Dan and I left early Friday morning for Blue Mounds State Park, located in the southwestern-most corner of Minnesota, (right by South Dakota and Iowa,) where we had reserved a campsite for the weekend. We were excited to see the bison that live at Blue Mounds, as well as check out the prickly pear cactus that were supposed to be blooming this time of year. We also wanted to really explore the tallgrass prairie, a unique ecosystem we are both less familiar with than deciduous and coniferous forests, and get some hiking and biking in as well!
I packed a cooler full of food for our trip, but you won't see any food pics this time 'round, unfortunately. We kept it pretty simple: sandwiches, veggie dogs, and all the acoutrements, nothing too photo-worthy. Rest assured, we ate well and healthfully for the duration of the weekend, however!
Our first stop of our trip was at Upper Sioux Agency State Park, where we hauled out the food and had a delicious picnic lunch. After our lunch, we decided to stretch our legs a bit and hike around. We looked at the map and settled on a short, simple loop of some of the hiking trails that run between and along the Yellow Medicine and Minnesota Rivers.
I realize that a picture of horse poop might be kind of gross, but I found it so strange that all of these moths/butterflies were going CRAZY over the poop! Dan made a good point in saying that at least they weren't biting flies! Much more pleasant, in my opinion.
Beautiful views all around!
The traditional tee-pees in the prairie below were available to reserve for camping! Another time, perhaps!
After our hike, we packed back into the car and continued south and west, towards Blue Mounds. Southwestern MN, like much of Iowa and South Dakota, is major corn country. Corn, corn, corn, as far as the eye can see. Could be kind of pretty, if it wasn't sprinkled with signs and bilboards advertising this type of high-yield seed, this type of insecticide or herbicide, etc. Plus, the giant grain elevators, heavy machinery, and scary looking potential factory-farms made for a pretty depressing drive. There are many streams, rivers, and lakes in this part of the state that are not recommended for swimming/wading due to industrial farm run-off, and even some of the water taps at the state parks have warnings against giving the water to children under 18 months of age. (Needless to say, I did NOT drink water from those taps with the posted warnings! Eeek!)
Strangely, this is not only corn country, but aparently, wind turbine country.
I'm glad Dan was driving during this leg of the trip, because I found the acres of wind turbines, chugging away, to be quite mesmerizing -- I found that if I stared at them long enough, the turbines began to seem eerily human, like rows of people doing interpretive dance in the middle of a cornfield. Strange.
Anyhow, after we arrived at Blue Mounds, unloaded everything and carted it into our campsite, set up our tent and other important stuff, we decided to take a bike ride before dinner. Monet painting, anyone?
After dinner, we took a short hike out towards the bison range, hoping to spot some bison, or at least some cacti. We found loads and loads of prickly pears everywhere! Their bright yellow blooms made them especially easy to spot.
More postcard-perfect scenery:
And a beautiful sunset:
No bison, however! Rats. Elusive creatures, they are.
After a long, rough night Friday night, (we had an air mattress situation that resulted in us sleeping (or trying to sleep) on the ground . . .) we decided to start our day in a more relaxing way. We drove 25 miles north to Pipestone, MN, and visited Pipestone National Monument. The monument pays tribute to the rich Native American traditions in this area of the state, and particularly, the high concentration of mines where stone for peace pipes is mined. We briefly explored the inside portion of the monument, before (slowly) hitting the 3/4 mile trail outdoors.
If I remember correctly, this is called Pipestone Creek:
What beautiful sights, again!
That stick-looking thing in the distance is a type of Native American prayer tree -- people go there to pray and leave strips of cloth or other items for the gods. I wish it had been closer so we could have had a better look. (But, I also understand people's need for privacy, too!)
The creek becomes a beautiful waterfall!
"The Oracle" (can you make out the face in the stone?)
After we finished our hike at Pipestone, we decided to check out Split Rock Creek State Park, which was on our way back to Blue Mounds. We decided that this park was worth a visit, but didn't strike us as anything extra-special. We did take a short hike along the lake, over the dam, and past the creek.
There was a GIGANTIC mushroom inside this mostly-dead tree.
After we returned to Blue Mounds, we decided to take some time around our campsite and relax for a while, before eating lunch. We needed all our energy for our big hike of the day -- we mapped out a loop around the park that hit all the sights, and followed along the bison range for a good piece, too. Still hoping to see the bison!
We loaded our packs with tons of water, snacks, and other essentials, and headed out. First stop was the Upper Mound Lake dam:
Lower Mound Lake:
We headed down and picked up the lower cliffline trail for quite a while. We had biked part of this trail the night before, but were glad to have the opportunity to explore the cliffs at a much slower pace.
As always, I have a thing for dead, isolated trees.
All of those black specs in the sky in this shot are hawks! Dan and I counted at least ten, soaring and swooping around above our heads while we were resting and eating our snack.
Heading up into the cliffs, we found many gigantic rocks to explore. Too bad neither one of us are rock climbers!
Oh, those ever-tricky self-portraits. I swear this is the best one!
I didn't brave climbing into this crevice, because I was wearing Crocs, but Dan thought chuck taylors were safe enough. :)
A dried-up creek:
About halfway up the cliff, we found the historic quarry! 90-foot walls on three sides, with spectacular views of neighboring farmland.
ALMOST to the prairie . . .
We finally made it! Check out the plethora of prickly pears surrounding this rock -- you can see their yellow blooms all along the edges!
I promise this photo wasn't posed.
(Dan climbed up on to Eagle Rock to look for the bison. None to be seen.)
Searching for wild black raspberries . . .
After hiking along the bison range all the way back to camp, we arrived exhausted and disappointed. No bison! Struggling back to our campsite, we made dinner, then decided to venture out once more, just to the observation tower close by, to see if we could spot them. The only evidence of bison we saw Saturday night:
We did, however, witness another beautiful sunset:
Sunday morning, we got up a little earlier than usual, and started by breaking down camp -- we had a pretty big drive ahead of us today, and wanted to make time to stop and see some friends of Dan's, if they called us back in time. After breaking down camp, loading up, and packing ourselves into the car, we headed for home. At the last second, Dan slowed down the car and said, "wait!" It was the bison! They were WAY too far away to bother taking a picture of, but we did finally see them!! Hooray for bison! We left Blue Mounds feeling very satisfied. :)
One of our planned stops on our journey home was the Laura Ingalls Wilder muesum in Walnut Grove, where the TV show took place, and where Laura and her family actually lived during the story "On the Banks of Plum Creek." Here's an example of what Laura's family's dugout might have looked like:
I noticed this hanging in the mock schoolroom. Thank goodness I wasn't a teacher back then!
(I like ice cream a lot! What's so wrong with the ice cream store, anyway?)
After visiting Walnut Grove, we drove on, planning one last stop before returning to the Cities. We wanted one last picnic and hike before the end of our vacation weekend, and decided to stop at Fort Ridgely State Park. Bah! This was not a very nice state park -- there was a GOLF COURSE, cemetery, and bizarre fort ruins that were dated in their explanation. (The ruins glorified the accomplishments of dead, white men against the Sioux, who broke the treaty and rose up against them. So many levels of wrong and misrepresentation! Don't get me started.) We did manage to find a picnic table and enjoy our lunch, however, and took a short hike to a scenic overlook:
One last beautiful view to end our weekend!
What an adventure, overall! I'm always amazed by what we manage to pack in a few short days.
Coming up later this week, I'll post my "prairie porn." Last trip I gave you all the best pictures first as a guessing game, this time, I saved all the best pictures for last! Stay tuned . . . !