Le Sueur County

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.

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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

Christmas decoration road trips

I love road trips in December because of the vintage Christmas decorations in small-town Minnesota. This year I took two trips just to see the lights – the first heading west along Highway 12 to Dassel, then north to 55 back to the Twin Cities (though it was too dark for pictures for the journey back), and the second south on 35 to Owatonna, back to Faribault, and then west to Waterville and New Prague. These were my favorites from the adventures (along with a couple extra photos from shorter trips).

My new favorite scene is in Montgomery, a city that celebrates its Czech heritage. These 3-D Christmas trees are paired with a blue banner that says “Peace” and “Joy” in both English and Czech.

tree decoration with a banner that says Pokoj Radost

The town also has two other styles:

garland and an antique streetlight, and a wreath with three red candles

Its neighbor, Lonsdale, has many design variations on the Season’s Greetings lights.

three drawings on white oval lights surrounded by garland

Antique street lights share a pole with the regular city spirit banners in Delano:

Share the Road with Bicycles banner next to a streetlight hanging from garland

Owatonna’s Central Park has trees in each corner, including a picturesque spot across from the historic National Farmers’ Bank:

tall tree with a gold tinsel star, in front of the historic bank, and a lightpole with garland and a wreath

Snowflakes in Northfield:

blue Welcome to Northfield banner next to a white snowflake

Simple wreaths in North St. Paul:

wreath on the left side of a lamppost with two lights

New Prague has candle wreaths like many other towns, and this jeweler added its own tree:

wreath on a utility pole next to Marquardt Jewelers sign with a tree made from green light strings

Grocery stores are painting their windows in New Prague…

painted words The Simple Joy of Food with painted cookies

…and Farmington:

painting of two elves and a skating snowman

Garland crossing the intersections in Cannon Falls:

four garland strands at the street corners, meeting at a wreath in the middle

Cannon Falls also has wreaths on its lampposts – an effect that is somewhat muppet-like when viewed up close:

two light bulbs with dead bugs that look like eyes above a large narrow wreath that looks like an open mouth

Snowflakes on lampposts that look like candles in Faribault:

white snowflake decoration on a light pole wrapped with red tinsel

This was the second time I drove through Morristown and Waterville, and I have a hard time keeping their names straight. I can remember the “Morris” and “Water” but never remember which is a town and which is a ville, so I usually end up saying Morrisville and Watertown. I reached these two just as the last light was fading, and the snowflakes were blinking on in Morristown:

lighted snowflake on a pole in front of a business with lighted decorations in the windows

Shooting stars in Waterville:

lighted star decorations on both sides of a quiet street

Skinny wire in Medford:

candle and Christmas tree

A variety in Rockford, including curly trees I haven’t seen anywhere else:

lighted set of bells, reindeer, and curly tree one one side of a busy street

Darwin had the most shapes of one style of decoration – in this case, white wire.

white wire shapes - snowman, angel, bells, candle, shooting star, horn, wreath

Waverly has two styles, the white-wire along Highway 12…

Welcome to Waverly banner with a dove, and a bell

…and “tinsel” style on Main Street.

colorful tinsel - candle, white snowflake with blue lights, a triangle-shaped tree, and a three-tiered tree

Montrose wins my Most Variety Award for 2015. Many different banners and tinsel shapes along Highway 12, snowflakes on the south side of County Road 12…

Peace banner, Season's Greetings oval, white wire snowflake, tinsel candles, candy cane, and tree

…and my second-favorite of the season, these ornate vintage street lights on the north side of County 12.

red streetlight circled twice by garland, more swirled above, Happy Holidays sign hanging on bottom

Other small-town Christmas trips

Categories: Dakota County, Goodhue County, Le Sueur County, Ramsey County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County, Wright County | Leave a comment

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