Rice 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. 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.

bur 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


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

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, Le Sueur County, Rice County, Steele County, Washington County | Tags: | 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

Minnesota state parks in springtime

I’m always on the lookout for wildflowers, so at the first sign of spring, we headed out to four parks to see what we could find.


Wild River

I had a day off in early April and headed an hour north of the Twin Cities to Wild River State Park by myself. It was too early for wildflowers! But there were very clear views of the river and woods since none of the vegetation had grown in yet. It was a great day for a solo walk; I saw only one pair of runners during this 1.5-hour visit.

Paved path

Quiet path through the woods.

Looking across the river

Down by the St. Croix River.

Bright orange mushrooms popping out around brown leaves

These orange mushrooms (I’ve already forgotten their name) were a bright spot of color on the mostly brown ground.

Wild River Canoe Rental building, boarded up

Waiting for warmer weather (and tourists).

Wild River State Park

One hour north of St. Paul
Date visited: April 13, 2015



Maybe it was the dreary weather the day we visited…

Empty bird feeder on the edge of a pond

Lazy, hazy, crazy days of… early spring.

maybe it was the fact that we got lost more than once on the trails (which could use better signs, in my opinion)…

Unmarked paths

Which way does this path go – left, straight, or right?

maybe because it was still too early for wildflowers (not the park’s fault)…

Budding leaves on a bush

The only green the entire trip.

but I quickly decided this wasn’t my favorite state park. Still, there were things to enjoy along the way.

Loon spreading its wings on Lake Andrew

First loon sighting of the season!

Canoe in front of a stone building

Many buildings built by the Veterans Conservation Corps in the 1930s.

Observation tower, viewed from the ground

Lookout at the top of Mount Tom, the tallest spot in the area.

 Sibley State Park

Two hours west of Minneapolis; 20 minutes north of Willmar
Date visited: April 18, 2015



Carley State Park is famous for Virginia bluebells – and in May, there are millions.

Virginia bluebells

The weather was much more pleasant for this wildflower trip. Plus, we actually got to see wildflowers.

Wildflower Trail sign

Yes, I WILL take the wildflower trail.

Bluebell-lined path.

Several false rue anemone along the river

There were at least as many of these white flowers – false rue anemone – as there were bluebells.

Concrete steps with spaces between

Non-accessible walk across the stream.

Wooden stairway

Climb the stairs.

Carley State Park

1.5 hours south of St. Paul
Date visited: May 2, 2015


Nerstrand-Big Woods

As long as we were in the area, we stopped by for a quick visit to try again to find dwarf trout lilies. And we did!

A small white flower among much larger green leaves

Dwarf trout lily is so tiny, it’s easy to miss.

Marsh marigolds on both sides of a small stream

Marsh marigolds, on the other hand, aren’t easily missed.

Hidden Falls waterfall from the bottom

And, of course, Hidden Falls is a must-see attraction.

Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park

1 hour south of St. Paul
Date visited: May 2, 2015

Now, on to summer adventures!

Categories: Chisago County, Kandiyohi County, Rice County, Wabasha County | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Hunting for the rare dwarf trout lily

The Minnesota dwarf trout lily is a federally endangered wildflower that grows in only three Minnesota counties (Rice, Goodhue, and Steele) and nowhere else in the world. Nerstrand Big Woods is the only state park, and perhaps the only public location, where visitors can see this rare flower.

One late Saturday afternoon in April 2012, I was traveling through the Nerstrand area and decided to try to find this special wildflower. Even though it was getting dark so the blooms were closed for the night, I was excited to find lots of white trout lilies:

white trout lilies, petals closed

…until I got home and did some more research, only to learn that the park is also home to regular white trout lilies. Since I’m familiar with yellow trout lily, which is about the same size as what I found, my heart sank to realize that I had not found the dwarf variety.

The next spring, after a visit to Faribault, my husband and I headed just 10 miles northeast to the state park. This time, I knew that the white flowers we saw were not dwarf, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying them:

white trout lily with petals open

Fast-forward to 2014. Surely, the third time would be the charm, right? But it was mostly cloudy with a few scattered sprinkles the one day we could head to Nerstrand Big Woods − not exactly prime trout lily weather, so none of the flowers were open. It was nearly impossible to see any buds, but we searched anyway. Finding one by identifying its leaves wasn’t an option since they are identical to the leaves of the regular trout lily, so we would need to find a bud.

We found several closed buds that could have been dwarfs. But “they” say that if you find one, you’ll know, so almost certainly this is not one:

white trout lily bud

In its closed state, with a shorter stem than ones that were definitely regulars, I’d call it a “medium trout lily.” If it were open, it would be more clear. But because we didn’t know, it probably wasn’t what we were looking for, so we kept walking. There were plenty of leaves to study:

trout lily leaves

Any other day, I would have been thrilled to see all of the other wildflowers: my personal favorite, bloodroot, plus Dutchman’s breeches, marsh marigold, wild ginger, cutleaf toothwort:

Bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, marsh marigold, wild ginger, cutleaf toothwort

But this day, nothing but the dwarf trout lily would do. Fortunately, the sun was beginning to shine, so the flowers were starting to open. We remembered seeing a DNR camera on the boardwalk, likely pointed at one of the dwarf lilies. Sure enough, after retracing our steps to the camera, we found one. The petals weren’t fully open, but it was definite:

dwarf trout lily

Cheating? Maybe. But it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Next year, we’ll try again.

More about wildflowers

Visited: May 9, 2014

Categories: Rice County | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Overnight in Faribault

We wanted to spend our anniversary at a state park, and what better place to visit in early spring than Nerstrand Big Woods, the exclusive home of the endangered dwarf trout lily? Faribault is close by, so we decided to make it an overnight trip and visit the park in the morning. I was surprised at how quickly we arrived: it’s just 35 minutes south of Lakeville. Far enough to be out of the Twin Cities, yet still reachable when beginning the journey after the workday.

Ornate buildings in downtown Faribault

Downtown Faribault: Paradise Center for the Arts and original storefronts with elaborate architecture.

After picking up some dahlia bulbs and plant markers at Farmer Seed & Nursery (the building with the giant Northern Grown Faribo Seeds sign painted on the side), we checked into our bed-and-breakfast, the Historic Hutchinson House. We stayed in Johnson’s Pride, which is just underneath the building’s iconic turret, so the room had a sitting area in an angled alcove.

Hutchinson House

The Queen Anne Victorian home, built in 1892, was converted to a bed-and-breakfast in 1987.

In the morning, we enjoyed breakfast at the kitchen table rather than the bigger dining room table, since it was a spring weekday so there was only one other room booked. Host Tami showed us around and told many stories about the house, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo collage of the grand staircase, antique photos on the wall, an up-close view of the organ, the fireplace

So many beautiful details inside and outside.

And she told us we couldn’t leave without stopping at Faribault Woolen Mills.

Photo collage with a view outside the Faribault Woolen Mill, two closeup images of blankets, an image of several blankets for sale, and a coffee sleeve.

The mill is located next to the Cannon River. Images at top right show what’s available in the store. Bottom right row shows the yellow blanket we bought, plus something we found just last week for a gift when traveling out-of-state: blanket remnants turned into coffee sleeves, a joint effort by two Minnesota companies, Faribault Woolen Mill and Caribou Coffee.

We spent quite a bit of time in the store and carefully considered practically every item before choosing a beautiful yellow blanket, which is handy now that we are in a Minnesota winter. I’m charmed by the company’s tagline, “Loomed in the Land of Lakes.”

We would have liked to spend more time exploring the city, including touring the mill and visiting the cheese cave and the historic downtown, but all too soon, it was time to leave.

At least two things have changed since our visit in May:

  • The restaurant where we ate dinner, Augusto’s, closed in July. When we were there, only one other couple was eating, so it’s not a big surprise, but it’s always sad to see a small business close.
  • The Hutchinson House was voted Best Hotel, Inn or B&B by Southern Minnesota Scene readers. I can’t compare it to others in this category, but the title is well-deserved from what we experienced.

As for the park: we saw lots of trout lilies but no dwarf trout lilies — but that’s a story for another day.

Historic Hutchinson House

Visited: May 7-8, 2013

Faribault Woolen Mills

Visited: May 8, 2013

Categories: Rice County | 1 Comment

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