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

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Lake Bemidji’s boardwalk through the bog

When we were “up north” for Memorial Day, a bog-walking program complete with a “roving naturalist” and a pancake breakfast at the dining hall enticed us to spend a Sunday at Lake Bemidji State Park. We had been to this park once before, five years ago, but I had forgotten how neat it is.

boardwalk zigzagging back and forth

A bog is a fragile ecosystem, and this sign warns people to stay on the boardwalk to not hurt the plants.

If you feel the urge to leave the beaten path, this is not the place to do it.

The boardwalk is only a quarter-mile long, but it seems much longer – probably because there is so much to see along the way that it’s a pretty slow journey. There are helpful signs along the way:

What is a bog? sign with several paragraphs, maps, and definitions of different types of wetlands

Many plants thrive in this bog environment:

At the end of the boardwalk is Big Bog Lake. We even saw a loon! (But it’s not that dot in this photo.)

a lake obscured with a few pine trees, with many more on the opposite side

The rest of the park was nice, too – on paved paths…

green hardwood trees lining a narrow paved path

…and on unpaved paths.

grassy trail through green trees

Hey! A Minnesota state park with signs that identify where you are! (See the “N” at the top, which corresponds to a spot on the map.) This works much better than an unlabeled sign with a sticker marking the spot on the map – I’ve seen so many of those that have had their stickers removed. Now, if they would add signs along the trail crossings that confirm which direction you’re heading, like Lebanon Hills does, it would be practically perfect.

directional sign at the edge of a path

Lots of interpretative signs in this part of the park, too, though they could use an upgrade. Did you know that earthworms are an invasive species that is hurting our hardwood forests? Counterintuitive, isn’t it? But true. Don’t dump your leftover bait, anywhere!

We have always been told that earthworms are good for nature, but ecologists now say they don't even belong in MN.

Such a great touch: the wildflower signs include both English and Ojibwe names.

small orange flowers with a sign reading Hoary Puccoon and ojiibik-omaman

I don’t often see starflowers in our neck of the woods:

white flower with seven petals

We admired the Works Progress Administration buildings, like the dining hall…

brown log building with a ramp up to the door

…where we were served pancakes and sausages and teeny glasses of orange juice.

recyclable plate with plastic silverware, two sausages, and two pancakes

We also saw Lake Bemidji, naturally:

lake with a sandy beach on a cloudy day

And signs along the entrance road ask motorists to be careful because baby foxes are in the area:

Slow!!! Kits at play! and a drawing of a fox

After this fun visit, I added this park to my top five favorites of all the Minnesota state parks I’ve seen so far.

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Date visited: May 29, 2016

Categories: Beltrami County | Tags: | Leave a comment

Purple

Since the sudden and surprising death of Minnesota’s own Prince just over a week ago, several public displays have been created by fans around the Twin Cities. We visited two of the memorial sites on Friday.

Flowers and notes and lots of purple balloons left near his star at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, which was relatively quiet at noon:

a long pile of flower bouquets and partially deflated balloons on the ground under the black brick wall with silver stars

More people were visiting and leaving purple mementos at Paisley Park, his home and studio in Chanhassen:

fans taking pictures and viewing items tied to a fence surrounding a white two-story building

Many signs read “Rest In Purple”:

flower bouquets and a purple t-shirt near a paper sign that says Rest In Purple Sweet Prince

…or “Purple Reign”:

handwritten note: Your purple reign will not be forgotten, next to a hanging basket of purple pansies

Fans signing memorial posters:

long white poster with a large image of Prince and his symbol in the middle, covered in handwritten notes

An artist painting:

a man in a striped shirt painting on a canvas right next to the fence

A dove crying:

square painting of a dove with a heart eye and a teardrop, with purple raindrops all around

Lots of versions of his symbol:

large posterboard with his symbol in flowers of various shades of purple

The most creative item we saw:

a purple sled with the words Happy sledding Prince What a ride you took us on

There were also many notes written in chalk in the tunnel between the parking lot and Paisley Park:

Sign o' the times - our own Mozart, our own brother, and other handwritten notes

The first mention I’ve seen of Arms of Orion, my favorite Prince song:

Arms of Orion written in light lavender chalk, and other handwritten notes

The Minnesota Historical Society has Prince’s Purple Rain suit in its collection, and it was brought out for a mini-exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul that started the day after he died:

the suit in a protected box with an interpretive sign, and a large posterboard on the wall at the right with many Post-it notes

A board with the words “I Remember Prince” was quickly covered by Post-It notes:

so many sticky notes on the board and the wall around the board that the word prompt is covered

I work at the History Center and every day, sometimes multiple times a day, I visit the board to see what people have written. Many sentimental notes, many thankful notes, and some amusingly honest:

My favorite memory of Prince: Late in the Minnesota Lynx’s run to the WNBA championship last year, we started noticing that he is a fan of the team. He tweeted after Maya Moore hit the game-winning shot in Game 3. Two games later at Target Center, it was like a game of telephone tag as word spread through the crowd and the gameday crew that he was in a suite, though I didn’t see him. And then, after the title was won, he invited the players to a three-hour private concert at Paisley Park in the middle of the night.

Categories: Carver County, Hennepin County, Ramsey County | Leave a comment

I would walk 125 miles, and I would bike 125 more

This year is the 125th anniversary of the Minnesota State Parks and Trails system, and they’re challenging Minnesotans to record 125 miles by hiking, biking, or boating. We are already participating in the state parks’ passport program (29 parks visited so far); why not add another goal or two?

It’s already April, so we decided it was time to get started and we headed to Afton, one of our nearest state parks, for our own kickoff. I admit that this has never been my favorite of the state parks, though we had been there many times in the three other seasons:

along the river's edge on a cloudy day
early summer three-hour hike – in the rain
the sun setting behind trees, with many sun rays streaking through clouds
late summer stargazing event, staying after the typical closing time to watch the sun go down and the stars come out
colorful trees in the distance, light brown grasses waving in the foreground
October hike through the autumn grasses with pretty trees in the background
red sumac berries in front of a blurred background of snow and brush
chilly hike on New Year’s Eve

 

I think I’m less-than-enthusiastic about Afton because we always seem to lose our way in the southeast corner, where the camper cabin driveway intersects the trail and it’s not clear where the hike should pick up again. I get frustrated and let that sour the rest of my experience.

Here’s an example: the map and the arrow show that the trail goes to the left, but a path clearly keeps going straight ahead. What trail is that?

signpost with a map at the top and a small arrow pointing left

This is not the only state park where I wish for better signs – Sibley also comes to mind. (Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan sets the gold standard for trail markers, as far as I’m concerned.)

But we picked a trail that we hadn’t been on before – heading north along the St. Croix River, then west up the hill and back down to the parking lot.

The parking lots were full with hundreds of visitors who also decided to take advantage of the first really nice spring day.

wispy clouds in a bright blue sky, with a short foreground of grasses and trees in the distance

We took a “longcut” on a less-visited trail down through the woods, spying on a school of fish:

looking down into a murky stream with dozens of small fish

Then we rejoined the main trail and started up the first of three steep climbs.

a leaf-covered path at the left, a sign showing a steep incline and another sign forbidding horses

Two fallen trees along one of the paths:

a leafy, mossy path with two medium trees that have fallen from the left

The highest spot of our trip, a pasture at the top of a hill, where prairie restoration is in progress:

bright blue sky at the top half, light brown grasses at the bottom half, scattered leafless and pine trees at the intersection of land and sky

Leftover windmill and equipment from a long-ago farm:

the top of a windmill lying flat on the ground, with a plow in the background, both in a grassy lawn and marked off by boards on the ground

One of the trails took us right next to the bottom of a ski hill of nearby Afton Alps, which is still snowy but not ski-able:

empty chairlift ascending at the right, a big snow-covered bump at the left, with grass and more snow behind it

We even saw a butterfly! I worried about this days later, when the temperatures fell and it snowed again.

orange-and-brown comma butterfly on brown leaves at the edge of a dirt-and-rock path

And I must say that my perception of Afton is much improved after this lovely visit.

bright blue sky, light brown grasses, and four bare oak trees taking up most of the frame

This park gave us our first 4.1 miles toward 125 miles. We will try to get 125 miles by bike, too. And it would be fun to add some new stamps to our parks passport along the way. On my wish list: Lac qui Parle, Moose Lake, Glacial Lakes, Maplewood, Great River Bluffs, and Old Mill.

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Date visited: April 3, 2016

Categories: Washington County | Tags: | Leave a comment

Monticello swans

wooden park sign with two swans, two cattails, and the words Swan Park

Swan Park is a small viewing area overlooking the Mississippi River in the middle of a neighborhood in Monticello. The water is relatively warm in this spot downstream from a nuclear power plant. We visited on Presidents Day, along with about two dozen other people, and we heard the sounds of the swans long before we saw them.

Trumpeter swans have made a terrific comeback in this area, thanks in part to the dedication of Sheila Lawrence. She was feeding ducks and geese in the mid-1980s when a few swans started showing up too, part of an effort by Hennepin County Parks (Three Rivers Park District) and the DNR to bring these native birds back from a Minnesota population of zero.

interpretive sign with Sheila Lawrence's story and a picture of her throwing corn to the swans

In an article for the Trumpeter Swan Society (PDF), she talked about seeing a tv report about a swan release: “I was amazed at such a sight and thought wouldn’t it be wonderful to work with those beautiful swans? You know the old saying, ‘Careful what you wish for, you just might get it.’ Little did I know then what fate had in store for me or just how much the Trumpeter Swans would change my life.” Now, about 2,000 swans reportedly visit Monticello every winter. Her husband has taken over feeding the swans since her death five years ago.

a man holding an orange bucket at the edge of the river, with dozens of swans watching him

A truck was there to refill the corn supply…

Munson Lake Nutrition truck and a man standing next to a large red bin

…which is carried down a pipe to the river’s edge.

thin pipe above a snow-covered lawn

There were some squabbles, but not as many as I thought we’d see for so many birds so close together.

31 swans, three of them flapping their wings, plus geese and mallards

Lots of wing-stretching.

closeup of one swan stretching in shallow water

Canada geese and mallards also take advantage of the free food.

a dozen mallards on the snowy shore, plus a mixture of geese and swans at the edge and in the water

I’ve always thought of Canada geese as really large birds – but compared to swans, they’re tiny.

wide photo of dozens of big white birds, plus many smaller darker birds

A pair of swans coming in for a landing:

two swans banking to the right a few feet above the river

straightening out and gliding a foot down

just touched the water and it looks like they're standing up

one swimming swan with a water trail behind it, and the other already lost in the crowd

We visited the park in the morning, on our way to Sauk Centre. At that point there were hundreds of each bird.

cloudy view downriver, with many birds

On the way back to the Cities, about four hours later, the sun had appeared but there were no more swans in the water, though some of the ducks were still around.

sunny view of the same spot, with ducks barely visible at the far right

We did spot several pairs and groups of swans flying in the area.

two swans flying against a pale blue sky

More information about Minnesota’s trumpeter swans

Categories: Wright County | Tags: | Leave a comment

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