prepping for RAGNAR

prepping for RAGNAR

HOO BOY only two more days til i leave for ragnar!

is it concerning when the thing i’m concerned the least about is the running? haha!

things i’m having weird anxiety about:

  1. injury (with good reason)
  2. dressing for my long run (39º predicted during it)
  3. thunderstorms thursday night

i find it odd that two of these are weather related. after last year’s weather, anything is welcome, let me tell you. i’ll take thunderstorms and cold over 99º heat indices.

anyway, now that i’ve got my anxieties out of the way, i went shopping today and picked up batteries, a book, some food (cheese, yogurt, coffee creamer, etc.). tomorrow i’ve got to pack! i’m also thinking about making some apple crisp.

things i’m looking forward to:

  1. setting up my hammock and lying in it with my new sleeping bag, reading a book
  2. volunteering on the course and cheering people on
  3. redeeming myself on my 4.5-miler
  4. leaving afterward and finding a place to get hot food
  5. a shower when i get home

i went on my last pre-ragnar run tonight, just two miles but at a sub-12 pace. time to treat my feet nice for the next couple days.




this evening i drove to st. john’s for a nighttime trail run, and i made my way down into the small valley where collegeville resides just as the sun was starting to dissipate into the horizon completely, casting a low shadow across the hills of trees. a few trees have already started to turn to autumn colors, but most still hold onto their green with starts of tingeing to yellow green, which will give way to complete yellow, red, brown, orange in the next month. seasons change, the sun tilts, whether or not i want it to give way to winter.

i remember the first time i realized that this was my space, the place i knew that i would probably like to be, for a while, at least. it was my first year at st. ben’s, and of course i had a couple classes at st. john’s and had to take the link (the bus) between the two campuses to get to class.

the ten minute ride on the bus went from st. joe onto hwy 75, which merged onto I-94, under the walking bridge, before taking the first exit and left onto the road that slipped into the woods to the st. john’s campus. most of the time, this was ideal time to catch up with a friend or classmate, or cram for a test, or finish your homework, or read a book. and it was a perfect time to stare out the window and watch the trees go by with a backpack on your lap and keeping worries at bay.

it was full fall. i was in the “stare out the window” mode, and when the link merged onto I-94, there was a sudden burst of color on the right as trees closed in on us, vibrant reds, punchy oranges, ethereal yellows going forever that beckoned one to walk in the woods and imagine a sense of weightlessness. i don’t know that i’ve had such a sense of groundedness in a place as i had at that moment.

i look forward to running through the woods in a few weeks when the leaves turn yellow. when fall comes, maybe you’ll go to the north shore; perhaps a trip through the minnesota river valley; or maybe a meander down the mississippi from hastings to winona. me? i’m content right where i am.

closing in

closing in

this weekend i went to wisconsin to check out locations for a cabin* shared with my sisters and to visit jenee. on the way back, i dropped in to st. croix state park.

when i started in april, there was snow on the ground, and on the drive through st. croix, the leaves were changing and starting to shove autumn right on in. i got stamp # 70  in my passport, another display that time has just slipped right on by this summer.

i have stopped at st. croix before on the way past.  there’s a section of the park that sustained some pretty severe wind damage in 2008. the last time i was there, i drove past and kind of poo-pooed the landscape because it wasn’t very appealing. but NOW i know: what’s really super interesting is that the wind damage started an unintentional restoration of a pine-barren oak savanna habitat, which is really rare in MN and other areas. wildlife and birds now have habitat opportunities that they haven’t seen since settlers came in and started plowing and restricting the wildfires that maintained the oak savanna. the oaks are kind of scrubby and there aren’t a lot of big, old-growth oaks, but they are here and there across a wide expanse that have no other trees. red-headed woodpeckers have reemerged in the state with this new old habitat.

the st. croix is a lovely part of the state, from stillwater up to duluth, all the state parks i’ve visited on the st croix have been especially nice.

just two parks left, which i will pick up in early october.

before then, you’ll hear from me on RAGNAR and also i’m heading to the black hills the first week of october (YAY).

*we decided on the minong area! now to save up enough for that down payment.

mn state parks: mn river valley

mn state parks: mn river valley

after a lazy-ish labor day weekend, i decided to get on the road and pick up a state park that was relatively close but i hadn’t gotten yet: minnesota river valley state recreation area.

this park is located to the southwest of the cities, between jordan and belle plaine. i headed out a little before noon and took the backroads down.

the MRV is on the minnesota river bottoms, so it’s very flat and very sediment right. it’s apparently also a great place for horseback riding.

i took a quick hike along the bottoms after i got my stamp just to see what it was all about. i was reading on the dnr site that often this park is flooded and only a few trails are open. you can see the evidence of the flooding all over the place! but the tall trees and the sparse ground was a perfect place to imagine imps and will-o-wisps and tree faeries frolicking about.

there was also a lot of evidence of horses! this is a good place for horse girls to come get their fix. i will also add that for a recreation area on a weirdly humid, chilly day, there were a lot of people around. i guess location is helpful, too, it being relatively close to the cities. on a sad note, it looks like they used to have a campground, but no longer. the campground part of the sign was painted over. i’m not sure if this is due to the flooding or lack of funds for the dnr.

after my short hike, i headed home by way of visiting jane. my labor day weekend didn’t seem quite so pathetic anymore! and i am one stamp closer to the end of my stamp book: just three parks left.

next weekend i’ll stop at st. croix on the way to wisconsin.

oh september

oh september

september is a lot like april. fickle, questionable weather abounds. it could be a humid 90º or it could be 30º and snowing. like april this year with its late snowstorm, i’m expecting september to pull out something odd from its hat.

i really like fall; i really do. once i get into the thick of it, it’s gorgeous and lovely and makes me want to dance around in the woods. but the sun’s movement toward the southern sky and the nighttime dark coming sooner and sooner in the day is just another indicator that winter is soon to come.

winter wouldn’t be so horrible if it didn’t last 6 months, or if it was a cheery, snow-covered landscape with the sun-twinkling flakes for its entirety. but a lot of the time, the landscape is dark and dingy with dead foliage strewn on the ground and barren trees, and just to make things worse, clouds crowd the skies and the sun is a rare treat. this is what autumn ushers in.

granted, if not for dirty snow and rock-hard dirt and below-zero temps, spring wouldn’t be quite the treat it is. i love sprummer, the three weeks in may and june that are so gorgeous and anomalous that you want to cry with relief and wonder. how could the outdoors, which was so awful looking for the past 6 months, be so wonderful all of a sudden?

i could be the average white girl, sucking down pumpkin coffees, going apple picking, hauling around pumpkins in my down vest and fancy boots. (granted, i do enjoy pumpkin coffees. and pumpkins). but really? i think autumn (and september) have been usurped. october, you’re coming in 2nd. i think my favorite month is now may.

(i might just have a thing for the transition seasons.)



in august i tried out dietbet, where you bet money against yourself to lose weight. the pot is split at the end among those who win. i worked like a crazy person to lose 8 lbs, and i did it! i won $12 on top of the initial $35, too!

that said, the dietbet has ended and i’ve been eating like a normal person again (for me, that means too much, generally *eyeroll for myself*). and so today i decided to bump up my training for ragnar, which is in THREE WEEKS.

this morning around 11:30 i went out for a 3-mile road run. it was humid out, my worst enemy, but i finished with a decentish time. then 7 hours later, i headed out to st. john’s for a trail run for 8 miles, which i smashed, considering how i’ve done on long trail runs recently.

thank goodness i’ve been able to eat food to support my running!

anyway, i kind of wanted to continue the dietbet because it’s a good motivator, but i need to take a break in september. i need to eat more than net 1300 calories a day to run well, and i can’t let my teammates down after last year!! but october’s coming, and i can probably try out another dietbet, just in time for the holidays!

speaking of ragnar, after last year’s awful 4 mile and debilitating ankle sprain that i ran all of the red loop on, i have been taking preventative measures out on the trail. both my knees are taped/braced up, and i wear a heavy duty brace on my right foot (problem foot to begin with). i’m also planning on going to PT for my that foot in hopes that it will get a little more resilient.


*i probably won’t, but it’s a nice thought.

this great state

this great state

i’ve got four state parks left to visit. i’m thinking about my thing i want to send to the startribune. here’s a start! please comment thoughts, edits, what i missed. i’m not satisfied with my conclusion. halp!

i started in april at lake maria in the middle of minnesota with snow on the ground and an ambitious summer planned. i finished up my visits to all minnesota state parks and recreation areas in september, stopping at st. croix on the way home from visiting a friend in wisconsin.

so many people get caught up in their pockets of home, work, favorite destinations. so many people talk about visiting other countries regularly, heading to a coast every spring break, living the winter months in the southwest US.

but you don’t hear a lot about people visiting different areas of minnesota, how varied and interesting our own state is. i traveled across most of the counties during my summer travels, sat in the four biomes the state boasts (pretty good for a non-mountainous state), found the place where three watersheds diverge, and drove through the highest points in the state and the lowest. i watched fireflies blink from the prairie in june in the southwest part of the state and the milky way spread across my vision during a moonless, clear night in august in the northeast. from lake bronson to beaver creek, blue mounds to grand portage, man does minnesota have a lot to offer.

minnesota offers 76 state parks and recreation areas in all parts of the state, offering outdoor activities for all residents. and we do like our parks: every year, more and more minnesotans use the parks. unfortunately, the state congress has been underfunding the parks system. like education, the parks system used to get a large chunk of its money from the state’s general fund and the rest from fees, licenses, etc. now, only a fifth of its budget comes from the general fund. other funding at this point includes the legacy amendment, lottery money, licenses, and fees. at the same time, the parks want to increase its system. people want more groomed trails and acres in their parks, more people use them, and even still, funding is cut.

this means that fees continue to increase and the DNR reduces funding to more of the smaller parks, especially in rural minnesota. last winter, cross-country ski trails at 20 parks went ungroomed. while volunteers are readily welcomed, to do so means that liability insurance needs to be increased.

cuts will start to be made, with 34 parks on the chopping block (including grand portage, the the one at the very tip of the arrowhead AND the final destination in the most beautiful part of the state, in my opinion). this means trails go ungroomed, so much so that they may no longer be trails. campgrounds may be closed for part or all of the season. those 34 parks, of course, are rural parks in sparsely populated areas with fewer regular visitors.

these, of course, are the parks most vital to seeing the state and encouraging residents to get outside.

while i will happily pay more for camping and for my annual permit, not everyone can afford to or wants to do so. and i would encourage all mn legislators to step up and upkeep the parks system that we should be so proud of, the one that is available to ALL minnesotans.

but what i really want to encourage is for all minnesotans, especially those in the metro, to visit more of the lesser-known parks. head up to grand portage and judge cr magney – stop at grand portage national monument and sit at the edge of north lake superior, where the hills are tall and tower above the low-level lake and the milky way is visible as soon as you look up at the night sky.

find the restored prairies and bison herd at blue mounds, where you’re so close to south dakota that the wind whispers across the tall grass, telling you to go west.

step onto the swinging bridge over beaver creek, where the water runs clear over polished stones and watercress green in the current.

follow the mississippi river from its source (itasca is the crown jewel of the state parks system), through lake bemidji, schoolcraft, savanna portage, crow wing, lindbergh, lake maria, fort snelling, frontenac, john latsch, great river bluffs.

learn about the rise and fall of late 19th-century towns as the railroad chose to bypass both crow wing and forestville.

step onto the white sand beaches of zippel bay, hearing the waves of lake of the woods breaking on the shore at night a half mile away in the campground because it’s so quiet.

learn about this great state we live in; the parks are so much more than recreation. you learn about the history, wildlife, ecology, geology, and environment that make minnesota what it is.

there is so much to see in this state we call home. the parks are possibly the best way to see the state, so get out and see it.

mn state parks: some from the SE

mn state parks: some from the SE

after liz’s birthday party today, jane and i headed out before 9 a.m. to pick up three parks on the way home. you’d think that i’d’ve picked up all the parks in southeast mn pretty quick, but it’s been a while since i’ve been down there. so first we headed to beaver creek valley.

beaver creek valley

this is a pleasant park! like many others, it wouldn’t be a destination, but i would stop if i were in the area. we checked out beaver creek, along with a disconcertingly wobbly bridge that went over it.

it was also limited to one person at a time to cross. good thing it was short.

we didnt’ spend a lot of time at the parks today, but this one was nice. beaver creek itself was so clear and full of watercress.

at this point, the air was soup. it was really gross today as far as humidity and temperature. pretty happy to be driving most of it. after beaver creek, we headed over to forestville/mystery cave.

forestville/mystery cave

this park, like crow wing, commemorates a time gone by. forestville was a bustling little town until 1910, when the railroad decided to bypass it. the mieghan store was the only general store in the county!

here the buildings still stand, unlike crow wing. the mn historical society runs the tours, and we didn’t have the time or cash on hand to take the tour, so we passed on the tour. i did pick up a book on the geographical and ecological interesting parts of mn, so after i read it i’ll give you an overview. so far i’ve only read four pages and it’s super interesting.

as for the cave side of this park, i took a field trip in gradeschool to the cave, so we’ll count it 🙂

lake louise

then we headed across southern mn into good old mower county to pick up lake louise, which is right down by leroy.

like east side lake in austin, this lake is manmade, a river dammed up to create some level of entertainment for the people who have no lakes. while i’m sure this park is nice for the people in mower county to have, there is nothing really interesting to me to return to this park. plus it was raining, so i hopped out, got my stamp and pic, and we took off.

myre-big island

we headed up MN56 to pick up I-90 right outside of austin, and after lamenting the fact that i should be a good relative and visit our peeps, jane smacked me upside the head and we got a move on. we headed to albert lea on lonely I-90, and stopped right before the I-90/I-35 intersection to pick up myre-big island.

this park was pretty interesting! we headed out across the big island (not really an island) and then the little island (also not really an island – possible causeway situations there i guess), then had a short gander at the actual lake.

this was a decent park, and i’ve always admired the parks that have stacks of canoes and paddleboards for people to take out.

now i’ve got FOUR PARKS LEFT. three down in southern MN still and st croix, which i’ll see in two weeks on the way to visit jenee. HOW EXCITING!

mn state parks: heading home from the NE corner

mn state parks: heading home from the NE corner

day three of this jaunt was always going to be a bear. i knew that going in, and even without counting for the 2-hour mine tour. i needed to get from the tip of NE mn to st. cloud – and pick up 5 parks along the way. turns out it wasn’t horrible, and it only took us 12 hours to get back to central mn!

no lollygagging that morning before breaking camp; we reheated leftover breakfast burrito/taco stuff and ate it quickly and using minimal stuff to wash. (i ate my taco over the dirt, which was good when it started dripping chorizo juice.)

we broke camp and got out of there a little after 8 a.m. and headed back down the coast. i told lori to stop for this shot or else i’d regret it.

i also wanted desparately to stop in grand marais and get the fog over the marina, but i spared us the cluster of driving in that area and kept the thought to myself.

we stopped in tofte again to fill up the gas tank and then headed up hwy 1 toward ely. time for MOOSE WATCH. it was morning and we were driving through some boggy areas. i was hoping to see some moose flinging its head up out of a marsh, but no such luck.

drove through ely looking for pasties (the food), but had the same sort of luck as moose watch. we did find a frozen pasty at the local grocer, but we didn’t’ have a microwave. instead we snacked at our first park.

bear head lake state park

this park was a local spot for people to swim and kayak, but it did have a GREAT trail center. there was a great ski-lodge-like building for hikers to rest with a giant firepit right outside circled with adirondack chairs. and guess what. there was a microwave in the trail center. *eye roll*

there were also a lot of trees down due to a wind storm in late july – local utilities peeps were working on clearing out some of the downed trees and branches on the road into the park. we didn’t spend a lot of time at this park, but i managed to eat a donut and lori finished up the chips leftover from the night before. we headed out to get to our scheduled 12:30 tour at the soudan mine.

lake vermillion/soudan mine

i made reservations for the mine tour at 12:30 and instructions said to show up a half hour beforehand. we made it RIGHT at noon. good job us. checked in, checked out the outdoor above-ground mine operation they had going on for a while, and then the items of interest indoors.

at 12:30, we met our tour guide and he started a 10-minute video on the mine. at which point i realized – DRAMAMINE. we’d be shuttling down a half mile in a rocking elevator and then sitting in a train for a while. oh lord. i didn’t need a repeat of HP world. so i ran (literally) back to the car, took my pill, and ran back just in time for the end of the video.

(lori and me modeling our miners hats.)

we shuttled down in the metal elevator that has a pretty awesome apparatus for getting up and down the mine shafts. there are two, and the weight of each brings the other up or down.

then we headed through the mine for a tour, learned about the horrible working conditions, and watched out for ghosts and bats. we saw neither, but that’s ok by me. i am severely glad i took the dramamine.

so it turns out that the iron in this mine is really good, pure stuff. which means it’s a little difficult to mine, but it’s an awesome percentage of iron. so i wondered why they closed the mine. well, with the advent of bottled air, getting iron out of taconite ore is a lot more cost effective than mining the much purer iron ore in this one. so now we get to take tours of the mines instead of mining the mines.

after our tour, we stopped in tower at another last-minute eating decision. we ended up getting some appetizers and then ice cream afterward. good food decision!

now it was time to book it down the state.

mccarthy beach

mccarthy beach was in a weird spot. i was going to pick it up a month ago on my week-long jaunt way up north, but it was just too much out of the way. so we had to pick it up now, and it was still weirdly out of the way. but what a nice park it was! the ranger pointed us to a short trail that ended up going to a small, peaceful lake.

it was in the middle of prime “up north” lake country, and it was a nice park that would be a great place to stop if nearby.

THEN. then.

google maps (lori haha) led us astray. google told us that we could continue on the minimum maintenance road and it would lead us back to our road, instead of going back the way we came (maybe 1/8 mile). well, after a mile of harrowingly driving through rocks, divots, potholes, mud, over small steep hills i feared i would get stuck on, we finally came out the other side. (this was about 3 hours after i told lori about my anxiety dreams involving driving up steep hills that i can’t get up. while we were driving over the minefield of this road, i exclaimed “this is my worst nightmare come true!” then maybe 45 miles down the road she started laughing and said “i just got the nightmare thing!”) well, we made it at least.

savanna portage

i was driving along when the dramamine finally hit me, so lori drove to savanna portage while i took a road nap, where we checked out part of the portages that the frenchmen used to transport beaver furs. we also predicted that we stood on the spot where the three watersheds in minnesota meet!

(portage trails. perhaps this is where a frenchman stood!!)

and that was it for planned parks. we headed down 210 to hook up to 371 in brainerd and were driving through ironton when i saw the sign for cuyuna, which i HADN’T visited yet. i was like, how far off the beaten path is that? after a 1-block navigational consultation with google maps, it was 3 MINUTES away. i asked lori if i could go check it out. it would be silly not to.

cuyuna country

so we headed to cuyuna, which is pretty much dedicated to mountain bikers. i wouldn’t mind loading up my bike sometime and checking out some of the tamer paths. there were no maps, unfortunately, and after looking and looking, NO STAMP. what on earth. no self service, no nothing. i took a pic with my passport in front of the lake just to show i was there and i was going to tweet the dnr to see what the deal was.

then lori saved the day! (and redeemed herself for taking me down the nightmare road.) she checked out the park map online and the ranger station was actually 5 blocks away in town.

(typical scene of me trying to figure out the stamp.)


then we booked it! over to brainerd then 371 to 10 and the backroads to avon. i think we actually rolled in around 8:30. lori headed out as soon as she could, and i lamented not taking the next day off work. (especially the next morning when my alarm went off.)


we visited EIGHTEEN parks this trip. so far i’ve visited 64 parks total. only eight more until my passport is full: beaver creek valley, forestville/mystery cave, lake louise, myre big island, rice lake, sakatah lake, minnesota valley, and st. croix. i’ll pick up a few of those next weekend after liz’s party, and when i visit jenee in september i’ll stop at st. croix.


also, i want to point out that the purpose of getting the passport and visiting the parks wasn’t necessarily to spend a lot of time at them. that’s why i’m picking up so many at a time. the point is to figure out which ones i want to go back to and actually spend time at. or which ones i’d stop at again if i’m in a particular area but wouldn’t make a destination of it.

i’ve already talked to my mom about visiting itasca next year and spending time there. i’d also like to stay at jay cooke again and visit grand marais. this has been a fantastic way to see the state.

mn state parks: the north shore!

mn state parks: the north shore!

now we’re getting into the meat of this! here’s the nice thing about hitting state parks on the north shore: they are all on the same road (for the most par) and one right after another. none of this zigzagging through the flats of nothing to get to a park. that sounds like i resent the remoteness of some of the parks, but i get why they’re all over the place. but still. NW mn is pretty sparse.

after an EXCELLENT breakfast of breakfast burrito/tacos and washing the dishes with my face soap, we packed up the tent, which now has a broken bag and we just shoved into the trunk willy nilly, and headed out on 210 toward duluth and the lake.

210. let me just tell you that 210 is the way to go. that’s a nifty little drive. we got to duluth and could barely see the lake because it was so smoggy. it was a little eerie – the lake just sort of blended into the sky, both of which were just smog ridden.

once we got past duluth, two harbors was only 20 minutes away, and we chose the scenic route instead of the expressway.

made a pitstop at betty’s pies for some deliciousness, daring to make a left turn on the busy highway (both in and out!)

(lori got maple walnut and i got blackberry peach.)


first stop was gooseberry, which was, predictably, packed. i understand that it’s right there on the highway and some pretty impressive falls, but i say that jay cooke was more interesting. but, that’s just me.

we checked out the gift shop for some tums (no go) and then took a stroll down to the falls, then hiking across the river and up the other side before heading across the bridge.

i love the clear water and rocky bottoms of the rivers and lakes up here.

we left gooseberry, giving ourselves a pat on the back for getting there relatively early; the parking lot filled up and cars were lining the road.

split rock lighthouse

so many of the photos of the lighthouse i’d seen were from the beach below. lori and i decided to pony up the $10 to take a tour of the lighthouse!

i made lori take a pic with one of the historical society dudes dressed in olde timey lighthouse garb. we went to the top of the lighthouse (30 steps), took a look around, came back down. we lamented the fact that there were people who were standing in the great photo-taking spots.

turns out she is as people-averse as i am! get outta my way peeps!

there was a caretaker’s home and a pretty good museum at split rock. we learned about SHIPWRECKS!! on lake superior and how the lighthouse came to be. then we thought about heading down to the beach to check out the lighthouse from the shore, but i stopped and said “WAIT. we probably have lots of chances to check out the lake from a shore. perhaps we should kick into quick mode a bit, since we spent a lot of time at gooseberry and now here.” we still had quite a few parks to get to.

(still smoggy.)

lori thought that sounded like a decent idea, so we said farewell to the lighthouse and headed to tettegouche.


i’m sorry to say that we did not spend a lot of time here. tettegouche was PACKED (not what we wanted to see). lori dropped me off at the door so i could run in and get my stamp and a map.

i was walking out of the ranger station when i noticed crosby-manitou shirts, which made me panic – what if i got there and there was no stamp? so i asked the ranger that question. AND WE GOT A MISSION FROM THE DNR.

the ranger said he’d heard the stamp was missing, so were we going there right then? i said yes, after this we were headed up there. HE ENTRUSTED ME WITH THE STAMP and we headed to crosby-manitou on official MN DNR business!

(how exciting.)


this one is slightly off the beaten path, but for a park that’s in the middle of a bunch of gravel roads, it sure was busy. the SHT runs through it, so there were a lot of day hikers parked there, i bet. lori and i took a short hike down a trail, and she hopped off into the woods to take a pee in the park (that’s her long-term goal – pee in all the state parks).

a group of hikers was coming in just as i exited the rustic toilet (hole in the ground – i ain’t afraid of ’em), so i asked how it was going. it was a hot, humid day, and they were averaging 6 miles a day. there were a lot of them though, and hiking as a group has got to be a little time consuming.

(looks like the SHT signage could use an update.)

i wouldn’t mind hiking the SHT but man it seems like a lot of work. anyway, at crosby, we dropped off the stamp. the ranger was right – there was no stamp there. i am so glad i asked, otherwise i would’ve had to either backtrack or hope the next park had a stamp. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

temperance river

temperance snuck up on us but was no secret – there was a pull-off on the side of the road for those with no park stickers to check out the gorge.

(ugh. i need to calibrate my lens on this new camera. this focus is ridiculous.)

since we had a sticker, we parked in the lot available and took the short hike to the gorge to check it out. it’s pretty impressive what water can do to a landscape. as always, mother nature wins.

at this point, it was almost mid afternoon and it’d been a while since we’d packed away the pies. in typical fashion so far this outing, we decided on food at the last minute and swerved into coho cafe in tofte. neither of us were particularly hungry until the food came, which we wolfed down. we both had a coffee to keep us up later (well, to keep lori up past 9).

a note here to talk about food on my camping trips. i always have grand plans to cook on a campsite when i head out, but when it comes down to it, i end up stopping to pick up a sandwich or fries or something. so that’s why we’re eating at places like crazy mary’s!

cascade river

cascade river was actually pretty cool. there are multiple cascades as the river descends to the lake. we took a hike up to check out the cascades.

super cool! the water is tinted brown from all the ore that’s in it. this park has five waterfalls and i get three in the pic! i have to work on my settings to make the water look more “flowy”.

at this point, it was time to book it because we had to get up to the border and then back. we drove through grand marais, which looked like the perfect oceanside hamlet with its marina and the still-foggy/smoggy lake smoothing out the waves. i want to come back the grand marais sometime to spend some time there.

as we got farther north, the land got a little more rugged (volcanic action), with more peaks and high points in the state.

then it was time for a national interlude….

grand portage national monument

to complement my pipestone stop, we stopped at grand portage to check it out. unfortunately, we got there JUST as the building closed, but we were still able to walk the grounds and learn about the grand portage. grand portage bay is beautiful! and a perfect spot for the canoeing frenchmen to make their landing.

what a gorgeous area! it was pretty quiet this far north, and we were on the reservation, so there were minimal urban areas.

i’d like to come back when the information center is open.

…and we still had some more of minnesota to check out! we drove as far as we could before the canadians needed to turn us away (lori said she didn’t know she needed to bring her passport; i don’t even have passport).

grand portage state park

this state park is combined with the welcome to minnesota and the US rest area. there is no camping, but there is a historical marker for the state!

(hello canada!) (again!)

we needed to backtrack, so we waved farewell to our northern neighbors and the gorgeous scenery and headed to judge cr magney park where our site was.

judge c.r. magney

this park houses the disappearing river! lori thought i was making it up, but at devils’ kettle falls, half of a waterfall disappears into a giant pothole. unfortunately, it’s a 2-hour hike to see it (and rugged, so says the info on the map), and it was already close to sunset when we got our tent up. so instead we had a fire, took showers (omg, it was warm, too, unlike brrrrmidji lake park), and then lori took a hammock nap to prepare for star pics. unfortunately, i didn’t take any pics of magney. but that evening, we headed out to look at the stars

the stars

when i made reservations for the north shore, part of my intent was to make sure i could get some decent astrophotography in. because light pollution is so bad down here, it’s hard to get decent star pics. and really, to see the stars in general. so the days i picked had a new moon that wouldn’t rise until early morning. i also made sure the park we were at wasn’t close to any of the little towns, and from there, i just prayed for clear skies. (i even had a backup date in case of bad weather).

THANKFULLY, the stars (ahem) aligned. the breeze even picked up in the afternoon and cleared out some of the smog. (some was still sitting low on the lake.) i think if there had been no smog, we’d’ve seen stars all the way to the lake, which would’ve been cool.

it was still pretty awesome. we left camp about 10:15 and headed to a little beach about a mile down the road (i had even scoped that out beforehand). we got out of the car and instantly could see the milky way. it was so spectacular.

holy moly, i am in love with these. i’d never seen mars so red in the sky! on top of the clear skies, no light pollution, and no moon, there was the perseid meteor showers going on!

i don’t know if it could’ve gotten much better. well, i guess i could’ve moved my gear down the beach and lined up the milky way with the trees on the beach, but i was so enthralled i didn’t even care.

a book recommendation to you: paul bogard’s the end of night which talks about how light pollution is not great for people and how it’s ruining scenes like this.

and the longer we stayed out in the dark, the more stars we could see. i think i read in the bogard book that it takes a full three hours for our eyes to completely adjust to the dark, at which point we would be able to see a ton more in the sky. lori, who said she’d come to look at stars but wasn’t as enthused as i was, set up shop in her sleeping bag on the beach. when we left, she said she could’ve stayed out all night.



we headed back to camp to catch some ZZZs before heading out on the long day the next day. the last day included a mine tour and driving from the NE tip of the state back to st. cloud. whew!