lake, and is not even where he is thought to have been held but it still represents the early exploration period in Minnesota. On the lake are two small islands which are the smallest national wildlife refuges in the country. The two islands are the nesting and breeding grounds for the common tern. We walked along the shore, out to a headland jutting out into the lake. After Father Hennepin, we drove a short distance to Mille Lacs Kathio State Park, located along the southwest corner of Mille Lacs Lake. Mille Lacs Kathio is much larger, about 10,000 acres. The naming of the park takes after names from the Dakota Indians for the “Sacred Lake”. The Dakota lived here before the Ojibwe replaced them in this area in the 1800s. The word Kathio comes from poor translations by the French of Dakota words.

We have been to Mille Lacs Kathio before, both to cross-country ski and to geo-cache and to hike with Bernie and Tony. Our stay here was brief, daylight was drawing to a close. Grand Casino Mille Lacs is just a few miles away so we checked in and enjoyed the spa and buffet.

Looking down on Cuyuna Country Recreation Area from one overlook

Looking down on Cuyuna Country Recreation Area from one overlook

Thursday morning we drove an hour to visit a new type of state park. Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area is new, technically becoming a park in 1993. However, it took almost twenty years before it became a major recreational site. The 5,000+ acres were home to open-pit iron ore mining. The area was abandoned by mining companies over thirty years ago and the park specializes in mountain biking. Over 25 miles of trails will challenge the mountain bike rider with a new trail center to allow for competitions to be held here.

Cuyuna Country with mining waste hill to right

Cuyuna Country with mining waste hill to right

Cuyuna has 21 lakes, 15 of which are former iron ore mines. The water is clear now and scuba diving has found a home here along with fishing. Vegetation is now prevalent on the abandoned hills of mining waste; although the red rock roads and hills are stark reminders of the iron ore geology. Hiking is not a major focus here although one state trail goes through the park. After mistaking exploring back roads of private property next to the park, we viewed the park from the water level and then again from the top of two overlooks. There were just a few mountain bikers out; I guess most were in school. The trails certainly seemed challenging enough. They did not tempt us to try to rent a mountain bike, we will leave that for the more agile and adventurous.

"Main Street" of Old Crow Wing with Mississippi River just to the left

“Main Street” of Old Crow Wing with Mississippi River just to the left

Crow Wing State Park is thirty miles from Cuyuna and is much more your typical state park. Crow Wing was a gathering place at the confluence of the Crow Wing and Mississippi Rivers. The Dakota and Ojibwe gathered here in settlements. The Red River Oxcart Trail had one branch traveling through this area. This trail was the major trading route between St. Paul and Winnipeg. Fur traders and missionaries began a settlement here and the logging industry in Minnesota kept the town prosperous until the railroads laid their tracks through the neighboring community of Brainerd and Crow Wing as a town dried up.

Hiking along the old Red River Oxcart Trail

Hiking along the old Red River Oxcart Trail

At Crow Wing we were able to view the old town site, lined along the banks where the two rivers meet. A recreated boardwalk and building foundations give one a sense of life here 160 or so years ago. Canoeists on the river replaced the thousands of pine logs that would have floated down the river to sawmills downstream. A hike through the woods demonstrated the sandy soil of much of the area which keeps the trails dry. The hike presented a peaceful way to end the outdoor part of the day. The spa and buffet took care of the indoor portion.

Friday we headed east for 70 miles, back to the St. Croix River which forms much of the Minnesota-Wisconsin northern border. St. Croix State Park at 33,000 acres is our largest park. The St. Croix is joined here by the Kettle River, both active rivers duirng the lumbering period of the late 1800s. Most of the land was purchased when homesteaders tried, and failed, to make a living farming on the cut-over logging land. The Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration constructed many of the park facilities still in use.

Hiking along the Kettle River at St. Croix State Park

Hiking along the Kettle River at St. Croix State Park

It took us 30 minutes of driving inside the park to reach our first destination; an overlook touting the “Head of the Rapids”. For once, it was more hype than reality. We retraced our steps partially and went for a nice hike along the Kettle River, spotting our second bald eagle of this trip. We checked out the camper cabins but they appeared to be less modern than my taste prefers. We also wasted time trying to get Chris’ State Park Passport book stamped. Normally there is a ranger at the main office or visitor center; when there is none, some form of outside stand will hold the stamps along with self registration and entrance fee paperwork. Neither option presented itself to us, despite returning to the office several times, stopping a carpenter who was working on a building, and driving through the staff only area in search of a ranger. We finally left and just wrote in the book: We Were Here-Really.

St. Croix is only 90 minutes from home so it was an easy drive back. Interstate 35 northbound was busy; Saturday was the first day of deer hunting season and the boys and their toys were gunning up the highway to be in place before the season started 30 minutes before dawn.

Ed and Chris

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2016 Trip Five, North Shore of Lake Superior, June 12-17

Little Marais, MN. June 16 Thursday

Finally, clear skies. Luckily we have one full day plus our return trip to enjoy nicer weather. Not that we haven’t enjoyed our time up here, it is just better when it is sunny.

View of Lake Superior from Palisade Head near Tettegouche State Park on MN North Shore

View of Lake Superior from Palisade Head near Tettegouche State Park on MN North Shore

“Here” is the North Shore of Lake Superior, a 151 mile drive from Duluth, Minnesota to Grand Portage, Minnesota at the Ontario border.  This is called the North Shore, but the road generally goes northeast, although with curves it meanders in most directions except south, and frequently you are driving true eastward. Technically, that would mean one is on the west shore of Lake Superior, but rationality and logic don’t always win out over popular tradition. This has been called the North Shore for decades, we won’t fight it. So it is the North Shore.

Chris and Kathy at Tuesday night's bonfire at Lakeside Cottages

Chris and Kathy at Tuesday night’s bonfire at Lakeside Cottages

Our cabin at Lakeside Cottages, Little Marais MN

Our cabin at Lakeside Cottages, Little Marais MN

Chris, her sister Kathy, and I, are spending five nights and six days at Lakeside Cottages at Little Marais MN. Little it is, population 30. This is an independent, small operation, similar to the ones that used to line Highway 61 along the North Shore for decades. Many of those old-fashioned places have gone out of business in favor of newer, fancier resorts. Lakeside Cottages  suits us just fine; no TV, clean and comfortable, gracious hosts, and a picture window that looks out at the lake. Our hot spot provides Internet service and a portable boom box plays NPR and CDs. Our plans are to read, do puzzles, relax, and do some hiking and minor touristy type activities. Plus, some knitting for Kathy.

View from Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park

View from Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park

On the hiking side, two of the mornings, Chris and I left Kathy behind to work on her knitting, puzzling and reading while we headed off for some longer hikes. Tettegouche State Park is just 10 minutes south of Little Marais with a new visitor center and several nice hikes. Tuesday morning we drove down and made our first hike be one out to Shovel Point. There are several overlooks along the path providing great views of Lake Superior, although this day was cloudy and foggy. The path has been improved by the installation of numerous wooden steps to ease the way up, and down, the bluffs. I counted 655 such steps on the return, that makes over 1300 steps for that hike. Good exercise.

The geology of the North Shore includes ages old igneous rocks that have weathered very slowly. The Sawtooth Mountains and Superior National Forest are to the west of the lake, and the entire path of Highway 61 takes one along bluffs, green pine and deciduous trees, and blue lake water. Because of the igneous rock and mountains, numerous waterfalls line the shores and are frequently located in state parks. After the hike to Shovel Point along Lake Superior, we hiked to the High Falls of the Baptism River in Tettegouche.

Due to the rain, all of the rivers have been running strong. High Falls on the Baptism was no exception. The hike through the woods was not too bad, a few muddy spots but generally just wet and slippery. Picture taking was not the best with the clouds and with the location of the river crossing not being over the falls themselves. But we did the best conditions would allow.

Temperance River above the falls, MN North Shore

Temperance River above the falls, MN North Shore

Better pictures came on Thursday. This morning Chris and I drove about 20 minutes northeast to Temperance River State Park. We skipped the lower pools that are located between Highway 61 and Lake Superior and headed upriver. The Temperance is named because unlike the other rivers running into Lake Superior, there is no sandbar at the mouth of the river where it meets the Lake. (No bar, temperance, get it??) The trail follows the river through the gorge, then reaches the flat plains before continuing on up to Carlton Peak. Chris and I  had climbed the Peak previously and turned back after hiking out for about 45 minutes.

Temperance River on MN North Shore

Temperance River on MN North Shore

The rock formations of these rivers make for interesting cascades, waterfalls, potholes, gorges, etc. And unlike the Southwest which we just visited, there are forests of green trees surrounding the rivers. The combination of blue skies, green trees, gray and red rocks, and the blue/tan river water makes for pleasant viewing. Most of the rivers have a brownish color. This originates from the iron deposits and from decaying organic materials that create humid acid. Frequently the tumbling action of the water going over the rocks creates a foam. Unlike some other rivers, this is not pollution since there is no industrial development along these short rivers running into the lake. Most of the mining in northeastern Minnesota is located farther west in the Iron Range, not along the North Shore. ( I am trying to upload a video of the Temperance River which I think is quite good but either WordPress or my home Internet is not cooperating. Not sure if you will get to see the video or not.)

Both parks allowed us to continue our efforts to complete the MN DNR State Parks Passport Club. This is an program encouraging people to visit all of the Minnesota State Parks, stamping the name of the park in a “passport” book to prove you made it to the park. We started this in April of 2015 and the program has induced us to visit portions of Minneosta we might not otherwise visit.

Our historic/cultural activities included introducing Kathy to the Finland Historic Society and its guided tour at a recreated village outside of the town of Finland, MN. Yes, most of the founders of the town came over from Finland, taking ships that brought them to Duluth and them small ships or trails that brought them to this remote area. There were no roads connecting the North Shore to the rest of Minnesota until 1929 when Highway 61 was completed. Until that time, ships dropped off supplies to small villages along the shore and immigrants hiked further inland to claim their 160 acres of homestead land.

Logging was the major industrial activity in this area. Logging would occur in the winter; at spring time, cut logs would be sent down the rivers to the lake where they would be towed over to Ashland WI for processing. Eventually local logging railroads were built to replace the rivers and allow for year round lumbering. Most of those trees were sent to Cloquet MN for processing. Farming was not profitable, the soil was too rocky. The Finland museum had a nice exhibit. Excellent actually for a town of its size.

Dinner at Naniboujou Lodge with the fireplace and Cree Indian design in background

Dinner at Naniboujou Lodge with the fireplace and Cree Indian design in background

We spent an afternoon in Grand Marais, MN. GM is the local hub of the area farther north of Duluth. It markets itself on artistic endeavors and wilderness experiences. We traversed the floors of several galleries and stores, making a few small purchases. Dinner was at Naniboujou Lodge; an inn founded in 1929 by a group of wealthy Easterners. As you might expect, the Great Depression put an end to its grand pretensions but it continued as a hunting club and now it is a rustic inn and restaurant, just 25 miles from the Canadian border.

The interior of the dining room at Naniboujou is exquisite. There is a huge fireplace, created out of native Minnesota stone. Supposedly it is the tallest native rock fireplace in MN. The colors in the dining room are vibrant, with the decorations in the designs of Cree Indians. The walls and ceiling have not been repainted since it was first applied in the 1920s. It still looks spectacular 90 years later.

Our other meals have been created in the cabin. Our trusty Crock Pot made pork roast one night and chicken another. Leftovers filled in the other days. Homemade granola for breakfast along with eggs and toast kept us away from restaurant food and, of course, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are always good for lunch. Dessert was pretty much brought along with us, homemade oatmeal cookies and brownies although we did stop at Betty’s Pies in Two Harbors for a slice to go for each of us on Sunday.

One afternoon we visited the Cross River Heritage Center at Schroeder MN. This small museum featured displays on the lost resorts of the North Shore and on Taconite Harbor. Taconite Harbor is now ghost town, having gone from boom to bust in 50 years. In 1950, Erie Mining created a harbor out of scratch to transport taconite pellets from its mines and processing site in Hoyt Lakes. Erie built the mine, the taconite center (which takes low-grade iron ore and through crushing, milling, heating and pelletizing, makes a high concentrate pellet of iron for use in steel mills. Erie then transported the pellets on its own railroad to Taconite Harbor, 80 miles away on the shores of Lake Superior. Erie built the company town of Taconite Harbor with its homes, ball fields, stores, etc. As steel making needs changed, the plant, the town and the harbor fell into disuse. The company sold the homes and now the former town site sits empty. (We drove by it.) The three bridges that crossed Highway 61 as the coal trains descended to the harbor still  cross the road, although unused. The coal-burning power plant which created electricity for Taconite Harbor and Hoyt Lakes continued; although now scheduled to close this fall due to  changing energy needs and generation modes. Again, for a small town, the displays are excellent, and there is a variety of local crafts for sale.

Sunset at Lake Superior with our fire Thursday night

Sunset at Lake Superior with our fire Thursday night

Relaxing might have gotten a boost from the cloudy and rainy weather. 1550 puzzle pieces were assembled. One hat knitted, second one started and likely to be finished by the end of the car ride Friday. Numerous crossword puzzles. Two books down already, another likely to be knocked off. (Your Ridley Pearson author, Jude) Soft music in the background, lapping waves watched and listened to. Well, Tuesday and Wednesday nights it was crashing waves listened to; luckily we were on dry land and not on a houseboat on the lake. Two campfires lit, one on a cloudy, crash wave night, one on a sunny, quiet wave night.

St. Louis RIver at Jay Cooke State Park Friday noon

St. Louis RIver at Jay Cooke State Park Friday noon

On the way home Friday we stopped at Jay Cooke State Park for lunch. It is located on the St. Louis River which courses from the Iron Range south to the Duluth harbor.

Chris and Ed, Friday June 17

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2016 Trip Two, Day Three, Southwest Minnesota, April 22

St. Paul, MN

It was obvious we had arrived home when the bumper to bumper traffic on I-494 in Eden Prairie had replaced the easy driving along two lane county and state highways in the southwest corner of the state. But that is alright, we will be heading out to greater traffic in Boston on Wednesday making the Twin Cities traffic seem easy in comparison.

Causeway leading to Loon Island, part of Lake Shetek State Park

Causeway leading to Loon Island, part of Lake Shetek State Park

Despite our pleasure at the Slayton Bakery for breakfast, we tried the “Grain Exchange” in Slayton for breakfast this morning. It opens at 5 AM so you know they are serious about breakfast. Once again, good food and prices and we were the only non-locals present. The temp was in the mid-40s with a breeze so our first walk at Lake Shetek State Park was a brisk one. Campers were starting to show up for the weekend.

Hiking at Lake Shetek State Park

Hiking at Lake Shetek State Park

This is an 1100 acre park with several camping areas. It forms the headwaters of the Des Moines River. It had its day of fame(infamy) during the US Dakota War of 1862 as several settlers were killed in this area during the conflict. This happened during the US Civil War and is little noted outside of Minnesota and among Native American tribes. For the last 140 years it seemed all that was written concerned the Indian uprising and the settlers that were killed. In the last decade the white population has come to acknowledge that the uprising occurred due to the United States consistent breaking of treaties and killing of Native Americans. The US government in this case continued for several years to allow settlers to encroach on Native American land and did not delivery the money and food promised in the treaties so Indian families were starving. When the Native Americans fought back including the killing of settlers, the militia put down the uprising, hung 38 Dakota men, and forced women and children to march to a camp near Fort Snelling where many died before being shipped out of state to South Dakota. A monument was erected in 1925 commemorating the valor of the militia. Obviously there are more details and nuances but this is a good summary.

Fort Ridgely State Park

Fort Ridgely State Park

Fort Ridgely, our second park of the day, was also involved in the Dakota Conflict. It was a garrison erected in 1853 to protect the Native Americans from encroaching settlers but it was powerless to stop the broken treaties and encroachment. Settlers fled to the fort for protection when the Native Americans rose up and started fighting for their land and food. The fort was able to hold out until additional troops arrived to end the battle. Today only a recreated commissary and recreated stone foundations of the barracks,e tc exist to mark the site. A state interpretative center is only open during warmer months-not today.

Ethanol plant Lamberton MN

Ethanol plant Lamberton MN

The drive home was uneventful except for the heavy traffic.

Ed and Chris 8 PM

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2016 Trip Two, SW Minnesota, Day Two, April 21

Slayton MN April 21

“Adventures can begin in your own backyard.” Ann Bancroft, Arctic and Antarctic explorer.

While this trip is not exactly in our backyard, it is certainly more “backyardy” than most of our trips. Even then, most of our trips are in the US, not to the Taj Mahal, or the Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China. So the above quote was a welcome sight this morning at the Jim Brandenburg Gallery in Luverne MN. Luverne is a small town of under 5,000 souls in the far SW corner of Minnesota. Brandenburg grew up here although he now resides in Ely, MN, in the far NE corner of Minnesota. Two different nature areas but from both he has created a vast mosaic of nature photography.

Rock County courthouse in Luverne constructed of Sioux quartzite stone

Rock County courthouse in Luverne constructed of Sioux quartzite stone

Brandenburg spent three decades on long-term assignments around the globe for the National Geographic magazine and has been honored many times over for his incredible photography. In 2010, the International League of Conservation Photographers selected the 40 top nature photographs of all time. Brandenburg had 4 of the 40, more than any other photographer.

He is now focusing on his own goals, some of which have been showcased in National Geographic also. There is a Brandenburg gallery in Luverne. We made it our first stop of the day (after breakfast at the Slayton Bakery where we were spotted immediately as not one of the locals but given the same warm hospitality and good cooking.)

We watched a video about the creation of Brandenburg’s first, solo goal project. For 90 days, he went out in the woods around his home near Ely, MN and took only one picture. No, he did not shoot many and then select just one; he took just one. Sometimes it was shot early in the day, sometimes at last light on the way back home wondering if the project would fall apart on that day. Many of the photos are of small, narrow focused shots, not the broad vistas I tend to take. The impact of seeing the individual shots and of the cumulative collection of 90 shots taken from the fall equinox to the winter Equinox was overwhelming.

Well you know we are not major shoppers. Today was different. The gallery did not have the book “Chasing the Light” that was later printed from this project-we will have to shop for that later. They did have framed posters and prints of over 100 of his photos – from the 90 days project as well as some of his other photos, particularly of wolves. The prints were sharper but the framed posters were more reasonably priced and we bought two posters. We also bought the CD of the video we viewed-watch out daughters, your turn to view it is coming soon!

To see more and to view his 2016 project of one nature video each day, you can go to:

Jimbrandenburg.blogspot.com or to
Nature365.tv

2016 is the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park System. It is also the 125th birthday of the Minnesota State Park System. Our travels around Minnesota are usually focused around the state parks. This trip is no exception. Today we visited three state parks. Chris has a state park passport book and our goal is to reach 72 of the 76 parks real soon. We are at 35, having started one year ago. The state gives you a pat on the back if you visit 71-4 of the parks are either in development or require a boat to reach.

Bison at Blue Mounds State Park

Bison at Blue Mounds State Park

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Today’s first park was Blue Mounds State Park. This park has two unique features. First, the Sioux quartzite rock forms cliffs and outcroppings giving the park its unique look. The Rock County Courthouse in Luverne is made from this rock. Second, a herd of slightly over 100 bison roam the park. Introduced in 1961 from the Fort Niobara Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, NE (which we visited about 4 years ago), the initial three bison have expanded to the point that not only are some auctioned off each fall, the state transplanted some of the bison from here to a second MN state park, Mineopa near Mankato.

Pelican at Split Rock Creek State Park

Pelican at Split Rock Creek State Park

Park number two was Split Rock Creek State Park. Split Rock Creek was dammed in the 1930s by a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project. The dam forms the only sizable body of water in Pipestone County and birds and waterfowl flock here. In fact, we considered the park “noisy” because of the numerous birds squeaking and chirping along with the sound of the water rushing over the dam and reverberating off the rock cliffs below the dam.

It is sobering to reflect how many of the state park structures were created during the Depression by the people unemployed who were put to work on federal work details. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, Public Works Administration, Veterans Conservation Corps, etc. created a public infrastructure across the country. Nearly 100 years later, these buildings, dams, roads, etc. are still functioning-although many are showing their age and need some maintenance.

Spring fed creek at Camden State Park

Spring fed creek at Camden State Park

Our third park was Camden State Park. In particular, Chris wanted to see the beach and swimming pond that is created from a spring fed stream. Camden started as a community formed by settlers from Camden NJ. When the railroad came through, it located its depot several miles from Camden and the town dried up. However, Camden’s location along the Redwood River adjacent to the prairies has made a pleasant park with picnicking and camping. Chris was denied her desire; the spring fed stream was dumping its water into the river, it is not diverted into the swimming pond until later in the spring.

Touch the Sky prairie

Touch the Sky prairie

Lastly, while our drive focused on parks, we always manage to squeeze in other sights, like Brandenburg and Spomer. This is prairie land and we visited the Touch the Sky prairie, a preserved parcel sponsored by the Brandenburg Foundation. The “Prairie Passage” route is a cooperative effort of multiple states and federal agencies; it encompasses this and other locations to preserve portions of the prairie that once existed all across the broad middle plains of the US. Some small preserved areas avoided the farmers plow; others areas are plots of land being replanted with native prairie grasses to support wildfowl, butterflies, water retention, etc. The “Touch the Sky” piece is 972 acres of untilled land. Less than 1% of the original Upper Tallgrass prairie of the Upper Midwest is intact.

Smallest chapel north of Luverne MN

Smallest chapel north of Luverne MN

In other quick stops we visited (another) smallest wayside church/chapel. This one was north of Luverne. We visited a park with rock garden folk art sculptures dating to 1940.

Windmill collection in Jasper MN with wind turbines in background

Windmill collection in Jasper MN with wind turbines in background

We drove by a piece of ground where a farmer has restored a number of old windmills. This is in contrast to the hundreds of large wind turbines standing over 350 feet tall that seem to be everywhere over Buffalo Ridge, a geologic formation in southwest Minnesota which has enhanced winds running more frequently that most other parts of the country.

Lunch was at Lange’s Cafe and Bakery in Pipestone, a 60 year old diner written up in “Roadfoods”. We took our pieces of pie to go and ate them along the shore of Lake Yankton on the way home. Dinner was back at KeyLargo next door. Good food.

Ed and Chris
April 21. 10 PM

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2016 Trip Two, SW Minnesota, Day 1, April 20

Slayton, MN Wednesday April 20, 2016

This road trip is sub-titled: Prairie Passages in search of Minnesota Gold. It will be a three-day journey to southwest Minnesota. We hope to visit at least five different state parks during these three days.

The land was prairie 150 years ago and is now primarily agricultural. The prairie developed for centuries untouched leading to the development of rich, black loam soil. While the farmland is fertile, there are still issues with agricultural and soil run-off, protection of wetlands for native animals and waterfowl, and overuse of groundwater.

Minnesota Gold-farm land near Blue Earth MN

Minnesota Gold-farm land near Blue Earth MN

Today was cloudy and rainy. We only visited one park but made two other pleasant stops, one of which was unexpectedly interesting. The Green Giant brand of canned and frozen vegetables began in south central MN, an amalgamation of canneries in Blue Earth and Le Sueur. The company spent heavily on the development of pea and corn varieties that improved on the tastes available at that time. The Green Giant motto and brand was developed to showcase the product. Chris and I grew up hearing the Green Giant theme: “From the valley of the, Ho, Ho, Ho, Green Giant.”

The Jolly Green Giant, Ed and our new Subaru Legacy that replaced our 2001 Saturn

The Jolly Green Giant, Ed and our new Subaru Legacy that replaced our 2001 Saturn

Our route to SW MN took us right through Blue Earth so we had to stop in. First, there is a 47.5′ tall statue of the Green Giant on top of an 8′ base. Pretty impressive. And it turns out it was made by the FAST Corporation of Sparta WI, a town we rode through on Amtrak just last week. The statue was commissioned and erected in 1978 to commemorate the completion of Interstate 90, the longest interstate highway, at 3020 miles, in the United States running from Boston to Seattle. The route was completed near Blue Earth MN when the two crews joined together and they celebrated with a golden concrete section here, near the mid-point of I-90. The gold section was in honor of the gold spike used at Promontory Summit Utah when the first transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869.

Memorabilia at the Giant Museum in Blue Earth

Memorabilia at the Giant Museum in Blue Earth

In downtown Blue Earth is a small museum devoted to Green Giant memorabilia. The product is still made locally in Blue Earth, and other locations, but the company is now owned by Seneca Foods. Thus our first introduction to the value of Minnesota Gold was in the fruit of the land-peas and corn.

The Des Moines River at Kilen Woods State Park

The Des Moines River at Kilen Woods State Park

Our second stop was Kilen Woods State Park. This state park is on the banks of the Des Moines RIver which begins at Lake Shetek-where we are lodging. We were the only visitors in the park, camping does not begin for several weeks yet. We ate our lunch and then hiked down to the river. Rain cut short our stay but we have more parks coming up and this one was small anyway.

Our next stop was an overwhelming success and surprise. We had read about the Spomer Classics and Museum. It is open “by chance or by appointment” and we decided to schedule an appointment. We met the owner, Marv Spomer, there at 2 PM. Marv had been the owner of the GM dealership in town, and with the encouragement of his wife (who is in to antiques), he has collected, restored, and arranged a museum of classic cars, porcelain and neon signs, and advertising memorabilia related to automobiles. Rather than just amassing large amounts of junk, Marv has focused on notable autos and unique signs.

Chris and Ed at Spomer Classics and Museum in Worthington MN

Chris and Ed at Spomer Classics and Museum in Worthington MN

His autos are spotless, lovingly restored,and most have only been owned by one other owner. One particularly interesting car has been used in the annual Turkey Days parade for decades and the back of the front seat has been autographed by Jesse Jackson, Robert Kennedy, Walter Monday and Hubert Humphrey. Others are one of a limited edition, where only very small numbers of the models of this vehicle exists.

While bus groups are common here, we got a personalized 90 minute tour describing the autos, neon signs, gas pumps, Coke dispensers, etc. Most are at least 50 years old, many much older. A number of them have nostalgic value in addition to being, like the autos, part of a limited production run or one of the few known to still exist of that particular type.

Spomer Classics and Museum

Spomer Classics and Museum

The building itself is spotless and clean, no trace of dust on these items. That was amazing in itself. We had a fantastic time listening to Marv describe the items and their lineage. The neon and the porcelain signs were beautiful works of art.

From the museum in Worthington we headed to our lodging, the Lake Shetek Lodge on Lake Shetek. This is a small motel on an island in the lake. The season is sort of between summer and winter visitors so we happened to be the only guests tonight but our host made us quite comfortable. We will take some pictures later when the color scheme is not just 50 shades of gray. So far we have seen geese and pelicans on the lake, pheasants were along the road sides.

Dinner was next door at the Key Largo restaurant, usually a hot spot with boaters or ice fishermen. Food was quite good, their home-made hash browns a true delight.

Ed and Chris

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2015 Trip Five, Voyageurs National Park and NW MN, August 20

Roseau MN August 20

The skies have brightened, the temperatures improved and we spent most of the day indoors with few pictures to show for it. Our primary stop today was the Marvin Window factory visitor center in Warroad, MN (population 1800). Warroad is just down the street from Roseau, a short 25 minute drive. It is located right on Lake of the Woods, which is the 100th largest lake in the world in size and has over 14,000 islands in the lake.

Warroad’s official nickname, it owns the name legally, is “Hockeytown USA”. It is home to nine US hockey Olympians. This is a big deal here, in a state where the state hockey tournament (according to Wikipedia) is the largest state sport tournament in terms of attendance and viewing in the US, exceeding Texas and Florida football tournaments and Indiana’s basketball tournament.

But we came to see Marvin Windows, an inspiring story in many ways. The founder came here in 1904, began a lumber and pulpwood business and which had only 8 employees by 1939. Through expansion with WWII, innovation, listening to employees, the company moved into making windows and doors. Now the company employes over 2,000 people in a facility that spans 45 acres and 2 million square feet of production space here. (There are also facilities in ND, OR, TN, and VA).

A selection  of products from Marvin Windows and Doors

A selection of products from Marvin Windows and Doors

The #1 feel good story relates to a fire in 1961 that destroyed the plant completely. By that time, the company had grown and had a substantial market. Offers came in from numerous other communities to provide the company with incentives to relocate from this small town in the middle of nowhere. The owners, still the Marvin family, pledged to remain in their town where they grew up and where the workforce was dependent on them. The contractor rebuilding the plant was made to hire many of the Marvin employees who did not have jobs. The plant re-opened in a year and has continued to expand dramatically since then.

The #2 feel good story relates to a production problem in the 1980s that caused many of the products to fail after installation. Before knowing the cause, the company made good on the repairs. The cause turned out to be a defective preservative supplied by a third-party. It took 20 years before litigation paid back the Marvin Window and Door Company for all of the costs to fix the damage caused by the faulty preservative. The company almost went bankrupt until the settlement came through.

The #3 feel good story relates to the 2008 recession when the housing market crashed. All Marvin employees were kept on the payroll at 32 hours per week with benefits.

The owners have shown remarkable dedication, entrepreneurship, and community loyalty over decades and through several generations of family ownership. The employees have voted down unionization efforts three times (and I generally like unions). The Marvin family efforts have led to jobs for thousands of workers across northern Minnesota. Kudos!

We spent time at the Marvin Visitor Center which has an excellent display of the company history. It seems to talk candidly of its success and failures; including some pollution fines in previous times. We had expected to return to Roseau for a Polaris factory tour but learned that we could make an 11:30 plant tour (which is not advertised) of the Marvin Windows and Doors facility. We jumped at the chance. Okay, I jumped at the chance and Chris agreed.

The 90 minute tour took us through much of the plant. Here, though, you got headsets and the guide talked through a microphone connected to your headset. Much better for hearing what she had to say. Marvin custom makes your order, so the plant is not laid out in a production assembly line order. Different sections work on various types of product; there is much hand assembly.

We were able to watch as incoming wood planks are computer evaluated for quality and laser lines individually drawn for cutting the wood to minimize waste and faults (i.e., knots in the wood). We watched wood being bent to meet specific curvature needs. We watched cladding being applied to outside finishes. All in all, I found it rewarding and entertaining.

Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods

We had a late lunch at the Seven Clans Casino in Warroad and headed back to Roseau to check out some shopping destinations. Well, the shopping left a lot to be desired so we finished up the day at Polaris. This was their off-plant store and museum.

Polaris product

Polaris product

Polaris was the leader and originator of the snowmobile business in the US in the mid-1950s. Arctic Cat, which we toured previously, was started later by one of the three Polaris founders. In the 1970s and 80s, when all snowmobile companies had tremendous problems, Polaris never went bankrupt as Arctic Cat did. Polaris did go down to 30 employees at one point. It has recovered, now making snowmobiles, ATVs, boats, motorcycles, etc. We probably know enough to skip the factory tour tomorrow and start heading over to International Falls.

Kari and Billy --free concert in Roseau

Kari and Billy –free concert in Roseau

Our evening entertainment was Kari and Billy,a Nashville duo. Kari is from Roseau and the couple were in town visiting family. They gave a free concert at the local park.

Ed and Chris

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2015 Trip Five, Voyageurs National Park and NW MN,August 18-19

Tuesday, August 18, East Grand Forks, MN

Along the road in MN

Along the road in MN

Just because the roads are flat and straight up here does not mean the driving is easy. We came across the monster above while driving to Thief River Falls on a county road. We had to not only pull over onto the shoulder of the road (without going in the ditch), we had to make sure we had pulled over at a spot where he could also spread out on to his shoulder.

American Crystal Sugar plant in East Grand Forks

American Crystal Sugar plant in East Grand Forks

Sugar beets

Sugar beets

Before starting our major endeavors, we had read that the sugar industry was starting to harvest sugar beets. We drove over to the plant and saw the beets being stacked outside on concrete pads..

Red RIver of the North at Grand Forks-East Grand Forks

Red River of the North at Grand Forks-East Grand Forks

Tuesday started with a five mile hike up the MN side of the Red River and back down the ND side of the river. Although, now that I think about it, we went down river by going north in MN and upriver by going south in ND. I forgot already the information I posted last time about the way the Red River of the North flows northwards.

The levee at East Grand Forks

The levee at East Grand Forks

The flood control efforts here cost over $400,000,000; about one half of the cost of the new Vikings football stadium. The landscaping is nice, the walls are attractive, and there are plenty of restrooms and recreational facilities. There are new bridges and new civic buildings. The number of homes removed has been equalled or exceeded by new housing built away from the river. They have removed the dam in the river and made it easier for fish to swim upriver.

Red River rapids, no dam

Red River rapids, no dam

For those of you who do not remember, the flood control measures are necessitated since the Red River of the North flows through very flat land, resulting in spring flood waters that spread out for a dramatic distance. In addition, since it flows north, river waters in the south melt first and then run into a roadblock of ice on the river as the water flows downstream (north).

A memorial indicating the height of the past floods along the Red River

A memorial indicating the height of the past floods along the Red River

After the morning walk, we drove to Thief River Falls. Our goal was to make the 1:00 PM tour of the Arctic Cat factory. Arctic Cat makes snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles, recreational off highway vehicles. (No pictures can be taken inside the factory.) Arctic Cat is a MN company, founded in 1960 as a spin-off from Polaris Industries, the original maker of snowmobiles.

Arctic Cat snowmobiles

Arctic Cat snowmobiles

Arctic Cat employes 1800 people in the Thief River Falls area. Population here is about 8500. As we found out at dinner, another company,Digi-Key, employs another 3000 people here. Digi Key buses (free of charge) employees in from Crookston, East Grand Forks, etc. If you want a job in this part of MN, you can get one real easy.

The 90 minute tour took us through the manufacturing lines for snowmobiles, all terrain vehicles (ATV), and recreational side by side off highway vehicles (ROV). They assemble here; most parts are made by third-party suppliers. We did view close up the section where the foam seat cushions are molded and one woman demonstrated how she placed the leather finish over the seat. Women and men worked side by side at almost all production jobs.

Arctic Cat makes 225 snowmobiles per day and 75 each of the ATVs and of the ROVs. Some of the product they assemble is for Yamaha. The plant tour is noisy and it was difficult sometimes to hear the presenter but still it made for an interesting experience. Thursday we go on the Polaris factory tour.

Agassiz Wildlife Refuge

Agassiz Wildlife Refuge

We left Thief River Falls and headed out to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, our third wildlife refuge in three days. Agassiz is 60,000 acres of wetland, shrubland, forests and grasslands. The name comes from the Swiss-American naturalist for whom Glacial Lake Agassiz was named. Glacial Lake Agassiz existed 8-10,000 years ago when the snow and ice from the last glacier melted and covered this area. The glacier formed the very flat land we have been driving across. The refuge was created in the 1930s in reaction to the same issues that created Rydell Wildlife Refuge. The attempts by local farmers and counties to drain the land was unsuccessful and the tax forfeited land went to the state. Even the state could not afford the upkeep so they handed it over to the feds.

Agassiz Wildlife Refuge

Agassiz Wildlife Refuge

A hike and a four mile driving tour of the refuge left us less impressed than we had been with Rydell. Rydell seemed more visitor friendly; but then the mission of the refuges is to preserve and protect the fish and wildlife. Agassiz is larger and may be a better resource for the animals. Our drive was through wetlands; without much elevation, it is hard to see beyond the cattails and water.

Dinner was at the Evergreen Eating Emporium in Thief River Falls. An excellent meal. The hostess was the one who filled us in on the employment patterns in the area. She has worked for Digi-Key for 20 years, and for 20 years for the restaurant. Kind of knows the ins and outs.

Wednesday, August 19.

East Grand Forks was left behind as we headed out to Roseau MN. Along the way, we stopped at two State of Minnesota parks, Lake Bronson and Hayes Lake. Both of these lakes are man-made, not natural. Both offer much desired water recreation options.

Lake Bronson state park

Lake Bronson state park

WPA constructed water tower and observation tower at Lake Bronson

WPA constructed water tower and observation tower at Lake Bronson

Lake Bronson was formed due to a water shortage in the 1930s. This area of MN actually has slightly salty groundwater. Remember those acidic bogs at Big Bog Recreation Area a few days ago? Bronson and Hallack wanted a reliable drinking water source and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) came through. The WPA was one of FDR’s answers to the Depression. The WPA built a dam here, along with park facilities, water treatment plant and piping, and enough other public projects to make this location the largest WPA project in the State of Minnesota.

Our walk here was okay but shortened. We planned to reach a second portion of the park, but found that the gravel road was so washboardy that we worried about the suspension on the car. The other dirt roads we have been driving on were fine, this one was not. We decided not to risk the suspension and drove on to Hays Lake State Park. Unfortunate for us; Hayes Lake was far enough away with greater rainfall that the mosquito count was much higher than at Lake Bronson.

Lake Hayes State Park

Lake Hayes State Park

But we persevered and are now enduring fresh mosquito bites in order to bring you new, and exciting (?), experiences. Hayes Lake was also formed by damming a river, the Roseau River versus Two Rivers at Lake Bronson. We hiked along the lakeshore, hoping to spot moose, which are frequently seen in the park. No luck for us. There are still several more days in the north woods before we head home, so maybe all of the moose are waiting for the end of the trip. The hiking trail was level with the pine needles providing for a soft cushion underneath. No tripping on tree roots and rocks here.

Lake Hayes State Park

Lake Hayes State Park

As we drove from Lake Bronson to Hayes Lake, we encountered more trees and slightly hillier landscapes. Flat agricultural land still predominates, but as we continue east that will change. We are only ten miles from Canada. We expect to be looking across the Rainy River into Ontario and Manitoba over the next four days.

There are 76 state parks and recreation areas in MN. We have visited 23 of them in the last four months. Today in order to make sure we visited both state parks, we even passed by the Kittson County Historical Museum without stopping in. The county was named for Norman Kittson, a pioneer in early MN heavily involved in the ox-cart trains, along with later interests in steamboats and railroads.

Now we are in Roseau, a community of 2,600. Smaller than Thief River Falls and East Grand Forks, but still larger than many of the small towns we have driven through with populations well under 1,000.

Ed and Chris
August 19, 2015

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2015 Small town Minnesota, July 24-25

Waterville, MN

If you are looking for dramatic landscapes and vistas, or culturally important historical sites, today’s post is not for you. This is a slice of Americana. A visit to a small town and its community festival. Not even a visit to small towns with major sightseeing opportunities; that will come later as we travel along the Mississippi. As usual, this is not a definitive post, it represents our impressions and our way of traveling.

The idea for this weekend came from Kolacky Days in Montgomery MN and from the Singing Hills Sakatah Lake Minnesota State Bike Trail. Kolacky Days are a community festival based around the kolacky pastry. Kolacky, also kolach, kolachy, kolache, etc is a Czech word for a pastry that has a fruit type filling; prune, apricot, poppy seed, apple, raspberry, etc are all popular. The pastry resembles a soft dinner roll. Montgomery MN has a strong Czech heritage; in the late 1800s the town had the largest Czech population of any MN town. Even today, when reviewing the last names of the festival queen candidates, it is obvious that many of those early settlers descendants are still living in the area.

The festival has been in existence since 1929. We have heard about it numerous times over the years and thought it might be worthwhile to visit. We have been to other community festivals over the years; Summerfair in Carlisle, Grand Old Day and Highland Fest in St. Paul, Lumberjack Days in Stillwater, etc. Montgomery is about an hour south of St. Paul and is a town of about 3,000 people. An easy drive.

However, we decided to make a weekend of it. Chris has been wanting to bike the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail for some time now. The trail is paved, basically level, and runs from Faribault to Mankato, a distance of 39 miles. The trail is on an abandoned railroad line. Sakatah State park is along the trail.

Upper Sakatah Lake, Waterville MN

Upper Sakatah Lake, Waterville MN

Chris found one of those old-time Minnesota lake side resorts, Sakatah Bay Resort Motel, and booked a room for Friday and Saturday nights. Sakatah Bay is in Waterville, population 1800, about 15 minutes south of Montgomery. There is a small bike shop in town, BW’s Bikes, and we rented bikes instead of transporting ours. Our bike carrier is just one of those old-fashioned tied by belts and buckles and I do worry that something will come loose over a drive of more than 15-20 minutes. Besides, it helps the local economy, right?

Friday morning we headed down to Waterville. Waterville was platted in 1856. While it is on water (lakes and the Cannon River) it was the railroads in the latter half of the 1800s that gave it life. Its history has seen saw mills, furniture factory, seed company and now tourists.

First stop BW’s Bikes where we picked up our bikes from Linda. She has had the bike store for three years and started it due to an interest in bike racing by her grandsons. One of them is very successful in BMX racing. In fact, they were headed out to Faribault that evening for some races and would be at St. Michaels MN most of Saturday. We made arrangements to drop off the bikes this afternoon and pick up the bikes again on Saturday, working around their other activities. The bike shop is right on the bike route through Waterville and an easy 5-6 blocks from the paved state trail. (Technically the state trail runs on city roads through Waterville.)

Taking a break on the trail

Taking a break on the Sakatah Singing Hills Bike trail

Sakatah Singing Hills Bike Trail

Sakatah Singing Hills Bike Trail

We biked for two hours, going east towards Faribault and then returning. The route goes through Sakatah Lake State Park. The lake is visible early on, then the remnants of the “Big Woods” are next. The tree-shaded route here was comforting on a hot day, but the biting insects were out and our brief rest stops, after the first one, were in sunny areas. Finally, the trail advances along open farmlands with enough patches of shade trees that the hot sun is not constant. The weather here has been good for crop growing, early spring, plenty of rain so far. In fact, the town received 4 inches of rain Thursday night, knocking down some branches. A light rain also fell Saturday night.

A view of the Cannon River along the trail

A view of the Cannon River along the trail

Chris loved the smooth, relatively flat surface. Evidently, according to Linda, the trail heading west needs re-surfacing. Recent repaving was done from Faribault to Waterville, along with trail bridge replacement. The funds to re-surface the trail going west to Mankato evidently got sucked up by other needs. Our two-hour ride was at a relaxing pace, we probably covered about 15 miles.

Lunch was at the Singing Hills Coffee Shop, a small, two-year old cafe run by a couple from Eagan, a St. Paul suburb. It is only open during the summer months. Food was fine and inexpensive. While there, we noticed photography for sale, both cards and prints, by an Owatonna man, John Muellerleile, who is an optometrist by day and photographer by choice. Interesting and attractive work. Chris wondered if he was related to Muellerleiles she knew back at St. Kates.

Check-in began at 2 PM and we made it to the resort soon after. Sakatah Bay has 12 units in a motel fashion. They do have boat launching and some boat rentals. After showering, we headed out to Montgomery, taking county roads to get a feel for the land. Our destination was the 5 PM Czech dinner at the American Legion Hall. It cost $18 each and we thought we would get to meet locals and learn more about Kolacky Days.

First, though, we drove around Montgomery, scoping out where various Kolacky Days activities would be held. We did stop to view a restored steam engine. A former Montgomery man who died about 15 years ago, Joe Rynda, once had the largest collection of agricultural steam engines in the U.S. These engines were used on farms to power various attachments to thresh wheat, etc. At one time Joe had 50 such engines. In 2004, years after his death, the collection was sold at auction and the engines were scattered over the world to various collectors. A second stop was at the art and culture center which had more news about Joe Rynda and photos of the Kolacky Days Queens for the last 50 or so years. Joe was one of the founders and long time supporter of Kolacky Days.

Libby Food (now Seneca Brands) has a processing plant in Montgomery. The festival used to be held in September, then switched to the summer and its current date selected to not interfere with corn harvesting times.

The outgoing royalty

The outgoing royalty for Kolacky Days Montgomery MN

The American Legion was just a few blocks away. We arrived on time and were a little surprised as we went in. What we thought was an open dinner for everyone was more of a dinner for the queen candidates and their families-although not exclusively so. Chris had called them because the printed information indicated advance reservations were needed. The phone call, said no problem, just show up. Well we showed up in casual attire and while some others were in casual, most were dressed up. We sat next to the parents (Mom and step dad, Dad and step mom) of one of the contestants. (Their daughter ended up making the court but not being the queen.) So we explained why we were there and they welcomed us. We ended up not feeling too much out of place-besides they probably needed the cash to help cover the cost of the free dinners for the current and upcoming royalty. The mother had been a contestant and part of the royalty previously. In looking at the list of past queens, it appears that there were some Mother-Daughter queen families along with families with several daughters who became queen. Dinner was roast pork, flat dumplings, mashed potatoes and gravy, applesauce, canned corn, kolachy, sauerkraut, and stuffing. Heavy food. We did not go to the pageant where the queen would be selected from among the nine contestants but headed back to Waterville.

Czech dinner at the American Legion Post

Czech dinner at the American Legion Post for Kolacky Days Montgomery MN

Waterville, for a town of 1800, was fairly lively Saturday. We had breakfast at The Cafe where the pies and sticky buns are made 230 miles away in Sully IA. Our waitress’ boyfriend’s mother makes them. The sticky buns were fantastic and so was the piece of peach pie I bought and placed in our refrigerator to eat later that night. You know, meal prices and food are pretty good in small towns. The menus do reflect old fashioned selections and large serving sizes. The small omelet was at least three eggs while the large was eight eggs.

The Coca  Cola swing

The Coca Cola swing in Waterville MN

As we walked by the next door hardware store, the owner talked to us about the Coca Cola swing he had for sale. He also owns the restaurant and two other buildings in town. Waterville, he indicated, does better than most communities of its size due to the 50 lakes within 15 miles of the town. Summer produces a lot of lake dwellers. Who knew? We always thought “going to the lake” meant going up north or over to WI.

The lakes we observed were busy with boaters, fishing being a major activity. Minnesota has the most registered boats per capita of any other state, Wisconsin is second. Florida has the most boats but on a per capita basis, MN and WI are the tops. It is interesting if you search this on the Internet. You see many different answers but since the only agency to monitor this data is the U.S. Coast Guard, their data is the relevant one. There even is a ridiculous claim that Arizona has the most. Disproven.

The hardware store owner’s wife is part Lakota Sioux and the Native-Americans and the European origin folks have different pronunciations of the name Sakatah. Either way, the Indian definition meant muddy brown water, referring to the shallow connection between Upper and Lower Sakatah Lakes. Upper Sakatah, where we are staying, is shallow, only about 10-12 feet in depth. We left the hardware store without buying the swing but planning to return for breakfast Sunday for more sticky rolls at the cafe.

Along the bike trail

Along the Sakatah Singing Hills bike trail

Farm scenes

Farm scenes

We picked up our bikes again and headed back to the trail. Today’s jaunt was slightly longer than Friday’s and busier. Plenty of people enjoying the day and justifying the expense of public funds on this bike trail. Most of the users were biking, not walking. All of them were friendly though.

As we completed the trail we came across a candy and crafts store. This store is just one year old and run by a dynamo. She has assumed the presidency of the local Chamber of Commerce and has about 95% of the local businesses as members. They produced a very nice handout about Waterville, printed professionally, and are distributing about 2500 of them. The store seems to attract people from the lake resorts and from the bike trail. The crafts are a collection from 20 or more local artisans.

One of the vehicles on display at the classic car show

One of the vehicles on display at the classic car show

Most of the activities at Kolacky days began after 12 PM. When we scoped the activity area out Friday, we noticed the prune spitting contest was not being held. We hoped other activities scheduled for today would not be canceled. Our first stop was in downtown Montgomery. The classic car show was a big draw. We saw more people here than anywhere else. The schedule talked about a Big Honza museum. We walked to it. Evidently, it’s days are over. Much of the material that had been in there has been sold or given away. Someone forgot to check before the schedule was printed.

Most of the activities were being held at Memorial Park. However, it was a slow people watching experience. I think that horseshoes and volleyball are more exciting when you’re drinking a beer and cheering on or yelling at your friends and neighbors. Standard fair food was available along with Kolacky and some Czech food items. Overall, it was not terribly exciting. Based on this, we made a snap decision to not come back Sunday for the parade. The parade would be in 85° weather and just did not seem to generate enough excitement and participants to keep us hanging around for a couple of extra hours Sunday.

We went to 5 o’clock mass in the local church at Waterville. There was a visiting mission priest. We went to Bullheads bar for their Saturday steak special ($15 per person) and the local pastor (who must’ve been at least 80) and the visiting mission priest stopped in after us for their dinner also. The bar reminded me of Cheers in that as people came in, they all seemed to have their regular seat, whether at the bar or at a table.

Sunday we went back to the cafe and had sticky buns while we shared a small “Yeah, you betcha” omelet. (The omelet was filled with hash browns, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, green peppers, and mushrooms and covered with melted cheese.)

So, small town, pleasant area, friendly people, well-maintained homes. I could live in a small town, Chris not so much.

Ed and Chris

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2015 Trip 3, Isle Royale, June 27

Little Marais, MN June 27

Tettegouche State Park was our primary destination today. A year ago they completed a brand new and expanded visitor center and rest stop on MN Highway 61. The large and attractive park name sign has yet to be installed; we normally take a picture of each park or location sign as a reminder of where pictures were taken. Today I took a picture of the glass door with the park name on it.

Baptism River at Tettagouche State Park in MN

Baptism River at Tettagouche State Park in MN

Tettegouche State Park is a combination of the previous Baptism River State Park (6000 acres of land) and an additional 3400 acres of land which had previously been the largest lumbering site on the North Shore and then a gentlemen’s club when the pine forests were all cut down. The name Tettegouche originated in the New Brunswick Canada origins of the owners of the lumber company. They replicated many of the French and Algonquin names of that area.

The hike along the cascades of the Baptism River

The hike along the cascades of the Baptism River

Along the Baptism River

Along the Baptism River

We hiked along the cascades trail. It was a glorious hike; birds were chirping, you could hear the sounds of the river just below, wildflowers continued to be blooming, and there was a slight breeze to complement the 70 degree temperature. Oh, I suppose the undergrowth along the trail could have been cut back a bit but that just added to the ambience.

one of many colorful spots along the trail

one of many colorful spots along the trail

We could have hiked more trails but we had decided to explore the area. In our travels up to the Finland Co-op Store, we had driven past the Finland Heritage Site. It was a cluster of buildings along the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. It seemed to be one of those little curiosities that we tend to check out, so we had decided to visit it after Tettegouche.

The Heritage Site is open Thursday through Sunday from 11-4 during the summer months. A couple of retired RVers from Minneapolis are the volunteer staff. The wife took us around the site. It was originally the homestead of a bachelor Finnish immigrant farmer who, when in his eighties, just disappeared one winter day, breakfast sitting on the table, and was never seen again.

Finnish bachelor farmer homestead

Finnish bachelor farmer homestead

When the property eventually reverted to the county due to non-payment of taxes, volunteers formed an organization to recognize the Finnish immigrant heritage of the area. The volunteers exhibited plenty of “Sisu”, a Finnish word meaning plenty of guts and determination under adversity.

The bachelor farmer’s house and property were the first buildings but they have added a one-room schoolhouse, a blacksmith shop, the state’s first forestry field building, a museum with informative displays, and a stage and food stands for the cultural events held there during the year. The town of Finland is still heavily Finnish, with several generations of families of the original immigrants still living here. The site is a pleasant means to spend a little time.

Wall mural on the Finland co-op

Wall mural on the Finland co-op

Lunch was at Our Place, a typical small town bar/restaurant with a northwoods ambience. Prices were a lot less expensive than the cities and we each had their pork bar-b-cue and potato salad for $6.50 each. A raspberry and a rhubarb shortcake for $2.50 each completed the meal. Everything was quite tasty.

We left and headed out to find George Crosby Manitou state park. This park is a wilderness park, meant for backpacking only. Their literature suggests day hikers use other parks. We thought we would at least check it out.

"St. Urho"

“St. Urho”

On our way to the park, we stopped and took a picture of the wood carving of St. Urho, patron saint of Finland. What, you never heard of St. Urho? Well, that is not unusual. St. Urho is actually a fiction, created by a Minnesotan in reaction to constant comments about St. Patrick of Ireland. Finland is over 80% Lutheran and does not recognize saints. But, they celebrate St. Urho around here just before St. Patrick’s Day.

Lupine near George Crosby Manitou State Park

Lupine near George Crosby Manitou State Park

Along the roads in this area, we have just seen an explosion of lupine, particularly purple in color. We thought maybe there was a concerted effort to plant them as an identifying mark of the area. But, no, it seems the lupine tend to grow in clusters when their seeds are disbursed. A few people locally seem to be getting tired of them.

As we were driving to Manitou State Park, the skies darkened and there was lightning off in the distance. The asphalt road ended and became gravel. Then the rains came. We reached the park and agreed we had no need to go hiking in the wilderness under these conditions. The Superior Hiking Trail runs through this park and we had talked to several hikers just minutes before the rains who still had 4-6 miles left to hike today.

Gravel roads were our companion for most of the ride back to Lakeside Cottages in Little Marais. A nap was our reward for our activities.

Before church, we had dinner again at the Northwoods Family Grille in Silver Bay. Good food; not artisanal, not organic, not small plates, not locally sourced, just good food in the old style. The bowl of chili was large enough to feed a family. Reminded me of my parents’ restaurant back in the 1960s.

We spent our last night at the “Nest”, our small cabin at Lakeside Cabins and Estates. The unit is comfy, plenty of hot water; they ingeniously arranged the space so there is room for a TV, small refrigerator, table, chair, kitchen dishes, etc.

Ed and Chris June 28

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