Friday, July 30, 2010

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore: Raspberry Island

Today Noelle and I finally got to the Apostle Islands. We took a cruise with my parents to Raspberry Island to tour the lighthouse there. Our boat left from Bayfield at 1:30 under mostly cloudy skies.

The ride was pretty smooth and we were docked on the island after about an hour.

The tour of the lighthouse was great; delivered by one of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable park rangers we've met.

We saw the rooms the family lived in and then went up into the tower and onto the catwalk which surrounded it.

Despite the gray sky we were treated to nice views of Lake Superior and some of the surrounding islands.

After the tour we made a quick hike to the beach, skipped a few stones, and then headed back to the dock to return to the mainland.

It was a brief trip, but a great one nonetheless. It started to rain pretty steadily as the boat made the return trip back to Bayfield. To finish off our great day we had dinner in Ashland at the South Shore Brewery and Deep Water Grille.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tall Ships Duluth 2010: The Grand Parade of Sail

Today Noelle, my mom, dad, and myself went down to the lake to check out the Grand Parade of Sail when the Tall Ships officially arrive and pass under the Aerial Lift Bridge. We started out watching from lake Place Park. The view there was good but a bit far from the action. We moved down to the rocks that line the beach near Canal Park and watched there for a while before finally crossing the Lift Bridge and watching from the small park on the other side of the canal. This is what we saw:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mom and Dad Come to Visit!

My mom and dad are in town so today we got to explore the Duluth vicinity a little bit. We drove over to Enger Park and walked up the tower and around the park. 
Then we drove Skyline Parkway west to Grand Avenue and drove into Jay Cooke State Park. Mom and dad enjoyed seeing the St. Louis River tumble over the rocks and after leaving the park we got lunch at the Cozy.

Then we went whitewater rafting on the St. Louis. It was an interesting experience.

Much different from any other rafting trips I'd been on before in that, there was no guide in the raft with us. Instead the guides instructed us from their kayaks. We went over six sets of rapids none of which was greater than class III. I was the pilot of the raft and it was a more difficult job than one might imagine.

After returning home from rafting we freshened up a bit for a Duluth Huskies game. It was my first time in Wade Stadium. I really like the charm of the old, WPA-built stadium.

We caught the end of the first game of a double header and watched most of the second before the Mankato Moon-Dogs started to really dominate.
It was a fun experience though and to top things off it happened to be dollar dog night!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

James J. Hill Home

Last night I awoke to the sound of howling coyotes. Shortly after they had stopped their yipping rain started falling. This morning would prove to be quite wet. I packed up my wet tent and enjoyed a surprisingly pleasant hike along Afton State Park's Hiking Club Trail in a light drizzle. A highlight of the hike was traveling through a restored prairie. There were lots of different prairie plants to inspect including big bluestem, coneflower, butterflyweed, and lead plant.

After my hike I headed west and back into St Paul for a tour of the James J. Hill Home. What a spectacular place! The surrounding neighborhood is really interesting, filled with big old homes from a past era. No McMansions here! I even found a pair of pleasant little parks filled with gardens, statues, and a fountain.

I had some time to kill before the historic site opened and so I walked downtown to get some breakfast.

When I returned for the tour of the home, I was really impressed. Hill filled his house with rich mahogany wood paneling, ornately carved woodwork, stained glass,
Stained Glass
an art gallery, 13 bathrooms, 22 fireplaces, and 16 crystal chandeliers.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fort Snelling

This morning I made the long drive down to the Twin Cities to explore the Fort Snelling area. My plans were to tour the fort, hike Pike's Island at Fort Snelling State Park, and then hike along the bike trail to Minnehaha Falls Park. I had great weather and was successful in accomplishing everything that I wanted to get done.

The fort itself was interesting, mostly a reconstruction of the original, but a few buildings still remain from old Fort Snelling. Probably the most interesting aspect of the tour was seeing a small group of "soldiers" march around in formation and fire their muskets.
Firing Muskets
Fort Snelling Soldier
From the fort I walked over to Fort Snelling State Park where I hiked a three mile loop on Pike's Island which like Pike's Peak is named after Zebulon Pike. The loop trail happened to be a Hiking Club Trail and so I was able to add three more miles to my total. The trail followed along the perimeter of the island and offered many views of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers including their confluence. There were many wildflowers found along the trail and I even saw some interesting birds including pileated woodpeckers, a wild turkey, and an egret. Not bad for a city park!

After my hike I returned to the fort, stashed some things in my car, and then followed a bicycle trail along the Mississippi River to Minnehaha Falls and a pleasant city park operated by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board.

Besides the falls there were manicured gardens, historic homes, and some statues of famous people. I also stopped for lunch at a nearby Dairy Queen before returning to Fort Snelling on another bike trail.

Finally, I drove to Afton State Park on the St. Croix River where I camped for the night in the backpacking campground. Travel to the campground required a short 3/4 mile hike and the campground itself was located on top of a grassy hill with some nice views in all directions.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Superior Hiking Trail: The "Lost Section"

This morning was so beautiful I knew I just had to get out and do some hiking. Originally I had intended to head up to Tettegouche State Park to hike the 9 mile loop in the guide book that Noelle and I own. However, as I drove north up the Scenic Highway I just had to stop and appreciate the scenery several times. I made a stop at Brighton Beach in Duluth and then at Stony Point outside of town. When I got back on the road I noticed a sign for the Superior Hiking Trail at the town of Knife River. This is a section of trail that is not well advertised by the SHTA, and I decided I wanted to take the opportunity to find out what surprises this section of trail might offer.

From the parking lot the trail immediately followed alongside the Knife River. The water was pretty high due to yesterday's thunderstorms and so I got a view of the First Falls that was much more impressive than when I had visited them just last week.

 From the First Falls the trail passed under the Highway 61 expressway. It was here that the trail wasn't quite obvious. I walked on the shoulder of the road and turned around before seeing a small SHT sign affixed to a wooden guardrail post.

On the other side of the highway the trail followed a grassy and wet path for a bit. Then I came to a trail intersection with a spur trail that led to an overlook. I decided to take the spur and was rewarded with a nice view of a serpentine bend in the Knife River.

I retraced my steps back to the main trail and soon crossed a gravel road. On the other side of the road the trail soon became more defined and showed evidence of much more use than the grassy one I had been following. I soon found myself on a section of trail I had hiked on before with Noelle, her mom and her Aunt Lisa. We had been back here to see the Second Falls back in March.

I passed the Second Falls and Coppeer Mine site and followed alongside the river for quite some time.

I found a nice place to stop along the river for lunch. It was a great lunch listening to the water cascade and my turkey with Swiss cheese and guacamole was delicious as was the nectarine I ate. After lunch the trail followed the river for a short distance before veering away and onto grassy, wet paths like the ones I had hiked earlier.

When I found myself at the eastern trail-head after 4.5 miles of hiking I decided to walk roads back to my car instead of walking the wet grass again. It was a good decision as I found a nice agate on the gravel road and also a deer skull and interesting caterpillar (actually an elm sawfly larvae).

It was also a much shorter way back to my car than following the trail back would have been.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crow Wing State Park

i woke up to beautiful blue skies this morning and cool temperatures; perfect conditions for hiking. In addition to the weather the biting insects were virtually non-existent. My hike started off following the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Fog rolled over the river and birds chirped as I made my way to the Mississippi's confluence with the Crow Wing River. Near the confluence lie the remains of the former town of Crow Wing and I enjoyed exploring and reading about the once bustling town. The only building left is the Beaulieu House, a Greek-Revival structure.

The rest of the hike followed the Mississippi into some thick, slightly buggy woods and looped back to the start. A pleasant hike of about 5 miles.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mille Lacs Lake Area

Today I headed off to a part of the Gopher State that I'd never been to before, the Mille Lacs Lake area. My first stop was Father Hennepin State Park which is located on the southeastern coast of the lake. The park there was pleasant and I enjoyed the short hike on the Hiking Club trail before moving on.

The next stop on my tour was the Mille Lacs Indian Museum. The museum here is excellent and well worth the admission fee. If you go, be sure to check out the Four Seasons Exhibit which is part guided tour, part life size diorama. There is also a trading post that interprets that aspect of reservation life and offers some Indian-made goods for sale.

The next stop was Mille Lacs-Kathio State Park. The park is interesting in that there are several archeological sites located in it. I enjoyed checking out these sites and reading the interpretive panels about them.
I did not, however, enjoy the copious deer flies. Despite the cloud of insects that followed me as I walked, I was able to hike the 3.2 mile long Hiking Club trail before moving on to Crow Wing State Park and my campsite for the night.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Itasca State Park

Noelle and I had days off together and so we headed west to Itasca State Park. It was my second visit but Noelle's first. Regardless, we got to see a lot of cool things together including the largest White Pine in Minnesota,

the sunset on Lake Itasca,

the Aiton Heights Fire Tower

with an amazing view from the top,

numerous small lakes,

and of course the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Unfortunately, due to one of the thickest infestations of deer flies We've ever experienced we were unable to do much hiking. It makes for a great excuse to return again in the fall though!