Author Archives: Crystal Colby Mulry

About Crystal Colby Mulry

Master naturalist who enjoys exploring Minnesota's outdoors, roadside attractions, history, and more.

Maplewood State Park

On our way out of Pelican Rapids on Sunday, we saw a sign that said Maplewood State Park was only six miles away. Even though the weather was gloomy and at times rainy and at times blustery, we jumped at the chance to see this park during its peak season.

cattails in the foreground, lots of orange trees around the edge

As a master naturalist, I loved seeing all the signs marking restored prairies planted in 2011, 2009, 2002, and 1999.

dark brown sign: Prairie Planted 2002, with colorful trees in the background

Our original plan was to simply take drive through the park on Park Drive. But when we saw the sign for the Hallaway Hill overlook, we parked the car and headed up the former ski hill. It’s only a 196-foot vertical climb, but the last part especially gets the blood pumping.

steep dirt path through bright red sumacs

At the top we learned that this park has a wealth of geological features: lakes, an island, kames, kettles, moraines, eskers, and even goat prairies (areas on the hillside that were thought to be too steep for anything but goats). Nice views of the woods and Lake Lida, even on a cloudy day.

two leafless trees in the foreground overlooking a line of sumacs at the edge of the hill, with a lake and island in the background

After descending, we walked out to the swimming beach, where there were actual (small) whitecaps

a picnic table on the sand, rough Lake Lida, and a colorful islet

and then got back in the car for the driving tour.

a paved road with trees lining both sides, mostly green, some yellow

We pulled over for this big tree.

large maple tree with wide-reaching branches with orange leaves

And pulled over again at this overlook on Field Lake.

prairie in the foreground, a lake with a couple trees on the close side, and lots of colorful trees on the far side

And then, just as we were thinking about wrapping up our visit, the clouds started to thin and the sun came out, just before sunset.

sun setting with grasses in the foreground, dramatic purple and blue clouds

And it set the trees on fire. See the difference one second made?

prairie grasses in the front, a straight row of trees, half green and half orange or yellow

same scene with sun shining on the trees

We walked back down the one-way road to the overlook to see the change:

Field Lake from a different angle, zoomed in, with sun lighting all the trees

For fall color, this is a good weekend to visit Maplewood State Park.

More information about Maplewood State Park

Full disclosure: Some of these photos were taken by my husband, since we were trading cameras during this trip.

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Categories: Otter Tail County | Tags: | Leave a comment

Capitol M

Many letter “M”s are scattered throughout the Minnesota State Capitol. Here are the ones I’ve found so far.

To the right of the front doors:

carved in stone above a door

On the ceiling in the House of Representatives Chamber:

stencil of a yellow M within the fancy, flowery hat above a small face

In a lunette:

script M painted on a black stone surrounded by olive branches

In the railing:

cipher surrounded by a circle in the middle of a fancy metal railing

Gold M in the Governor’s Reception Room…

small M surrounded by a sideways oval, then by three rectangles, each with lots of fancy embellishments

…and in the same room, a gold M in the curtain:

script gold cloth surrounded by a circle of gold oak leaves, surrounded by a rectangle of leaves, on a maroon velvet(?) curtain above a window

Is this an M in the fireplace grate behind the governor’s podium? I guess not quite.

two curls leaning together, like a script M but without the middle

The Star of the North in the rotunda…

looking down at the floor with a gold, 8-pointed star surrounded by 3 circles and a larger 8-pointed star

…is made up of M’s when turned to the side:

looking down again, from a couple feet over so there are two points up, two each to the left and right, and two points down; each point is the left half of an M AND the right half of another M

Zoomed in, you can see the big pink M, with the smaller gold M below:

close up to focus on the large M facing the correct way

In the four corners of former governor Arne Carlson’s portrait frame:

the University of Minnesota's M logo from the bottom left corner of the frame

More about the capitol

I helped build the MNHS capitol website, so I’m a little proud of that link.

Categories: Ramsey County | Leave a comment

I didn’t walk 125 miles

A year ago, I was excited about the Minnesota State Parks’ 125th anniversary challenge: to walk, bike, and/or boat 125 miles. I even thought that I’d walk 125 miles and bike an additional 125 miles.

But then life got busy. I took a weeklong master naturalist training, and my weekends after that were mostly consumed with volunteer environmental work after that. Plus we spent months on various house projects.

So I didn’t get all the way to 125, but I did get a little more than halfway there, including visiting several new-to-me state parks and trails. Here’s what happened:

Started out strong on April 3 at Afton State Park (4.1 miles hiking). Beautiful early spring day – in the 60s. Lots of people, still some snow at next-door Afton Alps, very little green.

dirt trail through bare deciduous trees with a couple scattered pines

the high point of the park, a brown grassy area with pines in the distance

April 10: Nerstrand Big Woods (4.5 very wet and muddy miles hiking). This was a hike with my friend Sara, and I think it was unfortunately too early in the season to be at this park. Even one week later would have been a lot drier. We saw the waterfall, then hiked back west and did the south loop – first time for me on that path, though I’ve been to this park several times.

path through bare trees, all mud with wet footprints

grassy, waterlogged path through bare trees

April 17: Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail (13 miles biking). Wildflower-lined path from Morristown to Waterville and back, with the sun coming into and out of the clouds the entire time…

at the side of a paved path through the woods, at cement mile marker post 30

up-close view of Dutchman's breeches wildflowers

sunlit paved path with farmland on the left and sumacs on the right

…with a stopover at Sakatah Lake State Park halfway through to get our state park passport stamped.

mostly-cloudy at the lake, with five ducks swimming away

May 14: Rice Lake State Park (2.6 miles hiking). The pictures make it look sunny and pleasant, but that’s deceptive because it was quite chilly – 42 degrees.

burr oak forest:

trail through the woods in full sun, lots of green leaves on trees and small plants

oak savanna:

foreground all bright-green grass, green trees in the background, mostly sunny blue sky

lake:

small sliver of lake in the distance, lots of brown cattails before that, tree branches framing the photo

May 29: Lake Bemidji (4.1 miles hiking along the lake, through the forest, and on the bog loop).

sign for the Bog Trail at the right, the unpaved path in the middle, with people walking away in the distance

lake on the left, beach on the right, cloudy and windy

I spent a week in mid-June at Lac qui Parle State Park for naturalist training – and amusingly enough, even though I was there for such a long time, I didn’t have time to hike. Big storms on the first day and the last day. (0 miles)

lake

I drove through the park to see what was there, though. Perhaps the park’s most well-known feature – besides the lake, obviously – is the huge 3D map, which is big enough that there’s an entire building to protect it.

mostly green relief map with a painted blue river flowing through it, under exposed beams of a large, open building

July 10: Biked the Douglas State Trail on the former Chicago Great Western Railway route between Pine Island and Douglas. Much of the trip was through a deciduous forest. It was a nice, sunny afternoon, which was fine in the shade, but in the countryside portion, it was pretty hot. (15 miles biking)

paved path through thick deciduous forest

cornfield on a partly cloudy day, with blooming milkweed and other wildflowers in the foreground

July 24: Drove through Itasca State Park two days after a huge storm (no hiking/biking, though).

view from the passenger seat on the road through a pine forest, with broken trees on both sides

September 5: Tried to bike the Gateway State Trail but accidentally ended up on the Brown’s Creek State Trail instead. The easy part was biking downhill into Stillwater, but then we had to bike uphill all the way back – and it was really humid. We spotted Minnesota’s oldest surviving stone arch bridge along the way. (12 miles biking)

the creek partly visible at the left with lots of grass and wildflowers on both sides, and a bridge at the right

an overlook showing a stone arch bridge, mostly obscured by vegetation

September 11: Actually made it to the Gateway State Trail and biked east all the way to the end of the paved portion. (8 miles biking).

paved path through the woods, with an unpaved horse path at the left, on a sunny day

paved path with forest on the left, a field and wildflowers on the right, bright blue sky

the trail intersects the highway, and though the trail continues on the other side, it's unpaved

November 13: Lake Maria State Park (5 miles hiking) on a solo walk after a stressful week of national politics. Nice reminder that the world is beautiful, and spring will come again someday.

dark blue, wavy Little Lake Mary

path through the woods, with most of the leaves on the ground

Even with the late push with longer bike trips in the fall, I only made it to 68.3 miles. Rockstar Sara of the Nerstrand adventure, though, completed all 125 miles, and all on foot! I’m looking forward to seeing new parks and trails in 2017, even without a mileage challenge to push me.

Categories: Beltrami County, Lac qui Parle County, Le Sueur County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County | Tags: | Leave a comment

Garland, wreaths, and snowflakes

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, it’s time to look back at my 2016 road trips to see the decorations in cities and towns across Minnesota. This year I didn’t make any special trips; I only visited when I was already going to an area – though admittedly I may have taken the long way once or twice. (Wait, this isn’t entirely true; the Isanti / Cambridge / Braham trip was just for fun. The other two trips, though were for other reasons.)

The themes this year: wreaths, garland, and snowflakes. That was all I saw on the lampposts, no matter which city.

Garland-wrapped lamp posts in Taylors Falls:

snow-covered Frostop drive-in with a lighted lamppost on the street in front

Henderson:

snow-covered garland on a lamp post, with a red Henderson season's greetings banner

and Chisago City:

sunny image of fake garland and white lightbulbs

Identical wreaths on all the buildings in Isanti:

Isanti Custom Meats with two large snow-covered wreaths

Revival building with one wreath with three white candles in the center

Wreaths in Cambridge:

wreath with a big red bow on the lamp post in front of Leader Department Store

and Jordan:

a row of three wreaths at the top of the lamp posts, with the lamp in the center

Snowflakes in…

Shafer:

lighted snowflake at dusk

Lindstrom:

sunny snowflake on the lamp post, with the coffee pot water tower in the background

Le Sueur:

snowflake on one side of the lamp post, red banner with three white snowflakes on the other

and Shakopee:

curly snowflake

The store windows and town squares were quite festive. It was really hard to take pictures without reflections from across the street, but I did my best.

Frandsen Bank & Trust in Braham:

reindeer and sleigh made of white lights

Floral shop in Jordan:

two large elves in one window, Santa in the other, snow falling and covering the decorated pots in front

Main Street in Le Sueur:

a Christmas tree in a storefront window, with garland bordering

Mrs. Claus and Mr. Claus on Main Street in Henderson:

painted images in the window, with another Santa sliding down a lamppost outside

Gazebos in Chisago City…

sunny photo of a gazebo with lights and two large candy canes

…and Braham:

garland circling the gazebo under the windows, icicle lights circling the roofline

Santa’s warming house in Belle Plaine:

a small red building with a North Pole mailbox

A nervous pig in the window of Isanti Retail Meats:

giant stuffed pink pig with a small green-and-red elf hat

Santa’s sleigh in the Cambridge State Bank:

red wire sleigh and three red wire conical trees in a window

…and the reindeer across the street at Herman’s Bakery and Deli:

two fancy white reindeer with curly antlers in one window, a white wiry tree in the window to the right

My favorite: a three-window painting of Santa and his sleigh in the windows of the Creamery Crossing cafe in Isanti. From right to left:

Santa…

Santa with a sack overflowing with presents in front of a gift-covered sleigh

…the reindeer…

two brown flying reindeer

…and Rudolph, who is – of course – a cow.

a flying white-and-black cow with a glowing red nose

 

Previous Christmas road trips

Categories: Chisago County, Isanti County, Le Sueur County, Scott County, Sibley County | Leave a comment

The Great Minnesota Get-Together, 2016 edition

Good gravy, how is the Minnesota State Fair already over? It’s not that the summer went too fast, it’s just that the end is always a surprise.

looking south at a sea of people near the Midway

It’s hard to imagine that there was ever a time – and it was not so long ago – that I hated the fair and refused to go. This year, not only did I go twice, but I even considered going another time, by myself.

demonstration with a raptor outside the DNR

My husband and I went on the second day but it was more or less a work trip, to do the history walking tour (which is co-sponsored by the Minnesota State Fair Foundation and my employer, the Minnesota Historical Society). We saw things like the J.V. Bailey House:

Stop 6, a yellow house on the fairgrounds

…and the horse barn:

Stop 3, built by the Works Progress Administration

More than an hour later, we had punched all 12 stops:

worn brochure lying on the ground

We went late in the afternoon and it got dark quickly; we saw the fireworks from the bus.

fireworks in the distance, framed by metal window sills

Our second trip was on the second-to-last day, with my sister and her husband.

people outside the entrance

Favorite foods:

blueberry coffee cake ice cream bar (bad photo from inside the Farmers Union building):

faintly purple ice cream on a stick

buffalo Minnekabob (horrible photo from inside the food building):

meat and onions on a stick, wrapped in aluminum foil

My sister had never tried Sweet Martha’s cookies (!!) so we had to remedy that:

a paper cone overflowing with chocolate chip cookies

Someone lost a cookie:

flattened cookie on the pavement

Other food tried by the four of us over two trips: blueberry malt from the Dairy Building (good as always), Minnesota corn dog (not my favorite), bang bang chicken (too spicy for my bland palate but everyone else thought this was wonderful), cheese curds (always delicious), crab fritters (tasty), fried ravioli (meh), deep fried olives (I didn’t try this), pineapple Dole Whip (good), apple dumpling (good), super stick of deep-fried pizza (I didn’t try this), and chicken parm sandwich (yum).

Other stuff

There’s much more to see and do besides eat, like visit the Minnesota Newspaper Museum:

Miehle Press machine

We were determined to participate in the Giant Sing-Along but got there during “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – which wasn’t a very inspiring pick, to be honest. We sing it at every baseball game! But we gamely (heh) sang along.

list of all the songs that rotate during the fair

The giant pumpkins:

two big bright orange pumpkins in front of a lighter orange pumpkin and a greenish pumpkin

Award-winning baked goods:

ethnic foods such as rosettes, lefse, krumkake, almond kringler, and more

Seed art:

monarch butterfly and black-eyed susans created from seeds

Lots and lots of people and animals – an attendance record, which doesn’t surprise me:

a woman walking a horse down a crowded street, with the Sky Flyer swings in the distance

Leftover items that didn’t get done from the 2015 visit – how did we do?

  • River Raft ride (didn’t come up this year)
  • Sing at the giant sing-along (yes)
  • Education building and the MNHS booth (yes)
  • Newspaper museum (yes)
  • Reptile show (no – think this one will be removed)
  • Dole Whip (yes)
  • Brown butter ice cream at Hamline dining hall (not available)
  • Key lime pie on a stick (no)
  • Puffcorn ice cream (not available)
  • Nitro ice cream (no)
  • Minnekabob (yes)

So, pretty good. See you at the fair next year.

exit gates with message - Thank you for visiting the Minnesota State Fairgrounds

More from the fair

Categories: Ramsey County | Leave a comment

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