The March Update
March is…an interesting time to be outside in Minnesota State Parks.
It is that magical time of the year when one day you find yourself dabbling with shorts and standing outside in the sun. The next day, you’re firing up the snowblower because of a freak snow storm. A month of transition, with highs, lows, and all of the things. Stretches of dreary, emotionless skies and blissfully pure blue days with epic sunsets. The lakes thaw in earnest, and the fields lose their topsoil to temporary lakes and rivers.
Never has it been a time of the year I’ve advocated for outdoor adventure. Unless I was on a different continent. Except this time around the sun, I’m chasing my State Park Passport and Hiking Club Project dreams. If I were to wait till everything was perfect outside, I might never complete it.
March became the official start of the project. Though I had visited some parks along the North Shore in January, I did not count them. For a variety of reasons.
#1: I wasn’t sure yet I would go after this project.
#2: I wasn’t sure what it would be like to undertake a road trip like this in my own state. It felt like I should be more than a handful of hours away for home to necessitate car camping techniques.
#3: It’s the MIDDLE OF WINTER! I don’t own snowshoes and half of the project is to hike all of the hikes. When you see the mileage count later, I’m glad I didn’t yet challenge myself to trying these all in the snow.
With such a unique season such as March Mudness, I knew it was the time to get out. Part of this artistic and physical experiment is to witness Minnesota in ways I never had before. Not just cold. Not just wet. But cold and wet. However, many things happen during spring that do not occur at any other time.
Coming from Grand Meadow, the closest park is also the park I’ve visited the most. Lake Louise State Park. Once a former city park (a subject I hope to cover in a future post), it was donated to the state and now is the starting point for the Shooting Star Trail. A bike trail, that once completed, will run from Le Roy to Austin. Every year I go down to check it out and every year it has not been finished. I’m glad I’m not holding my breath.
I’ll go into more detail about this park in Lake Louise’s specific post, but the beginnings were wrought with dubious peril. I stepped knee deep into a ditch full of water, soaking my shoes before even entering the park. Once at the park, I realized I had forgotten the Passport itself, the namesake of the project! The road to the parking lot was full of snow and impassable for my little Mazda 3 (I’ve never gotten stuck but that’s because you have to know your weaknesses). I stopped the car so many times before arriving that I only had an hour and a half to walk around. No worries, with the bridge inaccessible due to flooding, I couldn’t get to many parts of the park anyways.
Refusing to Learn
That harrowing experience was not enough to keep me from continuing. I returned home to warmth and my computer, to edit and schedule the upcoming week. I had to wheel and deal my time, and the two weeks I had set aside to visit the Southeast quadrant of the state was dwindling. Instead of a trip over to Myre-Big Island SP, I had to push north to Rice Lake SP, skip Nerstrand SP, then run to Minneapolis to make a last minute delivery. Upon arriving, the homeowners dog had just swallowed turkey bones and I was invited to stay for brilliantly crafted, homemade grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.
The next day I headed to Wisconsin…to take the scenic route down to Frontenac State Park. I was there for sunset and returned for sunrise the next morning. Made my way down to John A. Latsch, the smallest State Park I’ve experienced so far. I had been told or read in 2014, that Father Hennepin was the smallest but I would venture a challenge here. If anything, a challenge to my poor memory. I uploaded and worked on photos at Island City Brewing Company in Winona and enjoyed some fantastic vanilla something or other.
Continuing on, I drove through Altura and while looking for an angle on their water tower, had a strange feeling I was in a bit of a ghost town. I drove up through Elba to get coffee and had a moment of deja vu. I had been here before. Literally, I had photographed a wedding at the church on the main intersection. I remember it because just before we started that day my heart had gone crazy with pain as if it was being stabbed from the inside. It’s ok, I was and still appear to be fine. The rest of the day was spent wandering around Whitewater State Park, then jumping up to Carley SP before ending the day climbing as far as I could in the Elba Firetower. If only they would have unlocked the door! The view from six feet further up promised to be epic.
I hadn’t realized how quickly I would be able to make time in the parks, hiking, shooting and driving. They really aren’t all that far away from each other, especially here in Southern MN. The next day I slept in till after sunrise, and waited while the car warmed up and melted the ice from the inside of my windshield. I had spent the night watching the stars on the bumper and had a very, very strange experience. The sun was out and beautiful for my drive to Great River Bluffs SP. Again, I had a moment of “Holy crap I’ve been here!” as I remembered the gravel turn into the park. On my way home one day from college many years ago, I had tried a move from ‘Cars’ where you turn the wheel against the turn or some such thing. I spun out into the ditch. After picking up the pieces that had come off, I backed up, and drove onto the road and back home. No problem! After my trip down memory lane, it was off to Beaver Creek Valley SP. I would return to Forestville SP a few days later for an afternoon stroll.
Having had so much success in such a short amount of time, I opted to return home and assess the venture. The rest of March was spoken for, so I will have to wait until April before getting any more stamps in the passport.
Miles Hiked: 43.2 (as tracked by iPhone)
Parks Visited: 9
- Lake Louise
- Rice Lake
- John A. Latsch
- Great River Bluffs
- Beaver Creek Valley
- Forestville/Mystery Cave
- Bald Eagles
- Two Raccoons
- White Tailed Deer
- Red Squirrels
- Blue Jay
- Red Wing Blackbird
- Trumpeter Swans
- So Many Birds I Don’t Know
Number of Parks Remaining: 67
- Maple Syrup Interpretive Program
- Mississippi River views from bluff tops
- Winter melt off that changes the landscape
- Fresh air
- Driving through the Driftless Zone