Saturday, April 10, 2010
Banning State Park
We knew today was going to be another beautiful spring day in northern Minnesota and so last night Noelle implored me to think of a destination for some exploration. I thought that a trip south on I-35 to Banning State Park in Sandstone and a side trip to the Geology Museum at Moose Lake State park sounded like a nice diversion.
This morning we woke up, ate breakfast, and readied the Civic for the dog by placing a blanket across the back seat. The drive on the interstate went fast and before we knew it we were in Moose Lake. The geology museum there is small, but it offers some really amazing specimens of Lake Superior Agates. We spent about 20 minutes checking out the museum while Parker waited in the car and then we headed further south to Banning.
Banning was one of those places that we didn't know much about. I had no idea what to expect but the park exceeded my expectations. We hiked a combination of the Hiking Club hike and the loop described in our 50 Hikes in Minnesota book. It turned out to be one of the most interesting hikes we've been on so far in Minnesota.
The hike started at a boat landing and paralleled the Kettle River past some nice little riffles and small rapids. We stopped at a nice little overlook and then retraced our steps to the MCC Trail. The MCC Trail ascended a small bluff where it intersected the Quarry Loop Trail. We quickly entered an old quarry on an old rail line where the hike got really interesting.
The walk through the quarry offered views of steep sandstone walls. Huge slabs of sandstone and little piles of small rocks called spall littered the forest floor. Soon we made our way to a trail intersection where we followed a really rough trail to the Hell's Gate rapids, said to be the toughest set of rapids in Minnesota. We stopped on a nice flat slab of sandstone to rest and eat a snack.
After lounging in the sun and eating our granola bars we retraced our steps to the trail junction. We got back on the Quarry Loop Trail and were soon treated to views of some relics of the quarry operation. We saw the ruins of the power house, the old stone crusher building and some old metal rings attached to the rock.
Shortly after viewing the ruins we were back at the car. We decided to drive to a short quarter mile hike to what was labeled as Big Spring Falls on the park map. The hike was easy and the falls were pretty impressive. They reminded me of a mini-version of Sandstone Falls in the New River Gorge in West Virginia.