Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Banning State Park: June 2, 2012

I love Banning State Park.  Joe had never been there, so it seemed like an obvious one to add to our Summer List.  Problem: the park is in Sandstone, which is almost perfectly equidistant between my house and his.  How to visit the park without one or both of us having to drive a super-long way?

Well, after our Keweenah Adventure, Joe hung out through the week.  Perfect!  We would both drive to Sandstone, and then he would drive home and I would drive home.  We each would drive about 3 hours total.  It's worth it for Banning, Park of Wonders...right?

Well.  Like the rest of Minnesota, Sandstone has had a lot of rain in the last month.  And, for a park whose main feature is a river (the Kettle River) and river-related features (potholes, ruins, rapids, rock formations)...the river-related features kind of got overrun by the river.  The potholes were underwater, as were several sections of the river (Blueberry Slide, etc.) and the campground.  The path to the train bridge (a highlight I really wanted to share with Joe) lead straight down to the river, where it simply disappeared into the water.  It was clear that the trails had not been groomed in quite a while - far too muddy to bring any equipment in, I guessed. 

Grassy path of grassiness and muddiness

We completed the Hiking Club trail, but I have to say that I wasn't that impressed with it.  From my experiences at other parks, it seems to me that the Hiking Club trails are "the one trial to see", the one that gives a good representation of the park's offerings.  Well, this Hiking Club trail was a lot of woods and grass - especially at first.  I know for a fact that this park has much more to offer than a grassy walk in the woods.  Joe was not impressed (especially after hearing me talk up Banning's awesomeness for so long).

Can't deny it though: the water was very impressive.

We veered off of the Hiking Club trail after getting the password (don't worry, we finished up the trail later) and headed down towards the waters edge.  I really wanted to show him the train bridge, but the path was completely washed out.  We found Wolf Falls, which was worth the walk.  Very picturesque...a good place to sit and have an apple and some water.

These falls are from Wolf Creek, not the Kettle River. 

We were unable to see the potholes, which was a huge bummer.  They're about six feet across and ten feet deep, with openings at the bottom out of which people can escape if they're brave enough to jump in.  We did find the ruins, though.  Joe is a fan of industrial ruins, so he had some fun poking around in them.  Of course, some were flooded and we couldn't do too much exploring.

Hey baby, do you like my ruin?

We tried to find the potholes, and instead wound up at the boat launch.  Completely underwater, and (as far as I understood) off limits.  The DNR declared several rivers in Minnesota off limits due to the high water level - I was pretty sure that Kettle was one of them.  But guess what we saw:

Look ma!  No brains!

A pair of insane kayakers pushed off the boat dock while we were hovering in the bushes nearby, not believing what we were seeing.  Did they have some sort of suicide pact?  We wished them well as they merrily paddled into the rapids.  Crazy kayakers.

Not to be deterred by something as silly as an underwater path, Joe had plans to get to that darn train bridge.  We got into his car and DROVE to the small city park right below it.  Then we walked to the base of the bridge and scrambled up a very steep and rocky slide to get to it.  It's an active train bridge, and I was a bit nervous given our history with hanging out on train tracks.  I think I asked, "DO YOU HEAR A TRAIN???" about ten times while we were up there.

Joe picking up taconite pellets...what a beautiful day

We threw taconite pellets and rocks over the side and enjoyed the sun and breeze.  It was a picture-perfect early June day for a hike and some trespassing.

The thought of descending down the steep, rocky hill to the car made me feel kind of ill, so we followed the train tracks into Sandstone and looped around to where we had parked the car.  All in all, it was a crazy, disjointed, Plan B-filled day of hiking in Banning.  Someday I'd love to come back and see the potholes...but we'll wait for the water to recede a bit first.

One last thing: while we were at the bridge, we saw two kayakers come by.  Could they be the same two we saw upstream?  We're pretty sure that they were...thank goodness.  It's nice to know that they survived. 

Sometimes good company and fresh air is all that you need. 
Total miles hiked today:  We were all over the place...educated guess, 5 miles

Total miles hiked (in 2012): 45.8
Total ticks today:  Joe - 1; Thunderdog - n/a;  Elly - 0
Total ticks (in 2012): 45

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