Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Itasca State Park: The Headwaters

There's nothing more Minnesotan than walking across the Mighty Mississippi, am I right?;  (except perhaps purifying yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, but that's another thing entirely), so we simply HAD to do it while we were at Itasca.

Joe and I went to the Headwaters around noon on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.  We should have known that it would be crowded...and it was.

Look at all the people.  Okay, Disneyland it ain't, but it's also not the reflective experience we were hoping for.

Lots of people, lots of shouting and running kids, lots of dogs.  We hung out for a bit and then decided that we would do the unthinkable: wake up before dawn the next day and get there for sunrise.  We were hoping that there wouldn't be anyone else around and that we could get some good pictures in the early morning light.

We took one selfie off the little bridge before leaving.

The next morning - our first wedding anniversary!  We woke up at 6:30 and away we went.  We got to the headwaters and were greeted by a couple and their dogs.  We asked them to take our pictures - they did - and then they headed off.

Happy Headwaters!  We both look a bit sleepy.

After the couple and their dogs left, we had the headwaters to ourselves for about an hour.  Joe took lots of pictures, I waded around in the river, we joked around and had a fine time.  I know it's not for everyone, but in order to find solitude at this park on Labor Day weekend, we had to get up early.  It was great.


The first rapids on the Mississippi

Joe is pretty sure on his feet...
...and Michele is not.  Lots of arm-waving but at least there was no Split Rock-type experience.

All weekend long we had a running joke about "surely THIS is the source of the Mississippi", whenever we came across a tiny streamlet, rainwater puddle draining into a larger puddle, even when I was taking a shower.  Who knows if this rock bridge truly is the source of the Mighty Mississippi?  Well, if it is, we've walked across it and completed our very Minnesotan Quest.

Happy anniversary to us! 
And that's it, folks.  All good things...

We'll embark on many more adventures in the future, but I think we're going to close the book on the Witch of November blog.  Thank you for joining us on the journey!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

All Good Things...Itasca State Park: September 6th, 2015

We end at the beginning.

Itasca State Park was Minnesota's first State Park - and only the second one in the United States (Niagara Falls State Park came first).  It was created in 1891 to preserve and commemorate the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi.  Our friend Schoolcraft, that whimsical namer of places, determined that Lake Itasca was the true Headwaters in 1832.  There's been plenty of controversy about that (there are small streams in the watershed that drain INTO Itasca) but it'll probably always be Lake Itasca that people flock to in order to dip their feet into the beginning of the greatest river in the USA.

Itasca is worthy of several blog posts, especially since we spent several days there.  For this post we'll focus just on the Hiking Club Trail.

One more time!

The Hiking Club Trail in Itasca doesn't hit any of the Big Deal Sites in the park.  It follows a few woodsy trails just south of the tip of the East Arm of the lake: the Ozawindib Trail and the Deer Park Trail.  The trailhead was actually right next to the Douglas Lodge - which is where we stayed!  More about that in another post, too.

Dodging puddles

We were there for three nights, and I think it rained every single one of them.  At least the rain didn't start until the evenings...but it made for muddy trails.   That's alright, we're used to them by now.  It was fairly hilly but we're still in pretty good shape what with the 5k training.  Our glutes and quads were up for it.

Lovely Myrtle Lake

The trail passes by many smaller lakes of the park:  Myrtle Lake, Mary Lake, Allen Lake, Deer Park Lake.  It felt more deciduous-y than northwoods-y, and we didn't see that many animals.  Certainly none larger than a squirrel.  I suppose that's what happens when you have over 500,000 visitors a year trampling through the park.

Blue sky, sky tinted water.

To be honest, the Hiking Club trail was not the highlight of the trip.  It was kind of boring compared to the rest of the park.  But it was the last one!  Our Hiking Club Trail Quest had come to an end!


Upon completion of the trail, we hotfooted it on over to the Ranger Station to claim our prize.  We were done!  We didn't expect a ticker-tape parade or anything, but we kind of expected the Ranger to know what the Hiking Club was!  He didn't know much about it and told us that we would have to go the DNR Headquarters in St. Paul in order to get our final patches.


Luckily we live in the Cities, so on September 8th we took the light rail on over to the DNR HQ and took one last hike for the Hiking Club.  They were much more helpful there, and we emerged victorious.

We are the champions!

Total miles hiked at the park: 3.5 miles
Total miles hiked to the DNR Headquarters: 2
Total miles hiked in 2015: 45.7
Total ticks today: Joe - 0; Elly - 0; Thunderdog - 0
Total ticks in 2015: 9

Countdown to All Miles: 0 to go

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Schoolcraft State Park: August 17th, 2015

At just 141 acres, Schoolcraft State Park is another one of Minnesota's itty-bitty State Parks like Franz Jevne (118 acres), Kilen Woods (202 acres), and Carley (209 acres).  It is managed by the staff from the nearby Scenic State Park, but doesn't have any of its own programming.  That makes it a nice little park for quiet camping, chilling out, and enjoying the winding creek known as the Mississippi River.

The park was named after Henry Schoolcraft, an historian and geologist who researched and wrote about the headwaters of the Mississippi River as well as writing a six-volume set on the Native Americans of this part of the continent.  His wife, Jane Johnston Schoolcraft, was no slouch either.  She was half Ojibwe and half Scots-Irish, and was a writer of Ojibwe tales in English as well as novels, poetry, and folklore.  Henry Schoolcraft is also known as the person who gave many Michigan counties their names...faux Indian names.  They are mostly nonsense words that sounded "Indian-like" to his ear.  Lake Itasca itself is a faux Indian name that he concocted by combining the Latin words Veritas (truth) and Capit (head), meaning the true headwaters of the Mississippi.

Anyway, on to the park.

Joe gets a shot under the pines

Like McCarthy Beach and Scenic, this was another wonderful Northwoods Park.  Towering pines above and red needles on the path below, cool breezes off of the nearby water, and the feeling of being very much alone in the forest.  There are only two miles of hiking trails total in the park, and 1.8 of them are the Hiking Club trail.  There are some interpretive signs along the trail, which encircles pretty much the whole park.  The trail starts and ends at the Picnic Area - very easy to find.  In fact, you would have to try pretty hard to get lost in a 141 acre park.

Movin' right along, footloose and fancy free

Part of the trail follows the Old Grand Rapids Tote Road.  I wasn't able to find much information on that road, but my guess is that it was a mining/logging road that went from Grand Rapids (what a shock!) to this part of the Mississippi for sending goods downstream.  The Mississippi is slow and mellow here, right after the section in which it travels north for a while out of Lake Itasca.  This is mostly National Forest and State Forest land now, and the fishing here is excellent.

Lazy little Mississippi River

In addition to the Mississippi, the Vermillion River enters the park from the south and there are plenty of grassy backwaters to explore in a canoe.  I sure wouldn't mind coming back with a canoe or kayak and poking around for a day on the water.

Backwater and big sky

The trees along the Hiking Club Trail are amazing.  Towering old-growth pines that are believed to be over 300 years old and vibrant aspens, growing out of a bed of ferns.  Ferns ferns everywhere in this park.  Very peaceful.

Sun through the pines

I wouldn't mind coming back here with a canoe and spending a week or so exploring the waterways and the nearby areas of the Chippewa National Forest.  Leech Lake isn't that far away if you're interested in taking that big noisy motorboat out for a spin.  But here in Schoolcraft, you'll just that Northwoods Quiet that I love.

Joe likes it too!

This brings us almost to the end of our four-year-long Hiking Club Trail journey.  We have hiked 189.8 miles of Hiking Club Trails in 66 Minnesota State Parks (and many more miles on other trails).   We're going to visit the last park on Labor Day weekend and hope to have that post, and then a few wrap-up posts in the next couple of weeks.

And then there was one...

Total miles hiked today: 1.8 miles
Total miles hiked in 2015: 40.2
Total ticks today: Joe - 0; Elly - 0; Thunderdog - 0
Total ticks in 2015: 9

Countdown to All Miles: 3.5 to go